Why turning left is ‘brilliantly British’ as VIVA checks-in to try British Airways’ enhanced first class cabin service
It’s as British as tea, Bond, the Queen and that’s why VIVA leapt at the chance to see what British Airways has done to its first-class service as part of a its £6.5bn investment. Count the noughts, people!
It’s a hard life for VIVA, as Sam Travel Man, I got to test the new onboard offering on its Boeing 747 service from London Heathrow for 48 glorious hours in Miami.
Short connecting flights are available from Manchester all year round if you can’t afford the time, or the dollars for ‘Miami baby’ and it’s worth treating yourself if you want a splurge to make your journey extra special.
As BA, the grand dame of UK aviation, has been celebrating its centenary in style with the introduction of its first new A350 aircraft and there’s additional enhancements planned across all of its cabins within its fleet.
We flew in one of the retro-livery jets which hark back to 1964-1974 BOAC era branding, a much-admired design of its predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation.
As you’d expect when boarding as a first-class passenger, you turn left into the cabin which is in the very front of the nose of the plane and as BA has teamed up with some of the best British designers and manufacturers it’s an unforgettable experience.
The new look and feel includes new British-made bedding, British-branded amenities and the airline’s chefs have also designed new delicious A La Carte menus that focus on fresh seasonal ingredients of British provenance. Think you’re probably picking up on the British theme here.
Even the safety video includes home-grown celebrities from Blighty, acting out their great-British sense of humor that we are famous for. Love it or loathe it, what could be just another dull inflight safety video instead makes travelers sit-up and pay attention.
The mood lighting in the cabin is in the colour of BA’s signature blue and is immediately noticeable, creating quite an ambience. Black leather, dark walnut trims and monochrome touches are also consistent in keeping with the brand. All of this helps to create a calm and what feels like an exclusive luxury club environment.
After a very warm welcome from the delightful crew, I was swiftly shown to my ‘seat-come-suite’. A chilled glass of Gusbourne limited edition sparkling wine is available before take-off (it won an international award for best wine), or there’s the option of Laurent Perrier Sicele served as soon as you settle in along with a hot towel and some iced cold water.
The Cabin Service Director came around to personally introduce themselves on each flight and addresses you by your surname. It’s as if they knew that I was coming!
They talk you through the onboard service that you can expect as well as the seat design, the technology and the amenities available. They ask a lot of questions, mainly to determine what is important to each passenger to ensure that everyone has an exceptional flying experience as a first-class passenger.
The rest of the crew are equally attentive and certainly pulled out all the stops in terms of customer service standards. They endeavor to make feel like you are in a five-star hotel with their ‘brilliantly-British’ service. It’s like it’s in their DNA.
There’s a total of 14 open suites in its first cabin in a 1-2-1 lay out. The seats in the middle are ideal for those traveling together although still offer privacy with dividers that can be adjusted up and down if you don’t know your neighbour.
In my opinion, the window seats are the best seats in the house – or in this case cabin – as you get not one, but two windows.
The padded and checkered-designed seats are exclusive to the airline and with the upholstery in black felt these are like giant cradles given the high-back and sides. All of this provides additional comfort and there’s more privacy than those seats in the middle.
All seats in the cabin offer direct aisle access and face forward and are very spacious due to the layout. There are no doors or screens as such, but that doesn’t matter because the seats are slightly angled so that you get to look out of the windows while flying. There’s even your very own personal wardrobe to store your stuff.
There’s an entertainment screen that folds out, which can be operated with a remote or a touch screen. You can enjoy 1,000 hours of programmes available through high performance headphones crafted by Meridian, the British pioneers of high-resolution audio.
I liked the seat controls – there’s a knob you can twist to recline the seat or put it in the upright position in addition to standard presets as you would normally get with any airline. However, the design here is functional, which is important for those that aren’t used to gadgets – everything is easy to use.
