Airline: British Airways
Flight number: BA217
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 02K / 02F (First)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 8hrs 20mins
Date: Friday 30th September
Photo © Stephen Fox
Photo © Florian Kondziela
Having taken this flight in all cabins recently with the exception of World Traveller it was about time I flew this route in First. It was to be my first time in BA's front cabin for a few years so was eager to see how things had changed, indeed last time I flew the boarding cards were silver, Krug and caviar flowed left, right and centre and embossed stationary was handed out for each passenger!
I booked the flight only a few weeks before travel and as such I was pre-assigned one of the few remaining seats, 02K which was something of a result as row 1 was a little close to the galley for my liking and window seats offered much more personal space than the centre seats. When Online Check-In became available some 24hrs beforehand I confirmed seat 2K although the option of 1E and 1F was then open to me.
Online Check-In view of the First cabin
I was dropped off at the airport by my father on his way to work, although this meant I now had over 3hrs to kill before my flight! Fortunately I had a number of lounges available to help while away this time. I was dropped off at the far end of the departure ramp which was closest to the refurbished First Class check-in area.
Entrance to the refurbished First Class check-in (which was not as busy as in this photo, this was taken much earlier in the year)
This photo below shows how the check-in area used to look
and how it looks now following the refurbishment in June
BA First Class check-in area in Terminal 4
The terminal was not very busy at all and there was no wait to see one of the eight or so agents in the First area which now felt even more private, nestled in the corner of Terminal 4. The wooden floor and soft furnishings echoed those of the First lounges and I thought was a nice touch, it certainly didn't have the dated feel of the rest of the Terminal 4 departure hall. I checked in my two bags and agent passed me back my 2K boarding pass and attached a Fast Track sticker.
I made my way to Fast Track security where the line was quite long, although I was approached by an official who informed me I had been randomly selected to get the full on body scan. I was shown the sticky tape on the floor and told to pull off a number of dance moves. I didn't score too well although afterwards I was put to the front of the line which probably won me a couple of minutes. I changed some spare cash at Travelex and made my way to the Lounge Pavilion opposite Gate 10. Eager to get a now routine treatment booked my first port of call was the Molton Brown Spa downstairs and I booked my back massage with a familiar face from my last visit to the Spa. I had almost two hours to kill before my 10am massage so went upstairs to the Concorde Room, my last time in here had been before my BA001 flight over 3yrs ago and despite such infrequent visits it was clear the place was only a shadow of it's former self. The welcoming staff were pleasant enough and invited me to make myself at home. The wait staff of former visits probably signed on the dole a couple of years back so I went to the bar to order myself a glass of the Bellefon Rose which I had enjoyed in the First Lounge at Gatwick some five days previous. The choice of champagnes was not really up to First Class standard, and although I rather enjoyed the Bellefon the other choices of Monopole Blue Top and Charles de Cazenove look pretty poor compared to the Krug and Dom Perignon offerings of Singapore Airlines and other top flight carriers. I did order a bacon roll from the menu and took a seat in the bar area where I filled out my immigration forms. The bacon roll arrived within just a couple of minutes, something I was grateful of as I elected not to eat breakfast at home before the drive to the airport. The Concorde Room is always rather quiet thanks to the fact only First passengers (with a couple of exceptions ) are allowed entry. The place was a sea of Tumi roll-aboards and pinstripe suits would appear to be dresscode, if there were one although it certainly is a haven from the bustle of the First Lounge, god forbid the Terraces lounge
Bacon roll, glass of Bellefon Rose, passport and immigration forms primed and ready to be filled in
After finishing the bacon roll I moved away from the bar area close to the entrance and the Special Services desk. I overhead some interesting conversations between the lounge staff and other visitors to the lounge. One guy was making a big scene as he was currently waitlisted for First and Business on his flight although Special Services seemed quite happy to escort him into the lounge and console him that he'd probably spend the flight with food served on a tray and surrounded by swathes of blue cloth and pink headrest covers!
I then moved closer to the frosted Concorde doors, from where I had last exited this lounge by and sat by the window watching a number of aircraft approach, some interestingly seemed to be parallel landings, these fitting in between the movements of the departing aircraft on the Southern Runway.
Some more pictures of the Concorde Room:
After topping up my glass once more I chose to spend about 30mins on the internet emailing my girlfriend and a little general Flyertalk chat, although I eventually got frustrated with almost dial-up esque speeds on the internet by which time it was closing on my appointment downstairs.
