This review is by regular contributor Ed.
As people reading the reviews I have done will no doubt have gathered by now, I very much enjoy flying. I end up positioning to various parts of the world in weird and wacky ways in order to fly on special flights. In order to get to Sao Paulo for Azul’s maiden A350 flight I had to become quite creative given just how high prices were. I managed to find an interesting routing to Brazil from the UK from American Airlines. It was possible to fly directly with British Airways in a Club Suite but it was cheaper to fly from Dublin to Sao Paulo via London and New York in First Class.
This gave me the opportunity to not only fly in a better class of service and receive significantly more tier points which allowed me to maintain my status but also experience American’s First Class before it is removed from both their 777s and A321Ts and resigned to history. More importantly, I would be flying on a BA 777-300ER from Heathrow to New York and then an AA 777-300ER onwards to Sao Paulo allowing me to compare the two products on the same day.
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After much searching, I found that American Airlines offered the best value for the trip I was trying to take, the only problem was that the roundtrip started and ended in Dublin. Given I was in fact not in Dublin, this would require positioning flights. The routing I picked from American ended up being Dublin to London Heathrow to New York JFK to Sao Paulo and then returning from Orlando to Dublin via Chicago and Philadelphia. For an AvGeek like me, this was perfect as I would be on two 777s, two 787s and one A321 all on the same booking.
Positioning, I booked with British Airways London to Dublin and then Dublin to Edinburgh via London City. As you may have noticed, this entire routing is very circuitous but given my relatively urgent need to earn tier points and qualify for the then reduced limits, it made sense and I love flying! Starting in Dublin also significantly reduced the cost, not just because the dreaded APD would not need to be paid, as I was merely connecting through the UK, but also because connecting flights are normally cheaper than the direct options. In this case, booking via Dublin saved thousands of pounds!
The only way to describe the connecting experience that day was absolute chaos. The previous day snow and high winds had led to multiple flight cancellations that BA still had not recovered from. My own flight down to London had been cancelled and last minute my wife and I found ourselves on an LNER train.
BA had not been at all proactive and I only found out my flight had been cancelled when I tried to check in on the app two hours before departure and just before heading to the airport. My positioning flight to Dublin that morning filled me with hope, it ran on time, the weather had improved and I thought everything would in fact run smoothly. I checked in in Dublin and the agent told me my return flight was running twenty minutes late, that was fine as I would still have more than enough time to connect on to the BA 777.
As I waited in the lounge, however, the departure time kept slipping due to fog in Dublin, by the time we were on final approach, my next plane was on the other runway starting its take-off run. The very annoying thing was there was an announcement on the inbound plane that BA was automatically rebooking passengers and that it would be in their apps on landing, mine had no such rebooking. I had assumed that BA might have had some action plan in place to actually get misconnecting customers on the next plane but instead, they seemed to have surrendered to the chaos. Having been told to go there by the security personnel at the transfer kiosk at T5’s unique Gate 23 where Irish arrivals enter through customs but not passport control, I joined a rather long queue for First and Club, this turned out to just be for baggage reclaim issues of which there appeared to be a lot, and I asked a supervisor what would happen.
He told me that BA had a system that was rebooking everyone but that it would take up to three hours for a new ticket to be issued and I should just wait and see what happened. To me this was completely useless, there were at least two flights still departing to New York that would allow me to connect to Sao Paulo on time but this system would not be able to book me on them even though there was space! I exited airside and phoned American Airlines slightly dejectedly but they said there was space and they could book it on the 6 pm flight if I could make it upstairs quickly. It was ten past five at this point which is after the cut-off but I tried anyway. I approached a lady in the First Wing who tried to check me in but stated BA did not have a 6 pm flight to New York and that the rebooking was not in my ticket yet.
The agent did say that with all the delays the check-in cut-off was very flexible at that point. She attempted to phone American Airlines using all the numbers that BA had given her but they were all disconnected having been changed during the pandemic and not updated. She also phoned BA’s rebooking team who said there was nothing they could do. In the end, I gave up and phoned American again to be rebooked on the next day’s departure which they did smoothly and easily.
American’s customer service agents were brilliant and should be commended for being very helpful, polite, and calm. Hypothetically, BA and AA’s computer systems should be able to handle things like this as part of the joint venture where they act as one airline, but in this case the systems severely let customers down. On the Heathrow Express I looked it up and BA did in fact had a 6pm departure which had been delayed by around 90 minutes and if the ticket could have been issued, I would have easily made it…
The next day went much smoother, the booking had appeared in app but the software wouldn’t update with a ticket number which caused a bit of stress but at around 3am the ticket was fully ready to use. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and used the First Wing, which was much quieter after the disruption had calmed down. Through the security checkpoint and onwards to the Concorde Room.
I particularly like the terrace in the Concorde Room, it now features a real nose cone from the Concorde Fleet, has some dining tables and has good views of the airport. I saw the BA Better World A320 taxy past whilst sat there.
I do think the food offered there is good but I find that particularly if you aren’t sat at a dedicated dining table, it can be hard to flag down passing staff to order food. I had a terrine, sandwich selection and then a fruit salad all of which was nice and a good way to relax after the stress of the past 24 hours. My gate was then shown as in Terminal 5B and I made my way there. I really should have stayed in the lounge as despite showing on time, the boarding was progressively delayed whilst we all stood around the gate.
