Since our round the world sojourn in 2015, we have taken a 2-year sabbatical from long haul flights, but at the end of April, we were back in the air, aboard a British Airways (BA) B-747, bound for London Heathrow. While we normally opt for Business Class on long-haul flights, this time we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves in First Class.
You may ask, how can we afford First Class? If paying cash, we definitely couldn’t, and if truth be known, we really can’t justify paying the premium for Business either. However, with over 500,000 BA points, we had options – Business is 125,000 points & First is 170,000 points, with the taxes, fees etc. being the same price for each option. Prior to booking the flights, we discussed our options, with the decision being – was 45,000 points x 2 worth the upgrade!! Even with my thrifty heritage, we decided that in all probability, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we booked return flights in First Class. The just completed outbound flight was aboard a B-747 (Jumbo Jet) & the return flight will be on one of the new BA Airbus A-380’s (Super Jumbo).
Which option would you pick?
Prior to departing, we had spent 6 months at home, which included looking after our 2 year old grandson (Owen) for 2 days per week, plus at least daily visits all other days of the week; therefore, with mixed emotions, we loaded up the car and headed to Vancouver Airport. Our daughter Heather drove and wanted Owen to come with us, so he could see Grandma & Grampa leaving. On arrival, we checked in immediately, then headed to security for the tearful goodbyes. Prior to passing through the doors, we turned around for the final wave goodbye. OMG, it is going to be 5 months before we see the wee man again. We will miss so many changes in him, especially his ever increasing vocabulary. In the last week, Judi has progressed from Ba, to Granba, but I remain as Baba. Thank goodness for Sykpe, as we can maintain weekly contact.
However, I transgress, so back to the subject matter of discussing our flight to London. Once through security, we headed to the BA Lounge, which is located at the departure gate, right at the far end of the International departures wing. It is 1 floor above the concourse, with access via the stairs, or lift.
British Airways First Class Lounge – Vancouver
With only a single daily flight, from a relatively small airport, the lounge complex is fairly extensive, comprising separate sections for First & Business. The First Class is available to the 14 passengers + 1 guest each, and any Gold members of the BA loyalty program.
On exiting the lift we checked in with the very pleasant hostess, who directed us to the First section. The above photograph shows about 1/2 of the lounge, which we found very spacious, bright, clean, well maintained and comfortable, with ready access to electrical outlets and a great view of the operational runway. The lounge staff were excellent, giving us a tour of the lounge and frequently stopping by to check if we required anything else.
First Class Lounge – selection of spirits & liqueurs
First Class Lounge – selection of beers & soft drinks
Unfortunately, I omitted to photograph the wine and champagne bar located around the corner, which consisted of 1 champagne, 4 white wines and 4 red wines. Judi, of course opted for the bubbly.
Judi sipping champagne in the lounge
With 3 craft beers from Steamworks in Gastown (Vancouver), I opted for the IPA. All refreshments are self-service, with unlimited refills available during the time you spend in the lounge.
For munchies they had a soup, 4 types of finger sandwiches, a selection of raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, crisps and a selection of cookies.
Fresh fruit, crisps and various nuts
We spent a very quiet and relaxing 3 hours in the lounge, until 20:15, when the hostess advised they were about to commence boarding the aircraft. On arrival at the gate, we joined the short queue, and within a couple of minutes were boarding via the fwd door.
First Class Compartment – on boarding (airplane.net)
The above photograph shows the First Class compartment, which has 14 seats. They have 5 single seats on each outboard side and 2 pairs of seats in the middle. We had the front row of double seats in the middle. Unlike BA Business Class, each seat has direct access to the aisle. However, with 14 seats in the fwd section of the Main Deck, it is very cramped, with minimal space in both aisles.
