For the last portion of my review trip, I flew British Airways’ Airbus A380 first class on the eight hour flight from London to Chicago. While I recently flew British Airways’ “new” 777 first class, I was looking forward to checking out the carrier’s A380 first class for the first time in roughly a decade.
My British Airways A380 first class flight can best be described as pleasant — the cabin was spacious, the crew was friendly, the food and drinks were tasty, I appreciated the free Wi-Fi, and the amenities were good as well.
That being said, this doesn’t rank among the world’s best first class products. While the service was friendly, it wasn’t at all customized, and felt more like what you’d expect in business class than first class. Furthermore, the A380 cabin is definitely in need of a refresh, with the outdated entertainment system most needing replacing.
As far as I’m concerned, this British Airways first class flight was good enough, which is all it needs to be for British Airways. As I always say, the airport dominates slot controlled Heathrow, so British Airways doesn’t really have to compete with product, at least for those traveling to or from London. Let’s get into the review…
How I booked my British Airways first class ticket
I booked my entire journey from Jeddah to Chicago (via Abu Dhabi and London) as a single award using American AAdvantage miles. Specifically, I booked the following for 115,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $323.73 in taxes and fees (with the Jeddah to Abu Dhabi segment in business class, and the Abu Dhabi to London to Chicago segments in first class):
12/04 EY330 Jeddah to Abu Dhabi departing 2:35AM arriving 6:20AM
12/04 EY17 Abu Dhabi to London departing 2:05PM arriving 6:10PM
12/05 BA295 London to Chicago departing 11:00AM arriving 1:55PM
That’s a pretty great use of American AAdvantage miles, if you ask me. Furthermore, while there were carrier imposed surcharges on this award, they were much cheaper than if you were exclusively booking an award on British Airways across the Atlantic.
British Airways first class lounge & boarding
In previous installments I reviewed the British Airways Concorde Room and British Airways Galleries First Lounge. The lounges are pleasant places to pass some time, but definitely don’t rank among the best first class lounges and best oneworld Emerald lounges out there (respectively).
My flight was scheduled to depart from Heathrow Terminal 5C, which required taking the train two stops to the furthest pier. Specifically, my flight was departing from gate C65.
I loved getting a good view of the jet from the gate — while this plane could use a wash, I do like British Airways’ livery, and find it to be timeless.
While my boarding pass indicated that boarding was scheduled to start at 10AM, in reality the crew only showed up at 10:05AM, and boarding started at 10:20AM. First class was invited to board first, so I managed to be the first onboard.
British Airways A380 first class cabin & seats
While most airlines have premium cabins on the upper deck of the Airbus A380, British Airways first class is at the front of the lower deck, so I took the jet bridge to the first door on the lower deck. As I arrived at the door, the crew was caught off guard that boarding had started, and asked passengers to wait in the jet bridge for about five minutes.
One interesting thing is that I heard the cabin manager announce to the crew what the load was. This was an empty flight — there were seven seats occupied in first class (out of 14), 31 seats occupied in business class (out of 97), 36 seats occupied in premium economy (out or 55), and 99 seats occupied in economy (out of 303).
Once onboard, I turned right into the 14-seat first class cabin, which is spread across four rows, in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are three rows of center seats and four rows of window seats. While there’s in theory something nice about having first class on the upper deck, you definitely notice how much wider the cabin is on the lower deck, so that has merit as well.
Those traveling with someone may prefer to select a pair of center seats, so that you can actually enjoy the flight together. There’s a privacy partition between the center seats, but that can be raised or lowered at will, depending on whether you’re traveling with the person seated next to you.
Meanwhile if you’re traveling alone, you’ll definitely want to select one of the window seats if possible.
I assigned myself seat 3A, the seat on the left side in the third row. While there are no doors, British Airways’ A380 first class seat feels spacious and private, and the space allocated to each passenger is more than enough.
To the side of each seat is a large tray on which you can place things during the flight. This is also where the huge tray table extends from, which can easily be used for two people to dine face-to-face.
