Airline: British Airways
Flight number: BA293
Aircraft: Boeing 777-236/ER
Seat: 02K (First)
Distance: 3677 miles
Duration: 7hrs 30mins
Photo © C.S. Photography
Photo © Hongyin Huo
When I’d booked this flight I had the disappointment of seeing the seatmap displaying 17 First seats. For those of you who have flown BA up front on the 777 you’ll be aware they have three different configurations of seat; one with 13 seats (4K is a crew rest), 14 seats, and 17 seats. There are only three 777s with the 17 seat configuration and they are not in the best nick, having been the original non-ER 777s that BA took delivery of back in 1995. Well, when I checked in online the seat map had changed from 17 seats to 14 seats, a nice little upgrade and gave me a sliver or hope that we could end up with the new First cabin on our flight. As sad as it may seem I’ve become almost utterly blasé about flying in First on BA, so anything to liven the trip up a bit was most welcome!
We were dropped off at the end of the T5 passenger drop off ramp rather early, just after 1pm (for a 5.05pm departure), however, there was little else to do at home and it gave us a chance to grab some lunch and a few drinks before the flight.
As we walked over to the First check-in area you have quite a bit of time to catch the eye of the adversaries that inadvertently assume you aren’t flying in First or a BA Gold cardholder, some handle it more diplomatically than others. Today’s guardian asked ‘Are you looking for First check-in?’ We ambled up to one of several available First desks and were handled by a pleasant young lady. I asked whether or not if she knew whether our flight was going from the B gates yet. Although it was a bit on the early side it helps strategise options if you can’t get booked into the Elemis Spa in the Galleries South complex.
Security was pretty quick, just a couple of minutes wait and then it was through the “secret” door into the Concorde Room. I dropped my roller bag off with the porter and left the lounge immediately, though only to pop next door to book into the Elemis Spa. A familiar face welcomed us and amazingly there were two appointments available! Initially the receptionist thought they were both at the same time but then realized they were sequential, not a big deal.
We checked ourselves back into the Concorde Room and went straight to the dining area to grab some lunch. The service seemed a bit better than on previous visits, maybe those Sofitel trained chaps and chapesses from the Qantas SYD First lounge had been over to train them
We started off with rose champagne and opted for a three course affair, although there were some more concise dining options including the Signature Hamburger which I have enjoyed before
1) Soup of the day – tomato, and my wife’s Mozzarella & tomato crostini
2) Chicken and tarragon pie and Pasta Arrabiata
3) Custard with clotted cream and summer fruits
I rather enjoyed my lunch, I’d say it compares well with a half decent high street joint. Not fussy, not amazing but tasty and we were regularly checked on for drinks top ups too. The only problem was the privacy as we were seated just across from a fashion model and her manager en-route to LA. They spent the whole of lunch on the phone with various people saying how they’d enjoyed all the media that had turned out for their launch in Moscow, blah blah. It was difficult not to follow what was going on!!
After lunch we headed out to the terrace which seemed very quiet compared to the indoor part of the lounge. A waiter took our drinks order (more pink bubbles and water) and we read a couple of magazines and papers.
1) Terrace of the Concorde Room
2) View out to the apron between T5 and T5B
Just over three hours before our scheduled departure a 777 with the new First cabin pulled up outside. The New First (NF) equipped aircraft are quite obvious as every third window of the First cabin is blanked out. I was quietly confident that this was our aircraft and ambled over to the departure screens to see if the gate it was parked at matched our outgoing flight. At the time gates were only being announced for flights leaving in the next hour but as I glanced through flights for the next few hours there were only a handful of 777 departures so the chances of that being our aircraft grew.
At just before 3pm I finished off my glass of rose and headed for the Elemis Spa. After the ‘elf and safety friendly clipboard survey I was escorted to my room for the facial. I usually go for the Power Back Massages but having had one the week before decided to liven things up a little. Very nice it was too. As is customary after every bleedin’ Elemis treatment you are asked for the feedback form. I say the same things every single time though; full oil treatments as an option, more private rooms, yadda yadda What isn’t customary after every Elemis treatment is for them to not offer you a drink, ah well, there’s enough mineral water to float the terminal building in the Concorde Room so I headed over there, sat at the bar and grabbed a couple of magazines to peruse whilst my wife was having her treatment. After I’d been poured a glass of the Cattier Clos du Moulin I noticed a line of bottles of Alfred Gratien Rose up on the shelf behind the bar. The bartender asked if I’d rather have that instead and I said I’d drink what I had first…
My wife returned from her treatment and we found some seats not far from the bar. I went to get us some drinks and Kettle Chips and combined that trip to see whether or not our gate had announced yet, or more importantly whether or not we would have NF!
