Bling it on: British Airways First Class Seattle to London Heathrow

Introduction
British Airways Terraces Lounge Seattle
British Airways First Class Seattle to London Heathrow
Emirates Lounge London Heathrow (after a surprise!)
Emirates First Class London Heathrow to Dubai
Grosvenor House Dubai
Afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar at Burj Al Arab
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island
Qasr Al Sarab
Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways First Class Abu Dhabi to New York JFK
British Airways Galleries Lounge New York JFK
Cathay Pacific First Class New York JFK to Vancouver


British Airways 48
Seattle (SEA) – London (LHR)
Tuesday, December 11
Depart: 6:10PM
Arrive: 11:20AM (+1 day)
Duration: 9hr10min
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 1A (First Class)

I don’t think I can properly express how excited I was to fly British Airways first class. It’s not that I had extremely high expectations, but rather that I was embarrassed not to have flown it before, and figured it was a product I had to try.

What were my expectations going in? Well, I’ve always assumed British Airways’ first class is like a really good business class product. They cram 14 seats into the nose of the 747, compared to eight on Lufthansa and nine on Cathay Pacific and Thai.

As a matter of fact I’ve always thought the new first class product looked a whole lot like Cathay Pacific’s new business class product. I also assumed the food would be good though not great. After all, this is a British airline. ;)

Upon boarding I was greeted at the door by the lovely Scottish CSD (customer service director), who pointed me towards the nose and apologized that she couldn’t escort me to my seat.

I was surprised to find that right behind first class was World Traveller Plus, British Airways’ premium economy product. Apparently there was a last minute equipment swap, as we were originally scheduled to have the 747 with more business class seats (where premium economy is behind business class).


World Traveller Plus

I tried to snap a couple of pictures as I walked into the first class cabin, and got some weird glares from the crew. There was a couple with a baby in row two blocking the aisle, so I stood there for a minute waiting till they made room for me to pass by. The couple asked the crew if they could have seats in row one, though the crew explained those were reserved for Executive Club elite members, and that they could ask the passengers up front to switch if they wanted to. I pretended not to overhear that, and went about my business. ;)

My first impression of the cabin was actually extremely favorable. Yes, the nose is crowded with 14 seats, but damn the new product is extremely stylish. I had seen pictures before, though I don’t think they did justice to it. I’m not usually one impressed by style, but this was seriously the most elegant cabin I had ever seen.


British Airways first class

The two sets of center seats seemed really tight and exposed, and I wouldn’t choose to sit in them. Lufthansa has one pair of center seats on the 747, while Cathay Pacific has a single seat. Meanwhile British Airways has four.


Center seats in row four


Seat 4A


View of first class cabin from the front


View of first class cabin from the front

I settled into 1A and explored the seat a bit. There’s a pretty cool window shade feature which adds to the stylish feel of the cabin. By the seat is a lamp, the seat controls, and a small compartment with remote control. There were also two pillows on my seat.


Seat 1A


Lamp, seat controls, and a compartment


Seat 1A

There was also a set of slippers, headphones, and a blanket on the ottoman of the seat.


Slippers, headphones, and blanket

By the front of the seat was a narrow closet for coats.


Coat closet

Once I was settled in the crew slowly began their service. I was first offered a pre-departure beverage and requested a glass of champagne, which was Laurent-Perrier.

I was then offered pajamas and an amenity kit. I consider myself to be a pretty tough pajama critic given that I wear them about 90% of my life (the joys of being a stay at home blogger), and British Airways’ are probably my favorite. They’re comfortable, light, and have “FIRST” written in big letters on the front. What more could one want? ;)


Champagne, amenity kit, and pajamas


Pajamas

The amenity kit was also quite nicely stocked, though more than anything else I liked the case it came in (which is the part of the kit I actually use long term).


Amenity kit contents

At the beginning the crew was cold as could be. No smiles, and as I was taking pictures one crew member asked if it was my first time in first class (though she didn’t say it in an especially condescending way, she asked more out of curiosity). They really warmed up as the flight progressed, though, as I’ll get into in a bit.

