Is British Airways First Class Good?

A couple of days ago I posted a video of BBC Two’s “A Very British Airline,” which is a documentary that follows around various aspects of British Airways’ operations.

Reader Max C left the following comment, which I found interesting:

I realize there are many horror stories of poor food, service and hard product on BA (esp in F) and that it’s fashionable to bash BA. I may be in the minority but I’ve had three TA trips in BA F in the last four months and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was, comfortable hard product and great personalized service. Again, maybe a small n size, but credit where credit is due.

Of course, they do not measure up to CX F or SQ Suites, which I have also been on in the last year – but for me, the gap was not as big as I had imagined it would be. Maybe the strict training I saw in Episode 1 is paying off?

I think Max is onto something. Is it fashionable to bash British Airways?

I know a lot of people think I’m a “British Airways hater,” though I don’t think that’s the case. Yes, maybe I unfairly love Lufthansa, but I don’t think I unfairly dislike British Airways. I actually really like British Airways first class and recommend it, as long as you come in with the right expectations.


British Airways 747-400

Here are a few reviews I’ve written of British Airways first class:

I do think I fairly summed up British Airways first class with this statement:

On the whole I had a great flight. I still think in terms of hard product British Airways’ first class is more like a good business class product than a first class product based on the seat width and lack of storage. And the food isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination either.

But I still think it’s better than most US airlines, if for no other reason than the stylish feel of the cabin and the fact that it’s something different.

So lets just briefly talk about a few aspects of British Airways’ first class experience:

British Airways first class cabins & seats

British Airways’ first class cabins are possibly the most stylish in the sky, though definitely not the most comfortable. British Airways is the largest operator of 747s in the world, and they have the tightest first class configuration of any airline I know. They cram 14 seats into the nose of the 747. Lets look at how many first class seats other airlines put in the nose of the 747:

  • Lufthansa — 8
  • Cathay Pacific — 9
  • United — 12

So the product is really cramped on the 747, and I don’t think it’s considerably better than a reverse herringbone business class seat.


British Airways 747 first class

The cabin does feel more spacious on the 777 given that the cabin is wider. And the A380 product is actually materially better, given that the A380 has an even wider cabin, still with four seats per row. So I’d say the first class hard product on the A380 is actually “solid.”

British-Airways-A380-First-Class-01
British Airways A380 first class cabin

To British Airways’ credit, their first class cabins are especially stylish, possibly the most stylish in the sky. But at best they have an average first class hard product (on their A380s), and at worst they have a really good business class hard product (on their 747s).

British Airways first class food

Ultimately I’m not someone that needs foie gras or salmon or caviar to enjoy a meal. But if you are looking for “first class touches” with your food, British Airways really doesn’t deliver. I can name several airlines that have business class catering that’s on par with British Airways’ first class catering. For example, I’ve never been served anything in British Airways first class that I wouldn’t have also expected in Austrian, Turkish, or Etihad business class, just to name a few.

British-Airways-A380-First-Class-55
British Airways first class pan-fried halibut main course

In fairness to British Airways, I do love their afternoon tea.


British Airways first class afternoon tea

British Airways first class service

Service is a bit hit or miss, though on the whole I enjoy first class service on British Airways. Even Singapore Airlines has service inconsistencies, so this is hardly a point on which I’d criticize them.

British Airways Concorde Room

If anything, my biggest frustration with British Airways involves their ground experience at London Heathrow. It’s a hellish airport to begin with, and British Airways doesn’t really offer any priority ground services for their first class passengers, unlike all of the other European airlines offering a first class product.

The one area where I’ll admit that I “bash” British Airways is with their Concorde Room at London Heathrow. In my experience the staff are arrogant, the 15 minute spa treatments suck (and you have to book them in advance — good luck getting a treatment within a reasonable timeframe day of), the food isn’t good, and the bathrooms/shower rooms look like they’re straight out of hospitals.


British Airways Concorde Room terrace

The only saving grace of the lounge, in my opinion, is that they serve Grand Siecle champagne, which is the same champagne they serve aboard.

British-Airways-A380-First-Class-19
British Airways first class Grand Siecle champagne

Bottom line

British Airways has a fairly solid first class product. They’re also the only major airline in the world with a first class product for which you can’t redeem miles through any major program without paying fuel surcharges. So if you’re redeeming miles for British Airways first class you’re not just paying the mileage premium for flying first class, but also parting with a good amount of cash in order to be able to experience it.