Relaxing with bubbles and Kettle Chips in the Concorde Room
Lo and behold, gate 37, the one where I’d seen that 777 pull up was indeed the one from which our flight was departing. New First Also of note was that Hugh Grant turned up at the bar just beside me in some peculiar glasses and jacket, then headed off towards the toilets never to be seen again, most likely occupying one of the cabanas that are located over in that direction.
I asked for another couple of glasses of the Alfred Gratien only to be told that they’d just run out but a couple of freshly chilled bottles were en-route and they’d bring them over as soon as they were ready. Unfortunately within a minute of being the grateful recipient of some pleasant Rose our flight went straight to ‘Boarding Now’. I finished off the glass and retrieved my bag from the porter and left the Concorde Room via the main escalators into and out of the Galleries South complex. Down the lifts to the train and the short ride out to T5B. We rode the lifts back up with a group that comprised around 80% BA cabin and flight crew…other passengers learn your lesson, the lifts are quicker!
It was a short walk to a rather deserted gate 37 and at the boarding pass check I got a rather ominous sounding bleep. As I was in First I couldn’t be upgraded, and it would be just my luck to get downgraded when I managed to beat the odds and get a plane with NF!! Alas it was just the G4S security frisking on the jetbridge….It didn’t take long and the agent wished me a pleasant flight and off I went. The CSD met me at the door and escorted me round to 2K where I remarked it was the elusive NF cabin. He joked and said that yes it really does exist
The FA for our aisle came round with large pyjamas and washkit right away and again I remarked about our luck with the new cabin. She told me it was only the second time she’d flown with the new seats and scuttled off to bring a glass of the bubbles over. I rummaged around looking for the slippers so I could go and change as the various ‘bed clothes’ are now hidden in the overhead locker. Unlike when Club World got a makeover back in late 2006 with the new First cabin the toilets got a bit of spit and polish too. Nothing too dramatic but the wood trim that matched the seat surrounds of the old cabin had gone.
Now as for the seat and cabin itself first impressions are a serious wow. Whilst from a numbers standpoint New First isn’t a great leap forward from the previous iteration it certainly feels like a big upgrade. As you walk into the cabin you are bathed in a sea of blue light from the ceiling and windows. Upon boarding even in daylight the blinds were closed. Sitting down you certainly feel there is more room. One of my gripes with the old seat was that whilst you had plenty of space between the seat and window I’d happily sacrifice a few of those inches for extra width in the seat itself. The new version certainly addresses that as all of the shelf is now gone, with the exception of the raised area where the tray table now resides. You’ve a nice big leather trimmed shelf for bags and more room if the buddy you dine with is a bit ‘wide’ …but more on that later. The colour scheme is superb, it isn’t a lot different from Club World but it certainly has a luxurious feel to it, the curved around around the back and behind the head has some nice stitched leather portions to it. As someone who isn’t a big fan of flashy things it was just spot on.
Even the guy in 1F was excited as he took quite a few photos….albeit with flash, amateur
Time for a few photos!
1) Cabin upon boarding
2) Seat 2F
3) With the window blind down
4) …and up
5) Looking from 2K to 1F
6) A new feature: the wardrobe. Although you can’t see it there is a nifty shoe locker area at the feet
7) Aerial shot
8) 2F and 4F
9) Seat controls (taken during the flight)
A few things have moved about in the reshuffle to make better use of space. The inflight magazines that used to be in a pocket down to your left (if you were in the K seats) are now in a small area between the raised portion and the ‘end’ of the seat behind you (you can just see them in picture #9 above). There’s also a proper power plug near the footstool, none of this Empower rubbish.
With the First cabin complement complete (albeit with a less than half full cabin) we prepared for an on time pushback but the purser unfamiliar with the new cabin was having problems stowing my large PTV after the safety demonstration. It should just be a case of pushing it into the cabin wall but the latch was acting up, eventually she called the CSD round who knew the trick and away it was…
As we taxied out to runway 09R I had a bit of a play with the rest of the seat. The lighting has been revamped and now the two overhead lights are controlled by two separate buttons and you also have the lampshade which dims rather than goes straight on or off. This really is more of a decorative thing as opposed to being a functional light. The nicely chrome trimmed overhead lights provide the perfect light for showing off the new colour scheme of the cabin.
