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We capped off an extraordinary trip to Norway this holiday season (more coming on this trip later) with a flight back from Oslo to Houston via London in British Airways first class. Although I had come across a few reviews that dampened my enthusiasm for BA’s first class product on the 747, I still thoroughly enjoyed the flight experience. While BA’s first class on the 747 isn’t quite on the same level of some other global carriers, it’s still nothing to scoff at.
We used 85,000 American Airline miles to get from OSL to IAH via LHR in first class one way for each person.
Google flights listed this flight at $6,576 although if you fly it out of London it’s listed at over $11,000! For our award flight, total fees came out to $270 (which isn’t that bad for a premium flight out of LHR), and so our redemption value came out to 7.4 cents per point, which I’ll take just about any day. We may have looked into Finnair or American if we were focused on cutting costs, but we really wanted to try out BA’s first class product, so we went with BA and just ate the cost.
(The first class on board the A319 from Oslo to London was nothing impressive and merely consisted of economy seating with a placeholder in the middle seat, so our enthusiasm was focused on the 10.5 hour segment of our route.)
The first class cabin
While not as stunning as what’s found on the 787, the British Airways first class cabin on the 747 is still well polished and sleek. I’d read a number of reviews about the first class cabin on the 747 being crowded, and so I was a little bit worried about feeling cramped the whole time while in first class and that detracting from the experience. However, I honestly didn’t feel cramped at all.
It’s true that the cabin isn’t as spacious as I would like and could use more space or fewer seats, but it didn’t feel like too close of quarters where I sat in seat 2K. I got a bit lucky in that I had no passenger directly across from me, so that helped create more privacy. The story may have been a little different if I were in row 3, 4, or 5, although the staggered design of the seats helps to provide some screening even when you have neighbors.
2K was a great seat but one issue was that passengers often came around the magazine rack either to pick up literature or to swing back around from the lavatory if their way was blocked. That was slightly bothersome. The best seats are 1A and 1K but those are reserved for BA/oneworld elites and as far as I know you can only select them at check-in if they are still not available. (They weren’t available when we checked in.)
I found the seats to be comfortable and designed and positioned to afford you with a decent amount of privacy. The desk or counter space adjacent to the seat is a bit limited and there’s no big storage drawer or compartment for your larger items, so that’s a slight drawback (although you can use the netting in the closet space to store small items like your passport, phone, etc.).
The seat comes with a small pillow that honestly felt worn and thin and detracted a bit from the overall polished feel of the cabin. With everything else having such a nice aura, it just felt out of place.
Across from your seat, there’s a footrest that also functions as a small stool/seat that even comes equipped with a seat belt. I sat in it for a minute and it was surprisingly more practical than I had imagined but I would not consider eating a meal from that “seat” or spending any considerable time in it like the alternate seats found other airlines like Etihad.
The overall design of the seats are very pleasing to the eye. This is especially true when you drop down the mood-lit blue shades via an electronic control.
In addition to the mood-lit shades, the miniature “lamp” that hangs just over your seat control panel on the right adds an additional touch of ambiance to the experience.
With both of those lighting features, the first class cabin transforms into something a bit more lustrous.
It really is one of the prettier first class seats.
One of my favorite aspects of the first class seat is the seat functions because they are some of the simplest controls I’ve ever come across. You simply turn the dial in one direction and you’ll begin to recline until you’re all the way flat. Once you begin to bring the seat back up, the lighting surrounding the circular dial will turn green to let you know you’ve reached the take-off/landing position.
At one point, the controls did appear to malfunction and a red light lit up that said “fault.” This would not let me bring my seat out of the lie-flat position. A flight attendant came to assist and she fixed it by turning the dial toward the lie-flat position and then instantly turning it back the other way. She seemed like she knew exactly what to do, so perhaps that issue comes up fairly frequently.
You could also adjust the position of individual segments of the seat with buttons found below the dial. The buttons on top of the dial control the two reading lights above your seat. And the buttons on top of the panel control the brightness of the lamp and (when activated) also control the intensity of the blue mood lighting in the window shades.
Just to the left of the seat dial is the USB port and also the headphone jack. In between those, you’ll find the controls for the window shade.
There’s also a silver panel you have to pull out to access the controller to the in-flight entertainment system. It’s an easy to use controller that also controls the reading lights and call button for service.
One slightly annoying thing about the in-flight entertainment/controller is that the volume bar/meter does not show up on the screen so it’s not easy to gauge your volume level and return to that “perfect” level once you change it.
Finally, there’s a universal power outlet found near the bottom of your seat.
There’s a nice closet storage compartment that I was able to hang up a pretty thick peacoat in without wrinkling it all up. If you have a heavier jacket you can always request to have your coat stored elsewhere in the cabin.
There’s also an additional hanger next to the television screen.
And finally, there’s an opening at the bottom of the closet for your shoes, which is a nice touch. (Right above it is the netting that you can put small belongings in.)
The 747 comes with 15-inch TV screens. You have to pull these screens out of the back of the seat by sliding the notch over near the top of the screen. It’s kind of an annoying thing to have to do since you have to lean all the way forward to bring it out but not a major problem.
