British Airways Makes Two First Class Improvements

Filed Under: British Airways

British Airways first class has never impressed me, though at the same time it’s also more readily available on miles than first class on Air France, Lufthansa, or Swiss, which are the other major European airlines with first class. As much as award availability isn’t as good as it used to be and there are carrier imposed surcharges, it’s a pleasant enough way to cross the Atlantic.

I have to give British Airways credit for some of the minor improvements they’ve made to the first class experience. While they’ve never offered much in the way of special ground services at Heathrow, British Airways introduced the First Wing at Heathrow Terminal 5 last year, which is a dedicated security channel for first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members. Not only is this a pretty sleek setup, but it really saves time, as it lets out right in the lounge.

British Airways is now testing out two new features for first class passengers. Neither will cause me to put British Airways on my list of top 10 first class products, though both are intended to save passengers time, which is a big value-add.

British Airways’ two new first class trials

The first trial is British Airways’ new “First off First” coaches. When aircraft arrive at remote stands at Heathrow away from the main terminal (which apparently happens about 9% of the time), first class passengers will be put on separate buses that should get them to the terminal within 90 seconds of leaving their seats. British Airways says that early trials suggest that this can save passengers 10 minutes.

On top of that, British Airways is trialing a new baggage priority system for first class passengers. Specifically, first class bags will get reserved space in containers closest to hold doors, and then they’ll be separated on arrival at the baggage hall so they can more easily be identified. This trial is initially being offered on flights arriving at Heathrow from Dubai, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, and New York JFK.

While these aren’t huge investments, I do think they are valuable and show focus in the right areas. For a first class passenger arriving at a remote stand with a checked bag, I imagine these improvements could easily save someone 20 minutes.

I appreciate their goal of saving passengers time on the ground, though along those lines I’d really like to see them do something to make the Heathrow transit experience as a first class passenger easier. I know there are limits to what the airport authority will allow, though the standard “Fast Track” security lines can sometimes be quite long. Couldn’t they create something similar to the “First Wing” for those who are connecting?

  1. Classic BA, making a big deal of introducing something for first class that’s already the norm in business class on other airlines

  2. The two biggest improvements that they could make to earn back my premium class dollars would be improving the transit process at LHR and the food in business class. Until they fix those two things I will continue to fly through CDG, AMS and FRA. Arriving at LHR and being barked at by line minders every 100 meters and at at every check point from the plane to the lounge is completely unnecessary, especially when most of the direction you get is incorrect. I have not been through a European or North American airport with more surly and unhelpful airport staff than LHR. A lot of them are not BA employees, but it’s hurting their business with people who have options.

  3. @ AnotherSteve

    Fascinated to know what North American airports you’re travelling through. In my experience, nowhere in the world am I treated so poorly as at US airports. While I have had a couple of experiences of kindness, most people in a polyester uniforms seem to feel entitled to behave like bossy robots. Incoherent shouts are the norm.

    An example. Someone in Miami, first off the plane, approached one of those crazy-long rat-run, zig-zag tensile barriers at otherwise empty immigration lines. Rather than walk unnecessarily, they dipped under the barrier. They were screamed at – literally screamed at – from three sides. The rest of us behaved like the downtrodden drudges we are, and meekly walked backwards and forwards for the entertainment of the bored CBP staff.

    Don’t get me wrong: LHR is a hell hole. Though the First Wing is a delight for those of us based there. But it’s so much better than experiences I’ve had at JFK, ORD, MIA… And, frankly, though I use it a lot for transfers, AMS is not a great experience – nice enough staff but miles of walking and incoherent signage. CDG is just vile.

    I guess we all have different experiences.

  4. Maybe they should have put the effort into making sure long hauls don’t end up at remote stands. I think those in F would prefer a gate over even the most segregated bus.

  5. Flew BA first recently and was less then impressed being bussed to the terminal with the whole crowd, definately takes away any sense of exclusivity/priority.
    Even a small airline like Helvetica transports business pax on separate busses.. nice to hear BA catch up for First

  6. How about they start by not being asinine about not checking bags on 2 PNR’s evenbif they are BOTH on BA metal – in Busienss and First! Jeez. Not having to trudge through immigration to just re check a bag ( one that was lost on a direct Ams – Lhr flight – go figure) would save FAR more time.

