In the Shadow of Concorde: The British Airways Premium Experience Revisited
A little over 10 years ago, I wrote my second-ever trip report about my first-ever British Airways experience. The report covered a First flight from a then 4-month old Terminal 5 at LHR to JFK, followed by Club World from JFK to LHR. Until November of last year, I’d only flown this route once on BA since. With big changes afoot at JFK for BA with terminal refurbishments and an entire terminal move on the horizon, as well as a new Club World soft product, there could scarcely be a better time to revisit BA’s flagship route, this time trying the products in reverse.
Ahead in this report:
-BA Club World on the 747 LHR-JFK, featuring the new soft product
-InterContinental New York Times Square
-BA First on the 747 JFK-LHR
-Full reviews of the recently refurbished Concorde Rooms at LHR and JFK, and the new First lounge at JFKLHR-JFK
The First Wing at T5 has been open for a couple of years now and is a superb way to breeze through check-in and security formalities, with direct entry to the Galleries First lounge. I always prefer a ‘proper’ card boarding pass if possible, and today was no exception as I stopped by a free desk to say hello to a human and pick up my airside ticket. Security was quick with some friendly agents on duty this morning, and before long I was enjoying a light breakfast of granola (ordered from the menu) and a banana, accompanied by a fresh orange juice and coffee.
I’ve reviewed this lounge countless times before, so will skip through the next couple of hours without narrative or many photos, other than to say that the washrooms have received a much-needed new floor covering (black replacing the previous blue lino), which in the politest way is very much lipstick on a pig. Despite the change to The White Company toiletries onboard in Club cabins, the lounges still feature Elemis products, presumably as a tie-in with the spas available at LHR and JFK.
My flight was departing from T5B, and with the Galleries First lounge being fairly busy I popped over a little earlier than would otherwise be necessary to spend some time in the much quieter Galleries Club lounge located on the mezzanine of the satellite building. I reviewed this lounge most recently in 2017, and nothing much has changed; even the carpets are original, unlike those in the T5A lounges which were replaced a few years ago.
Our departure this morning was from Gate B33, the penultimate gate at the Northern end of T5B. I arrived at the gate just as Group 1 boarding was being called, which had its own dedicated lane to the right of the gate.
I was welcomed by name at the end of the single airbridge to Door 2L of G-BYGD and pointed upstairs to Seat 62K, possibly the best seat in Club World on this 1999-vintage 747-400. Why is this amongst one of the best seats? Well, along with its cross-aisle counterpart 62A, it’s one of the few window seats in Club World that features direct aisle access, thanks to the emergency exit separating it from the next row. All this is soon to change with the introduction of the new (and all-direct aisle access) Club Suite, which I firmly hope will finally bring BA back into the 21st century and allow it to offer a competitive longhaul business class product once more.
The upper deck of the 747 has a special atmosphere, perhaps even more so than the nose of the same aircraft. With just 20 seats in a 2-2 configuration, it’s a far cry from the crowded 2-4-2 configuration of the main deck, and feels somewhat private jet-like, not that I have a real-world point of reference for this comparison. Although the environment is a little dated compared to modern aircraft, I was pleasantly surprised at generally how clean and well maintained the aircraft was.
I was welcomed by the upper deck crew at the top of the stairs and moved along to find The White Company bedding pack, large pillow and headphones placed atop the seat itself. As my jacket was being taken, I overheard a cabin crew member informing a fellow passenger that the prominent but somewhat inconvenient positioning was all about product placement for The White Company, something that had been a condition of BA’s deal. With the addition of side storage bins on the upper deck (a shared feature with the upper deck of the A380), it wasn’t difficult to find a suitable place to stow the pack, which contained a fairly basic blanket, a plusher soft quilt and a mattress topper, which given its odd shape, many have assumed is designed for the Club Suite rather than the current hard product. Whilst I’m on the topic of side bins, one of the bin’s lid supports was broken meaning it couldn’t stay in the open position; other than that, this ageing Queen of the Skies was in remarkably good shape.
A bottle of Highland Spring water was handed out by the crew, along with The White Company amenity kit bags, with pre-departure drinks offered from a tray of pre-poured champagne or water, although any soft drink is now available on request. The latest catering revisions in Club World included a change to larger, stemless champagne and wine glasses; call me old-fashioned, but I do prefer a stemmed glass, at least for champagne – although the larger pour is totally welcomed.