The footrest even doubles as an ottoman and has a seatbelt, so that you can dine with a travel companion, if you’d like.
To the side of the seat is an enclosed compartment. This can be used for storage, but also inside there is the (ancient) entertainment controller, two USB-A outlets, and one AC power outlet. I find the location of the power outlets to be awkward, since it can be hard to see down there, given how dark that cubby is.
Immediately in front of that is a panel where you can control the window and seat functions. In addition to being able to customize specific aspects of the seat, there’s a general knob you can turn to bring your seat fully upright, recline it fully, or anything in between.
I also like how British Airways has window shades in first class that you can raise or lower with the push of a button.
At the outside of the suite is a small closet, where you can hang clothes or store other small items.
The British Airways A380 overhead console has reading lights, though unfortunately there are no individual air nozzles.
As mentioned above, there are no doors in first class. However, the seats are staggered, and combined with the privacy partitions to the side of the seat, you could barely even see the person seated across from you.
Where does British Airways’ A380 first class hard product rank? I’d say it’s quite good. It’s not as good as the carrier’s “new” 777 first class, but to compare it to other carriers in Europe, it’s certainly better than Lufthansa’s first class on any aircraft.
British Airways first class amenities
British Airways has an impressive number of amenities in first class. For one, there were two pillows and a blanket waiting at each seat upon boarding. There’s additional bedding when you request turndown service, but those are just the basics for getting comfortable while relaxing.
There were also a pair of okay noise canceling headphones — they’re definitely not the best out there, but also not the worst.
Moments after settling in, I was presented with pajamas. I’m a fan of British Airways’ pajamas, though I definitely like the version from back in the day better (which had BA first class branding on the front).
I was also given some comfortable slippers.
Then there was a very well stocked amenity kit, which contained eyeshades, socks, earplugs, a dental kit, a pen, a comb, and a variety of products from Elemis, including lip balm, deodorant, shaving gel, lotion, and an exfoliant.
The friendly flight attendant taking care of me introduced herself shortly after boarding, as did the cabin manager. I was offered a pre-departure drink, and just asked for a sparkling water.
With everyone around me ordering champagne, the flight attendant checked in with me again later to make sure I didn’t want any champagne, and I gave in to the temptation, and figured I might as well have a glass. British Airways serves Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle in first class, which is very nice. I also appreciate the consistency, as this has been the carrier’s champagne for a long time (while other airlines change their selection frequently). I was even offered some warm nuts to go along with it.
Later on during boarding, I was offered a warm towel.
I was also presented with the menu and drink list for the flight.
There’s no shortage of amenities in British Airways first class, that’s for sure!
British Airways A380 first class entertainment & Wi-Fi
While I think the seat is otherwise good, British Airways’ A380 first class entertainment system is garbage. The monitor folded out from the front of the seat, and was outrageously wobbly. Even just at cruising altitude in smooth conditions, the screen would vibrate. On top of that, the screen wasn’t very big, wasn’t very high definition, and also wasn’t very responsive.
As far as entertainment options go, the system contained movies, TV shows, music, and games.
While the selection wasn’t as extensive as what you’d find on airlines like Emirates, it wasn’t the worst either, and had a fair number of options.
British Airways also has a pretty basic map feature, which I enjoyed keeping an eye on during the flight. Unfortunately British Airways elected not to offer tail cameras on the A380, which is something I always enjoy.
British Airways also offers Wi-Fi on its Airbus A380.
Wi-Fi is free in first class, and you can easily log in using your seat number and last name.
The pricing is otherwise fair, with plans based on how long you’d like to use Wi-Fi, with no data caps. Specifically:
- You can get a one hour messaging pass for £2.99, or a full flight messaging pass for £4.99
- You can get a one hour streaming pass for £4.99, a four hour streaming pass for £11.99, and a full flight streaming pass for £17.99
That pricing is reasonable, and I found the speeds to be good all the way across the Atlantic.
