Flying First Class with a Baby - British Airways BA12 Flight Review
The following is a review of a recent flight on BA12 in First that my wife and I took with our 23-month old from Singapore to London Heathrow. The reason for writing this is that I thought it would be interesting to review the flight from the perspective of flustered parents juggling all the paraphernalia that a baby travels with, rather than that of the single traveller who has time to critique the depth of the wine list and the fluffiness of the pyjamas.
The How, Why & When
The way that we paid for this trip was with a stash of frequent flyer points that we had collected by applying for various credit cards as well as two years of points hoarding as we had not travelled much since Bub’s arrival.
My thinking behind choosing to fly British Airways was that I thought that flying the national flag carrier would be a nice introduction to the UK for my wife who had never been there before and also I had fond memories of previous flights with BA. And while I knew that the First-Class experience in BA would not be as luxurious as say with Emirates, I knew that it would be elegant and that the service would be excellent. The BA crew have a lovely way of making you feel genuinely welcome but know when to give you your space. In fact, one of my fellow passengers made a point of telling me that he had especially chosen this particular flight due to this particular crew as he had had such a marvellous experience on his outward journey.
The reason for choosing to fly First was that if I was going to subject us to a 14-hour flight, then my thinking was that First had to be the most comfortable and least stressful way to get us to London with a 23-month old. The logic being that as the cabin would only have 14 seats with at least 2 – 4 crew members meant that if we needed help, then this was our best chance of getting some.
As far as the contentious debate about whether babies should travel in the pointy end of the plane went, we were particularly conscious of not wanting to ruin anyone’s special trip. However, as we had previously travelled for 9 hours from Sydney to Honolulu in economy and Bub had been exceptionally well behaved I was betting (hoping for) a repeat performance. Also, Bub usually is fast asleep by 7:30 pm and this was an 11 o’clock flight so it seemed reasonable to assume that she should sleep for most of the flight, especially given she would have a lie-flat bed to stretch out on, as you can tell I am an optimist by nature.
The timing for our trip was pretty much any time before Bub turned 2 and when we could get time off work. The importance of Bub being less than 24 months was that after she turned two, she was going to have to have her own seat and that was going to be a lot more points.
Booking & Pre-flight Options:
I booked the flight BA12 through Qantas at a cost of 134,000 points per adult or 268,000 in total and SGD700 in taxes. I was also able to add Bub as an infant for no extra cost which was really good as if you pay for the seats with cash then she would have been an additional SGD950.30 on top of the SGD19,154.40. Also, at the time of booking, I was able to select our seats 2E and 2F, so it was nice to have the peace of mind of knowing that this was taken care of.
Before travelling, I phoned up BA to order a bassinet as I had seen in previous reviews that one could be fitted to the footrest so that my wife would have ample room to stretch out and enjoy her meals and entertainment. However, as it turned out, Bub being a very long 23-month-old there was no way she would fit in the bassinet and so instead slept curled up next to mum.
We flew from Perth to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, got in late, spent the night and a day at the Crown Plaza at Changi and then headed off to check-in at 7 o’clock. We were travelling with two large cases, a smaller case, a cot, a pram, a diaper bag, a computer case and a flowery bag from someone called Cath Kidston, who, as it turns out, has taken over the world of retailing while I have not been paying attention.
Checking-in and Customs
Upon getting to Terminal 1 at Changi, we made our way over to the priority check-in lounge being run by SATS. From what I could tell the SATS lounge is for anyone travelling First or Business Class checking in at Terminal 1 and not just exclusive to British Airways. We were warmly greeted and ushered to a couple of plush black leather chairs while our bags were whisked away. Though for us, as travelling parents, the most luxurious aspect of the check-in process was the fact that we were issued with a heavy-duty plastic bag in which to place our pram once we got to the door of the plane. We thought this was awesome as we had become quite accustomed to our pram being subjected to less than gentle handling and subsequently developing an ever-growing collection of black scuffs and scratches. Bub was very patient during check-in, and everything would have been peaceful had not a well-intentioned baggage handler offered her one of the hard-boiled sweets that they have on the counter necessitating us to explain to her that she was not going to be able to enjoy this delicacy due to our fear of a choking incident.
