Why British Airways First Class is the World’s Second Best Business Class

Six or seven years ago Lucky from One Mile at a Time and I debated whether British Airways first class was ‘the world’s best business class.’ At the time I still felt like BA’s first offered something approximating a first class product, even if it wasn’t one of the better or flashier ones.

Now that same product, which BA is still flying, doesn’t even qualify as the best business class out there. It seems to me that Qatar Airways business class QSuites are better, and possibly even EVA Air’s business class as well.


British Airways First Class Cabin

I took two British Airways first class flights over the past week and it struck me just how much closer to a solid business class the whole experience is. The airline does have a roadmap to improve the product, likely with fewer first class seats and unstated upgrades. They haven’t promised a better seat.

  • In part that’s a function of how much better competitors have gotten with the best business class offerings.

  • While British Airways has stood still. Just as they once offered arguably the best business class in the world, they were an early pioneer of lie flat seating, and they now lag all but carriers still flying with angled seats in business.

  • Hard product: The cabin is still attractive, with the lighting and in particular the lamps at each seat, a feature United copied with their new Polaris business class seat. The seats are perfectly comfortable, both for sitting and sleeping, and the bedding is fine. Of course there are no doors (something that’s become almost de rigueur in first class but that Cathay Pacific does exceptionally well without) but most of all the footprint of each seat is much smaller than you’d expect from first class. There are a lot of seats squeezed into the space.

    I do find the bed perfectly comfortable for sleeping. It’s not a double bed, there’s not a ton of privacy, but I can stretch out and get comfortable.

  • Catering: The food was fine, though unspectacular. There aren’t any premium touches that mark a first class product, so catering struck me as a solid business class offering. It isn’t super customizable. While they’re willing to serve you your meal whenever you’d like, there aren’t significant midflight snack offerings and don’t necessarily expect the full menu to be available throughout the flight (eg eat the first service meal as your second service, unless you’ve asked crew in advance to set something aside for you). In other words meal service is functional if a bit assembly line.


    Deconstructed chicken pot pie dinner


    Ice cream frozen solid

    Nuts were offered to start inflight service, but on our outbound Austin – London Heathrow flight they ran out of nuts and there weren’t enough to offer to all six passengers in the 14 passenger cabin. They didn’t have any for my wife. They explained that the nuts are catered out of London “and they must have used too many on the first flight.” I suggested they bring some nuts from business class and they did. (This was something I had to suggest, the crew wasn’t really proactive or problem-solving.)


    Flight attendant walked away before I could clarify I wanted my Johnny Walker Blue neat, they brought it with ice.

  • Amenities: You get a wash bag and pajamas, slippers were available in both directions on request. The kit was acceptable and would have been very nice for business class.

  • Lavatories: Lavatories aren’t upgraded in any meaningful way. They’re just as small for first class as for coach.

  • Ground experience: There’s no escort to the plane, no personal touches. In Austin the American Airlines Admirals Club is their lounge, which is overcrowded even when the BA flight isn’t preparing for departure. British Airways passengers in the lounge do get complimentary paid offerings though, which are unremarkable. At London Heathrow there’s the Concorde Room which has sit down dining. Food isn’t as bad as it once was, but nothing to look forward to. There’s service at your seat as well for food and drinks, and the lounge isn’t crowded.


    Concorde Room ‘Deck’

    In other words, the British Airways first class experience is nice the way the world’s best business class products are nice. It’s a great way to fly. But it doesn’t come close to what European peers Air France or Lufthansa offer. It doesn’t come close to what Gulf competitors Emirates or Etihad offer. It doesn’t approach what Asian competitors Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or Japan Airlines offer. And given the choice I’d fly business class in Qatar Airways QSuites or EVA Air.

  • 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 InsideFlyer.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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    Comments

    1. Agree. Agree Agree. Worst thing is mixed fleet crew in BA FIRST. They’re usually useless and nervous or new. Terrible combo.