I don’t think British Airways first class is on par with Lufthansa or Air France first class.

Lufthansa hands down has a superior first class hard product. There are aspects of their meal service that are better, like the caviar, but then there are also aspects of the meal service that are dreadful, so lets call it a tie. But then they also have a hell of a ground experience in Frankfurt, which you don’t have with British Airways.

Lufthansa-First-Class-747-38
Lufthansa first class caviar service

As far as Air France goes, I’d say their catering is better than British Airways’, and their ground experience in Paris is so much better than British Airways’. London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle are possibly the two worst airports in the world. The difference in how the two airlines treat their first class passengers at their respective mega-hubs is just night-and-day.

Air-France-First-Lounge-Paris-07
Air France Paris first class lounge

Still, British Airways first class sometimes just feels really “fun,” has great onboard amenities (nice pajamas and amenity kits), and has a really stylish cabin. As long as you have reasonable expectations of the service and the 747 seat, you should have a nice trip in it.

Am I off base? Is British Airways first class better than I’m saying? Worse?

Comments

  1. I just redeemed my last Chase 2 for 1 award voucher. $2200 in surcharges in F to mainland Europe, no stopover in UK. I almost decided not to use it, but in the end am taking my dad, i enjoy their product, and availability was excellent.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with LHR and CDG being the worst airports. Busy certainly but LAX needs to be pulled down and rebuilt. It’s ugly and tired much like several US airports that I have the misfortune to frequent. I agree that BA’s service is mixed but again compared with many airlines this is nothing new. I also point out that BA’s route network is one of the most comprehensive in the world. Good and Bad points I’d rather fly BA to LHR than UA any day!

  3. I’ve flown BA F on SFO-LHR and LAX-LHR in the 747 and will be flying BA F on the A380 from LHR-LAX in October this year. I suppose if you pay for F, then these differences are more material–as you really want to get the most for your money when you spend that much money!

    When you use miles for F, I don’t tend to be quite as picky–though I still prefer as much comfort as possible, understandably! For me, F in most airlines internationally is pretty darn good and a good deal for the miles I accumulate simply by spend for the most part.

    BA F is pretty good. Their hard product, which is what I most care about, is very good, in my opinion. That being said, I like UA F far more than most–it gets the job done, and it’s very comfortable and very easy to get as a premium award ticket.

    Are there better products out there? Sure there are. CX F is about the best I’ve flown, but I can’t fly that from LAX to Europe. SQ F I’ve not flown, but it looks amazing. Asian F was amazing service but not quite so good a hard product–their entertainment system was the worst I’ve ever seen (even Aeroflot Biz was better from LAX-SVO than Asiana’s F from LAX-ICN, shockingly).

    These are largely marginal differences for people with more time on their hands or enthusiasts who appreciate the flights on their own merits rather than using flights to get them to where they need to go for leisure or business purposes. They are entitled to their opinions, of course, but so am I.

    Sometimes, the differences just aren’t that big a deal. When you fly F on a major airline, it’s already pretty good. People are welcome to parse the differences, but I’ll take F on a nonstop longhaul to where I specifically want to go anytime over a supposedly better F on connecting longhauls to get a little better service or food.

  4. In December and January we decided to take BA First to Europe as well as several Club World flights around Europe. For two tickets I paid $2,500 in fees for my “free” tickets, but figured it was worth it to try BA First…WRONG!

    American was actually a significantly better product in just about every way…especially the food. American isn’t Cathy, but compared to BA, I’ll take it and without the insane fees. We too a 777 both ways…my seat and several others were broken – footrest was stuck up and unusable, plus other issues. The Concorde Room (which I loved years ago) had broken furniture in our cabana–think three-legged day bed…and the food was poor.

    The only food my wife had the one day was on the airplane and she ended up with food poisoning…I can’t prove it was BA, but the food was definitely off.

    Now, let’s talk about calling the BA First line–I think that the customer service lines for hell might be better. Completely ignorant, for me a long hold time, and unless it has changed, it closes as 8:00 pm. By the way, I always loved the tea service as well on BA, however, three of the four flights had no tea service–tea, but no scones or anything else that BA normally serves.

    I was shocked overall and will either stick with American or the Asian airlines when possible. In case you think this is BA bashing, I went into the experience thinking that BA was better than the US airlines and looked forward to the trip. I’ll never pay those fees again for a product that simply does not care about repairs, cleanliness, or food.