After being settled in for a few minutes I was offered a menu. British Airways has the most compact first class menus I’ve ever seen, which might sound like a complaint, but I actually kind of liked it. It was a single small booklet containing the menu and wine list. Compare that to Lufthansa’s 22” menus and wine list, where you get a new menu with each service. Since I keep menus, British Airways’ compact menus certainly worked well with my limited carry-on space.

At around 8:10PM the captain came on the PA to introduce himself, apologize for the delay, and inform us of our flight time of 8hr51min, anticipating an arrival in London shortly before 1:30PM.

One thing I love about flying British airlines is the announcements. I don’t know any other airline that announces which terminal you’re flying to as if it’s your destination. As we departed the CSD welcomed us aboard our service to “London Heathrow terminal five.” I also love how Brits put “the” before the flight number, so it’s really “welcome aboard the BA48 with service to London Heathrow terminal five.” Pure awesomeness.

As the door closed the first class cabin was half full with seven seats taken, so it was a nice light load.

We began our fairly long taxi to runway 16L, which is located on the other end of the airport, where we had a rather quick takeoff roll.

There was some turbulence on the climb out, and I took the opportunity to play around with the entertainment system, where I decided to watch some sitcoms. You can control the entertainment system either by touching the screen or with the remote.

It’s worth noting that British Airways recently changed their policy so that the entertainment system is now available during taxi and takeoff as well, which is great. The actual selection was quite good, though I didn’t like how they “bundled” some shows. In other words, some sitcoms had three shows in a single video, so if you wanted to see the second or third episodes you had to fast forward through the first one(s), instead of just being able to pick which ones you wanted.


Entertainment system

About 15 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off and crew sprung into action.

The CSD, Alex, welcomed aboard each first class passenger with a hand shake, and was quite charming. She commented about how she loves laying over in the US and “supporting the US economy” (with shopping).

At this point one of the other flight attendants took meal orders. The dinner menu read as follows:

And the wine list read as follows:

I ordered a Diet Coke to drink, which was served with mixed nuts.


Menu, Diet Coke, and mixed nuts

At that point the table was set and bread was offered from the bread basket. I also ordered a Kir Royale to go along with my prosciutto canapé.


Prosciutto canapé

The first course was poached lobster, which was probably the highlight of the meal (okay, except for dessert).


Poached lobster and shaved fennel and creamy Pommery mustard dressing

The second course was a tomato and mozzarella tart. It tasted a bit like a combination of pizza and quiche, and tasted good (though didn’t feel especially “first class” compared to the caviar and salmon offered by other airlines).


Warm vine tomato, mozzarella and basil tart with olive tapenade and micro basil

I was pretty full at this point but also wanted to save room for dessert, so ordered the Asian chicken salad. Definitely not a very “first class” entree, but I was curious to see what it tasted like. I assumed it would at least be well executed since it is international first class, though I can’t really say it was.


Roasted breast of chicken and Asian coleslaw salad with wontons and Asian dressing

I struggled a bit with dessert, since I’ve heard good things about the ones British Airways serves. The chocolate bread pudding sounded good, though the ice cream sundae did as well (more than anything I wanted to see how it compared to those of US airlines). Per the flight attendant’s suggestion I tried both, since she said they had plenty.

I only had a couple of bites of the bread pudding, which was pretty “eggy,” though still tasty.


Chocolate bread pudding with Bourbon sauce

The real highlight was the ice cream sundae, which I think might just have those of US airlines beat.


Ice cream sundae

Dinner was done about two hours into the flight, interestingly enough without a single hot towel service. I’m not sure if British Airways just doesn’t have hot towels or if my crew just didn’t offer them, but I was a bit surprised. At this point I requested turndown service, which the crew quickly took care of.


Location after dinner


Turndown service


Turndown service

While the bedding was comfortable the seat wasn’t especially well padded or wide in the reclined position, and definitely felt more like a really comfortable business class bed than a leading first class bed.

The other thing worth noting about the seat that’s truly mind boggling to me is that there’s no storage. Literally zero storage. Nada. None. Even Cathay Pacific’s business class has ample storage, so I’m not sure how that’s the case.

Anyway, I slept well for over four hours, and woke up about 90 minutes out of London.

Within about 10 minutes the crew took meal orders for breakfast. The menu read as follows:

I ordered some fruit, yogurt, and the pancakes. To drink I had a glass of orange juice and English breakfast tea (apparently in England it’s simply called breakfast tea… who knew?).