We exited the check-in lounge straight into customs and from there into the terminal. I had forgotten that in Changi you do not pass through security until you reach the gate itself; this would have been preferable as getting Bub, pram and the collection of bags through security is quite a complex logistical challenge at the best of times, never made more enjoyable by being in a busy queue (more on that later).
The Concorde Bar Singapore
From customs, we took the elevator up one level, no escalators for pram pushers, and the doors opened practically in front of the British Airways Lounge. The lounge itself looked very smart having recently had a major refurbishment; however, I cannot tell you much about it as we were heading for the inner sanctum of the lounge, the Concorde Bar. The Concorde Bar is only for BA's first-class passengers and top-tier Executive Club frequent flyers holding either a Concorde Room Card or invitation-only black Premier card.
Upon being welcomed to the lounge, we were presented with a card, which I have included below, and on the back of the card is a four-digit code. I assume this code is changed regularly otherwise, for a small fee, I am sure we can come to some sort of arrangement.
The bar is located to the left of the lounge entrance, and its walls are covered in dark wood panelling, on the left-hand side of the door is an illuminated numeric keypad which is where you enter your code. Once the code has been entered (you have to push quite hard on the buttons) a heavy door swishes open onto a peaceful retreat of fine wines, top self-spirits, attentive wait staff, flat screen TVs and soft lighting. The experience was almost James Bondesque, that is if James for some cunning reason had a Bub, pram and collection of johnny bundles in tow as part of his cover.
The bar is separated into dining alcoves and comfortable seating alcoves with a long bar running down the centre. Needless to say, the room is very relaxing, and we loved it as it was nice and quiet for Bub. The fact that it was empty when we arrived may have had something to do with us turning up 4 hours early for our flight, the hotel having eventually insisted on having their room back.
I have to be honest it was the best four hours I have ever spent in a lounge; when we entered, we were met by two black-clad waitresses who showed us to an alcove, took our drinks order and handed us a menu. The menu was perfect for what we were in the mood for, Bub and Mum ordered a risotto, and I ordered a bacon sandwich to go with two large glasses of bubbly.
The champagne was excellent, and it came in a large fluted glass (not the normal thimble), and for the remainder of our time in the bar, the lovely wait staff made sure that our glasses were never in danger of running dry. This was in stark contrast to the BA Business Class lounge in London where it turns out that champagne is now being hidden from sight and has to be requested from a passing waiter - I am not sure what is going on there, but that is a discussion for another day.
Bub settled into a dining alcove and smashed down her risotto; she likes Italian, and when she was finished, we relaxed into one of the private alcoves. Bub was able to stretch out on the 2/3 person couch and fell asleep around 9 o’clock after having spent a productive hour or so crayoning and catching up on Peppa Pig.
While we were at the lounge, we saw no more than half a dozen passengers and that was with a BA flight heading onto Sydney and our flight. It is safe to say that our introduction to travelling First had been very positive and we reluctantly gathered up our bags and carefully transferred sleeping Bub from the couch into her pram for the walk to the plane.
The one piece of practical advice I can give regarding the Bar is not to lose your access card as there are no toilets in the bar itself and this means you will have to leave the bar to use the ones in the main lounge – so you will need to remember your code to get back in.
Getting on the Plane
Doing a good job of not getting sidetracked by one of Changi’s excellent duty-free shops, the all-day cinema or the butterfly garden (don’t all airports have one?) we reached our gate in good time, which was handy as we still had to get through security.
Security is always a painful experience when travelling with Bub as there are just so many items that have to be pulled out and inspected. To name a few; liquids such as yogurt & water bottles for formula, the pram has to be squashed up enough to fit through the x-ray machine, bags, belts, shoes, watches, phones, wallets, jackets, computers and iPads all need to come out and be placed in trays. Then when we get through, it takes a while to put everything back, hopefully, without losing anything or anyone. Normally this is a less than fun part of travelling; generally, we like to make sure that we are at the airport nice and early and normally with security being somewhere before or just after customs we are generally sorted out by the time it comes to getting on the plane. But at Changi, this all has to happen at the gate, and it may just have been bad timing on our part or just a fact of boarding an A380 with a capacity of 469 seats that there were a lot of people trying to get through security at once. And while there was a priority line for Business and First-class passengers, with 14 passengers in First and 97 Business seats there were still a goodly number of people in the cue.
