Flight review: British Airways B747-400 First

BA-first-class old

For the inbound leg of this flight, click here.

First impressions I’d checked in online for this flight 1350 departure from London Heathrow T5 on flight BA287 to San Francisco. I was travelling with my wife. The flights were reward tickets, and we were using the BA Amex companion ticket which can be earned using the BA Amex platinum card and spending more than £10,000 in an earning year, something which we had just scraped. We walked to the far end of the terminal where the First check-in and bag drop is located. There was no queue and after checking in the bags, we walked to fast track security, which was fairly slow and took around 10 minutes to clear. Having first class tickets, for once we could avoid the annoyance of having to complete a circuit of the airport to access the lounges, and walked straight through the door to the right of security (the “millionaire’s door” into the Concorde Lounge, which is reserved for those with first class tickets).

The lounge the Concorde Lounge is quieter than the first class lounge across the concourse and has its own restaurant, but after having a pot of tea we wanted to have something to eat, and so instead of waiting for a restaurant style meal, we booked treatments in the Elemis Lounge at the first available appointment time (1215) and then walked across to the first class lounge and used the buffet there. There are a few choices for treatments. I chose the massage chair which gives you a full body massage while the therapist massages your shoulder and scalp. It was very relaxing, though the chair’s massage was better than that given by the therapist.

Boarding we were boarding from Terminal B which is accessed by the train, so around 50 minutes before departure we left the Concorde Lounge and walked down to Gate B44. We joined the fast track queue and when the flight was called were quickly on the aircraft, had our jackets taken and were offered water, juice or champagne.

The seat BA’s First seat has been around for many years with no changes, and in fact on the B747-400 fleet BA’s Club World cabin has been completely refitted with the new Club World seat with new AVOD IFE (Audio and Video on Demand in-flight entertainment), while First still has the old system. There are two configurations of the B747-400 in BA’s fleet, but the differences in Club World seating do not affect the First cabin, which in both configurations is in the nose of the aircraft with 14 seats, being rows 1-5 with a seat configuration of 1-1 (click here to view the seat plan). For detailed notes on where to sit as a single traveller, see a previous review here.

The only two pairs of seats for those travelling together are rows 4 and 5, E and F. We were in row 4. The advantage of this is that it is further away from the noise of the galley. The disadvantage is that you feel quite exposed, since beyond the wall of your footrest there is open space and a table where the newspapers and magazines are stored, and anyone walking back to the washroom walks very close by to the edge of your seat. There are also no overhead lockers for these seats, which gives a feeling of space to the cabin, but means you might find it difficult to have your luggage stowed close by if you board after those in the window seats which make up the remainder of the cabin.

The flight There is in-seat power but unfortunately there was only one on-board adaptor available, and the gentleman in 1K had been quicker to get it than I was. The IFE system took an age to get started, and it was only at 1530 when I pointed this out that the flight attendant investigated and discovered that the whole cabin was not working since the system had not been switched on.

The temperature in the cabin shortly after take-off first went very cold, then warm, and the stabilised itself. I was glad I was travelling with someone who could confirm these observations, or I might have worried I was falling ill. The aircraft was full, including in First , but we were only a few minutes late pushing away, and the captain said we would arrive in San Francisco on time.

Food Starters: Shaun Hill’s English asparagus with pea and basil dressing and shaved pecorino; smoked chicken and mushroom mille-feuille, cream of parsley soup with pink fit potato crisps, fresh summer salad with a choice of balsamic dressing or Caesar dressing. Main courses were seared fillet steak with Choron sauce, matchstick chips, watercress and herb crusted field mushroom; Catch of the Day – Lemon sole served with sweet pepper and ginger sauce, potatoes fondants ad sautéed French beans with shallots, chicken filled with sun-dried tomato and Mozzarella served with pesto polenta chips and creamed baby spinach and Greek-style roast vegetable salad with grilled Haloumi cheese and yoghurt and mint dressing. The dessert options were pineapple upside-down cake served with pineapple and mango compote and banana and toffee delice with pecan and toffee sauce. There was also a cheese plate with Fleur du Maquis (AKA Brindamour), Traditional Normandy Camembert, Gevrik from Cornwall and St Nectaire. Snacks during the flight included Thai green vegetable curry with bok choy and fragrant rice, smoked haddock kedgeree cakes with celeriac remoulade.

