I took this flight a few months ago and am not sure why it has taking me so long to review it as I was very excited to fly this new service from Moscow Domodedovo (DME) to London Heathrow. I was excited for two reasons. One, I have lots of BA miles (Avios)and was able to use some of them without paying a fortune to redeem a ‘free” ticket (I think tax and fees were less than $50 – where some “free” tickets on BA can cost as much as $800). The other reason, this flight was on a 747-400 and had full long-haul First Class service. I have flown BA to and from Moscow a few times before but it was always in their Club Europe product. Which is basically an Economy seat with better meal and service (like most Intra-Europe flights). But British Airways is trying to attract the wealthy Russians with this International product (Business Class is also Club World now) and compete with Aeroflot (which surprisingly has a very good Business Class within Europe) and BMI (BA did not own BMI when they started using aircraft with long-haul First and Business Class).
British Airways has three flights a day between LHR and DME. Two 767’s with Club World, World Traveler Plus (premium economy), and World Traveler and this flight (BA #232) a 747-400 with First, Club World, World Traveler Plus, and World Traveler. The flight time is great. Leaves Moscow a little before 6pm and arrives into London around 6pm.
My Sister-in-law drove me to the airport and as this was a Sunday there was no traffic, (If during the week it is best to take the Aeroexpress train from Paveletskiy Station as traffic can be very bad – same is true to SVO from Belorusskya Station) so I arrived more than two hours before my flight. DME is a much better airport than SVO, but can still be confusing and overwhelming to someone who has not traveled to and from Russia. Since I have used this airport many times I was easily able to find the British Airways desks. While there is only a few counters for First and Business Class, check-in was quick and easy. I changed my seat to 1A and was on my way to security in a matter of minutes. The agent was not the most engaging person, but I find in Russia if you don’t expect service with a smile, when you do receive it, it is a very pleasant experience. I must say in the past I have always encountered helpful agents at check-in at DME (can’t say the same about SVO). So you can almost forget you are in a Russian airport. However, when I went upstairs and saw the very long line for passport control I was again reminded where I was. One of the best things about flying out of DME, is they have a separate passport and security line for business (and first) class passengers. This saved me at least an hour and if I didn’t know that this line existed I would have gotten in line and waited the hour. Immediately after security is the Business Class Lounge (Navigator Club Lounge – http://patstravelreviews.com/british-airways-navigator-club-lounge-review-moscow-dme/). We were still two hours before departure so I spent my time in the lounge. Moscow may have the most expensive duty free in the world. So there was no reason to visit any of the shops there.
Once aboard you immediately felt like you were on a long-haul flight. I was greeted by a very friendly flight attendant and escorted to my seat. There is not much space in the overheads in the front of the 747. So my carry on was put in the front closet and briefcase barely fit into the overhead. BA has 14 seats in First Class on their 747-400’s. Row’s 1-3 are one seat next to the window, where row’s 4&5 have two middle seats in the center of the cabin (these seats seemed a little exposed to me). 1A & K are very private as there is nothing in front of you. This flight was half full. I was offered a pre-flight drink and I chose my customary orange juice. Much to my delight it was fresh squeezed and cold. Champagne (Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle), water, or really anything you wanted to drink was offered. On the seat was a small pillow and blanket as well as a nice amenity kit with Ren lotions and creams, Colgate toothpaste, toothbrush, earplugs, eye-shades and socks. In addition, I was offered a set of pajama’s which I gladly accepted as this is what I sleep in at home (and my wife wants me to get rid of my old ones from BA). The head flight attendant introduced himself and took my dinner order. The windows seemed different than other 747-400’s but I finally figured out that the shade is closed electronically and in two window blocks. By the time I was situated we were already pushing from the gate (a few minutes early). It is always interesting for me to see the different planes and airlines at Russian airports (despite the modernization of many Russian Airlines there are still many Tupolev’s and Ilyushin’s to see). So I enjoyed our taxi to the runway.
Shortly after take-off we were given hot towels and offered a drink and warm nuts. I started to adjust my seat and soon realized the leg rest would not raise. The flight attendant was very helpful and even got on the ground to try to fix it. He offered me another seat but our flight time was only 3 hours and I was not planning to sleep so it was not a problem. It came up enough for me to sit comfortably. The seats in First on BA are lie-flat (and I think this was their new First Class seat). So if this was a long flight I would’t have been too happy, and unfortunately I can not tell if it would have been a comfortable sleep. I do know they will prepare your seat into a bed with a quilted mattress to sleep on. So I am sure it would be comfortable. The controls for the seat is quite different from other airlines I have flown. There is a knob you turn to adjust your seat. There is also a small shaded lamp on the side of the seat which is a nice alternative to the usual light that comes over your shoulder. The tray table came up from the side and was very long (this allows two people to eat as there is an ottoman bench at the end of the seat).