Once through security and having had our passports and boarding passes checked again we were able to start boarding, we made it down the worm and were met by some helpful baggage handlers who were collecting and bagging the prams. Once we had seen the pram safely off, with assurances that it would be waiting for us by the door on arrival, we turned left down the first class boarding worm and into a brave new world. If truth be told we were unsure as to the reception we would receive with Bub in tow - but at least she was fast asleep so should make a good first impression.
The first thing we noticed about the First cabin was how pleasantly dark it was (perfect for sleeping Bub), Business Class in comparison was lit up like a Christmas tree from the glimpses that we could catch through the curtains. The cabin was being primarily lit by the miniature seat lamps. The lamps provide a warm yellow light which is very pleasant, and they are dimmable, so they gave excellent control over how bright you wanted your seat to be throughout the flight. More ambient lighting for the cabin was being achieved by light being reflected onto the ceiling, which brought to my attention how high the ceilings were; at first I thought this was simply due to the size of the A380, but then I realized that the height was the result of the centre overhead storage bins having been removed. This sense of space was fantastic, and luggage storage was not an issue as with only 14 passengers in the cabin, there was plenty of space in the bins running down the side for all our bags.
The cabin had an aura of calm elegance, the crew were moving around offering drinks and as we were, in fact, the last passengers to board everyone else was either settled into their seats or busy hanging up clothes in the full-length cupboards. This was when one of my fellow passengers came up to tell me how special he had found his outward journey due to this particular flight crew. I have to say this level of enthusiasm and pleasantness form a complete stranger on a flight took me quite unawares and left me thinking that maybe first-class passengers are just happier people. As from my experience, most passengers are actively putting up invisible walls, with the implied message being ‘leave me alone, and this is my armrest buddy’.
The seats themselves were extremely comfortable, and while they do not have the slideable privacy doors that a lot of the first-class seats tend to be adopting. As the seats are staggered, you have a sense of privacy and passengers in the seat across the aisle cannot see you and you cannot see them when seated.
My favourite features of the seat, apart from the miniature lamp, were the large seat divider, the triangular cubby hole and the table. The large seat divider could be raised and lowered electronically, and unlike some seats where the large dividers obscure your view of your travelling companion (Qantas's new business class) once it was lowered my wife and I could clearly see each other, and there was a nice sense of togetherness. We chatted away during takeoff, sipping champagne as Bub slept, though as the seats are on a diagonal configuration, we actually found ourselves to be quite a distance apart and ended up leaning over quite often to hear what each other was saying, as the alternative of raising our voices felt out of keeping with the peace and quiet. The divider was also brilliant later on in the flight when I wanted to stay up and watch a movie without disturbing Mum and Bub while they slept.
The triangular leather topped cubby hole next to your inside arm was perfect for storing phones and wallets but, more interestingly, pyjamas and travel bags as and when they started arriving on silver trays. The cubby hole also houses an assortment of power and data connections, which are now pretty much standard. What I did find interesting was the addition of a video RCA (three round plugs, yellow, red and white) so that you could use the 12-inch display screen with your personal device, that is if you happened to have the right cables with you. In hindsight, however, I think that an HDMI connection would have been a more sensible choice of audio/video connection if that feature was the intention of the seat designer. The cubby hole proved very useful throughout the flight, and all my paraphernalia stayed put until it was needed, in other words, nothing got lost under the seat.
But without a doubt, my favourite feature was the table; it was very large and well-constructed, and you could push it forward or pull it towards you to whatever position suited best, also using the seat controls meant that you could actually raise your chair upwards into a better position to eat. The main benefit of this large table, however, is that it means you can fit two dinners on it at once.
