The British Airways Concorde Room…

Earlier in the week I flew Air France from Los Angeles to Paris, and I was simply blown away. The ground services in Los Angeles were amazing, the onboard product was pleasantly surprising, and the first class lounge was one of the greatest travel “highs” I’ve ever experienced (perhaps on par with my first Emirates shower and first flight in a Singapore “double bed”). So I’m an idiot for having such low expectations, since Air France exceeded them 1,000%, and I can’t wait to fly them again.

Then on the return back to the US I was flying the British Airways A380. I’m trying to fly A380 first class on every airline that operates them, and I’m getting down to the last couple. British Airways was one of the missing ones, which is why I made a quick trip to Germany so that I could experience the plane. Anyway, the flight itself was epic (or I suppose as the Brits would say, “brilliant”), though I’ll get into that shortly. Let’s just say it was “worse” than my Worst. Emirates flight. Ever. And for that matter, hell, I’m pretty sure the flight was amazing before we even took off, since I downed two bottles of Laurent Perrier before the door closed (the poor flight attendant said “Sir, this is a delicate champagne,” to which I responded “yes, or else I wouldn’t be drinking it”). šŸ˜‰ For the record, though, I usually don’t drink for weeks at a time, it’s just an airplane thing for me!

Why was I so ready to drink when I get onboard my British Airways flight? Because of Heathrow. Because of freaking Heathrow. Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt are both horrible airports in their own way, but the nice thing is that as a first class passenger you’d never know it. Because unlike British Airways, they actually have proper ground services whereby as a first class passenger you never have to enter the terminal (or if you do, it’s only for a moment).

Anyway, I flew in from Frankfurt to London on British Airways and had a three hour layover before my connection to Los Angeles. You would think transiting at the same terminal at an airport would be easy, and that maybe as a first class passenger they’d make it even easier for you. Not at Heathrow, that’s for sure!

We landed at terminal five, and then I first had to take the train from the “C” pier to the “A” pier, which took maybe 10 minutes.

Heathrow-Train

Then I had to queue in the Fast Track lane, which is consistently longer than the non-Fast Track lane. That took forever. Then there’s not actually a premium security line, but rather being in the Fast Track lane just theoretically gets you into the actual security line faster than the others. In practice I have my doubts…

Fast-Track-Heathrow

Then I had to go over to the other side of terminal five to access the Concorde Room. There’s a side entrance they have, and an agent standing there guarding it that waves people in. It’s an international first class lounge, you’d think they’d be friendly and welcoming, but when I showed my boarding pass she simply gestured for me to enter (at least she didn’t make me answer three questions).

Physically the lounge is nice, though certainly doesn’t have any “wow” factor, in my opinion.

Concorde-Room

I do like the “outside” terrace area, though.

Concorde-Room-1

I took a seat in the Concorde Room Dining section, and ordered a glass of champagne. I decided to order the salmon fish cake for lunch, which I think I ordered clearly and simply, since I didn’t order anything else. Several minutes later the waiter returned and said “sorry, what did you say you wanted?” I reminded him again I wanted the salmon fish cake. Then two minutes later he came back and said “you wanted the salmon fish cake, right?” I confirmed I did, and a minute later he returned with a lukewarm salmon(ella?) fish cake.

Concorde-Room-Dining

Then about an hour before departure I left the lounge, because I once again had to take the train from the “A” pier to the “C” pier, where the A380 leaves from. Shortly after I arrived they began Fast Track boarding, though as usual that’s half the plane, since it includes all first and business class passengers as well as elite members.

The point at which I really felt like they were starting to play a practical joke on me was when I saw the A380 jet bridge… seriously?! Have you EVER seen a jet bridge that long in your life?!

British-Airways-A380

Look, I don’t mean to be overly critical of British Airways. Is Outback Steakhouse a bad steakhouse? I dunno, you tell me. But when you just had “dinner” at Fleming’s the night before, and they charged exactly the same, you’d probably say “yes” (though their salad and bread are ridiculously good). With Air France you literally never enter the terminal, the service in the lounge is phenomenal, and the food is more than restaurant quality.

