There have been some first world problems raised about British Airways First Class lately. These first world problems, like instances of minor scuffs on seats even created headlines querying whether British Airways has the world’s worst first class.

First, what an odd question. The world’s worst, best cabin? Flying international first class once is a dream for most people, so I find it a bit of a niche topic, but interesting nonetheless.

To be very clear: I don’t think British Airways has the world’s “worst” best cabin. In fact, I think it’s improved considerably in recent times and is one of the best “values” in first class, which is a much overlooked distinction.

It’s absolutely not the best — no, no — no one is asking that question, but there are a variety of factors which I think actually make it among the fairer propositions in the pointy end of the plane. Price is one of those things, and so is accessibility, along with soft touches.

British Airways First Class: Fair Value?

Look, there are people who pay $3000 to sit in economy, and others who pay $2500 to sit in first class. There are others who expect first class to cost $50,000. Exceptions to rules happen all the time in travel pricing, but there are averages to go by.

As far as pricing averages go, British Airways First Class is priced on average much more reasonably than other first class cabins, and on sale more often than others. Does this mean nothing?

On the whole British Airways First Class, prices are regularly at a level where it’s a modest indulgence over business class — and not a complete departure in price, like most other first class offerings, yet it provides a quantifiably better experience.

I was able to book a ticket for under £2000 ($2700) round trip to the United States, which is below what many people pay for business class. These come around pretty often actually, so early bookers can often unlock wonderful value.

First class cabins from the likes of Singapore, Emirates, Air France or Japan Airlines are almost (never) on sale at rates below $7,500, or even $15,000, so British Airways First Class regularly being “obtainable” at near business class pricing is a very significant differentiator in the space.

It begs the question: how are those experiences being justified, in terms of the added premium? Is a bottle of Dom worth the $5000 gulf between the two experiences. For some people, maybe. Not for me.

BA First isn’t uncommonly between £300-£500 more per segment than business. Sometimes even less. I guess, what I’m saying is, my expectation is set accordingly by the sale prices and the abundant opportunities to fly the cabin using points. And not even a lot of points.

Seriously, is there a first class cabin that is more readily available using a (relatively) small number of points, or a great sale? I think it’s actually the “best” first class in regard to those two questions.

Air France doesn’t let non elite frequent flyers book first class using points and Lufthansa only allows most bookers to book within 21 days of departure. Emirates only allows bookings with their own miles, and has raised rates significantly in recent years.

British Airways First Class is not a $20,000 Emirates First Class experience where Dom Perignon P2 seems necessary, with on board showers to wash it all away, but it ticks a lot of the boxes and also provides first class on some routes where it’s not offered by others.

Generally happy and feeling grateful to be able to fly in business, I still find this first class as a special treat. I loved my flights between London and Dallas this week.

For a frequently found sale price of £2000, I’m getting a wildly better seat than nearly all those found in business class, high end champagne in Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle, and the refinement of a rapidly improving Concorde Room, with waiter service.

The food is notably better too, and the crews I had in both directions this week could not have done more to try to entertain all travelers in the cabin. For clarity, I was on a cash ticket, which I paid for.

The service style felt very indulgent, rather than business class where 40+ passengers (versus 8) means a nice, but less personalized service.

On that score, you’re talking two rows of seats, not 12+, with the new British Airways First Class.

It’s a very quiet, very private cabin with dine on demand, dedicated loos and significantly more peace to zone out. People who regularly pay the premium for first class put real value on those factors, certainly more than they do a flashy champagne.

Also — not that lack of competition is a justification, but some of the world’s most famous first class seats or suites don’t factor on flights between the US and UK, or UK and Canada or other markets, so it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison.

It’s kind of like comparing Ryanair economy and Air New Zealand economy. They’re meant for different experiences and sold at different price points.

There are markets where if all prices were equal, I’d definitely choose a JAL First, or Emirates First over British Airways for the exact same flight, but I can hardly recall a time when those prices were equal, or were available on the same route.

BA is almost always significantly cheaper.

British Airways First Class: New Cabins

Other than one unicorn, which still requires sleeping at an angle for most people, the spaces found in first class cabins are meaningfully larger than the footprints offered in any business class cabin. That’s 100% true in British Airways First Class.

Business class seats generally recline into a 6ft bed, point to point, and that often means about 5ish feet of usable space. In business, you need to twist and contort a bit to sleep soundly, if over a certain height.

With first class, it’s at least 6” more. It may not sound like a lot, but it is. I think the new ‘Club Suites’ are more than enough for most people, but sometimes it’s nice to “live a little” and first can be tempting.

