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REVIEW – British Airways : First Class – London to Miami (A380)

BA A380 First

British Airways (BA)

  • Flight: BA
  • Class: First Class
  • From: London (LHR)
  • To: Miami (MIA)
  • Duration: 9h55
  • Aircraft: Airbus A380
  • Seat: 3K
  • Status during flight: OneWorld Sapphire (via AA Platinum)
  • Booking type: “Viking Fare” for £350 round trip in business class
    • upgraded to First Class one way for £650
  • Flight Date: February 2016

lhr mia - REVIEW - British Airways : First Class - London to Miami (A380)

Booking


I booked this flight as a Viking Fare, one of several tickets that I bought on a fateful Thursday morning back in the summer of 2015, when BA and AA were selling Transatlantic round-trip Business Class out of Norway for £350.

Having flown both BA and AA before in business class, I was firmly of the opinion that AA offered the better product and so planned to go to and from Miami with them.

One day before we were due to fly I got an alert from Awardwallet telling me that our seats had changed… I did not have  a good feeling about this. Back when I took this flight AA were still flying some Transatlantic routes with planes fitted out with ancient reclining seats, instead of the modern and comfortable flat beds which are now ubiquitous in their fleet. Upon checking the new seatmap my fears were confirmed. If I didn’t do something we would be spending 10 hours in the recliners.

Our inbound flight from OSL to LHR landed in Terminal 5 and we didn’t have a huge amount of time to complete transfer security and get to Terminal 3, where AA are located. When we arrived at T3 we were ushered into a giant hall, heaving with transfer passengers who were connecting onto AA flights. I hadn’t been expecting to go through this extra document check and was super thankful to have OneWorld status, meaning we joined a line of 30 people instead of something that looked like the line for Space Mountain.

Whilst the AAgent checked our documents, I asked if we were really going to end up on the recliners. She said that we were and that some other people had switched flights as a result. I asked if it would be possible to switch us to another flight too and to my surprise she said yes! The next available flight was on the BA A380 but there were no window seats available. Still, an aisle seat flatbed on BA beats a reclining seat on AA!

We then made our way to the BA transfer desk with two paper tickets from AA, emblazoned with the words: “INVOL EQUIP CHANGE” (knowledge of this particular code in AA’s systems has come in handy since!) and asked to be checked in for the BA flight. Whilst we were there I figured I would ask if they were selling any upgrades to First. Unlike many airlines, BA offers discounted upgrades on the day of travel and these can be significantly cheaper than the advance fare difference between the two cabins in question.

The BA Agent said we could upgrade to First for £650 per person which was higher than I was expecting and ordinarily not a price that I would entertain. However, given that on this occasion the round trip in business had only cost us £350, I figured that a total price of £1000 for outbound in First and return in Business was still pretty great. Besides, I had never tried BA First on the A380 and at the time this was one of the few routes that featured the First Class tasting menu (now sadly discontinued). I was basically sold on the upgrade but asked one more question just in case: “Do you still have window seats available?”.

“Yes, there are two window seats still left”, the BA Agent answered.

Sounds like destiny to me. Sold!

 


British Airways First Class Lounge LHR Terminal 3


With First Class boarding passes in hand we made our way to the BA First Class lounge as the Cathay lounge was still undergoing its renovation. I previously reviewed the BA lounge back in 2014 and there were a couple of changes in that time:

  • The Elemis spa reopened as BA were once again flying from T3, although they only had a single slot free in the three hours we had to wait for our flight.
  • The restaurant area was no longer reserved for ticketed First Class passengers and the table service was a much more pared down experience.
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Still, the views of the planes were great.

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The eggs Benedict were not the best though and the service was just as terrible as ever. The staff couldn’t make a macchiato because their machine only had espresso or cappuccino settings and apparently they couldn’t be bothered to just make an espresso and add milk. Not exactly First Class.

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We spent the time watching planes, getting all of our devices charged up and drinking champagne.

 


Boarding and exploring the seat


Boarding was the usual mess that you expect from BA, with about 80% of the plane boarding at once, since even Oneworld Ruby (BA Bronze) get priority boarding. Still, it was hard to be bothered by the shambolic nature of BA’s ground operations when I had something far more important to think about. I was about to try a new First Class product for the first time! Not just any old first class product either, this is BA’s flagship product on the largest commercial airliner in the world. As we made our way up the jet bridge and approached the staff waiting at the door, my heart started beating faster and the smile on my face grew ever wider. There are few feelings in the world as amazing as setting foot in a new airplane cabin for the first time ?