Dinner for Two
Not that I intended to eat two dinners by myself! With Bub flat out and fast asleep on my wife’s bed she could now come over to my seat and settle into the companion seat which is, in reality, the padded footrest to my seat that can be raised and lowered; in its raised position it acts as a seat and comes with its own sash belt. I had read that the companion seat could be a bit snug, but my wife assured me she was very comfortable and had more than enough room. With us comfortably set up for dinner we then let our stewardess know that we were ready to start diner. The option to choose when we were going to dine was something that we really liked about First as it meant that we did not have to worry about being ready for the food service and could take our time to make sure that Bub had everything she needed and was settled in.
Once the table had been draped in a white table cloth, we were presented with our menus and had our champagne topped up while we selected our dinner. I have included a copy of the menu for you to see what the various food and drink options were, simply click on the picture of the menu above, and it will open up in a separate PDF. I had heard that the UK’s Champagne had been coming on very well recently, mostly from my English relatives, so it was interesting to see that one of the three champagne options was the Bolney Estate from West Sussex, but I have to say that I stuck with the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle and had no regrets. For my starter, I went with the cheese soufflé and for the main the seabass, they were both excellent, the soufflé being pleasantly fluffy and the sea bass was firm and flavourful, going very well with the South African Sauvignon Blanc. For dessert, I had the berry and almond crumble cake with a glass of sticky. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy dinner with my wife; we could enjoy each other’s company and the food, and it did feel as if we were out to dinner at an excellent restaurant. For this reason, the big table is my standout favourite. Below you will see a wonderful picture of me mid-dinner, the flash was an unexpected surprise.
The Race to Bed
Once dinner was concluded, there was almost a stampede amongst my fellow passengers to get to the bathroom to change into their pyjamas and have their seats made up for bedtime. The benefit of the night flight is that you can conceivably get in a solid 8 hours sleep before breakfast and I think this was the communal plan. There are two bathrooms at the front of the cabin to the left and right of the stairway that takes you up onto the second deck and into Club World. This means that there is a vast space to walk around in privacy where you would not be bothering anyone; fortunately, we did not need it on this flight, but the parent in me thought, “wow this would be amazing if you had to walk around with a baby to get them back to sleep!” I remember one of our first flights with Bub was on a 737 to Melbourne where I was chased from one end of the plane to the other down the single-aisle by the drinks trolley trying to get her to sleep. Carrying a crying baby around a plane gives you an unvarnished insight into people’s personalities as there is a physiological response which cannot be hidden.
But I digress, the toilets, which I have to say are my only real criticism of BA’s First experience; there is nothing wrong with them, but then again there is nothing special about them either, they are exactly the same toilet that you would find in economy, but in these you are expected to get undressed and change. Now I am not a large person, and I struggled to comfortably change in the relatively confined space. So, when you see what other airlines are offering their first class passengers, it seems strange to me that BA would not have made the toilet/changing room larger. This is especially the case as the toilets upstairs in Club World are practically double the size and have a changing couch. So, my advice is if you find that the First toilets are too small head to the business class ones up the stairs. Once you are in your blue pyjamas it is time to ask one of the stewardesses to make up your bed; they will then disappear and rematerialise with a mattress, duvet and pillow and in 2 minutes your seat is now a bed. Happily tucked in we were all asleep by 1:30 am and heading west having been lavishly fed and watered.
Breakfast and Red Tape
About an hour and a half out of London breakfast is served, so it is a good idea to get up a couple of hours before landing to make sure you have time to get dressed and have your bedding removed. I went for the traditional mixed grill, and it was brilliant, the eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes were not only delicious but looked amazing - when they turned up I seriously considered whether they had been polished. After coffee, a juice and a croissant it was time to get on with filling out the double-sided British Border Force landing cards which would give the Australian ones a run for their money in terms of complexity. Bub and Mum were able to enjoy the fruit and yoghurts on offer - they are much healthier than Dad. While I was filling out the forms I learned two useful tips from our hostess: firstly, space allowing, they are happy to store a pram in the First cabin and, secondly, that we could use the arrivals lounge once we had gotten through immigration and picked up our bags. I was also given a priority pass to the immigration line when we arrived, which proved very useful.
