British Airways Boeing 787-9 First Class

Only a few years ago, flying First Class on the Boeing 787-9 was the best British Airways had to offer. Their Airbus A380 Jumbo jets weren’t flying and the new Boeing 777 First Suites with a door hadn’t been released. Does the 787-9 then, still cut the mustard?

Boarding

Starting, sat in the Concorde Room Lounge we decided to leave it fairly late to board. The thought process being we could get another glass of champagne in and head straight to the gate and with no queues and board immediately. Unfortunately in reality, the separate line for first/business class passengers had closed and was now filled with economy passengers leaving 2 choices. Join the back of a very long economy queue or move some barriers, cut straight to the front with everyone behind you thinking you are utterly deplorable. Naturally, the latter was chosen thinking we’ll be in a private cabin so we won’t see any of these people we have slighted again… lol, wrong.

Rather than walking down an airbridge and making an immediate left, the plane was parked on a remote stand some 15-minute drive away. Now you’d think that with BA having invested in some black cabs and a few Jag’s back in 2017 there’d be some dispensation for the first class customers in the form of being chauffeured from the gate to the plane, wrong again. The reality is you’re crammed onto a bus with a handful of seats meaning almost all passengers are standing, including a bunch of the economy passengers we cut in front of… If you’re struggling to picture it, London underground at 08:00 on a Monday morning pre-pandemic. When you manage to get off the bus, you then have to lug your hand luggage up a decent flight of stairs onto the plane…

After all that loveliness, we were then greeted by the cabin service director who couldn’t have been more surprised when I said we were in First…

The Cabin

As I’m guided to my seat, I pass through the front Business class cabin and couldn’t be happier I booked First Class. BA are still using their old yin-yang business class seat that they introduced in 2007 only in a 2-3-2 layout due to the narrower cabin.

The first-class cabin consists of 8 seats in 2 rows of 1-2-1 formation. This is a much more private and luxurious feeling environment than the 14 seat first-class cabin British Airways offer in their A380’s. It is worth noting there are airlines that only run 4 seats in their First Class cabin for that super luxury private jet feeling.

  • Solo travellers who want served promptly will probably want either 1 A or K. these seats are only available to Gold card holders or higher (Unless you’re the only one flying).
  • Solo travellers who want a quiet flight will probably want either 2 A or K. The reason being, youre further away from the galley so there is less noise when the crew are praparing meals and drinks.
  • Travelling as a couple you’ll probably want either 1 or 2 E and F as theyre side by side.

The Seat

In this instance, I chose seats 2E/F as I wasn’t travelling alone and it’s the furthest from the galley thus less noise. Arriving at my seat and yes there’s no door, no private suite, no armchair and bed, but my is it nice. The seat is plenty wide and soft enough with enough support to make even a 12-hour flight pleasant.

Do bear in mind that although the E & F seats are best for couples because they are next to each other, you still have cupboards etc between you so if you want to talk you have to lean forward.

As you’d expect there are plenty of adjustabilities to get the seat exactly how you want it.

  • Increase or decrease lumbar support
  • Lower or highten the seat
  • Variable recline so its not at pre defined positions
  • Recline or incline the seat back
  • Even the foot rest slide out should you be challenged in the height department

The only things that are missing that I can think of is a massage function which would be amazing and heating elements though I’m not sure why you’d want them on a long haul flight?

A little tip, the windows on the 787-9 are massive so if you’re flying back into London, choose seat K. The views are certainly something on a clear day.

Storage

There’s a plethora of storage available and unlike a lot of airlines, it’s actually useful. First things first, jacket off and into the dedicated cupboard neatly built into one of the walls of your seating area. If you’re also flying with a suit, a member of staff will hang it in a cupboard at the front of the cabin.

Next up, the shoes are off and stored in another cubby hole underneath where you hang your jacket. You could also store a handbag in there with plenty of space left over.

On the opposite side of the seat, you’ll find a little cubby hole big enough to fit a few gizmos or if you’re a photographer, a few lenses.

