British Airways' new First Class offers a luxury flying experience like no other, says Ashwini Phadnis

There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the flight from Las Vegas to London. We had already flown on British Airways' Business and First Class to LA and this return leg of the journey on a Boeing 747-400 aircraft was meant for us to experience the airline's new First Class, which it has been rolling out on its flights throughout this year. The new First makes a regular appearance on the airline's flights to Tokyo, Mumbai, Delhi, Sydney, Singapore, Shanghai and New York.

While BA's Business Class wasn't really different from any other airline, the experience in BA's previous First Class cabin was much more comfortable – lots of space, completely reclining beds and a personal video. So what could the new First offer that would be better?

Lots as it turned out. No, there were no fancy gizmos or overbearing flight attendants. Instead, there was just understated elegance coupled with simplicity which made the in-flight experience extremely comfortable and private.

The new First experience starts even before your board your flight. Besides a dedicated check-in area and fast track security, one can also relax in one of British Airways' 60 dedicated lounges and 90 partner lounges worldwide. Some airport lounges like the Galleries Lounge at Heathrow's Terminal 5 also have a concierge service which helps you book theatre tickets or even change your flight timings. For the business oriented, there is a discreet boardroom to hold meetings and of course, a state-of-the-art spa for those who want to relax before a flight.

New First experience

To begin with, the new First does not have seats, it has suites. Given that each seat is much broader, wider, and longer it can easily be called a suite (we were told that the bed is 60 per cent wider at the shoulders than the previous version. It also uses the latest technology with a sprung diaphragm, rather than a layer of foam on a metal base, thus making it more comfortable).

Besides having its own wardrobe area with a shoe compartment and a place to hang your coat and keep your other belongings out of sight, each suite also has a double window equipped with an electronic blind to help control the amount of light that enters. Reclining in the suite, it is difficult to imagine that there are 13 other passengers enjoying the same amount of space in the new First.

Given the amount of space that each suite provides, it doesn't come as a surprise that the in-flight screen is also much bigger at 15-inches. Flyers also have the option of connecting up their own MP3 players to the screen.

This focus on comfort also extends to the other facilities on offer in the suite. It has two tables – a main table for your laptop that forms the main workspace and a side table on the arm of the suite on which you can keep your snacks. The main table also folds in half to become a writing desk (complete with a leather trim that adds a touch of elegance).

The new First also offers a turndown service where the cabin crew lays out a 200-thread count Egyptian cotton mattress and a 400-thread count duvet and pillow. Expected, one would say, given that this new cabin comes with a £100 million refurbishment price tag. While most of this money has been spent on making a flyer as comfortable as possible, some of it has also gone into continuing and improving the 90-year-old legacy of British Airways. So, the deep blue material used for the interiors is not only of high quality but is also mixed with white, silver and red to give a twist to the Union Flag's red, white and blue colours.

The interiors have been designed by the airline's in-house team of design experts in collaboration with two of Britain's design consultancies, Tangerine and Forpeople.

While enjoying the comfort of the suite, don't forget to look for the amenities kit. Apart from the comfy pajamas that were included even in the earlier kit, the wash bag designed by Anya Hindmarch in the new First contains toiletries by Britain's classic D.R. Harris & Co. For the uninitiated, D. R. Harris is an exclusive British brand which was established in 1790. The company has been supplying its products to royal households for over 150 years and has been accredited with two Royal Warrants. Your wash bag comes with a face cleanser enriched by milk of cucumber and rose extracts, facial spray, lip balm and the D. R. Harris Crystal Eye Gel made from cucumber and aloe vera extracts.

More than just a meal

In keeping with all this luxury, the in-flight menu too is something different. In the morning flyers, can expect a full English breakfast, while the afternoon tea service is inspired by the iconic London hotel – The Dorchester. On offer are finely cut sandwiches, cakes and teas from around the world. For dinner, there is a formal meal service served in fine bone china. And for those with light tummies, there are plenty of snacks to choose from and even a Bistro selection.

The new First also features an extensive bar service. Starting last month, the airline has invested in a new champagne and wine list. The first to be introduced is the Grand Siècle by Laurent-Perrier, also referred to as the jewel in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne crown. On our flight, we were also served quality single malts and only Blue Label whiskey.

Here again the focus is on detail, so the wines are selected to match the food that is served, the time of the flight and also its destination. So chances are that the wines that you will be served while flying from London to New York on a day flight will be different from those which will be on offer on a night flight from Las Vegas to London.

And lest we forget, the lighting in the First cabin changes at different times of the day – crisp and fresh in the morning, warm sunshine in the afternoon and subtle candlelight during the evening.

We couldn't have asked for anything more. The very best of British hospitality on the ground and in the air.

ashphadnis@thehindu.co.in

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Keywords: British Airways

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