I spy with my little eye, T5
It was a pretty brief taxi out to 09R and before long the GE-90s fired into life lifting us into the skies over Middlesex, banking round in a beautiful turn south of the airfield and west towards the US.
With one window missing and the extra screen between the passenger and the outside facing porthole looking out the window is a little harder than before. Nevertheless I was able to make out the Long Walk, Windsor and Dorney Lake. As we passed over Reading the seatbelt sign was switched off and I went over to the buddy seat for a better look as we climbed over Oxfordshire, enjoying the view of Britain’s third worst eyesore, Didcot Power Station.
Buddy seat view
Menus and hot towels were passed round signalling the initial murmurings of a meal service…at the first pass I asked the flight attendant (who incidentally was from the other aisle) if I could hold back a couple of dishes to have in lieu of the afternoon tea. I’ve asked for this to be done many times before and it has never been a problem…until now. I can’t remember the flight attendant’s exact words but I was made to feel like a naughty schoolboy, or more appropriately Oliver asking for more! The one thing I did notice from the menu was the reduction in offered courses, or the apparent reduction. The soup and salad courses (which were separate before) now appear to be rolled into the Starters section, so maybe First isn’t as massively overcatered as it once was. Either way, I felt the FA could have handled it a lot better than she did, and my wife who asked the same thing was given the same treatment, except with a roll of the eyes apparently!
As we passed over the Irish Sea it became apparent we were in a race, another aircraft that looked a bit like a 747, a few miles north of us, was streaking across the sky in the same direction but with a little more pace. After the traditional nuts and bubbles my wife came over and sat with me for dinner, giving the new seat a test run in buddy-buddy dining format.
1) Bubbles and nuts – today’s champagne: Laurent Perrier Brut Millesime 2000
2) Wife enjoying the view…and the extra space around the bottom that new First offers!
4) Marbled chicken, foie gras and mushroom terrine with orange and tarragon chutney
5) Beef Wellington with brandy, sautéed wild mushrooms and Parmentier potatoes
6) Scottish raspberry mille-feuille with raspberry compote, nougatine, raspberry and balsamic jus with a glass of the D’Arenberg The Noble Mud Pie 2008 dessert wine
The standard was pretty decent, not the best Beef Wellington I’ve ever eaten but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. As you’re probably bored with me saying (if you’ve read many of my reports) the starters and desserts are where BA really get it right. The mains have room for improvement.
After dinner the wife retired to 3K and I got stuck into the entertainment system. Now the new screen is a big step up, especially from the tiny version you get on the old non-ER 777s. You now get a USB connection, useful for those battery sapping Apple products on long flights. Another plus is that you can have the map and the film running on the screen at the same time. It does leave a lot of dead space on the screen though so I used it to just bring up the map quickly and then hide it again. The one downside to this lovely big screen is that the AVOD system still runs in low resolution so it can be rather pixilated. Hopefully BA have some intention of upgrading the resolution so that the new screen can be done justice.
As is customary after dinner flight attendants handed out bottle of water and given my 2hr drive back home upon arrival it made sense for me to stick to that from then on. On many a flight I’ve been the ‘victim’ of heavy pouring BA flight attendants
After looking around the listings I opted for the recently released ‘The A-Team’…
Giving the new large screen a workout
‘The A-Team’ was rather enjoyable, particularly liked Sharlto Copley as Murdoch and the ever amusing Bradley Cooper. Some good entertainment for that lost-count-of-how-many-glasses-of-champagne feeling!
After that I trawled around the rest of the AVOD setup and found a great documentary, ‘Man vs. Eiger’ about Dean Cooper who created the sport of freebasing. No, it doesn’t involve flames, spoons and white powder Basically he climbed the north face of the Eiger with no ropes and only a parachute attached to him, if he fell he could release the parachute. Being a National Geographic documentary the photography was pretty mindblowing at times!
I think the guy on the screen is a bit more stressed out than I!…
It seemed only appropriate to watch it with a cup of tea so I pulled out the tray table (which in half size format is lined with soft black leather. When folded out fully you enjoy a nice shiny black carbon fibre effect) and had some Twining’s Blackcurrant, and followed that with some Peppermint.
Sun setting over the First cabin as we make landfall over Canada
The freebasing documentary was quite short (no, not because the guy fell to his untimely death! ) so I then switched over to something a bit more seedy, another documentary, this time on the rise and fall of Eldrick Woods. Being a golfer I just couldn’t really help myself…
PTV in split screen mode
Unfortunately the service wasn’t particularly great and it wouldn’t be until someone rang the call bell that the cabin crew came to check on them. Now there’s no need to pester people every five minutes but how hard is it to keep a bottle of whatever they’re drinking on the side in the galley and come round every thirty minutes or so and offer a top up?