    2. Gary – did you fly BA F with the little one? We are expecting next month and planning a trip on BA F to Europe over the summer. Have had trouble getting straight answers (on FT and elsewhere) about baby bassinet and if we can get one BA F. Curious if you did.

    3. Just flew LHR-SAN in F this week. Absolutely agree.
      14 seats in a 747 where around 8 seem to be standard for F.
      Food more like a reasonably good business class food.
      Service almost non existent. Never removed empty cups or glasses. Never asked if you need anything during the flight. Not rude, but not even as good as in business class on other airlines.

      And I don’t even want to talk about the connector flight from a German airport. Check in opns only 2 hours before the flight, the lounge has been one of the worst business lounges I have been in the last few years, the seats and the legroom in business class are horrific.

      I am just using my remaining AA miles for this and then I am done with BA F.

    4. @Evan – I have a post coming up on this. The 777 doesn’t allow a bassinet in first class but there’s a baby seat that attaches to a seat in first that’s good for those who are a little older. Our daughter was 3.5 months and with a pillow to help her fit it worked out perfectly (she was still a bit small). They refer to a true bassinet as a ‘carrycot’. What route will you be flying? As I say you want to avoid the 777 in F until the baby is a bit bigger than an infant.

    5. Thanks for the update!

      I’ve heard J upstairs on a 747 is the best J offering they have for hard product. Agree?

      Are they the only planes that don’t have sardine can 8 across J?

    6. Yawn. Yes yes you’re not wrong Gary but do we need another review saying the same thing? People should just not fly them if they don’t think it’s a good deal for what they pay – in either cash or points. Lucky has at least come around to this point of view. We know what we are going to get with BA – the question is do we want it at the price/availability? Remember IAG is doing much better financially than a lot of the airlines you mention so don’t expect any wild improvements. As for the comment about connecting from Germany – name me another intra-European J class you can get which is significantly better? Same pitch on LH. None of this is wrong – just where does it take us.

    7. @Evan 2 – I’m glad you know what you’re getting but as far as ‘yawn’ it’s not something I’ve written here on the blog really, and I haven’t even flown British Airways in about two years.

      I’m not telling you not to book it because it’s super available, just set expectations appropriately. Frankly I would book it again in a heartbeat because currently is the only full service airline flying transatlantic from my home airport and it saves connecting. (Lufthansa starts service from Austin in May, without first and their business is poor IMHO).

    8. True, true and true again. It is not difficult to fault the BA First class product as everything is just off beam. Space, staff, food, attitude, lack of personal attention. I think several European airline Business products are as good as BA First or better, SWISS, LH and Air France in particular. Even Alitalia is a very good comparable product to BA First. LH First is streets ahead. The BA Concorde Lounge at Heathrow is nothing compared to the LH First Lounge at Frankfurt. Shame because years ago BA was THE world leader in First.

    9. Gary, *agree* *agree* *agree* ” ==> “It doesn’t come close to what Gulf competitors Emirates or Etihad offer. It doesn’t approach what Asian competitors Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or Japan Airlines offer. And given the choice, I’d fly business class in Qatar Airways QSuites or EVA Air.”

      But, and this is a big but, if I have to fly nonstop from London (preferably LHR) to the USA. Say to Boston, or Miami or Philadelphia… or Phoenix… or Las Vegas… NONE of the airline options you mention above are applicable. (well, I guess, I could fly LHR-DOH-PHL for my upcoming flight, but I really prefer flight time for LHR-PHL)

      The only thing you did not mention (unless I missed it), was soft product alcohol for BA First. I do believe the wines and Champagne (inclusive of LPGS), as well as JW Blue (personally dislike the stuff), do exceed the overall selections in most carriers business class. My London to USA examples above, BA wine/Champagnes in BA First still exceed their only competitor with a First Class Product to the USA (nonstop from London), American Airlines. (and, yes, comparing to AA First is probably a rather low bar. Though, their (AA) First Class hard product on the 777 is better than some of the BA First Options, IMHO). Still, in agreement, the vast majority of other international first products exceed the offerings by BA First.

