How does BA First Class really compare to Emirates or Etihad? (Part 2)

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This is part two of my review of British Airways First Class between Beijing and London.  Part 1 (click here) looks at boarding, the seat, IFE and bedding.  Part 2 focusses on food and drink.


Emirates currently offers Dom Perignon 2006 in First Class.

British Airways has served Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle for some time now.  This comes in a particularly attractive bottle which may be why it was chosen.  At £110 per bottle (Oddbins price) it is only £20 cheaper than Dom Perignon.

In general, I find this a decent choice and definitely a notch ahead of Etihad.  The Billecart-Salmon served by Etihad in the First Class Apartment is very downmarket by comparison, at £40 in the shops.  The NV Rose served by Etihad is a little pricier at around £60.

BA also offers a British sparkling wine, Bolney Estate, which is cheap – £28 – but a nice local touch.  I was, for example, surprised by how little Japanese whisky was available on my two JAL flights over Easter.

The white and red wines are pathetic in terms of value.  I put the list through Google and the average UK retail price of the bottles on offer was £10 – £15.  Whilst I accept that price and taste are not correlated, especially given the impact of altitude on taste, this is embarassingly cheap for a First Class selection.

A typical Emirates First Class wine, such as the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2013, is nearer £25-£30.  Some, such as The Mascot 2009, a Sauvignon Blanc, are nearer the £90 – £100 mark.  The Etihad First Class selection is also pathetic and comes in at around £15 at supermarket prices.

Whilst the Grand Siecle is fully acceptable, the rest of the list does not cut it.  The same goes for Etihad, however.  Take Emirates if you’re looking for a First Class wine experience.

The on-board bar

There isn’t one.  This is British Airways.

That said, I find that I tend not to use on-board bars when travelling in First Class.  I’m not sure why – sometimes it is because I can’t bring myself to walk all the way through Business Class, although on Etihad it is between Business and First on the A380.


The BA First dining concept is, in theory, ‘dine on demand’.  In reality most people eat at the time suggested by the crew, and I don’t think that I have ever not done this.  I don’t know if you are likely to get a better meal or a worse meal if yours is prepared separately from the rest.

There was no amuse bouche as we flew a couple of days before it was brought back.  You would get one if you flew BA First Class today.  You will be searching in vain for an Etihad-style ‘palate cleanser’ between courses though.

The lunch menu was, for starters:

Grill prawns and mango salsa with wasabi dressing

Morel mushroom risotto with balsamic glaze and Parmesan cheese

Cream of leek and potato soup with bacon julienne or potato chip garnish

Fresh salad leaves with vinaigrette or Thousand Island dressing

Don’t go looking for caviar here.  I went for the prawns and mango salsa.  I expected it to have a bit of a kick to it but it was surprisingly bland.  There had been an attempt at ‘fancy’ presentation though. The accompanying bread was dry.

British Airways First Class food drink review

There were five main course options:

Pan-seared fillet of beef with green peppercorn sauce, grilled asparagus and potatoes au gratin

Seared cod with saffron sauce, beetroot and sour cream and chive mashed potatoes

Tea-smoked duck breast with light soy and ginger sauce, steamed rice and mixed Asian vegetables

Pasta arrabiata

Salad of marinated char-grilled chicken with tabbouleh and hummus

I took the fish.  This was, to be honest, very good.  The fish was moist and the mashed potatoes were very hot and creamy, almost identical to the mash I had in Etihad First.

British Airways First Class food drink review

There were two dessert options, plus a cheese plate:

Opera cake with toffee sauce

Warm apple-filled crepes with vanilla and cinnamon sauce

I took the crepes.  These were not warm enough but had a good consistency – I thought they might be too soggy but they came out OK.

British Airways First Class food drink review

For comparison, Emirates – with an identical 14 seat cabin – had seven appetisers vs BA’s four, six mains vs BA’s five and four desserts vs BA’s two.  Etihad is 4 / 5 /4 but you can’t really compare because the on-board chef will make you anything you want if he’s got the ingredients.

In terms of food quality and presentation, Emirates beats BA.  Etihad beats BA in terms of presentation although, if I’m honest, the quality was not much better.

BA scores points for the Wedgwood crockery used, although it is nowhere near as stunning as that used by Etihad or Emirates.

The knives and forks used were embarrassingly poor.  BA branded, they looked incredibly old and cheap and gave the impression that you should be lucky they even matched.

There is a second ‘light meal’ served nearer landing.   The second meal had fewer choices and smaller portions.  The three starter options included a duck salad, spring rolls or, erm, plain salad leaves (the duck salad without the duck?) with dressing – I took the spring rolls:

British Airways First Class food drink review

There were four main options – I took the dim sum selection:

British Airways First Class food drink review

and two desserts, although I don’t really call ‘a selection of biscuits’ a serious First Class dessert – unless they had an Orange Jacobs Club, which I doubt!  I went for the ‘double chocolate cake with raspberry coulis’:

British Airways First Class food drink review

It was all about as average as it looks in the pictures.