After the Tiger Woods documentary I thought I’d satisfy my football fix by watching the ‘Goals of the Season’ show. Just think of the Goal of the Month competition for each and every month for an entire season played back to back…after 45 minutes even I was bored of 40 yard volleys creaming into the top corner!!
Towards the end of the programme I was getting a bit anxious about my second meal. Nobody had come round to say whether my order (placed around 6hrs earlier!) was going to be honoured or not but sure enough the slightly more friendly brunette asked if I was still up for it….the Chicken Tikka Masala that is
Chicken tikka masala with braised lemon rice, onion bhajis and mango chutney dressing
Have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this. British Airways do seem to manage a good curry on a pretty regular basis and this was no exception!
Once I was done with that the table was cleared away and it was about time I changed out of the PJs and back into civvies. With the clothes in the locker there was no need to wave down a member of the crew for assistance. As per usual even on a dayflight it makes a world of different to brush teeth, spray some deodorant upon myself along with a spritz of cologne. The FA offered another bottle of water upon my return which would come in handy on the way home so I pocketed it…
I enjoyed the seat in its relaxed position until we got to the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and the 20mins to landing announcement was made, then I played with the nifty rotator wheel until the blue surrounding the wheel went to green, the signal the passenger is obeying the crewmember instructions
For as long as I can remember my international arrivals at IAD have all been from the south and involved a flyby east of the airport and then a nifty 180 round and in onto 01R. This time it was a little different and we just came straight in on 19C, handy for our dock up at B42.
Initially it looked like we’d disembark from 1L, but alas no as the jetbridge went straight to 2L instead. Thankfully the crew seemed happy to hold back those in Club World so all First passengers could disembark and walk through the ‘fishtank’ area to the waiting mobile lounges taking us to immigration. Being one of the first off there were no problems getting prime position on the shuttle but alas immigration was rather backed up, that annoying Beijing flight coming in ahead of us as it has done several times before. It was around 15 minutes of waiting in the queue until we were met by a rather friendly CBP official. One of the few I’ve met who has put a smile on my face! Thanks to the extra wait bags were already off the carousel in the soon to be replaced baggage hall. Behind immigration the new baggage hall looked almost ready for opening…then it was down to the arrivals level outside where the bus to our parking lot was handily waiting for us.
Well as one might expect this is going to be largely driven by the new seat.
-Beautiful colour scheme and décor, quite stunning in fact.
-More space around the seat for items, more efficient use of space
-Wider in the shoulder area.
-Wardrobe with useful shoe storing area. Whilst the wardrobe isn’t big enough for heavy coats it should manage a trousers, shirt and sweater combo quite nicely, although there is only one built in hanger!
-Buddy isn’t wedged in to tiny space anymore, so a lot more room for those who sleep with their head at the feet end like me!
-Middle seats have more privacy and useful storage area than previous
-The bigger screen, with ability to run map side by side with entertainment and
-Ability to charge via USB and normal power plug finally!
-The seat moves either up or down with one control. With the old version you could independently move the footrest, not an option any more, a pity as it was really useful.
-There seems to be less privacy around the head area, the tradeoff for my shoulder room, not that you feel exposed or anything.
-The low resolution entertainment system needs to be upgraded for the benefit of the big TVs.
-Looking out the window is now harder, not only because of one less window but because of the extra screen protecting the blind.
So with the exception of a couple of things a very nice upgrade indeed! When I first read about the upgrade to First earlier in the year I was a touch disappointed BA hadn’t gone down the CX route of less but much bigger seats. However, I feel they’ve made big strides and the cons I listed (with the exception of the not fully adjustable nature of the seat) are minor gripes.
In other news it was good to see more menu selection in the Concorde Room dining and three champagnes to choose from. The service appears to be a little sharper than on previous visits too.
As for non-seat related details, the crew were a little disappointing on this flight. Not only for the admonishment when requesting the second meal items early in the flight but for their general absence mid-flight. Also given the CSD escorted me to my seat and knew how keen I was to try the new cabin I’d have thought he wanted a chat to get my feedback.
-More pictures from my Shutterfly album
-BA’s First microsite
-Previous trip reports with Concorde Room pictures:
[Edited 2010-10-14 17:50:21]