Review: British Airways First Class 777 Austin To London

Introduction
Review: American Economy Class A321 Los Angeles To New York
Review: American Business Class 767 New York To Madrid
Review: American Flagship Lounge Dallas DFW Airport
Review: British Airways First Class 777 Austin To London
Review: Westin Palace Madrid Hotel
Exploring Madrid
Day Trip To Toledo
Review: Iberia Business Class Lounge Madrid
Review: Sala VIP Amnios Lounge Madrid
Review: Iberia Economy Class A321 Madrid To London
Review: American Business Class 777-300ER London To Los Angeles


Finding first class award space between the West Coast and Europe is tough. Very tough.

So when I decided to try and fly my cousin Heather and I to Madrid in first, I knew it was going to be a challenge. The fallback plan was to book business class, and I wasn’t too worried about eventually finding space on one airline or another.

The planning process

At six weeks prior to departure there of course wasn’t any availability, but we had a good sense of our travel parameters. I think this is key to being flexible when you aren’t really flexible. We targeted Thursday as our ideal travel day, but organized things at home so that we could leave Wednesday, or even Tuesday if something super fun opened up.

And then we waited.

The Sunday prior to departure there still weren’t any great options. Lufthansa had only released award space on routes that weren’t all that convenient for our situation (like Atlanta > Frankfurt), and the landscape in general was looking a bit grim. My husband is used to my crazy travel shenanigans and didn’t bat an eyelash when I told him I didn’t know when I was flying, but Heather’s friends and family were definitely confused.

“So when do you leave for Europe?”
“Mmm, not sure yet.”
“Isn’t that trip this week?”
“Yep!”
“And you don’t have flights because…?”
“It’s complicated.”

On Monday morning American released space between Dallas and Madrid for Wednesday. We’d have to fly Economy to Dallas, and the old first class product on American is hardly an aspirational use of miles (and I’ve been aggressively redeeming AA miles this year in anticipation of an award chart hemorrhage, so it’s not like I have millions of miles there anymore), but the schedule itself was pretty convenient. I held the flights as a backup option, and kept stalking Lufthansa space.

On Tuesday a bunch of Star Alliance space was released for Wednesday, but nothing from Western cities. Heather lives in Eastern Washington, so extra segments are part of the game, but the best itinerary I could put together was:

Spokane > Denver > Chicago > Frankfurt > Munich (Overnight) > Madrid

Lufthansa-Routing

She was excited about the prospect of overnighting in Munich, but I was less than thrilled with trying to book that many segments through Aeroplan. I’m still not entirely sure it’s possible, but it ended up being a moot point as Heather called as I was on hold for Agent #2.

“I don’t know how any of this works, so tell me if this is obnoxious.”
“Okay….”
“Is there any way we can still leave on Thursday? I’m having a Mom Fail. So we’re either going to carve pumpkins at 10PM tonight, or can we leave Thursday?”

And really all of that is just to help justify why I ultimately chose to redeem miles for British Airways First Class, even though it is not a good value, at all.

The only real option for a premium cabin on Thursday ended up being British Airways from Austin on the 777, and tickets to Austin were reasonable from both San Diego and Spokane. I also had a Travel Together Ticket set to expire in early January, and no plans to reasonably use it otherwise.

So for 115,000 Avios and ~$900 in cash I booked the following:

British-Airways-Routing

That’s not a horrible price for two people, and is a bit less expensive miles-wise than what I was prepared to pay for Lufthansa, but it is still undeniably pricey.

And that, folks, is why I use a cashback card to create a “travel fund” in addition to my miles-earning cards. Sometimes stuff is expensive, and it’s nice to not feel guilty about it.

With all that out of the way, I’m going to write up our entire British Airways experience in this one post. We didn’t really fly anything that hasn’t already been reviewed here on the blog in extensive detail, and I’m just really not good at taking pictures on airplanes (though I’m trying to get better!).

