A journey in British Airways First isn’t about showering on the plane or having an ‘apartment’ in the sky. Instead, it’s an opportunity to relax. An experience that – from Heathrow T5, at least – begins in one of the most exclusive airport lounges in the world. A voyage that you’re likely to remember because of the service, not because of the bells and whistles.

You can fly BA First from Australia, with daily British Airways flights from Sydney to Singapore and then onwards to London. But I’m already in London and am hankering for a visit to The Big Apple. What better way to traverse the world’s most premium international air route than in row one across the Atlantic? Welcome to Champagne Class.

My journey today is made possible thanks to frequent flyer points. I burn exactly 89,800 Qantas Points, alongside £551.51 (~AU$1,068). Yes, it’s a little pricey on the co-pay side. Much of those charges stem from the UK’s hefty Air Passenger Duty (APD) – under which, you pay more than double the tax when flying anything better than Economy. It also includes BA’s carrier charge.

For me, though, this ticks a few bucket list items. And in my book, the £551 paid in actual cash is worth it. It’s barely 5% of the retail BA First airfare – an eye-watering £10,952 (~AU$21,217), one-way.

Airfare quote in British Airways First

One-way is all I need for this trip, so as I see it, it’s a 95% discount thanks to the points I already have in my account. If you’re in need of a points top-up, a well-timed credit card sign-up offer could be just the ticket. But here’s what I did with my own points.

Check-in, lounge and boarding

After a swift journey to the airport aboard the Heathrow Express, I venture to Terminal 5. BA also flies from Terminal 3, but T5 is where the bulk of its flights depart, including to the United States. I wander to the far end of the check-in area to The First Wing. It’s an exclusive check-in space for BA First passengers and oneworld Emerald frequent flyers.

I’m assisted without delay and directed straight through The First Wing’s private security screening point. Service here is really top-notch. A couple of items have to be removed from my bag to be rescreened separately, but rather than being an inconvenience, the security staffer even offers to help me repack. This feels almost like a private terminal.

From there, the path leads straight into BA’s Galleries First Lounge. But don’t get confused – this lounge is really for oneworld Emerald frequent flyers who aren’t flying First Class. Sure, you can hang out there, but a ticket in British Airways First unlocks something special: BA’s famed Concorde Room. Follow the signs, flash your boarding pass again, and you’ll uncover one of the world’s most exclusive lounges.

I know what awaits, so I cheekily arrive many hours before my flight. I enjoy a multi-course à la carte lunch with top shelf Champagne, while literally sitting next to the nose of a real Concorde. It’s almost a shame having to leave this lounge to board, but my seat in row one across the Atlantic softens the pain.

At the gate, passengers flying in British Airways First board in group one alongside oneworld Emerald frequent flyers. When the crew spot my BA First boarding pass, I’m escorted from the aircraft door to seat 1K, my home for the next eight hours.

British Airways Boeing 777 First seating

Many frequent flyers quip that British Airways First is akin to the world’s best Business Class. It’s not a dig at BA’s service or catering. Rather, a realisation that the seat BA uses in its First cabin is similar to what a lot of other airlines offer in Business. While it’s not the exact same seat, BA First on this Boeing 777 does look quite similar to Business Class on airlines such as Cathay Pacific.

BA’s own cabin adopts a 1-2-1 layout. To me though, the seat offers some notable improvements over typical Business Class. There’s a great feeling of privacy – even without a closing door. Seated in 1K, I can’t see the face of any other passenger unless I lean forward or stand up. Blinds can be closed between the centre seats if you don’t know your seatmate (or you’d just prefer some ‘me time’).

This isn’t possible on all BA First layouts, but on this particular Boeing 777-200ER, the seat’s design allows for a companion to join you for a meal. The footrest doubles as a second seat – complete with its own seatbelt. The personal closet is also a handy place to keep your jacket – or your clothes if you change into the supplied (and very comfortable) loungewear.

If you’ve spotted the big dial at the seat, know that it’s not a volume knob. It’s used to adjust the angle of your seat until you’ve got everything just right. Bedding is provided if you’d like to doze, but I’m content with just a nap as we’ll arrive in New York around 10 pm.

I like the mechanical window blinds and on-brand blue lighting within the window frame. It makes the journey feel less ‘public aircraft’, and ever so slightly more like a nice rail carriage.

Food and beverage in British Airways Boeing 777 First

While some First Class travellers might pine for a more palatial suite, the catering is where British Airways instead puts its best foot forward. I settle in with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, some nibbles and a hot towel while others are still boarding. Since taking this flight, the bubbles have switched to Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2015 on services to New York – but that’s also a solid drop.

I peruse the menu and decide to continue with some canapés. The samples include a beetroot and goat’s cheese ravioli, balik salmon with cream cheese and bresaola on fingerling potato. I’ve just come from a full meal in the Concorde Room, so these bites tide me over for now.

