With a lot of miles in the pot and an AmEx companion voucher to burn, we decided to splurge on a First Class redemption to Mexico City. My gut feel, based on BA’s own literature, was that First wasn’t really worth spending any more money on than the equivalent business experience. I therefore made some mental notes about all the points of difference.
Lounge and pre-boarding
This actually promised the most from the promotional material provided. There are free spa treatments at Heathrow T5 for business and first travellers, though they’re actually very hard to book if you aren’t First. In this case, even if you are, it seems tricky. Becky had rung a booking telephone number, which twice went unanswered so in effect, it’s not bookable.
On to the airport proper, check in was in a separate area with couches. It does look a nicer and calmer area, which might count for some passengers, though really it doesn’t offer anything that the business counters, which I’ve never had to queue for either, doesn’t already. For security you get access to the fast track line, though again, seeing as you have this for business and One World Silver cards and above, it provides no time or efficiency savings.
One very minor niggle of business security is access from there to the lounge. This involves a walk of about fifteen minutes down one escalator, around a load of duty free shops and up another. First means you can just walk from security straight into the Concorde Room Lounge, exclusively for this class,which is quite a convenient short cut.
The Concorde Room itself is a much calmer and more comfortable environment than the business lounges. The food is more in the style of a restaurant with a gratis three course lunch. I had a blue cheese and raspberry salad, a burger and an affogato with cappuccino biscuit. The burger was the weak point in the menu here, it wasn’t bad, just slightly normal while desert and salad had original and effervescent touches with efficient service. More on burgers later!
Flight: super seat, sleep and service
The seat, 1A and 1K in a 747, is significantly better than anything in business. It’s longer, maybe of use dependent on your height and, crucially, wider. The unique thing with row one is, in the nose, the windows almost point forward resulting in the best view I’ve ever had from a plane. In terms of sleeping, the mattress, duvet, extra space and pyjamas (sleeper suit!) mean sleeping is easier, I got a solid two hours mid flight. Row one also avoids any traffic from the aisle.
Wildly varying food and drink
As you’d expect, service is a bit more polished than business and the food and drink menu more extensive. I drank the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle and Marion-Bosser Premier Cru. The former I found just a little too buttery with a floral aftertaste, the latter was a touch short of flavour. If I’d thought about it more, I’d have gone with the business class Taittinger, pretty much my favourite champagne, seems expense doesn’t always trump taste. I would have followed with the Otago Pinot Noir, though this was on the menu, it wasn’t available. A shame, as I’m sure this would’ve been excellent.
The first meal on the ten hour flight was actually superb. A starter of poached lobster with courgette flower blended perfectly and a main of duck breast, a duck fritter type thing and mushroom sauce packed a huge punch of Asian mixed with Russian flavours. A robust Uruguayan red paired well, though it would be an acquired taste on it’s own. Cheese with the renowned Hungarian Tokaiji dessert wine rounded things off well. Finding Star Trek II on the AV was a huge stroke of luck. It was a wide menu, and I could find things that suited my tastes.
After a read and a sleep, therefore, I had big expectations of the light meal to follow. Unfortunately, almost nothing of the menu was available so I was pretty much forced (1st world problems, I know) to go with another burger. The first one in the lounge was OK, this one was terrible. Plastic cheese, limp lettuce and sweaty chips. Aeroplane ovens can take some of the blame, but attempting it in the first place is optimistic. I am certain guniea fowl tajine, my first pick, would have worked in this environment.
The schizophrenic nature of the service persisted to the end with, from my perspectiveat least, an amusing episode of all three flight attendants scrapping around on the floor and seat crevices looking for a dozy passenger’s passport. This deployment of resources I’m sure was a factor in an intense disembarking procedure with First, Business and Premium Economy passengers all piling off at the same time. All a bit messy and accentuates the observation that First is far from streets ahead of Business.
On this experience, First isn’t worth paying any extra money for. But it could be worth a miles redemption if you get a good run with what seems is pot luck on the food and drink menu. My guess is London to Mexico City isn’t a huge earner for BA and they concentrate resources elsewhere. I have trouble believing such a patchy offering is the norm on, for example, the London to NY, Hong Kong or Singapore routes.