British Airways First Class to London

British Airways 190
Austin (AUS) – London (LHR)
Thursday, October 29
Depart: 7:41PM
Arrive: 9:34AM
Duration: 8hr53min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 2E & 2F (First Class)

Heather’s flight was a bit delayed getting to Austin, so we ended up having a fairly short connection. British Airways uses gate 2, but the Austin airport is tiny, so even with walking to the far end of the terminal we had plenty of time.

British-Airways-777-first-class-01
Austin airport departures hall

Beyond that, boarding was delayed about twenty minutes, which gave us plenty of time to catch up, charge our electronics, and people watch.

British-Airways-777-first-class-02
Austin airport departures hall

Upon boarding, we settled in to our seats in the center section of first.

British-Airways-777-first-class-04
British Airways first class

The crew delivered pajamas, slippers, and amenity kits, which as usual were well stocked:

British-Airways-777-first-class-07
British Airways first class pajamas

British-Airways-777-first-class-08
British Airways first class amenities

Menus were perfunctorily delivered, and the Cabin Service Director and then Captain began the nearly-endless announcements that are typical of British Airways. Those people sure love using the PA!

British-Airways-777-first-class-06
British Airways first class pre-departure beverage

At which point Heather, having only previously flown Virgin Atlantic Upper Class in terms of premium cabins, turned to me and delivered the most innocently scathing condemnation of British Airways ever:

“So, what exactly is the difference between business and first?”

And that, really, sums up the problems with British Airways first quite nicely.

Our flight attendants were anything but chipper as they delivered mixed nuts and poured champagne, then gave us time to look over the menus.

British-Airways-777-first-class-09
British Airways first class champagne and nuts

The wine list read as follows:

British-Airways-777-first-class-22

British-Airways-777-first-class-23

British-Airways-777-first-class-24

While the dinner selections included the following:

British-Airways-777-first-class-25

British-Airways-777-first-class-26

The main courses on British Airways tend to be underwhelming, so we decided to order a bit heavier on the appetizers in anticipation of disappointing entrees.

The amuse bouche was an herbed goat cheese with pine nuts:

British-Airways-777-first-class-10
British Airways first class amuse bouche

Followed by the smoked salmon for me:

British-Airways-777-first-class-11
British Airways first class smoked salmon

And the shallot tarte for Heather:

British-Airways-777-first-class-12
British Airways first class tarte

We both ordered the soup as well, which was the standout of all the dishes:

British-Airways-777-first-class-13
British Airways first class spinach soup

And then we had salads just to make ourselves feel a bit better, basically:

British-Airways-777-first-class-14
British Airways first class salad

The mains, as I’d more or less expected, were a complete disaster.

I ordered the chicken:

British-Airways-777-first-class-15
British Airways first class roasted chicken

While Heather chose the fillet:

British-Airways-777-first-class-16
British Airways first class beef fillet

Neither was anything even approaching tasty, so we didn’t have more than a bite each.

We had switched from champagne to wine (the Bordeaux) during the meal, and decided to finish our glasses with a cheese plate:

British-Airways-777-first-class-17
British Airways first class cheese plate

For a short flight, the meal service was very slow. The flight attendants also didn’t do a great job of synchronizing service on both aisles, which slowed the process further. I received my salad about ten minutes before Heather’s was delivered, etc., so it was more than three hours into the flight before we were finished with the service.

With under five hours to go, we asked the crew to make up our beds, and settled in for a nap:

British-Airways-777-first-class-18
British Airways first class bed

I woke up after maybe an hour to a sweltering cabin. Like Tokyo department stores in the summer of 2011 warm.

The gentleman to my right had beads of sweat pouring off his face, and when I glanced over at Heather she had rolled her pajamas up to her shoulders and thighs. The woman across from her was holding a glass of ice to her forehead.

Glad it wasn’t just me, I walked up to the galley and politely mentioned the cabin was quite warm, and asked if anything could be done. The crew member rolled her eyes and literally stomped away, but she turned the air on, so I’m counting that as a win.

At this point we had about four hours to go, so I figured I could sleep for at least three hours.