The crew

British Airways crews can be very variable, as most regular flyers know.  As I mentioned earlier, this crew did well although they did disappear for substantial lengths of time – I wrote in my notes that I didn’t see a single person for the length of Bridget Jones’s Baby …..


British Airways First Class cannot even begin to compare with Emirates or Etihad in most areas.  Where it scores best is on food (vs Etihad), drink (vs Etihad), number of seats (vs Emirates) and general ambience, where I do think BA does well.  There is a feeling of ‘style’ which the other airlines miss, and this has been ramped up even further on the new Boeing 787 aircraft.

When it comes to wi-fi, showers, on-board bars, range of IFE, screen size etc then British Airways First Class just cannot compete.

Next week …. I am flying Lufthansa First Class for the first time in three years.  Whilst the Middle Eastern airlines are masters of hype, Air France, SWISS and Lufthansa actually lead the way in terms of First Class quality.  Let’s see if Lufthansa can keep up their usual standards.

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How does BA First Class really compare to Emirates or Etihad? (Part 1)
Important dates for your diary - offers about to close which you shouldn't miss (June '17)

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  1. Tom C says:

    Hi All, flew BA First for the first time around a month ago, LHR-LAS. I couldn’t get my first choice of dessert, some ice cream!? Again, for the lighter meal, I couldn’t get my first choice!? Is this the norm. I’ve experienced this in Club before but expected to always get my first choice on this flight. Is it worth complaining or do I just suck it up? Thanks

    • Kinkell says:

      Did you not get an email/ check MMB which will allow you to choose your meal? Done this on several flights. Always from LON, doesn’t seem to be available on flights coming home..

      • Genghis says:

        But I’ve never been able to choose dessert or the lighter meal?

      • Tom C says:

        Yes I did get that option. That was only for the main meal, not the light meal. Maybe I was being naive to think that they wouldn’t run out of Ice Cream!?

    • Adrian says:

      Tom, I had a similar F experience, again no ice cream (same route) so they clearly don’t load much and the food generally was poor, the worst thing was stale/dry bread. I phoned “you first” and they gave me 10,000 avios so you have nothing to lose, but that appears to be their limit so I wouldn’t be expecting more than that.

  2. Interesting review. I found my first First experience in January to be very good, though I’ve never flown in any other premium cabin before besides CW on the outbound.

    Honestly, I thought it was great. I thought the food was reasonably good, and the service was really wonderful. I’m not ‘into’ wine enough to care too much how much the bottle costs, as long as it tastes good I’m happy.

    The biggest selling point for me is the extra space. I’m a big guy and find long haul in economy uncomfortable. I can deal with the outbound day flight, but my recent return in Virgin’s economy cabin from MCO was just awful. I think for a flight as long as to SJC (which I’m doing next year in First as a redemption) I’d be hitting the point where paying for business class would be an aim.

    • Hi
      Am curious to learn why you chose CW outbound and F return? Considering similar myself but thinking F outbound more appealing due to Concorde lounge access etc? Thanks

      • Genghis says:

        If you only do F on one leg, I’d recommend the outbound.
        – the Wing use at T5 (if not Gold)
        – CCR access and can book Elemis spa treatments at t-28 days
        – food and service seem to be better ex-UK
        – greater propensity to have a drink (and enjoy the LPGS / JW Blue) as you’re going on holiday as opposed to going home (and as I do going straight to work).

  3. David S says:

    Having flown first class on BA, Emirates, Etihad and a recent op-up at gate for the SYD-DOH sector (Thanks Qatar:)) I can honestly say, Etihad for the seat/ apartment, Qatar for food and drink (caviar with a glass of Krug) and proper dine on demand although Etihad was not too far behind, Etihad for on ground services, BA /Qatar/Etihad tied for service in air.
    Would not pay for BA first but will use them to get rid of my 2 for 1 voucher. Agree probably best business class seat in First.

  4. Dave R says:

    “Don’t go looking for caviar here”

    Of the 4 flights I have taken in BA F, caviar has been on offer twice.

    • Odd. I must be just unlucky, no sign on the 3 I’ve done in the last year.

      • Roman says:

        They used to have caviar on LHR-DME – was discontinued a few years ago as well though.

    • Havent seen caviar in 25 years ! I once flew AA DFW to LHR in horrible leather seats on DC10. The only memorable element was the ice sculpture they had in a trolley from which they served caviar and ice cold vodka……fabulous.

  5. “I can’t bring myself to walk all the way through Business Class”

    Taking #firstworldproblems to extremes!

    • To be honest, it was more that I was on my own and sitting in the bar on my own is no better than being in my seat on my own.

      • Fully agree! And the CW reps will question you why are you here until you tell them in F. Then you are treated like royalty…

  6. Henry says:

    Having flown F in each of the three airlines mentioned several times over the last 12 months, I fully agree with your conclusion that BA isn’t even close.