However, it’s a Saturday night – so I’m inclined to explore the multiple sparkling wine options. I order a glass of English sparkling (Hattingley Valley Blanc de Noirs 2018). The crew playfully suggest that I might enjoy my glass of sparkling wine with a side of Champagne to compare. Okay, you’ve twisted my arm…

There’s also a Lanson Extra Age Brut Rosé (NV) on the menu, but when you have Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle practically on tap, I stick to what’s tried and tested. I’m behaving myself, so the cabin crew are happy to keep pouring. They even joke that they’d gladly arrange a wheelchair on arrival if the need arose. While I made sure it wasn’t necessary, I should have taken them up on that – but more on that later.

Still, I enjoy one final glass of the Laurent-Perrier aside some crisps, before settling in for a three-hour nap.

Dine on demand in British Airways First

One aspect I really appreciate of the British Airways First experience is being able to order what you like, when you like. If I want to sleep when it suits me, I can – and I did. And that doesn’t mean missing out on the main meal.

I start with a latte to help wake me up. It’s delivered after my table is dressed in linen and set by the crew, just as you’d expect of a nice restaurant. For me, this is dinner. I plan for a four-course meal, knowing that I probably won’t want much for breakfast in the morning either.

For the first course, the Queen Anne’s tart catches my eye. It combines artichoke, tarragon and chervil vinaigrette – and it’s quite good. Next up, I continue with the slow-cooked British beef cheeks. They’re served with a creamy carrot purée, broccoli and herb jus. While it’s hard to get a good snap of these in the darkened aircraft cabin, they’re extremely tender and delicious.

I also try another of the mains – because, again, you can order what you like, when you like. The portions are also reasonably small, so you can try more of what takes your fancy. For this course, I go for the mushroom cappellacci, and I’m not disappointed.

To finish out the meal, it’s hard to pass on the customisable homemade vanilla ice cream. You can choose your toppings between raspberries, chocolate sauce, white crunchy pearls and chocolate shavings. I opt for everything but the shavings – figuring the sauce already adds chocolate. It’s bliss in a bowl.

The broader wine and spirits lists are comprehensive, but I’ve already had my fair share of Champagne today – and cocktails in the Concorde Room. I’ll have to leave more capacity to explore the onboard wines next time.

Service and entertainment

After being shown to my seat, the cabin crew repeatedly address me by name. The crew are extremely personable – especially Rebecca, who suggests the side order of Champagne with my sparkling wine. I also had the chance to fly Qantas First from Los Angeles to Sydney two days later. Personally, I found the BA crew – and the overall service – a lot more polished than that onward flight.

Interactions with the BA crew go beyond the usual orders and greetings. We get chatting about what brings me to New York, for instance. I’m flying in to tackle the highest open air building ascent in the world – City Climb at Edge, Hudson Yards. The crew are also interested in the other crazy adventure activities I’ve done – because one of them had done many of the same.

When I’m not busy chatting or resting, there’s a lot to watch on the inflight entertainment system. In BA First, the screen needs to be stowed for take-off and landing but can remain open and visible for the rest of the flight.

I do pause to giggle at the safety demonstration. In addition to including the crucial information about where the exits are, we’re also informed that the cast member ‘had a banana’ that day. Perhaps the message was that his phone should have been in flight mode!

Over-ear noise-cancelling headphones are provided, but I found these of average quality. I always travel with my own set instead (Bose QC35), and these provide a noticeable upgrade from the supplied set. On this flight, a window seat is also desirable because you’ll be able to catch the sunset.

Inflight Wi-Fi is available and access is complimentary for customers in BA First – although the gratis pass is limited to one device only.

The verdict

So, how does British Airways First stack up? I’d rate the lounge, dining, Champagne and service very highly. As for the seat, it’s clearly not in the same league as some competitors. BA is slowly introducing closing doors in First. But right now, it’s difficult to know which flights will have these – and that can easily change with an aircraft swap.

For me, though, the seat is comfortable, and the cabin still affords a good degree of privacy. On this Boeing 777-200ER, First stretches only for two rows, so you’re only sharing ‘your’ aisle with three fellow travellers. While the seat won’t please everybody, there’s still a lot to like.

On a personal note, this journey ticked a few boxes for me. I’d always wanted to visit the Concorde Room: check. After last flying across the pond aboard BA1 – the all-Business-Class service that proceeded the Concorde and took its flagship flight number – I’d wanted to repeat the route in BA First: check. And, to conquer the challenge of City Climb: check.

Chris Chamberlin at City Climb in New York
Hi there! [Photo courtesy of City Climb]

I have to laugh though. I enjoy that this journey gives me longer to indulge versus the speedier days of Concorde – but passport control at JFK remains a real equaliser. And given Australians still can’t register for Global Entry, that means joining the very back of the queue, even if you’ve been here before.

With only a few passport desks open, it took almost three hours to clear immigration here. In the days of Concorde, passengers could make the entire journey from Heathrow to JFK in a similar time. In fact, the record stands at just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. By comparison, today, I spent longer just queueing at immigration. Clearly, I should have taken them up on that wheelchair!

Was it all worth it, though, to dangle off the top of a skyscraper, 365 metres above the ground? I still say yes.

Also reviewed: British Airways Boeing 777 Club World Suites (Singapore – Sydney)

Photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at his own expense using Qantas Points.

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British Airways Boeing 777 First (London Heathrow – New York JFK) was last modified: April 19th, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin