Airline: British Airways
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2A, window
From: London Heathrow
To: Tokyo Narita
Date: 13. August 2013
Departure: 13:30, actually departed 18:45
Arrival: 09:05 (+1), actually arrived 13:53
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I spend an hour walking through Windsor before eventually I decide to call it a day and head back to Heathrow’s T5 for my flight to Tokyo.
The British Airways First Class check-in area is located at the south end of the terminal. As I approach the counter, one of the ground agents comes to greet me. She takes my passport and ushers me to one of the many free check-in counters.
The check-in agent is a charming and very competent young lady of Indian descent. She immediately informs me that the flight to Narita this afternoon has been delayed – apparently due to some crew issue – and will not be leaving until 17h50, which means a delay of not quite five hours. She also hands me my boarding pass for the onward flight and a voucher for £15 to spend in the terminal as an apology for the delay.
The security check is just around the corner, with a separate line for First Class passengers. Once you’re through security you do a sharp right turn and immediately find yourself at the entrance to the Concorde Room.
The Concorde Room is decorated in what I would call typically English country style. Some may call it opulent, I just find it a tad overdone.
So what do I do here for four hours? Lunch sounds like an interesting proposition, so I order a salad of spinach, grilled goat’s cheese and sweet onion chutney. This is followed by a filet of sea bass on crushed potatoes and peppers.
At 13h30 I head for the Elemis Spa, where I have an appointment for a facial and body massage. And very invigorating it is too even if it leaves me reeking of orange peel. So I decide to have a shower while I’m at it.
Ah yes, the showers. So far, my impression of the First Class lounge is good. In particular, the service is excellent, with attentive and friendly staff. Where the lounge really looses however, is with the sanitary facilities – in a nutshell, they are old and grubby. They certainly can’t keep up with Lufthansa’s offerings for example, not even in Business Class! And no amount of Elemis cosmetics will change that.
Once I finish the shower I head for the boardroom. That’s where the business centre and computers are located. Initially I pretend as though I’ve got some tremendously important, earthmoving e-mails to write. As soon as the other guy leaves though and the door closes behind him, I take out my camera and go on a photo shooting frenzy of the chairs in the boardroom. They are in fact original Concorde seats that have been reengineered and converted into office seats. I think I know what I’d like for Christmas…
And then I return to the seating area. Let me see, it’s been at least two hours since my last meal – an eternity – so it’s high time to order myself a pot of Earl Grey tea and a pair of plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam to tie me over until we finally depart.
At about 17:15 I can’t stand it any more, I’m bored shitless. At least a gate has finally been assigned to the flight – C64. The departure time alas, has also moved from 17:50 to 18:15. By the time I reach the gate on the C satellite, the departure time has move back even further to 18:45.
There is no separate shuttle or anything of the sort to bring First Class passengers across to the satellites, unlike Lufthansa and the limo service. And in fact, come to think of it the entire British Airways First Class product seems more functional and pragmatic than elegant and chic. And if I’m perfectly honest, I think I rather like that.
I’m the first passenger to board. I am greeted at the door by the First Class purser who shows me to my seat on 2A and immediately offers to bring me a glass of Champagne. Actually I think I’ll have an orange juice, please.
The reason I chose British Airways to fly to Tokyo is that I’ve been really gagging for quite some time now to try their First Class product. Even so, eventually I booked the flight against my better judgement. From other trip reviews and pictures I found on the net, my impression was that the British Airways First Class seat was more or less the same thing Cathay Pacific has in Business Class.
Much to my surprise though, the cabin and seat are really very nice. The basic idea is more or less the same as what CX have in their new long-haul Business Class cabin, but here there is simply so much more personal space and stowage area.
Furthermore, every passenger has his own closet, which is sufficient to place a pair of shoes in, a pair of trousers and a shirt without completely crunching them up.
A day blanket, a plush grey cushion and the earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
Following the orange juice I then also receive – in short succession:
The vanity kit: the British Airway First Class vanity kit is well stocked with creams for all sorts of things. As far as ‘hardware’ is concerned though, there is only a toothbrush. No brush, no shoe spoon or anything of the sort.
The menu and a landing card for Japan.
Just before we push back we are handed warm towels. I’m must confess, these are a bit flimsy and they’re not scented. But they serve their purpose. The cabin crew come by to ask what I’ll be drinking after take-off.
Departure is to the west and very typical in style of the mighty triple seven: powerful but understated. As we line up on 27R this sneaky little bugger jumps the queue ahead of us.
You can barely hear the roar of the engines as we go careening down the runway and eventually lift off. God I’m having fun!
Once the seatbelt sign is switched off, service begins with the Ginger Ale I’d ordered before take-off and a bowl of nice warm nuts.
Once the table has been laid out for the meal, we begin with an amuse bouche of goat’s cheese on a bed of fennel and tomato with creamy pesto.
Then comes the bread basket and I choose a slice of garlic bread – what else? – and a piece of focaccia.
For a starter I have a meze plate of chick pea, cumin and lentil salad, labneh with beetroot, baba ghannoush, muhammara nuts and butterbean muttabbel.
Then comes the cream soup of cauliflower infused with Indian spices, small pieces of cauliflower and fresh coriander.
Followed by a seasonal salad with sundried tomatoes, bell peppers and spring onion with French dressing.
And for the main the filet of British beef with a herb crust, summer vegetables, char-grilled fondant potatoes and a horseradish, dill and chives sauce.
And for dessert I have the chocolate fondant with cherry compote and orange custard.
And to close the meal a pot of Twinning’s mint tea. With the meal, as usual, I just have still water.
The meal ends and I come to the somewhat shocking – because unexpected – realisation that this probably just was the best First Class meal I’ve ever had on a plane. The composition of the meal was well balanced and each dish was flavourful and tasty. Even the meat was cooked to perfection! Moreover, the two warm dishes – the soup and the main – really were still hot when they arrived, and not just warm.
And then the lights go out, and so do I for about six hours.
As I open my eyes we’re just over Russia’s Pacific coast, less than two hours to go to Narita. So I grab my clothes and head for the bathroom to freshen up and change. Once more the excellent cabin attendant shows his true value. When I return to my seat he has cleared away the bed clothes, switched on the bedside lamp and brought me glass of orange juice.
I decide to have a ‘light breakfast’ and only have the plate of fruit and the full English breakfast from the menu. With that I have coffee and some more still water. Each time my glass or cup is empty, it is promptly refilled by the excellent crew.
I think this must be the fifteenth time I’m flying to Narita, and yet this is the first time we make an approach from the north to the shorter runway 16L, which is closer to Terminal 2, where Oneworld and British Airways have their gates. And with that my first British Airways First Class experience ends.
I enter Japan and head outside to catch the bus to the Narita Hilton. With the delay I only have a few hours to make my connection. But still, it will be nice to have a shower and a lie down before the next leg.