The crew greeted us at the door and accompanied Kamara and I to our seats and immediately offered us PJs and amenity kits.

My initial reaction to the seat was extremely positive. There is no way in hell that this could ever be described as ‘business class plus’, an accusation often levelled at BA’s other First Class products:

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Seat 1K on the 747 is undeniably special, particularly if you are travelling with a companion sat in 1A next to you. The nose of the plane is yours and the privacy is unparalleled. However, in terms of real estate, the seat is extremely limited.

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The 777 has a larger seat but is still not as large or as private as a lot of other airlines’ F products.


Comparing this to the 777 seat there are a number of notable differences:

  • Each seat has a large personal wardrobe, with enough space for a large coat, shoes and a carry on.
  • There is a full sized wall to give you privacy from the aisle, rather than just a winged headrest.
  • There is an additional storage compartment between the side table and the wall where the lamp sits.
BA A380 F 4 1024x768 - REVIEW - British Airways : First Class - London to Miami (A380)

BA’s A380 First Class seat. An exceedingly ample and private space in which to relax.

BA’s first class has never suffered from dull or gaudy looking finishes. In fact the brushed metal, navy blue leather, piano gloss surfaces and blue neon combine to project a very polished and modern air of luxury. The problem previously always came down to a lack of space. On the A380 however, BA’s First goes from bottom of the pack to market leading.

As I explored my seat a member of the cabin crew came over to offer me a drink and a (horribly thin) hot towel. I asked for a glass of champagne and the CC member returned promptly with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle and poured me a glass at my seat. LPGS is probably my least favourite prestige cuvée served in a modern First Class cabin but is still a decent drop, albeit one that is cheapened slightly by the thick and squat champagne flute.

Suitably hydrated I set about photographing every nook and cranny of the seat.

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A variety of different storage compartments both open and closed, with intuitive and elegant seat controls placed conveniently within reach.

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I love BA’s unique rotating dial, used for making adjustments to the seat.

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Inside the cubbyhole you have the IFE controls as well as two USB ports, a universal power socket and RCA inputs. This storage space is both wide and deep, perfect for storing a handbag or large camera.

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The seat itself is covered in a very comfortable, quilted fabric which is quite breathable and remained cool throughout the flight. The pillows were ok but not particularly plump or luxurious.

BA A380 F 9 1024x576 - REVIEW - British Airways : First Class - London to Miami (A380)

This angle shows how much wider this seat is than the 777 product. Compare the width of the wall under the lamp with the image of the 777 I posted earlier.

BA A380 F 11 1024x576 - REVIEW - British Airways : First Class - London to Miami (A380)

The majority of First Class seats I’ve encountered have static footrests, whereas BA’s can be adjusted for people of different heights and can also be placed in an angled position to support your calves whilst you are lounging.

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I’m 5’11” and could barely reach the footrest whilst my seat was in the upright position.

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There are only two windows for each First Class seat on the A380, whereas most airlines I’ve flown have three. Still, I do like the fact that they have cool electronic window blinds.

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Once she saw that I was done with my photographs the member of CC came over to offer me a top up and some mineral water and warm nuts to go with it.

The cabin crew on this flight were all very proactive and chatty. All of the other passengers on this flight appeared to be retired couples (we were going to Florida during European winter after all!) and seemed to really enjoy have long conversations with the crew and making the most of the First Class experience. The crew struck a perfect balance, making sure to spend as much time as possible with each passenger whilst ensuring that nobody was ever left waiting with an empty glass.

What impressed me the most were the little details: when coming to offer me a top up, the CC member asked if I was finished with the nuts and went to fetch me another bowl. Having noticed that I left the walnuts she made sure to serve me a bowl of only cashews and almonds this time. She didn’t ask, she didn’t say anything, she just observed and adjusted to my preference seamlessly. That is First Class service.

 


First Class Tasting Menu


I was given a menu when I first took my seat and spent quite some time leafing through the myriad options. I took this flight at a time when the A380 still had a special tasting menu, used to showcase the capabilities of the modern galleys aboard this enormous aircraft. This menu has unfortunately since been discontinued, which is a real shame. The variety of dishes on offer was fantastic and overall the experience was very close to what you would expect from a decent restaurant.


The menu was laid out as a set five course tasting plus a separate a la carte section but I was encouraged to mix and match as I wanted. I asked if I would be too full if I substituted dishes from the a la carte menu but was assured that all the portions were relatively manageable.

