Browsing Tag: first class flight review

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!

A6-LRE a 777-237/LR loading up for the long flight back to Abu Dhabi at LAX - Photo: Bernie Leighton | AIrlineReporter

A6-LRE, a 777-237LR, loading up at LAX for the long flight back to Abu Dhabi – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

“That was the bulliest experience I ever had. I envy you your professional conquest of space.”

Thing is, Teddy Roosevelt never flew Etihad. Guy missed out. If a small biplane could impress our only president to ever ride a moose, I think the sheer awesomeness of Etihad would likely have left him a gibbering fool!

AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger flew Etihad’s first class product back in the days when it was still called “Diamond First Class.” It was amazing, but with the introduction of the Facets of Abu Dhabi scheme and removal of the word diamond, Etihad has taken it even further. Out of a sense of curiosity and jealousy, a need to travel to South Africa, and a desire to best Jacob, I found a good fare from Los Angeles to Johannesburg that would let me put Etihad to the test on their longest pair of flights. I flew from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and back, the route that Etihad purchased their 777-200LR fleet from Air India specifically to launch.

The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! Photo- Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

The suite was too long to fit its entirety in my 14mm lens! – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Now, when these planes came from Air India, they were in legendary Air India style. Missing parts, missing documents, pretty much close to the axe; the aircraft were not taken care of. Worse, Air India had decided to purchase the auxiliary fuel tanks from Boeing that were necessary for their dream routes to the U.S. West Coast that will only materialize this year (maybe). Etihad and Boeing worked for months to bring these aircraft up to scratch.

However, when you get on board, there is not a trace of the old horrors and neglect that these wonderful machines faced. The result is a first class cabin that is better than both Gulfstreams I have flown on.

The extremely wide seat extends into a bed well over six feet in length. Feeling exposed? Yeah, I would be too. Even though you can’t really see any other passengers when seated, that’s not the point – you have the ability to shut your doors and have ultimate privacy. When I fly, I’d rather not see anyone but the cabin crew. Commercial flights are not about socializing for me. Etihad understands.

Entering the ANA 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class cabin - Photo: David Delagarza | Airline Reporter

Entering the ANA 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class cabin – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Airline: All Nippon Airways (NH)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Departed: Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
Arrived: Tokyo Narita (NRT)
Class: First Class
Seats: 1D & 1G
Length: About 14 hours

It seemed to happen every day for two weeks –  I’d glance out my office window in Denver at about noon, just in time to see the contrail of a high-altitude wide-body fly by.  Being the diligent AvGeek I am, I would check out my flight tracker phone app to find out what I just saw.  The answer was the same every time: ANA Flight 173 – from Houston to Tokyo.  It felt like I was being teased — I had first class tickets booked on that very flight for our upcoming trip.  Seeing that plane in the sky, day after day, was just rubbing it in — today’s not the day.  But that day would soon come.

An ANA Inspiration of Japan Boeing 777-300ER - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

An ANA Inspiration of Japan Boeing 777-300ER – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Flying this route was actually somewhat of a last-minute change to our itinerary, in which Bangkok was our final destination.  We had initially been booked trans-Pacific on United’s Global First service from Chicago to Beijing; however, a very short layover in Beijing combined with United’s poor on-time performance on the 747-400 was making me nervous. I had been keeping an eye on alternate routing when I found first class award availability on ANA and Thai Airways via Houston and Tokyo about three weeks prior to the trip.  Yes, please!  The Houston-to-Tokyo route is a new addition to ANA’s North American offerings, having just kicked off service in June.

Thai Airways Airbus A380 - Photo: Aero Icarus

Thai Airways Airbus A380 – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Airline: Thai Airways International
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Departed: Tokyo Narita (NRT)
Arrived: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK)
Class: First Class
Seats: 1E & 1F
Length: About 6 hours

My wife and I recently embarked on a major bucket list trip to Thailand.  Since this was a rare sans-toddler trip, we decided to go all-out and burn pretty much all the miles and points we could get our hands on to fly some premium cabins.  We were fortunate enough to be able to scrape together just enough points (mostly thanks to being new homeowners) to fly to Bangkok in first class.  Our final leg of the inbound journey was on a Thai Airways A380 from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK).

Thai Airways' A380 First Class Cabin - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter.com

Thai Airways’ A380 Royal First Class cabin – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

We arrived at Tokyo Narita on ANA’s new Houston to Tokyo service in first class which, in and of itself, was an amazing experience.  Our layover at Narita was about three hours long, during which time we availed ourselves of ANA’s First Class suite lounge.

BONUS: Flight Review: ANA First Class Houston to Tokyo on a 777-300ER

Shortly after taking our seats in the lounge, a representative from Thai Airways found us, introduced herself, and asked if we needed anything.  We asked if she could look into the status of our checked bags, as we’d had a little bit of difficulty getting them checked all the way through to Bangkok.  She left with our passports, boarding passes, and bag claim tickets.  When she returned she had new boarding passes printed on Thai stock and she informed us that they had located our bags and they were all set to be loaded on the aircraft.  She also informed us that due to a late inbound aircraft, the flight would be about fifteen minutes late, and she would get us when it was time to board.  No problem, I needed a shower anyway. Is there any greater feeling than showering in the lounge between long-haul flights?