Good Advice Tried and Tested

British Airways B777-200 First

04/10/2012

Check-in British Airways flies daily between London and Abu Dhabi, with the service continuing onto Muscat. I arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Terminal 1 at 0030 for my return flight BA0072 departing at 0245 (for the outbound leg in Club World click here), and passed through the initial baggage screening at the entrance to the terminal, before heading for the Club World / First check-in area.

I had already been checked in online, and was travelling with hand luggage only, but needed to visit the counter briefly to pick up a voucher for the third party lounge BA uses at this airport.

The lounge As with the outbound flight I was travelling on a press trip with BA, and we were met by a member of ground staff who escorted us through passport check and across to the Al Dhabi lounge which BA uses along with other carriers.

Up until around six months ago the carrier was using a smaller lounge in the terminal, but moved into the Al Dhabi facility (formerly a Gulf Air lounge, and next to the airside Airport Hotel) following recent expansion and refurbishment.

The lounge has a muted décor, with touches of Middle East design including wooden partitions in geometric designs. To the left of reception (where there is a counter offering dates and Arabic coffee) is a business centre with PCs, a TV and a printer, and past this is a seating area and children’s area.

To the right of reception guests go through to a seating area, with a corridor off to the left with toilets and four shower cubicles. Past this room is a second seating area, with hot and cold self-service food counters.

I had recently eaten so didn’t try any of the dishes, but there was a good selection, including a beetroot salad, and a hot chicken dish in peppercorn sauce. Past this room is a final seating area and manned bar. Wifi is free throughout the lounge.

The lounge is functional and has plenty of space, but it’s not a patch on BA’s galleries at Heathrow, and there is also no distinction made between business and first class passengers.

Boarding Boarding was called at 0200, so we headed to gate 9, where we passed through a second security check (shoes off, but laptops and liquids were allowed to remain in bags). Boarding commenced for premium passengers at 0210.

Once on board I placed my luggage and coat in the overhead locker (I was subsequently asked if I wanted my coat to be hung up), and was offered pyjamas (large or medium), an amenity kit, drinks including dates and Arabic coffee, a bottle of water, and a selection of newspapers (I had already taken a copy of The Independent from next to seat 1K where I was sitting).

The captain informed us that we would be taking off on time, and that he would “endeavour to get us back on schedule”, although he added that there were forecasts of early morning freezing fog in London.

The seat We had originally been scheduled to sample BA’s new First product on this route (as it had been present on the outbound flight), but snowfall over the weekend had resulted in aircraft changes, so our B777-200 aircraft had the old First product. The London-Abu Dhabi route does feature the new First on occasions, but it is not yet guaranteed on the route.

The configuration of the new First will be the same as the old product on this aircraft – four rows of an angled 1-2-1 layout. There seems little point in going into too much detail on the features of the seat as it will soon disappear from service, but not having travelled in BA’s First (either new or old), what I did like was the larger, more solid table compared to Club World (large enough to have an iPad positioned at the back and still have space for food and drink), and the two additional storage spaces for shoes, the Anya Hindmarch amenity kit, etc.

BA says the new First product has 55-60 per cent more personal space than the old seat, but I found there was plenty of space to lie out later in the flight in the old seat. I am however six foot tall and skinny, so perhaps the increased width of the new seat will be more appreciated by other body types.

The B777-200 we were flying on features the old loop IFE system in First, and is due to have a complete refit, with new World Traveller and World Traveller Plus seats, the new First, and the new Thales IFE system installed throughout.

Until then though, First passengers are offered iPads to compensate for the tiny IFE screen and loop system. I had known in advance this was the case, and requested one as soon as we had taken off, as did the passenger across the aisle from me when he saw mine. I didn’t see crew offering them to passengers without prompting, but then this is a night flight so most travellers were looking to sleep rather than get their movie fix like myself.

Where to sit? I was sat in seat 1K to the right of the first row as you look forward – unless you are travelling with a companion I would choose one of the single seats on either side of the aircraft as they offer more privacy, and there is a ledge by the windows where you can place smaller items like your mobile phone and wallet.

First was completely full on this flight (although admittedly seven of the 14 seats were taken up by our group), and there was a couple of kids in the back row of the cabin, so my immediate reaction was to be happy to be at the front. A travelling partner was in seat 2A closer to where they were seated though, and said he heard no noise from them all flight.

For seatplan of this B777-200 aircraft, click here.

The flight After the seatbelt sign had gone off I visited the toilet, and on my way back to my seat was asked if I wanted my bed to be made up. I declined as I wanted to watch a film, but did ask for a duvet and pillow. I was also asked if I wanted to eat, but opted to just have a tea (I was asked if I wanted a full pot or just a cup), and a packet of crisps to snack on.

