In this review:
- Reunion of an old friend who I have never met;
- Windows dimmed by a motor;
- Being called “my love” for the first time in my life.
Life on the road
This is the return portion of my trip from Barcelona to Shanghai, for more information, please refer to the introduction section of the first part of the trip.
For the return part from Shanghai to London ,and eventually to Barcelona, I decided to upgrade from business class to first class because it is time for me to try a bit of international first class. This is long overdue as I am a man of culture, and how can my repertoire stop at mere business class? It only cost me 27000 avios I got from the stupid Iberia promotion earlier last year, so it basically was just 100 dollars extra. I appeared in the British Airways check in area about 90 minutes before departure, yet it was absolutely deserted. Ah yes, the good ol’Chinese habit of being in airports unnecessarily early. (My dad still goes to the airport 4 hours before departure even with priority, sigh.) I walked up to the first class check in desk, and got a confused look from the agent:”You… are going to London in first?” She asked in Chinese. I handed her the passport and just let her get to work. Her confusion quickly turned into relief, as I was likely one of the last persons to check in. She ran me through the general gate close time and directed me to the Cathay Pacific lounge. I immediately started running towards security.
This is because I was more thrilled to meet up with my long term frequent flying hacker friend Marvin, who helped me tremendously during my trying time in Prague on Voyager 3 trip. In fact, it was his relentless calling to LATAM that finally let the airline re-release my tickets back to me, saving me thousands of dollars and more importantly, giving me a chance to visit Malta! Honestly, it was rather surprising that it took us such a long time to actually meet in real life, as I had been eager to thank him personally for years. Finally, thanks to him making time and departing from Pudong airport around the same time (coincidentally we were also both at Terminal 2!), we convened in the Cathay Pacific lounge. After a big hug, we explored this beautiful space together.
Cathay Pacific Lounge Shanghai
There is nothing more “us” than walking into a business class lounge together. We were greeted by two agents manning the front desk, and welcomed into the space. You may have realized that I reviewed this lounge 2 years ago during my Qatari Hop, but I have good news. The lounge has been completed refurbished as it was closed for nearly a year between my two visits. Gone were the useless work stations and exposed bar of losers. Everything here is the new homey style that I came to love as experienced in Hong Kong and London. A large chilling-area welcomed us upon entry, which is basically a lot of cozy sofas and elegant light fixtures.
Turning a corner, you have the dining selections presented on one side, and some communal dining tables on the other, complemented by a long high counter bar for solo diners. A large group of elderly passengers traveling on the Iberia flight to Madrid occupied the area, and their chatter made this sector quite lively.
Food options here are quite good: given it is Cathay Pacific, I did not expect anything less. The breakfast selection includes a collection of cold cuts, and English breakfast hot food staples such as sausages and scrambled eggs. There are also a wide variety of fresh fruits presented whole, including a Chinese specialty called 人參果, which is basically a blander, paler version of plum with more juice and some stripes. The Chinese breakfast selection was simply a large container of plain rice porridge, coupled with all kinds of garnish typically accompanying it. Honestly, it is not too bad of a selection, given this is the supplementary food source for any visitor. Because this ain’t even the main show of the food scene in this lounge!
I took a look at the drink selection, as the full bar is still impressive (and attractive) on such early hours. Champagne selection is Laurent Perrier La Cuvée, which is acceptable for a business class lounge, and non-alcoholic options involve a whole slew of canned drinks and fresh juices. Sadly there is no bartender nor a bar at this lounge. Coffee is made by a rather common machine, and was dubbed “good” by Marvin as I am not much of a coffee drinker.
Pass this dining section, we arrived at the devouring section. A large sqaure space filled to the brink with dining tables for 2 or 4, and the highlight of every single Cathay Pacific business class lounge: the dim sum bar. For Shanghai, the selection available included the famous local 小籠包/xiao long buns, which is unfortunately steamed from frozen, which is not my favorite given my status as a xiao long connosoir. However, Marvin devoured both without hesitation. Other options include Sichuanese dan dan noodles, and some classic dim sums.
In every Cathay Pacific lounge, this is my favorite area, as I love to sit on the table surrounded by food, and work/relax with my lap top. Yes, it is not the most comfortable seating option out there, but it strikes a perfect balance between relaxation and business. I am not the type of person that either gets a full body massage while napping, or sit up and do work. I am not a type of person who can easily let off all my guard and just do not care about anything, or stop thinking. In fact, if I one day truly have nothing on my mind to accomplish, that would be the miost terrifying thing I can experience. Thus, it is pretty difficult for me to put my feet up in the sofa section or sit down in the business section: neither is for me.
