The British Airways First Wing Heathrow Is Fantastic

Filed Under: British Airways

Last year I wrote about how British Airways was planning on opening a new “First Wing” at Heathrow. The facility opened earlier this year, and I finally had the chance to check it out yesterday.

It’s not often I say this about British Airways, but… I’m really impressed! The First Wing is open to those traveling in British Airways first class, as well as oneworld Emerald members, regardless of what cabin or flight they’re traveling on. So I used it yesterday when flying from London to Dublin (on account of my oneworld Emerald status through American AAdvantage).

The First Wing is located at the far right of the concourse, as it has the same entrance as the first class check-in. So you’ll want to pass check-in area “J.”

There a couple of staff members were stationed to confirm I was eligible for access (they didn’t actually check my name off a list, but rather just asked if I was in first class or a oneworld Emerald).

As you enter there are some sleek partitions.

Then there’s the first class check-in area, which even has some seating.

Then to the right of that is the entrance to the First Wing. You just have to scan your boarding pass, and then you’re let through a gate that brings you to a security channel with two lanes. There wasn’t much of a wait, and I was through in a matter of minutes.

It would have probably been less than a minute, but I don’t have a very good record with toiletries in the UK. I put my toiletries in a ziploc bag and in a separate bin, and then on the other end my bag was pulled aside.

“Do you have any liquids in your bag?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Wrong. You have your entire washbag in there.”

Alrighty then, thanks for the rhetorical question.

I definitely didn’t, so I let her go through my bag, and as it turned out there was just one of those tiny toothpaste tubes you’d find in an amenity kit in the pocket of my bag.

Once past security there’s a long hallway with about 10 monitors along the wall (I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they viewed this as a great marketing opportunity).

And the best part was that I could skip the terminal altogether, as it lead straight into the Galleries First Lounge (and then inside the Galleries First Lounge is the Concorde Room, if you have access).

If you want to see British Airways’ marketing video with a walkthrough of the experience, here it is:

I was very impressed — well done, British Airways! Ultimately British Airways’ first class experience is still uncompetitive (both on the ground and in the air), but I think what makes this so cool is that this is also a perk for oneworld Emerald members. So for BA Gold members who travel on British Airways every week out of Heathrow, this has the potential to be a huge timesaver. Not only will you get through security more quickly, but you can then go straight to the lounge, and avoid chaotic Terminal 5.

If you’ve used the British Airways First Wing, what did you think of it?

  1. I’m OWE and the hideous LHR is my home terminal. The First Wing is a great development. Absolutely brilliant.

    I’m not a BA fanboy, but this has transformed my experience of using LHR. It’s a joy not to have to fight through that ridiculous hellhole of “retail opportunities”…

  2. Hey Lucky I’ve just come back from a 2.5 week trip where I did HLO. The only tricky, frustrating part was that I could only take enough toiletries to fit in one of those Ziploc bags which limited options greatly. I also couldn’t take any full size liquids like cologne.
    What do you do? Do you have 2 separate ziploc bags because you have 2 hand luggage bags? Do you take full size cologne and toothpaste or do you always use amenity kit/hotel ones? Does security ever enforce the ‘only one liquids bag per pax’ rule? I know LGW are very strict on this.

  3. I agree, it makes it so much more pleasant getting straight into the lounge when flying as a Gold member.

    I’ve always had the opposite experience though! I never even put my liquids in a clear bag, I just put them through in a washbag and they never question it.

  4. @Lucky: Aside from OWE having access and assuming BA F and VS J are both business products of equal caliber, how do you rate the BA First Class Wing against the VS Upper Class Wing? From entry, check in, design, aesthetics, security, access to the terminal, and facilities?

    I know the Upper Class Wing doesn’t lead right to the Clubhouse, so that’s a strike. But what about the rest of the experience prior to boarding?

  5. @AdamR

    “assuming BA F and VS J are both business products of equal caliber”

    That’s an insane assumption.

    VS J is an adequate J product – no more. The new herringbone seats are tight, and they flip over to make the bed so you need crew help and lose spontaneity. VS “Upper Class” seems to attract many people who think it’s a party airline and behave accordingly. It’s not relaxing at all.

