Aircraft Type: B787-9
Class: ‘First’ First Class
Date: January 2016
We were curious last year to see how British Airways new First product on their 787-9 were going to reinvent the first class experience, but when we had the chance to experience the product first-hand (forgive the pun) we jumped at the chance to see why BA were so proud of the latest product.
British Airways have been slowly shifting their positioning from a slightly dated premium carrier to a cutting edge British brand that is now sitting on top of the UK Superbrands list. The carrier is starting to give the impression it is as proud of their craftsmanship as other famous UK brands such as Jaguar and Aston Martin whose attention to detail has lifted the ‘Great Britain’ brand globally.
One of the biggest efforts to lift the brand, and a signal of the future of the carrier, now sits with the new First cabin on the 787-9.
On The Ground
British Airways currently operate from both Terminal 3 and their main hub Terminal 5 in Heathrow. Terminal 5 is incredibly vast and on entering the airport check in zone, we made the long walk to Zone J, which is dedicated for First Class passengers.
If you are getting to the airport by taxi, our tip is to ask to be dropped off at the end of the drop off area, to save you walking the entire width of the terminal building.
On arrival to zone J, we were greeted by dedicated First Class ground staff who act as receptionists to a dozen check-in desks, which also feature a lounge area for passengers to relax during the check-in process.
Within a matter of minutes, we were welcomed in and our boarding passes issued. The entire process felt relaxed, and any sense of urgency removed, and all guests were treated with a courtesy that made each passenger feel special and valued.
This is one area we have always felt has lacked in the British Airways business class product, where passengers feel more like a number than a name, perhaps due to the large number of seats available on their long haul aircraft.
Travelling in first class allows passengers to enjoy the fast track lane, which at 7 in the morning was virtually empty, meaning we were airside 7 minutes after arriving at Heathrow.
Only available to passengers travelling in long-haul First Class, we were invited to use the Concorde Room, which is accessible from the main South lounge complex entrance, or for those wanting a short-cut, through a manned door just after security, which saves 5 minutes of walking through the terminal.
Once inside, we made our way to book a spa treatment from the Elemis spa. Sadly, even though we called five days before, all the treatments were fully booked, so we recommend calling the ‘You First’ phone line as soon as you have booked your tickets to arrange your treatment.
As with every day the Elemis spa leaves two spaces available for anyone to walk up. That meant we were able to experience the spa’s automatic massage chairs, which we found pleasantly powerful. The treatment lasted 15 minutes.
After the quick massage, we headed back to the Concorde room. It’s split into lounge areas, dining areas, a bar and a patio area, which is open to the main terminal building.
The dining area offers full waiter service and passengers can select from private booths or the main dining table in the lounge. The dining in the morning consisted of a variety of traditional breakfast options. We opted for the eggs benedict, which were perfectly cooked, and the pastry basket. The lounge offers a variety of drinks.
The best place to relax and unwind is on the Patio, which also has waiter service, and even though it’s situated in the open of the terminal, is reasonably quiet and offers excellent views of both of Heathrow’s runways.
Approximately 45 minutes before the flight we headed to the aircraft situated at the C satellite gates, which is accessible by a quick train ride. By the time we arrived however we were one of the last to board.
On boarding British Airways 787-9, you can still get the new plane smell, and quite rightly so, the fleet is only a matter of months old. Boarding from the main door, which was the only door in operation, we turned left, passing a mini business class cabin, before heading into the first class cabin that is separated by the use of a permanent bulkhead.
On entering the cabin, there is a noticeable difference to the rest of the aircraft. Narrower aisles allow for wide and expansive suites. The bulkheads are decorated with wooden veneer and the British Airways ‘To Fly. To Serve” crest.
On the forward bulkhead is a patterned panel featuring an illuminated Speedmarque logo that changes colour and appearance as the Dreamliner’s mood-lighting changes throughout the flight.
There is a distinct monochrome colour palette made from carpeting, seats and hard surfaces that give the appearance of a performance British sports car.
The cabin features eight seats, in 2 rows in a 1 x 2 x 1 seating configuration. The best seats for solo travellers are those by the window and for those travelling as a couple should opt for the centre pair of seats.
The cabin also features one toilet at the front of the cabin, which is fairly spacious and well appointed with toiletries.
On taking a seat, it is clear to see the improvements on the previous First seat, the passenger now has more privacy, space and storage. The seats are either angled to the window or angle to each other in the middle seats, however the middle seats also feature an automatic privacy screen if you were to travel solo.
The biggest improvement on the previous first class seat is the TV has been permanently positioned in front of the viewer, meaning gate to gate viewing is now possible without having to store the TV screen. The only downside to this is it now means the opportunity to dine with a partner (buddy dining) in the same seat has been brought to an end.
The other improvements are the in-seat wardrobe and increased storage areas which have led to an amazing array of options to store your passport, gadgets and clothes.
The seat itself is adjusted by the control wheel feature, currently found in the First seats meaning a passenger can scroll their way to an infinite amount of seat positions. The dial also now controls all the lighting elements in the seat too, meaning finding your ‘sweet spot’ is just a fiddle away.
The seat, when reclined turns into a long and comfortable bed, which is surprisingly spacious, helped in part by the fact the side table has space underneath allowing the passenger to really stretch out rather than having to sleep in the fetal position to avoid parts of the furniture.
What you can’t help but notice is the trim and finish, and BA have employed a wealth of different materials to kit the seat out, all working in harmony, but adding a myriad of design flourishes that continue to surprise and delight as the flight continues.