The monitors have touch screen capabilities and responded very well to touch. One thing I enjoyed about the monitors is that they didn’t seem to lose visibility when lying down. It’s a real pain when you can’t tilt a screen but when you lie down, you can hardly make out what’s on the screen. This didn’t seem to be an issue and the monitor was also bright enough to be clearly seen even when the cabin lights were not dimmed. The movie, tv, games, etc., selection appeared to be pretty standard, as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed the dining experience on board this flight. First, I really like the fact that you can push your (large) tray table forward and with your seat in the proper position, you can still exit and enter your seat. This makes the dining process a lot more enjoyable so you don’t feel like you’re chained to your tray with tons of cutlery, dishes, and condiments on it until you finish your entire meal.
As for the dining itself, it exceeded expectations. It’s not on the same level as Etihad, Singapore, etc. when it comes to presentation and overall food and drink selections, but it still held its own. For an appetizer, I had the duck rillette with smoked duck breast and kumquat confit and found it tasty (although it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world to eat).
For the main course, I went with the seared fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef with pearl barley arancini and vegetables. I had a similar beef dish on Etihad’s Apartment but enjoyed this one a lot better as it had more flavor and was cooked more to my liking.
For dessert, I went with the plain Madagascan vanilla ice cream which apparently was nothing special compared to the caramel brownie that Brad had. I think that’s why the flight attendant asked me if I wanted to pair the ice cream with another dessert, but to avoid giving in to a bit of gluttony, I refused.
A couple of hours later, I requested a cheese plate and some red wine to go along with the assortment. Aside from the beef, this was the highlight of my dining experience, as I loved the different cheeses and crackers. Brad went with the sandwich sampler and had good things to say about them as well.
I’d heard a lot of negative things about the dining experience on British Airways, too, but I found it to be a solid experience. It wasn’t quite as extravagant as some of the other premier cabins like Singapore or Etihad but it was still an overwhelmingly positive dining experience and although it lacked a little bit of flair and personal touch found elsewhere, I still felt very satisfied.
When we boarded our seat, our slippers and a very thin blanket (almost like a shaw) already awaited us. Our flight attendant asked us if we wanted pajamas for the 10.5 hour flight and I obliged since I can’t turn down a comfy pair of PJs.
We were some of the last passengers to receive the old amenity kit, since British Airways is offering newly designed kits in 2017. According to one of our flight attendants, the kits for women are getting the major overhaul, while those for men won’t see as many changes.
Inside the kit we had:
- Lip balm
- Ear plugs
- Eye mask
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- British Airways “First” writing pen
- Amenities from The Refinery including:
- Eye gel
- Shave gel
The headphones given to us were noise canceling headphones, although I’m not sure which brand they were. They were decent quality though and did the trick. I also didn’t have any issues with the volume cutting out due to a poorly connected headphone jack as often happens on flights with even the slightest nudge with the headphone jack.
The cotton PJs were nice and comfy and much thinner than some other ones like the Givenchy pajamas given on Singapore Suites. I personally prefer the thinner pajamas since it’s much easier to stay cooler. The “First” insignia was a nice added touch, too.
When you put the seat down flat, the armrests also lower to the level of your seat creating a wider space for your upper body. Although this only added a couple of inches, I found the little bit of extra room allowed for a much more comfortable experience.
The staff happily made my bed when I requested turndown service. Although the duvet/blanket, and additional pillow they brought out didn’t come out in the most snazzy fashion, I got extremely comfortable in them. One reason I got so comfortable is that British Airways actually kept the cabin cool — a tad bit chilly even. With the cotton PJs and soft pillows and blanket, I was able to get cozy without warming up too much which has been an issue on several long-haul flights with other airlines I’ve flown on.
Although I actually didn’t sleep on this flight, I was able to stay perfectly comfortable throughout the entire flight due to the coolness, bedding, and room I had.
Just like with the armrests, you also have more room down by your feet created by the additional padding. Again, we’re only talking about inches here but you know how big of a difference a matter of inches can make when it comes to room on a plane.
I will say that the only real negative is that when you have the TV monitor extended out, you don’t have much room above your legs so you have to remain conscious about that so you don’t end up kneeing your monitor. But despite that, I’d have to rate the turndown service among the best I’ve experienced purely as a matter of all-around comfort when all things are considered.
Here’s where BA really surprised me. The service from out first class cabin crew was tremendous. While I didn’t feel quite the same level of over-the-top dedication as I felt from my Singapore Suites experience (which nothing has been able to top), the service on this flight was right up there with some of the best. They were super-attentive, willing to assist with whatever was needed, and were extremely pleasant to deal with. I had zero complaints about them.
Overall, my first class experience on the British Airways 747 exceeded my expectations that admittedly had been set a little bit low based on some reviews. The hard product itself was beautiful, practically designed, and comfortable; the dining and drinks were terrific; and the service was exceptional. While some airlines clearly have British Airways outdone in terms of bars, showers, and other areas, I don’t think “British Airways First” is quite far behind as some make them out to be.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.