My British 787-9 in London - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

My British Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in London – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

International first class is something special. It’s something that very few people will ever be able to pay for, but for those putting down the cash, they expect an experience beyond anything else available.

British Airways skipped a first class option on its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner deliveries, but with the 787-9, it decided to give their well-liked first product a bit of a refresh. The global first class market is quite competitive. Many airlines have totally given up on it, while others keep trying to offer the biggest, best, and most expensive options. In a world of apartment-like products, showers, bars, and full private suites, I wondered how British Airways now stacks up. The end result is one of the nicest seats that I have ever had the pleasure of flying in.

The British Airways first class product on their Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner - Photo: British Airways

The British Airways first class product on their Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – Photo: British Airways

My experience began at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) with a visit to the Concorde Room. British Airways has multiple lounges at Heathrow, but the Concorde Room is something more exclusive. It is reserved only for passengers flying intercontinental first class on the airline, and affords passengers extra niceties and amenities. One of the most interesting perks is what it calls a Cabana. The Cabanas are little private rooms within the lounge, where passengers can shower, take a nap, or simply watch television. While airports can be super stressful, this was the exact opposite. We were already off to a great first class start!

The Cabana within the Concorde Room in London - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The Cabana within the Concorde Room in London – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

I was able to get some relaxation in and then, after a quick breakfast in the lounge, it was time to board. It always feels good to walk onto the plane and turn left into the premium cabin, instead of turning right.

The first seat is spacious - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The first seat is spacious – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The intimate cabin has only eight seats, the smallest first class offering in the British Airways fleet. At first glance, the seats (really more like suites) look like they were originally designed to be in a high-end sports car. Sleek lines, two-tone black and silver coloring, and a backlit Speedmarque on the bulkhead set the scene and remind the passenger they they have taken a step above Club World (British Airways’ business class product).

Abigail Comber, Head of Brands and Customer Experience for British Airways, says the new first seat is more about refining the prior generation after listening to passenger feedback. Passenger favorites, such as the side lamp and jog wheel, were left in place but slightly refined. Passengers asked for more storage space, so (wait for it…) more storage space was added. A simple concept, but it makes a big impact with more storage being within arm’s reach of the passenger.

DSC_3965

Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

I actually lost count of how many storage areas there were around the seat. A coat closet to the left, a shoe storage cubby under that, phone and tablet bin with power outlet to the right, and another hiding area for who knows what near the window. If you have something to store, there’s a space for it in this seat.

The unique jog wheel seat control

The unique jog wheel seat control – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The jog wheel control took some getting used to, but after a few moments of tinkering, I got the hang of it. Each feature of the seat, from the side lamp to lumbar support, is controlled via a press of the button and then manipulated by turning the wheel either way. This allows for some pretty fine control of features, but limits the seat to only three adjustments (recline, lumbar support, and headrest movement).

The cabin was so new that the in-flight entertainment remote hadn’t even been placed in its permanent stand yet. Everything I did, whether it was plugging my phone into one of the two USB ports or putting my bag in the overhead bin, it was the first time anyone had ever done that on this aircraft. That was kind of a cool feeling. Heck, the plane still had the “new plane” smell.

The massive 23-inch IFE screen, cheers to that - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The massive 23-inch IFE screen, cheers to that – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The new first seat is packing what is probably the largest in-flight entertainment screen that I have used, weighing in at a massive 23 inches. While that leaves a ton of screen space for a creative user interface, British Airways and partner Thales kind of went the other way on this one. Pretty much all interaction with the system is performed on the tethered, smartphone-sized remote control in the seat console. Sure, the screen was too far away for touch input (though it was touch-enabled anyway), but forcing all interaction down the the handset was a misstep. Why not give the passenger a choice?

The exclusive first class cabin on the British Airways Boeing 787-9 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The exclusive first class cabin on the British Airways Boeing 787-9 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Whereas the main screen would provide ample space for a user interface, the remote does not provide enough. Movie titles were often truncated and the text was a bit too small for most eyes. The interface was a bit laggy, and touch input did not always quite line up with where I thought I was pressing.

The menu system and level of content was quite nice, though. Movies and TV shows were sorted by category so no list was too long, and it was easy to navigate. I still prefer the menu on the main screen, and I hope this does not become a new trend.

The Android-powered system is almost totally controlled with a tethered touchscreen, which has some mixed results - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The Android-powered system is almost totally controlled with a tethered touchscreen, which has some mixed results – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

With a movie playing since I sat down (the system offers true gate-to-gate functionality), it was time to decide what I wanted to eat during the 10-hour flight.