Once airborne, my food order was taken – it’s dine-on-demand, of course. I was served some antipasti with a range of different hams, cheeses, olives and sundried tomatoes with my first drink after take-off. I ordered a G&T. It’s worth noting that all the spirits and mixers are again from UK suppliers.
There’s an extensive wine list to choose from, which are all very good indeed. I should know because I sampled almost all of them. I especially liked the Pouilly Fuisse 2015 Burgundy white wine.
The 2014 Chateux Cantemerle red from Bordeux was just as good although the 2013 Fleurie La Reserve Beaujolais was my favourite. I probably drank the best part of a couple of bottles of booze what with the generous amount of refilling that went on.
As part of the changes, British Airways has also invested in new Dartington glassware. Travellers are now able to enjoy fine wines and champagnes from sophisticated stemware, while soft drinks and spirits are served from elegant cut-glass tumblers.
The food menu choices are just as extensive – three or four options to choose for each course. I went for Kinglas smoked salmon and pickled Devonshire crab with avocado. It was very fresh, and not at all fishy in the slightest. I was offered a selection of warm bread. I had several slices because there was so much variety in the bread basket. Carbs!
I was greedy and so I went for a fish course of pan-fried halibut – it was beautifully moist yet flakey – before choosing the main course of seared fillet of aged Herefordshire beef. The meat was cooked perfectly pink. I had the chocolate-chilli fondant for dessert followed by the selection of British cheeses. I felt nothing but content.
The new menus are served on elegant bone china crockery, designed exclusively for the airline by high-end British tableware designer William Edwards, there’s even fancy new cutlery from Studio William.
I also managed to try out their new signature afternoon tea service. Obviously, BA had to include this great British tradition and the menu includes a selection of sandwiches, delicate pastries and scones, as well as a wide range of tea infusions. I ordered another glass of bubbles and then I noticed the air of elegance as I quaffed-and-troughed while experiencing a true thing of beauty flying towards Miami with a belly full of the fine stuff.
First customers benefit from an improved turndown service for the perfect night’s sleep, thanks to new luxurious 400 thread count bedding, accompanied by a foam fibre mattress topper. You also receive a stylish new day blanket and bolster cushion.
There are super-soft, sophisticated new male and female loungewear designed exclusively by luxury British fashion brand, Temperley London. The loungewear is coupled with bespoke British Airways amenity bags, featuring Temperley’s “Star” design. The bags are filled with products from No 1 British Skincare brand, ELEMIS, including products from the highly sought-after ULTRA SMART PRO-COLLAGEN range. The amenity kit contains the essentials to cleanse, revive and hydrate – with products for both men and women.
The return journey was just as good as the outbound flight. As it was a nighttime flight, soon after take-off, I asked for my fully flatbed to made and it was done by the time I changed into my luxury pajamas. I slept for most of the flight – totally un-interrupted – and had a better night’s sleep than I would usually get at home in my own bed.
Forty-five minutes before landing at Heathrow, the delightful crew woke me up for breakfast – they still looked bright-eyed and beautiful after a long-haul service. I felt fresh and fully rested.
There’s a traditional English breakfast on offer along with more healthier options. I went off-piste by asking for steak and eggs. It wasn’t an issue for the super cabin crew though and the food was delivered within less five minutes after ordering.
Whatever you need, or expect, from a first-class service with an airline you will certainly find it and experience it with BA when flying across the Atlantic. Sit back and relax as a first-class passenger with BA as the airline has got your back – gate-to-gate – where you don’t have to lift a finger!
The Concorde Room
British Airways’ first customers continue to have access to the airline’s exclusive first wing at Heathrow Terminal 5.
Re-designed and unveiled in 2017, the first wing provides customers with a private check-in area leading through to dedicated security lanes, which grant customers direct access to the airline’s prestigious first lounge that have private cabanas, a dine-on-demand service and a spa. Tip-top service!
British Airways flies from London to Miami twice a day. First fares from £2070 return including taxes/fees/carrier charges, are available to book on ba.com/Miami or call 0844 493 0787. Connecting flights are available from Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle and Scotland.