  7. @anon

    Departing is a different story but I would much rather have a private First bus to the terminal instead of having a B or C gate. First there’s the long walk in the concourse and then coming off an international heavy there are hundreds of people on the transit. Not exactly pleasant. A private bus is definitely an upgrade.

  8. Personally, I would prefer they put more energy and effort into improving the onboard experience, particularly on their old 777s. The cabins are so old and tired! The entertainment system in F on some of those old birds (the G-YMM* and G-VII* registrations) are so old, possibly as old as the planes themselves, the image and sound quality are dreadful! Just not what you’d expect in First… (I’ve not tried F in the 747; it is much more modern on the A380 and 787 thankfully).

    I’d rather have the latest technology system for my 13 hour flight over maybe gaining 15 minutes on arrival.

  9. @Dave, you can still have a bus to (wherever) even if bus is at the gate. I don’t find exposure to the elements to be very luxurious

  10. The last point on the baggage, this must be the reason why BA is the ONLY OneWorld member that does not provide priority baggage handling even towards Emerald OneWorld members.

    In general not too bad of an effort especially with the separate bus, although not sure why so stingy and not provide a car service like LH or AF when QR provides such bus service to their J-pax.

  11. @Mike

    BA F Cabin size probably has something to do with it.

    BA has 14 F seats on all 4 class planes.

    LH has 8 F seats on all 4 class planes.

    AF has 4 or 9 F seats depending if it’s a B777 or A380

  12. A separate bus was a nice touch a week ago at Heathrow. However, my luggage came out towards the end of that luggage dispenser which was a bit annoying when I arrived at sfo. Whatever happened to my first class priority tag on my luggage? I guess that tag doesn’t mean anything…. I saw several first class passengers waiting and waiting for their luggage towards the bitter end like me. Not very a luxurious experience….

  13. @The Nice Paul – You wouldn’t actually be fascinated to know what North American airports I fly through, you are just looking for a friendly way to question the validity or breadth of my perspective. Excluding my home airport, in the past 9 days I’ve been through two airports in North America, three in Europe and two in Africa. Admittedly, among the three NA airports you mentioned, i only connect frequently at JFK, and previously ORD. Most of my other NA connections are on the West Coast at LAX, SFO, SEA and YVR, or in places like DTW, DFW, and YYZ. I’ve only connected once in Miami in my entire life, but that’s because I have a general policy to avoid Florida in the same way that I have a policy of avoiding large crowds of drunk people or following behind groups of teenage girls on moving walkways – it may be fine but more often than not it is a regrettable experience and there’s no upside so why take a chance.

    If you are based at LHR and you are using the First Wing you are missing the worst parts of LHR for connecting passengers. The real surliness at T5 happen downstairs on the long walk to the transit desk, in the Customs lines and up the escalator at the security checkpoint for transiting passengers. BAA has found a rich pool of Britains least friendly people to make the first impression for people arriving in the UK. If your bag gets selected for secondary screening at the transit security checkpoint you will witness an unparalleled commitment to turning every 2 minute task into a 6 minute task.

    If I was flying BA through CDG I would agree, it’s a dump. CDG is a dump for Lufthansa passengers too. But comparing the experience of connecting at LHR on BA as a OWE/Premium passenger with connecting on Air France at CDG as a SkyPriority/Premium passenger, the staff at CDG is much better at ever step, including at the lounge reception desks. I’ve had both of these experiences at least 6 times and the answer is the same every time. At LHR I will encounter surly and antagonistic people on every connection at least once and at CDG I get nothing but offers to help and a lot more smiles. For years I was told the CDG was a dump and the staff were awful but once I started flying through there I found that my actual experiences have been completely the opposite. The one place that the BA/LHR experience beats the AF/CDG experience is not with the staff – it is with the lounges. If I connect at LHR on BA for a flight onward within Europe I get to use the Club or First Lounge at T5, the same lounge I would use if I was going to Cape Town or Hong Kong – even if my next flight is to Dublin or Edinburgh. With AF at CDG though, I will get shunted off to Terminal 2F where the lounge is on the ground floor, overcrowded with no views. Not a bad lounge, but clearly not the same quality or size that AF offers for international flights from 2E.

    I agree about AMS with respect to signage and walking. And the ceilings are low. But I’ve almost always had quick service there, including in security lines and border control and transit desks. Maybe not a lot of smiles, but no surliness that I’ve encountered so far.