For those of you who are interested though, here is the full menu for my flight:

Starters

  • Mixed seafood platter served with flat leaf parsley and a dill and olive oil vinaigrette
  • Parsnip soup with herbs
  • Fresh salad leaves with your choice of classic vinaigrette or creamy fresh herb dressing

Mains

  • Barbeque duck roll with steamed rice and vegetables
  • Balsamic roast beef with mashed potatoes and ratatouille
  • Spaghetti served with chunky tomato sauce
  • Salad of sliced smoked breast of chicken, beef cervelat, Cheddar, Emmenthal and curry mayonnaise with mixed lettuce and tomato

Bistro selection

  • Hot chocolate with warm chocolate chip cookies
  • A selection of biscuits
  • A selection of cheese and fruit

Dessert

  • Triple chocolate mousse dome with mango, kiwi and strawberry
  • Cheese plate (Brie, Emmenthal and Gouda)
  • Fresh fruit

Wines and champagnes listed in the menu were:

Champagne

  • Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle

Whites

  • Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2008, Jean-Marc Brocard, Burgundy
  • Le Soula Blanc 2007, VDP Des Cotes Catalanes
  • McWilliam’s Lovedale Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley

Reds

  • Chateau Canon 2004, Saint-Emillion 1er Grand Cri Classe, Bordeaux
  • Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru 2008, Pierre Andre, Burgundy
  • Howard Park Scotsdale Shiraz 2009, Frankland River

Dessert

  • Gewurztraminer De Rorschwihr Vendages Tardives 2005, Domaine Rolly-Gassmann, Alsace
  • Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port

The menus are presented in smart navy blue (food) and burgundy (wines) booklets, both featuring the cartoon image of a butler carrying a tray by Fougasse on the front.

I watched the excellent (although also very violent in places) Drive on the iPad, and by the end was beginning to ask myself if there’s really any need for airlines to offer seatback IFE systems anymore. The iPad was simple to use, clear to watch, didn’t crash once, and there was space for around a dozen films, and various TV programmes and music choices. I guess having the fixed IFE means there is more space to spread out on the table, but I was able to have a pot and cup of tea, and later a plate of fresh fruit in front of me with the iPad comfortably propped up by a cover/stand behind this. Noise cancelling headphones were supplied.

Having watched the film I decided to get some rest, and returning from the toilet I was once again asked without  prompting whether I’d like my bed made up. I thought this was impressive as I am pretty sure I was the only person still awake in the cabin, but staff were still alert to that fact I might want assistance during the flight.

I slept for a couple of hours until around 0500 (UK time), around 90 minutes before landing, and when I got up once again staff were alert and asked me if I would like anything to eat. I chose to have a plate of fruit, some yoghurt, one of BA’s “energising fruit smoothies” and another pot of tea – other choices on the menu were:

  • Chilled fruit juice
  • A selection of cereals
  • Breakfast pastries and rolls
  • Toasted chicken masala sandwich with apple and fresh mint relish
  • Breakfast grill of scrambled eggs, crispy veal bacon, sautéed mushroom, grilled tomato and spinach and potato cake
  • Mixed herb omelette
  • Waffles with caramelised banana

At the bottom of the breakfast menu it also notes that alternatively “You can enjoy a quick continental breakfast to maximise your sleep time onboard”.

I watched a couple of TV programmes before the iPad was collected at around 0600. Those who had handed in their coats now had them hung on the front of their seats.

Arrival We landed at 0620 in foggy conditions, around 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and taxied to one of the C gates, before taking the shuttle to the main T5 terminal. Immigration was quiet – so much so that having originally queued up behind three people in the IRIS queue, I moved over to one of the manned desks and was through almost immediately.

I decided to go to the BA Galleries Arrivals facilities to have a shower, and was in the lounge by 0650. There was no queue for one of the shower pods, and when I was given my pod number I was also given a voucher for entry to the Concorde Breakfast Room within the lounge.

The shower itself was good with sufficient power, but I did notice that not only did one of the knobs in the shower come off as I twisted it, but also the controls for the radio by the door were missing, so it looks like the showers could do with more maintenance. I meant to point this out to the attendant but completely forgot.

After my shower I went to the Concorde Breakfast Room, taking with me a copy of the Financial Times. The room was fairly quiet, and I was served almost immediately. I ordered eggs benedict, and although it came a lot quicker than the same dish ordered in the Concorde Room on my outbound flight (click here for the review), on this occasion the sauce was dry and I left half of it.

Verdict Obviously it was a disappointment not to get to try the new First product, but the interim decision to offer iPads to passengers is a good one. The service throughout the flight was excellent – staff were understated but always available when needed.

Price Internet rates for a flexible First flight from London to Abu Dhabi in March (not including a Saturday-night stay) started from £5,425.

Contact ba.com

Mark Caswell