In first, British Airways uses a “dine on demand” system, rather than the traditional static meal services. Since this was a flight where I was supposed to put everything to the test, I ordered a bit of everything on the lunch menu.

snip

To start, I had the “salmon, crab boudin and poached lobster with lemon, pickled Thai shallots and salsify puree” and “autumn chicken broth with pearl barley.” For the main course, I picked the “glazed pork belly and popcorn pork crackling with cocotte potatoes, roasted baby apples and Calvados sauce.” For those of you who actually read all of those words, I’ll just tell you that everything I had was outstanding. I don’t know how they managed to serve a juicy helping of pork belly on board an aircraft, but they did it. This was a meal I would pay for in a fine restaurant and be more than satisfied.

- Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Fellow aviation writer Paul Thompson tries out the lie-flat bed – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The lie-flat bed looked comfortable and I heard from others that it was. The problem was — it was a day flight and I wasn’t tired. However, there was plenty of room and it gave a private feeling to get a good, comfortable rest.

I haven’t really talked about the service from the flight attendants, since the whole first class cabin was made up of journalists and it wasn’t a true feel of what it would be like for a regular passenger, but I expect it not to be too much different — high-end. Like most other airlines, British makes sure that their best and most well-trained crew serve the front of the aircraft.

As the nearly 10-hour flight closed in on Austin, I was not a happy passenger. I felt robbed, almost. Not that British Airways hadn’t delivered on a nice product, but that I didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy it. I wanted more. More time to watch movies on the large screen, maybe another course from the lunch menu. If those are biggest complaints about the new seat, it must be a pretty damn good seat.

Shot of the 787-9 wing through a partially tinted window - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Shot of the 787-9 wing through a partially-tinted window – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

For a while, I have felt that the business class option on BA has been a bit cramped and awkward since the layout is forward-reverse. Many global airlines have a much less dense configuration in business class. On its own or compared to other British Airways products, passengers will – no question – find this new first class impressive. When comparing to other first class options out there, it might not make it in the top of its class. If BA offered this as their business class product and more of a suite for their first, they would have an unstoppable combination.

No matter what this product is competing with, the cabin really offered great attention to detail, which resulted in one of the most aesthetically pleasing and comfortable seats around.

A British Airways Boeing 787-9 in flight - Photo: Woodys Aeroimages | FlickrCC

A British Airways Boeing 787-9 in flight – Photo: Woodys Aeroimages | FlickrCC

Should passengers look to book a ride in the new first seat over Club World? If the price differential isn’t huge, or you’re booking on miles and have the balance to spend, go for it! The additional level of comfort and amenities provided in first result in a large enough “passenger experience gulf” where the difference matters. Certain airlines struggle to differentiate business and first, but British Airways has absolutely no trouble on this front. If you can afford it, it is worth it.

See more photos of my British Airways first class experience.

Note: British Airways covered my flights to and from London. All opinions are my own. 

CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Jason is an #AvGeek that does passenger experience research, data analysis, and writes things about airlines, airplanes and travel. Email: [email protected].

http://www.airlinereporter.com
An A-Lister’s Perspective on Southwest’s New Meridian Seats
15 Comments

Nice piece Jason ~ I hope to get there one day .. ..

Thanks! On a longer flight, it’s well worth the upgrade if the price is right.

Sydney Rogers

Really Cool Jason!!

Plane-Crazy Joe

Jason, I had my first and LAST itinerary on BA this past June. It was on 380s: IAD>LHR> IAD. However, I was back in Peon Class. BA charged my to book my desire Window Seats; totaling $100!? Furthermore, BA ripped me off for my second Checked bag; close to $200 for the round-trip! So, I’ll NEVER fly BA again! And I WARN my fellow AvGeeks about BA’s greed!

Plane-Crazy Joe

Oops. I meant ” desired ” Window Seats …

It sure will make you appreciate it when you make it to first class!

Plane-Crazy Joe

I’ll NOT make that mistake EVER again! There’s never a second opportunity to make a FIRST IMPRESSION. This applies to when one first encounters a person, business or company, etc. Again, that was my first and LAST time I’ll fly BA. Aside from BA, NEVER has any airline charged me to book a Window seat. Furthermore, no other airline I’ve flown has charged me MORE than BA did to check my bags! Furthermore, some airlines HAVEN’T charged me to check my bags! Singapore ( SQ ) is one example.