Marvin’s flight would depart earlier than me, so we bid farewell as I ordered another portion of food. I wonder why my weight keeps increasing… Thank you Marvin for being here with me, see you soon next time! The next area past the dining block is a row of invidual chairs that look like like mini-pods for individual workers, looking outside the overhang, into the airy terminal. A lot of people like it, base on the constant full occupancy, but I do not like its small table and its abysmal height.
On the other edge, a long row of thin bar tables face the terminal as well, but it is never popular: who wants to sit on a thin, unstable bar stool when you have a large area with sofas and humongous table surfaces to spread all out anyway?
Finally, it was time to board my flight. I slowly made my way towards the boarding gate after waving Marvin’s Cathay Pacific 330 take off. By the time I arrived at the gate, business class had already finished with their boarding, as economy queue was well under way. I casually wafted aside and presented my boarding pass.
“Woah, okay, first class, welcome.” The gate agent responded, with a slight disbelief. Yeah, I am wearing casual dress shirt to my first international long haul first class flight, so what?
British Airways 777 First Class
I walked down the jet bridge and found the separate jetway for First class is already closed. “You have to go through the other way.” An agent told me. Well, what is the point of having a separate jet bridge for first class when you are just gonna close it early and have me stranded amongst 20 economy passengers trying to stow their crying babies into the engine intake? Huh? Can anyone answer me?
I showed my boarding pass stub to the cabin manager welcoming passengers on board. She immediately recognized my row and personally escorted me to my seat. She told me if I needed anything, simply call for her, before turning back to the doors. I was genuinely happy with my first long haul first class experience, as I gazed upon the glory of my seat.
The seat is an advanced version of reverse herringbone seat, in a configuration of 1-2-1 for 3 rows, and an additional 2 seats at the side for row 4. I picked myself seat 3K, a window seat on the second last row of starboard side.
I sat down into my position after stowing my back pack, and truly it was a marvel to behold. Firstly, I realized the windows are blocked so that an automatic shading system could be installed. Honestly, what kind of plebian would push down the window shade by hands anyway, am I right? However, it does bring a drawback as it became incredibly difficult to take photos over the wing as the thick space between blocks the view entirely. But it is a sacrifice that I am willing to make: for first class, true entertainment comes from inside the metal tube. The best view is from my heavenly duvet.
The left side of the footwell is a small wardrobe, suitable for a proper jacket or suit, but it also has quite a bit of room fitted with two storage pockets, perfect for passports and other small items. At the bottom is a medium-sized cubbie, enough for a small pair of shoes or perhaps a handbag.
To the right side, you can find the control pannel hidden behind a small cover, which features one of the older style remote, unlike newer entertainment systems’ touchscreen design. Beneath the panel is the interface for the control of the seat. It is quite a unique system, as there was simply a dial knob, and you twist it for the seat to recline. The seat can go super-upright as well, so you can simulate how a Ryanair passenger would be feeling while enjoying a world-class meal. Essentially, one can adjust it towards both directions while in the default position. The knob will turn green if you are in the “acceptable” upright position for take off and landing, indicating that you are okay to leave it be. Otherwise it will have a blue light. A strange system indeed. Next to the knob was the magazine rack, complete with two USB charging ports. However, throughout use, it was found that the voltage of these ports are extremely low, charging a mere 40% of my phone battery in 8 hours! Above those ports was an ambient light, which can potentially add some romantic lighting for my dinner for one coming soon.
The entertainment screen is latched on the side, which means that they are unavailable during take off and landing. This is one of the largest drawbacks of this seat, considering the crew had to spend minutes checking if everyone’s screen was properly unlatched for safety demonstration, and then close them, and then do the check again for landing. Additionally, the lack of window view exacerbated the problem while devoid of entertainment during take off and landing.
Now let’s take a look of the footwell. For some strange reason, there is a lever on the outside of the ottoman that allows the entire thing to slide down to the ground, as if anyone would find it comfortable, but I have never seen anyone putting it down. There is a separate set of seat-belts at the ottoman, which can accommodate another person to dine with me face-to-face. But because I am a single lonely miserable fuck, the belts just became a constant nuisance. But I do not blame British Airways, I blame myself… Why Young, why? Why do you have to circumnavigate the world once every full moon? This is why you are always by yourself because you live in a world of your own, becoming a demon of your own creation, torturing yourself for the sake of joy! Sitting in the first class of misery! Why!
To the side of the footwell sits a proper international power outlet, which is not as awkward as the placement in many other designs.
