British Airways has ordered 12 Airbus A380 Superjumbo aircraft which will arrive by 2016.
The national carrier took receipt of the first in July, with another two due later this year, with a further five by the end of 2014. This review is for First. To read about what it is like to fly in business class (Club World) on the A380, click here.
I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1345 for my 1615 departure on BA269 to LAX.
The First class check-in is at the far right of the terminal and I had my passport and visa checked there, having had some problems checking in online since I was using a different passport from my normal one, the one attached to my BA Executive Club profile.
Once this was sorted out, I went through fast track security. This was very slow so we were ushered into the main queue.
While waiting, I saw there was a scanner so that Heathrow could collect information about how long security took. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the scanner once I had gone through security, and so in all likelihood the statistics will show that I am still waiting to pass through the x-ray scanner.
In fact, it only took five minutes and then I turned right and went through the door to the Concorde Room, something I don’t get to do very often.
I wanted to try the restaurant in the Concorde Room, so I went straight there and had a meal. To read a review of that, click here.
At around 1530 I left the lounge and took the shuttle train to Satellite C where, by the time I arrived, the flight was boarding at Gate C62. Here’s a photo, showing the long walkways leading out to where the aircraft was waiting for us.
On reaching the aircraft, there were two electronic sign boards telling passengers which final walkway to use to access the different parts of the aircraft. I took the one on the left, was greeted and shown to my seat.
The A380 carries a total of 469 passengers, being 303 economy (World Traveller); 55 premium economy (World Traveller Plus); 97 business class (Club World); and 14 First.
To see a seatplan of the entire aircraft, click here.
There are only 14 seats in the nose of the A380, and since that’s a similar number to that carried in First in the smaller B747-400, perhaps it’s not surprising that it feels so much more roomy. The main deck of the A380 is some 20 inches wider than the B747-400, while the Upper Deck is 71 inches wider.
I was in seat 4F, which was described as an aisle seat but was actually one of a pair with 4E. There are three rows in the centre and four window seat rows on each side, making a total of 14. All were occupied for this flight.
You can see the seat in the photo below – in the middle, under the BA Swoosh insignia just to the left. The galley is behind there.
The colour scheme is a dark, restrained palette, with the outsize window effect created by the blinds on the windows – note these windows aren’t large ones, such as on the B787 Dreamliner.
Each of the First seats, or suites, has 30 per cent more space and 60 per cent more storage than on the B777-300ER, for example. This includes a larger wardrobe, although the design would make it difficult to hang more than a suit. BA claims you can fit a standard-size roll-on bag in there, but my one would not fit. In fact, my laptop bag (admittedly a bulky one) would only fit in the bottom when I stood it on its end.
I put my shoes on the upper shelf and kept my laptop bag and roll-on above window seat 4K as the centre seats don’t have overhead lockers.
The seat has a lot of storage space, including an inflight entertainment compartment where you will find the handset control for the IFE, the PC power socket, the RCA port and two USB ports.
When we boarded, the in-seat power was not on. I think this is normal but inevitably even after the flight had commenced there was a problem with the in-seat power, and so I waited for regular updates about how the system would have to be reset but this could only be done from the flight deck.
Other storage is possible under the foot stool that the seat reaches out to when it is converted into a bed, although I’m not sure I’d put anything fragile here.
There are plenty of lights for reading, and the IFE screen swings out from the side of the seat and is a good size 15.4 inches. Note that although BA allows you to watch IFE from when you board and through take-off and landing (apart from when interrupted by safety announcements), you have to do so using the provided headphones rather than your own. And, of course, during take-off and landing the screen has to be stowed away back into the wall for safety, so while economy and premium economy passengers will be watching their entertainment, those in business (Club World) and First will not.
Before take-off I was offered the men’s amenity bag. It contained: shaving gel and a razor, a deodorant stick, moisturiser, a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye gel, lip balm and a pen, all from Aromatherapy Associates. (Tt’s the first time I’ve seen this, I think.)
I was also asked if I wanted a sleep suit. I did, but the only sizes available were small or large, so I took the large and was pleased to see that it was a new one for the A380.