Our favourite design element is the table lamp, which in its own right is a piece of art, but combined with the sinuous brushed aluminium trim that surrounds each seat element, completes the design and makes the suite feel more like a study than an aircraft interior.
Quite frankly, we were blown away by the quality of dining, especially considering we have found the business class dining of a satisfactory level, but never really taking us to gastronomic heights.
On boarding we were offered champagne, and opted for the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, before moving to the rose by Duval Leroy, which was their Prestige Premier Cru NV.
After take off, a further glass was brought to us by the attentive, caring and friendly crew, accompanied by warmed nuts.
We were then treated to a lunch and then an afternoon tea.
Meze plate featuring lamb shawarma, baba ghanoush, labneh with chives and parsley with falafel and prawn kofta.
West Country Somerset Brie, spinach and walnut soufflé with red onion marmalade and roasted walnuts
Haricot bean soup
Fresh seasonal salad with a choice of honey mustard dressing or Caesar dressing
Fried Arabic chicken with machbous rice and aubergine stew
Seared fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with braised carrots, trompette mushroom filled potato with herb crust, carrot puree and jasmine tea jus
Seared Welsh seabass with roasted garlic confit, white asparagus, rocket pesto risotto and lemon and parsley cream sauce
Confit Gressingham duck with Chinese five-spice lentil salad, cucumber, pomegranate and sweet potato
Thai vegetable curry with sticky rice
Pulled British chicken with barbecue sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, Manoucher flatbread, potato salad and dill and cucumber dip
A selection of biscuits
A selection of cheese and fruit
Mango and coconut delice
Apple and blackberry charlotte
Madagascan vanilla ice cream
Ogleshield, Gillot Camembert, Brighton Blue & Thomas Hoe Red Leicester
Chocolates by Lauden
Crayfish with mango
Roast beef with horseradish
Egg mayonnaise with rocket
Smoked Applewood cheese with onion
Pistachio and raspberry Opera
Lemon meringue tart
Scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves
Selection of teas
Although we took off on time just after 10am, we decided to opt for lunch straight after take-off to give us ample time to work through the vast amount of food on offer and give us enough time to try afternoon tea as well.
Before the starter was served, we were given a pistachio cake and hummus amuse bouche, which was light and moist, and set the tone for the Arabic feast we opted for.
Afterwards, the Arabic meze was presented, which was substantial in size, and in many airlines would be considered a main course. This was accompanied by a bread basket with a half-dozen bread types all warmed perfectly.
The meze was full of flavour and very filling. We decided to wash this down with the Envoy Sauvignon Blanc, which was vibrant and had hints of grapefruit. After the meze, we followed with a crisp and tasty salad course.
After a short pause, we took to the Arabic chicken dish, which didn’t have the wonderful presentation that the other dishes had, but packed so much flavour all was forgiven. The size was substantial, but we managed to finish it off.
Still up for more culinary punishment, we went for the Mango and coconut delice, which simply put was the best dessert we’ve ever had on an aircraft, both for presentation value as well as taste. This should be a regular staple in BA’s kitchen if they haven’t made it already.
Now completely sated, we opted out of the cheese and fruit and nestled into a couple of movies before the all too short flight meant that we were being served afternoon tea.
The tea was a grandious affair, as much as the lunch course, with a variety of finger sandwiches and delightful cakes, that wouldn’t have been out of place in Fortnum and Mason. The scones were also tasty and moist to the palette.
It’s fair to point out that although the flight stops off in Abu Dhabi and passengers finishing there get off, whilst the remaining passengers stay onboard, the cabin crew remain with the aircraft, serving drinks and keeping the First passengers catered too while the aircraft got restocked.
After the short one hour layover, and once in the air, a champagne and canapé service was offered, perfectly suited to the 45 minute hop across to Muscat.
British Airways certainly have a lot of entertainment, even more so on their new Thales system, which is powerful, and fast, although we hate to say, a little difficult to use on the new hand controlled situated in the seat.
The screen at 23” is large, but is situated just too far away to reach and use the touchscreen controls, so most passengers used the handheld controller to navigate their way through the library of films and TV channels, although we weren’t the only ones to accidentally call the crew, or mysteriously stop a film half way through by pressing the wrong button.
However after a little bit of getting used to the controls, it was responsive, although best suited to a smaller hand and a lighter touch. The headset was also of good quality and with the advantage of being on a quiet aircraft, and right at the front, meant the noise cancelling was superb.
We were however disappointed with the First magazine that seemed lost in the seat pocket, and compared to Air France, the main magazine felt light on content, but thankfully there were many other magazines and newspapers to choose from, as well as a comprehensive IFE system.
As soon as you board, British Airways laden you with extras that a passenger would expect of a First product. As soon as you are sat in your seat, the crew provide you with pyjamas emblazoned with the First logo, slippers and an amenity kit that is packed with razor, comb and the usual amenities, as well as a selection of creams and lotions from The Refinery.
Passengers are also treated to big fluffy pillows, thick duvets and eyemasks and earbuds to allow for the soundest of sleeps.
British Airways may not have the bells and whistles of their opulent middle eastern or Asian counterparts, but that shouldn’t be seen as a negative, as British Airways have actually worked out what passengers want, and deliver it to them in the very finest of products.
The suites are private, the TV large, dining excellent, and comfortable seats and beds. Our only criticisms of the product are the lack of a chauffer service for passengers and also the slightly glitch IFE system with a fiddly remote (which could be fixed with a software update to change the UX) Really well done BA on producing a product to be proud of that will serve the airline well as it continues into the next decade.
The Big Picture