Finally, above your shoulder, you’ll find a mini cupboard split into 2 sections where you can store things like your headphones, passport, tablet, etc. There’s also a little mirror on the door which is fairly handy.

The Table

Nothing continues the premium feel like a carbon fibre table… It comes out at the press of a button folded in half and as you’d expect, is very light to operate. Naturally, the table is super strong with zero flex, the hinges on the other hand, not so much. Should you need to apply a little force on the side opposite the hinge with your knife whilst dining, you will notice the table lower. It’s nothing drastic but it does take a little confidence away. If you’re typing away on your laptop or anything like that you won’t have any issues.

It is a telescopic table so it can be moved closer or further away. Do note though, even the skinniest of people with the tray in its most distant position will struggle to leave the seat. There’s a little knack to it where you slide it all the way forward away from the seat and then rotate it a good bit back into the side.

Dining

Not long after finding your seat and getting rid of your luggage, a member of the cabin crew will arrive at your seat to take your pre-departure drink order. It’s a pretty large selection to begin with and that’s without the new cocktails that BA offer. I personally went for a glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, a champagne British Airways is well known for serving. You can pick a bottle up from Laithwaites for £120~. Along with that, I decided to have a glass of orange juice. I’m not sure why I was surprised but being served orange juice in a beautifully weighted crystal glass put a smile on my face, true luxury.

Something which was pretty disappointing was the lack of pre-departure nibbles. Airlines often provide nibbles like warm nuts even in lower cabins like business class. Unfortunately nothing from BA.

Roughly 40 minutes after take off, canapes consisting of marinated olives and little chunks of cheese, a hummus filled pimiento pepper and finally, a roasted baby beetroot with lemon yoghurt and pistachios are served. Personally, I’m not an olive nor hummus consumer so I can’t tell you about those. The cheese which came with the olives was nice and got polished off pretty quickly. The beetroot and pistachios were also good with a nice combination of both texture and flavour.

To digress a little, Michelin stars take into consideration, not just the quality of the food but the service and attentiveness of the waiters. The reason I mention this is because my air steward is very attentive on the drinks front often asking if I would like a top-up. I’m genuinely impressed by this as I’ve been to well-known restaurants and this much attention hasn’t been paid.

As my glass is being topped up with more bubbles, the steward asks what I would like for my meal and when I would like it to be served. Much to my surprise it’s dine on demand, this shouldn’t be surprising at all as it is a first-class flight but for years BA chose when it would serve food.

For the starter I chose poached king prawns cut in half with basil but without the lemon olive oil dressing. There was a perfect crunch to them without being rubbery, very nice actually when combined with the mini salad. This was served with warm bread, which while nice, was fairly dense/stodgy no lightness about it.

Side note; As you can see in the imagery, there’s no pepper mill. I hadn’t noticed this, it was the flight attendant who brought it to my attention by apologising about it. Apparently, they loaded 2 salts on instead of one of each by mistake. Great that the crew member recognised and apologised for this even though it was a none issue.

Onto the main and though I wanted the Roasted Herefordshire saddleback pork belly with crackling served with Savoy cabbage with bacon, roasted red rooster potatoes, heritage carrots, runner beans, apple and cider gravy and apple sauce, because I was sat in seat 2E I was last to be served and apparently they had run out.

A solution was found in plating up the business class version (Roasted Herefordshire saddleback pork with slow-cooked red cabbage, tenderstem broccoli, red rooster potatoes and apple sauce.) though this didn’t come with crackling. It was very good, everything about it actually, the succulent belly pork, the roasted red rooster potatoes, the baby heritage carrots, the parsnip, after a little seasoning was beautiful.

Finally, for a dessert, I tried to order the cheeseboard. Specifically, the College White with truffles, described as a brie style cheese with a layer of truffle butter in the middle and the Godminster Round an organic creamy full flavour vintage cheddar. This wasn’t to be though as there was none left so had to settle for the cheddar from business class. It was okay, certainly nothing special.

For the return flight, it was a pleasant surprise to see a different menu being offered. Smoked breast of duck with cucumber and cress as a large portioned size starter.