The tray table opens up and unfolds from the half, and is extremely heavy. In fact, you have to push down on it in order for the springs to pop it up, so that the gravity plus your finger pressure can surmount enough force to engage the levers. This also means it is very sturdy and not prone to vibrations. It may be big enough to spread out for work or one-person dining, but I could clearly see the old British couple next to me in the middle seat struggling to fit everything in place when they dined face-to-face.
Alice introduced herself to me as I settled down and took pictures. She acknowledged me by my name, and asked what name I would prefer to be called. I would get to her enthusiasm later, but she immediately recognized for my need of amenity kit as well as pajamas. A few minutes later, she came back with the menu, pajamas, and my male amenity kit. Unfortunately, it seemed like I snagged up the last male kit as she apologized to the gentleman sitting behind me that she could only offer a female one. Here are the contents.
This is a very good amenity kit. Elemis is a respectable brand, and the numerous creams and lotions included are definitely more than I will ever use: lip balm, eye cream, moisturizer, deodorant, facial wash, facial wipe, dental kit, actually good eye shades and ear plugs, wow! I am not particularly good at appreciating good amenity kits, but this one definitely exceeded my expectations. There are actual usable stuffs that I continued using after bringing them off the plane, which is rare even for me. Ya know, I am someone who would love to take the seat off the plane if I could, witnessed by the fact that I snagged the Thomas Cook salt-and-pepper shaker last year. (RIP Thomas Cook)
The pajamas are also absolutely fantastic. This Tempeley set fits me rather well, and the materials feel cool to the touch without forcing me to lose body heat. I loved it so much that I gladly brought it home with me. A little nit-pick is that the collar seems to open too low, so I felt like I was wearing those cleavage-demonstrating clothes that some girls wear when they want to say:”hey, my eyes are up here!”
I also got myself a pair of slippers, since I knew it was an item that, strangely, you have to put in a request for. For some unknown reasons, British Airways does not proactively offer them, so I was the only insider who asked for a pair during the entire journey. They are of very high quality, evidently as seen with their fluffy texture and sturdy build. I could totally see myself buying a pair for a few dollars if I need it on the ground.
Another thing waiting for me on the seat was the pair of headphones. I have come to expect rather low quality ear-pieces base upon my previous experiences, as I have lost so much hair to both being pinched by the horrible joint designs as well as listening to the low quality sounds emitted from those plastic loudspeakers. However, I was pleasantly surprised that these first class branded ones are quite good. Most of the ambient sounds were blocked out once I put it on, and the sound quality was definitely in the top percentiles. This is another soft product surprise that I got, and I was barely on the plane for 10 minutes!
I flipped through the menu, looking at the offerings on this flight. For the 12 hours, the meals are divided into a full service lunch and a pre-landing meal, coupled with a bit of light snacks in between. And the entire food menu reads as the following:
And the beverage selections are:
Alice informed me that the meal is fully customizable, and I could choose to dine anytime, anywhere. (Okay maybe the anywhere part is not exactly true as my request to eat in the galley standing up was swiftly denied.) This is a huge step up from what I was used to. With the exception of Qatar Airlines, no other premium carrier I have flown offers dine-on-demand features. Hainan claims to have it but I never managed to see it in practice. While waiting for her to provide other passengers with the same information, I relaxed and started sipping my champagne.
British Airways offers Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle NV as the champagne option for first class, which retails for nearly 200 dollars a bottle. This is definitely not a bad option, so I gladly drained it before we pulled out of parking position. At this time, Alice came to me for my order of meals, and sadly my first option of main course was depleted: no more lamb for poor Young! Alice did apologize profusely, and actively offered to bring me business class menu in case I want any dish from the cabin behind us. Lol, no thanks, I have no intention to peddle with the plebians not lying flat in an open suite with auto-dimming windows. 😉 We quickly turned around the taxi way, and ascended into the heavens at 11:20 am, a solid 30 minutes after scheduled departure, as expected for Chinese traffic.
Just 30 minutes after take off, my two bubbly drinks were brought in front of me, along with the most beautiful canapes I have ever laid eyes upon. Look at that gorgeous flower, super cute just like me! All of these small bites offer exceptional taste, as if they are crafted on the ground in a proper high-end restuarant, which is as high of a praise I can dispense at such an early part of the review.
The meal service was slow, as Alice made sure to chat up every single passenger in the aisle every single time she passes by for a drink refill or presentation of dishes. As a result, I am actually quite happy as the pace was intentionally set for a more personal savoring, rather than getting-the-job-done attitude present in a majority of business class experiences.
