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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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Comments (66)

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Jack says:

      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.

      • Joe says:

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

        • Jack says:

          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…)

      • Simon says:

        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 🙂 )

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Duncan says:

    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.

    • Joe says:

      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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Rob says:

      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.

    • Paul says:

      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.

  • Andy says:

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

    Taking #firstworldproblems to extremes!

    • Rob says:

      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.

      • PAL says:

        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…

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