MIAMI —On September 30th, British Airways took delivery of its first 787-9 Dreamliner, joining six other airlines who also operate both types of 787. This week, the airline invited a select group of media to to be among the first to experience the new First Class before it enters regular service, during a crew familiarization flight from London Heathrow to Austin, Texas.
For this day, the 787-9 was swapped in for the route to Austin, normally served by the 787-8, and First Class was blocked from booking for reservations. Upon entering the First Class cabin, one immediately notices the dark, elegant colors, which fly against the current trend toward lighter surfaces and decor, such as those seen on Air France and Finnair. The airline’s design firm, Forpeople opted for dark grey diamond-stitched cushion surfaces, with brushed aluminum fixtures and muted tan leather highlights. It all combines to create a very unique, exclusive feel.
The airline says the suites were designed based on direct feedback from its First Class customers. The new, more private space includes four new storage areas. When describing the new storage ottoman, BA’s Head of Customer Abby Comber said, “It’s quite good. You can get a pair of gent’s shoes in there, or a sizable ladies’ handbag.” The suiter closet for jackets has been updated. In addition, there is now an eye-level cubby with a vanity mirror for things like glasses and tablet computers. Comber said “ladies tend to want to freshen up at their seat, and having the mirror here allows it to still be nice and private.” Finally, there is also a discreet storage area by the armrest where passengers can store and charge their portable electronic devices. This spot allows one device to be charged by a traditional power outlet, along with two other devices by USB outlet.
The seat itself is controlled by what BA calls a jog dial. Comber said the dial is exclusive to BA, and gives the product the feeling of a premium car, noting that the dial function, the lighting and the leather-stitched upholstery are things likely to be seen in the homes and vehicles of those who would fly in First Class. To operate the jog dial, the passenger first chooses which function he or she wants to change, such as the seat position or the lighting.
The First suites feature three individual lights, which have the ability to be brightened or dimmed. Once the passenger chooses the function they want to adjust, they simply turn the jog dial left or right. While useful and easy to operate, the location of the jog wheel controller could be considered a bit bothersome. Located just next to the passenger’s elbow while sitting, or by the shoulder while reclining, it’s actually difficult to reach and use with the closest arm because it is so close. With the jog wheel by my left shoulder, it seemed easier to reach across my body to use it with my right hand.
When a First Class passenger wishes to sleep, he or she simply adjusts the seat to be completely flat, and a Flight Attendant will make the bed by placing a pad over the seat cushions. On top of that, a thick comforter is supplied, along with a larger pillow. First passengers also receive slippers and pajamas.
The new 23-inch flat screens are mounted in a fixed position, which means passengers do not have to stow the screens for takeoff and landing. The in-flight entertainment system is by Thales, and features a respectable selection of recently-released movies, music, games, a moving map, and even a chat function through which passengers can send messages to each other. The touchscreen controller has the ability to display the moving map while a movie or show is playing on the larger screen. Entertainment menus can be navigated by scrolling up or down each page, as well as swiping left or right, while the 23-inch screen also functions as a touchscreen controller.
The dining table now pivots outward instead of having to be pulled upward from a hiding place in the traditional arm rest. When folded in half, the table is a leather-topped writing desk. When unfolded the table is quite large — more than ample for meal trays and beverages. The table can also be pushed forward, allowing the passenger room to get up and leave the seat without having to stow the table. Comber said the table is her favorite feature of the new First suite. As one would expect, the cabin service and food were excellent. On this day time flight, entree selections included a seared filet of Aberdeen Angus beef, a seared North Atlantic cod, glazed pork belly, and a Szechuan chicken salad. Prior to landing, an afternoon tea was served with finger sandwiches and scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The 787-9 is twenty feet longer than its older stablemate, and will offer eight exclusive First Class Suites, in comparison to fourteen on most other BA aircraft. The rest of the plane is similar to the 787-8s in the fleet. With twenty one more -9s on order, an additional aircraft is expected to join the BA fleet this month, with two more slated to be delivered by year’s end. Official entry into service is scheduled for October 25th, to Delhi, followed by Abu Dhabi and Muscat on November 5th. Service to Austin will be upgraded from the 787-8 to the -9 next February, followed by a new destination, San Jose, California in May, 2016.