BRITISH AIRWAYS review (London Heathrow Airport to Hong Kong International), FIRST CLASS, Boeing 747-400
British Airways is the national flag carrier of the United Kingdom, and operates full international and domestic scheduled air services for the carriage of passengers, freight, and mail and the provision of ancillary services. British Airways operates to 148 destinations around the world with a fleet of 262 aircraft. British Airways are one of the world’s leading scheduled premium international airlines. Their main principal place of business is Heathrow, one of the world’s premier airport locations, which serves a large geographical area with a comparatively high proportion of point-to-point business. Operating one of the most extensive international scheduled airline route networks, together with our code share and franchise partners, British Airways flies to more than 300 destinations worldwide.
The year 2013 is an exciting year for the airline. On the 26th of June 2013, British Airways will take delivery of its first Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft. British Airways announced that the airline intends to operate the Boeing 787 on its transatlantic routes with Toronto (from 1 September 2013) and Newark (from 1 October 2013) being the inaugural routes. British Airways’ first Airbus A380 will also be delivered on the 4th of July 2013, and three of these aircraft are planned to be in service by the end of 2013. The airline plans to start operating the Airbus A380 on three of it’s lucrative routes, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, and Los Angeles. It will begin regular services to Los Angeles on the 24th of September 2013, followed by Hong Kong from 22nd of October 2013, and then Johannesburg on the 12th of February 2014.
I had the pleasure of flying First Class on media trip with British Airways from London Heathrow Airport (U.K.) to Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok Airport (China), on one of their Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
For it’s services to China, British Airways flies to Beijing (Six flights a week), Hong Kong (14 times a week), and Shanghai (Six flights a week) using the Boeing 747-400, and the Boeing 777 aircraft.
Route: LONDON HEATHROW (LHR) – HONG KONG (HKG)
Departure date and time of flight: June 2013, 18:35pm local time (London)
Flight number: BA25 (ICAO callsign: “Speedbird 25 heavy”)
Flight duration: 12 Hours 10 minutes
Class: FIRST CLASS
Aircraft type: BOEING 747-436 (51 aircraft in service)
Aircraft registration: G-CIVL (First flight 23rd of March 1997)
Delivery date to BA: 28th of March 1997
Aircraft Serial Number: 27478 - line 1108
Frequent flyer programme: EXECUTIVE CLUB
Engines: Four x Rolls Royce RB211-524G
Seat configuration for this aircraft:
Comments on the check- in staff:
Checking in at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is an effortless affair because of the large numbers of check-in counters, and the abundance of electronic ticket (E-ticket) counters available on site. British Airways has a separate checking-in facility for First Class passengers located at one end of the departure’s hall at Terminal 5. The whole point of travelling First Class is that you avoid all the problems that naturally come with flying. The joys of flying First Class are that there is no need to wait in a queue (well, there are not many passengers who fly First Class so there is not much of a waiting line anyways!), and everything is taken care of for you right from the check-in process to being discreetly whisked through security.
The whole checking-in experience took only around 10 minutes for me to get from checking in my baggage to the duty free area.
Any baggage issues:
No issues regarding the baggage. The baggage limit is three bags (of 32kg each) for those flying in First Class.
For passengers travelling to all other destinations with British Airways, passengers travelling in Club World can carry 2-luggage bags up to 32kg each in the hold.
For passengers flying in Economy and Premium Economy can carry one luggage bag of upto 23kg in the hold.
LOUNGE EXPERIENCE at Heathrow Terminal 5:
British Airways has not just one Lounge, but eight Lounges at Heathrow (six at Terminal 5, and 2 at Terminal 3). Lounges are available at Terminal 5A North (Galleries Lounge after security), Terminal 5A South (Galleries Lounge after security), Terminal 5A (Galleries Lounge at gate side), and Terminal 5B (Galleries Lounge at gate side).
The British Airways Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is not just ordinary Lounge, but rather similar to a 5-star hotel. You can have breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can sleep in one of the many small ‘sleeper’ rooms, take a shower (20 shower suites available), watch some movies, catch up on the latest current affairs, have a massage, facial treatment, or just go shopping. The Lounge caters for passengers transferring at Heathrow, as well as those departing as well.
For those travelling in First and Club World class (and for Gold Executive Club members flying long haul), British Airways can have a complimentary two-tier treatment menu at the Elemis Travel Spa at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, or Terminal 3. At Terminal 5, there is even a 20-seat cinema for live sporting events and tailored entertainment. Wireless internet is available free in all the lounges.
