Review: British Airways First Class SFO - LHR
Review: Iberia Airlines Business Class LHR - MAD
Recap: Sights in Spain
Review: American Airlines Business Class MAD - DFW
About three weeks before Christmas, we decided that we wanted to take a trip during the week between Christmas and New Years. Things at work are usually slow and it's fairly easy to take time off, so we decided to go for it. Because we waited until the very last minute, we blew A TON of miles on the trip. We had been keeping our eye on award availability for several weeks before we actually booked anything, but not much was available and nothing was opening up as we got closer to our dates, especially not any Saver awards. We were pretty much open to flying to any destination in Europe and Spain ended up being one of our only options to use American miles and fly Business or First.
The flight out was fairly easy to book and although it wasn't quite as much of a gouge mileage-wise as the return, it was on British Airways, which is famous for outrageous fuel surcharges. We ended up booking the following:
SFO - LHR in British Airways First + LHR - MAD in Iberia Airlines Business: 62,500 AA miles each + $490
MAD - DFW - SFO in American Airlines Business and First: 135,000 AA miles each + $53
In hindsight, this was an insane amount of money and miles to spend at the last minute on a whim, but once I got the idea of going to Europe over the holidays in my head, I really couldn't get it out.
British Airways (BA) #286
London (LHR) - Madrid (MAD)
Monday, December 28th, 2015
8:20 PM - 2:45 PM (+1), Duration: 10 hrs, 25 mins
Boeing 747-400 First Class, Seat 2K
We boarded our flight directly from the British Airways Terraces lounge at SFO about an hour before the flight was due to take off. The first thing you'll notice upon boarding is the excellent lighting scheme throughout the cabin, which makes everything a very cool shade of blue. The First class cabin is on the upper deck of the 747 in the nose, so the seats are configured in a v-shape with a sort of 1-2-1 pattern across the cabin. The nice thing about this somewhat odd layout is that seats 1A, 1K, 2A, 2K all have no space between them for another row of seats, so they're a bit more private.
While I mentioned that rows 1 and 2 are more private, the seats overall are not very private, which I didn't like. On the edge of your seat, all you'll have is the arm rest, which only goes up so high, so you're wide open to the rest of the passengers while you're sleeping. British Airways seems to enjoy this sort of exposure, since the outer Club World seats are like this also.
Other than the privacy issue, the seats were fine and were comfortable enough for the ride although the seat controls were absolutely not intuitive and the foot rest was so far away, I wasn't able to actually use it for the flight. I did like the small touches like the lamp next to the seat and the windows with actual shades inside them - they definitely gave the cabin a bit of style. There was a small "closet" of sorts, which you could hang a very thin coat in or maybe your clothing once you changed into pajamas. The seat controls and entertainment remote were located to the left of the seat and the television was one that pops out from the wall. This is my least favorite design since you have to stow it for takeoff and landing, which means you can't watch anything for a fairly large chunk of time.
This turned out not to be much of an issue, however, because the in-flight entertainment system had an abysmal selection. First receives the same selection as Club World and we had just flown that about a month before, so there was little entertainment to choose from. Even American offers quite a substantial selection, which is easily 2x what BA offers.
As we were getting settled in, Becky came by to introduce herself and welcome us aboard. She explained that she was the "voice on the PA" and to let her know if we needed anything.
The flight attendants also passed out pajamas and amenity kits, which contained Aromatherapy Associates products along with a brush, pen, eye mask and socks.
The flight attendants also brought around menus prior to takeoff so we could make our decisions while on the ground and receive our meals shortly after takeoff. In addition to the standard menu, there was a special option of a "traditional comfort dish".
The comfort dish of Steak and Old Rasputin Ale Pie sounded great, so I ordered that option and was very much looking forward to dinner.
While we were waiting for dinner, the flight attendants brought some nuts and our beverage order. Unfortunately, the nuts were pretty terrible, so I didn't partake.
I hadn't been very excited about anything on the menu other than the steak pie, so I wasn't quite looking forward to the first courses. They started out with a four cheese tartare amuse bouche, which was pretty terrible. It was very rich and had too much cheese and was overall, just weird. For the starter, I selected the fresh salad with Caesar dressing, which is pretty hard to screw up, but the dressing definitely did not taste like Caesar and the salad really had no flavor. 0 for 2, I was really looking forward to the steak pie. Unfortunately, during the salad course, one of the flight attendants came up and said that she was very sorry, but she cooked all the beef on the airplane as "just beef" and there was none left for the steak pie, so I'd have to make another choice. At this point, I was livid*.
*In all fairness, I had just flown Etihad First both to and from Abu Dhabi about a month before and I was so incredibly disappointed that this was supposed to be a competing international first class with terrible food and unmemorable service.
Nothing else on the menu sounded appetizing at all (I've learned that most airline beef is pretty terrible) and since I don't eat fish, I was limited to the beef or chicken. I picked the beef since I figured she'd already made it and asked to have anything other than truffle mashed potatoes as a side. The beef was predictably pretty bad and I ended up picking at it along with the rest of the courses.
I'm now aware that I've become truly spoiled from Asian and Middle Eastern First class experiences, because I really couldn't believe this kind of food and service quality was what I was receiving on an international First class product. At this rate, the food was essentially the same as in Club World or American Airlines Business and it was awful.
After dinner, I finished my movie and decided to get some sleep. I asked a flight attendant for a pair of slippers and to make up my bed and went to the lavatory to change into my pajamas. The lavatory was small and cramped and definitely not on par with some of the other First class products I've experienced. It was really just boring.
I made my way back to my seat and noticed that I was one of the few remaining passengers who was still awake. I settled down and couldn't help but notice that the blankets were very thin. Luckily, it wasn't cold in the cabin or I might have had trouble keeping warm. Luckily, the bed was comfortable enough and I managed to get a few hours of sleep.
About two hours before landing, I woke up and realized that most passengers were eating breakfast. Since I hadn't had much for dinner, I was hoping breakfast might be a bit better and put my seat upright so I could order something to eat.
I decided to ask for English Breakfast tea and the fruit smoothie along with the fontina omelette. In hindsight, that was a terrible idea and I definitely should have gone with the pancakes - they're a bit harder to mess up.
Unfortunately, the omelette was crunchy and had very little flavor. I guess I should have known this would happen, but I was really hoping for something better than I received.
About 15 minutes after I finished eating, a flight attendant came by to offer bread or pastries from a basket. At this point, most of my plates had been cleared, so I just decided not to even bother.
Finally, it was time to prepare for landing. I noticed that the flight attendants did not bother to return jackets to the passengers, which had been put in a coat closet at the front of the cabin before takeoff, so we all had to hustle to the front of the airplane in order to get our coats before de-planing.
Overall, this flight was pretty disappointing as far as I'm concerned. The food was awful and the service was pretty bad as well. The flight attendants screwed up the food and really weren't around much, which is so opposite of any "good" First class experience. I had a similar experience with Club World, in which I'd really rather fly anything but British Airways to London. I think part of this is due to the very old 747 that usually operates on this route. Had we been able to book the A380, at least the cabin would be newer and nicer and that might make the entire experience a bit more palatable.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.