British Airways A380 departure from London
At 10:50AM it was announced that boarding was complete, 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure time. Then at 10:55AM, the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us of our flight time of eight hours, and our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet. He stated that we were just waiting on some last minute cargo to be loaded, and should be underway soon.
20 minutes later, the captain was back on the PA to announce that loading of the cargo was complete, but we were waiting on ground staff to push us back. Then another 20 minutes later, he announced that the ground crew were struggling to close the panel that connects to power on the ground, and an engineer was there to work on that.
Fortunately that was resolved pretty quickly, and at 11:45AM we began our pushback, about 45 minutes behind schedule. Ultimately we lucked out, because British Airways’ A380s seem to be seriously struggling with reliability, with many flights being significantly delayed.
The safety video was screened as we pushed back, and it was my first time seeing this particular version on a plane (also featuring the new crew uniforms, as you can see).
Flight attendants have to be stationed in the aisles during the video to point out where the exits are. Funny enough, there were four flight attendants stationed in first class for this, presumably due to the height of the walls. So with only seven first class passengers, it was a better than 2:1 crew safety briefing to passenger ratio. Hah.
At 11:50AM we began our taxi. We made it to runway 27L within about 10 minutes, and then just had a short wait for takeoff.
We were cleared for takeoff at 12:05PM, and we had a powerful takeoff roll, presumably due to how empty the aircraft was. Our climb out was smooth, and the seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after takeoff.
British Airways first class lunch service
On this flight, lunch was served after takeoff, and then afternoon tea was served before landing. While you have the flexibility to dine when you’d like, I decided to eat shortly after takeoff. You can find the British Airways first class menu below.
You can find the British Airways first class drink list below.
Meal and drink orders had been taken on the ground, and the first round of drinks along with canapés were served about 20 minutes after takeoff. Rather than continuing with the Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle, I instead decided to mix things up and order the carrier’s featured English sparkling wine, which was the 2018 Hattingley Valley Blanc de Noirs Brut. It was decent, but I preferred the champagne.
The canapés that accompanied the drink included bresaola with melon, smoked salmon with cream cheese and cucumber, and red pepper roulade and goat cheese.
After the first round of drinks, there was a long pause in the service. On a daytime flight I don’t mind a leisurely service flow. However, it’s nice when you get the sense that it’s intentionally at a slow pace, which is to say that drink refills are offered, and the crew checks on you. However, in this case the crew seemed to disappear for nearly an hour, as the next course was served just under an hour later, 75 minutes after takeoff.
I ordered the carrot and ginger soup with a ricotta croquette, which was flavorful. It was also beautifully presented, with the flight attendant pouring the soup into the bowl at my seat. While I was offered a selection of bread, the bread really wasn’t worth the calories or carbs, as it tasted like cardboard.
Next up, I ordered the smoked salmon with wasabi dressing and avocado, which was served an additional 25 minutes later. Can I take a moment to acknowledge how nice this presentation was compared to the salmon appetizer I had on my last British Airways first class flight?
While I almost always order fish, I decided to mix it up this time, and ordered the pasta dish, which was ricotta ravioli with kale, asparagus, and peas.
Lastly for dessert, I had the chocolate yule log, which was decadent.
On balance, this was a very good meal. I appreciate just how large and flexible British Airways’ first class menu is. On this flight, the flavor of everything was good, as was the presentation. Now, admittedly British Airways doesn’t have the “frills” of first class meals on some other airlines — for example, unlike on Emirates, there’s no unlimited caviar (or caviar at all, for that matter). Still, I thought the food was very good.
British Airways A380 first class lavatories
Many airlines have very impressive first class lavatories on the Airbus A380. British Airways isn’t one of those airlines. Presumably that comes down to first class being on the lower deck, so there’s less space for amenities like this.
British Airways has two first class lavatories in the A380 first class cabin, with one on each side of the staircase.
For international first class, these are seriously unimpressive lavatories. In terms of amenities, they only had Elemis hand lotion and soap.
The other thing is that the lavatories weren’t in any way maintained during the flight, and toward the end of the flight looked like a mess. Heck, from the time of boarding, there was a roll of toilet paper just sitting on the counter, and that stayed there the entire flight.