I’m not saying British Airways has to be as good as Air France Lufthansa on the ground and literally make connections seamless (though it sure would be nice). But how about doing something to differentiate first class service? An escort to the lounge would be nice, but if that’s too much to ask, how about at least a dedicated first class security line? Or a lounge where you don’t feel that you’re massively inconveniencing the staff by being there?

The sad thing is that Virgin Atlantic provides a better ground experience for their Upper Class (business class) passengers than British Airways does for their first class passengers in just about every way…

Fortunately the onboard experience made up for the lackluster ground service, thanks in no small part to the amazing flight attendant working my aisle…

Comments

  1. Everything I’ve ever read about BA makes me only ever want to fly with them if I’m departing from a stay in London (and even then, only if Westbound and there’s no LH F space via DE).

  2. I have to defend BA here in comparison to their peers. At LAX, i never had LH or EK escort me through security as an F passenger, nor did they provide any ground services upon landing in FRA or DXB. As an F passenger on TG at LHR and NRT, no ground services. No ground services at all on CX anywhere, SFO, HKG, JNB.

    Other than TG at BKK, TG at HKG, and LH departures via the FCT at FRA, can’t really think of any special ground services by anyone.

    You are correct about Concorde Room, actually wish you had reviewed the normal F lounge there as a comparison.

  3. @ Carl — Don’t disagree one bit, though in this case I’m comparing them directly to their other European counterparts. I think Air France wins hands down in every way when it comes to ground services.

    Lufthansa will pick you up if you arrive at a remote stand, and will drop you off at your aircraft if it’s more than a five minute walk. If nothing else their lounge is exceptional, with genuinely friendly and proactive service, which I don’t find to be the case with British Airways.

    I’ve reviewed the British Airways Galleries First Lounge before (really more of the OneWorld Emerald lounge than anything else) and it’s certainly fine. I wouldn’t say the Concorde Room is much better, if at all.

    Maybe this is all more a function of it being Heathrow than anything specific to British Airways…

  4. I feel bad for the poor slobs traveling economy who have to transit through Heathrow and don’t get to guzzle down bottles of champagne to relieve the stress of not flying premium.

    You’re a brave man for ordering anything in the lounge though. Given your post about the the health code violations in that kitchen, it’s a good thing you didn’t get food poisoning or God knows what else.

  5. I agree Ben. I’ve been totally under-whelmed with the LHR Concorde Room. I once pre-reserved a Cabana via You FIrst and found it to be thoroughly disappointing. I prefer the LHR VS Clubhouse/ground experience (esp. private security channel) any day.

  6. ā€œSir, this is a delicate champagne,ā€ to which I responded ā€œyes, or else I wouldnā€™t be drinking itā€ – LOL Classic!

  7. To get the full value of the Concorde Room, I was quite happy with the cabana and spa reservations on my outbound flights. On my inbound flights I was never able to get to the Concorde Room and ended up having to use the business lounge on one of the outer terminalsā€¦..albeit with a shower roomā€¦ā€¦..but the AF experience does sound superiorā€¦ā€¦.When I fly into FRA on UA FC is that same day ticket going to get me into the LH FC terminal?

  8. @ JustSaying — Nope, the Lufthansa first class lounge is only available to those flying Lufthansa (and not partner) first class same day.

  9. @Ben – “Have you EVER seen a jet bridge that long in your life?!” Looks like you flew out of C62. I can assure you that C57 across the hall is worse, and C62 (one more gate down from you) is even worse than that. I had the displeasure of using C57 on a flight to JNB last year that was boarding all four classes of service from *one* door.

