Recently, I spent $75 to get a seat in British Airways' new and improved first class cabin from New York to London, and although my original flight was ash-canned, I did eventually get there. And to paraphrase the Beatles, man, I did not have a dreadful flight.
To quickly explain: I signed up for a British Airways-branded Chase Visa Card ($75 annual fee) and was awarded 100,000 bonus frequent flyer miles, enough to cover the 75,000 (one-way) required for a ride way in BA's newly-refreshed premier cabin. Heck, I don't fly much these days, and my 56-year-old posterior isn't as padded as it used to be, nor are my joints quite as supple, so $75 for a little comfort is just what the chiropractor ordered. (Note: that amazing bonus mile offer is no longer available; the best you can do currently is 30,000 miles).
Had I actually bought that seat? Well, honestly, on my salary and at my pay grade, that would have been unlikely. It would have cost several thousand dollars—more if I paid full freight, less if I had bought a heavily discounted fare.
As it turned out, that Iceland volcano had other plans for me, and my flight was canceled. My hopes of attending a reunion at my Oxford college, where I was a graduate student 30 years earlier, were vaporized.
But last week, I was invited as a guest of BA, in my capacity as an airfare/airline pundit, to give First Class another shot.
Most air travel these days, whether to the former USSR or to Bangor, can be pretty dreadful. But not in seat 3K on a BA 777.
No one is quite sure who (Flaubert? Einstein?) first said that “God is in the details” (it's also been said that the devil is in them too), but first class on most international airlines is already pretty fine, so the only way an airline can improve its premier product is by concentrating on the fine points.
And this, clearly, BA has done. The padding on the seats is plumper. The seats are 60 percent wider at the shoulders. The video screens are bigger (15 inches, about the size of my family's first black-and-white Philco). The cabin lighting is softer and prettier. The reading lights are brighter. The window shades are electronic. Each seat now comes with its own closet. The pillows are bigger. The bedsheets of a finer Egyptian cotton. The armrests disappear as the bed reclines to its fully-flat, fully-horizontal position, giving you even more room. The dedicated check-in areas are more exclusive—note the comfy easy chairs. The arrival and departure lounges are more luxurious. I particularly liked the terrace overlooking the bustle at Heathrow's Terminal 5.
BA was in strike mode when I flew (many of the cabin crew were "volunteers"), so catering was a bit handicapped; thus I can't say if they have improved the in-flight cuisine. I suspect they have, however (actually the substituted chicken tikka was quite good). I'll have to wait for my next first class adventure to try the amuse bouche, and to find out if the 2004 Tattinger Champagne, normally served in First, is better chilled, or the caviar fresher.
After all, I still have those 100,000 miles burning a hole in my Executive Club account, and maybe I will be around for my 40th college reunion. By then that volcano will be extinct. I hope.