  5. I don’t understand the point of this post. You just reformulated a few remarks from previous trip reports and recycled a bunch of photos. Why?

  6. I have to laugh. I have flown all of these services and I have to tell you. BA in F is wonderful. Yes a little cramped on the 744, but c’mon guys. You are flying for free. Service is outstanding. No, not like the indentured servants on the Asian airlines. (The nuance here is the cultural differences.) Actually my meal in F on BA flying from YYZ to LHR was better than CX F flying from HKG to SFO. The BA lounges at LHR were better than the CX F Lounge in HKG. LH food is generally inedible. But again, I fly for free and get whisked away in a chauffeured Panamera to boot. How lucky am I? If I were paying full fare then maybe I would be more hyper-critical. But even with the xtra fees and service charges, I can not complain. I totally get why the airlines are limiting/making it more difficult for non-fliers to get into the F cabin. Cough up the cash and then we can talk.

  7. @ Mark — I prefer the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class ground experience to the British Airways first class ground experience, but I’d still choose British Airways for the added space and better bedding. First class is almost always better than business class.

  8. @ @Orlijr — But I think it’s possible to acknowledge that even a crappy first class product can be a great use of miles (not saying British Airways first class is crappy, though), and still objectively compare airlines to one another. Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, ANA, etc., all compete directly in some markets. And all of their premium cabin products are accessible in miles. So I don’t think it’s unfair to rate them, while still acknowledging that the worst among them is a great use of miles.

  9. I think all this discussion about the hard product misses a key point – airlines want first class to occupy a single cabin section and will fit in as many seats as they can sell. The density is driven by potential revenue, not, as is inferred here, by a desire to offer ever larger seats.

    BA operates from, by a huge margin, the largest first class market in the world, so offers the most seats, but there’s no way they’re going to let First spread into a second cabin section.

    As far as I know, nine of the top ten first class routes in the world originate at Heathrow; fourteen of the top twenty.

    Lufthansa’s busiest First Class route ranks 25th – they offer fewer seats because they can’t fill any more, not because they care more about your comfort.

  10. Hi,

    I don’t think so. Some points, I’ll respond.

    Spa treatments could be book in advance via “your first” team. No trouble at all to get an appointnent ever. Even when you just walk in.

    I really like the concord room and use this more than 3times every month (because I have a CCR card and could use this always)

    The service depends, how on all other airlines and its individual. In my opinion, the new menues and the tasting menue is very good.

    On the hard facts: I really like the seats 1A/k in the 747. It’s not so spacious like other airlines. It’s another style

    On the other hand. I really like the extra bed on Lufthansa’s 747-4 but the biggest complain on Lufthansa, you never know what you will get. (Except the 748 and A380) it’s a shame for my, if Lufthansa sell the old (more than 20years) old F product for the full price.

    I really like CX, the seat on AA 777-3 (but mostly not the service, except my trip this week)

    For me, the best first in total is QF on the A380, overall hard, soft and service aspects.

    Conclusion.

    I think, it’s really hard to have “the best” product. For me it could be the LH 747-4 seat plus a suite design, the service from cathay, amenitys from QF or BA, pyjamas from QR F (got it this week and think its one of the best) and the food from the BA tasting menue plus caviar.

    :-))

  11. I flew BA from SEA to ZRH last October in First Class since according to their Avios scheme only First class was available. At this point I didn’t I just needed to get beck to Switzerland to hopefully sill see my dad alive.This was my second time flying first class on BA (first 747 and the other A380) transatlantic route. I was not impress a bit and if I could put a number on it I’d say no more than 5% better than Business.

    On a side note I have so many miles and companion tickets that I cannot use since BA just wont give any Business or First Class tickets. While they claim 10% are allocated then as Americans we never have any change to get those seats since they are released at a certain date and England and the rest of Europe have 8-10 advantage over us.

  12. I liked your comparison with Lufthansa and air France to British airways. Since I am a Delta airlines guy I have never flown first class (delta won’t allow F redemption) though I am trying Lufthansa for the first time (paid first class) this August JFK-FRA-VCE (of course with a long layover in FRA at the first class terminal). Now I am intrigued to try Air France first class, which would have to pay for but because of your blog I am keen to try them out.

    The fact that I am about to fly another airline that is not skyteam is impressive for me. Daunting but exciting at the same time!

