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.

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.

Food

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 …..

Conclusion

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)
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Comments

  1. Talay says:

    On Etihad the other week I was told that they no longer provided amenity kits in business class for daytime flights. Whilst I see the logic in part, I fear the marginal savings do not amount to much.

    They also ran poorer wines than a few months ago, less cheese (only 2) than historically (3 or 4) and service on the A380 is poor when they are busy as I believe they are understaffed as a cost cutting exercise.

    Their head guy was leaving the week of my flight and though still very professional, you could see how he saw his product being diminished with no rational excuses for the downward service.

    As they don’t do first on my route from AUH to BKK I don’t use first on Etihad from LHR-AUH as at roughly £100/150 per hour more than business class, I simply don’t think it is worth it.

    What is abundantly clear to me is that with Etihad you are now buying the seat and some half decent service and you are not getting a cutting edge top of class delivery.

    Chauffeurs for Etihad are also very down market in recent years and not better than a decent local taxi in many respects.

    I think Etihad have had their time and they are now moving backwards.

    BA on my main routing is 8 abreast and no first so it isn’t even an option. Emirates is 2 x A380 plus other options but I am looking more and more at Qatar, though their prices are often much higher save for the (weak) UK based offers which are near 50% for couples only and thus useless for us.

    BA first on the 787 looks fantastic as does the new Qatar 4 seat configuration – but what happens if you are a family of 3 ?

  2. Jack Contin says:

    I cannot believe that anyone buys a revenue ticket for BA First given the price point and the evidently better competition. I tend to assume that the cabin is filled with redemption tickets and operational upgraders.

    What riles me is the complete absence of any premium non-alcoholic experience on British Airways. Flying in F you get the exact same non-alcoholic drink selection as in WT, WT+ and CW. Moreover, despite pages of detailed description of the wines available, non-alcoholic drinks are not even specified in the menu beyond “Soft drinks are available”. On the rare occasion I find myself in the First cabin, I make a point of going over this with the CSD, who is usually sympathetic. Contrast this with any middle eastern airline premium product and the astonishingly good selection of non-alcoholic drinks, often refreshingly made on board with fresh ingredients.

    • Genghis says:

      Good point on the soft drinks. BA could benefit from some better choices (not even involving fresh ingredients). I suggest Luscombe ginger beer and the elderflower drink served in the St Pancras Eurostar lounge (can’t remember the brand).

      • Kathy says:

        As a non-drinker I entirely agree! You can get really interesting soft drink options even in most chain pubs now. The days of just coke/lemonade/tonic/orange juice/tomato juice are long gone.

      • Cawston Press? I always take a can 🙂

        • Genghis says:

          That’s the one. I fill up my bag as much as possible. You can take the man out of the north but…

    • HAM76 says:

      I do. Flying to the West coast there aren’t that many alternatives that offer a better First product consistently; Lufthansa and SWISS, that’s it, I think. With other airlines there is always the risk of an equipment change and being seated in a product very different from what one expected. I consider 4500 € to be a fair price for BA First. I understand that the situation would be very different if my journey started in London.

      • Miguel says:

        +1

        Even starting in London, unless you book way, way in advance, once you factor in the positioning flight and the overnight at FRA (or else take the VERY early morning flight to make the midday connection to LAX/SFO), BA F is actually still worth it.

    • random says:

      Most of BA’s First class seats don’t compete with the middle east / east carriers though. How does BA First compare with United, Delta, Virgin?

  3. Genghis says:

    Some observations:
    – Non ex-UK food is never as good as ex-UK food. We experienced that at Easter.
    – Drinks are excellent, the LPGS and JW Blue (very smooth) are the premium choices but for other wines price isn’t necessarily an indicator of “drinkability”
    – the PJs / “sleeper suits” are decent and not just for fatsos like me. Mrs G wears hers around the house very often.
    – the deodorant stick in the amenity kit is rubbish quality
    – If on 380 use the upstairs J toilets for a bit more space

    • IanMacK says:

      Genghis
      Spot on – LPGS very nice, sometimes a marked difference in ex-UK vs ex-non-UK meal quality especially salad ??
      Deo stick is the first to get binned.
      My comments on sleep suits in Part 1
      BA has brought back amuse bouche but no sign of Drambuie return – and yet still features on the menu cards (also in J).
      I do think that BA F wine (as well as J wine) has slid down the scale over the last year or so.

      • The deo stick is handy for 1 night trips.

        • krys_k says:

          Maybe I had a malfunctioning deo stick, but the inside kept falling out so was useless.

          I thought the PJs were great and wear them on a cold winter night. I’m a slim Jim and they fit perfectly.

          JW Blue – massively Overpriced, but a real smooth beast, and free on the flight or Concorde Room so why not?

    • We got to use the upstairs bathrooms. I had been told that there is a rope to stop you using it but not on our flight. And the starboard one is even bigger than the port

    • Darren says:

      Had a very pleasant afternoon with my better half and a bottle of LPGS kindly offered by CSD while flying to the West Coast, very nice.

  4. Amtexfly says:

    Direct flights are a major plus point. I’d much rather have one 10-12 hour flight than two 5-7 hour flights.