The amenity kit, comprised of a small but stylish and practical fake leather pouch (and a significant upgrade over the Elemis shoe bag of the previous kits) contained socks, an eyemask, earplugs, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, lip balm, moisturiser, a pulse point ‘thing’ (I still have no idea what this actually was for) and a handy pen. BA do not offer PJs or slippers in Club World, although the latter are available on Japanese routes. I would really like to see BA offering these on all routes, at least on night flights, à la Qatar Airways.
The captain announced a standard flight time of 7h30, as the crew handed out menus and customs forms and we taxied for take-off from Runway 27R. The dividing screen had a little trouble staying in the upright position of its own accord after the safety video had finished playing, but the crew member sitting in the jump seat opposite me was able to successfully sign language a well-rehearsed set of instructions to get it to remain in position.
Whilst the cabin had been a little warm on boarding, things cooled down inflight, which was a blessing as the 747 doesn’t feature individual air vents in Club World or First. The upper deck has two washrooms fore and aft, which unlike the First washrooms feature the original Boeing metal interior and forceful spray taps as on the 767 (RIP); both washrooms were clean and in good physical condition and were kept clean(ish) throughout the flight. The White Company amenities were present, although there was no flower in the forlorn-looking flower holder. Paper cups and tissues ran out later in the flight, at least in the forward washroom.
Whilst I’ve reviewed the now-dated Club World seat several times before, it’s worth running through the features again here as a point of reference, particularly as Club Suite has just been announced. I still maintain that this seat is one of the comfiest business class products for lounging and sleeping and one of the most private if you have a window seat; the lack of a cubby hole for feet is very welcome, although the flipside of this is that the footrests are somewhat droopy after many years of use and abuse. I’ve never understood why the footrests had to be the location for the main literature pocket; it’s impractically distant from the seat itself. Because the seats are built in pairs and share a dividing wall, they do suffer from movement as your neighbour moves. The floor of the upper deck is also on the bouncy side, meaning the heavier-footed passenger or crew member will cause the entire dual seat unit to wobble somewhat.
Aside from the aforementioned side bins, the only in-built storage is the drawer at the base of the seat, which of course is completely inaccessible when the seat is in bed mode. The drawer is also far from hygienic, as some passengers choose to use it for their shoes, whilst others use it for tech or reading material.
Also housed within the side of the seat is the IFE screen, small tray table (which can be used half-open if desired), the main seat controls, a slim literature pocket for the safety card, power socket, IFE controller, USB port and headphone socket. The USB port is a later addition to these seats on the 747, installed during the refurbishment of the aircraft with the Panasonic IFE system, an impressive upgrade which also introduced new high-resolution screens. Note however that the system is not gate-to-gate in Club World and First cabins (except in First on the 787-9), due to the screen extending into the seat escape area – this will change with Club Suite, which features fixed screens. Incidentally, the Club World seat guide hasn’t been updated to take into account the changes introduced with the new IFE system.
At the same time as they were receiving a new IFE system in all cabins, these aircraft were refurbished throughout with mood lighting, new carpets and curtains, and new foams and covers for the seats in the World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins. This refurbishment will see these aircraft through to their retirement by 2022.
Wi-Fi was announced as being available during the cabin service director’s welcome announcement, and although I didn’t use it on this sector, pricing started at around £5 for one hour of browsing, up to £24 for a full flight of streaming. I always feel a little conflicted about Wi-Fi on aircraft; I actually like being disconnected from the ground (aka the ‘real world’) during a flight.
A not-so-hot hot towel was offered as we levelled off into the cruise and lunch orders were taken by name.
Lunch service commenced with a hand-run bar service; my apple juice was accompanied by nuts and served on a mini tray. Presentation-wise, this is a significant upgrade over the previously packaged nuts, which as a certain Korean Air executive will tell you, have no place in longhaul business class cabins. The friendly and professional crew offered a refill of the initial drink, although proactive refills during the lunch service (of both water and wine) were absent.
Although BA are still using trays (albeit hand-run from the galley) during meal services, presentation of this Do&Co-prepared lunch was notably elegant (ignoring the sinful paper sachet of salt and pepper), with a stone coloured tablecloth, smart bread plate and basket, and stylish crystal water glass. The three-in-one bread roll is a bit of a gimmick and something I could do without, but all three elements pared nicely with the flavourful, if a little salty, roasted cauliflower soup with a cauliflower and green bean garnish, accompanied by a glass of the Argentinian Malbec.