    What BA does have is geographical convenience – if you’ve got a reasonably long westbound flight, I wouldn’t add multiple hours onto my route to fly via the middle east (if they would even sell me a connecting itinerary like that).

    That said, the red wine is the biggest letdown for me – on an EK F flight from ICN to DXB last August, I was served a bottle of Amuse Bouche 2011 (there was only 1 other passenger in F, so I do mean I was served the bottle). It was absolutely stunning – and I was gutted to find that it’s >£200 per bottle as I fully planned to buy a case. Unfortunately that’s more than I would pay even for whiskey that’ll last me much longer than a bottle of wine!

    That’s before I even get started on the fact that I asked for a glass of Henessy Paradis, and they were happy to leave the bottle with me… stunningly good service, especially since I thought they had removed the Paradis from the in-flight offering.

  7. I think the first class experience vanishes when it comes to food. Simply poor in my experience and it looks awful. True first need retraunst style fine dining and or silver service. It’s ok on the whole but it’s not fine dining

  8. Alex W says:

    I very much value the ability to “dine on demand”. I cannot stand being told when I am allowed to eat, and by extension, when I am allowed to go to sleep. If that freedom is taken away it can have a real impact on how long it takes to recover from the jet lag. Also, maybe I want to maximise the lounge before the flight and am too full when they want to serve the food!

    • Talay says:

      Always like the Etihad dine on demand but again in the their (IMHO understaffed A380s) this can be a bit of a double edged sword.

      Order straight away and it can arrive too fast but ask later and you can wait so long that you lose time to sleep on a circa 7 hour flight.

      Or you get overcooked beef as per a recent flight, my thinking that they “thought ahead” and cooked stuff they assumed people would order to shave time when orders actually came in.

      This just added to my suspicion that they are understaffed and cutting corners.

  9. Not sure if mentioned before but currently BA are offering free upgrades to First on certain routes valid on bookings made by 25 June 2017 and completed by 3 September 2017.

  10. Did F to SYD this week;

    Concorde lounge, the food and drink have always been to a good standard, The service of the staff is erratic. Was amused by the businessman in a booth who sat down and ordered 2 starters and 2 mains – he clearly knew what the portions size was going to be. But when they brought his 2 starters out on 2 plates, he scraped one meal from one plate onto another and handed the plate back to the waiter. Hmm.

    That said, the Qantas Business Lounge at SIN beats even LHR Concorde Lounge (just my opinion) with great quality food, really helpful staff and really nice showers (the BA showers at LHR have the feel of the NHS to them, just lack the smell of disinfectant).

    The 787 F seat is great, really nice leather and a big clear TV. The 777 can be old and a bit worn out. On this weeks flight had to ask the crew to clean the seat before sat down on it, covered in crumbs and no way had been cleaned. The 777 window blinds are awesome and i don’t get bored of them, shame they didn’t keep them on the newer aircraft.

    The cabin crew make or break the experience and i have had a lot of great crews. But on the LHR – SIN flight, i was told to turn right as i got on the plane (umm, no it’ll be be to the left, do you know how many points i just used?!), not escorted to seat and not welcomed. After an initial set up it seems they try to operate the F cabin with one crew member during meal service (this has happened on last 3 flights), this means one crew member having to shuttle back and forth trying an attempt at silver service – its slow and mistakes happen. As soon as service is done the crew member goes on rest and someone else comes into cover. With CX in F there was 2 crew for 6 pax! and a very personal level of service, and when crew went on rest the Cabin Service Manager covered F.

    Crew on the SIN – SYD were excellent, and one of the crew admitted they were a bit bored as everyone in F and CW were asleep and they didn’t have much to do.

    Food – noticeable improvement this week, although they still seem to load the minimal amount so the one blueberry pancake was gone, and the one prawn curry was gone. However the smoked salmon and poached egg was excellent. On recent KUL flight i was given lobster (impressed) with what seemed a packet of sweet potato crisps served on the plate followed by ice cream which was the size and consistency of a golf ball (the crew member actually apologised and offered another desert once everyone else had ordered).

    The withered flower in the F toilet had returned, perhaps a metaphor there somewhere.

    • You did well getting all the way to SYD in F. I’ve booked our first F flight from LHR-SIN for next May. Stopping in SIN for 5 days and looking forward to our business class flight with Singapore Airlines from SIN-BNE.

      • I’m in Brisbane at the moment, weather is like summer in Scotland!

        • Wondering says:

          you do realise it is winter (there) ?

          • Yeah, I prefer the 20 degree heat in winter to the 40 degree heat of summer. But every city is different, lot wetter n colder in Sydney.

  11. Jamie says:

    I’m flying on emirates business from lhr to dxb then from dxb to Mel. Would I get PJ’s on that flight? I’ll be leaving London at 7:40pm and arriving 5am in dxb, then leaving dxb at 8am to head to Melbourne.

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