Passengers can sip a glass of vintage champagne or a cocktail from the Concorde Bar, while choosing their meal. Concorde rooms are available at London Heathrow T5 and New York JFK.
Punctuality of the flight, and route taken:
The aircraft departed bang on time, but landed an hour late due to heavy thunderstorms and lightning in the Guangdong area. London Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, and certainly gets busy during the peak hours unlike some other airports around the world. Considering that Heathrow only has two runways (27L/09R, and 27R/09L) where one is used for take-offs, and the other for landings, so therefore there tends to be a long queue of aircraft waiting to take-off (as was in this case). However, if you are an aviation enthusiast, then Heathrow is heaven for you because you can see airlines from all around the world (and going away to all corners of the world).
We departed Runway 09R at Heathrow on a standard Clacton departure towards Ipswich, then North Sea, Scandinavia, North Russia, Siberia, North Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and then finally down towards Hong Kong. The beauty of sitting in First Class of the Boeing 747-400 is that it is remarkably quiet (except for the slight ‘thud’ heard from the front nose wheels as they kiss the ground on take-off and landing).
Effectively it’s like sitting in your own private living room with a huge TV screen in front of you, amazing food, great views of the world outside, and an awesome personalised service. It’s with the luxuries of life such as this that you truly appreciate how lucky you are sitting in First Class. I know why the Beckhams love flying First Class on BA so much! Nevertheless, who was in the First Class section on this particular flight, apart from Yours Truly? Well, that’d be telling!
Comments regarding the pre-flight service:
Passengers’ in First Class are offered hot lemon scented towels prior to departure. This is followed by a drinks service, which consists of some of the world’s finest wines, and champagne. Passengers are also treated to a plate of Macadamia Nuts (dry roasted and salted from Kenya), and toffee covered warm almonds. The huge nuts go well with any wine. I opted for a glass of Chardonnay (Barwick Estates Black Label Chardonnay 2009, Margaret River, Western Australia 1997). The high flow of the fruit juices dance as they make down your throat. It’s a sheer delight to drink high quality wine like this on a flight. It’s arguably one of the most prestigious appellations to the wine world, and sets itself apart as one of the finest expressions of Chardonnay in the world. The aromatic grassy and herbaceous aromas with refined gooseberry and citrus fruit adds to the refreshing acidity and long mineral finish to the tongue.
Many of the British Airways classics are greatly adored by passengers around the world. Nothing less is expected from an airline that was once known as ‘World’s favourite airline’.
Comments regarding the pre-meal service:
Unlike in the other cabins (including in Business Class), passengers in the First Class cabin can choose to wine and dine as and when they want- even up to 30 minutes before landing. Since I did not have much to eat, I decided to have dinner early on so that I could get a long sleep afterwards. Around about 30 minutes after departure, drinks were served from the trolley along with another helping of the huge Macadamia Nuts, and warm toffee covered almonds. I opted for the Champagne this time (Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle). The Grand Siècle is the prestige cuvee of the House of Laurent-Perrier and is named in honour of the ‘Sun King’, Louis XIV, who presided over an era known as the ‘Grand Siècle’ or ‘Great Century’. At the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV was the first French King to drink Champagne. This multi-vintage Champagne is created from finely selected grapes sourced from the 100% Grand Cru Vineyards in the twelve most prestigious villages such as Ambonny, Avize, Cramant, and Le Mesnil. The blend is 50% Pinot Noir, and 50% Chardonnay. The wine is aged for at least 5 years on its lees before release in its replica 17th Century bottle.
There was also the celebrated British Airways complimentary bar service, including various alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks. Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English Tetley tea, and Chinese green tea) were also available. On top of this, there were a selection of herbal teas including green tea with jasmine, peppermint, blackcurrant, and chamomile with honey.
A complete range of timeless and classic spirits, digestifs, and liqueurs were offered including: Tio Pepe, Ciroc Vodka, Zacapa XO Rum, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Whiskey, and many others.
Comments regarding the first meal:
British Airways have taken their in-flight menu to new heights, and indeed, it is called ‘Height Cuisine’ menu. The recipes used have been specially developed using the ingredients that are naturally high in a fifth taste known as Umami (after sweet, sour, bitter, and salt). The taste of Umami was identified in Japan, and it offers a pleasant savoury taste in many foods such as tomatoes, seaweed, and Parmesan cheese. The new first class dining experience brings out the best of BA’s traditions and rituals.
