BA85 London Heathrow (LHR) - Vancouver Intl (YVR)
I got to LHR about 3 hours before departure, my usual lead time, but I already knew that my friend would be late (he always is), so I checked in at the deserted FIRST check-in desks. I had used online check-in (OLCI) and had chosen seat 1K with the hope that my friend could get 1A. However I was told at check-in that I had been moved back to my original seat allocation of 3K, due to the table not working at seat 1K . The whole process took about a minute. I then headed off through Fast Track security and straight to the Concorde Room.
It was a great pleasure to walk through the doors to the Concorde Room, which I had seen many times before and had always wanted to see the other side of! Although the Concorde is now out of service, the Concorde Room is reserved for departing First Class passengers only. There is a separate First Class lounge, but that is usually quite busy as BA Gold cardholders are allowed to use it regardless of class of travel.
Once I got in the lounge, I decided against using any of the Molton Brown Spa treatments, although I had plenty of time. I got myself seated and it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know what to do! Do I get table service in the Concorde Room or do I help myself? I suddenly got all self-conscious, so I decided to wonder around and get my bearings. There were two serving ladies walking around clearing people's plates/glasses etc., but neither of them approached me or even acknowledged my presence. In the end I walked up to the bar and after about 2 mins, my presence was finally acknowledged and I ordered some champagne and sandwiches. Both were absolutely delicious. But not wanting to stuff myself too much, I only went back for champagne. Several times, of course .
Luckily the final of the ICC Champions Trophy (England v West Indies) was on the TV so there I sat, happy as can be, with some fine champagne, sitting in the Concorde Room, waiting for my FIRST class flight, indulging in my favourite past-time (watching cricket) and reflecting on the fantastic places I was about to visit.
Eventually my friend turned up with about an hour to go and tucked in to some sandwiches and champagne too. As soon as the boarding call was made, we headed to the gate. We were leaving from gate 24, which has the disadvantage of being a good 10 min walk from the Concorde Room, but at least I was able to see (and photograph) our plane sitting at the gate from the lounge.
There was a small queue at the gate and we just tagged on the end of the line as it was unclear where the Fast-track line for FIRST and Club World was. As the gate agent took my BP, I was told that I had been moved back into 1K as it had either been fixed or it was a different aeroplane to the one originally anticipated. My friend had only managed to bag 4K, so would be sitting several rows behind me. However, given the fact that in FIRST, you can sit with a companion to have meals, window seats were much more important to us, so that we could get the excellent views over northern Canada and the Rockies.
As we boarded the aircraft, I made the first left turn of my life and was ushered into the FIRST cabin. It was already full and we were the last to board. I had hoped that it would be less than full, based on the late availability of award seats, I guess there must have been a number of op-ups because the whole flight was full. But when you're sitting in 1K, you don't even notice FIRST being full . I was swiftly offered warm nuts and more champagne (which I readily accepted). It was then that the captain introduced herself and her female First Officer, the first time I had flown with a female flight crew. There was a further FO due to the length of the flight, and this FO was a man, but 2 out of 3 ain't bad! Unfortunately the captain announced that there would be a delay as the aircraft was not yet re-fuelled (this was the weekend of the re-fuelling strike that BA had said wouldn't interrupt their operations!!). Anyway, the 1 hour delay simply allowed me to enjoy more champagne and peruse the menu and investigate the BAg amenity kit.
After the delay, we eventually pushed back. As several people have commented, the noise of the tug and the nose wheel are noticeably louder when you're sitting right above them! We taxied across the southerly landing runway and up to the northern runway. Amazingly there was only one aircraft in front of us and we took off straight after it. Being in the nose of the 747 gives a bizarre contrast with sitting anywhere else in the plane. The engine noise is much lower, more of a pronounced whine rather than a roar which you get at the back. But the nose wheel makes a reasonable amount of noise, particularly when going over the runway lights. As soon as rotation occurs, the mechanical noise of retraction is quite loud, but as soon as the door closes there is virtual silence. Well, not exactly silence, but it is certainly the quietest ride I've ever experienced in a plane!
We climbed quickly and in no time at all we were heading out over Northern Ireland on our way to Iceland. Drinks were served first (yep, you guessed it, more champagne!) and I settled down to see what was on my PTV for this flight. In FIRST you get a personal video library, but to be honest I was very disappointed with the selection of videos available, nothing I wanted to watch at all. There were also no films in particular that I wanted to watch on the regular PTV, but I was going to be "hosting" my friend for dinner on my ottoman, so I didn't want to be distracted by the TV anyway (how rude would that be!! ). My friend came forward from 4K and the table was set.
The menu for today's flight was as follows:
I started with the Salmon and then had the beef. Having experienced Club World's "signature" dish of fillet of beef a few times before, I was hoping (nay praying ) for something a bit more exciting! I wasn't to be disappointed, both dishes were supremely delicious, by far the best airline food I have ever tasted. For wine, I opted for the Lynch-Bages '95 and it was simply sublime. Although I admit that the quantity of champagne I had consumed adversely affected my judgement! For dessert, I opted for the cheese and then fruit. Both, again, were great.
After dinner, and as we headed further north approaching Greenland, the skies were darkening and all those on the left hand side had closed their blinds due to the low sun. I got changes into my FIRST pyjamas, which were very comfortable and fitted well. I reclined my seat into the bed position and noticed that it was considerably more comfortable and roomier than the Club World flat bed. I whiled away the hours watching a variety of TV shows, watching the moving map and snoozing off my earlier indulgence . About an hour and a half out of Vancouver, just as I was feeling really quite tired, afternoon tea was served. I just went with some sandwiches, which were very similar to the ones served in the Concorde Room I thought. And a nice cup of tea (its always nice to be taking tea and sandwiches in a very British manner when flying over foreign soil many thousands of miles away from home!
The remainder of the flight is a bit of a blur due mainly to tiredness, the beginnings of a hangover (!!) and the simply stunning scenery as we descended over the Rockies. Unfortunately I remembered that I'd left my camera in my bag which was in the overhead locker. With the seatbelt sign on and everyone sat down, I didn't feel it right to retrieve it. Therefore I "borrowed" some of the photos taken by my friend in 4K. There was a queue to get into YVR, but we were soon on final descent and I was keen to see whether there really was a forward view out of the front windows. While you could see, I would estimate, to about the 11 and 1 o'clock angles, you certainly couldn't see the runway or airport, until we got very close indeed. Touchdown was loud again, due to the nose wheel and we taxied to the gate in no time.
Deplaning was through door 2L which means that the people in the front section of Club World are let out first. Then FIRST, while the upstairs Club World and steerage passengers are held back. This is always an advantage at YVR, an airport which is famed for its lengthy immigration procedures. This was exemplified by our friends not turning up to meet us for an hour after we landed, apparently our 25 minute trip through immigration was some kind of record!
So that was it, my first FIRST experience. I have to say that it was amazing. I enjoyed every minute of it and can only dread what it must have been like at the back of the plane for the economy pax. Having said that, I would only ever dream of flying this way on a miles award or if someone else was paying (not likely!!). I just don't think this type of flying is worth the money, unless you've got so much that the FIRST price tag is really nothing. I guess that's the kind of market BA aims for. But all in all, it was easily the best flying experience I've ever had.