    • Although for those not flying from LHR we’re stuck with a plane change anyway and avoiding LHR (esp when returning to the UK) is generally a positive thing, so connecting in AMS, HEL, DOH, DXB, etc not that big an issue.

  5. What about spirits?

    In particular bourbons.

    Thanks

  6. Sussex bantam says:

    Now I’m really worried – the large sleep suit fits me perfectly and I’m nowhere near 20stone ! I must be a really odd shape !!

  7. Brian says:

    Didn’t realise BA flew between Beijing and Tokyo… :)))

  8. Chris says:

    I’ve got a one way First Class redemption ticket to Jo’burg coming up in October (booked Iberia Business class coming back, as much lower tax and avios required). The flight is scheduled to be on a 747, and I am prepared for it to be a slight disappointment. Anyone have any experience?

    • Genghis says:

      More JNB flights are becoming 380. We booked J on 744 for Feb 18 back in Feb 17 but changed to 380 (notified by My Flights) a few weeks later

    • Kinkell says:

      Flew in F to JNB on 747 last year. 8 of us in cabin. Lovely crew, very attentive ,but not ‘in your face’. Sleep suit great, bed made up was comfy. Pot of tea offered middle of the night ( I was up) . I ws taken by the way it was served and positioned on the table( all handles at 45degrees for pouring and drinking) It was a lovely experience. Enjoy.

  9. Waribai says:

    Slightly OT. Looking to make use of my BA Amex offer of £100 off £500 before the deadline on Monday. We’ve got two of them. If the taxes on a flight for two come to £1000, will they let us split it over two cards? We are also using the companion voucher so don’t want to do two separate bookings.

    • Genghis says:

      Taxes have to be paid on “the” BAPP with a 241 per T&Cs (obviously de facto any Amex) but might be questioned if splitting over two cards. Worth a try though.

  10. Kathy says:

    Any reports on the ‘special’ meals on various airlines? I’ve recently discovered a dairy intolerance, so I wouldn’t be able to eat half of this menu. Although I’I not going to be flying BA First probably ever (planning a rare work trip and my flight budget just about gets me in economy!) I’ve noticed that most of the menus in reviews feature dairy heavily, and vegans and people with gluten intolerances must also face problems. I understand Rob and Anika are unlikely to ever order special meals but maybe a collection of reader reviews/comments could happen on a slow day?

    • Billy says:

      In BA First I was offered a choice of diabetic meals – no airline has done that before, and for dessert they has prepared a sugar free jelly with fruit – any other airline has simply presented a plate of fruit so I liked BA’s extra touch.

    • As a vegan, I’ve never had a problem on BA long haul. In Economy I think we’ve had the same cous cous/aubergine thing several times which is about as tasty as I could hope for vegan airline food in economy.

      When we flew in Club to California last month (best flight of my life!) the food was great on the way out, with dairy free spread and dairy free coffee creamer etc. No choice to be had but we were happy with what we were given and it was actually really tasty and nicely presented.

      The food on the way back was less delicious, I have to admit, but still OK. I think everything seems a bit more bleak on the way home!

      Would love to try First and see how it compares.

      The minor niggle I have is that the VGML is coded as vegetarian-vegan, and I think people sometimes think the two are interchangeable and crew don’t always realise this so they offered a few things that we couldn’t have.

      • Hi, might you be able to elaborate on your recent club flight to California? Am doing similar soon so genuinely curious, thanks

        • Hi Joe, was there something in particular you were interested to know about?

          We flew into SJC and back from LAX using an AmEx 241. We were going to San Francisco but no availability to SFO and I was keen the fly on the Dreamliner anyway so didn’t mind.

          Having never flown in a Premium cabin before I just thought the whole thing was wonderful. Have vowed to never fly economy again (not convinced that I will be able to maintain that vow…)

      • I had a terrible vegetarian meal in Club World coming back from Washington DC, just pasta with tomato sauce on it, I imagine it was exactly the same thing they served in economy.

        https://twitter.com/sjwood/status/797702293504323584

        Flew back BA First from San Diego and the vegetarian food was much better.

        One thing I never really understand about airlines, not just BA is even if there is something vegetarian on their menu often they’ll do you a different special meal, why not just give you the vegetarian option from their menu. Sometimes I’ve managed to do a swap when this has happened and the other option looks better but it depends on how many of each meal they’ve loaded.

    • Peter K says:

      +1 for more dietary specific reviews…like with the airport lounges reviews recently.

      I’m doing a club flight later this year and my wife and I are gluten intolerant and am happy to take photos and review it (as I mentioned to you by email a few weeks ago Rob 🙂 )

  11. Billy says:

    I find it extremely tacky to check how much a bottle of wine costs in the shops to see just how “First Class” it is so I am glad you later noted that there is often no correlation between taste and price. That said, I bet I would be upset if they opened a bottle of Jacobs Creek in First 😉

    I was extremely disappointed with the food in Emirates first, it was bad.

    I flew BA First last weekend and the service was just bizarre. And I just wish BA would be more consistent.

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