For tall people, you can extend out with foot and shoulder room on both sides, offering a real chance for actual non contortionist sleep. Things like better mattress toppers, pillows and duvet sets are also meaningful. I even like the slippers, pajamas and eye masks.

On the new 777 first class suites, there’s also extra tall privacy doors.

On the 787-10 I most recently enjoyed, there were not, but I couldn’t see another soul from my seat without peeking around a corner.

The higher seat partitions are very suitable, not too far off what Lufthansa has in first class, and without the privacy door deployed, the British Airways first class cabin in the 787-10 is actually much more private than Lufthansa First Class, where it’s easy to see what other people are doing.

BA First: Much Better Than Before

Prior to 2017, there was no “first wing” at Heathrow.

The Concorde Room still required a trip to a regular check in desk and through the slightly upgraded fast track security. Now, the cabin benefits from access to the First Wing, which leads directly into the best Heathrow lounge spaces.

Once inside, the Heathrow Concorde Lounge is markedly improved. The same high end booze is there, but the food is worth eating and new cocktails from Mr. Lyan are a hit. The “all the food, anywhere” concept makes it more enjoyable to find a nook and stay there, rather than to head into the dining room.

The creation of the Concorde Team also solves more problems behind the scenes, while providing plane to plane Jaguar transfers on tight connections, and help when things go wrong. On board, the smaller cabin means better service. It’s two rows of people to deal with, not 5.

In a soundbite: there are more facilities dedicated to first than there were in the years leading up to the pandemic, and very few “cuts” to the experience, now that travel is back meaningfully.

British Airways First Class Is “First Class”

No, no one is arguing that British Airways First Class is the best experience you’ll find in the pointiest end of a commercial aircraft.

That’s down to Air France, ANA, Emirates, Qantas or JAL probably. In the old days, maybe Etihad or Cathay. But it’s far from the worst, and is genuinely improving and found at prices that these other cabins aren’t. It’s an incredible way to fly.

I’ll share my only gripe: outside of the Champagne, the wine in first class just isn’t “first class”. Even just one or two higher end “feature” bottles on each flight would change that perception significantly.

BA First Class. Business class fares can be upgraded to First, using Avios.

The Concorde Room experience is becoming so good, I think it’s exposing a fresh need to liven up the onboard wine and spirits offering, with modern and luxury touches.

I love British Airways First Class because it’s a top level cabin that is actually attainable, whether you’re points rich, or just have a bit of cash burning in your pocket. You simply cannot say that about most other true “first” cabins.

Could it be better? Of course, what couldn’t, but it’s first class. Outside of the snobbiest first world problems, what more could you ask for? If you need much more, you should be ready to buy up for a Gulfstream charter.

Whenever possible, I buy BA first over business class because know it will have all the comfort I could ever reasonably need to get as close to a real nights sleep as possible. If I want to indulge, that’s always there too, with world class champagne and spirits.

So no, this isn’t the world’s “worst” — “best” cabin. It’s arguably the best valued.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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17 Comments

  1. Only experience of First is from 2015 when my sister and I managed to bag 2 First to Japan. These where the old seats where you could sit and eat together. Everything was fantastic, though there was a bizarre moment when the Stewardess came and knelt and bowed to apologise to my sister that they’d given her dish to someone else by mistake, and that her dish would be a few minutes longer. If they hadn’t mentioned, we’d never even have noticed. I’m guessing this was due to the route more than anything else. Seemed OTT to us though.

  2. Spot on review. My family used the new F BA seat in the 777 back from BGI recently. Great value (paid £600 a seat upgrade). Service was exceptional – that will always be hit and miss, but we had ‘one of those teams’ who were all brilliant. Your comment about the wines is also spot on. They offered me the ‘wine flight’. I’d never heard of it before, but they served all the wines in several glasses. Frankly, they were all a bit average. Didn’t think much of the storage…

  3. I love BA first. For all the above reasons. Only the quality of the food leaves room for improvement in my opinion. There’s hardly a difference in quality to club (sometimes club is actually nicer). It wouldn’t cost much to up the game here. And I’m not talking Caviar (although that would be nice). Top tip to BA: simple dishes that re-heat well are far better than food that requires great skill at a restaurant to pull off. Yes, I’m calling out the overcooked steaks and beef dishes in general…