Flyertalk and Bellefon Rose working well in perfect harmony
I left the Room and went down to the Molton Brown Spa although my masseuse was not quite ready thanks to a little backlog during the early stages of the morning and I went next door to the First Lounge. The lounge was smaller than I remember it to be and I took a seat close to the bar and caught a glass of the Charles de Cazenove, the First Lounge not having the selection of the Concorde Room. I took a couple of pictures for the sake of completeness and this report! The place was much busier, not helped by the size of the place and the sheer number of avenues that permit entry; BA Golds and OW Emeralds for one which are near ever present on the Terminal 4 European routes.
BA First Lounge in Terminal 4
The Cazenove left my mouth rather dry so chose not to finish it and then left for my appointment, as I 'checked in' I noticed I was to board from Gate 1a, darn bus...again! Every time I have taken the 217 it seems to go by bus from 1a! Anyways, I enjoyed a rather relaxing back massage with Sarah, while no connoisseur when it comes to massages this seemed to be the best of the half dozen or so I have had in recent times. Around twenty minutes later and I was underneath a warm towel and putting my clothes back on! The Molton Brown Spa is a great service and I wouldn't hesitate to arrive a little early in order to enjoy it.
Treatment room at Molton Brown Spa
By this time boarding was commencing on my flight and it was time to head across to the other side of the terminal, my over-doing on the Bellefon was quite noticeable, although I was coherent! The downside of boarding via bus is that you lose any benefit from pre-boarding for elites/premium passengers although I knew a few tricks to help avert the worst of things. However I took a seat near the door of the gate area amongst a similar 'sea' of Tumi luggage and Gold coloured baggage tags. All the uninitiated seemed to be in other corner and were destined to be on the eighth bus out to the plane although they were probably being clever to avoid spending more time than absolutely necessary amongst 31" of pitch! The bus took us out to the remote stands where a number of 777s were parked up.
As I boarded a rather camp but enthusiastic flight attendant checked my boarding pass, welcomed me onboard 'Mr Davidson' and escorted me to my seat. As I turned to speak to him I banged my head on the overhead locker and he said 'ooo' in a rather caring way, I said without prompting 'I'll be fine, just a light knock'. He replied, 'Oh I was more concerned about the overhead locker'. Bastard! We had a little laugh and he said to enjoy my flight as he working World Traveller today and wouldn't get the opportunity to see me again. No sooner had I put my bag in the overhead locker and taken a seat and I was greeted by Vivienne, one of the First pursers who brought nuts, Anya Hindmarch amenity bag, First view choices and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I took up her offer and requested champagne and then asked if I could get the pyjamas to change into before take off. After all I still had a whole afternoon at the end of the flight and would rather not sweat out an 8hr flight in the shirt I intended to wear later. Pyjamas and champagne were delivered almost immediately nicely presented with ribbon around them although was surprised when I noticed they were in large, which last time I tried them seemed to make me feel like I was wearing an oversize tent! I took this opportunity to go and change into them in the bathroom. Vivienne then hung my clothes in the closet behind the First cabin and just said to call whenever I needed them back, or else just to help myself from the closet! Other passengers helped themselves to the spread of newspapers on the divide between seats 1E and 1F although I had enough from the Concorde Room to keep me occupied.
Charles de Cazenove champagne and dish of nuts. Note the large shelf space for personal storage and the small screen that signifies the slightly worse IFE
The champagne was refilled without asking and nut dish removed and replaced with menu and my First view video choice was taken. Of the two dozen or so options I went for Hitch, then Taxi Driver and Road Trip. Soon the flight pushed back and we taxied along the length of the cross runway to the pleasant sounds of noise cancelled safety video courtesy of the BA supplies noise cancelling headphones The whining of the GE90s signified we were on our way to Washington and we soon punctured the cloud somewhere a few miles west of runway 27R. I enjoyed the view from my three windows and laid back as the crew prepared for inflight service.
At this time it became apparent that my PTV which had stowed for the takeoff had got stuck in the shelf! I thought I was being a drunken fool but Vivienne struggled too, as did the CSD who was subsequently called out! Instead they helped me move my bits and pieces across to seat 2F, the man who occupied it before had moved over to 2A during the boarding procedures when it became apparent nobody was going to occupy the latter.
