Why Is British Airways First Class So Expensive?

Right now, booking a round-trip first-class ticket with British Airways from London to Los Angeles in mid-September 2020 will cost over £10,000 ($13,100). Meanwhile, flying around the same time with the airline’s most basic economy ticket can cost as little as £500 ($655). So what would paying 20 times the cost of a basic economy airfare provide a first class passenger? Let’s find out.

British Airways first class
The first class cabin with British Airways, called ‘First’, is the airline’s highest-grade product. Photo: British Airways

As this is the third time we’ve done an article like this, previously covering first class for Emirates and Cathay Pacific, we may reference these airlines to make points of comparison.

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Before the airport

Before the journey even begins, the airline has its “You First” service for first class ticket holders. This is a dedicated helpdesk that can assist with any aspect of the journey.

While Emirates has a driver service to transport you to and from the airport for both journeys, this is absent from British Airways’ First.

However, if you are departing from the wider London area, the airline has an arrangement with AirPortr, which will pick up passenger bags and check them in. This will happen either the day before the flight or the day of travel. The airline does not offer any similar services for BA First passengers departing from any other airports outside London.

The Airportr service is available to all BA passengers for an additional charge. The BA First webpage makes mention of the Airportr service, but does not explicitly state that it is included in the airfare (nor does it say anything about an additional fee). Given the cost of the ticket, it should be!

The airport experience

If flying out of London Heathrow, passengers will arrive to find dedicated check-in desks for First passengers. The airline adds that this is also present at most airports. BA also offers Fast Track security to its First passengers at London Heathrow and London Gatwick. The only airport outside of London to also offer this is New York JFK.

Particularly at London Heathrow Terminal 5, British Airways has its exclusive First Wing, which offers a dedicated space, a private check-in area, two of its own security lanes, and a direct walkway into the Galleries First Lounge and Concorde Room.

Once past security screening you’ll have access to BA’s first class lounges, which include “a luxury complimentary massage or facial treatment, with acclaimed British spa and skincare brand Elemis.” 

Naturally, first class ticket holders have priority boarding. Depending on the airport, this may be directly from the First lounge.

galleries first massage
BA’s First lounges offer a complimentary massage or facial treatment to passengers. Photo: British Airways

The first class seat

“Cross the world’s skies comfortably, calm, and entertained in your own spacious suite. It’s where British heritage meets contemporary design; letting you work in peace, watch a film, or stretch out and fall asleep.”

First class suites are naturally the most spacious seats on the aircraft. When it’s time to sleep, the seat converts into a 198cm (6ft 6in) fully flat bed.  Turndown service includes a “luxurious quilted mattress, crisp white cotton duvet, and pillow,” as well as loungewear supplied by Temperley London. The mattress is foam with a microfibre mattress topper and comes with 400 thread count bedding.

British Airways First
An overhead view of the British Airways First seat. The suite includes a personal power supply for laptops and electronic devices. Photo: British Airways

For entertainment and inflight connectivity, WiFi is complimentary (unlike Emirates and their recent decision to cut this from first class tickets).

All seats come with a 15-inch screen and ports to connect personal devices. Also included are high-quality noise-canceling headphones, for minimal disturbance.

First class dining

A relatively recent change, the airline says it now works closely with its caterers in making its new food service require less interaction with cabin crew, significantly reducing physical contact.

British Airways, Meal Service, COVID
The first class offering is the most diverse. Photo: British Airways

Dining onboard includes an a la carte menu of safely pre-packaged options with a range of hot and cold items. Vegetarian options are also available. The airline says that its pre-pay and pre-order services are temporarily suspended.

Passengers can select alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks from the aircraft’s bar service with alcoholic beverages served as miniatures or individual quarter bottles.

Previously, dining included “exclusively designed crockery, cutlery and glassware from the finest British designers, William Edwards, Studio William, and Dartington.” However, this has given way to the pre-packaged items mentioned above.

The little extras

In addition to the Temperley London loungewear mentioned earlier, passengers will also receive an amenity bag and slippers. A luxury skin and body care set is also provided.

first amenties kit british airways
A look at the Liberty London Washbags provided in First Class. Photo: British Airways.

Guests arriving at London Heathrow will have access to Arrivals Lounges at Terminals 3 and 5. These lounges feature dining, showers, and also a clothes-pressing service.

Is it worth it?

Comparing the first class offerings of Emirates and Cathay Pacific, it would appear that British Airways offers a comparable product in a similar price range. No, the airline does not provide a driver service as part of the ticket like Emirates, but few airlines do this anyways.

It looks like First passengers will benefit the most when flying in and out of London – particularly London Heathrow airport. As such, they may not get the same exclusive benefits if merely transferring through.