As an AvGeek, when booking flights, I’m well aware of my airline options

A great, if brief review. Fun First: That is one of only two ‘Airplane Soup’ images I’ve ever seen without bowl rim ‘soup slop.’ (I understand that it is nearly impossible to avoid; the broth-like soup helped, but fun to see the no rim slop pic .
Twenty-three inches of IFE? OMG! Most of the older flop-down screens that service a large portion of Cattle Class cabins are not that large. Wow!
BA’s First Class and FC in general: Many, perhaps most international carriers have dropped FC entirely, believing that they Give Away too many seats as Award Tickets (think miles), yet still charge a very hefty premium (in miles) for the front cabin. I think that’s cheap behavior and amounts to a substantial devaluation of Earned Miles. (Pissing off long term, loyal brand customers is similar to shooting one’s self in the foot.) Revenue First Class tickets are a **huge** profit center for the better international carriers, but only if they can SELL some of the seats. Of course the service is more expensive to provide, but pushing the cost to and over a reasonably profitable level kills many potential upgrades and becomes another shot in the foot. Even Business Class is a profit maker for them, yet they erase the line between genuine First Class and Business Class, wondering why BC sells and FC does not. The bonus amenities in FC do not cost the carriers all that much more to deliver, yet they apparently do not want to be bothered. (A lot of the enhanced services are ground-based, before and after flights and generally things that should be doing anyway.) In my experience over the most recent 10+ years, those foreign) carriers with a genuine commitment to First Class and who do it well, are making money on those small cabins. Those who skimp are not. (Sadly, U.S. carriers who attempt to maintain something like [Business-First comes to mind] FC under another label have gone from poor to worse.) The U.S. carriers who promote their front cabin excellence are simply not connecting with pax willing to spend the bucks, simply because the pax can purchase a lot more, often for far less by ticketing on non-U.S. metal (and now plastic). Frankly, I think it is sad. And that is only international First Class.
With only a few trans-con exceptions, U.S. domestic First Class has either vanished or become a truly bad joke; an extra $1k for a coach meal, 50/50 odds of service on china, not foil and a couple of ‘free’ drinks? (I don’t drink alcohol, but if I did, I’ve never seen an airline beverage worth ~$350 the pop. Have you?)
My prediction (one that I probably won’t live long enough to see…) Within 20 years, >95% of domestic and international air travel will be flown on aircraft outfitted for high-density coach class service. The other 5% will be the same behind the class divider, limiting the front cabin to a dozen or fewer seats, offering few amenities beyond leg and elbow room and the requisite ‘free’ alcohol, and little else, and at fares that approach 200% of the coach class fare. Some unknown airline will be first to say it, but the others will hump aboard quickly: “We are a transportation company, not an entertainment company.” I think we’ll see it sooner rather than later. Ha!! There was a day when air travel was truly pleasant, even toward the back of the aircraft. The staff at AR and most similar blogs are simply too young to have experienced those (Fare-Regulated) days. In those days, fares were set by what is now DOT and any competitive activity was based on service. Today’s ‘Air Transportation Journalists’ are simply too young to have acquired much perspective. Hang in there! When a few more oldsters like me die off, no one will remember and you can write on a clean slate. Ahem… Otherwise a great report. And yes, I’ve added the ‘no-slop’ soup image to my tiny collection. Best wishes, -C.

Cook,

I wrote a paper, back in 10th grade (1996 time-frame) all about de-regulation. I think I am an expert :). Actually, it would be quite interesting for me to find that paper and see what it said.

David | AirlineReporter

David,

I’d also like to read it…

-C.

I know that I am probably the only one in the world to feel this way, however I like good old coach. That part of the unique experience of flying. Cramped, crowded. And belive it or not, I actually love airline food. Just give me my window seat , and I am good to go!!! Jason can you do an article on portable Oyxgen for your fliers with lung disease? Flew to Athens from Philadelphia two years ago. Very scary feeling that your batteries won’t hold out for eight hours.

Hi Maureen-

I fly plenty of miles in Economy, and as long as I have my window, I enjoy it quite a lot. Happy to hear that some people are still happy back there!
Now, I don’t know much about portable Oxygen systems while flying, but I will see if anyone else at the site does. As far as your battery is concerned, more and more airlines are offering power outlets at all seats, even in Economy.
SHAMLESS PLUG BLOW:
I work for a site called Routehappy.com, and we track amenities such as power outlet availability. You can always use our site to find a flight that should have power outlets. For a long flight, that can make a big difference and put you at ease.

Oh, and thanks for the great site! It’s hard to believe that there are actually people out there who aren’t plane crazy like we are!

Hi Jason,

Thanks for a great article! I have a bunch of BA Executive Club Arios to spend, and this looks like the plane to spend them on.

One thing, though. I’m wondering, from your shot through the partially dimmed window, if Boeing has improved on the earlier 787s’ windows? As I recall, they dimmed very slowly and couldn’t block enough light to keep me happy. Did your window darken quickly, or is there still a significant delay?

TIA, P.

So here’s the thing about the windows. I had no problem with them on this particular flight. This was a daytime flight, and I think they blocked out as much light as was necessary. Thankfully, the BA crew left the windows “unlocked,” so I could dim and un-dim them.
Not all crews know how to use the system properly and may lock passengers out for the entire flight. Personally, I hate that.

Leave a Reply

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