First Class Pod (airlinereporter)
The seats are an improvement over the BA Business Class, but the B-747 being an older aircraft, the seat/pod lacked some of the technology available on more modern aircraft. With the seat in the sitting position, each pod could accommodate 2 people, with the 2nd person sitting on the opposite seat, which is otherwise a foot rest. While I was able to rest my feet, with the seat up-right, anyone with shorter legs could not reach. The seat was operated by the rotary knob, seen above. Rotating the knob results in the seat sliding into the flat (bed position), or back to the seating position. They also have a button, which restores the seat to the correct position for take-off or landing. The control panel changes to blue when the seat is moved from the landing position and to green when positioned correctly for landing/take-off. They have additional controls to adjust the head-rest and lumbar support. However, you cannot extend the calf support without lowering the seat to almost flat. We also had minimal storage in the pod for laptops, books, etc. The table was easy to operate, was huge and had an excellent range of motion.
Sunset shortly after departing YVR – unfortunately blurry, turned flash off
Upon boarding, we received the welcome aboard glass on champagne, and once airborne were served a cocktail of our choice.
Champagne & selection of mixed nuts
We both opted for the exceptional Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne, which is consistently rated as excellent by numerous wine experts. The bottles do not indicate a vintage, as it is actually a blend at least 3 separate vintages. It was very light, dry and with small bubbles that were not over-powering. This was definitely a step up from Moet and compares well with Dom Perignon.
Andy’s starter – tomato soup
For starter, I opted for the Leamington tomato basil soup, with a herbed puff pastry twist. The soup had exceptional flavour, but could have been served a few degree warmer.
Andy’s main course – braised beef short ribs
For main course, I tried the Granville Island Pale Ale braised beef short ribs with carmelised onion, mashed red skin potatoes and roasted root vegetables. The ribs were tasty and very tender, but the mashed potatoes were actually a mixture of potatoes and parsnips, which contained large chunks of almost raw parsnip. The carmelised onions was a slightly roasted 1/2 of a small onion or large scallion. For wine, I enjoyed a 2008 Chateau La Dominique, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe from Bordeaux. A blend of mostly Merlot, with smaller amount of Cab Franc and Cab Sauv, it was very easy drinking with minimal tannins.
Andy’s dessert – rice pudding
To finish the meal I enjoyed the jasmine rice pudding with rhubarb compote. Shortly after dinner the steward made up the bed with quilted cover and duvet.
First Class seat made into a bed
It was over 6′ in length and was generally comfortable for providing a reasonable sleep for a few hours. I managed to catch about 4 hours and Judi about 5 hours. The only negative was the lack of BA supplying pajamas, which both Qatar and Qantas supply, even in Business Class.
Andy’s breakfast – full English
Unfortunately the breakfast was a huge disappointment. While the presentation may look good, everything was cold and basically inedible. The scrambled eggs were congealed lumps of cold powdered/liquid egg, the mushrooms raw, potatoes oozing grease, bacon like cardboard and what I believe was meant to be toast was actually dried out lukewarm bread. Ate the tomatoes and traded the remainder for a yogurt.
First Class menu- individual pages
On arrival Heathrow we went into Terminal 3 (T3), rather than the more modern Terminal 5, which was built to handle all BA flights. I have a long standing dislike for T3 and this experience did nothing to change my opinion. We must have docked at the furthest gate, so we walked miles to reach Immigration, baggage reclaim and Customs.
After clearing Customs we met up with employees from Airportr, who we contracted to ship our suitcases directly to the hotel in London. Their employees are dressed in blue uniforms and meet you immediately outside customs, with their trolley. They secure all zippers, attach shipping labels and provide a 1 hour window for delivery. We dropped the suitcases at 15:00 for delivery between 20:00 and 21:00. They actually arrived a couple of minutes before 20:00. The cost for 4 suitcases was UKP 50.
Departing the airport, we had a relaxed journey with only our hand luggage, taking the London Underground to Waterloo Station, followed by a 250 yd walk to the hotel. If we retained the 4 suitcases I would not consider using the tube, so would have used the higher cost Heathrow Express, followed by taxi from Paddington to the hotel. I estimate this would cost an additional 35 to 40 UKP more than the underground. Therefore, in addition to not having to man-handle 4 suitcases, I believe the net cost for shipping was only about UKP 10. If you ever fly into London and are staying downtown, I highly recommend this service. When we return home in September, we will again be using them, as they will pick up the cases from our hotel and check them in with BA. Therefore, we won’t see our cases until arrival Vancouver.