So with some assistance from the cabin crew I settled on the following:


Starters

Loch Fyne Kinglas smoked salmon with tartar sauce, shallot rings, squid ink paint, watercress velouté and Oscietra caviar
Cold smoked sesame tuna and Blood Mary dressing

Soup

White butter bean velouté with white truffle

Main Courses

Pan-fried seabass with puy lentil, spinach, confit tomatoes, vegetables pearls and sherry sauce
Seared pork belly, pulled pork croquette and butternut squash with rhubarb and Tellicherry pepper sauce

Dessert

Raspberry délice and cannelloni with kumquat

Cheese

Cornish Kern, Harrogate blue, Quickes Red Leicester, Normandy Camembert


 

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My table was prepared with a large, subtly patterned linen tablecloth and full sized cutlery as well as a bread plate with a small dish of butter. The salt and pepper pots were satisfyingly heavy and worked very well.

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Who says that BA don’t serve caviar? This was the second long haul flight in a row that I was served caviar on a BA flight. Both were on the A380 and the previous one was in Business class! The salmon was excellent and whilst not quite the same quality as Balik, it was nice to see a British brand like Loch Fyne getting recognition on the menu.

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Next up was the tuna. A dish which was served beautifully rare with a fantastically crunchy sesame crust. I absolutely love tobiko and was pleasantly surprised to see it featuring on a BA dish.

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I paired the first two courses with the Californian Sauvignon Blanc. A pleasant wine which was poured very generously!

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The smell of this tiny soup was amazing! The aroma of white truffles began to fill the cabin a minute before this arrived at my table. The very friendly crew member suggested switching to the Chardonnay as a pairing with this; she must have read my mind. Both the soup and the wine were fantastic. Even if the entire meal had consisted of only this combination of wine, garlic bread and soup… I would have been very happy ?

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However, I still had two more courses to get through! First came the pan-fried seabass with lentils. A very well balanced dish with the fish cooked as well as could be expected on a plane (i.e. not overcooked but absolutely no semblance of a crispy skin).

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The final dish was mercifully sized and utterly and intensely delicious. The gravy was rich and laden with umami flavours and the pulled pork croquette was an item of wondrous majesty.

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My pork belly dish was served with an amazing Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A really great wine, one whose taste I can still vividly remember many months later.

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The dessert was a bit too sweet for my liking. Without enough of a creamy or acidic balance.

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By the time the cheese arrived I was ready for a lie down but wasn’t willing to back down, having come so far already. The biscuits were very carefully selected and went far beyond the usual water biscuits served by most airlines. The contrast between the cranberries and fresh grapes was excellent too. My particular favourite was the combination of blue cheese with the fig biscuits, washed down immediately with a sip of Warre’s Colheita Port.

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I asked for a double espresso to end the meal…

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…and was surprised to be handed an almost complete box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates! I managed two before putting myself in Kamara’s good books by handing her the rest ?

 


Bed


After my extraordinary feast I went to change into my PJs and returned to find my bed made. Thankfully the two smaller pillows were complemented by a larger, more comfortable pillow for sleeping. The mattress topper also made for an ideal sleeping surface. Whilst in bed I could easily access all of my personal items and had a lot of space for drinks and my laptop too.

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Plenty of space to stretch out and get a good night’s sleep.

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I wasn’t the only one looking to get some rest after a large lunch!

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After a couple of hours sleep, I woke up, ordered another coffee and watched a film. This is where we get to my biggest criticism of the BA F experience on the A380: The screen is too small and the definition too low. Couple this with some cheap and hollow feeling headphones, without active noise cancellation and you have an IFE experience which is well below the offering of many other airlines, even in Business class.

 


Afternoon Tea


 

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After my nap and movie I went over to see how Kamara was doing in seat 4K

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Seeing that she already had a pot of tea and a banana on the go, I asked if she’d like to join me for afternoon tea.

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The sandwiches were not particularly exciting, in terms of either flavour or presentation.

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With pillows and blankets surrounding me I was quite comfortable in the buddy seat. I really like the fact that you can lean back in this seat without a screen getting in the way. The armrest also makes things far more comfortable than most companion dining options on other airlines.

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The smell of scones filled the entire cabin and as soon as ours arrived most other passengers started to request afternoon teas of their own! Jam then cream by they way. Be sensible, people.

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With so much real estate available on the A380, it would have been great to get a tiered cake stand to make the afternoon tea experience truly special.