After the seat ordeal I pulled my screen out and turned on the IFE system. British Airways High Life Program has over 100 movies and television shows to choose from as well as CD’s and music programs to listen to. Their systems can vary by aircraft but I am sure all their long-haul fleet is AVOD. A noise-canceling headset was provided, but I can’t say that it was the best quality so I used my own. The screen is 15 inches, but because it folded out a few feet in front of you it appears bigger.
After the drink and nuts were served there was a Caviar service. I wish my wife was with me as she loves caviar and would have eaten mine (well, that is not the only reason I wish she was with me). So unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo to show as I passed on the caviar (plus I am embarrassed enough taking photo’s of my own food, so taking a photo of the person behind me wasn’t appropriate) . There were two options for the starter. Either, a warm cheese souffle or leek and potato soup with smoked salmon. In addition, there was also a fresh seasonal salad available. As I do not drink I grabbed the menu this time to list what wines were available. There were three White’s (Chablis Grand Cru Bougros 2009, Pouilly-Fume L’arret Buffatte 2010, Grosset Springvale Riesling 2011) and three Red’s (Chateau Lynch-Bages 1998, Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir 2009, St. Hallett Materne Single Vineyard Shiraz 2010) as well as a full list of Spirits.
For the main dish course there were four choices; braised beef with grain mustard and horseradish mash, free-range chicken tapaka, megrim salmon, or salad of grilled tiger prawns. As I have a very strong aversion to mustard and horseradish I had asked the flight attendant to explain the beef to me and I completely misunderstood what he said. Because this was without a doubt the worst tasting meal that I have not only had on an airplane, but maybe anywhere. It was so bad I could not eat it. Now, I am not saying BA does not serve good tasting meals. I have flown BA in First before and thoroughly enjoyed my meal. This was my fault. I should have ordered the chicken and not something that had two ingredients in it I do not like. I am sure I could have asked for another meal, but one of my favorite Italian restaurants is across the street from Heathrow and I was planning to eat dinner again after we landed. So I just ate the vegetables (my mother would have been proud- and shocked!!). Also part of BA’s First menu is their Bistro Selection that can be ordered anytime. There was a choice of lamb stew, classic BLT, selection of biscuits and cheese.
As I had not really eaten much I was looking forward to dessert. I had the chilled chocolate fondant with salted caramel (the other option was a peach frangipane sponge with a light custard sauce) and it was decadent. The complete opposite experience to the beef. There was also a cheese and fruit plate available (which I did not take). Accompanied with a Warre’s 1992 Colheita Tawny Port or Vin de Constance 2006 dessert wine. After the dessert and cheese tea was served. Upon bringing the tea the flight attendant also brought a box of chocolates of which I was to select one or two (I assumed). I am not sure if he forgot them on my tray table or not, because these chocolates were there for quite some time and as much as I resisted and not try to embarrass myself, I took 3 or 4 chocolates (okay, 4). Of course I ate into one that had a liquid caramel center and it spilled all over my shirt. To their credit the BA staff was very professional (I did not see them laugh or smirk) and they brought me a towel with soda water that cleaned the stain up quite nicely.
Shortly after I finished my tea and chocolates the movie was over and we were approaching LHR. I noticed that the announcements were in English only. So if you are a Russian speaker that may be a problem, but I was happy as it meant shorter disruptions during announcements. The Fist menu was printed in both English and Russian. We only circled once and had a great view of the Thames and London as we landed. Even with the one circle we still arrived 30 minutes early. As I deplaned the flight attendants wished me well by name, which was a nice touch. I was a little disappointed to find out that the arrivals lounge was closed as well as Fast Track. You would think they have a fair amount of flights arriving at 6pm. But the line at passport was relatively quick and I was staying at the Hilton Terminal 4 so I really did not need to use the arrivals lounge.
Flying First on BA for such a short flight is like a tease. To really experience BA’s First product you need to fly more than 3 hours. But that being said, they really have a superior product to and from London and Moscow. If you compared my flight to DME on Brussels Airlines (or any other airline – including Aeroflot) and this flight, it is like comparing apples to oranges. There is no comparison. Now, flying to Moscow on BA in First would even be better as you could take advantage of the First check-in area in Terminal 5 and BA’s Concord Room (where you can get a massage, facial, full sit down meal, etc.). Of course if I used miles for a “free” ticket on BA from LHR to DME it would cost several hundred dollars in fees and taxes. So even with the problem with my seat and not enjoying my dinner, I was very pleased with this flight. I was even able to enjoy my pasta at IL Basilico a few hours after arriving.