About two and a half hours prior to landing, however, the crew abruptly turned the lights on in the cabin, and began taking breakfast orders. The menu options consisted of the following:

British-Airways-first-class-breakfast-menu

We both ordered a cappuccino to start:

British-Airways-777-first-class-21
British Airways first class cappuccino

And then Heather chose the frittata:

British-Airways-777-first-class-19
British Airways first class breakfast

While I opted for fruit and yogurt:

British-Airways-777-first-class-20
British Airways first class breakfast

The breakfast service was, impossibly, even worse than the dinner service. It took well over an hour to get a second cup of coffee, and the towels we’d anxiously anticipated after such a hot night were never offered.

While the poor service was disappointing to me, the apathetic nature of the crew had much bigger ramifications. The woman sitting across from Heather happened to be hard of sight, and based on what we observed, I don’t think the crew could have been less accommodating if they’d tried. No one proactively checked on her during the flight, offered assistance with bags, or anything else.

So it was a generally mediocre flight overall, though obviously much better than economy. I typically quite enjoy British Airways, but this experience was pretty disappointing.

Transiting Heathrow and the Concorde Room

Despite the late departure and having to hold for a bit over London, we arrived on stand just a few minutes after our scheduled arrival. We disembarked at the B pier, which meant we had to take the train back to the main terminal.

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-1
London Heathrow Terminal 5 B pier

As we walked, I explained a bit of the process to Heather; namely that we would need to re-clear security, and that I had pre-booked a cabana in the first class lounge for us.

“I just love hearing all those words in one sentence. ‘Cabana.’ ‘Lounge.’ This is going to be fabulous!”
“Ummm, it’s not really a nice cabana. But it does have a shower!”

Which is really the only reason I’d bothered booking a cabana. When Ben, Andrew B., and I were transiting Heathrow a few weeks ago the queue for the shower was over three hours, so reserving a cabana in advance seemed like the best way to ensure we could shower.

And what a shower it was!

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-2
British Airways Concorde Room Cabana One shower

“So….this is a cabana?”

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-3
British Airways Concorde Room Cabana One sofa

“Do we like, have to stay here?”

The Concorde Room cabanas are not a place to linger if you can help it, so we took turns taking showers and spent the bulk of our time out on the “terrace” area (with its secret power outlets).

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-4
British Airways Concorde Room secret power brick

Although I generally try to avoid the food in the Concorde Room, we decided we should probably at least snack before our flight, given the timings. The butternut squash pasta was quite tasty:

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-5
British Airways Concorde Room pasta

And was followed by a cheese board:

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-LHR-6
British Airways Concorde Room cheese plate

After lunch we gathered our things and made our way to the gate, which was conveniently just downstairs at A14.

British Airways Club Europe to Madrid

British Airways 460
London (LHR) – Madrid (MAD)
Friday, October 30
Depart: 1:50PM
Arrive: 5:10PM
Duration: 2hr20min
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 7D & 7F (Club Europe)

Our flight to Madrid was operated by one of BA’s 767s. The seatmap is a bit deceptive, but the plane is actually in a 2-2-2 configuration in business.

British-Airways-767-Review-3

And I highly recommend choosing one of the center seats. That’s because there are actually only two seats on the window side, as opposed to the blocked middle you generally see on intra-European business class:

British-Airways-767-Review-2
British Airways 767 Club Europe

Versus the center section, which does have the blocked middle, and is much more comfortable:

British-Airways-767-Review-1
British Airways 767 Club Europe

So comfortable, in fact, that shortly after being greeted by the chipper flight attendants, we were both dozing in our seats. We hadn’t had much sleep the night before, but I was still surprised to be nodding off before the safety video even started, and slept more or less until we started our initial descent.

So there isn’t much else I can say about that flight. 😉

Overall

While this wasn’t the “best value” or “most aspirational” award redemption I’ve ever made, I’m still happy with the trip overall. The companion certificate definitely takes some of the sting out of the redemption costs, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to earn one again.

Having a mediocre crew on the long haul segment was disappointing, but we still had a great time, and the scheduling ended up being perfect for us. We were able to leave home on our ideal day, and arrived in Madrid at the perfect time to start our weekend, so the timing really couldn’t have been better.

The Concorde Room is still an embarrassment though.

