I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Iberia A330 Business Class from Madrid to Johannesburg
- Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
- Review: River Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve
- Review: Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Game Reserve
- Review: Kapama Karula, Kapama Private Game Reserve (to be published later)
- Review: Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town
- Review: 12 Apostles hotel, Cape Town
- Review: Cape Grace, Cape Town
- Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town
- Review: South African Airways A340 Business Class from Cape Town to Johannesburg
- Review: British Airways A380 First Class from Johannesburg to London (today)
Today (February 22, 2017): Trip report: British Airways Airbus A380 First Class Johannesburg to London.
On January 16 2017, I flew First Class in an Airbus A380 – the world’s largest and heaviest passenger aircraft – of British Airways (BA) from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport (JNB) in South Africa to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) in the UK. The UK’s national carrier has currently 12 of these megaplanes in its fleet, deploying them on routes between London and Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami (seasonal), Vancouver (seasonal), Singapore, Boston and Washington DC. The ride was enjoyable, but I was not really impressed by the First Class product offered by BA on its A380 flagship aircraft. Although the look of the First Class cabin is very sleek and beautiful, the experience pales in comparison to the one offered by other airlines on their A380 planes, such as Emirates, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. On a positive note: the First Class of BA feels like one of the best Business Class products in the world (with a First Class price tag).
- Trip: LHR-JNB
- Airline: British Airways
- Aircraft type: Airbus A380
- Aircraft registration number: G-XLEI (delivered in 2015)
- Flight Number: BA56
- Date: January 16, 2017
- On time departure: yes (8.20 pm)
- On time arrival: yes (5.30 am)
- Miles: 5621
- Flight time: 11 hours 10 minutes
- Seat: 3A
- Class: First
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Cost of my BA First Class ticket
- BA lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport
- Facts & Figures about O.R. Tambo International Airport
- Facts & Figures about the BA Airbus A380
- First Class Cabin
- First Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences
- My verdict
1. COST OF MY BA FIRST CLASS TICKET
I did not buy a First Class ticket. Instead, I bought a round trip Business Class ticket for1450 euro from Düsseldorf (via London) to Johannesburg, and then used 25,000 of my British Airways frequent flyer miles (called ‘Avios’) to upgrade from Business to First Class .
I booked the Business Class ticket during a BA sale. 1450 euro is a terrific deal, since that’s less than half the regular price for the flight from Europe to South Africa, and in the range of a flexible Economy Class ticket. As previously explained, I never pay the full fare for a flight, as I mostly use my hard-earned miles for booking a premium class seat or make the booking during an airline’s promotion. Most of us will completely ignore any Business Class fare as it seems out of reach. However, that’s a wrong assumption. Business tends to slow down during the school holidays and airlines cannot fill their Business Class seats, hence selling them at an impressively discounted price, that – in some cases – matches the price of tickets for the seats in the crammed back of the plane.
Using Avios to upgrade one class (from Economy to Premium Economy, from Premium Economy to Business, or from Business to First) is one of the best ways to spend them. It usually requires around 25,000 Avios to upgrade a cash booking to the next cabin on a longhaul flight (when there’s availability of course). Avios can be used to upgrade yourself on British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines flights.
2. BA LOUNGE AT O.R. TAMBO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
One of the things I like about BA is that they have great lounges all over the world featuring an identical and familiar decor with Osborne and Little exclusively designed fabric. It’s not different at O.R. Tambo International airport. The BA lounge facilities are located one floor above the main concourse: the First Class lounge (dubbed ‘Galleries First’) is located to the left of the small reception desk, while the Business Class lounge (dubbed ‘Galleries Club’) is located to the right and mirrors the layout of its First Class counterpart. Both lounges are only open from 3pm to 9pm daily to accommodate BA’s twice daily services – one A380 and one B747 – between Johannesburg and London .
The First Class lounge has a rectangular shape and although not very large, it is adequately sized to accommodate all BA’s First Class passengers and One World elite members. From the entrance to rear, there’s a library with magazines, a buffet, a dining area, a large wine display, a bar with self-service cafe, and the main seating area. The buffet spread is not very impressive, although it is ok for some light pre-flight dinner. It features – among others – plenty of cold vegetables (to create your own salad), cold meats, salmon, soup, and a hot curry dish, but nothing really stands out as genuine First Class food offering (and the food is certainly not comparable to BA’s First Class lounges in London). What I don’t like about the lounge, is the fact that it had no outside windows (the large floor-to-ceiling windows offer a view of the airport terminal’s interior) and that restrooms are located outside the lounge.
From the lounge, it was a 10 minute walk to the gate.
