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”). 😉 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.
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…
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.
I do like the “outside” terrace area, though.
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.
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?!
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…