The fruit tasted fresh and was varied, and the strawberry yogurt tasted good as well.


Fresh seasonal fruit appetizer


Strawberry yogurt

There were also a variety of breads in the bread basket, and I selected some toast and a croissant.


Toast and croissant

For the main course I had pancakes with fruit compote, though I’m convinced they were actually scones. Look at how girthy those monsters are!


Buttermilk pancakes served with mixed berry compote

My friend woke up as I finished breakfast and wanted the pancakes as well, though the (in the meantime) friendly flight attendant said “you snooze you lose, can you believe they only cater one of those for a 14 seat cabin?”

And over the flight the crew definitely warmed up. I’m not sure if it was just that they were stressed during boarding or if it was because we were nice to them, but by the end of the flight they were awesome.

Just one small example. As we began our descent the toddler in row two walked up to my seat and kind of just stood there and stared at me for a good two minutes. The flight attendant looked at him and said “say hi to Mr. Lucky he’s going to Dubai.” Impressive she knew, since we hadn’t discussed where I was headed. And for that matter I had never been addressed by name up until that point.

About 30 minutes out we began our descent, and had an uncharacteristically direct approach into Heathrow. Shortly before the final approach the cheery CSD, Alex, once again made a round to bid everyone farewell.


Approach into Heathrow


Final approach into Heathrow

We touched down right around 1:30PM into a foggy Heathrow, and quickly taxied to terminal five. We were about two minutes from pulling into our gate when the first officer came on the PA to inform us that our “stand” was still occupied, though he assured as that they’d “have [us] in the stands shortly.” That was rather surprising given that we were, ya know, two hours late, but oh well.

He said it shouldn’t be more than a few minutes. After not moving for 10 minutes we began taxiing around terminal five, as another aircraft needed to access the alleyway and we were blocking them. So we probably taxied a mile aimlessly about Heathrow. Then we came to a stop again. And then we taxied to the other side of terminal five once again to make room for another aircraft. After waiting for about 40 minutes we finally made it to our arrival gate just minutes after the 777 occupying the gate pushed back.


777-300ER parked at terminal five


Terminal five


777 we were waiting for all along


Pulling into our stand


Parked at our gate

The funniest part of the filght was actually after the seatbelt sign was turned of. Door 2L was being used to deplane, which is located behind World Traveller Plus. That’s no big deal, I don’t mind waiting a couple of minutes to deplane, though the CSD insisted first class passengers be the first off the plane. So we were literally dragged with our carry-ons past the World Traveller Plus passengers. And let me say, walking through a full aisle with bags is no easy challenge. It was made only more awkward by the CSD loudly saying “pardon us, first class coming through.” Hah…

Little did I know at this point that our day was about to get much better.

So how do I rate/sum up British Airways first class? Well, I think my expectations were spot on – it’s a really nice business class product, maybe the best in the world. Among European airlines it’s probably also among the best first class products. Then again, among European airlines only Swiss, Lufthansa, Air France, and British Airways have a first class cabin (as far as I know). I’d rate Lufthansa and Swiss better than British Airways in terms of their first class products, while it has been over five years since I’ve flown Air France first class.

That being said, there’s some mystery element to British Airways first class that makes me really like it, though I can’t quite describe it. The cabin is extremely sexy/sleek/stylish. Maybe it’s the lure of traveling into/out of London, which is an amazing city though horrible airport (though terminal five is nice at least). Or maybe it’s just the lure of how you can’t use miles for British Airways first class without paying fuel surcharges. Does the fact that you have to actually pay for the product create a perception of it being better?

Let me say this – if you are using American miles for a first class award ticket to Europe, I definitely think it’s worth paying the premium in fuel surcharges to fly British Airways over American.

To those of you that have flown British Airways first class, what are your thoughts?

Comments

  1. ffi says

    Lucky,
    I am very disappointed with you.
    I did not know you are such a late comer to BA F.
    Been there in 1995 – The service was much better then.
    To think of the time I have been wasting reading your blog for expert advice!
    :-)

  2. says

    Why the Asian chicken salad? Are you still on your diet? At a minimum, I would have ordered the shepherd’s pie, if only for a bite or two. You’re on British Airways, after all and it would have made a great photo.

