British Airways 747 First Class: Not Good, But I Don’t Mind

Hello from Nairobi! I just took the eight hour flight from London Heathrow in British Airways’ first class (I’m on a discounted business class ticket, which I upgraded to first class using Avios).

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty positive towards British Airways on this trip — I loved their 747 upper deck business class, their new catering and bedding are both very good, and their A318 Club World London City service is one of the most enjoyable ways to cross the Atlantic.

So, did I view British Airways first class through a rosier lens this time around? Well, no, not really.

In the past I’ve called British Airways first class the world’s best business class. I stand by that sentiment, though nowadays I think it’s the world’s second best business class, as I think Qatar Airways Qsuites is an all around better experience.

Let’s start with the positives. As an avgeek I love flying the 747, and nowadays it’s a rare treat to be able to fly first class in the nose of the 747. British Airways squeezes 14 seats into this section, and being able to sit in seat 1A, right in the nose, was a real treat.

British Airways’ first class seats are essentially comfortable reverse herringbone seats that are noticeably more spacious than what you’d find in business class.

While I wouldn’t call the bed huge, it’s not like some reverse herringbone or other business class seats where you have to put your feet into a footwell and feel constrained.

British Airways first class amenities are fine. I quite like the amenity kit and pajamas, so that’s nice. I also think their Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle champagne is excellent.

Unfortunately that’s where the good news ends. Other than that, the entire experience feels like business class.

This flight was operated by a mixed fleet crew (these are British Airways’ poorly paid new hire crews, and I find they’re generally enthusiastic but not that polished). They were friendly but lacked the finesse you’d generally expect in first class (anticipating needs, addressing people personally, etc.).

They weren’t bad, but rather I’d say service felt like what you’d expect in business class, rather than in a first class cabin where you have three flight attendants taking care of just seven passengers.

The food was fine, though they didn’t have my first choice for main course available. I don’t want to go so far as to say that’s unacceptable, but for what it’s worth I’ve flown dozens (if not hundreds) of flights in international first class, and I the only other time I recall this happening in the past few years was on my last British Airways first class flight, where the same thing happened. This was in spite of the cabin only being half full. I did realize after the fact that it seems British Airways may now let you pre-order your main course, so perhaps that solves that problem going forward.

Also, British Airways’ entertainment is garbage, as many of their 747s don’t feature updated IFE. No, my TV isn’t broken, this is actually how low quality the entertainment is.

So yeah, in my opinion British Airways first class isn’t at all competitive. Even though I’ve flown so much international first class, I still usually get excited when I fly international first class, because I feel like it will be something special. I don’t get that feeling on British Airways. Rather I just feel that I’ll have a great business class experience with good rest.

Now, you may have noticed the title of the post — “British Airways 747 First Class: Not Good, But I Don’t Mind.”

There’s an important point to be made here. British Airways makes it really easy to get into first class. You can upgrade any paid business class ticket (even a discounted one) for a reasonable number of Avios, assuming there’s award availability.

In my case I just redeemed 22,500 Avios to upgrade this eight hour flight from business class to first class. That’s an extremely good value, and I can’t think of any other major airline that lets you upgrade at such a low price on a discounted longhaul business class ticket. That’s an area where British Airways Executive Club is industry leading.

So is British Airways first class competitive? Well, it’s definitely better than TAAG Angola first class, and probably on par with Air China and China Eastern first class. But no, it doesn’t at all compare to their rivals, in particular Air France and Lufthansa.

That being said, for how cheap it is to upgrade, I’d fly British Airways in first class in a heartbeat over and over.

Fair?

Comments

  1. Hey, at least your TV was in color. There was an article yesterday that 7,000 households in UK still only have black and white TVs. Apparently, you need a TV license and color is 3x the price of black and white.

  2. I just flew BA FC from SAN-LHR. I loved it mostly because it was reasonable cost in points, its a unique route which was convenient for me, they are the only major carrier flying it… it leaves at a perfect time of night (8:45)… and I had a great time. I thought the staff and food were very good.

    It did seem like a very nice business class. But it was still better than Air China first class… to state the obvious, but that is my comp at this point.

  3. It would be cool if you could do a ranking for best first class and business class with giving them a score for each category (eg. Food, Service, Seat comfort) and also incorporate price/availability with award products and consistency. Also, you should try and review Qantas 747 first class (Although I think it might be sold a business?) before they retire them.

  4. Flying soon on BA 747 in Business as an AA codeshare flight.
    Can you get first class upgrade with AAdvantage miles instead of Avios?

