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.
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.