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Tried and Tested: British Airways B747-400 Mid J new First
Background We had flown down to Cape Town in BA's old First seating, but were lucky to find the new First on the return journey. To see pictures about the new First and to read our original news report on it from 2010, click here.
Check-in I had checked in online, selecting seats 5E and 5F (I was travelling with my wife). We arrived at Cape Town International Airport at 1830 for the 2015 departure on BA59, stopping only to be ripped off by the taxi driver who charged us double but offered me a blank receipt in case I “should find myself caught short”, meaning challenged by accounts over the outrageous price for the short journey to the airport.
The airport seemed quiet, although check-in made up for this by creating a shambles for the few passengers present. After ten minutes we checked in using the Club World counter. From there we went through immigration, then a very perfunctory security check.
The lounge This is a BA lounge, though open to all Oneworld passengers. You can’t miss it - you walk right past it just before you get to the shops. It’s larger than it looks, with one room, then a corridor where there are some bench seats, then a final room where the food and drink can be found.
I have no idea whether there was a problem with the drains or just a flatulent passenger, but the first room and the corridor were very smelly, so we found a far corner in the second room, and I enjoyed a Castle Beer and some Nik Naks which are very hard to find in the UK, but are available in the South African version in this lounge.
Ask for a wifi pass and you’ll be given the password and code – you get 50MB though they will give you a second voucher if you need it.
Boarding We left the lounge slightly early to do some shopping, then boarded with priority over other passengers before 2000. Once on board, we discovered that we had the new First. It’s completely random at the moment whether you do get it or not, but it was a welcome surprise.
We had only been in Cape Town a few days, and so the crew on this flight were the same as we had met on the way down, and so we chatted about our experiences over the previous 2/3 days. I thought they were a great crew and worked very hard on both the 12-hour journeys there and back.
It was interesting to see how the new First was greeted by the full cabin. The passenger in front of me in 4F asked the Cabin Services Director whether the seat was narrower, and was this because “they” had fitted in more seats. Meanwhile his partner complained about the lack of magazines, and a third passenger asked the flight attendants to find a copy of the latest Hello magazine.
My wife was in a happier frame of mind, mainly because she had taken the only copy of Tatler, and was drinking vintage champagne and saying how much she liked the new windows – a gimmick, since she had seen that the windows outside were unchanged on the way in, but far nicer to look at.
The cabin is restful on the eye, with dark upholstery and lighting in pale blue and gold, and more privacy so at first it might seem cramped but in fact you are more protected and I think there is more room.
Each seat has its own wardrobe, which I like, allowing me to hang up my jacket without removing everything from the pockets, place my shoes in the bottom of it and, later, once I had been given the First sleep suit, the option of hanging my shirt and trousers there, though in the event they were hung in the normal wardrobe in the galley.
Very strangely, the Anya Hindmarch amenity bags had not made it to the plane, so although the staff could supply certain items – including the ones I wanted – eyemask and ear plugs- the rest of the items that would have been in the bag were not available. It didn’t bother me on this trip since I was travelling only with hand luggage and so had my own toiletry kit, but it’s not a great thing when they are forgotten in this way.
The seat It’s the second time I’ve reviewed the new First. For the earlier review, please click here.
To repeat a little of that review, I know that compared to some of the “super suites” that are available in first class, BA’s “new” First has been a disappointment to some, but for me, it’s a big improvement on what was there before and ticks the boxes of comfortable for sitting, great for sleeping, with a decent table for working at and in-seat power.
The design is easier on the eye than the old one, and seems to give you much more room, not just for sitting, but for sleeping as well. The IFE screen is a good size, and the headphones work well.
That said, there isn’t a lot of storage space compared with other seats. You can jam a few extra magazines in the rack where the BA Highlife magazine is found, and inside the wardrobe there is the space mentioned earlier, but other than that, you have to get things out of the overhead locker. I didn’t see any evidence of the iPads that the flight attendants have on some flights.
The seat In the past I’ve been quite strong about which seats are better than others in First, but they all seem pretty good to me. We were in row 5 in the centre, obviously best if you’re in a couple (if that's the right way of putting it), though with the screen between the seats it’s easy to screen out someone who you are not travelling with. That said my wife thought the noise from the galley was annoying and so would choose 4E and 4F next time.
The flight take off was on schedule, though I wasn’t impressed that a passenger worked on their laptop openly right the way through both the safety demonstration and take off. If electronic devices aren’t a risk and you don’t need to view the safety video, then apply it to Club World, premium economy and economy as well.
After take off the flight attendants came round to take the food and drink orders. The food was very south Africa-based – so applause for that considering the route (as was the wine list). I’ll list the food first, then the drinks, please skip through if this is of no interest.
- Traditional air-dried springbok loin carpaccio with citrus fruit compote
- Vegetable bobotie with tomato, onion and coriander with sambal and fruit chutne
- Baby carrot cream soup, fresh salad leaves with a choice of herb mustard vinaigrette or sour cream dressing.
- Grilled fillet of Karoo beef in a Shiraz wine sauce with green beans, potatoes au gratin and seared fennel;
- Braised linefish fillet with root vegetable ragout and herbed risotto;
- Corn fed breast of chicken filled with mango mousse in a light curry cream sauce with Moroccan lentil couscous and mange-tout;
- Smoked kasseler with Madagascar peppercorn crust and an apple, celery and walnut salad with a light yoghurt dressing.
(There was also a Bistro selection for those in a rush, with Vermicelli pasta with tomato concassee and fresh basil sauce, or a warm bacon roll)
- Chocolate nougat cake with orange sauce
- blueberry and apple lattice tart with blueberry compote, mascarpone and vanilla
- Champagne: Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle
- White wines: Meursault Les Clous 2008, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Burgundy, France; Prinz Von Hessen Dachsfilet Riesling Qualitatswein 2008, Rheingau; Eagle’s Nest Viognier 2010, Constantia, South Africa
- Red wines: Chateau Larrivet Haut Brion 2005, Pessac Leognanm Bordeaux; Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2010, Elgin, South Africa; Mullineux Syrah 2009, Swartland, South AFrica
- Dessert wines: Vin de Constance 2006, Constantia, South Africa; Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port
After the meal I asked for the bed to be made up which it was, a blanket covering the fully reclined seat making it into a bed, and a duvet placing on top. I was given a bottle of water, ear plugs and eye mask (normally these would have been in the amenity bag) and then went to sleep for seven hours. There was a fair amount of turbulence in the night, I was told later, but I didn’t really wake for it.
There was a good choice for breakfast, although I wasn’t particularly hungry and just had some juice and tea, and a bit of toast. The full choice was:
- fruit juice, smoothie (mixed berry)
- yoghurts, cereals, fruit appetiser
- full English breakfast
- mushroom omelette with potato cheese cake and creamed spinach
- warm pancake with berry compote and lemon mascarpone cream.
- teas: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Mint Humbug, Honecomb Camomile, Red Berry Fool and Jasmine Pearls
Arrival We arrived on time at Satellite B and were quickly off the plane. This was the Tuesday morning four days before the Olympics, and suddenly we seemed to be part of a very large crowd, so I was worried about immigration, but most of these seemed to be transferring passengers and we were quickly thorough immigration.
Verdict I think this is an excellent product with very good service on this flight. Only two small points: the use of a laptop through take off and the lack of amenity bags, otherwise, all good.