  5. My brother-in-law retired last month after 30+ years flying for British Airways. He retired as a Cabin Service Director. One of the things he hated about First Class was that flights were catered with only one or two of each main course. Maybe one chicken, two beef, one fish, etc. It meant constantly apologizing to passengers who did not get their first choice, or their second choice, or…
    So I’m not at all surprised Lucky, to read that you have twice in a row not been served your first choice! (And I’ve emailed your review to my brother-in-law.)

  6. Hey Ben, I agree with you that BA F might not be a good product in comparison to others, but I think there’s a lot of value to be had. I have flown it twice (747 and 777) and the given how different it is from J it is easy to understand why someone loyal to BA would fly it. Meanwhile, some airlines differentiate their products so little, that it doesn’t make any sense to pay the prenium for F (e.g. AA). I flew them once from LHR-JFK and aside from the slightly wider seat, it was the exact same thing as AA J.

  7. Just want to mention that China Eastern lets you upgrade any paid business class tickets for 44000 points (they use km system, which is around 27340 miles) to first class on US-China flights. I would argue that is of comparable value to the Avios upgrade you mentioned in this post.

  8. Having flown BA 747 upper deck business and F multiple times I’d still choose the upper deck over F. Yes the front of a 747-400 is special. The queen of the skies is very special and being up front is near silent. But upstairs is often less fussed, private and just as spacious as BA’s First.

  9. I’ll be seeing that kind of plane (mid-J 747) in the summer, in the middle of peak Euro season.

    My premium class from Europe options were terrible itineraries/forced overnights in LO J using *A miles, or a better one with London stopover with AS miles in BA F (still a stopover, but my odds of knocking it out might be better as an AS elite than a UA nobody).

    PS: I bet that 747 didn’t have WiFi- the mid-J ones aren’t scheduled to get it.

  10. @DaKine That’s my favorite redemption from San Diego. Shhh. The best way to get to Europe without transiting in LAX or ORD/DFW/NYC eek!.

    Lufthansa flies from San Diego to Frankfurt. That’s also an awesome redemption. Flew into San Diego from Frankfurt. Thru immigration and security w/o GE in 5 minutes. Although the JAL seats from SAN are sub-par, also convenient to fly directly from San Diego to Tokyo. Last time we had to change planes at LAX..bus to remote terminal…bus to terminal 4. Really?

  11. +1 @robert
    I would’t change flying Upper Deck Club with FIRST on the 747. In fact, I’d be disappointed if I got a complimentary upgrade! On a 777 however, I would definitely consider an upgrade with Avios.

    It has been possible to pre-order main meals in Club and FIRST for at least 3 years now.

  12. @ Rico,

    I think for what low quality shows that can be proposed on TV, a black and white one can be enough.

    It will probably make the show more luxiourius in black and white than it is really in color ;-).

  13. Yes, this is fair. I would also take a Qsuites flight over BA 747 F in a theoretical world where they were both flying on the same direct route.

    One thing to point out is BA’s First on the 747 is by far the worst in the fleet, it’s slightly unfair on, say, BA’s A380 First which is much better in terms of hard product at least and I rate that slightly more highly. Also, I would rate BA F above every review I’ve seen of Air China and China Eastern First Class (although I have no intention of flying them so can’t compare first hand).

    You also need to consider the breadth of BA’s route network with F – good luck getting to Nairobi on a Qsuites flight, let alone one of the world’s best F products.

  14. For a points and miles site, I really appreciate that Lucky pointed this out. The vast majority of us are looking to find ways to get good value out of our points. AF and LH are better. But good luck finding award space until the last minute on LH. And AF is what, 200K points? As an Alaska flyer, I truly value BA F as the best way to get between Europe/Israel and the USA on points. I have redeemed from Israel a couple times, and you can get 2 First Class flights for 80,000 miles this way.

  15. Give me BA FC any day; compared with American’s FC.
    My last trip with AA, on a 77W; was a disaster. No welcome. The FAs were in the forward galley chatting; I just had to find my seat by myself. Their iPads were also not showing the right info. I had to ASK for some PJs.; which came with a certain amount of eye-rolling…etc

  16. Different people value different things and have different standards. However, I would disagree that BA’s First Class is merely “not bad” just because the seat is somewhat acceptable, they fly the Boeing 747 (for now), the crew were inoffensive and you could spend some Avios (essentially).

    I would also suggest that it’s better to have a common standard rather than ‘managed expectations’. The ultra-long haul SQ flight (in Business) beats the hell out of what has been presented above.

