Airline Review: British Airways

A view of British Airways' first class interior spaceThe first time I flew British Airways (BA), I used 100,000 miles I received from signing up for their credit card, redeemed the points for a first class ticket, and enjoyed serious luxury on the way to New York City from London. I remember asking if I could go walk around the plane to see what the other cabins were like, and our flight attendant (first class has its own) said to me, “Matt, you are first class. You can do whatever you want.” Though I’ve long forgotten his name, I’ll never forget that line.

Flying in first class was an experience I hope to someday repeat. But I hate judging airlines by their first-class service since most people fly economy, and first class should always be good, regardless of the airline. I judge airlines mostly on their economy class, since that’s where I and most other travelers usually fly. So I was eager to fly BA again and see how the conditions were in the back of the plane.

While in Europe the past few months, I’ve had a chance to fly BA frequently. I’ve enjoyed them a lot. In fact, I think they’re one of the better partners in the Oneworld Alliance.

However, the downside to BA is that they’re very expensive. Their ticket prices are never cheap, and there always seem to be a lot of taxes and fees added on. Moreover, when you book a rewards ticket with them, you still have to pay those hefty fees. My first class ticket wasn’t actually free, despite the miles I used. I still had to pay about $275 USD in fees and taxes.

However, I’ve always enjoyed the service on their planes and on the ground. The staff is no more or less friendly than on any other airline. BA flight attendants tend to get a bad rap because they always seem to be striking, but my experience with them has always been positive. They aren’t the super-duper, jump-in-your-face friendly staff of most Asian carriers, but they aren’t the rude staff of U.S. Airways, either. When you need something, they’re there, and that’s really all I want out of my flight staff.

The interiors of most BA planes are generally comfortable and spacious. Last year, they redesigned their first-class section, and I was lucky enough to be on one of those new planes. It was amazing. But even in economy class, I found the interiors much more modern and comfortable than many other airlines. Their new Embraer 170/190 is only few years old and has an eye-pleasing interior, comfortable seats, and a decent amount of legroom. Unfortunately, in many of their Airbus planes around Europe, you’ll find that the interior is old and shabby. They still have a lot of work to do in modernizing their fleet. On their larger long-haul jets, it’s pretty hit-or-miss, but at least you get a personal TV, which is something you don’t get on most American carriers.

An interior view of the first class section on a British Airways flightAnother complaint with BA’s old planes is that even though I had legroom, their seats are still a bit small. I would hate to be a really tall person on their flights. They’re upgrading their 777 fleet soon, though, so hopefully that will improve the legroom.

As for the food? Well, in first class, it was pretty delicious, and the endless glasses of wine made for a really enjoyable flight to New York. However, on the economy class flights I took, I can’t say I was overly impressed. I haven’t had any of their food on a long-haul international flight, but the food on their short-haul flights around Europe consisted of a very mini can of coke and a sandwich I don’t think even 7-11 would sell.

Overall, British Airways is a good, but not great, airline. I wouldn’t go through hoops to fly them like I would Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or a lot of other airlines. But I wouldn’t skip them, either. In fact, since American Airlines lacks personal TV screens in economy class, I’m now only flying British Airways across the Atlantic. Compared to other European airlines, I think they’re better than KLM, Finn Air, Olympic, Aegean, and TAP.

So would I recommend British Airways? Yes, but given how many airlines they partner with, I suggest booking with one of their partner airlines to avoid BA’s high fares and monstrous taxes and fees. They always seem to be a few hundred dollars more expensive than other carriers. But at least you get a comfortable ride.

  1. Fallon

    I’d say with the price it really depends on when you book and where you’re going. I almost always fly them when flying from the US into the UK and on the last flight I took (in August) they were nearly $400 cheaper than any other option. You mentioned not having had their long haul food, and I would mention that it’s pretty wonderful for airplane food. Yes, their short, European flights have non-impressive sandwiches, but for international you tend to get great curries with side dishes and wine. They also tend to do a snack/breakfast. I’ve been really impressed with them and if you book far enough in advance, the fairs can be good as well.

    • apurva

      i ve had one of the most horrible travelling experiences with b a . paying more money for premium economy . they had horrible food . even the choice was not available. the entertainment system did not work. the staff was completely indifferent to the situation. all they said was ‘ food is not there/good, ‘ “sorry”. entertainment not working “sorry”.

      they gave few miles in compensation. not even adequate support for bad service.

      all fltying ba please be sure of your needs.