Glass of Chablis with First menu and Anya Hindmarch amenity kit
Duck and foie gras terrine with ruby orange compote and toasted brioche
Asparagus with Parmesan cheese dressing
Roast plum tomato soup with herb creme fraiche
Fresh salad leaves with your choice of olive oil with rosemary or spicy orange and lime dressing
Grilled fillet of beef, roast shallot and balsamic butter served with mini baked potatoes with sour cream and chives
Roast brill with whole grain mustard sauce
Spicy chicken korma infused with truffle oil and morels
Prawn nicoise with lemon vinaigrette
Bacon roll served with tomato ketchup (what no HP sauce!)
Roast plum tomato soup with herb creme fraiche and a side salad
Penne pasta with your choice of creamy pesto or artichoke and tomato sauce with garlic herb croute
Duchy of Cornwall biscuits
A selection of cheese and fruit
Dessert and Cheese
Chocolate and banana delice
Lemon and sponge pudding with custard or vanilla ice cream
Cheese plate featuring
Montgomery Cheddar - An award winning straw coloured cheese that is rich in flavour with a hint of fruit; this variety is made from the legendary Jersey cow's milk annd is a British Airways exclusive .
English Stilton - Stilton is an English, cow's milk, semi-hard, Blue, unpressed cheese with a natural brushed rind.
Brie - This soft cow's milk cheese is one of the world's most popular cheese
A basket of fresh fruit
Your choice of
Espresso, cappuccino, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea or herbal tea
The wine list was as follows:
Charles de Cazenove Grand Apparat Brut Champagne
Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaillons 2003, Domaine Billaud-Simon
Riesling Herrenweg de Turckheim 2002, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht
Saintsbury Carneros Chardonnay 2003
Renwood Select Series Viognier 2004
Chateau Branaire Ducru 1995, Grand Cru Classe St Julien
Chinon, Clos de l'Olive , 2003, Couly-Dutheil
Gordon Brothers Syrah 2001, Columbia Valley
Opitz Goldackerl Trockenbeerenauslese 2002, Austria
Warre's 1988 Colheita Port
Spirits, Digestifs and Liqueurs
We offer a complete range of classic and timeless spirits, digestifs and liqueurs including Gonzalez Byass Sherries, Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky, Tanqueray No. Ten Gin, The Glenlivet 18-year old Single Malt Whisky, Smirnoff Black Label Vodka, Camus XO Cognac and Woodford Reserve Kentucky Whiskey.
A selection of traditional and modern drinks including Coca Cola, Highland Spring still or sparkling mineral water
Vivienne's colleague, Phillip who appeared to be working most of the port aisle came round to take my orders from the menu. I opted for the Duck and foie gras followed by Prawn nicoise.
Vivienne handed me the 'Hitch' video which I began just in time for my starter and she then came back to set my table, followed by her colleague, Phillip who brought around the bread basket, I chose a glass of champagne to accompany it and my upcoming foie gras starter.
Duck and foie gras terrine with ruby orange compote and toasted brioche
I have to say this was delicious! The ruby orange compote had such a great rich flavour and foie gras spread on the toasted brioche were superb! This was soon taken away and my Prawn nicoise was presented
Prawn nicoise with lemon vinaigrette
Again superb! The prawns were large and tasted very fresh, the sundried tomatoes though sparse were again tasty!
Vivienne then came around to take my dessert order and accompanying wine. I was eager to try the Opitz as it came highly recommended by a First regular on Flyertalk so opted for that.
Chocolate and banana delice with Opitz Goldackerl Trockenbeerenauslese 2002 dessert wine
As seems to be the case on many of my BA longhaul flights the dessert usually are the best, and even with the hot competition today this was no exception. The Opitz dessert wine came highly recommended with good reason....it is superb! Very smooth, sweet, but no so much that it chokes the flavour of the dessert.
I was getting slightly bored by the movie, not sure whether it was the fact I was getting more and more inebriated or that the movie was indeed poor. But as the meal service went on I was adding more and more recline to my seat until after the meal service was cleared away I gave up altogether and pulled the First blanket over the top of me and fell asleep.
Around three hours passed before I woke up and when I did so I found the cabin mostly in darkness so went up to the galley and fetched a bottle of water. I took a walk down to the back of the aircraft to stretch my legs; as I made my way through the back galley in World Traveller I bumped into the camp FA who gave more care to the well being of the overhead locker than my sore head. He asked what the hell he thought I was doing back here 'with the ruffians' to which I started laughing and said I had come to Raid The Larder! On the way back up to First one of the pursers running the Club World cabin also gave me a grilling and asked where I was going, I said I had come from First but had left my boarding pass at my seat. He laughed and said the pyjamas gave away where I had come from, to which I shuffled back to my seat. As I had given up on the IFE I moved back to 2K to enjoy more personal space and the view from the window. From here it was apparent how few interactions you have with other passengers in First, the herringbone formation allows a very private feel and the few glances of passengers were usually those heading to the bathroom.
