Executive travel: British Airways gives Etihad a run for its money with First cabin

When British Airways launched its First cabin on the Dreamliner last year, the larger open suites and new TV screens did not seem enough to steal passengers from rival airlines on the Abu Dhabi-London Heath­row route. Etihad, for example, offers nine first class Apartments and the Residence with its three rooms including bathroom and double bed.

However, a recent trip with BA from London to Muscat via Abu Dhabi, on one of the airline’s newest 787-9 aircraft, proves the competition is not clear-cut.

Naturally BA rules the roost in Heathrow’s Terminal 5, where First customers are treated to a separate check-in zone. With the aircraft departing London at 9.40am it is peak time at Heathrow. However, fast-track lanes can get passengers from check-in to the lounge in less than five minutes.

On board, First offers eight semi-open suites aligned to offer each guest privacy from being overlooked without the need for a sliding door.

The cabin has the feeling of a private members’ club with faux wooden texture bulkheads emblazoned with the carrier’s crest. Arranged in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, the best seats for solo business travellers are by the window, with the two windows dimmed by a controller, rather than using a blind.

The suite itself features brushed aluminium trim, quilted fabrics and faux carbon-fibre worktops, giving the impression of the interior of an Aston Martin. A controller customises the lighting and seat, which transforms into a fully flat bed, and compared to the previous BA First suite passengers have 20 per cent more space; a personal storage unit lined in soft leather has been added along with a wardrobe to hang jackets. There is also an enlarged 23-inch screen that sits in front of the passenger, so you can watch TV after landing. The in-flight entertainment touchscreen handset was a little difficult to control though, with small buttons that are hard to use, and the viewing was glitchy – it had to be reset a couple of times.

For those connecting to Muscat, passengers can stay on board for the short stop, before a 45-minute hop across to Oman with more drinks and canapés.

While BA may not offer the grandiose bells and whistles of Etihad on this route, its newly reimagined first class has certainly levelled the playing field a little.

q&a first class reimagined

Jonny Clark expands on BA’s new first-class service between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow:

If you can get to the BA First lounge at Heathrow in five minutes, what’s on offer when you arrive?

British Airways offers two lounges for first class guests at Heathrow, the Galleries First Lounge, or the more exclusive and quieter Concorde Room. The Concorde Room offers dining cabanas with waiter service and a changing menu dependent on time of day. For the early morning flight to Abu Dhabi and Muscat, expect a breakfast menu which includes pastries, cereals and hot dishes such as eggs benedict. There is also an Elemis Spa and passengers flying in First can pre-book treatments.

What daily flights are there from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi for first class passengers?

British Airways BA073 departs daily from Heathrow at 9:40am arriving in Abu Dhabi at 8.55pm – the route launched on November 5. Etihad offers three direct daily flights at 9:15am, 2:05pm and 8:05pm.

How much for BA First Class to Abu Dhabi cost?

Flights from Abu Dhabi currently start at Dh27,475.

What did you eat?

Once airborne I could eat at my leisure. I enjoyed an amuse bouche – a pistachio cake with hummus – followed by an Arabic mezze, served with Arabic flatbreads.

The main courses included sea bass fillet with white asparagus, and a fried Arabic chicken dish with machbous rice followed by a mango and coconut delice, decorated with berry infused sugar flowers for dessert. Before landing, an afternoon tea came with cakes, sandwiches and warmed scones with clotted cream and jam.


* The writer was a guest of BA.

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