  2. I just booked a South American itinerary with one of their partners, LAN and luckily avoided the high fees. I’ll be visiting 3 countries using 40k miles. I decided to book before their executive club miles changes to Avios in a few days….who knows what changes (good or bad) will be awaiting us?

  3. I flew first class once from ATL to Amsterdam. As my buddy and I sat down, the FA said “Gentlemen, we have a problem. The plane is too heavy so we will need you to consume as much alcohol as possible prior to landing.” I’ll never forget that…

  4. Angel

    Their seats are REALLY small. I weigh about 145 and stand 5’8″ but the thing is… I have curves but am proportionate – and my hips just about touched the sides. I think there might have been about an inch or two on each side and I was in coach. Other than the seats they weren’t the best airline nor the worst just average imo

  5. I flew First Class from St. Lucia to London Gatwick. I flew business class quite a few times, including inter-continental, but only once I flew in 1st. I was actually on an info-trip invited by British, but it was quite impressive. Not only the comfort, but the attitude of the staff which was not only ready to serve, but extremelly friendly, they actually behaved like a friend, with jokes and light hearted service… And yes, “Cezar, you fly first, you can do whatever you want :)

  6. Amanda

    When I was in college I studied abroad in South Africa and the majority if our group flew BA from the states to London to Cape Town. There were about 11 people total, all on various BA flights. 7 of them had their bags lost by the airline, one of whom didn’t get her luggage back until 2 weeks later. Another student got hers back 2 MONTHS later, and everything was moldy inside because they let it out in the rain.

    I understand airlines lose bags often, but I found this totally unacceptable, and for this reason I fly Air Canada whenever possible. They once upgraded me to first class, for free, without me even asking. And their service and planes were nice.

  7. ‘mini-coke’? I’ve traveled dozens of times with BA around Europe and always get a beer AND wine – just ask 😉

    Of the various airlines we used on our RTW trip BA came up tops – no one factor, just friendly, quality service overall. [Who came bottom? – Qantas]

  8. Matt,
    First, it’s a pity it took me so long to find your website: you write regarding things I care about, and your style is a non-shouted one, something that is increasingly hard to find nowadays.

    Regarding BA ‘rich’ classes… I almost never fly Business or First, since I am 1) skinflint and 2) even more skinflint. I did use BA’s Business Class on an Atlanta-Boston-London-Singapore relocation in ’08, paid by the company I was working for, and I was impressed by several BA features:

    1) Flight assistants calling me “Mr …”. They knew my name! They remembered my name. Some travellers will take this for granted; if instead you spend your life – as most people do – commuting on buses, trains and reasonably priced cars, to have somebody looking after you will make you giggle all the way. As I did.

    2) The seat was so comfortable, I remember sleeping for many hours. Almost horizontally, which is what most humans like.

    3) The TV screen was good. Large, bright. I remember watching No Country For Old Men and feeling that I got more than just ‘the gist’ of an in-flight movie, as it would usually happen.

    4) When the flight assistant offered me the list of wines, I had a giggle-even-more moment: they had Barbera wine, from my small part of Italy. The joy faded a bit when the assistant said “it’s a great SPANISH wine”, but maybe she did that only to allow me to correct her. They probably also have psycologycal profiles of their clients, and knew I love to correct people…

    5) I do not remember seeing any other passenger, apart from my wife. In BA’s business class, the seats are (were?) arranged in couples, each facing in the opposite direction. I could even raise the panel between me and my sweet half, and feel completely alone, thirty thousands feet from the Earth.

    6) It may sound like a secondary perk, but the luggage allowance, in BA’s Business Class (and in most airlines’ Business Class, I imagine) turns out to be extremely useful if you are relocating and need to carry with you as much luggage as possible. I did not have pots, kettle and network server in my luggage, but I had way more than the Economy Class would have allowed me to carry.

    That’s all, folks!

  9. Charlie

    AA just moved me to BA for a BUD-LHR Biz Class flt. I’m in their Exec Club. Is this equiv of AA’s Biz Class? I’m AA Lifetime Platinum, but this will be only my 2nd BA flight. AA moved their BUD destination to “seasonal”, hence the change. Interestingly, BA added almost $400 in fees, but AA is reimbursing me.

  10. Nice review. I’ve never flown with BA but would like to sometime. I hear what you are saying about no leg room. I’m 6’4″ and always get stuffed in the back with the rest of the sheep.

    Hate it.