British Airways claims to source their ingredients locally wherever they can. Whereas East-West fusion cuisines are considered exotic as part of most in-flight meals, at British Airways they have a more common presence in their in-flight dining on flights to the Far East. Dinner service consisted of the following:
I opted for the stylish looking prawn and wasabi timbale. The dish has carefully adopted characteristics of a fusion of Asian and Western cuisines, such as matching beautifully created roll of the prawns, a bit like a big wrapped sushi with elegant garnish of lime and coriander salad. It is exactly this openness to new ideas and respect for tradition, which has enabled British Airways to not just survive, but also gracefully thrive when it comes to providing a 5-star quality in-flight meal in the 21st century.
There were four options for the main course, including:
From the available options I opted for the well-presented haddock with creamy basil dish. As well as upholding the traditional and authentic taste of British cuisine, this dish also incorporated certain herbal concepts which blended in well with the lemon and caper sauce. The sweet essence of the cherry tomatoes and the spinach gave way to a soft and elegant sweet smell that blended in neatly with the baby carrots. The presentation off the dish was immaculate and just as it should be, and it tasted as good as it looked. A variety of freshly baked bread was served from the basket. Perhaps I should have also tried the traditional Cantonese option of beef and aubergine curry.
The main course came with a large bone china bowl containing a generous amount of fresh seasonal salad served with vinaigrette.
I could easily have gone for a ‘peach and almond tar’; however I opted for the ‘strawberry and white chocolate’. The soft and creamy strawberry and white chocolate mousse is really an extravaganza of a dessert- it’s both fun and whimsical. Just at the moment you pop your tongue into this, it becomes more intense by the second. This dish hits all the right buttons when it comes to presentation, and absolute British taste in the sky.
Comments regarding the after meal drinks and in-flight snacks:
Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English Tetley tea, and Chinese green tea) were also available. On top of this there were a selection of herbal teas including green tea with jasmine, peppermint, blackcurrant, and chamomile with honey.
The galley of the First Class cabin is located on the main deck of the Boeing 747-400 (in between the First Class and the Club World cabins’), and is available for snacks throughout the flight. Beechdean farmhouse dairy ice cream from jersey cows makes you feel that English food never tasted so good. You could have easily forgotten about all those extra calories when plucking each spoonful of ice cream from the beautifully decorated tub. Oh, and of course, the hot pot noodles were available in abundance throughout the flight. There was also plenty of traditional English cheese served with Jacobs English biscuits.
Other than this, the ‘First Class’ kitchen also offered the following all throughout the flight:
- fresh wraps, salads and bite-sized sandwiches
- delicious hot dishes such as hot Chinese noodles, and tasty soups
- luxury cakes and Fair-trade chocolate
- Fine wines, fruit smoothies, soft drinks and juices from the fridge.
- Fusilly pasta with cep mushrooms, leek, garlic, and parsley sauce
- Beef burger with Monterey Jack cheese, gherkin, tomato, and chunky chips
- A fine selection of fresh fruit and cheese with biscuits
- Cookies, raisins, and other snacks in the basket
Comments regarding the second meal:
I chose to have breakfast served around an hour prior to landing at Hong Kong Airport. So I thought…we were delayed for another hour due to heavy Cumulonimbus clouds and active thunderstorm activity over Hong Kong airspace.
There was a good selection of options available including:
Though I adore orange juice very much, I decided to commence the meal with an energising smoothie of plum and blueberry. Smoothies are popular with healthy eating crowds, and that includes me. High in protein and low in sugar and fat, drinking this powerful drink was the perfect way to wake up. Even though many smoothies include crushed ice, and frozen yoghurt, thankfully this one did not. The milk and all other ingredients were organic. All breakfast trays came complete with a choice of bread from the breadbasket (I could not resist those Danish Pastries), and a bowl of fresh fruit. Preserves were provided by Wilkin & Sons Ltd of England.
Main breakfast dish:
I opted for the English breakfast. It’s the one dish on the menu of all British Airways flights that I really look forward to. Many people in the UK swear by a traditional English breakfast in the morning as the only proper start to the day- and in true British culture British Airways offers one of the best English breakfasts in the sky. There is a long-standing tradition of a cooked breakfast, consisting of meat and egg products, with bread, washed down with gallons of English tea or coffee, across the UK, including Scotland and Wales, as well as Ireland. British Airways uses fine ingredients such as organic potatoes, tomatoes, prime English bacon, and free-range eggs for their English breakfast. There is nothing quite like it, and naturally the chefs at British Airways catering department do a fantastic job in not letting their passengers down. It gives a taste of true British food in the sky.
Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Mint Humberg, Honeycomb Camomile, Red Berry Fool, and Jasmine Pearls). On top of this there were a selection of herbal teas including green tea with jasmine, peppermint, blackcurrant, and camomile with honey.
Comments on the in-flight entertainment system:
All Club World and First Class passengers are provided with noise cancellation headphones that come complete with the BA logo on the sides.
Every suite in the First Class cabin comes with a 15-inch flat screen (Personal Television- PTV). BA’s in-flight entertainment system is called HighLife Entertainment. The movies, and music albums vary according to the route (so for China, there were a mixture of Asian and Western movies etc.), and every month a new list entertainment options crop up. First Class passengers can also use the USB port and RCA jack for enjoying their laptop, iPod or digital camera on the bigger screen. Compared to some of the other carriers, such as Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways and Emirates, the products provided on British Airways came across as being out of date, and shabby.
I was assigned seat 1A (right at the front of the plane), and to my disappointment the IFE screen did not turn on. Since the First Class cabin was mostly empty (only 3 other passengers in the cabin!), therefore the senior purser asked me to sit anywhere I liked and try to see if the IFE on the other seats worked. So, I then I sat in seats 2A, 1K, 3A...none of their IFE systems worked. I actually felt like playing musical chairs in my own private jet. Despite the crew restarting the IFE system it still did not work. I finally managed to get the IFE to work on seat 4E at around 1 hour into the flight. While the whole incident may have been embarrassing for British Airways that the IFE in their First Class was not working, I managed to occupy 3 First Class seats in the mean time.
HighLife Entertainment’s Audio and Video On Demand (AVOD) system puts the passengers in full control of all kinds of audio, video and games entertainment. Passengers can choose from over 200 entertainment options and play, pause, stop, fast forward and rewind to fit in with their own schedule. These large PTVs and noise cancellations headphones are available on all longhaul flights (Boeing 777, 747, and 767 aircraft).
Comments of professionalism of the cabin crew:
Representing the truly global and multicultural ethos of British Airways, the cabin crew come from a variety of cultures. Naturally, on this flight, the cabin crew were from China, and the United Kingdom, and so the languages spoken were Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, and British English. The cabin crew at British Airways are very proud of their airline, and their product. Detail to personal service is the key to the success of the airline.
With all due respect and with no offense being targeted against anyone, the one thing I noticed was that the majority of the cabin crew on this flight came across to being in their 40s and 50s. While this is great because they have a lot of experience, and seniority counts a lot with companies such as BA, Lufthansa, United....so on long-haul international flights you do get highly experienced cabin crew who have been doing the job for 20+ years for example...but you may ask why is this so? Why do the majority of Middle Eastern and Asian airline companies have younger, more attractive, and healthy looking cabin crew (men and women), and most European and North American airline companies don't? Simple answer to that is discrimination laws and airline trade unions exist in Europe and North America..i.e. companies in countries where unions and discrimination laws exists, such as with BA, cannot say they must only hire women, must be white/Asian, slim etc. Whereas companies such as Air China, Air India, etc. do openly advertise that their cabin crew must be native Indian, Chinese, and be of a certain height, race, build, age etc.
In the 1990s, British Airways used to be known as ‘The World’s Favorite Airline’. It probably is, but the main reason why this slogan is not used anymore is because of the number of routes the airline serves (it’s not as much as they used to go to, and not as many routes as some other airlines). Other than this there is no reason why British Airways can still be the world’s favorite airline. Indeed, their customer service is second to none in whatever they do. The staff were very polite, and brought along a true international flavour to the cabins.
Comments on the interior of the aircraft (including seat comfort):
In line with the airline’s livery, all the aircraft seats are covered with a navy blue fabric. In Economy Class, the seats have either blue or red ‘bibs’ on the headrest, while in Club World, and First Class the seats have an elegant white bib on the headrest.
The new First Class seat has a 78” inch pitch, and a 21” inch width (one of the most generous in the airline industry). There are 14 First Class suites in the First Class section of the Boeing 747-400. Every First Class passenger gets BA’s signature Anya Hindmarch amenity kit bag containing premium skincare products including eye gel, lip balm and moisturiser. First Class passengers are also provided with a pair of wonderfully soft cotton pyjamas, and luxury slippers. Each of the 14 suites on the Boeing 747-400 includes a personal power supply for laptops and electronic devices. At the time of writing, over 80% of BAs long haul aircraft are fitted with the very latest First cabin. The new First Class is available on flights between London Heathrow and Lagos, New York JFK, Shanghai, Tokyo Haneda, Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo (subject to availability).