  3. Ed says

    Flew the F product from LHR-JFK and agree that its no better than a glorified J product on SQ or CX…. Window shades are cook though… but CX F still blows them outta the water EASILY … Glad you enjoyed mate

  4. Peterson says

    I agree with Lucky. New BA F looks nice but simply too narrow when compared to the competition (LX/LH on TATL, CX/SQ on Europe-Asia … etc).

    Heck, even AirChina’s new F seems nicer than this (and that’s saying a lot considering CA is not on the top of anyone’s aspirational award list)

  5. beachfan says

    I find BA new F seats to be very narrow at the shoulders. For example, if I want to stretch my arms by lifting them above my head while I’m laying down, I can’t (with normal movements).

    While I haven’t flown AA F internationally, I have had it a couple of times domestically on a 777 and found the seat much more comfortable (not as padded as I would like, but more private and roomy).

    Food and wine on BA blew away AA but given I like the AA seat more, I can get one darn fine meal with wine in London for the price of the seat surcharge.

    The best thing about BA F is the Concorde room! A cabana and a massage during a 4 hour layover is heavenly.

    My service on BA F was quite warmer than you described (on all 4 legs of my LAX-CPT trip in June). Top marks for service.

    CX F (last Feb) was a huge improvement in every category but service, which was a tie as both were tops.

  6. Matt says

    I think BA F is well worth the cost in avios, particularly if spending a bit in London before connecting to cities like CDG or AMS where the SkyTeam carriers don’t offer any (redeemable) F options and where the J product is below par, at least in terms of hard product.

    It’s a particularly good deal for two people @ 150,000 avios + companion certificate. I’m not sure I would use AA miles for BA, but then I don’t fly AA that often, so the scarcity of AA miles probably makes them worth more to me than you.

  7. Lantean says

    How do I know if my flight has a turn-down service? I’m flying United EWR-MUC in BusinessFirst…
    Their website only says “Complimentary duvet and pillow for use during your flight” so I guess that doesn’t mean a turn-down service, right?
    :(

  8. says

    Had a similar experience. I was alone in first class and forgot something and went back to my seat. After some minutes I came to the door, the CSD let no one embark with the words: “First class has to disembark first”. Seems to be their corporate identity.

  9. Carl says

    good report Ben. My wife and I are doing this trip in May, 777 on the outbound, 747 on the return. Should we get the middle seats next to each other or are the seats along the windows better?

  10. rich (arizona) says

    A couple of questions.

    1. You said it was crowded with 14 seats but the “old” LH first class has 16 seats doesn’t it? (I flew it back in 2010).

    2. With the fuel charges I’m guessing if your other option would be LH first or something on Star Alliance you would choose that over BA+fuel $?

    3. Do you use their headphones or do you have your own? On my recent US Airways flight in Envoy I tried their headphones thinking maybe they were half decent but compared to the Bose QC15s they were bad.

    Here in Maryland on Christmas Eve the snow has started. A very rare event here. (Yes I know my “name” says arizona but I relunctantly moved back east last year.)

  11. Todd says

    Great report, as usual and good timing; my wife and I are flying BA F YVR LHR return next May. I was able to show her our seats; the two middle seats in row 4 (The BA website doesn’t have the best images).

  12. DBest says

    Could you explain more about the bit about Row One being blocked for elite members? Do you mean that the baby couple were also in First? And if so, any observations on travelling BA F with an infant-in-arms?

    Oh and don’t be so bashful about exercising your F “privileges”, it wouldn’t be First Class otherwise :-)

  13. lucky says

    @ Carl — The 777 cabin is a bit wider, so I’d probably get seats together in the center. On the 747 I’d aim for row one if at all possible, as I found it ideal for talking to a travel companion.

  14. lucky says

    @ rich (arizona) —

    1. First of all keep in mind that on the 747 Lufthansa used to have first class on the upper deck. That being said, the old Lufthansa hard product was *horrible*. It was the service/food/ground services that made it good.

    2. Absolutely, I think Lufthansa is a much better option to Europe given the lack of fuel surcharges.

    3. I usually bring/use my own headphones, though on this trip I left them at home since they’re rarely good as mine. A few airlines do offer Bose headphones, which is great, but other than that they’re rarely as high quality.