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. I know you’re trying to be polite but I’d say that for First Class standards the crew and overall experience on the longhaul flight would qualify as “poor”, not just “mediocre.” Even if it’s graded on a BA curve.

  2. I was so hoping for this review to be on the new 789 First Class!

    As the days go by, the “outdateness” of BA cabins are getting worse and worse, imo.

  3. Tiffany you know I’m a fan. But Honestly don’t you think 115000 Avios plus £600 for 2 people in First really is quite cheap – through using a companion voucher obviously? Doesn’t mean the experience was great I accept, but even so….?

  4. @ Leo — I don’t, actually. Booking Lufthansa first through Aeroplan would have been 125,000 miles plus ~£450, and would have included all of our segments. Booking American first (which admittedly isn’t great), would have also been 125,000 miles but with only about £50 in fees, again including all the segments.

    So really, the companion voucher just brings the cost more in line with what other carriers are charging, but hardly represents a “deal” in my opinion.

  5. When you have such a poor experience do you also send an email to BA on their service? We as a family will be flying lax-Lon in January, only business but I want my family to have a great experience. I by no means get to travel first often or business, but keeping my fingers crossed as hospitality is very important to me.

  6. It looks like the exact replica of the BA First flight that I took last month from Chicago. I was having my Amuse Bouche, while half of the cabin was having desert, and the person behind me fell asleep while he was waiting for his food. I guess this is the consequences of flying ‘Business Plus.’

  7. Hi Tiffany,
    Sounds like a very poor experience. Do you know if the Austin flight is operated by a mixed fleet or world crew? While BA say you shouldn’t even know the difference, I always find mixed fleet crews to be far more friendly!
    Adam

  8. While air travel is above my budget, I do like to dream, and while I love this blog, as a Brit it is really putting me off flying BA if I ever become fortunately enough to be able to afford first class travel!

  9. You are very lucky you left Thursday and not Friday. AUS received 14.5 inches of rain overnight and on Friday and almost every flight was cancelled. My AS flight back to SEA was miraculously one of the few that made it out, albeit about 4 hours late.

  10. Wow! After that trip report we can’t wait to try BA First from SAN next July. NOT

    But like you state – beats being in coach. The pictures of the food were, hmmm, how should I describe them?….Uninspiring I think says it best. An airlines’ First Class product should showcase the very best of what that airline has to offer. One would think that with Virgin Atlantic in the picture BA would be compelled to up their game.

  11. For some reason I thought your niece was a teenager. Or do drinking laws not apply at 35,000ish feet? 😉

  12. @ SAN Greg — You nailed it. This is (almost*) the very best of what BA has to offer.

    *While I prefer the cabin on the 777, the A380 has better catering (particularly out of LHR). The tasting menu is quite good, and exclusive to that aircraft.

  13. @ Mangoceviche — She is (or they are, rather, as there are two of them). And I’ll admit that US drinking laws are somewhat suspended when traveling premium cabins with your really cool Aunt.

    But my travel companion on this trip was their mother, who is certainly of drinking age. 😉

  14. Gosh, I keep seeing business class sales on BA and seeing the experience you had in FIRST made me think that the 1800 r/t business class price isn’t even worth it!!

  15. Dear Tiffany,
    Thank you for your reviews, I enjoy reading them. Was the 115,000 points for Austin to London to Madrid one way and the $900.00 actually $450.00 each for taxes and surcharges? Went last month from ORD to LHR on BA first class. They ran out of slippers before they got to me in seat 2K (“sorry I guess we did not load enough, I can give you a pair of socks”) I don’t know what it takes to figure out that if you have 16 seats, you better load 16 pairs of slippers, it was not a good start as you wonder what else was short loaded. And a pair of socks doesn’t cut it on a “wet” floor in the bathroom. The rest of the flight was pretty much how you described it, although we thankfully were not roasted during sleep. The cappuccino machine was broken as it always seems to be (thankfully, yours was working) It is too bad you used the 2 for 1 on a one way trip. Sad that BA has slipped so far in their service.

  16. Why would you take the time to charge your electronics, before getting on a flight with first class and ample charging options?