    I did pass through Casablanca last week and I can say that they take LHR’s surliness to the next level there. They have a professional grade ambivalence about passenger experiences. That’s why I limited my original comment to North America and Europe. There are definitely airports in Africa, Asia and South America that I have been through that simply cannot be beat for a demoralizing, demeaning and frustrating passenger experience

  14. Lucky, you missed the two main improvements hat BA will administer:

    1. Once a month the will vacuum the floor of the first class cabin.

    2. Instead of one half olive in the first class salad, BA first passengers will have TWO halves of an olive added to the salad.

  15. Slightly off topic, but I had a nice and unexpected experience last month.
    Booked MAN-LHR on BA then LHR-JFK with AA, in business. I’m BAEC Gold. 10 mins before landing at LHR, senior steward informed me he had a message that a private transfer had been arranged to take me to T3 for the AA connection (which wasn’t tight). I had a good chat with the charming driver en route who informed me that this was a new service they were piloting for domestic to international connections on OW, I believe for Golds/Emerald only. Had a great tour round the underground passes of LHR, saved the crappy airside bus/landside train.

  16. THIS is considered an improvement from BA?? They should already be standard service offerings when you’re flying in first class. BA really is pathetic.

  17. I am actually hopeful about the luggage being delivered quickly…..there is a big difference between luggage being tagged ‘priority’ and having it come out in front of all the others. For example, I love the fact that first class on Lufthansa actually means your bags will be the first off the plane….almost without fail. Airlines typically charge a lot more for their first class services vs. business class. First bags off is an important way to differentiate.

  18. @AnotherSteve –

    “I…avoid Florida in the same way that I…avoid large crowds of drunk people or following behind groups of teenage girls on moving walkways – it may be fine, but more often than not, it is a regrettable experience and there’s no upside, so why take a chance?”

    “If your bag gets selected for secondary screening at Heathrow you will witness an unparalleled commitment to turning every 2 minute task into a 6 minute task.”


  19. @ Another Steve

    You’re right, I almost never transit at LHR (I did it just once last year but, frankly, was so exhausted and jet-lagged at the time that I don’t think I would even have recognised another human being, let alone noticed them being nasty to me). The First Wing has transformed LHR T5 for OWEs. And I never have hold baggage, so that side of things is a closed world to me – though, when I did have it, I always expected the worst and was rarely disappointed.

    But it seems your experience of Miami is similar to mine. Hateful place. I enjoyed your description.

  20. Steve/Paul

    Surely the point is to avoid transit at any airport. Which if you live in a hub city, you can.

    I am not going to fly London to NYC via some European airport when I can fly non-stop on BA

    I don’t really give a rat’s ass if some airlines have a better J or F. My flight experience is always better with a direct flight, which is why BA CW gets load factots of over 80% depsite being technically inferior

  21. Wait.
    So, BA is introducing priority baggage handling for First??

    LOL. Says it all.
    I’ll continue to transit on my F tickets in MUC/ZRH thanks.

  22. @ Kevin
    The trial is only currently for those arriving AT Hethrow from those places. You can test it out on the way back to see if it works.

    As for the changes, I think they’re welcome but should’ve been implemented in the first place.

  23. British Airways should take lessons from their Concorde operations to really save time. When I flew on it back in 1998, I was as much impressed with the speed on the ground as I was in the air. You had an entire check in processes for Concorde passengers only, you boarded the plane directly from the lounge.
    When I arrived at JFK, BA managed to have a separate customs and passport control as well as its own baggage claim area, and my bag was already waiting for me when I got through passport control.

    In less than 15 minutes from touchdown, I was standing curbside at JFK.

  24. BA F Never impressed you ? how about when they where first with sleeper seats in late 1990:s When the rest just had big chairs and 4″ tape decks ? real caviar though not the crap they serve now.

  25. @ The nice Paul

    Whilst I acknowledge that AMS has been struggling during a major building/renovation process (which will of course come to an end one day and reveal fine improvements) I do wonder about your experience with signage. Of all things you may wish to bash (at AMS) I am surprised about signage. It wins prizes, it is clear, consistent and copied around the world. Any examples of issues you have come across?

  26. I called BA First and they told me that I can go out after arriving then come back trough the First Wing so I can have the dedicated security just for 1st class ??

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