Then for the main; Seared Fillet of Beef with Burgundy sauce, Sautéed wild mushrooms, Grilled trumpet mushrooms, watercress and roasted tomato. I could have done with the beef being a little less well done, certainly not the best steak I’ve had in the air, I was hungry though so it was eaten.

For dessert, I didn’t take a photo but i did get some ice cream, though in hindsight I should have called it a day after the steak. The ice cream was certainly frozen, it was like biting into a jawbreaker!

With the exception of the ice cream, which would easily break a tooth, everything was at least edible. If you’re expecting Simon Rogan quality, you’ll want to reign in your expectations, the only stars to be found here are out of the window.

The Bed

The whole point of flying in a premium cabin be it business or first is for the bed. You want to arrive at your destination well-rested, so much so that if needed you could go into a full day’s work and still function at a high level. BA has this dialled in on the 787-9.

As I head to the bathroom to don my complimentary Temperly pyjamas, I ask one of the cabin crew members if they can make my bed up. By the time I make the change and freshen up, I arrive back to my seat which is now a bed. Fully kitted out with a very thick foam and microfibre mattress topper, soft 400 thread count bedding and even a choice of pillow.

Truth be told, I only slept for 90 minutes. That wasn’t because the bed was poor, on the contrary, it’s just I wanted to make the most of the experience so just ate a cheese board, popcorn and snacks whilst in bed.

Entertainment

The very first thing you’ll notice isn’t the rather large screen but the angle that the screen is on. It isn’t perpendicular! How in the hell did someone screw that up? It’s not like there’ll be multiple people sitting around watching it, just 1 set of eyes that should be sat at 90 degrees. A huge bugbear for me that took a good while to get used to. Just looking back at the photos it irks me.

Anyway, glossing over that, the screen is pretty big. Granted it’s not 43″ like ANA’s “The Suite” first class but in fairness, ANA came out of nowhere with that. In terms of media selection (Here’s what’s currently available), it was poor having only a handful of new movies, partial box sets and the rest fluffed out by less recent stuff which you probably wouldn’t watch again if you’d already seen it. Whatever happened to the days of having the best and lots of it. Years gone by I’d be flying to Hong Kong and binge-watching the latest season of Billions, flying to New York and watching The Night Manager not long after it initially aired on the BBC or skipping out on the cinema knowing I’d be flying in a few weeks and it’d be on the plane. A shame really.

Something I really can’t forgive though is the lack of a touch screen and the utter garbage that is the remote you have to use to do everything media-related. When you want to search for anything, the text is to small to select the letters, when you scroll to select a film there’ll be miss clicks, you want to change information on the 3d map, not a chance. Whoever designed it and actually whoever signed it off and thought it was a good idea as well should be done for crimes against humanity.

Headphones

Absolutely woeful is how I would describe the Linstol & Meridian headphones that are provided, a million miles away from BA’s claim of “high quality noise-cancelling headphones”. Digressing a little, on SAS – Who Dares Wins they play crying babies over and over to get the contestants to crack. I can guarantee that if they used these headphones to deliver any pleasant sound you can think of, let’s say the ocean, the contestants would crack much sooner than the sound of a crying baby.

They crush your head, yes I have a slightly larger dome but I think even a child’s head is getting it. They most certainly aren’t noise-cancelling, which shouldn’t even require that much effort given the 787-9 is one of the quietest planes in the sky. To round it all off there is barely any adjustment, I lasted about 8 minutes and conceded. If you’re in procurement for an airline and your goal is to make sure no one steals your headphones, you should supply these.

The comparison isn’t against brands like Sony with their XM4’s or Bose with the QC’s like most airlines provide even in business class. The basis of comparison is against a cheap £40 over-ear set I came across in an airport. Truly abysmal.

WiFi

In another surprise, WiFi is free for First Class passengers throughout the flight. There is an asterisk however, you are limited to the first device you connect. Basically don’t make the mistake I made and connect your laptop only to realise you can’t post departure snaps to the ‘gram, or vice versa connecting your phone then realising you need to file some court documents or something.