 


Conclusion


BA A380 F 41 639x1024 - REVIEW - British Airways : First Class - London to Miami (A380)BA’s First Class is oft maligned and in some ways I can see why. The CCR is a dreary and miserable lounge, for flights departing from Terminal 3 you have access to the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge though which is far better in my opinion. There is no special ground experience, no assistants to walk you to the plane, no airport buggy rides and almost no chance of being driven to the plane in a luxury car.

However, there are plenty of other airlines which have similarly bare ground experiences and their products are still universally praised, as a result of the onboard experience. On the A380 BA offers a very large and private suite with a comfortable bed, plenty of storage space, ample power sockets and a seat which is perfect for lounging in. The finishes are also some of the most clean and elegant of any airline. JAL offers a fantastic First class experience but their seat is very drab and sanitised. Thai has great ground handling and serves Dom Perignon on board but their A380 seat is more dull and generic than BA’s, whilst being far less private.

On this flight the crew were proactive, intuitive, engaging, competent and welcoming. An almost perfect service.

The tasting menu was of an extremely high standard and delivered as close to a restaurant quality experience as you could reasonably expect on a commercial airliner. It is a real shame that this has been discontinued. My hope is that this dining experience will be reinstated when the First Class catering gets an overhaul from Do&Co next year.

Overall this was one of my most enjoyable First Class experiences. My only reservation is this: going West I don’t think you can make a case for taking any other carrier to the East Coast of the USA. The required connection to fly LX, AF or LH would probably not be worth it, given how pleasant the direct experience is on the BA A380. However, going East BA flies the A380 non-stop to HKG and SIN. Whilst I certainly enjoyed this experience, would I rate it higher than Cathay Pacific on the 777 or Singapore Airline’s Suites? No way.

BA gives a very good account of itself with the A380 F product but it cannot compete with an extremely private cabin of six seats, replete with Krug, freshly scrambled eggs with caviar for breakfast and designer toiletries. And it certainly can’t compete with all of the aforementioned factors plus a fully enclosed suite with a double bed.

Realistically this is certainly a Top 10 First Class product but in order to crack the Top 3 BA would have to make some serious changes. Of course, this would probably come at a higher cost, with less opportunities to redeem miles for the experience.

BA’s A380 First Class offers an experience truly worthy of the name. It is very pleasant, relaxing and comfortable. However BA falls short of being truly spectacular. Given what other airlines are doing with their flagship products these days, it seems a shame that a once great airline isn’t aiming to beat the world.

12 Comments

  1. Rashad says:

    Thank you for the review Jarvis – If my first F experience to Hong Kong would be as described here – I’d be more than happy ??

  2. linzbh says:

    great review. This this down to HKG before they removed the tasting menu and it was great. will be going down to JNB in F on the 380 RTN in Feb, lets hope the revamp in catering is done by then 😛

  3. Simon Bradley says:

    Thanks for the detailed review Jarvis. This aligns to the experience I had flying in F on the A380 last year to SFO (although no tasting menu). I was disappointed with the F service on the 747 to ORD and found the F cabin too cramped and the mixed fleet crew offering an inferior service to the worldwide crew on the A380 flight. Have my first F flight on a 777 to GRU next year but I believe that will be worldwide crew so I am looking forward to that.

    • JarvisMarcos says:

      Thanks for reading Simon!
      The 777 is a good step up from the 747 in terms of space but the service is very much route dependent, as you rightly note.
      I’ve only flown GRU-LHR in CW and basically slept the entire way, due to the timing of the flight.
      Hopefully you’re up a little longer than I was, in order to fully enjoy F 😀

      p.s. I highly recommend dinner at D.O.M., the food is excellent and it is the only time I’ve actually seen a celebrity chef not only working at their flagship restaurant but actively coming round to tables and talking with diners.

  4. Chris says:

    Thank you for the review Jarvis. I’m flying the A380 (BA0208) MIA – LHR just before Christmas with my 14 yo daughter. Going over to Miami on World Traveller Plus, I decided to go all the way on the way back and book us in First Class. It will be a surprise for my daughter as she thinks we are flying monkey both ways. But I’m sure she will adjust very quickly 🙂

  5. Steve Oakes says:

    Hi Jarvis. One question how long is it until you retire and how much would I have to pay you to take over your job? Sorry bit cheeky. Thanks and apologies Steve Oakes.

  6. Matt says:

    Great review sir. I now can’t wait to try this out for myself!!

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