Trains and Kippers
Having landed with barely a bump at 6 am it was time to say goodbye to our lovely stewardesses and fellow passengers, a few of whom kindly said how well behaved Bub had been, mostly, I am the first to admit, due to Mum’s amazing baby wrangling skills. We were told to wait by the exit and that our pram would turn up shortly. Well, there must have been a mix up in communications somewhere as once the last passenger had left the plane we were still waiting, subsequently having been apologised to and told that the pram would have to be collected in the baggage hall we commenced our walk. Fortunately, we had nowhere to be until 10:30 not wanting to turn up on my aunt’s doorstep at an unsociable 7 a.m. and were looking forward to a shower, massage and second breakfast at the Concorde Room.
In any event, as it turned out, there are only so many passengers who can get to immigration at any one time at Terminal 5, that is unless you feel like a very long walk - it is separated into sub-terminals of A, B and C and to access them you need to use a transit train. We landed at C and needed to get to A, so Bub got to stretch her legs and experience her first train ride. The Choo-Choo having been a big success we got to the Arrivals Hall where the priority pass proved very useful to us non-EU members, we got to the front of the cue behind only one other person already at the customs desk. We thought this should be quick, as how long can it take to process one person? But 15 minutes later the customs officer was still asking our fellow traveller questions, and Bub, in the meantime, had become quite black from polishing the floor as we were still short a pram to store her in. Having managed to convince the Border Force that we were no threat to crown and country, we went off to collect our bags.
Once we had piled up our trolley and safely strapped Bub into her pram, we headed off to the British Airways The Galleries Arrivals Lounge which is located on the 1st Floor. To get there, you take the orange lift that is roughly in the centre of the terminal. On arrival, we presented our boarding passes and were invited to check our bags with the cloakroom so that we did not have to bring them into the lounge itself. We were also given an invitation to the Concorde Breakfast Room. For a good rundown of the lounge, I have found that the Australia Business Traveller does a good review with some nice pictures, click on the picture below to read their article:
Fortunately, for us, the lounge was pretty quiet when we got there as BA12 is one of the first long haul flights into Heathrow in the morning and it does not get busy until 7 am. The first thing we did was go and book a massage at the Elemis spa for 9 o’clock, and then we headed over to the Hydrotherapy Centre which is made up of 94 shower suites and six cabanas fitted with infinity baths as well as more bottles of water than you can shake a stick at. We booked two shower suites and went off for a shower; the suites were great; they were clean, well-lit with a great shower. One word of advice though, there is a sign which says to place anything you do not want to get wet on the wooden bench behind the door – take that seriously, I got out the shower to find the floor flooded.
Once we had both showered and freshened up, we met up outside the Hydrotherapy entrance to find that there was now a considerable line of passengers waiting to go in, so they do get busy pretty quickly considering that there are so many showers. Deciding to feed my inner Hobbit, we headed off for breakfast number two in the Concorde Breakfast Room, which is located through glass doors in the middle of the lounge. Once inside, we were met by a lovely waitress who looked after us very well; we were shown to a table and fetched coffee and orange juice. I had the buttered kippers which were perfect, and Bub tucked into yet more fruit. We finished breakfast just in time for our spa appointments; my wife went in first while Bub and I explored the business centre, which looked very well equipped with lots of large flat screens. Then it was my turn; it turns out that the massage was not a proper masseuse administered massage but rather a chair one. I have always been rather dubious of the chairs, so this was the first time I had ever sat in one, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised; I felt more relaxed when I got up than when I had sat down, so it was a plus. We also left with a stash of free Elemis samples, which I think my wife enjoyed.
As we said goodbye to the lounge and headed out into the English morning, our First experience was now officially at an end. I think it is fair to say that original premise that travelling First with Bub on a 14-hour flight had made what was potentially a stressful and challenging flight into a fun adventure. We were looked after beautifully, had slept well, eaten and drunk a little more than was good for us and started the day with a hot shower and massage. Travelling in First with BA was a pleasure and had lived up to all my expectations of effortlessness service and elegance.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them using the comments box below, and I will do my best to answer them.
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