To begin the meal properly, Alice provided me with a large basket of hot bread to choose from. They all smelled extremely yummy and were soft to the touch, yet I did not want to gain another 25 pounds in 12 hours again, so I only elected for 2. My next course was the beautiful entree, pumpkin ravioli. It has a rich creamy texture inside, which is exactly what I expected. Just one problem: the sauce was not enough to even cover half of the dumplings, so I had to take big gulps of my Blanc de Noirs bubbly produced in the gloomy hills of England, which is not exactly a problem.
Finally, I went for my main course, so-called chrysanthemum fish, which in Chinese is called 松鼠魚. (literally squirrel fish, because the old versions put pine seeds on the finished delicacy as a garnish.) It is a classic dish from Shanghai area, especially from Suzhou, a city merely 50km west of Shanghai. As a signature dish of the Su faction of Chinese cuisine, its signature characteristics are: extremely delicate and prone to fall apart; sweet but not over the top; and the fish has to be top quality for the flesh to remain consistent and boneless after frying. This dish, surprisingly, matches all requirements for a typical restaurant presentation, barring its minute size to fit into a 5-course meal. I am extremely impressed with the crispy outside and creamy inside, along with a sauce that is not even remotely too sweet. I even dare to say it is on par with some of the best served on the ground, despite my pre-conceptions that fried dishes should not reheat well on a plane.
Next up is the cheese course, because what kind of Asian would I be if I do not talk trash about some crazy white-people cheeses? However, despite my best efforts, this cheese plate left me speechless. Barring my mortal enemy, blue cheese, everything else was perfect. Fig compote, black sesame crackers, and the cheeses were all excellent and absolutely fitting for a high grade cheese plate.
Finally, the long gastronomic journey ends with a dessert. This is actually the weakest course of the meal, if you can even tolerate me for saying that. As desserts have always been the easiest to execute 35000 feet above ground, I do not feel this is anything different from a business class chocolate mousse cake. Maybe a better, more grandiose presentation given the budget?
Finally, the meal crawled onto the finish line at a snail pace, 3 hours after take off. I was ready to doze off to sleep despite it being merely 2pm in Shanghai time. Alcohol has this strange effect on me, as instead of making me more mellow or aggressive, it just hyperactivates my sleeping tendencies. I semi-consciously told Alice to make my bed, and went inside the bathroom to change into my pajamas.
There are only 2 first class bathrooms, situated to the rear of the cabin. The exact designs are very similar to economy ones, but with a changing table for anyone swapping in/out of pajamas. There are also physical barriers behind these bathrooms to prevent business class passengers from accessing first class cabin via the galley. I returned in a mere 2 minutes to find out my seat had been completely transformed into a comfortable, large, homey bed.
I dozed off to sleep almost immediately. The pillows and mattress provided by White Company was absolutely the most comfortable I had ever experienced in the sky. I dozed off for a solid 6 hours, which was pretty substantial for an afternoon nap, even on my standards, let alone it was done flying near the speed of sound.
I woke up to see most of the cabin sleeping as well, while Alice went on her mid-flight break. She told me she would work 4 hours and then take 4 hours off, just to come back for another 4 hours before landing. We just passed Kazakhstan, and finally was making ways onto the European continent.
I tried playing some basic arcade games loaded on the system in the entertainment section, and found the system power to be laughably inadequate. Just a 90s style shooting game would crash the entire entertainment computer, forcing it to reboot as I was busy battling a boss. That is some serious underpower stuffs right there, almost on par with US military launching nuclear cruise missles using 10-inch floppy disks. I then took a small stroll around the plane, and found out the load was substantially different from my experience coming back from Europe just 3 weeks ago. First class was not the only cabin to be completely full, with business class completely occupied as well, a complete contrast of me owning literally half of the cabin last time. Premium economy was half full, yet the economy load was still a pathetic 40%.
As a first class passenger, I had access to in-flight wifi with bottomless capacity. Finally, for once in my life, I could care nothing about my data consumption on a plane, since the speed was surprisingly fast and connection oustandingly stable. I was able to not only message my friends and family, or attach photos on my emails, but also watch entire YouTube videos without a single buffer!
I got a bit peckish, as usual after a long nap induced by alcohol, and called for a flight attendent. It took the replacement attendant about 5 minutes to show up, and greeted me with a smile. I ordered a burger, and waited merely 10 minutes for the tiny crown to manifest itself in front of me. Alice served it, as she realized I was the person who ordered the burger, and wanted to present this little baby herself. We both marveled at the cuteness of such a small yet chubby burger, a first time for me!
The burger was absolutely delicious. With a juicy patty and freshly baked buns, I was having a hard time believing it was catered from China, the place where the anti-Christ of burgers are born. I also ordered a cup of coffee, as I began working while using the free limitless wifi, in my comfortable pajama. Life is good, life is good!
