British Airways first class aims to match Virgin biz with LHR “wing”

static

One of the passenger experience benefits for first class travellers has been missing for eight years at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the home of British Airways: a fully separated fast-track system to speed flyers privately through checkin and security. But that will change in April with the launch of First Wing.

Virgin Atlantic has offered its Upper Class Wing to business passengers, with a dedicated entrance and security line at Terminal 3 for years, as do many international airlines at their own home hubs, so it’s great to see BA finally getting with the programme — but, of course, it is only at Terminal 5, and not Terminal 3 where a significant minority of British Airways’ flights operate.

The previous offering was a section of the main checkin hall and a “secret door” just after fast track security, enabling passengers with Concorde Room access (invite-only frequent flyers and BA’s first class passengers) to skip the enforced double-back march past Heathrow Airport’s duty free shopping that every other passenger must endure. The First Wing “will be assessable [sic] for the airline’s first customers, eligible Gold Executive Club customers and oneworld Emerald members,” BA says.

The new wing “will be located next to the airlines [sic] first check-in area. It will create an enhanced private check-in zone where customers will be guided to two new dedicated security lanes, designed to speed up the process of passing through the airport. Once through security, customers will have dedicated access to British Airways’ Galleries First lounge and through to the airline’s flagship Concorde Room,” BA promises. That’s a step up over Virgin, which hasn’t managed to negotiate a shopping-free fast-track for its passengers.

On the termincal side, BA's First zone will be walled off with a wooden facade. Image: British Airways

On the terminal side, BA’s First zone will be walled off with a wooden facade. Image: British Airways

Looking at the images, the plan seems to be for a wood-framed surround to be installed in front of the space that makes up the existing first class checkin area. This section feels quite attractive and a particular improvement for the rather grey and metallic T5, which is light and airy if the sun is out, but is rather too located in the United Kingdom for that to be the default light level.

Inside, the checkin zone is decorated with what feel a little too much like kitchen cabinetry, and BA isn’t showing the actual checkin process yet. I spot a couple of desks, but in the context of other airlines’ first class checkin areas offering comfortable sofa spaces and privacy, it would be smart to make this area at least as inviting as an IKEA showroom.

Inside the checkin zone it feels a little bit like an overload of cabinetry. Image: British Airways

Inside the checkin zone it feels a little bit like an overload of cabinetry. Image: British Airways

Security seems sensible enough, and the angular recombobulation area towards the centre is a decent idea, but needs some refinement to ensure that the passenger flow is optimised. It strikes me that having sock-shod passengers dragging luggage, shoes and bins across the main flow to sit down in the way of passengers trying to emerge from the security zone is less than ideal.

I like the airy security zone, but I'm not convinced by the central featuer. Image: British Airways

I like the airy security zone, but I’m not convinced by the central feature. Image: British Airways

Within its remarkably detail-free press release, BA makes the rather bold claim that the First Wing’s dedicated security will reduce queueing at the existing Fast Track lines, a claim that is unlikely to hold true in practice.

Rotation
“The new dedicated security lanes will also reduce the number of customers using the current North and South security, speeding up the journey for all customers, especially those travelling in Club World, through Terminal 5,” says the airline.

The proportion of first class passengers travelling is so minuscule compared with business class travellers, and even adding BA’s top-tier Gold-level frequent flyer cardholders into that mix doesn’t seem like it will tip the scales enough to make any noticeable difference to Fast Track, which has come in for criticism over the eight years since it opened for not being much faster than the regular queues.

In premium #PaxEx terms, though, the new first class wing had better be good. British Airways’ first class product is often called the “world’s best business class” because it’s a very similar outward-facing herringbone to many airlines’ business class products. BA will need to ensure that it’s not providing a business class service to first class passengers.

2 Comments

  1. Rick

    I flew First this past weekend to EWR and I didn’t feel special other than the Concorde Room. I didn’t get any special boarding (had to board to EWR and disembark in LHR in a crowded bus; couldn’t get a massage in the spa even though I called more than 2 weeks in advance, no special super fast track or passport control).

  2. Alan

    The new First Wing may well enhance the experience for pax arriving by road, rail or tube at LHR and checking in to a First flight departing LHR.

    What it absolutely will not solve is the utterly dreadful transfer experience BA’s First Class pax must endure when arriving at LHR and transferring to a domestic BA onward connection. There is no fast track through the UK Border. I arrived First ex-JFK at 07:00 on Saturday morning. It took 93 minutes from doors opening to actually entering the Concorde Room.

    The experience is even more abysmal if you have the misfortune to arrive at T3. Then you get the full ‘standing up in a grotty bus with your nose in a stranger’s armpit experience’ whilst trundling over to T5. This is simply not a First Class experience.

    Benchmark: arrival in AF La Premiere at CDG. Photogenic and multilingual VIP agent meets you at the cabin door. Private limo. Dedicated security (I’ve never experienced more than 10 seconds wait). Dedicated entry to first class lounge (complete with the best showers at any airport anywhere on the planet, and an Alain Ducasse restaurant). Total relaxation, sure in knowledge that the VIP agent will come find you when it’s time to leave. Then private limo to connecting flight. Agent hands you over to the cabin crew and Au Revoir.

    I am wondering whether it will actually be quicker to EXIT T5 arrivals via the eGates to landside and then re-enter via the First Wing? That’s got to be quicker for T5-T5 connections than the current melee at the International to UK border control.