    BA F is old fashioned, but quiet and calm. It’s definitely not on a party airline. And is all the better for it.

    The VS clubhouse is better than BA First Galleries (but BA’s “proper” 1st class lounge is the Concorde Room – not open to OWE travelling on J).

  6. The colour scheme looks absolutely bland and boring, like most things British. It resembles that of a corporate office building, which I’m sure First class travellers are bound to appreciate, eh?

  7. Oh @AdamR – goodness, gracious me! They are not equal in anyone’s universe. BA F is quiet, subtle and refined – yes, even boring perhaps, but that’s how some of us prefer it. Certainly not the boganic rabble that VS J is.

    Cor blimey, man!

  8. Well its a start. As a regular F traveller on points (through Asia Miles) on the SEA route, the onboard service is either poor or just OK. Food at the lounge, middling service at the Concorde lounge is really poor. But the savings of a nonstop flight – priceless. I also fly VS a lot these days since they fly to Seattle since March (on Citi points). I agree its a party airline. It attracts millenials and ones with screaming kids it seems. Two recent flights have attested to that. The choice comes down to points. VS charges for US origination with $500 of fees each way. BA only charges on the return. So its out on BA and return on VS.

  9. I am using First Wing every Monday morning on my way to Dublin. Security check is a breeze, and the lounge at 5:15am (the time I usually enter) is practically empty. I’ve noticed that 30 minutes later it becomes quite busy with all BA Golds flying on the early birds, but still the experience is really great.

  10. There isn’t much BA gets right but First Wing they got right
    A reason to Fly BA out of Heathrow to avoid the chaos of security with the masses
    Have to give them credit on this one
    Now if they could have quality food onboard and customer relations that can respond to inquires I might have to appreciate and respect the company

  11. @Nathan and @The nice Paul:

    Having flown both multiple times, I’m aware of the ins and outs of both of them. The comment was that, when reviewing the ground experience, let’s forget about the on-board hard product and just focus on everything leading up to that aspect. That is, put blinders on when it comes to everything in-flight.

    And, as mentioned several times on the blog, BA F is essentially a very nice J product. So that’s the basis for making that assumption and isn’t too off the mark when setting the tone for the question.

    And I much prefer the Clubhouse over the Concorde room. What you both label as “quiet and refined” I see as stuffy, unimaginative, and designed for a much older crowd.

  12. Just used part of it a few minutes ago. I’m an AAExecPlat/OWEmerald flying ClubWorld to YYZ off the flight from CAI. I went landslide to retrieve my (short) checked bag as the UK still restricts laptops and tablets in the cabin on flights from Egypt, Jordan and several other middle eastern countries. Wanted to recheck my bag ( after removing my laptop to use in flight) so went to this new facility. While one of the agents retagged my bag and gave me a new boarding pass, I was not permitted to use the First security channel and had to go out to the (supposed) Fast Track lane. Likely because I am crediting the flight to my BA account and my boarding pass code only shows BABronze (though will be Silver with today’s flight and Gold by the end of January with flights that have yet to post or already booked on BA) and not OWEmerald. So also had to take the long walk back to the First lounge.

  13. Now they just need to improve their lounges because they are simply not good at all. Cathay Pacific lounges at T3 wins hands down.
    I think I prefer to pass through HKG with their non special lanes at immigration and security and then choose which lounge to use at the same airport.

  14. @ DavidB

    Why didn’t you show them your OWE membership card from AA? Or don’t AA issue those?

    I know everyone on OMAAT hates BA, but they’re normally pretty good at giving the right OW benefits.

    @ AdamR

    “BA F is essentially a very nice J product. … And I much prefer the Clubhouse over the Concorde room. What you both label as “quiet and refined””

    I did not describe the Concorde Room as “quiet and refined” – in fact, I didn’t describe it at all, merely mentioned its existence. As it happens I think it *is* generally pretty quiet, though I don’t think it’s particularly refined. Then again, neither is VS’s Clubhouse “refined”.

    I guess much of it comes down to personal taste: if you like bling-y designer-y “design” and a party atmosphere, then VS is definitely the airline for you. If you want something quieter (and, I guess, what you described as for “older” people – though I might use the word “mature” instead…) then maybe BA F would be more up your street.