For my main course, I’d parted with the usual advice to give BA beef a wide berth and had opted for the braised short rib of heritage beef, served with Café de Paris gnocchi and broccolini. This turned out to be an excellent choice; filling and hearty, even the odd bit of fatty meat wasn’t enough to quell my enjoyment of the dish. I’d been offered a sachet of mustard to accompany the beef as the crew had passed the dish through the dividing screen; this is always a slightly awkward moment as you make eye contact with your neighbour, made more awkward when the crew don’t raise the screen for you after passing you your meal. This is another inconvenience of the current hard product that will be eradicated with the introduction of Club Suite.
For dessert, I went with both the chocolate délice and fresh seasonal fruit; multiple desserts were actively encouraged by the crew due to the laughably small portion sizes. A peppermint tea, served with drip dish, concluded lunch.
During lunch I watched the excellent Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and whilst I was impressed with the screen quality and responsiveness of the system, opted to use my own Bose headphones as opposed to BA’s non-branded ones. Against my better judgement, I also had time to watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which may, just may, have got my foot tapping despite me not being able to handle Pierce Brosnan attempting to sing. Although there is no Club Kitchen on the upper deck, water bottles were left in a basket near the galley by the stairs to the main deck.
As we neared the United States, afternoon tea service began; my individual selection of sandwiches was super fresh, whilst the fruit scone, green tea macaron and raspberry cheesecake were all wonderful. Top marks for presentation, too!
Jackets were handed back around 30 minutes before arrival, as the captain announced that progress had been slowed by some stronger than anticipated headwinds. We disembarked through a single airbridge at Door 2L at JFK’s Terminal 7, heading into the bowels of the terminal down a multitude of narrow 1970s corridors to a mercifully empty immigration hall. With hand baggage only, I was soon in a yellow cab and crawling through the rush-hour traffic to the InterContinental Times Square. InterContinental New York Times Square
The InterContinental Times Square is one of two ICs in the Big Apple, located on West 44th Street a couple of blocks away from the square the hotel takes its name from. The Times Square’s sister property is the Barclay, which I reviewed in 2017. If the conclusion from my stay at the Barclay was that it was a very nice four-star but not five-star experience – spoiler alert – the same holds true for the much newer property at Times Square.
The main reception desk in the small lobby was quite busy when I arrived, but Ambassador members can utilise a smaller sit-down check-in area to the right which was totally empty and afforded a very quick check-in experience. I was handed, unprompted, a bottle of water and the friendly agent took me through the inclusions as part of the resort fee mandated by the property; this is quite a ridiculous concept at a property that is clearly as far removed from a resort as you can get. My IHG Platinum welcome amenity of points or complimentary drinks was offered; due to the lack of a Club InterContinental lounge at this property, I opted for the drinks. A 4pm checkout was also proactively offered (and gladly accepted).
I made my way up to my 15th floor Deluxe room, a one-category upgrade from my booked Superior room, the only noticeable difference being the higher floor and consequential better view across the Broadway theatre district. In fact, such a view is highly sought after in crowded New York. In common with many modern skyscrapers in the city, each floor of the hotel occupies a fairly small footprint, with only around 15 rooms on each floor.
Whilst certainly not large, the room was bigger than average for New York, with a super comfortable super king size bed, armchair and adequate desk area.
It wouldn’t be a hotel review from me if I didn’t have a short list of suggested areas for improvement; the Keurig coffee machine and lack of kettle is always something that annoys me – a Nespresso machine and proper kettle is a must in any decent hotel room.
Other niggles included the bedside lights being too bright, no master light switch, an ineffective nozzle-less hairdryer and no pens anywhere to be found. On the plus side, I appreciated the ample power sockets (including within the bedside light bases) and USB port on the alarm clock, the true HD channels on the TV and the effective, quiet and easy-to-adjust air conditioning.
The bathroom was surprisingly spacious with a large walk-in rain shower, anti-steam mirror, good ventilation and the usual InterContinental Agraria amenities. I don’t recall ever seeing hotel towels in any colour other than white, so the mixture of navy blue and white towels here was a notable feature of an otherwise ordinary bathroom.
There was no sign of my Ambassador fruit plate, mineral water or gift on arrival, so I requested it to be delivered with in-room dining that evening; the fruit plate itself was somewhat on the small side, but the gift of chocolates made up for the uninspiring fruit selection. The mineral water was not replenished on the second day, so again I requested with in-room dining. Service on both occasions was very friendly and professional, and I was addressed by name.
Incidentally, IHG have recently revised their Ambassador benefits and are no longer providing a fruit plate or gift on arrival in the majority of locations, although mineral water will continue to be offered. These two amenities have been replaced with a daily restaurant and bar (including minibar) credit, although annoyingly this can’t be redeemed against in-room dining.