Admittedly this is no different than US airlines, where flight attendants aren’t tasked with lavatory upkeep, so they become filthy. But it’s a contrast to flying with many top Asian carriers, where the lavatory is basically refreshed after each passenger.
British Airways A380 first class bed
After the meal, I asked to have my bed made, as I was hoping to get some rest. That was promptly taken care of. British Airways’ bedding is comfortable, and I find the sleeping surface to be cozy.
I fell asleep with just under five hours remaining to Chicago…
…and I woke up with around 90 minutes remaining, after getting over three hours of glorious sleep.
British Airways first class afternoon tea
About 75 minutes before landing, the pre-landing afternoon tea service began. You can find the menu below.
I’m a big fan of afternoon tea on British carriers (I mean, what’s not to love about a plate of delicious carbs?), though I feel like British Airways has cut back on this a bit compared to back in the day? The afternoon tea was served on a two-tiered plate.
The savory options were on the lower plate, and consisted of roast beef on brioche, smoked salmon with cream cheese on pumpernickel, and cucumber mint on black tramezzini bread. The sweet options were on the upper plate, and consisted of some sort of fruit cake plus a scone. This was all served with clotted cream and jam.
I ordered a cappuccino to accompany this, which oddly was served 15 minutes later, without any sort of an explanation. At that point I was done with the afternoon tea.
At the conclusion of this, I was also given a box of chocolates, which I believe is a special thing for the holidays.
British Airways first class service
The crew on this flight was genuinely well intentioned and friendly, much better than I experienced on my last British Airways first class flight. There was one flight attendant exclusively taking care of my aisle, and she was super nice. Furthermore, the cabin manager greeted each passenger upon boarding and said goodbye prior to deplaning.
Here’s the thing, though — there wasn’t anything “first class” about the service. The service felt very assembly line-esque, rather than attentive and personalized. For example, as I mentioned above, the cappuccino I ordered with the afternoon tea only showed up 15 minutes later, after I finished the meal, without so much as an explanation.
Similarly, the lavatory was just dirty throughout the flight, which is a far cry from the level of attention to detail you see on top airlines. In fairness, I think that’s not a job of the crews on British Airways, but it does lead to a lapse in the passenger experience.
Historically British Airways just hasn’t invested in training its crews specially for first class service. I believe that’s something the airline is now starting to do, which is a positive change, as far as I’m concerned.
I just think it’s important to be realistic about what good service on British Airways looks like. It’s more in line with what you’d expect on an American flight in first class when you get good service, rather than anything like what you’d get on Singapore Airlines, or even Air France or Lufthansa.
British Airways A380 arrival in Chicago
At 1:15PM Chicago time, the first officer was on the PA to announce that we were flying over Flint, and would be landing in around 40 minutes. It wasn’t a particularly nice day in Chicago, and there was quite some wind on approach.
We ended up touching down at Chicago O’Hare at 2PM. From there we had a roughly 10-minute taxi to our arrival gate at Terminal 5, where we pulled in next to an Aeromexico Boeing 737 MAX.
By the way, during the taxi in, the cabin manager announced that all phones would have to be turned off before entering the immigration hall. As I wrote about last year, that’s not actually a rule anymore, so I’m curious if he was reading off the script (and British Airways just has the wrong information), or if that’s something he was adding to the announcement?
I had a pleasant flight in British Airways’ A380 first class. On the plus side, the seats were comfortable, the amenities were good, the food and drinks were tasty, the service was well intentioned, and I appreciated the free Wi-Fi.
That being said, this still doesn’t compete with the top first class products out there. The entertainment screen was outdated and very wobbly, the service wasn’t very polished, and the bathrooms weren’t clean.
While I’d love to see British Airways invest a bit more in its first class product, ultimately the carrier’s product is good enough, given the market dominance at Heathrow. If you can get a good deal on British Airways first class (either with points or cash), it could be a good option across the Atlantic.
What’s your take on British Airways A380 first class?