    The tiresome joke that BA F is the world’s best business class product is, well, tiresome. Actually, it’s also probably not true in a world where there are Qsuites. Then again, VS isn’t even in the same league as Qatar (whose ground experience at LHR is also vastly better than VS).

    The BA First Wing is still the best & fastest check-in / security experience you’re going to get on LHR commercial flights.

  15. @ George

    “I think I prefer to pass through HKG with their non special lanes at immigration and security and then choose which lounge to use at the same airport.”

    That’s all well and good, but if you’re flying from London to New York, routing via HKG seems like a bit of a long way round…

  16. @The nice Paul:

    That’s true; the J game is certainly being upped across the board. And you did say “quiet and calm“, my mistake. Still, I think you could argue that BA F is just a snazzied-up J product, even if it’s cliched to say as much, and few would disagree. I hate VS’ herringbone as much as the next snob, which is why I left the onboard product out of the equation.

    Ultimately, *I* would much rather get to the Clubhouse early for my flight than I would the Concorde Room. Really, only the dining room aspect of the Concorde Room does anything for me (I love the risotto) as I find everything else about it boring. And don’t get me started on the whole shower room situation. Let’s be honest: it’s subpar in nearly every way. I was hoping for a comparison and opinion on the only two “enhanced arrival experiences” at LHR, even if the class of service is technically different.

    The Clubhouse definitely has a party/club atmosphere which appeals to me more but I prefer BA F seats. To each his/her own, of course. But for terminal/lounge-only experiences, which is best? That’s what I’m after.

  17. There are actually five BA lounges at T5 (and no others AFAIK).

    The two main Galleries lounges in the main concourse can get busy, it’s true.

    But the one at the B gates is usually quiet – you can sometimes get a spa treatment there whereas in the Galleries lounge it’s near imposible (F flyers can pre-book).

    And the First lounge – discussed here – is perfectly nice with cooked buffets, champagne bar etc

    The Concorde Room is very nice, quiet and elegant but you actually need to be in F on a BA long-haul flight to use it. No pesky AA elites there 🙂

  18. @Lucky – so glad I’m not the only one to fall foul of the UK toiletries thing. Happens each time I’m at Heathrow. This time, in Feb I had my toiletries in a clear, ziplock bag that the security person deemed to big. She put my bag inside a smaller bag and sent it on it’s way through the scanner. I was stopped at the other end because I had “two bags around my toiletries”. When I pointed out the reason why and the culprit I got a shrug. Gotta love Heathrow security.

  19. Thanks Lucky for the honest and fair comments in regards to BA First lounge by avoiding the actual service (non-security checks) related.
    And I think BA’ First is actually sub-par to good J class.
    I was in the lounge 2 weeks ago, as OWE from CX. I found the food offering and decor is def sub-par to CX, QF, QR’s J class lounge.
    But the check in, security and lounge all-in-one was the highlight on the lounge.

  20. Those staff members never ask me if I’m in First Class or Emerald…you must have looked like a hobo that day you passed through.

  21. The Concorde Room also isn’t in the First Class Lounge….You pass through the First Class Lounge and go out of it along a corridor and past the spa and then come to the Concorde Room entrance.

  22. With LHR T5 being my ‘home terminal’, I really really appreciate the First Wing – saves a lot of time and having used it quite a few times, I had zero wait at security.

    I just think BA could improve the entrance to the lounge design wise (and the F lounge does need a refresh, namely the loos, in my opinion).

  23. First rule for writing about Thiefrow and other multi-terminal airports, mention the terminal you are reviewing in opening remarks, not right at the end. T5 is not the only one BA uses at LHR.

  24. From check in desks, through security, straight into the lounge is absolutely briliant! Going through security is generally quick, there are hardly any queues. The First Class lounge itself is ok. It still can be busy at times. I am not sure about the food… it’s just… very mediocre.

  25. Agree First Wing is a massive improvement. Don’t quite follow re your security liquids issue though – sure they weren’t right to make incorrect comment re toiletry bag, but you DID have that toothpaste in it when it should have been in the liquids bag, so they’re actually correct to spot that (I’m not saying I agree with the rule itself, but they did apply it correctly). Perhaps you’re just used to TSA-level accuracy of security checks 😛

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