3. FACT & FIGURES ABOUT O.R. TAMBO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
O.R. Tambo International Airport serves as the primary airport for domestic and international travel to/from South Africa. There are some interesting facts about the airport (source: Wikipedia):
- It is Africa’s busiest airport with a capacity to handle up to 28 million passengers annually.
- It’s one of the few airports in the world to offer non-stop flights to all continents except Antarctica. Others include Dubai International Airport, Abu Dhabi International Airport and Doha International Airport.
- It was originally named after South Africa’s former prime minister, Jan Smuts. In 1994, the airport was renamed Johannesburg International Airport as the post-apartheid South African government implemented a national policy of not naming airports after politicians. However, the policy was reversed in 2006, and the airport was renamed again in 2006 after the former President of the African National Congress,Oliver Tambo.
- It’s is a hot and high airport. Situated almost 1,700 metres (5,500 feet) above mean sea level, the air is thin and aircraft require a far greater length of runway to achieve take-off velocity at this altitude. There are two parallel north–south runways and a the most western runway, 03L/21R, is over 4400 m (14,000 ft) long, making it one of the world’s longest international airport runways.
- On some routes such as those to North America, the thin air means that flights originating from Johannesburg need to refuel en-route while the return flight originating from a lower altitude airport can upload enough fuel to reach Johannesburg non-stop.
4. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT THE BA AIRBUS A380
The Airbus A380 is a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine jet manufactured by Airbus Industrie, the European consortium. It is the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft and the upper deck extends along the entire length of the fuselage. It is also the greenest, with the lowest cost per seat and the lowest emissions per passenger of any large aircraft. Despite having almost 50% more floor space and 60% more headroom than the Boeing 747-400, it is 50% quieter on take off. Roughly 25% of the plane’s overall structure is made from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, a strong and light material.
- Number in fleet: 12
- Passenger capacity: 469 (4 class)
- Lenght: 72.7m (238 feet 8 inches)
- Wingspan: 79.8m (261 feet 10 inches)
- Height: 24.1m (79 feet)
- Engines: 4× Rolls Royce Trent
The BA website also provides some fun information about its A380 planes:
- During take-off the A380 wing will flex upwards by over 4 m (13 ft).
- The 4400 m2 surface of the A380 is covered in three layers of paint weighing around 500kg.
- The wings of the plane are 54% larger than the wings of a Boeing 747 aircraft.
- If all the wiring in the A380 is laid end to end, it will stretch from Edinburgh to London (a distance of 320 miles or 515 km).
5. FIRST CLASS CABIN
BA’s Airbus A380 has a total of 469 seats spread over two decks with four cabins: 14 seats in First, 97 in Club World (Business Class), 55 in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), and 303 in World Traveller (Economy).
The First Class cabin is located on the plane’s forward lower deck, immediately behind the cockpit. Upon entering the plane, First Class passengers are escorted by a member of the cabin crew to their seat. The cabin has a modern, sophisticated and very sleek look with a somewhat dark but soothing color palette. The cabin is especially nice when the mood lighting is switched on. It features 14 semi-open suites in a 1-2-1 configuration, all of them having direct aisle access and facing forward. There are 8 window seats (4 on each side) and 6 paired seats in 3 rows in the center of the cabin. Although they are not fully enclosed, all suites have high seat walls and enjoy total privacy. Nobody is directly looking into the suite across the aisle as none of the rows quite line up and the window suites are angled towards the windows while the middle seats are angled towards the center line. In addition, dividers can be raised for extra privacy.
For a seat map of the British Airways A380, click here.
6. FIRST CLASS SEAT (& WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE)
I had chosen window seat 3A for the flight. All seats were occupied for this flight.
Contrary to the enclosed First Class suites with sliding doors that you find on several other airlines these days, the BA A380 First Class seat features a semi-open design, although it’s located within its own cocoon and feels totally private (no other passengers can see you, thanks to the herringbone layout and high seat walls as stated above).
The seat itself is spacious, with a generous pitch of 78 inches (198 cm) and width of 22 inches (56 cm). It features a dark, leather-stitched upholstery, somewhat reminiscent of the seats in a luxury sports car. In front of the seat, there’s an adjustable ottoman that can be used as an extension of the flat-bed or as an extra seat to dine with a buddy within your suite. The entertainment screen is located above the ottoman and swings out from the suite’s side wall (although it has to be stowed away into the wall for safety during take-off and landing). That same seat wall also holds a cabinet opening to the aisle where you can hang a coat and store your shoes.