  15. lucky says

    @ beachfan — One of the main reasons I wanted to try BA first was for the Concorde Room/Cabanas/Elemis Spa, so I was sad I didn’t get to experience it.

    @ Todd — Enjoy your flights!

    @ DBest — In order to reserve row one before check-in you have to be a OneWorld Emerald or BA Gold member, to the best of my knowledge. At check-in anyone can select it, though. The couple with the infant were in first class, and the baby was well behaved for the most part and only cried once.

  16. Sunny says

    Ben,

    My wife and I just flew Etihad, United, Thai and BA First Class and personally thought BA’s First product to be below average atleast for the amount of miles and surcharges they impose. Service was average, cabin feel a bit congested and seat, like you said, a glorified business class seat. I’ve flown Cathay business several times and find their product to be far superior than BA First.

    I am surprised, I rated UA First better than BA – for me it was an OK experience.

  17. says

    There are numerous failures here, and it doesn’t seem BA really knows how to operate a first class cabin. After reading your report, my first thought was, “I am never going to pay the fuel surcharges to fly BA over AA” and yet you argue it’s worth it. Really? I mean, it wasn’t that bad, but it doesn’t sound like it’s worth paying extra for.

  18. Indy says

    Does anyone know if United BusinessFirst provides pajamas even though they don’t offer turndown service?

  19. Stephan says

    Lucky, your experience at LHR is nothing new. Also, since you guys were late you were actually the problem flight who needed to be accommodated at a new “stand” rather than the others. LHR is always hurry up and wait – worse for takoff.

  20. JOHN PHILLIPS says

    I HAVE FLOWN BA FIRST DFW-LHR-DFW AND FIND IT TO BE SUPERIOR OVER THAT OF AA AT THE MOMENT. WITH THE 777-300 COMING ONLINE FOR AA THIS MAY CHANGE AS I HAVE HEARD THE SEATS ARE COMPARABLE TO CX FIRST CLASS. I STILL PREFER CX FIRST SEATS BUT TO EUROPE FROM DFW, THIS IS THE BEST NON STOP PRODUCT.

  21. BrewerSEA says

    All four times I’ve flown BA49 (LHR-SEA) in the past year in F they have done nothing to allow F pax off before J (all were Hi-J). This would annoy me if I didn’t have Global Entry.

  22. Diana says

    What did you do when the toddler was looking at you?
    I’m always amused by the term “seasonal fruit.” Seasonal to where? Those look like summer fruits to me!
    Merry Christmas!

  23. Gordon Simpson says

    I’m glad you enjoyed your flight Ben. Some observations

    1) how towels should have been offered at boarding, prior to meal service and before landing so they clearly weren’t loaded. There is no way F crew would have forgotten 3 times

    2) I’ve never felt “cramped” in BA 1st although 1A/K can feel so, especially if that closet between them is being continuously accessed. 2a/k are much better and 3e/f if travelling with a companion

    3) the fuel charges and departure taxes are a loathesome tax that all us Brits hate the government for levvying. All departing airlines have to pay them, not just BA.

    4) you really bombed out with that salad (lol), the fillet of beef is often better than any restaurant. Glad you took the Sundae. I had it on both legs of my last trip and the crew got into a competition to see who could make it bigger or most extravagant :-)

    5) I hope you used the arrivals lounge at t5 and had a BATH!!

  24. lucky says

    @ Jesse — Small world!

    @ Diana — LOL, guess the fruit was from the southern hemisphere. As far as the baby goes, I just made funny faces, etc.

    @ Gordon — Thanks! Sadly didn’t have time to use BA Arrivals Lounge, for reasons I’ll cover in the next post.

  25. says

    @Lucky @DBest – 1A/K are reserved for Golds/OW equivalent until 72 hours before departure at which point anyone can reserve them.