    I really believe that if you are over a certain height, you should automatically be given the Exit Row.

    Ahh, the joys of flying economy!

  11. Petri

    These things change frequently but very often BA is not very expensive from continental Europe, where it competes with the other national carriers.

    For example for mid-January HEL-LHR-HEL, BA starts from ~200e return while the local carrier, Finnair, starts from 240e. BA is also nowadays reasonably flexible with one-way tickets, unlike e.g. Finnair.

    Likewise if I look for business class ticket from Helsinki to NYC, through London on BA, it’s about 2000e, about £1700. If I look for exactly the same flights but just for the London-NYC leg, the cost will be almost £2400. So flying from Helsinki to NYC, through London, is £700 cheaper than taking exactly the same flight across the Atlantic directly from London.
    (It happens the other way as well, Finnair sells flights to Asia cheaper to central Europe and UK than the locals)

    As far as service is concerned, I don’t think BA can compete with the Asian airlines. BA is good for an European airline and beats the US airlines, but nothing really to write home about.

  12. LaDonna

    As a travel agent the biggest problem with BA is not only the high taxes but also seats… Seats are a problem to assign and my clients do not like that so we do not book them often. We do book them on occassion but always have to warn the client that seats are a problem and most often they choose another carrier. With that said I do think the service is much preferable to any of the American legacy carriers. My favorite service is Japan Air Lines or Cathay Pacific….

  13. I tend to use BA for all my UK internal flight as they generally work out a lot cheaper than the alternatives. They are one of the few that give an all inclusive price unlike Ryanair, easy jet et al, they don’t charge for checked luggage and best of all they give me a free beer 😀

  14. Carolyn Niethammer

    Flew BA to India from Minneapolis with a stopover in London. In London there was a huge ice storm so we were delayed for many hours, so long in fact that the flight crew was overtime and we had to layover in Dubai for a night. At every step, BA could not have been nicer or more accommodating. They had a basket of snacks in the galley to which we could help ourselves (cookies and nuts). They put us up in nice hotels in Dubai and paid for all meals. At all stages the pilot let us know what was going on, what he was doing about it and what we could expect. Oddly enough on the way back two weeks later, the plane could not land in Phoenix due to very high winds so we were diverted to LA. Again we were put into a nice hotel, given meal vouchers and treated well. In the midst of all this diversion, my bag did not catch up with me but it was on my front porch a day later. Haven’t been overseas since, but would definitely consider them again. I flew coach but I walked around and saw their business class pods (most empty) that are like little private rooms and fantaszied what it would be like to cuddle up with my husband in one for an over-night flight.

  15. Ben

    Would love to travel first class reading this, just cannot afford it though! I’m hoping one day with the miles I gain on the BA executive members card to do so one day. Decided to do London-Singapore in the 747 BA and the return flight in a Quantas A380 to see the differences.

    Also I highly recommend Aegean airlines as a great airline, nice modern A320 fleet and have had no problems in the past. I hope they expand their fleet but does not look like it with how the economy is in Greece.

  16. Alex

    Worst experience ever, attitude combined with an impressive lack of customer service – even from the staff at Zürich Airport – NEVER EVER AGAIN BRITISH AIRWAYS!!!

  17. Alison Lobb

    my recent experience of BA was not so good
    seems that business or first class has a world of their own. pity really since same staff should be able to provide same service despite what is paid for ticket. take into account that the majority of passengers fly ecomomy. and without them the plane would be empty. i had 3 flights with BA. all international. my husband and i were seperated in the two long flights of 10 hours. not good enough. my luggage was lost on one flight and took 3 days to arrive. also not good enough at start of holiday. service on board was excellent as was food. i was excited about flying BA so feel a little let down to be honest. however will fly again with them because of their exceptional reputation. will just have lower expectations and will pass that on to other travellers.

  18. Barbara Doell

    Do you buy Economy seats then use awards to upgrade?
    Any idea what the euro traveller and world traveller classes are like? I’m finding using the awards a little daunting. Help

    • NomadicMatt

      Sometimes. A lot of the times I just book a complete award ticket, especially if I am flying business or first class.

  19. R Stickler

    You mentioned AA not having personal TV screens in economy. We flew AA from DFW to LGW in 2001 & that’s one thing I recall specifically – my own screen to watch what I wanted, tho not necessarily when I wanted. While that was a good while ago, I’d think it would be something passengers would prefer. AA has gone through a bit of an economic struggle in the past few years; perhaps it was something dropped for those reasons.