British Airways makes no bones about being a full-service airline and is investing £5.5 billion in equipment, products and service to cement that positioning.
Its flagship cabin, First, is benefitting to the tune of £100 million, which sees a complete makeover of the cabin which revolutionised long-haul luxury travel in 1996 by introducing fully flat beds and semi-private suites.
The new cabin rollout on the selected fleet of Boeing 747 and 777s is nearly complete. On routes where it is flying regularly, First customer satisfaction scores are the highest they have ever been.
The new First still centres on balanced privacy, comfort and intuitive touches. The new suites are wider and as one would expect, the 6.6 foot bed is more comfortable. Mood lighting changes throughout the flight to reflect the time of day, and customers have their own double windows with an electronic blind, similar to those on private jets. There’s also a personal wardrobe, complete with shoe compartment.
As well as the main table, a side table has been introduced to the arm of the suite for people who want to continue working while they eat. The main table can also be folded in half to become a writing desk, complete with leather trim.
The in-flight entertainment screen has more than doubled in size to 15 inches, with each suite also offering a USB charging point and RCA jack, so customers can view content from their personal MP3 players on the main screen.
The attention to detail extends to the amenity bags with the iconic Gladstone-style Anya Hindmarch washbags filled with luxurious products from skincare specialists REN. The trademark First pyjamas remain a staple offering and a turndown service provides an Egyptian-cotton mattress, duvet and pillow.
With 84 years of premium travel experience and know-how – Imperial Airways launched its first premium cabin in 1927 – British Airways understands that these customers expect much more than just good on-board product. Service and service-style in the air and on the ground is as important.
All First cabin crew receive specialised premium service training. This aims to ensure they provide exceptional, consistent service that is flexible, yet attentive and intuitive.
“Key to the premium experience is the understanding that people have different needs and responding to these. You can adapt your suite to sleep, work, relax or have dinner with a colleague. Similarly you can eat when you want and you have a choice of a formal meal service or an informal al la carte snack. There is also a bistro selection if you fancy something a bit lighter,” says Edward Frost, British Airways’ commercial manager in South and East Africa.
First is a key differentiator for the airline on its South African routes as it is the only carrier to offer a direct first-class service from Johannesburg to London. The new First cabin will be on board the Cape Town services from October.
Of course, the benefits of flying First extend beyond the on-board experience. Perks include three items of luggage weighing up to 32 kilograms each, a dedicated check-in area and fast-track security.
Perhaps as important for premium passengers are the network of over 60 dedicated British Airways lounges and 90 partner lounges worldwide. The crown jewels are the Galleries Lounges in Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
Here the Concorde Room provides a fully serviced Concorde Bar and restaurant, concierge desk and boardroom. This exclusive facility is mirrored at New York’s JFK airport. The concierge desk is an extension of Your Quintessentially, an exclusive, complimentary concierge service for First customers. It is available 14 days either side of the journey.
There’s also larger Galleries First Lounge, with its elegant Gold Bar, Wine Gallery and work and entertainment zones.
Two large Elemis Travel Spas, with six treatment rooms each, and a slightly smaller four-room version in the satellite terminal, enable customers to de-stress before a flight. The spas are open to First and Club World customers and Gold Executive Club members travelling on long-haul flights. The treatments are complimentary.
For arriving customers there’s the Galleries Arrivals lounge, also offering an Elemis Travel Spa as well as 94 shower rooms, cabanas with infinity bathrooms and a valet service.
But if First sets the bar, what about the airline’s other premium product, the multi-award winning Club World?
“Club World is part of the reason First is so good. It has to be, because it complements a very good business class proposition,” says Frost.
The Club World ante was upped hugely in 2000, when British Airways launched the first fully flat bed in business class. The cabin was re-launched in 2007, with the second-generation Club World marking an evolutionary leap from its ground-breaking predecessor.
Since then British Airways has worked to tweak and adjust the product offering. Catering was an integral aspect of the A380 launch on the Johannesburg route in 2014. New Club World menus have just been introduced on the Cape Town-London flights. The help-yourself Club Kitchen, with its top-quality snacks and treats remains a much-loved feature on both routes.
On the ground, technology has helped ease customers’ journey through the airport, with online check-in, mobile check-in and home-printed boarding passes enabling them to skip the check-in queues. For those with particular needs or who prefer to check-in at the airport, there are dedicated check-in desks.
Lounges and the flexibility these provide are as important to Club customers as their First counterparts. The Club World Galleries lounge in Terminal 5 offers light meals, a silver wine bar and a 20-seat cinema and customers can access a global network of British Airways’ and partner lounges.
Some aspects of British Airways’ investment programme isn’t limited to premium customers, although they will certainly also benefit. For example more modern, fuel-efficient and quieter aircraft such as Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A380 and Boeing 777ERs are already improving the flying experience and will continue as more new aircraft come into the fleet.
For more information visit ba.com/flights