The Stinger is the IC’s combined cocktail bar and ‘kitchen’ – note that there is no sit-down restaurant for lunch or dinner, not that such a facility is really needed in New York; this dated space is dark and not remotely elegant. Accompanied by some classic New York attitude from the breakfast host and waiters who thought it appropriate to ask guests to re-use cutlery between courses, The Stinger didn’t offer a great breakfast experience, although the food itself was more than adequate.
The American Buffet option was included in my rate, and offered a good selection of decent quality, fresh items, presented in the restaurant’s most attractive area adjacent to the windows.
The keycard to my room wouldn’t open the door following breakfast on the first morning, and so lacking in ID (my wallet being in the safe in the room), I somewhat amusingly had to be escorted by security to prove my identity following a new card being issued at reception. This was all done with a healthy dose of New York humour from reception which didn’t sit terribly well at 8am, although the gentleman who escorted me to my room was much more understanding than the receptionist.
I’d made a couple of telephone calls during my stay and, whilst these initially appeared on my bill, they were soon removed on request at check-out (calls having been included in the ‘resort fee’). Somewhat annoyingly, postage stamps were not available to purchase from reception, and with the concierge away over lunch (not something you’d expect in an IC) and reception seemingly unwilling to assist, I left empty handed in a fruitless bid to find some at the airport. Scenes from New York
This was my third time visiting New York, and by happy coincidence all three visits have been in different seasons. Having experienced the city in both a rather wet spring and a stifling summer, autumn (or should that be fall) offered scenes in a whole new light, quite literally. Here are some of my favourite images from across Manhattan, starting with the architecturally stunning Grand Central Station.
The early start paid off with no queues at the Empire State Building; I didn’t pay to access the observatory at the very top of the structure, but the 86th floor open-air observation deck was suitably impressive. The historical exhibition about the design and construction of the building on the 80th floor was well worth spending some time reading through.
Meandering through the Veterans Day Parade, I stopped for lunch in Midtown Manhattan before continuing to Battery Park and a stroll along the Hudson.
The National September 11 Memorial is always a moving experience; today, yellow roses had been placed within the names of veterans who lost their lives that day.
The morning of my flight back to London started with a stop at St Patrick’s Cathedral before a leisurely soaking up of the autumnal colours of Central Park.
I ended the morning at the Guggenheim Museum, before crossing back through the Park to the architecturally diverse Upper West Side. JFK-LHR
There is something quite charming about JFK’s Terminal 7. Despite refurbishments over the years, the building still exudes 1970s style, at least from the outside. Internally, however, the building is no longer fit for purpose, and with this in mind BA will be moving their JFK operations to Terminal 8 somewhere between 2022 and 2025, co-locating with their oneworld partner American Airlines. Despite this impending move of terminals, BA has invested in T7 over the last couple of years to refurbish much of the departures experience. Whilst this has, for the most part, been an understandably light-touch refurbishment (at least, from the passengers’ perspective), investment has been significant in delivering completely refurbished First and Club lounges and a somewhat more modestly upgraded Concorde Room.
BA are the dominant carrier at T7 and have a lease to operate the entire terminal from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. BA’s check-in desks are located towards the left-hand end of the departures concourse, with First and Club World check-in being located through the far left door. Beyond a dividing wall lies the premium check-in area, with Club World desks to the right and the First area beyond, occupying the space of the former Concorde check-in.
Recent refurbishments have seen the introduction of a First Wing at T7, and although on a smaller scale than its LHR T5 counterpart, the nicely segregated area features comfortable bench-type seating and hosted check-in podiums, with any checked bags being taken away by porters. I had arrived at around 15:00, significantly early for my 20:55 departure. There was only one member of staff in the First area at this time, and she kindly offered to turn all of the lights on in the First Wing to enhance my photos. The agent advised me that the Concorde Room would open at 15:30 (not 15:00 as posted on the oneworld website), and that I could use the First lounge during the interim period.
The First Wing at JFK doesn’t feature direct lounge access, although it opens onto a dedicated corridor for all Fast Track-eligible BA passengers (complete with its own washrooms). This corridor ends with its own security boarding pass check and access to one security lane, which at the quiet time I was using it, was frustratingly also being used for non-Fast Track passengers filtering from the main queue, seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of airport security. I can imagine that during peak evening hours the Fast Track corridor and lane quickly becomes congested; it’s encouraging that check-in agents tend to escort First passengers to the front of any such queue, although no escort was required this afternoon.