      I guess, this is what happens when you have minimal competition (nonstop) from London too so many key routes in the USA. (and when most of that business/first competition is the US Legacy 3) Perhaps, this is also why BA will not have First Class on their A350s when they launch them later this year…

    10. When I couldn’t find AA reward availability round trip to Europe for three (wife & adult son attending my nephew’s wedding) we went AA business out, BA first return. For the pot load of extra miles plus nearly $1,600 in junk fees, I won’t consider BA again. (I’d never cram myself into the eight across business cabin). The AA 777-300ER is great and I’ve got that on the DFW-LHR and LHR-JFK legs of my upcoming trip to AMS and CPH. I’d flown CX trans Pacific several times so I knew I’d like the AA seats the first time I had them on AA, especially in the mini cabin. I’m not fussy about airline catering and don’t drink Champagne or sparkling wine, but BA first does have some very good booze & red wine. It’s a shame about your Scotch even though I like one ice cube, no water. I don’t like s..t disturbers or whiners, but I’d probably have asked for a replacement, but only after drinking most of the first one!

    11. Gary, you make some valid points but I think it’s key to consider the vast cost difference often shown between BA F and LH/AF, let alone the Asian carriers.

      You can often get paid round-trip F tickets across The Atlantic on BA for ~£2000 from London, a fraction of the cost of LH or AF or CX or SQ. In addition, award availability is usually excellent for upgrades. I believe I read that BA flies more longhaul F seats than any other airline. Their operation is about volume and they are not claiming otherwise; they charge a price commensurate with that.

      It’s still a great way to fly, as you yourself point out. I think it often delivers quite good value for paid tickets or upgrades from J. It’s also not just a step up from their own J product (although less so since the new soft product was brought in in Club World), but a big step up from Virgin Upper Class, arguably their main competitor on many TATL routes from London.

    12. Gary – thanks for the response and look forward to your post. We’ll be flying DEN – LHR so 747. Baby will be ~4-5 months old. When you post, would love to see what you paid (my understanding is 10% of miles and some fees) for the <2 lap child in F.

    13. I don’t drink when I fly anymore, and I dislike the Pyjamas included, so from that perspective, I think JetBlue’s mint product is better than BA First. The FAs are more attentive, the catering is better, and the ViaSat internet is awesome. The main downside is that they wont fly you to London.

    14. I disagree Gary. BA’s First Class product is certainly better than any of the US carriers Fist Class, if any of the Big Three still have First anymore. And better than their Business product too by far. I know that is not saying much, because the American carriers have gone so far downhill this past decade. But BA’s First is certainly also better than Swiss Business, FinnAir Business, Air Austria Business, Iberia Business, Lufthansa Business, LOT Business, Alitalia Business, etc.

      To begin with, at the window seats lining the cabin there is no one sitting next to you as you find, for the most part in the aforementioned Business Class products and even the carriers you rave about. Sitting next to someone is very annoying. This is a very big plus factor for me. Plenty of space around you. So there are no doors. OK not the end of the world.The seats open up to flat beds very comfortable and not crowded in like a coffin on so many others. Nice bedding and comforter. And PJ’s. The wines and champagne are normally a very good selection and at the high end. Copiously poured. The food is very good, yes not Cathay or Singapore or JAL or Qatar First Class food quality, but still better than most Business food I have had. And flying First from JFK one can dine very nicely in the BA Concorde Room before getting on the flight to London and going right to sleep. And same is true at the Concorde Room at Heathrow on the return trip. Yes, not Cathay First Class Lounges in Hong Kong or Thai First in Bangkok, but still very nice. The service onboard the aircraft and in the Concorde Rooms I have always found to be very good. Yes the cabins could stand some freshening, but the 747’s and 777’s, and the 380’s First cabins are still very nice, if a bit long of tooth.

      We know the BA Business Class product and particularly the seat arrangement on their intercontinental flights is a disgrace, except the upper deck on the 747. Worst by far in business. Yes. And we know the fees and taxes BA charges for First and Business are also a disgrace. But overall I just do not get saying their First was, is, or maybe is not any longer, the best Business Class product around.

