I still like flying British Airways First Class as it has that romance of flying in opulence with the nation’s flag carrier. A prestigious cabin class that I have shared with celebrities including Paul McCartney and Judith Chalmers. But would I pay the circa £4,500 price tag for a one way ticket to far flung destinations such as Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong? Hell no! Business class is fine enough thank you very much. One needs to judge the value upgrade from Business to First and with a hint of cynicism, a pair of PJs, a better amenity bag, bed making and being called Mr Smith is not worth the Grand or more price differential. However, with redemption of accumulated Avios points and the American Express companion voucher, upgrading to First Class is an experience to savour. But is it now going down hill?
First Class Flight To Hong Kong
I’ve just arrived in Hong Kong on BA0027. The flight was fine, the cabin crew in First were welcoming and friendly. The pilot seemed rather pissed off however during his pre-flight announcement. He was thirty minutes late in departure due to a missing passenger, mandating their bags were identified and off loaded. His tone of voice and words used appeared to firmly blame the delay on passengers, in that they should turn up on time and these are the ramifications if they do not. Even though I was not at fault, I felt like a scolded naughty boy. But hey, another top up of the Champagne seemed to dilute any passenger agitation.
But it was the pre-boarding experience that just seemed, bland. Bland in a way that lacked the splendour of yesteryear.
British Airways Frequent Flyer
I’ve been an avid BA passenger for over twenty years, more recently the last fifteen years as running my own business warranted regular flights to American, Asian, European and African continental destinations. A regular Silver loyalty card holder for many years, I was welcomed to the prestigious Gold level in 2015, but now reverted to a humble Bronze as the business is now sold and grey matter is stimulated elsewhere. However, I still have amassed a considerable accumulation of Avios points which I continue to collect and redeem with family and friends.
Since I last travelled First about a year ago, there is a new First Class check-in area at Heathrow Terminal 5. All looked spick and span, gold and white with ambient lighting. Nice.
The reason for this trip is that I’m diving in Chuuk Lagoon in three days time. There has been cold and flu in the family these past weeks, for which family members have had empathetic instructions to stay away from me. Not that I don’t love them, but simply I don’t want to be cast aside as landlubber with sinus or ear issues while fellow buddies explore the Japanese Pacific Fleet in the blue waters of the lagoon. It’s a long way to travel and for many divers, a Bucket List itinerary and once in a lifetime opportunity. So, one needs to be fit and well. You can imagine my dismay therefore, when the lady at check-in was sniffling. Wiping her dripping nose in scrunched up tissues and spreading the snot on my passport and mobile phone, on which by boarding pass was downloaded. What could I do? What could I say? Nothing at the time, but British Airways, you do need to remove sick staff off front line duties. It did nothing for your reputation and potentially damaged my dive trip.
Off Through Security
Anyhow, luggage dropped and off to security via the new sparkling route. Wow! How speedy was that. Forget Fast Track, there was no queue here and I was through in a shot. Then, via a short wood clad corridor, I was straight into BA’s Gallery lounge. But hold on, I’m not in the right place. I need to be in the Concorde lounge.
It seems that this new security route has been designed to re-route passengers who are not traveling First, but are Gold Card holders (who can check-in at First Class). Was once a meandering long trek to the BA Galleries lounge, there is now a short cut. A brilliant idea, but as a First Class passenger, I now need to weave out of Galleries and into Concorde.
The Concorde Lounge Lacks Lustre
I guess I have been visiting the Concorde lounge for some ten years or so. Once the shelves behind the bar would be stocked full with bottles of white and pink Champagne together with bottles of Johnny Walker Blue and Tanqueray 10, but in recent years it looks more akin to a stocked out Sainsbury’s on Saturday afternoons. Where once the staff were welcoming, wiping the bar and offering a menu, this evening they stood chatting and chewing gum at the end of the bar. One chap seemed to be more on the ball than the others, but their overall attention to passengers was lackadaisical to say the least. They seemed more interested in themselves than the First Class customers. A shame.
So, where has the opulence and prestige disappeared from the Concorde lounge? Yes, there was the “Enjoy your flight sir” as I departed, but that was a torturous text book comment from BA’s instruction manual rather than a genuine well wish. There was no personality to the experience as in the past. We know he’s a rich guy, but I’d be guessing Mr McCartney will be wondering where the value for money has disappeared too?
The Little Things Were Missing
I referenced earlier that the cabin crew were jovial and welcoming. I cannot and do not want to critique this crew as I have received better and worse service in the past. I recall vividly a British Airways First flight from Mumbai one time where I was the only passenger in the cabin and a crew of three. I was made to feel like a king. But everything seemed sanitised on this flight. Again, the personality and attention to detail was not there. Little things. Little things were missing. Little things that are plainly innocuous in all other situations, were missing. By example, you would normally be asked when you would like dinner served, but there was no option, in contrary an assertive menu choice. Maybe it was because the flight was full? I don’t know, but the pizzazz was not there.
Would This Pass An MOT?
One thing that also caught my eye was my lap belt, which does serve as testimony to what I am trying to communicate.
I can’t remember exactly when the First cabin changed from the walnut decor? My last memory of walnut was flying into Cape Town and my first memory of today’s blue decor was into Dubai. So I guess around 2010?
My question is, has anyone looked at this belt in eight years? It’s probably still fit for it’s intended use but I would challenge that if on a car, that car would not pass its MOT. Nonetheless and whether it’s fit for purpose or not, if I were in the Ivory Towers of British Airways, this is not a picture I would want to portray of a prestigious class of travel at a price tag of £4,500.
I just feel that what was grandeur in the past, now lacks lustre and radiance. The British Airways First Class experience is not what it used to be.