I asked for socks (which were not in the amenity bag) and some slippers, and then got changed because it was a long flight and I had a feeling there might be a long delay at the other end because of the US furlough affecting immigration. Besides, we would be landing in the early hours of the morning (UK time).
The captain mentioned that we might be delayed because they were trying to locate a passenger, and this did indeed cause a small delay, but we backed away from the air bridge before too long and were eventually airborne by 1650.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
This being First there aren’t any bad seats, but having said that if you are travelling with a friend and want to talk I would pick one of the centre seats. There is a divider between these which can be raised once the flight has commenced.
There are three pairs of centre seats, but I would avoid the back ones in row 4 where I was sitting – you get too much noise from the galley, particularly since the metal containers that everything comes in are in the wall behind your head and you can hear them being pulled out and pushed back in as the crew search for items.
England rugby captain Chris Robshaw relaxes by a window seat in First for this promo shot
If on your own, I’d pick a window seat. I’d avoid 1A and 1K because they are near the front area with a washroom on either side, and I’d probably not choose 4A or 4K because of noise from the galley behind. This noise can be prolonged because passengers can dine when they want, so there isn’t a set time for meal service after which all will be quiet.
Take off was very smooth, partly because of good weather and the fact that this giant aircraft does seem to give a smooth ride, and partly because in the centre seat you don’t have the sensation of movement at all because you can’t see out of the windows and so become a little immune to the fact that you are travelling anywhere.
The inseat power came on around 6pm just as my battery was dying and so I delayed eating and then chose the Tasting Menu (below) because I was told it was unique for the A380.
New (to me at least) was the “Tasting menu with The Langham London”, described as “an opportunity to sample a selection of seasonal specialities and local fresh produces”. It included:
- Poached lobster with Charentais melon, mango and shiso dressing
- Chicken tea with goji berries and ginger
- Seared scllops with pea puree, asparagus and truffle sauce
- Braised pork belly and cheek with heritage carrots, peaches, pak choi and lemon grass and lime sauce
- Praline profiteroles with quince and Manjari chocolate sauce.
Each one of these had a suggested pairing with one of the wines onboard and were all really tasty. However, it was more time-consuming than appetite satisfying, and if I’d been very hungry there would not have been enough to fill me up. But having had lunch in the Concorde Room earlier, it was the perfect amount (and besides, I could have ordered something else from the a la carte menu which follows below).
You also end up having quite a bit of interaction with whoever is serving you, since rather like a tasting menu in a restaurant, each dish is introduced and described, and then you are asked if you want a drink with the dish (one of the wines, I suppose). Being asked five times can seem a little weird, especially since I always pause the IFE to listen to what someone is saying to me as it’s rude to ignore them or just look distracted while trying to watch Brad Pitt stop a zombie invasion of the globe.
The a la carte menu was as follows:
- Timbale of Yorkshire smoked rainbow trout, smoke salmon and cream cheese with watercress, fennel, orange and radish salad
- Gruyere and whole-grain mustard soufflé with autumn vegetable remoulade salad
- A light cream soup of butternut squash, sweet potato and ginger
- Fresh seasonal salad with English raspberry vinegar dressing with rapeseed oil
- Seared fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with red wine, Port and tarragon sauce, daupinoise potatoes, fine beans, baby carrots and shallots
- Roasted Loch Fyne seabass with crayfish and basil sauce, baby spinach and saffron potatoes
- Moroccan lamb tajin, apricot and raisin couscous and roasted vegetables
- Poached lobster on Nicoise salad
- Dark chocolate fondant with salted caramel sauce centre
- Apple and blackberry strudel with vanilla custard
- Croxton Manor West Country Brie; Old Worcester White, Francis, Blacksticks Blue
There was also a selection of fresh fruit and chocolates.
The wine list was as follows:
- Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, Champagne
- Henriot Vintage Brut 2007
- Balfour Brut Rose 2009, Hush Health Estate, Kent England
- Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2009; Domaine d’rdhuy, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy
- Merry Edwards Russian River Sauvignon Blanc 2011; California
- Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC 2010, Stefano Antonucci, Santa Barbara, Italy
- Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 2001, 5eme Grand Cru Classe, Pauillac, Medoc, Bordeaux
- Napanook 2007, Dominus Estate, Napa Valley
- Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir 2011, Freestone Vineyards, Sonoma Coast, California
- Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau 2007, Sauternes 1er Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France
- Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port
As far as I could tell, all of these wines were on board and available.