One side of the seat features a reading lamp and small cabinet, perfect for storing smaller items such as glasses, mobile phone or wallet. This space also contains the power ports, a USB port, and the inflight entertainment remote controller. Above this cabinet are some buttons and a jog wheel control device to regulate everything within the suite, from the programmable seat positions and the suite’s lighting, to the privacy screens and the automatic window shades. This side of the seat also has a beige colored panel that is perfect to place a drink on and that also holds the large, shiny tray table (which needs to be pulled out).
Of course, the seat – together with the ottoman – can be transformed in a fully lie-flat bed of 78 inches (198cm) long. The crew provides a soft mattress topper, a thick pillow, and very comfortable blanket, so you will not have a problem at all to fall asleep (and it helps that the plane is so quiet).
What are the best First Class seats on the BA A380? Click here for a seat map of BA’s A380.
- Solo travelers should go fo the window seats, while companions should choose the middle seats. You don’t have to worry though about ending up as a solo traveler in one of the paired, middle seats as there is a divider between these middle seats which can be raised once the flight has commenced.
What are the worst First Class seats on the BA A380? Click here for a seat map of BA’s A380.
- I would suggest to avoid the window and middle seats in the last row since proximity to the galley may cause some noise disturbance (nothing too bad though).
BA provides its First Class passengers a very nice amenity kit, with a different content for men and women. The stylish, grey colored bag features a BA leather logo on the front and the word “First” imprinted on the leather zipper pull. The men’s bag – which I received – contains shave gel, revitalizer moisturizer, lip balm, deodorant stick, and eye gel from London based, grooming emporium for men, The Refinery, in addition to essentials such as such as a pen, eyeshades, socks, earplugs, hairbrush and razor.
BA’s First Class passengers also receive a pajama with slippers. The lightweight, dark green pajama is presented with a ribbon bow, and features the BA First Class logo on the chest.
Shortly after takeoff, the seatbelt sign was turned off and the crew handed out hot towels to the First Class passengers. I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t really like the texture of the BA towels (they should be thicker).
The food was good but not great (I am never really hungry on a plane anyway because of my fear of flying). Note that British Airways recently introduced some service cuts: as a consequence, an amuse bouche is no longer offered in First Class. The dinner menu read as follows:
- Starter: Duo of citrus-flavoured rock lobster medallion and beetroot and dill back salmon with orange confit and fennel purée
- Soup: Cream of lemon and carrot soup with toasted almond sumac
- Main course: Grilled beef fillet with ginger, honey and sour cream sauce, potato au gratin and roasted vegetables
- Dessert: Lemon cake with fresh strawberry compote and crème fraîche
About 90 minutes prior to landing, the cabin lights were switched on for a delicious breakfast. I was served the following items:
- Chilled fruit juice
- An energising fruit smoothie of pineapple and ginger
- A selection of yoghurts
- Bircher muesli with strawbery, apricot and prune
- Fresh seasonal fruit
- French toast with apple and rhubarb, strawberry coulis and mascarpone cheese
9. INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
The inflight entertainment is displayed on the individual giant 23-inch (58 cm) touch-screen that is supported by one hand-held controller. The latter is found in the tiny storage space next to the seat and it really helps as you don’t have to lean forward to touch the screen all the time when you want to change the entertainment. There are tons of movies and tv shows to explore, alongside a range of other content, including a much-enhanced flight map and chat sessions with other passengers (so if you fancy striking up a conversation with someone six rows or even a cabin away, now is your chance).
10. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
#CREW: I have said it before, and I have said it again, but the BA crew ranks among my favorite cabin crews in the world (Qantas takes the top spot). The BA crew on this flight was very pleasant, superfriendly, always eager to please, and above all, extremely professional.
# BAR: Contrary to other airliners, BA did not install a fancy bar on their Airbus A380 planes for premium flyers. Why would they when they can pack the plane with paying passengers? Nevertheless, the plane has a walk-up “Club Kitchen” onboard, where Business and First Class fliers can graze between meals. Unfortunately, BA has drastically reduced its selection of snacks in Club Kitchen. During the flight, the walk-up bar only featured retro sweets, Cadbury chocolates, and Kettle chips.
# LAVATORY: First Class cabin passengers can use two, rather small lavatories, located directly behind the cockpit.
# WIFI: Unfortunately, WiFi is not offered by BA at the moment. BA passengers will be able to access the internet on transatlantic flights from next year when BA will install what it claims will be the fastest WiFi in the air.
# CHAUFFEUR SERVICE: Unfortunately, BA does not provide complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers for its First Class passengers (in contrast to most other airlines).
11. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 8/10
- Food: 7/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Cabin: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,4/10