    I’ll be keeping my Avios and cash and using it on something worthwhile (which is not British Airways).

  17. Very fair point of view.

    On catering – the way that BA load meals in F actually means that a 50% loaded cabin maximises your chance of NOT getting your first choice. Believe it or not, with a 50% load, they only load ONE of certain items on the menu (eg the “least popular” main course). If the loading is 50%+1 (eg 8/14 on the 747), then they basically double what’s loaded.

    All a bit mad, but presumably they have their reasons.

  18. Heres the way I see it. AF and LH F are luxuries, meant for only their longest haul routes. BA F is a commodity. It’s available across nearly their entire long haul fleet, with the notable exception of some Carribean 777s and the 787-8s. That’s why everything is just.. much worse. Every extra cent BA spends on F is magnified with the scale of its F offering, where AF and LH can afford to spend more and earn less on their F routes.

  19. Me and my partner are taking our first ever first class flights next summer we are flying LHR-SJC in the 787 and back from JFK in 747 in first with BA and I’m sure we will enjoy it !

    Is there a lot of difference between the cabins in first on the 787 and 747? Apart from only being 8 seats in the 787.

  20. I think that is a fair review and, unfortunately, the crew on BA vary hugely in experience, friendliness and efficiency. In my experience they range from excellent to less than mediocre.

    I agree that the champagne is excellent and the amenity kit is decent. Pre ordering is definatley the way to go regarding your main meal.

  21. @Rico – you actually got an upgrade to film noir! Just be glad they didn’t request a fee for this novelty.

    British Airways…they are absolutely… fine….

  22. One cannot beat the consistently low fares in First offered by BA between the US and Asia. For instance, ~5600 USD for round-trip from any airport in the US to DEL. That’s valuable for me who flies to the subcontinent frequently.

  23. Yes it is fair. IMHO Your old reviews on BA were frankly a bit dull because they were not really balanced. BA’s standards are lower than others but you now rightly point out the come backs others used to feel the need to make in the comments in the article itself. So job done. You are also right about the 747 IFE. I’m also going to commend you for saying that it is a product you are going to continue to use quite happily. It’s all about value really isn’t it.

  24. I tried the first class on the 777-200 from IAH to LHR using the chase BA card companion pass, and thought it was lovely. The seat was clearly a step above business, the food was great and the flight attendants very friendly. Sure it wasn’t as LUX as first on Cathay or even Korean’s A380 first, but it was still very pleasant. I was expecting the worst after reading so many reviews like these.

    My only real complaint was the copays of $700 each were brutally high but for 2 $5k tix it was reasonable.

    It might not be the most luxurious first, but its a big step above your typical layflat business trust me, if using avios its worth the bump up, esp if you have a companion pass.

  25. I recently flew a Los Angeles, London, Cape Town return in a mix of business of First and I echo your sentiments. Having spent 5 years of work travel almost living on BA with many free First upgrades due to my status, what I found most disappointing on the last trip was the deterioration in the service on First. Simple tasks like the welcome at the door and escorting me to my seat were replaced by “you know where your seat is”. It may be small but it’s the small things that often make the experience special. It’s definitely a step up from business and far more comfortable, but that is more an indication of how bad BA business is.

    It’s very true that getting upgrades to First using Avios is cheap and easy, but try to get a business seat using Avios and syncing up the outbound and inbound legs often proves impossible.

    I never thought I’d see the day when I would see the major American carriers competing with BA, but that day has come.

  26. A few years ago my cousin had to take an emergency flight from Seattle Washington to Frankfurt via London British Airways was able to get him a last-minute seat in business class for about $700 he got to Germany on time to attend his daughter’s funeral so I’d like to say thank you to British Airways.

  27. It’s funny, two or three years ago I did ORD-NBO on QR J and NBO-ORD on BA F a couple of days later. This was before Q Suites but my whole return flight on BA F all I could think about was that yeah, the hard product is better (minus IFE) but that’s the only part that was better. BA still had no lounge accommodations at NBO instead relying on a folding table at the gate with snacks. The Concorde Room (even with a Cabana) was a joke. Those bathrooms and showers reminded me of a gym. Transiting in LHR (while out of BA’s hands) was horrible experience.

  28. It surprises me to hear that BA has such stingy catering. I always thought airlines over-cater F and take orders first so the excess can be used in C when “regular” catering runs out. But, then, I’m usually flying Asian carriers.