The seat transform into a comfortable 198cm (6ft 6in) long fully flat bed with a luxurious quilted mattress, crisp white cotton duvet and pillow. In the First Class cabin, the cabin crew make the bed for you, so it saves you the hassle. The seat is wide and long enough for you to get a good long stretch of the legs (and back if you want to lie facing with head down).
British Airways logo and livery:
Based on the original logo, and design that featured on Concorde, the current British Airways logo was designed in 1997 by Newell & Sorrell. The colours are blue, and red. The additional colour is grey. All aircraft feature the word ‘BRITISH AIRWAYS’ in blue (British Airways uses its proprietary typefaces Mylius Sans and Mylius Serif, both designed by Rodney Mylius at Newell & Sorrell.), printed below the windows (and before the wing). On the 747 aircraft, the words appear above the main deck windows and just before the wing. Just before the cockpit windows and, at the front of the words, BRITISH AIRWAYS, there is a dash of the flag, which looks like an upside down tick. It starts with a navy blue, and the ‘flair’ of the logo is coloured in red. The engines of all the aircraft are painted in a matching navy blue.
The bellies of all British Airways aircraft are painted in royal navy blue. The tail-fin consists of an elegant version of the national flag of the United Kingdom, The Union Jack. It gives the feeling of a flag flying on the tail. Overall, the British Airways logo portrays elegance, romance, flair, and a touch of true British patriotism. It’s easy to identify for passengers, and also Air Traffic Controllers.
While it was a fabulous flight experience overall with a flawless service. Nevertheless, I think that generally British Airways charge much more in return for the service and product that you get overall (on average BA charges over £6,000 GBP for a First Class seat on a long-haul flight such as this compared to maybe around £3,500 by Emirates, Etihad or Singapore Airlines). It is a well known fact in the aviation industry that airlines make their money for each flight by filling out the First and Business Class cabins- and Economy Class seats are just extra profit. So, a plane needs to fill all of it's First and Business Class seats in order to break even for that flight, and all the money from Economy Class seats is just profit. This particular flight probably just broke even because Business Class was 50% full, and First Class hardly had 3 full-paying passengers (2 were off-duty BA pilots (free staff flight!), and I was not full-paying/media), and even Economy Class was only around 60% full.
From my own experience I do believe that some of the Middle Eastern and Asian carriers provide a much better service in their Business Class than British Airways do in their First Class cabin (though the BA Business Class product is very good - in par with other major intentional airlines..check here). Their in-flight customer service was also below par compared to some of their Asian and Middle Eastern arch rivals...I found this problem to be evident with other European and North American airline companies I have flown with...I am not sure of the exact reasons. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it's those 3 golden rules of customer service that need to be considered always: 1. Greet the customer BEFORE the customer greets you, 2. Never say NO directly (except in a health & safety/serious situation), and 3. Let the customer come back to you again and again without pushing them too much. I think one of the key factors for the high price/less product offerings from most European and North American airlines could be because of the high fuel prices (99.9% of the Middle Eastern and Asian carriers have a lot of financial backing from their governments without unions getting involved in their management affairs).
I think it would be a great idea to get rid of the First Class cabin on ALL BA planes, and just replace it with a top notch Business Class product that matches/surpasses other arch rivals products. For all the A-Listers and the Celebs that do fly BA First Class commercially (even the Royal Family do sometimes), then BA should consider having a separate BA Executive Jet business branch that caters just for that elite market (Qatar Airways have done this very successfully...they have got rid of their First Class cabin and introduced Qatar Executive private jets for the elite). Hardly anyone - except celebs, Hollywood stars, and Royalty - flies First Class these days. In 99% of the flights I have taken I can say from personal experience that the First Class cabin is hardly ever even 40% full (even on Qatar, Emirates and Etihad!). There is not that much difference between First Class and Business Class in any case. Though I think that BA would not look into eliminating it's First Class section because it's the British national flag carrier and they want to keep some pride.
The Check-in and Lounge Experience
The First Class Cabin
British Airways First Class Amenity Kit
About Airline PR
This is a special section on Airline Branding, and Airline Public Relations written by me on all the flights I have been fortunate enough to have been on. These are not records taken from somewhere else, but are actual flights I have been on. Most of the flight trips are officially sponsored by the airline companies in order to promote their certain routes, and aircraft. Airline promotion and PR related work in the aviation industry is one of my expertise.
Watch exclusive videos below taken in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-300ER in-flight over Chinese Airspace.
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B777-300ER Cockpit Video 1
B777-300ER Cockpit Video 2
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