Other passengers were getting a bit irritated by the small incremental delays but I was able to look around at some planes whilst waiting and saw the first BA A350 which I flew on its maiden flight and Delta’s Team USA A330 take off which kept me happy. Eventually, it was time to start boarding, it had been bright daylight when we started waiting and pitch black by the time we were on board. We ended up departing 90 minutes behind schedule.
As part of the Club Suite refits of BA’s 777 aircraft, the First cabin has shrunk from 14 seats to eight. The layout remains 1-2-1 across two rows. These seats are similar to those that are found on the 787 fleet but have the addition of a door to maintain privacy.
This was a necessary addition given the Club Suite business class offering has a door. The door is significantly larger than that found in Club and pulls together in the middle. In one of the storage compartments by your arm are the power sockets and remote control which has its own screen.
There is a little holder outside the compartment where you can prop the remote up. The cupboard over your shoulder also contains a mirror as well as a bottle of water.
To move the seat there are a collection of what look likes buttons with a large dial in the middle, in actual fact, these are merely selectors for the dial so in order to dim the light, you need to press the button then twist the dial. Slightly less than intuitive. One of the other upgrades of the seat versus the old product is a much larger television screen, this does come at the expense of buddy dining, which is a shame. The seat also now has a shoulder strap for the seat belt which is not necessarily an improvement but it is understandable for safety and regulatory reasons.
There is a very narrow cupboard next to the suite doors for a jacket and a storage compartment which could fit a back pack. There was a blanket and pillow on the seat as well as a bedding pack that the crew can set up during the flight if desired. All the planes that operate on the London to New York route are now refitted with Club Suites and the First Suite. Most 777s have now been refitted meaning that most flights operated by this fleet will have a similar product onboard but some are still configured in the old layout. If the seat map has eight seats in First it will be the new product but 14 will be the old one. Last minute changes are possible however except on the New York route where BA have stated only refitted planes will operate.
I was lucky after my flight change that there was a seat still available in the First cabin and even better, it was a window seat. I ended up in 1K and upon boarding I stood in the aisle placing my bags in the overhead bin and was conscious of the passenger from the middle seat standing up to enter the aisle. I squeezed into the suite and turned to apologise for blocking the aisle and came face to face with Sir Paul McCartney who told me not to worry and proceeded into the galley to tell the crew that if any of them wanted an autograph, he would be more than happy to help. A few other passengers approached to say hello and he chatted with them but declined to take any selfies which is fair middle ground to take.
About half an hour after departure, drinks and canapes arrived. I had one of BA’s mocktails, the Fizzberry, alongside three canapes.
A further half hour later and the main meal was served. The tray table was covered in a white cloth, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper were placed to the upper right and two bread rolls to the left. Then came the Beef Wellington starter which was very nice, followed on by chicken breast with spicy sauce, rice and a poppadom, also very good. To close, I had the cheese plate, overall, a very nice meal.
The 777 fleet has WiFi onboard and the best part is that for those travelling in First, it is free. For all other classes, even with status, there are fees to pay for the WiFi. Depending on which package you pick and how long your flight is, this can be as cheap as £2.99 or up to £21.99. I do think that adding free WiFi for status holders would be a good benefit on BA even as various airlines in America are competing to offer free WiFi to all passengers.
BA has a relatively wide selection of movies and tv shows, not as large as Emirates’ collection but more than enough for the flight to New York. Slightly hidden away are documentaries that are aviation themed. I have to say, I spent nearly the entire flight watching these.
I ran out of time to watch them all which was a shame as I was thoroughly enjoying them. These include “Airline Pilot”, a film from the 1970s about pilot training following a Second Officer joining BOAC’s VC-10 fleet. Other films included behind-the scenes of BEA, BOAC and British Airways as well as historic look-backs at the development of the Comet, Concorde and Viscount, Imperial Airways and adverts from the time. It was quite impressive archive collection and, whilst I appreciate the niche appeal of this, it was very cool to see this onboard.
Five hours after the previous meal, getting on for midnight back home, it was time for the second meal service. I decided to have two courses this time.
To start I had the chicken Caesar salad, which came in a slightly deconstructed form and was quite small and then chose to have the chicken katsu burger which again was quite nice but overall small. This time, I was given three bread rolls rather than two.
Approach was fairly standard, with arrival into New York 25 minutes behind schedule which was pretty impressive given the 95 minute delayed departure. When we were on stand we were all asked to remain seated in order to let Sir Paul McCartney off first as he had arranged to use VIP services on arrival. I got chatting with one of the cabin crew about the AA flight I was about to take and he said he had heard mixed reviews to put it politely and then told me he reads Turning Left For Less, so hello again if you are reading this review!
Our arrival was into Terminal 8 not long after the switch from Terminal 7, immigration was fairly smooth and as always when entering the US, all bags had to be reclaimed and rechecked. There were rechecking facilities near the exit but I was hand baggage only and headed straight upstairs to check in for my next flight.
First, let me start by saying British Airways’ connection and ground experience was absolutely abysmal and I lost a day in Brazil because of it. I was really disappointed that the staff effectively said to give up hope on getting on the next flight, particularly because there were empty seats on the flights that could have been used by delayed passengers like myself.
Onboard, however, everything went well and my expectations had been set fairly high for my next flight because of BA’s service in First, I very much enjoyed the flight and watching the avgeek friendly history videos, I wish more airlines did something similar. The food was very good and whilst the overall hard product is not up there with the Singapore Suites or Emirates First, I find given the normally relatively small price increase over business it can be worth it. Hopefully this year the airline is better prepared for poor weather given we have already had snow in the first few days of December.