Don’t be expecting to stream 10-bit 8K footage or hit them Y Y slide cancels as there were times when the download was maxing out at 0.5mbps and the ping time going deep into the 3 digits! Truth be told though, that was over the Atlantic, overland it was considerably better.

Issues

Where to begin, probably close to 2 years ago I guess. I made this booking for Seychelles for my 30th, BA cancelled all flights to Seychelles so I moved it to The Maldives. Fast forward well past my 30th and COVID means Maldives is a no go so I changed it to Cape Town. South Africa gets put on the red list, after a quick google, Mexico just doesn’t care about COVID, perfect. About a month before flying I am told I’ll have to pay an additional £195 per person. After close to 2 hours on the phone, it was agreed that I would pay an extra £60~ per person as that was an actual tax that went to the government. The other £135 each was BA’s surcharge that they had hiked. They take my card details over the phone and all is well.

I fly down to London the morning before to drop the bags off for our flight in the morning and then head into the city to have a look around London and an evening meal at a nice restaurant. I then spend 6 and a half hours at The First Wing (BA’s dedicated area for premium passengers) because apparently payment hasn’t been taken and they haven’t issued the ticket… There is no food or water and there’s no one there willing to help. Just a member of the check-in staff on the phone to BA, meanwhile on the other side of the wall there are people with enough power to hold a plane from departing so one of their premier members doesn’t miss it. £195 each later and we have tickets. It’s gone from being glorious sunshine to nighttime, 0 miles clocked on Boris Bikes, 0 cocktails consumed and 2 very tired and infuriated passengers. All of this, because of BA’s incompetence.

The next issue would be at the gate. The look of disgust from the BA gate staff as I move the barrier to get to the front of the queue couldn’t have been more obvious. Here’s an idea, you do your job correctly by making sure that there is a clear line for passengers in premium cabins to use at any point up until the doors are closed. After all, the people who are paying the most for tickets want to be the very last people to board. Rather than giving attitude, you apologise for the inconvenience.

The whole bus situation, even Ryanair have a divider on the bus so those that have paid more can take a seat when they get shuttled.

Now another biggie and the reason I was served scraped together business class food instead of the first class meal like everyone else in the cabin. 2E and last to be served. There was only supposed to be 7 passengers in First class and they loaded enough food accordingly. It comes to light as I order my desert that the reason they didn’t have any food for me was due to someone from business class being upgraded due to their seat being broken. That right, I was receiving an inferior service because someone was upgraded. There were quite a few empty seats in business class where this passenger could have been moved, instead, he was upgraded. As he was sat in 2A he was served before me thus taking the food I wanted and had paid for.

On the way back from Mexico our luggage bags were opened and something was taken from mine. Usually, when it’s opened for security reasons, they leave a note explaining why it was opened, nothing.

Onto the service from the staff and on the outbound it was okay, genuinely couldn’t fault it but nothing out of the ordinary. The inbound, however… WOW! Night and day difference figuratively and literally. The most helpful, charismatic, experienced staff I’ve dealt with. Nothing was too much of a stretch, great conversation, truly first class. Down to the tiny little details like there was a couple in 2E/F on the way back, the Cabin crew asked if they would like a photo together. Something so small but means a lot. I spoke to my other half during the flight back and she asked me if they were from a different part of the company.

Summary

I take notes when flying just so that there are no details overlooked and nothing is forgotten. One of the notes reads “Perhaps not First Class but certainly the best business class cabin in the sky.” and that’s how the British Airways First Class seat and cabin should be viewed when compared to most other airlines that offer First. Where those airlines fall short of BA for First Class is the service. Having experienced the service coming home I can honestly say it is the best in-flight service I’ve ever experienced.

Would I recommend flying First Class with BA? Unless you get a cheap deal that’s only a little more than business class or book an Avios redemption or get upgraded then certainly not.

There’s a 50/50 chance you’ll have a service that you’d expect in Business for a fraction of the cost, a 100% chance BA will screw you over one way or another on the ground before your flight and while the seat is very nice it’s at the very top end of the business class spectrum, meaning the bottom end of the first class spectrum.

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