  4. Definitely the only attainable long haul first between US and Europe in any practical way.
    But “minor scuffs” have not been the norm for us. It’s been more completely filthy, worn out, thread bare and broken seats and tables, non working monitors. Door of closet between 1a/k even fell off one one flight every time it was opened. None of this is exaggeration. I sent photos to management more than once and was compensated. So at least they are aware.
    That said these were all 747 pre covid, so really old planes they had no intention of ever fixing. Soft product is still first and I think the wine options are actually quite good considering.
    Going forward hope for less trashed cabins. You know, the ones with minor scuffs and wear.
    Although it’s nearly impossible to get a future award seat on BA in first at the moment…

  5. But with BA it remains a gamble even in 1st and you may well not end up in a young, clean aircraft with skilled and experienced crew. There is no way to guarantee the product. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic if some flights are now back to a ballpark standard with other carriers but until that’s a certainty they’re not getting my money or Avios. Oh and the dodgy treatment of customer refunds, vouchers and unanswered calls persists except for new bookings.

    1. AA being crap is a favourite pastime of many online. AA flight attendants have issues for sure, and some MAJOR. BUT in F class, I disagree. I have flown AA F into/out of Hong Kong, Narita, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, London (more than BA) …and countless times on JFK – LAX/SF transcons in First. I would say I’ve had two subpar flights. One from Buenos Aires, where the crew did not care, and another out of Tokyo, where the FA was waaaaay too familiar with me. She was being a bit too friendly. Otherwise, great service, ok to good food (sometimes it can be downright horrid) and the seat is good enough…plus the fact that the seat can swivel to face the window, with a small table to work from. It’s a must!

      Is AA F great?, no…lol. As awful as many say on here? NO. Perhaps from when they last flew AA F 15 years ago, the memories linger.

      AA is obviously, very American in culture, where it is casual, and sometimes sloppy in service. This is not appealing to many foreigners, but for others, it works. BA has AWFUL crews as well. AA gate agents are the bigger problem for sure. They are downright horrid. Beastly!!

      AA also has a great flagship lounge and offers different levels of concierge – VIP service at all F class airports.

      Out of South America, many go for AA to the US before their carriers.

      Many things for people to think about…its just not as bad as people make out, and well, my flights have been fine to absolutely lovely.

  6. Returning from Abuja Nigeria last month on BA82 i normally enjoy a full English breakfast in First class. I regularly travel on this flight so I decided to change an have a Mango yogurt and a poached egg and avocado on rye bread.
    To my surprise i was given a purple yogurt, that i presume was blueberry. My poached egg came on Ratatouille. When i complained the stewardess said she would send an email. This food came from England, not sourced in Nigeria, unreal.

  7. When we travelled first on BA I was accused of asking for a second pair of pyjamas! She grumpily delivered a pair to me, I complained and miss grumps was delegated to the galley never to be seen again…

  8. Enjoyed our first First Class experience just pre pandemic Munich – Shanghai – Frankfurt with Lufthansa. In seat 1A on the 747. Most enjoyable. In May was due to travel to San Francisco; now will happen in May 2022. Cost was less than £1,800. For that I am not expecting an Emirates experience; but we are looking forward to the flights. Your article seems a sensible approach.

  9. No not the easiest attainable. Just flew back NCE-FRA-SFO 6 weeks ago in LH FC and it was quite easy to book with Singapore miles while I made transfers from Chase. Actually almost available every day I was looking (all within 21 days). BA might have been available but the heinous fuel surcharges are so offensive I don’t even search BA even though I have over 200k in miles. I’d take AF Biz over BA FC.

  10. BA Fist Class? Not on your life!!!! Get them to provide proper service (minorities included), be pleasant oCUSTOMERS, stop gouging in the name of fees etc ….then, maybe then I will venture and risk my hard earned $$$ or points !

  11. I have travelled Qantas first and BA first. Qantas is by far the better product – seats, food, wine etc. BA if you get an experienced cabin crew, gives exceptional service, up with the best.

  12. I love this seat over American and Lufthansa F class. While it appears to be more of larger business suite it was incredibly spacious without that claustrophobic feeling you can get in over engineered business suites.
    Also there is tons of storage for personal items so you don’t end up feeling smothered. The service was unobtrusive which I appreciate particular on overnight flights. The flight attendant understood that I wanted to get as much sleep as possible so I got my meal all
    “at once” shortly after departure.
    While an attentive First Class service experience is desirable for many, I rather seek efficiency and maximum quite time. Good service to me is when a crew understands my needs for privacy and British Airways did.
    With a long good night rest in the comfortable flat bed it turned out to be one one of the smoothest and restful flight in years.

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