  26. Wes says

    Good Christmas Morning Ben, as u know, we just flew BA F to London en route to Delhi earlier this month. We enjoyed again the fine service/cuisine on board but relished our 5 hrs in the Concorde L/Cabana prior to connecting onward to Delhi. Flew Lu FC home from Frankfurt last Thursda, after flying TG’s new a380 BC from BKK to FRA. Metal on LU not impressive but cuisine service tip-top. We like BA F–just made switch from Club Europe to FC yesterday for our flights back from Lis in April. The pull of another 3 hrs in the Cabana made me change to FC :)

  27. Philatravelgirl says

    Good report, I usually fly BA CW to LHR for work out of Philly, have tried new F as a checkin upgrade to row 1 $400 fee -for me the locker, duvet, design and privacy were good things. The seat was not much different than CW. I have a special meal so food in any class isn’t a driving factor as i usually bring my own w/me just in case. We definitely had hot towels and the crew is always friendly. i didn’t pre-board so they apologized that they couldnt show me my seat but definitely introduced themselves.
    Given my choice of US Envoy or BA from Philly, I’m definitely going BA – glad you were able to try it.

  28. Robert Hanson says

    Didn’t see that one coming. Nearly $500 in fuel surcharges to be in a cramped cabin, that you compare to Business class. Yes, the wines look to be quite a bit better than AA, and I’ve yet to have lobster on AA. No doubt the Concord Lounge is much better than AA Flagship too. But I’ll take the spacious AA 777 seating area, and keep the $500 for dinner at Gordon Ramsey when I land. Somehow I’ll get by without the flight being called “the”, and without mention of which terminal we will be landing at. :D But of course, if you want to go N/S from SEA, BA is your only choice….

  29. mohamed b says

    I ve tried BA first to seoul and frankly was not impressed,food service was delayed,some of the menu choice unavailable and as you mentioned storage problems,there is no waoww factor about the food,no caviar or foie gras.

  30. nathan fruchter says

    I soo agree with you Ben, BA First is a glorified Biz class. Cathay’s Biz bed & storage comfort is better then BA. BTW the BA club class is also torture w not a single bit of storage. If you want to put down a magazine or newspaper, then you must get up and out of your seat. Its bad news. Nothing like Cathay First !!! Its hands down the WIDEST seat in the air.The only bed airline bed i can sleep in with my arm fully extended underneath my pillow and not touch the side walls. Cathay also has more space per passenger. 6 in the F class cabin of their 777 whereas JAL, ANA, and SQ squeeze in 8 passengers into the same space. On the 747, Cathay has 9 first class seats compares to BA and QF 14 !!!!!!! SHAME ON THEM !!!!!!

  31. Patrick says

    How exactly does does “turn down” service work? Do you ask them to make your bed? Or let them know you want to go to sleep or what?

  32. Papa Smurf says

    Slightly off topic, but why is it that some airlines allow use of the IFE on the ground while others don’t? Is that airline/aircraft specific or depending on the country? Is that something due to certification or something else? Maybe you can to a blog post on it one day and do a comparison between different airlines.

  33. useless says

    I’ve enjoyed BA’s F & J from YYZ-LHR-YYZ on a few occasions. If the standard used are several Asian products then speedbird lags behind. Asian crews can be far more personable, whether genuine or not, while BA’s FA’s tend to be a lot more rigid.
    Catering on BA is good but definitely not special.
    As for the seats, the old F were more comfortable but were really getting tired. The new F seats are just downright COOL.
    All in all I feel that BA’s is good but falls into the bottom group of international F product. Having said that, I’m booked again with them in September:)
    Keep your reports coming in, they are my favorites.

  34. Franklyn says

    Of all the things I remembered about my first trip in First on Thai was deplaning. I was the only one on SYD-BKK and the Purser made sure that I deplaned first before anybody else. I was not expecting this so there had to be about a 5 min wait for me to get organized before I got off the plane.

  35. Nick C says

    I was on a plane with the same premium economy/first arrangement some time ago. Sadly I was in PE; when the time came to disembark, I recall an F passenger attempting to get past us – not very successfully – and frustration turned into apoplexy when I recalled aloud from the bible “and the first shall be last”

  36. says

    I have flown Coach, Business and going First Class in May to London from L.A. In May. This will be my first trip First Class. Hope I will not be disappointed
    My seat is 03K. Was this a good choice?

  37. lucky says

    @ Roslyn — Definitely better than rows four or five, though I’d shoot for rows one or two if you can, as they’re a bit more private.

  38. Jim D says

    My wife and I are off to Seattle with BA in First on a 777 in July and return 2 weeks later–Looking forward to it

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