After the meal service I asked for my seat to be made into a bed, with a cover mattress and a duvet and pillow, then went to sleep for three hours.
The bed was very comfortable, with a firm mattress and no unexpected bumps or ridges in the seat. At first I found that my feet were touching the end of the seat but by pushing myself up a little I found there was plenty of room, and by keeping the seat belt loosely over the top of the duvet I had no problem finding several different positions to sleep in.
No one can agree the best temperature for the cabin, but I found it was a little cold to begin with, and too warm later on.
Once I awoke, I asked for a decaffeinated latte which was very good, and then a pot of camomile and honeycomb tea.
The teas on offer were English breakfast, Earl Grey, Mint Humbug, Honeycomb Camomile, Red Berry Fool and Jasmine Pearl Green Tea while coffee aficionados can enjoy freshly roasted and ground, decaffeinated, espresso or cappuccino. There is also Liquid chocolat (Hotel Choclat branded hot chocolate).
I continued to work, my laptop and phone now fully charged. The table is good and strong and does not vibrate when you eat or work at it, but considering how new the plane is it’s a little worrying how chipped the table was around the edges.
Nothing is indestructible, of course, especially when passengers (or crew) are trying to lift the table up and push it back down into its housing, but the chips once created were only going to get worse and the one on the corner was flaking away. I was very careful when I put it away, even trapping my fingers.
I was tempted by the Lite Bites menu (below), and tried some of the biscotti.
- Teoni’s biscuit selection: pistachio and cranberry biscotti, maple and pecan shortbread, butter shortbread
- Hotel Chocolat selection: fruits and nuts milk chocolate bar, single origin dark chocolate bar, white chocolate bar
- Fairfield’s Farm Crisp Selection: lightly salted, salt and vinegar, chilli and lime sweet potato
- Fruit and nuts mix: wasabi beans and cashew nuts with bush pepper and seat salt, apple, peach and cranberry, roasted pistachios and roasted almonds.
And from then it was only a short gap before afternoon tea was served. This consisted of:
- Crayfish, fennel and spice of angel
- Egg mayonnaise and mustard cress
- Smoked mountain ham and sweet corn
Blackcurrant and hibiscus tea jelly with gold leaf
- Lemon drizzle cake with lime foam
- Mango and passion dome with almond sponge
- English garden rose macaroon with raspberry and lime jelly
- Valrhona chocolate brownies
I’m afraid I had all of this and then tried to feel virtuous by refusing the scones.
Our approach in Los Angeles was trouble free, and we landed only a few minutes late.
There was a ten-minute taxi to the terminal, and then for some reason it took ten minutes to attach the airbridge. On the main deck, First was first off, but we then went up an escalator to meet the top deck, and so were among everyone else in any case.
This was during the first few days of the furlough in the US, and I was worried about long queues at immigration. As I walked into the immigration hall I heard “Would the China Southern representative come to Booth 34? This is the fourth time of calling.”
My heart sunk, but in the end it only took 30 minutes. I had no bags to pick up, and then walked through the new Tom Bradley International Terminal, which I will publish a separate report on in the November 2013 edition of Business Traveller.
Very good. The “new” First product — which has now been fitted across the majority of the longhaul BA fleet (which has First) – apart from the B747-400s that are being retired — is a really good seat (or suite).
On the A380, this new First benefits from the greater space on the aircraft to give both more storage space and personal space. This really does feel like a suite, albeit without sliding doors.
I thought the crew were very efficient — anxious, almost nervous to please, and were finding their way around the galley pretty quickly.
For those lucky few who fly First regularly, the next few years are going to be a bit of a lucky dip, since there is the old First flying, the new First, and then this enhanced First. I don’t envy the crew having to manage expectations on that one. But if you get to fly the A380 First, I don’t think you will be disappointed.