THE SOFT PRODUCT
What can I even say? Alice, and her teammates, are absolutely fantastic. This is clearly a mixed crew, which is the group hired after the 2010 British Airways contract fiasco. They are known to be extremely passionate about their work while providing various quality levels of service. However, everyone I interacted with were so heartwarmingly professional that I felt bad for paying such a small price tag for such great services. Alice knelt down to talk to every single passenger, and she addressed me as “my love”, which really made me happy and uneasy at the same time: no one in my life has ever called me this before!
She also talked to me about my life, her job, the airline, the first class product, and much more. This is a first when it comes to someone on my flight serving me showing genuine interests in my background, my culture, my history, and willing to engage in meaningful conversations. I felt like I was more than a customer or a work-related nuisance, but an actual friend. She told her colleague to decorate my dishes a bit more meticulously because she noticed me taking photos. She walked up and down the aisle once every 5 minutes to make sure everyone was doing great, while remaining as stealthy as possible.These are all small details that truly shine during the flight, and she was able to treat each one of the 7 passengers in my aisle with the same dedication, now that is what I call loving thy job!
Finally, the light meal before landing was served. I told Alice to make it as extravagant as possible, and boy did she deliver. 2.5 hours before landing, my chicken breast was served on top of a fresh new tablecloth, coupled with more shakers than identifiable species of cute dogs on this planet.
Alice offered to take some photos of me enjoying the meal, as I expressed that I could never get a proper photo of myself on airplanes. However, let’s just say she is not exactly as good of a photographer as she is at being a first class flight attendent. 😛
The entree was mighty fine, and I was able to gobble it all down in mere seconds, even though I just finished a burger literally one hour ago. The main course is another Chinese dish, because the western option, yellow courgette ratatouille, is just a glorified hot salad.
The salmon comes with a Chinese tomato-ginger dressing, and a bowl of egg fried rice. I was so glad that British Airways decided to provide chopsticks for flights related to China, as eating a bowl of egg fried rice with forks would likely cause me to lose my Chinese citizenship. The salmon is well-done, but actually quite authentically Chinese as we hate raw food with as much burning passion as capitalism.
Finally, for dessert, I opted out of the raspberry breton cake, as my calorie counter was about to commit suicide. Instead, I asked for a fruit plate from the list of snack options, and Alice gladly obliged. I finished the entire meal lightning fast, so within 1 hour, I had concluded all food offerings on my first ever long haul first class flight.
LANDING & CONCLUSION
After fiddling around more with my phone hooked up with limitless wifi, I was told to prepare for landing. The captain reported a rainy afternoon in London per British traditions, and told us we would arrive nearly 30 minutes before schedule. Quickly, I was told to lock away my screen, and raise the curtain blinds. Running out of options to entertain myself like a dog waiting for the owner to return home, I resorted to the same tactic as the canine: staring out of the window.
Luckily, they never bothered turning off wifi until we reached our gates, so I could at least watch some Heathrow landing videos while being a part of the landing sequence. However, all good things have to come to an end, just like all my relationships with a caring girlfriend in my dreams. We slowly taxiied over to Heathrow terminal 5, where I waved goodbye to all the cabin crew members wearing their signature hats, indicating their mixed-crew status. They might be less experienced, but they did a mighty job!
I disembarked and walked towards the terminal, and could not believe my first ever true first class experience was over. Many folks in the frequent flyer circle like to jest that British Airways First Class is the best business class on the planet, and the others would claim they are not even on par with the best business class offers such as Qsuites. However, after this new round of improvements implemented in British Airways premium cabins throughout 2019, I am not so sure any more.
In fact, I am certain that British Airways have leaped forward astoundingly in first class, as there was not one general area that I could point my finger at for being severely inadequate. The seat is acceptable, and the amenities surely are nice. The food offerings are excellent, and the service I got was the best I have ever received in the sky, or anywhere else. Honestly, I think this product deserves its name as first class, without any doubt. Bravo, British Airways!
- the best service on the plane ever
- great food quality
- free limitless wifi
- exceptional bedding
- excellent value
- slightly outdated seat
- very outdated entertainment system
- non-functional USB port charging
- running out of selections for amenity bag and main course
British Airways B773 First Class grading:
- Ground Services: 160
- Hard Product: 130
- Soft Product: 330
- Food and Beverage: 210
- Value: 180
- Bonus: 100 for being called “my love” for the first time in my life!
- TOTAL: 1110
I rate it an Alice out of three disgruntled American Airlines ground agents.Young