I've only ever flown traditional international first once prior to this trip — Munich to San Francisco 10+ years ago on Lufthansa's previous-gen product. I've sat up front quite a bit, but usually in Business class or in the "BusinessFirst" cabin that's so popular these days. No, when I think of traditional International First it's when there's a fully separate cabin above the normal Business Class. They're a dying breed these days, and they're mostly on national carriers like British Airways
Honestly, for a day flight I'm fine with an exit row or premium economy. I just want a bit more legroom and a place to charge my laptop and I'm good. On long or overnight flights I just want a place to sleep. Having fancy food and drink is nice but i think Anthony Bourdain nailed it when he said:
"There's almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You'll never feel better after airplane food than before it. I don't understand people who will accept every single meal on a long flight. I'm convinced it's about breaking up the boredom. You're much better off avoiding it. Much better to show up in a new place and be hungry and eat at even a little street stall than arrive gassy and bloated, full, flatulent, hungover. So I just avoid airplane food. It's in no way helpful"
So I rarely even search for First Class seats when I'm shopping for flights. The incremental cost of the miles is rarely worth it (there's only so much Dom Perignon one can drink before putting that lie-flat sky bed to work). But this time around we were using a companion certificate from British Airways that we'd earned on our BA Visa card, which effectively halved the number of miles we needed for the trip. So when the flight we really wanted had 2 seats in First but none in Business, we decided we'd take it. Plus, with it being a daytime flight, we'd actually be able to stay awake and enjoy the service and the food.
UPDATE: We took this same route again in August of 2016.
Since we were flying out of BA's hub, we had a completely separate lounge from the people flying in Business – the Concorde Room. (Sadly there are no more Concordes in commercial service…) It's a beautifully designed interior space, with a full sit-down restaurant if you want to eat before takeoff, and an indoor patio with amazing views of the new Terminal 5 and of all the planes coming and going.
I really only like lounges when I'm stuck at an airport – I'd prefer to just show up 20 minutes before the flight, walk on, and take off. We had about an hour to kill and while it's a stunning space, the experience was a bit lame due to the staff. In contrast to other lounges where there are big buffets and open, pour-it-yourself bars, everything in the Concorde room has to be fetched by the staff. And while the lounge had nearly as many patrons as staff, it was difficult to get someone to actually bring us food and drink. Sorry, but don't shoot for high class if you can't deliver.
|View of two runways and lots of T5 gates from the patio|
|View of two runways and lots of T5 gates from the patio|
First class is on the lower deck in the front of the plane. Because the boarding doors are behind First, there isn't a parade of people going through the cabin during the boarding process. The seats themselves aren't particularly different from most international seats, though you do have your own mini coat closet and shoe storage here. The internal shade window was a unique feature that definitely gave the cabin a distinctive look.
Pre-departure the crew offered champagne and OJs, dinner menus, amenity kits, blankets, pillows and pajamas. The purser was very friendly and funny in a very professional manner. When he saw how much I was geeking out about the other planes at Heathrow, he suggested I take a vacant seat on the other side of the plane for takeoff since the view of the airport is better from that side. Very thoughtful.
|Coat closet and shoe storage|
|IFE screen folds out. USB charger on the front|
Once we reached cruising altitude, our gin and tonics showed up, along with warm nuts. Landing cards for US Customs were handed out and I loved that the purser made a point of telling us that we only needed one per family. This might not seem like a big deal, but 9 times out of 10 the staff will say this to straight couples, but never to gay ones. It's not a big deal, but extraordinary experiences happen because all of the little things.
After taking our meal orders, the purser offered to set up the empty center seat next to us in the dining configuration. Even though I often feel like a jaded traveler who's seen it all, this was impossibly romantic and awesome. It really did feel like we were on a (very large) private plane.
|Soup and goat cheese mousse|
|Duck and a Russian River Pinot|
|English cheeses with Port, Sauternes, and Taittinger Rose|
As we were finishing up our chocolates, the purser offered to make up our beds for us. The seats lie flat, but they also put down a mattress pad and give you a proper duvet and a bottle of water. I was going to try to stay awake the whole flight, but I figured a nap would be a good thing to help me stay up until bedtime on the New York timezone.
A sandwich and cookie snack was offered before landing. Kel had that, but I decided to just have a double espresso. (Also, can I just say how much I LOVE that there's an onboard espresso machine!?!)
Tour de CockpitAs our purser had already noticed that I was geeking out about planes, he offered to take us up to the cockpit for a tour after all the passengers departed. I was in heaven :)
BA's "hard product" (the seats, the interiors, the entertainment) were all top notch, but it's really the "soft product" (the staff and how they treat you) that made this such a memorable flight.