    @Carl (and others) – LH seems to experiment with escorts at different airports for varying periods of time. I went through a period when I would get LH first escorts through security and passport control at JNB a number of years ago; then out of nowhere a few years later LX started escorting first pax through security and passport control there, though I don’t think this lasted as long. One time the LX escort went with me all the way to the duty free refund desk before taking me to the VS clubhouse, and both LH and LX had escorts from the lounges to the plane.

    Finally, random datapoint: Just three months ago I saw a LH first pax escorted through security at LAX – he wasn’t able to cut to the front of the line of machines, however he was able to cut to the front of the ID verification queue. No idea if this is a permanent thing with LH at LAX, but again, they seem to do it periodically for certain lengths of time at different stations, no idea of the rationale.

  10. Lucky, you mean both the FC lounge and the FC terminal are only available to those flying Lufthansa (and not partner) first class same day, right? Or just the terminal?

  11. @ wwk5d — Both. You have to be flying Lufthansa or Swiss same day (either arriving or departing) to use any of their first class lounges. Passengers in first class on partner airlines can only use the Senator Lounge.

  12. So if you had enough miles to go FC AF one way and FC LH one way connecting on to a Nice or Rome, which one would you recommend for inbound versus outbound from SFO?

  13. @ justSaying — Toughie, I don’t really think it makes a huge difference which airline you fly in which direction. Some say the catering is better on Air France out of Paris, so I might do them on the return and Lufthansa on the outbound.

  14. Forgot about Asiana F at Incheon. They did escort me from check-in to security, and from the lounge to the aircraft. But nothing like TG does at BKK, which is just spectacular.

    I would also add that transiting through Incheon on Asiana C the last time, it was a good 20 minutes getting through transit security. In that case, the que was poorly managed.

  15. I don’t know what everyone elses’ experience has been… but I had a great experience at JFK’s BA CCR and First boarding. The lounge was relaxing, food was surprisingly good and boarding was straight on for First. I’ve also read similar stories re EWR’s (relatively) new BA lounge as well. Just my $0.02

  16. Brian – it’s not like I disagree with you but sometimes we have to take a deep breath. I’ve also experienced LH, CX, AF and Thai FC and you’re right – much better. But my First First was BA and I still feel blessed when I fly them. That first time in the Concorde Lounge, well, we felt we had died and gone to heaven!

    Your audience is NOT paying for these flights, the game is tougher than ever and very often, BA is the ONLY game in town. And it is still heads and tails over any US carrier. So I guess I just have an issue with the extreme emotion of your blog on this points. You had a flight in First on a great airline. Other airlines have provided better lounges and ground services – got it. Hope BA moves ahead to match up tho I imagine in some areas, Heathrow is the problem. But as First Class flights get harder and harder to find, let’s be grateful that BA still gives us some of their inventory!

  17. @Carl – Unless arriving at the Z gates, I’ve always had a car or van pick me up at FRA arriving on LH F. Even at MUC the last two times arriving at the new terminal under construction. I agree however, departing LH outstation service is a hit and miss.

  18. @MaxC – I had a pretty decent experience at JFK’s CCR. I found that the best food at JFK was actually at the buffet at the Galleries lounge (which was exclusive to BA passengers only).

    I definitely had a pretty similar experience to transiting LHR as Ben did. The security at LHR actually made me empty the amenity kit that BA gave me into a plastic bag so I could put it through security scanners. They told me I could not have more than 1 plastic bag with toiletries in it. There were people behind me in the security line who were on the same flight as me who I am pretty sure missed the connection because of this. T5 is a very confusing place to arrive into and an escort for F passengers could really help. On my way back through LHR where I transited from T5 to T4, security seemed to be more relaxed, but still a hassle. Although, most big airports in the US are not easy to transit especially if changing terminals (LAX comes to mind).

  19. Lucky – At least you didn’t order the joke of a burger they offer in the CCR. I never understood why anyone thought that that was anything special.

  20. The CCR is a joke–especially when compared to QF and CX’s offerings. I’ve done quite a few BA F flights..both into/out of LHR, and just recently did a SYD-SIN on them a couple of days ago. Most of them have left me significantly underwhelmed. While the New First blinds are great–the seat/space itself is just a glorified business class. Combine that with how many seats they manage to cram in there, and off and on surly crews–just makes BA in a league with most NA carriers IMO (though the wine/liquor selections are definitely better).

  21. Re the jetbridge – not long ago I was at one of these T5 gates and the gate agent gushed (as though very proud of the fact): “This is the longest jetty in Europe!” The kicker: we walked all the way to the end of the bridge and the connector to the plane was broken. So we had to trudge down stairs, across the ramp in the rain, and up a flight of roll-up stairs to board.

    @Steven S – I agree that none of us (our esteemed blogger included) should take the incredible privilege of flying in F for granted. But precisely because it’s a rare opportunity, I want to know which products are most worth the splurge. I’m glad Lucky doesn’t just gush over every one of them, because there are differences and I appreciate learning about them.

  22. I love Outback! Highly recommend asking the waiter to prepare raspberry butter with the bread (just have them mix butter and their raspberry preserves). Amazing!

  23. @Steven S –

    There are many here who fly on paid on CASH tickets who appreciate Ben’s insights. I don’t have Ben’s mission statement, but to me, his reviews inform some (not all) my first class purchases (some of the expenses, many paid out-of-pocket), and I appreciate that.

    I have a long-haul two-segment first class purchase coming up. EK vs. LH vs AF vs. LX vs. BA. I appreciate the reminders about BA fist ground “service,” I’m glad to know about the AF inflight service (though I still won’t pay for it with cash again until they upgrade their planes next year, and yes, their lounge ROCKS!), and LX forces a connection to UA metal (LOL! Not gonna’ happen). So I’m down to EK and LH. Two tough choices, but I’ve been able to narrow them down from feedback here as well as Flyertalk, other bloggers, and colleagues.

    So no, you can’t speak for Ben’s audience; it’s broader than you might think. But they’re certainly intelligent, well-traveled travelers (including you), and thank goodness for that!

  24. You’re right TravelinWilly – I don’t know all of Lucky’s audience tho I would certainly be surprised if many are paying for First Class. But I also agree that I appreciate learning about the pros and cons of all of the carriers and am grateful for all I have learned from him and other bloggers. I just feel that we have to keep some level of perspective in that for me and many others, shit man, these flights are “almost” free and we are blessed to be able to partake of them. Yeah, Halle Berry is more beautiful than Jennifer Aniston, but…..!!!!! šŸ˜‰

  25. @luckyā€”Hang on; you’re saying that I can’t access LH F-lounges of ANY kind even if I have a first class ticket on another Star Alliance carrier? That’s another deviation from official policy, isn’t it? From the 2013 Reference Guide:

    “Customers have access to International First Class and/or any Star Alliance member carriersā€™ own lounges.”

    I can understand limiting access to the First Class Terminal, but the regular lounge too? What’s the difference between LH and SQ at this point then?

  26. @ Steven L. — That’s correct, but an exception is made for Lufthansa first class lounges and the Singapore Private Room. They get away with this by calling their Senator Lounge the first class lounge, and the first class lounge their HON Lounge.

  27. @Steven L – Good gosh, we wouldn’t want that UA riff raff in the FCT! šŸ˜‰ BTW you can make use of the SEN lounges and the arrivals lounge at FRA though.

  28. Gosh, I fly BA regularly (and just love their ClubWorld Business Class), but I have never seen such a queue at the fast track desk. Seems I always have been lucky with my early birds from Berlin and Mudday arrivaks from Mexico…

  29. I flew KIX-FRA-JFK a couple of weeks ago in LH F. There was certainly no pickup service for the arriving flight. I had to trudge for what seemed like miles through barren corridors before I reached passport control, then had to leave the terminal building and walk through the taxi lot to find the FCT. The guy at immigration thought it was strange that I would enter Germany for two hours just to use the FCT, but how else would I get a duck?

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