I took this opportunity to have a bit of fun and take some pictures of the seat and the cabin.
My girlfriends bear enjoying the buddy seat. This is intended to be enjoyed by a friend and allows you to dine together. I have tried this with my younger brother once a few years back and although a novelty the 'buddy' certainly gets a raw deal and is not comfortable for a prolonged period of time.
The view from the buddy seat back at the facing passenger
My second seat, 2F which you can see in 6'6" bed format. The white screen separates you from the passenger in 2E although can be wound down for couple travelling together.
The First cabin. My seats were the second window on the bottom photo and aisle seat on the right hand side closest to the camera in the second one.
At this time it became apparent the crew were preparing afternoon tea and Vivienne came around with a silver salver with a selection of sandwiches.
A selection of sandwiches featuring roast chicken with lemon mayonnaise, kippered salmon with horseradish creme fraiche, gammon ham with tomato and grilled Mediterranean vegetable with cream cheese.
Warm plain or fruit scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam
Cherry bakewell, chocolate choux bun and lemon drizzle cake
Roast chicken with lemon mayonnaise sandwiches and coffee
Despite the large selection I only opted to take a couple of the roast chicken variety, the lunch was rather filling and had to make room for my girlfriend's always sublime evening meals. I had a cup of coffee with it and sat in the buddy seat admiring the view of northern Canada and eastern seaboard of the United States. The Cabin Services Director came around with immigration forms although I already had mine filled out in the Concorde Room so let him complete his rounds.
I noticed the aircraft was in very gradual descent and felt it was about time I got changed out of the PJs although they did feel very comfortable by this stage. It could have got embarrassing had I got to the immigration point still wearing them! I asked the crew for extra inserts for the BAg (including wooden comb Cambrian ) and retrieved my washbags from my carry on, incidentally fully functional souvenirs from previous trips in First and took them in the bathroom with my clothes from the closet to change and freshen up. All in all this was beginning to take some time and I was half expecting a member of the cabin crew to come knocking and unlock to reveal me with trousers around my ankles....or worse!
After all was done the only thing left to do was return to my seat and gather together my bits and pieces from both seats before landing. The captain announced to the cabin that a great view over the whole Chesapeake was offered to those on the left hand side...damn it! But nevertheless I settled and returned the seat to landing position. We landed from the north so fortunately our taxi to the BA stand was not far at all and as we raided the overhead bins the CSD and other members of the crew held back the teeming masses from Club World and allowed the other passengers from the First cabin to take optimum places on the mobile lounges to the immigration point, a true time saver! As the buses parked up I feared the worst, having arrived at IAD at this time numerous times I have always been welcomed by a huge crowd of other European arrivals, once to the extent where we had to wait on the bus for the line to clear! Fortunately it appeared as if we were ahead of them and the line was relatively short and within five minutes or so I was at the head of the immigration line. After passing through I was half expecting to find time to read a novel although much to my surprise my bags were already off the carousel in a small roped off pen with other bags labelled with First tags. Certainly makes a change from my usual Club World arrivals where the carousel may revolve devoid of bags for 30mins before all the World Chaveler bags hit the carousel leaving the premium bags until last!
Overall, a superb flight from British Airways, one of those flights you wished would last a little longer! The crew were excellent as always on BA, right from boarding, the only minor problems being the broken PTV housing which wasn't too stressful as I just hopped across the aisle although am not sure what would have happened if all seats taken, however that is hypothetical. The other being the older entertainment system which to be honest as mentioned I barely used thanks to the First View option. The Concorde Room was not quite up to First standards and more importantly that of competitors, especially on the champagne and food front, perhaps when I visit again in a few months the non-breakfast selection may be a little better. The catering was all back to normal, although the Gate Gourmet situation did leave me in some doubt until about a week before, thankfully it was all back to normal although the champagne selection left a little to be desired, although it did taste not quite so dry at altitude which means I can't slate it!
All in all though those are few minor points, the seat while not revolutionary anymore is still superb and offers a great deal of personal space and the service is second to none!
Am looking forward to my next BA F experience down to Cape Town in a few months, this time on the 747 which I have always said lends itself much more to the First Class experience.