  29. I think the key point here is (despite the avois upgrade rewards situation) you have a product that’s inconsistent – if I pay my money (or my companies money) I don’t know what I’m going to get – whereas Lufthansa and AirFrance first are supremely consistent – brands should be about consistency and value – my Starbucks experience or Hilton check in experience should be consistent? After all Henry Ford made all those cars the same…

  30. I recently booked ams to jnb on ba. It was 70k on business and 90k on 1st.with the 40% MR bonus the value seems good so I booked 1st class. But yeah I’m not expecting anything more than business +.

  31. So what exactly is BA’s policy on ordering your meal in advance?

    Wife and I are flying FC SEA-LHR next Saturday and when I click on the Order your Meal button I get this message:
    “You will be served complimentary food and drinks on-board. Unfortunately, ordering your meal in advance is not available for this flight.”

    So if not available for FC International, who is it available for again?

  32. @pal – row 1 is a bassinet row. (for folks with kids…) they probably will only assign it @ the airport ….

  33. in 1st on a 747 … they save row 1 for “special” people and high level frequent fliers, famous people .. so the can have more privacy … not my policy … personally I think it’s BS.

  34. The problem with this Ben is that F avaialability is so rare on BA that getting the upgrade is pretty difficult indeed ….

  35. @Biarritzsurf I’m afraid you’re mistaken. BA has one of the best F availability of any program I know. I redeem at least 10-15 one way F seats every year and I never have trouble at all.

  36. My last 2 experience BA First.
    1. Could I have a blanket please….”there might be one in the overhead cabin if you look”
    2. Pre arrival snack/ubiquitous afternoon tea me “what do you have” surly and snippy BA FA “I don’t know look at your menu”….. same flight “what champagne are you serving”…FA “fizzy one”
    Oh and as if to add insult to injury, connecting out of Dublin to LHR – insisted I check my RIMOWA carry on, check in agent made a note when I said I would prefer not to as it was my only luggage (other than small backpack), rolled eyes when I said I was flying first – singled me out at the gate (had made a note in system) and even though dimensions within printed limits they insisted was too big to fit in a deformed baggage sizer at gate….and my roller bag taken off me… the whole process disgraceful and sets a tone for the onboard experience…..They haven’t created a Laurent Perrier Good enough to make up for this BS behavior. Not sure I’ll keeping chipping away with them until I get a good experience – seems to be as rare as hens teeth!

  37. Great review Lucky, thanks and I totally agreee fwiw. I think the new J soft products on BA are rapidly reducing differentiation to the F cabin, although I still much prefer the F bed. Also, it makes a huge difference if you are on a Workdwide or Mixed Fleet route… night and day, especially in first. I still find the device to JFK and HKG (Worldwode routes) outstanding in F.

  38. @Robert

    That’s not correct at all. Seats 1A and 1K are reserved for BAEC Gold memebers, (or alternatively VIPs but this is unusual). Any Gold Exectutive Club member or OW emerald can reserve those seats at time of booking and F ticket.

  39. I was able to get a seat in the first row…the day before my flight, 1A and 1K became available when I checked online….changed my seat.

  40. I flew back in April.
    I had the “nose” seat but it was taken from me and reassigned without telling me so I was put in the back by the galley at a window.
    Seat wasn’t cleaned from last inhabitants. Full cabin but only say two FAs working it. Took 60 minutes for my order to be taken. I was given a bottle of water in the meantime(to be fair, a woman ran the call bell as soon as we were airborne and demanded to be fed, but I was hungry too having had the Concorde room “lose” my order and not eating for several hours).
    FAs were very nice, though the other passengers were super snarky, making comments about how they couldn’t believe I was in first class and that I had too much luggage(I had a roller and a purse but there is almost no overhead space in that cabin and when it is full it is crazy and I had boarded and put it in the overhead right away).
    I had to ask for an amenity kit(do they not proactively give them?).
    FAs manually adjusted my seat and put my screen back in 45 minutes out from landing without saying a word, just leaned over, adjusted my seat and then walked away.
    The worst was when I went to the bathroom after the seatbelt light had been turned off. There was no soap and the water had not been “turned on”(per FA, I didn’t know that was a thing). He just stared at me and I asked if I could get both soap and water so I could wash my hands.
    It was an amazing paid fare, but when I compare it to Emirates or Cathay, I feel like BA should be embarrassed.

  41. Not having your choice of food in first is really not acceptable, they really shouldn’t run out. Inky flown once in the noise of a 747, Orlando to London on Virgin, but it’s something special to be the first seat in the nose of the Queen of the skies

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