    15. I’ve never flown BA first (or business for that matter) and thanks to this post and other reports, I can’t imagine I will unless there are big improvements. Regarding best business class or any class, it depends not just on the airline but the type of aircraft and even the time of day you are flying. I thought EVA Air A321 business was a better experience than EVA Air A330 business. Qatar 777 (2-2-2) seems to get the same service and soft product as Qsuites but of course Qsuites is the nicer seat. Still Qsuite is a business-class seat and not as comfortable or roomy as just about any seat in first. Qsuite is tight, though not as tight as D1 suite. The Qsuite entrance is so narrow it hinders the FAs in performing their outstanding service. The quad pod arrangement is a drawback in my book. It is designed to encourage talking. Save the business meetings and family gatherings for the ground. Imagine being a single in a quad pod and the other three pod mates are having a some kind of get together.

    16. BA F may not be the best but there are not really many substitutes for those of us with AA/OW miles seeking to go to Europe. I have always had a perfectly fine time flying the product. Fine seat, F&B are good, service has always been pleasant. LHR connections and lounges are nice, CCR is good going the other way. As a DC based flyer it is my only direct OW option to Europe so that certainly sweetens the deal a bit. Maybe I am just simple, but I have always been satisfied. When any of the Asian or ME carriers start flying directly to Europe from IAD, bookable with AA miles, let me know! 😀

    17. I’d rather fly Delta One than BA F (caveat not on 767 but 350 is a blowout for Delta). Food, bedding and service will all be better on Delta … and wifi + not having to fly AA on the domestic connecting leg make it a no brainer.

    18. I agree with @Jeff R, your metric is wrong. Nonstop to London, the comparison is the US 3 and Virgin. BA First compared to US carriers is definitely nicer. But those damn fuel surcharges, why even bother. Unless you find a way to offset the fuel surcharges, and you are not telling us that?

    19. Thank you for this review as it only helps open up BA first class award availability for the best way to travel to and from JFK.

    20. Agree with Blue. Traveled AUS-LHR BA F on B787. Found it to be on
      par with AA B777 J class for comfort and inflight service (AA charges $11.20 and BA around $800 as I recall thus making AA a much better choice for $$$ and miles both.).
      Why would anyone subject F class passengers to a infants, small children and/or “comfort animals”? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. My opinion, while probably being unpopular with the entitled group, is based on a 40 year airline career and also being a passenger on long very long international flights. It’s cruel and unusual punishment for both child and captive audience in metal tube. Let the verbal abuse begin y’all.

    21. @Juan Trippe – A 3 month old and a 2 year old are two very different things. We had not a complaint or glare, only compliments. Our daughter slept basically the whole outbound. She was all smiles on the return. The only disturbance in the cabin was when 7 of 8 passengers wanted to sleep and one guy refused to close his shades.

    22. I have stopped flying BA and have cancelled my BA credit card. All is true regarding both First and Business Class. Also, the tariff to use Avios is just insane. Bye, bye BA. If I want an English accent I will play a movie on my iPad.

    23. 100% agree with the article.
      BA has become such a second class airline.
      But they can be. And as money making rules these days I feel pity for all the people stuck in London that have to have to fly them

    24. I flew BA first class from IAD to LHR, 747 and returned LHR to LAX, A380 business class. The inflight experience was better in business class than first class. I felt I was mostly ignored on the flight to LHR. I had to keep asking for service instead of FA asking me. Wonder why??? I have travel BA in first and business in the past and the service was much better. In March I will fly UA to LHR and return AA both in business class. I will make the call after.

    25. You can’t get better, in my opinion, than the upper deck of a 747 in business class with BA. I paid $800 to upgrade from economy to business from US to UK at the airport and got an upstairs seat. They offered me first class for a really reasonable price but I declined. The truth is I couldn’t afford it but I would have declined even if I could!

    26. By the way BA does have wifi and it was cheaper than Delta’s, plus you are allowed to use it for VOIP if you want to, which the US airlines are not allowed to offer.

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