  17. @ RJM777 — Thank you for reading! You’re spot on with the pricing, and I agree running out of slippers is just silly.

  18. As A Brit living in the states, I have over the last 5 years become used to almost always good customer service.
    It still shocks me when I see how miserable some attendants can be on flights, if you hate it so much, get another job.

    I really think that this is one reason tipping is so big in the US, yes you are essentially paying from better customer service, but its normally a lot better, every time i arrive back in the UK for a visit I think things might have changed, and then i’m greeted by someone at the rental car place telling me that the damaged rental car they have given me is something i will JUST HAVE TO DEAL WITH and that’s it.

    In the US they would at least try to offer me something else.

    I do love it when I bring friends from California to the UK and they are shocked at how rude most customer service people are in the UK, makes me laugh every time.

  19. With an upcoming BA F trip, is the Concorde Room still my best option in LHR? Any other tips for their poor lounge? Spa treatments? Should we go eat in the terminal instead?

  20. Tiffany,

    Thanks for the report. What are the access rules for the Concorde room? I guess what I really want to know is, what lounge would I have access to transiting LHR from DFW on my way to CDG after getting off an AA F flight? Thanks!

  21. @ Louis — It is the best lounge you’d have access to in LHR, sadly. I’d recommend contacting You First in advance to reserve spa treatments if you can.

  22. My family flew this route 2 months ago from DXB to London then Austin. I have another ticket for the same route on Jan 1. but I really do not want to take it. Not now that is . Being our first time in first class flight international I was very unimpressed. Really shocked to think what people pay for that. So I thought I could call and change the date to much later and maybe they are going to redo those first class seats…… What is your thought on what I should do? I do not want to cancel because I will want the flight for the points in first class. Thanks Jason Fisher

  23. Matt S if you arrive in the morning on a BA flight in First or if you have BA Gold status (not Oneworld Gold status IIRC) you have access to the BA Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow. I rate it as the best BA lounge. Certainly better than the various departures lounges. If you’re eligible I suggest you make a point of using it. It closes at, I think, 2pm.

  24. @ Jason Fisher — Well, they are putting their new 787 on the Austin route in the coming days, so that should help.

  25. 100% agree with this review.

    Having flown in First on the a380 the service is underwhelming to say the least.
    The crew are clearly not trained to work in First Class and they are certainly not doing anything to promote the brand in a positive way.
    Food meh, service poor.
    One thing I will give is they make a great pot of tea.

    re: The Concorde Lounge… who would have thought it was possible to make food that tastes worse on the ground than in the air…
    I accidently left my bag there. They said I would not be able to leave plane to get back and that they were not going to get someone from the lounge to bring it to the plane.
    It wasn’t until I threatened to deplane that they suddenly became interested… The look on their face when they quietly asked “how many bags do you have checked” and I could see them calculating time needed vs the pain of getting someone to run the bag to the plane.

    Overall I would rather fly Cathay for a much better soft and hard product.

  26. Hey Tiffany,

    Do first (and business) passengers use the Admiral’s Club in Austin? I don’t really think there’s another option…

    Also, given the price premium, mediocre food and seats, and potential for a bad crew, do you think BA first is worth it over business? Either way, you get a lie-flat seat and (I’m assuming) similar-ish food. Plus, isn’t award availability better?

  27. @ Oops — I think they do, but it’s super crowded, so you might be better off just hanging in the terminal.

    I haven’t flown BA in business, but given the taxes/fees are equal, and the mileage premium isn’t that high, I’d still go with F if you can get it.

  28. @Tiffany Thanks to hear that there might be a plane change to the 787 in the coming days. Does that mean I should be fine for a return on Jan 1. Is there and reviews of what that flight would look like.
    Thanks very much. Based in IAH

  29. Yay for more pictures! I love your reviews and voice Tiffany, but have been wanting more pics in your posts. Keep up the good work, and keep taking those pictures!

  30. As an unfortunately regular BA flyer (company gets good deals with them) I can see where you’re coming from on this. Sometimes the FA’s can be good and the BA First is not so bad, other times hey act as if you being there is a bit of a pain, particularly some of the older BA Dragons. I wouldn’t bother with a letter to customer services. I’ve written three times this year for various reasons and only got a reply once, despite being a long standing BA gold.