Drink Pol Roger Brut 1999 or a Bollinger La Grande Annee 1999. Whites: Billaud-Simon Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons 2006, Pazo Senorans Albarino 2007, Rias Baixas, Weingut Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptaler Terrassen 2007 or the Hahn SLH Pinot Gris 2007. Reds: Chateau Batailley 2002 Pauillac, Chateau d’Esclans Rose 2006 Cotes de Provence or Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir 2006. Dessert Wine was Chateau Coutet 198 Premier Cru Classe Sauternes-Barsac.

The service was friendly, informal, and very slightly disorganised. Drinks orders were written down but then forgotten, the crew seemed hazy on what was available from the menu, and the IFE not being turned on was strange. That said they were friendly, and by the end of the flight had won us over. I slept for a few hours before landing, and we arrived on time at SFO.

Arrival There was no queue at immigration, but then unfortunately the First class bags were delayed, arriving after 25 minutes standing by the carousel, and long after most of the business class bags.

Verdict a good service, but the product is looking as old as ever. IFE is years out of date, seat power requires a special adapter which wasn’t available, and although we received the new Anya Hindmarch washbag, it needs to be accompanied by a new seat.

Contact ba.com

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  • 1. I think you mean the BA Amex Premium Plus card (black colour), not BA Amex Platinum (which doesn’t exist).

    2. You can opt for a more casual dining experience in the Concorde Room (NOT the “Concorde Lounge”) by asking one of the attendants for a menu, and this is served wherever you are lounging. But I agree a good idea to check out the First Lounge especially if time is pressing prior to an Elemis treatment. Shame you weren’t able to check out a private Cabana.

    3. Asparagus as a starter is a brave choice for any airline when public loos are likely tobe used during the journey….

    4. I rather like Pudding Wine (NEVER Dessert wine, which BA insists on calling it…) but have not yet tried the Chateau Coutet. TIP: always ask for this to be chilled immediately you board, otherwise it can come out lukewarm. Yuck.

    5. New seats will start being rolled out in Q4 2009; totally the old seats are showing their age, but still find them broadly satisfactory to good, and usually an excellent crew makes all the differene. A shame yours was just mediocre to start with.

  • Further to VIntageKrug’s comments:
    -there are fourteen seats in the First Cabin on a 747-400 (not 12 as you note) – five window seats on either side, plus two pairs of seats in rows 4 & 5.
    -There is a large cupboard at the front of the cabin for pax in 4D&E to stow their baggage in, which is then easily accessible during the flight.
    -AVOD is available in First, just not with the new, larger screen that has been fitted in Club World.
    -The snacks offered sound very nice, and are a nice change to the crusty traditional afternoon tea that used to be a treat, but is now a nightmare.
    -In addition to any stickie on offer with dessert, ask the crew to immediately chill the delicious Ch. d’Esclans rose. Someone at BA does not know that rose wine should be served chilled, so calls a rose a red wine and loads it in the red catering bins, not the chilled white bins.
    -it is common understanding amongst regular BA travellers that new BA baggage delivery rules apply as follows: first on the belt are crew bags, then come all the transfer bags, followed quickly by all rucksacks, backpacks and bags belonging to anyone on £199 return specials. Only then do premium bags appear on the belt. You were lucky to get your bags after 25 minutes – usually it can be up to an hour. Trick – avoid First check-in, go to fast bag drop and ask for no premium tags to be put on the bag – you may just get it faster that way. It is the WORST part of BA’s “premium” service.
    -Arrival at SFO is generally very good – customs and immigration are always welcoming, and the airport is nice, clean, spacious, bright and efficient.

  • Hello, thank you for your comments
    1. You are of course right – VintageKrug – about the name of the AMEX card.
    2. The number of seats StephenLondon is such a silly mistake I’ve corrected it in the reviews above but kept your comment here – thank you.It is correct on our seatplan of it.
    3. Re: your comment on the sleeper suits – we changed into them both ways, though there was a shortage of mediums on the way back so I got a large.
    4. I’m not a great fan of Rose in the sky but will try it next time on your recommendation.
    5. You are right about the bags, though they were reasonably quick at LHR on the return to T5

  • If the 747 had the latest club world seta (which it does without exception) then every seat has the new AVOD. The screens may be the same but the IFE content is AVOD even in F (unless the system could not be booted up in which case your programming would revert to the old loop system)

    Other than occasional problems booting the system up (common across so many carriers I might add) the BA AVOD system is new and uptodate

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