  13. Just returned. BA F 777 outbound and 747 inbound. Fourth time we’ve done BA First. Good article. My observations and they are colored by the fact that they are award tickets but still:

    1. Both cabins were so very comfortable. The crew each time was absolutely perfect – charming, warm, funny and attentive. Could not have asked for anything more.

    2. We live in NJ but my favorite seat configuration is the 747 if we can get seats 2A and 2 K. We each have window seats and the cabin at that point is narrow enough that we can communicate with each other. That said, the massive traffic from JFK back to NJ made this my last time doing that. I laugh at the complaints about the “crowded” cabin. It makes me think about BA’s Business cabin which, to me, looks like steerage! 8 seats across? Don’t get it. Tried it once and that was enough.

    3. Concorde Room. Again, works very well for me. We had an 11:20 AM flight home and even tho we get breakfast at the hotel, we left early to have breakfast there. It was fine tho the service, while cordial, we weak. That said, the minute you leave the Concorde room, they do NOTHING for their First Class passengers and if I was paying many thousands, I’d be pissed. I think of the other airlines who have either whisked me thru Security or driven me to the plane and I don’t get it.

    Bottom line, however, is that while the taxes are high, they still tend to have better First availability than most other airlines so there is no doubt I’ll be using them again!

  14. lucky, fair enough. I just think sometimes we take this all too seriously. We risk looking like snobs. Put on your PJs, sip some champagne and look out the window and think how lucky we are lucky! Thanks!

  15. One important aspect fir amateurs like is whether I can actually redeem the F award when I want to. In the last eighteen months I have redeemed 18 person segments in F on BA, along with 4 person segments in J. I have also redeemed 2 person segments on AA in F and 7 person segments on SQ in Suites. I find it impossible to book on Lufthansa. Given my relatively tight availability windows. So while I appreciate the comparisons between the various airlines F features, the hard product, the sift product and the availability or lack thereof if Satay and dessert for me the ability to actually obtain a redemption is more important.

  16. afraid i can’t agree with the folks saying you have no right to high expectations on award tix. i for one put an enormous amount of investment into my awards strategy. so yeah, while i’m not paying tens of thousands for RT in F, i’m still putting spend and loyalty on the line.

    F products should be competitively head and shoulders above the rest. full stop. while i won’t comment on BA since i haven’t flown them in F, i will say i quite enjoyed their business and prem. economy products — largely because of the courtesy and enthusiasm of the crew. likewise, i have had some quite mediocre flights on BA with dour, disinterested crews.

  17. @Orlijr

    Award travel isn’t free on BA one is paying with point, PLUS the surcharges are sky high. Furthermore, whether it’s an award redemption or cash, first class needs to be first class service, period. That some are willing to accept less because they’re paying with points seems a less than logical way to view it.

  18. @Nycflyer75

    I very much enjoy this blog, and generally Ben’s reviews are in line with my experience, but (and Ben, I love you to death man, I really do!) Ben has experienced AF first on one segment, one trip, and as one who has flown them multiple times over the years, I’ve found their first service to be awful to okay. Where they absolutely stand out is the first lounge in Paris; it’s under-publicized and it’s one of the world’s best and for that I’ll give them all the props I can. Even the hard product, while not even close to modern, is comfortable for sleeping. Service? Not worth the risk.

    I was on a paid F trip last month to S. Africa, and I was tempted to try AF again (based on Ben’s review), but ultimately, I went LH for the revenue ticket. I knew what I’d get (out of the zillions LH first flights I’ve been on, I’ve had one dud crewmember, ever), and on this last trip they delivered, as usual. If you end up doing an AF trip, do let us know your thoughts!

  19. My family just had 4 flights out of CDG on 3 different airlines and dropping off a Sixt rental car……..I can’t remember ever having a rental car return more convenient and closer to my gate and a terminal drive plan that easily allowed my son to be dropped off for another terminal (using a Lucky booked ticket)……granted the Star Alliance FC club was austere but it made both my wife and I to remark that CDG is worth going out of the way to fly back across the pond when a rental car turning is part of the mix and to ALWAYS stay away from LHR…….

  20. Base on many of your posts I really think you are “unfairly” love Lufthansa!

    Because I do love Lufthansa too and have a “thing” for Germans. And lots of people may have low sample size or did not try many various carriers. I tried most of top carriers in F. Base from my 10+ First class experiences on BA vs LH. I think I like BA much better. The cabin is the most stylish, but I think Lufthansa is equally good. BA F seats maybe smaller… but not to the Business class level and still comfortable with the exception of middle seats on 747. The service can be hit and miss on every airlines if your sample size grow bigger (even CX, SQ, for me). I maybe lucky that most of my 10+ times with BA F have been very good. While Lufthansa, I had a few of surprisingly “bad” service in F, on the basic things like having to ask 4 times for oj, and it came after I finished my breakfast already. Food may vary depending on personal taste. I may not prefer western food that much and did not say BA food are that good but mostly they are quite good while I think 99% of the food on Lufthansa First class are really bad! Caviar and desserts are nice.. but inedible food.

    Concorde room service is ok, and agree that Concorde room food @LHR sucks badly! But does the food in LH FCT that much better?? no! only a bit better, both is not even 1/10 compare to Air France CDG FCL. And if you try Concorde room at JFK, at least the food there is better than LH FCL anywhere.

  21. Overall a pretty reasonable summary, Ben. Of course for those of us who mainly only have earning opportunities with BA (being based over here) we’re stuck with fuel surcharges on all our redemptions but at least with them being applied to all bookings we don’t get quite as swamped by the glut of Avios available to US customers

  22. @Marco

    Do you have a source you can cite that shows BA passengers in the UK have access to award space 8-10 days before the rest of the world? I know that may be true for their OW partners, but I think they release seats to everyone at the same time regardless of geographical location.

  23. @Rory
    Ben has ignored you, so I will chip in.
    BA could have put F in 1 cabin (UPSTAIRS) as they did years ago on the 747.
    I flew BA F then from BOM-LHR 1995 and it was fine and less claustrophobic.
    The NGBC seating with alternate seats facing each other is just a gimmick to cram more seats.
    They have to price their product less and so have to cram more so they can price it less and open more up for awards, for which they can charge more fuel fees and so on and so on.
    The best strategy for my AA miles – ABBA – Anything But BA!

  24. I also think much like EY Residences being above F, LH should have kept their F class -upgraded the seats – and added 4 suites on their 747s at the front.
    They could have kept it only for paid F, for Hon etc etc and maintained exclusivity.
    Anyday, LH is > BA for service in F.
    AF is iffy as service is VERY variable and to expensive.

  25. @ Rory — I have to disagree with that. You say they fit in “as many seats as they can sell.” I guess it depends how you define “sell,” because British Airways releases the most transatlantic first class seats by a wide margin. So if by sell you mean release them for some miles and fuel surcharges, then I suppose you’re correct. But on a per first class seat basis, I’d be willing to bet that they also have the lowest transatlantic first class yields.

  26. @ Lucky – do you think BA doesn’t provide any special service for those flying F because they can’t/won’t compete with Heathrow’s VIP service?

    Also, not sure I agree with commenters here singing praises to BA’s availability in F. Perhaps if you book way, way ahead of time – yes; but it dries up significantly, at least from Houston. Last fall needed to do a roundtrip to Central Europe but BA space on IAH-LHR was almost nonexistent 1-2 months out. By comparison, had no trouble booking SQ F (IAH-DME) and LX F (ZRH-ORD).

    Perhaps, it’s all the oil money — IAH-LHR in J is even more impossible to find.

  27. @ Ivan Y — I don’t think it has anything to do with the VIP service, per se, but rather that they don’t think they have to — they do think they offer one of the world’s best first class products. They also have so many first class passengers that it would probably be a challenge, given how big their cabins are.

  28. Just returned from rt, JFK-LHR on BA First and totally agree with you, Lucky. BA’s First is an exemplary Business product–nothing more. The ‘new’ First Classs seats are narrow and oddly canted away from the windows. The ‘visitor’ seat offers better views out of the aircraft, but really is not wide enough for a companion. Food was pleasant–i.e. undistinguished. When compared to the trans-Atlantic European competition ( LH, AF, LX ) BA pales. One more note: The Concorde Room staff is not trained to enhance the First Class experience…They are polite, but perfunctory. If BA wants to cultivate elite flyers they need look no farther than the Premiere lounge across the Channel at CDG!

  29. Don’t go to the Concorde Room. Go to the other lounge at the other end of T5 — it’s much cleaner, newer, better food, better air conditioning, better layout, better style. Concorde Room is due for a makeover, imho.

    What I do love about BA is feeling confident in the expertise, attitude, experience of the crew at the pointy end.

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