  31. My understanding is that the 789 Dreamliner was replaced sometime back in June 2015 with the larger capacity 777 on the Austin to LHR route. No plans to go back to the 789 that I know of.

  32. Never seen such a biased review. You were determined that everything would be aweful before you sat at your keyboard.
    I travel almost exclusively ba, in both club and first – the reason being that their standards are highet, service better and staff frindlier. I have handef over my gold ticket numerous timed for ‘beyond the call’ service.
    Stop spouting such utter nonsense.

  33. @ Tom Fielding — Goodness gracious.

    I’ve had numerous great flights on British Airways, both in First (http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/02/11/ba-tasting-menu-a380/) and Club World (http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/02/22/british-airways-business-class-777-review/). The service on this particular flight fell far short of acceptable standards, and the staff was uncharacteristically un-friendly.

    Franky, your own comment suggests it is you who is biased in this case.

  34. Hi Tiffany,
    I am scheduled to take this flight later this month in paid Business with my wife and also my daughter as a lap infant. We have the 2 center seats reserved in business which seems perfect for a couple. Do you think it would be better to upgrade to First?
    Thanks,
    Eric

  35. @ VirtuosoEric — Well, I nearly always think it would be better to upgrade to First 😉 But the seats you have should indeed be perfect for a couple.

  36. I’ve done the Austin/LHR flight now four times, once in premium economy (which I describe as “what economy used to be like”) on the old 787, and then multiple times in business. We’ve never had a grumpy flight attendant. As I had told American since the new airport opened in 1999, we Austinites could easily fill a plane every day to London. BA finally instituted the flight and it’s been so successful (both passengers and cargo) that an upgrade to a 777 seemed to be BA’s solution, although the schedule changes from month to month. They ran a 789 in February when we sent some family members in First on to Barcelona via LHR (they LOVED the flight and the service). And come July 31, it looks like a switch back to the 789 (with First) is in the schedule.

    There’s no reason to change to any other carrier – the luck of the draw on flight crews is regrettably part of the travel experience! Frualein Lufthansa doesn’t exactly exude friendly, American-Style Hospitality. BA’s seats are comfortable enough, although the business class product really does need upgrading. Their First seats are, in my opinion, better than almost anything else you’ll find to Europe. (OK, not including Emirates JFK to Milan)…

    You may prefer Lufthansa or Air France, but honestly, First Class seating is a rare-enough treat these days and if you’re already booked, don’t worry, it will be a fine trip 99% of the time. Also – BA’s In Flight Entertainment is top of the line, so the miles will fly by. I have to agree though – the main dishes in First and Business are uninspired. But then again, only 1 steak in 20 while flying is edible!

    I recently flew JAL to Tokyo and was shocked to find the crew turned the cabin temp up to 27C – (I think they do that to confuse Americans) – whereas 22C is more appropriate. A polite… “would you mind turning the temperature down a few degrees” brought near instant relief.

    I’ll also agree the Concorde room is a disgrace. While if I’m flying F on BA I will always hope for the best, I’ve always been disappointed by the service and appallingly slow service, inability to pick up dirty dishes and glasses is something Lufthansa would never tolerate. I have written BA about it twice and have yet to receive a reply. C’est la vie!

    In short, if you’re traveling on Mileage Tickets, I wouldn’t be too critical. You’re traveling for 10% of the cost others pay, so I’d count my blessings!

    Now, if we could just get the upgraded American 777 business class product on my trip to Tokyo on Saturday… I’d be a much happier camper if I even had BA’s club seats!

  37. Question for you in the configuration with two seats in the middle, any insight on which row is best? My husband and I have options of row 1, 2 or 4. Seat Guru said for row 1 it might be annoying to be close to the galley. Did you like 2nd row? Thanks.

  38. Hey Tiffany!

    Flying 4A or 2E to Houston in July…curious if the light from the galley is bad towards the back or do the massive curtains do their job?

    Cheers

    Will

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *