British Airways First Class, London-Toronto under Strike Conditions: A Continuation of Cathay & British Airways First Class, Philippines and Macau, a Presidential Suite, and the Fat Duck Restaurant

Here are the previous posts from this trip report:

  1. Prelude
  2. Desperately Making it to Toronto, Sheraton Toronto Airport
  3. Toronto – Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific First Class

  4. The Wing lounge and Hong Kong – Manila, Cathay Pacific First Class
  5. Intercontinental Manila Presidential Suite
  6. Manila – Cebu and the Hilton Cebu Resort
  7. Philippine Cooking Class
  8. Cebu – Manila and Return to the Interconinental Manila Presidential Suite
  9. Manila – Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific First Class and on to Macau via Turbojet
  10. Westin Resort Macau
  11. Fernando’s, Beijing Kitchen, and the City of Dreams
  12. Macau – Hong Kong via Turbojet and Hong Kong – London, Cathay Pacific First Class

  13. Waldorf Hilton Hotel, London
  14. Lunch at the Fat Duck Restaurant

Heathrow was a ghost town when we arrived. BA might have been covering all their London City flights (such as those are!) and all long-haul from Gatwick. But between intra-Europe cancellation, delays from contracted-out flying on some of those routes, the odd long-haul cancellation, and all of the folks who had simply cancelled their plans to travel due to the flight attendants strike, there just weren’t very many passengers around Terminal 5.

We were traveling on hard fought first class award seats. When the tickets were originally booked, we were in First. Then BA stopped offering aircraft with first class on the Toronto route for the Winter. They brought it back, though, for one day after we were scheduled to fly, so I decided to change our flight plans. I’ve flown BA before, but in Club and never in First, and darnit I wanted to try it out. Only… they swapped aircraft and cancelled first class on the flight we’d rebooked on. So a couple of weeks before the flight when I noticed they brought it back for a single day on our originally-planned date of travel, I switched us again.

Now, we were flying on American miles. I don’t have top status with them, so no waived change fees. Rather, American’s distance-based oneworld awards allow fee-free changes to flight and date, just not routing or carrier. So it was never a problem to switch between British Airways flights on the London-Toronto route as long as they had award space.

Only now we were flying first class without proper first class service, with the legal minimum complement of flight attendants for the aircraft given the flight attendant’s strike (we were lucky our flight wasn’t cancelled, I didn’t expect it would be — if they were going to try to operate one of the two flights to Toronto I figured it would be the one later in the day and with the larger aircraft, which turned out to be correct).

Oh well, we headed to first class check-in where the attendants were suitably bored.

They didn’t priority tag our bags, and it didn’t occur to me until later that I had noticed this. I was more focused on having them switch out our American Airlines mileage numbers for British Airways Executive Club numbers. Why? Because there had to be some chance that BA would compensate folks for the strike or for flying with less than the usual standard of service. And I figured it’d be easiest to get these points if they had my BA account number on hand.

Ultimately BA didn’t award points for the lack of service, but they did award miles for the flight itself despite our being on the award. With the proper bonus for first class as well as tier points, to boot!

Through the standard Heathrow thorough security, we turned right to the Concorde Room

We set up for awhile out on the deck area overlooking the terminal and airport operations

After awhile we headed back inside the lounge to the restaurant

It took quite awhile to be seated, first it was a matter of any staff members wandering by the front of the restaurant and then it was a matter of waiting for one of them who seemed to care enough to seat us.

We placed our orders, the food came reasonably quickly enough but neither one of us much enjoyed the dishes.

We picked at the food just a bit and decided to head back towards the deck of the lounge where we were sitting earlier, figuring that we could just as easily eat different snacks out there. Of course during our time in the lounge no one ever came outside to check on us, so I consulted the lounge menus and went over to the bar to place orders.

How could they screw this up, right?

The one especially interesting happening during our time in the lounge was that a man entered the lounge ‘the back way’, coming up the stairs from below and entering onto our deck area. Sneaky!

It was soon enough time to board, or so the monitors said. Our flight was showing on time, so we headed to our departure gate, on the lower level so it appeared we’d be leaving from a remote stand.

Only we got there, and though the departure monitors hadn’t been updated it appeared as though we were delayed about 40 minutes. It’s much nicer, I find it, when flying first class and someone else monitors these things for you and escorts you to the plane when it’s time. The Concorde room really wasn’t great, but it was better than the holding pen waiting for the buses to take us out to the aircraft.

Turns out we were waiting on one additional flight attendant, and then we were off!

Breathing a sigh of relief that we’d be taking off, and against my better judgment, I went ahead and cancelled my backup reservations on United for the next morning. When strike dates were announced I booked one-way awards in business class – standard awards! – back home. I held them in my back pocket in case BA wasn’t going to get me back home to go to work. And though I should certainly have waited until I was home in Toronto, after all we hadn’t taken off yet, I decided that this was the last thing I wanted to think about when I landed so I quickly handled the cancellation. Fortunately I didn’t need that reservation, and we took off about an hour late.

The old BA first class cabin is certainly dated, it’s a good thing they’re updating it, and I found the seats both worn and rather narrow. But it was first class and just a seven hour flight or so.

Normal amenity kits and newspapers were distributed, I thought this might not be a bad flight after all! A bit chaotic, and they had to ‘re-do’ the safety announcements, but we were on our way home after a long and really quite lovely trip.

Shortly after take-off, a meal was served. Or so it was called, this seemed more like a United lunch service in business class on a domestic three-class aircraft…

Now, I knew that BA wasn’t serving hot meals. And with a lighter than usual complement of flight attendants I understood single tray service. But the chicken salad was quite inedible.

To her credit, the flight attendant realizing that I wasn’t eating, offered to bring me one of the few cheese plates that had been boarded. She offered this to me very hush hush, letting me know that she didn’t have nearly enough for everyone. At least it was something. And there wouldn’t be any additional meal service prior to arrival, other than helping myself to crisps in the Club Kitchen.

A daytime flight, so no PJs, I just put myself halfway into bed mode and closed my eyes and woke up a couple of hours outside of Toronto. Upon landing we headed towards immigration and then waited on baggage. Since we weren’t priority tagged we were naturally out close to the end, and then sauntered over to the Sheraton attached to the airport again for some more much needed rest.

I did write to American after the flight, though, and they deposited a bunch of miles into my account for the disappointing service.

Thank you for your email to AAdvantage® Customer Service. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

We are sorry to hear of your disappointing experience on your recent British Airways flight, and especially so since you used AAdvantage awards for your travel.

As an expression of our regret for your disappointment, and as a gesture of goodwill, we have credited your AAdvantage account with 18,000 bonus miles. Please allow up to 48 hours before viewing this adjustment online when you login to AA.com with your AAdvantage number and password. We hope this gesture helps make your next trip using AAdvantage miles more enjoyable.

Since I was so darned close to the two million mark with American and these miles count towards my lifetime status, I was happy with the gesture and it made the flight go down easier (not to mention the 7000 BA miles I picked up for the flight!). Ultimately I was happy to have been able to fly when so many other flights were affected by the strike, I got to try out the British Airways first class hard product, I just didn’t get to experience what it was “usually like.” Funny thing, even more disappointing to me than the flight itself was the mediocre experience in the Concorde Room. It was a lounge with food served rather than buffet and that wasn’t too overcrowded, that was all.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary — the free change on your American Oneworld Award had nothing to do with fact that it was a Oneworld Award. American (as opposed to it’s Star Alliance competitors) has long allowed unlimited, free, time, date, AND routing changes on ALL of its awards, even after departure of the first flight — these changes do not require re-ticketing. The only changes requiring re-ticketing — and thus a fee — are ones which change the carriers involved, the origin/destination points, or any stopovers.

  2. @David routing changes are not permitted on American’s oneworld awards… once ticketed, even prior to departure..

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