BA’s First and Club lounges are conveniently located on the level above departures, immediately after security. Navigating a broken ‘up’ escalator, I headed to the swish new reception area where I was welcomed by an agent and directed to the left to the First lounge, with another reminder that the Concorde Room would be opening soon. The agent appeared both surprised and amused when I commented that I would be checking out the Club lounge first, noting that it was still under refurbishment and consequently ‘a mess’ in a tone that suggested he was questioning my sanity.
When I visited in November, approximately half of the Club lounge (in two separate areas) was closed for refurbishment, with the areas that were still open perhaps expectedly rather crowded and sorry looking. An artist’s impression of the new Club lounge was visible on the side of the hoarding near the bar; this lounge, along with the First lounge next door, are adopting the latest in BA’s lounge design concepts, currently visible at Rome and Aberdeen and soon to come to San Francisco, Chicago, Geneva and Johannesburg.
Immediately behind the reception area, a small refurbished seating area was open, although the space featured old furniture.
Beyond this space, and through some hoarding, the lounge’s main seating area opens out in front of the Elemis Spa and showers. This area, as with the rest of the un-refurbished space, featured a motley collection of different furniture styles from the Terraces and Galleries eras, as well as some later pieces added in more recent years.
To the left of this space is the central ‘hall’, with washrooms off to the left (with Elemis amenities) and the lounge’s buffet to the right. In common with many North American lounges, the buffet featured an underwhelming and minimal selection of cold items and soup.
The far end of the lounge was much reduced in size due to the refurbishment; the original (and now water-less) Terraces fountain still remained, but was not long for this world. This area featured, at the time, a ‘pub’ at one end, and the main bar at the other. The observant amongst you may notice some Le Corbusier armchairs near the pub; originally upholstered in red leather, these pieces graced the Concorde Room for many years before being relocated to the Club lounge in 2011; I shudder to think of their fate now that the entirely refurbished lounge has opened.
Club World passengers have access to the new Brasserie for Pre-Flight Supper, and although it wasn’t yet open for dinner, the lounge manager politely showed me the space. When I visited, this space was temporarily only accessible through the First lounge; I was impressed with how light and airy the dining room was, fully resplendent in its new café-style design, with the thoughtful addition of large mirrors to make the space appear larger than it is.
Beating a hasty retreat from the Club lounge, I crossed back through reception to enter the newly refurbished and rather smart First lounge.
Upon entering the lounge, washrooms are located to the left and feature the usual Elemis amenities; if you fancy a shower or spa treatment, you must use the Club lounge.
When BA refurbished this lounge in October, they took the opportunity to extend into part of the space previously occupied by the United Airlines lounge. With the provision of a new dedicated Boutique Dining area for oneworld Emerald members travelling in Club World, I don’t believe seat count in the main lounge space has increased very much; indeed, the lounge appeared quite busy on my visit despite it being nowhere near the evening peak.
Beyond the entrance corridor in a straight line is the main seating area offering both a small number of armchairs and table seats, with a buffet to one side (featuring an equally mediocre offering as the Club lounge, albeit in a nicer setting). A couple of refreshment stations were also set up along the entrance corridor.
In a small alcove adjacent to the table seating is a ‘wine tasting room’ featuring a high-top table and small stools; this appeared to me to be a spectacularly poor use of space in what is quite a small lounge, generally lacking in armchairs and other comfortable seating options.
Beyond this main seating area is the First Bar; this is an impressive space, and I believe the bar is tended during peak hours.
Moving back to the entrance corridor, around to the right is another alcove featuring a low work table, beyond which is the entrance to Boutique Dining.
Once again, this space wasn’t open at the time of my visit, but the lounge manager allowed me in for a few photos. I’m pleased that BA have included this dedicated space for oneworld Emerald cardholders travelling in Club World to dine; previously, all Club World passengers would’ve had to exit the First lounge and traipse through to the Club lounge for dinner. It’s not clear whether the menu in Boutique Dining is different to that of the Club Brasserie.
The lounge’s use of brass, marble, grey and British racing green accents combine to create a cosy, upmarket atmosphere, although the lack of natural light in all areas other than Boutique Dining is a disappointment; even here, there is no view to speak of as the view is semi-internal and the windows are frosted. Power ports throughout the lounge are plentiful, something that bodes well for future similarly-designed lounges. Whilst I remain concerned about the small size of the First lounge, the improvement over the previous facility is marked.
The Concorde Room is located at the opposite end of the terminal to the First and Club lounges, adjacent to Gate 1. Designed by Sir Terence Conran, the lounge opened in 1999 and has been refurbished three times since; new Conran-designed elements were introduced in the early 2000s, a major refurbishment took place in 2011, with a more recent refresh of selected elements being carried out last year. Despite changes over the years, including of course the untimely demise of Concorde herself, the Concorde Room at JFK retains a number of original elements, including the entrance wood panelling, marble-effect floor, glass and granite-clad bar and green marble washrooms. This lounge is also special for its enduring connection to Concorde, for it is the only location in the BA network where you can still walk in the footsteps of those lucky passengers.
I was the first passenger to arrive at the Concorde Room that afternoon, bang on the dot of 15:30. The friendly agent welcomed me into the lounge and offered to fully close the glass sliding entrance doors for photogenic reasons.
The Concorde Room’s long entrance corridor takes up around half of the entire length of the lounge and is impressive in an understated, elegant way. Understated elegance is perhaps the best description for the Concorde Room at JFK; with the atmosphere of a private members’ club, it feels both homely and luxurious at the same time and is quite unlike any other airline lounge I’ve ever visited.
A cloakroom and washrooms are located off the entrance corridor, with a VIP room (formerly a smoking room) located at the far-left hand end. The washrooms feature the original green marble Conran design, and although dated, they are befitting of the wider environment. Contrary to the LHR Concorde Room and First cabins onboard which feature Aromatherapy Associates toiletries, Elemis products are present here. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Concorde Room doesn’t feature showers; only the Club lounge (at the other end of the terminal) offers those. This is a distinct negative for First passengers and is possibly the reason why I had such a long wait when requesting a toothbrush later that evening. It would be a good idea for BA to keep stocks of toiletries within the Concorde Room washrooms.
As I emerged from the hall into the main lounge area, a waiter welcomed me to the Concorde Room and offered me my choice of drink. The lounge is separated into two distinct halves; a collection of four ‘living room’ seating areas on the left, and the tended bar and waiter-service dining area to the right.
Each seating area is comprised of multiple different styles of armchair and sofa, with occasional tables interspersed between the pieces. To the untrained eye, the effect is slightly eclectic, but with a little more study it’s apparent that the colours and styles of furniture and sumptuous fabrics are coordinated, in a way that seems very elegantly British and far removed from the regimented modern interiors of, for example, the Qantas First lounges. Where the Concorde Room fails to deliver (and shows its age) is on the provision of ample power sockets; the only area where they are easily accessible is the dining booths which feature in-built sockets at floor level. An ungainly and out of place charging station in the middle of the lounge emphasised this fact.
Additional seating and a small work zone are provided to the rear of the fire escape core. Opposite the fire exit is an additional entrance to Gate 1, which would’ve offered direct boarding from the lounge for Concorde passengers.
Waiter service is not confined to the dining area, with the entire lounge offering made-to-order drinks. Service was excellent throughout my several hours in the lounge, with multiple drinks refills and waiters circling regularly but unobtrusively. A small sweet station is available for those emergency moments when waiting a few minutes for service is impossible, with fruit and cheese available at the bar.
The dinner menu, whilst not extensive, featured a refined choice of exquisite and truly restaurant-quality dishes; a wine list was available via iPad, my only complaint being that the champagne selection was weak, with only Pommery on offer. This led me to opt for a cocktail; I was evidently enjoying myself quite a lot at this point, as my notes have become rather thin and I couldn’t tell you which cocktail it was.
Dinner commenced with an artfully-presented bread plate, swiftly followed by the light and flavoursome lobster bisque with crispy lobster wonton, crème fraiche and micro cilantro.
I stuck with the tradition of testing BA’s beef on this trip by opting for the absolutely divine seared heartland filet mignon with sweet potato and celery root gratin, asparagus, Hon Shimeji mushrooms and Barolo wine sauce.
Only having one dessert option may appear to be a little stingy, but when it’s as good as the dark chocolate lava cake with salted caramel ice cream, berries and popped corn, who am I to complain?! This was accompanied by a peppermint tea.
All too soon it was time to leave the luxurious surrounds of the Concorde Room and head to Gate 10, where boarding was already in progress; I took the below photo before my visit to the Concorde Room, and by the time I boarded a dedicated Group 1 lane had been set up to the left hand side, affording queue-free access to the single airbridge to Door 2L of G-CIVR, a 747-400 born in 1998.
I was met at the door of the aircraft, welcomed by name and escorted to 2K in the nose of the 747. I’ve always liked BA’s interior design; the First cabins, whilst fairly densely packed on all but the 787-9 with 14 seats, look great, particularly at night with the mood lighting in full evening mode. Each seat features an individual mood lantern-effect light as well as having traditional overhead reading lights, although there are no individual air vents. A substantial pillow and scatter cushion was pre-placed on the seat, with non-branded headphones and a flimsy blanket on the ottoman. Since I flew in November, BA have, not before time, upgraded their soft product in First; higher quality branded headphones are now available, as well as new washbags, PJs, bedding and completely revised catering.
Compared to the competition, the First seat on the 747 and 777 is somewhat lacking in space and privacy for an international first class product, but this doesn’t mean the seat is uncomfortable; on the contrary, I find this to be one of the most comfortable armchairs and beds in the sky. The individual wardrobes featuring two stowage nets and a shoe cubby hole are a thoughtful addition to the hard product, although additional storage is limited with only a slim literature pocket and small side console from where the table deploys. There is really nowhere convenient to store a phone. I’d initially hung my jacket in the wardrobe, but in preparedness for changing into PJs later and given the single hanger at each seat, relocated the jacket to the wardrobe between 1A and 1K to give me more room for clothes.
Power is available somewhat inconveniently at floor level, with a retrofitted USB port located adjacent to the stylish and easy-to-use seat control dial, headphone socket and window blind control. A handset for additional operation of the touchscreen IFE is located within a panel. I didn’t use the IFE system on this flight beyond the moving map, but it was the same responsive Panasonic system as the outbound flight, and a world away from the original Rockwell Collins system that these aircraft flew with for many years.
It will be interesting to see how BA adapt their First hard product moving forward alongside the introduction of Club Suite; the 787-9 product offers a solid base, but changes will be required to ensure product differentiation between classes.
As soon as I sat down, I was offered a choice of fresh orange juice or water (pre-poured on a tray) or champagne. I opted for a glass of the sublime Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, which was poured at my seat and served with some nuts. A smart Liberty amenity kit featuring Aromatherapy Associates products, together with PJs were offered on a tray, although slippers were only available on request.
Given the very short 5h45 flight time, I did something I almost never do and changed into PJs before departure. For safety reasons, I do always keep my shoes on in this scenario until the wheels have left the ground. The 747 offers two washrooms for First passengers, both located beyond Door 1L. The first of these is unique in the BA fleet in featuring a window, and although both were well stocked with Aromatherapy Associates products, they were showing their age and distinctly flower-less. These washrooms are notable for having been retrofitted in the mid-1990s with plastic-formed vanity units and motion-sensor taps.
Dinner orders were taken shortly after departure; as I’d eaten in the Concorde Room and the flight was so short, I opted for a light snack of the vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh berries, accompanied by a hot chocolate. The dinner menu was far from extensive, but I guess BA have done the data crunching and worked out that most people don’t want to eat a full dinner on this sector.
Without prompting, my bed had been made on my return from the washroom, with the thick mattress topper and duvet offering a great amount of comfort combined with the sumptuous pillow. The CSD welcomed each passenger individually and water bottles were handed out at this time.
My panna cotta was just the light option I was looking for that evening; I was asked whether I wanted the table laid fully, and of course opted for the full place setting for photographic effect, although it was a little difficult to eat half lying in bed.
A box of midnight snack-friendly chocolates and still and sparkling water was placed on the console in front of 4E and 4F before the lights were dimmed fully for the night, with the attentive crew regularly checking on passengers and asking whether anything was required, for example, on the way back from the washroom.
I had a solid 4 hours’ (ish) sleep and asked for my bed to be converted back to a seat when I arrived back after changing in the washroom. I was hoping the crew were going to be as proactive in clearing the bed away as in making it, but sadly this wasn’t the case. Overall, I found this crew to be professional and speedy in service, but generally lacking in warmth and in taking time to understand passengers’ needs.
I was immediately offered fresh orange juice or an energising pomegranate and blueberry smoothie on returning to my seat; I opted for the latter as my refreshing seasonal fruit appetiser arrived; portion size was a little small, and I would like to have seen more creative fruits supplementing the more usual varieties.
The fruit was followed by the pleasant Greek yogurt with lime marinated banana (served with some granola on the side) and a pastry served from the basket, together with an Americano.
I opted to customise the main element of my breakfast, shunning the Cheddar cheese sauce from the asparagus frittata with slow-roasted tomatoes, and adding bacon in its place. This accounts for the somewhat odd presentation of the dish; I unfortunately found everything to be rather bland. The packets of tomato and HP sauce (as opposed to glass jars), together with the sachets of sugar (as opposed to true sugar lumps) cheapened what is otherwise a nicely set table service.
A nice pot of tea rounded off breakfast as we flew up the Bristol Channel and the mood lighting was turned on to replicate sunrise as the Captain announced we had 40 minutes remaining inflight.
The only (and once again not-so-hot) hot towel of this flight made an appearance just as we entered the holding pattern ahead of a landing on Runway 27R.
Parking at Gate C62, an A380-capable stand with three airbridges, we disembarked through Door 1L, with the crew holding back Club World passengers in the galley. With a connecting flight to Milan, a short track transit system ride later, I was pleased to find no queue at Fast Track at Flight Connections and was soon walking towards the so-called Millionaires’ Door entrance to the Concorde Room located adjacent to North Security in T5A. Some say it’s quicker to exit to landside via immigration and use the First Wing, but when Flight Connections is quiet there is really no reason to do this, especially if you have Concorde Room access and therefore don’t need to change levels after security. Note the two photos below show the main entrance to the Concorde Room from the lobby, not via the Millionaires’ Door.
Once past the door guardian and inner boarding pass check, I headed to the concierge desk to check-in for my pre-booked cabana. The Concorde Room at Heathrow features three such rooms with ensuite facilities; pre-booking through the YouFirst service is all but essential to secure one at a time convenient to you.
Although I didn’t need to use the cabana to snooze, I much prefer the more spacious environment to freshen up when compared to the showers adjacent to the Elemis Spa (and shared with the Galleries First and Club lounges).
BA aren’t famed for their washrooms and showers at their LHR lounges, and the cabanas are no exception; they are far from luxuriously designed, but the shower is powerful and the Aromatherapy Associates toiletries pleasant (and a nice change from the Elemis products in the ‘normal’ showers). Face cloths, slippers and tissues would be a nice addition to the towels and bath mat.
Each cabana also features still and sparkling water and a full complement of (some rather tatty) menus with accompanying buzzer to summon service. Quite why you would want to eat in a windowless box, however, is beyond me. For those availing themselves of the chaise-longue, an old-style Club World blanket is available, along with a cushion; far from luxurious, but perfectly adequate if you were desperate, I’d imagine. Although there are power sockets, there are no USB ports within the cabana.
Shower complete, I headed out into the main lounge area and walked over to Concorde Dining for a second breakfast. My California egg Benedict was just passable, and notably far lower quality than the fare offered at the CCR’s sister lounge at JFK. I’ve included here the full menus for both the Concorde Dining area and the rest of the lounge; in reality, any item can be ordered anywhere (although my preference is always to eat at a proper table if possible).
I took some time to relax in the lounge area after breakfast. Refurbished in late 2017, the design is as similarly eclectic as the JFK CCR, although feels very different. The higher ceilings and Concorde Terrace give the space a grander feel, but on the whole the LHR CCR is more aligned to the other LHR lounges in look and feel. I’ve reviewed the CCR several times before so won’t dwell on the layout here, but I was impressed with the way the space has been refurbished with new carpets, painted walls, occasional tables and lamps, and re-upholstered furniture, despite the inclusion of some rather wacky furniture fabrics.
It appears as though some seats have been missed in the refurbishment, such as the red armchairs closest to the terrace which are displaying notable signs of wear; the washrooms also remain in generally poor condition.
Although the refurbishment has improved the bulk of the lounge, I am very sorry to see the end of the genuine Concorde seats in the Board Room – I wonder what their fate was.
Out on the terrace, three new semi-outdoor rooms have been created; I like what BA have done here, although there is a tendency for solo passengers to claim an entire ‘room’ for themselves. The rest of the terrace certainly gives off something of a Mediterranean vibe, almost harking back to the days of Terraces lounges in the early 2000s.
The Concorde Room is entirely waiter-service, with the tended Concorde Bar offering its own bar menu, including cocktails.
Service was much more proactive than previous visits, although not to the same level as JFK. I opted for a BA-NA175 non-alcoholic cocktail, which was a pleasant way to end my stay at BA’s flagship lounge.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following along on my journey flying both directions of BA’s flagship route. In the year of its 100th anniversary, and after many years of deserved criticism, BA may – just may – be turning the corner. Improvements to the Club World soft product and refurbished lounges described here, plus recent improvements to the First soft product, will soon be joined be the new Club Suite and further improvements to First (one can only assume to the seat itself). BA remains far from perfect, and supersonic Concorde travel remains – unbelievably – consigned to the history books, but the trajectory for BA is evolving upwards.
Thanks for reading, and as always, comments and questions are welcomed.