Despite my best intentions I ended up helping a friend christmas shop the day before and I ended up in my usual last minute packing frenzy around 3 hours before the flight. Two light carry ons later I went down to the Caltrain station and caught a cab out to SFO International Terminal. Checkin queue was very long for economy but I breezed through to business checkin and inquired if it was possible to upgrade to first, they were quite unhelpful and said that they couldn't do anything because the first cabin was closed, and in anyway I should have called 7 days before. When I had called previously (several times) Executive Club had told me to do it at the airport.
Oh well, business class still has a full bed and I was upstairs, so I went off through security, no fast lane in operation so had to queue, got in a word fight with a TSA lady about my shoes and proceeded off to the lounge. Typical BA style lounge in the boring dull setup they have, I honestly don't know who they are trying to cater too, and a complete lack of champagne. I talked to the staff on call and they told me that they couldn't do anything and I would have had to call them 48 hours before.
The surest sign that you are being fobbed off is that people are giving you different information, they are actually making it up on the spot, so armed with this inconsistency I demanded to speak to the duty manager, he understood my problem and after some time came back and said that if no FiRST passenger showed up unannounced I would get upgraded! Success! I think the fact it was my birthday the next day didn't hurt.
Boarding was really simple, straight in from the lounge to the first class cabin through a dedicated bridge, turning left to the front of the aircraft where I am seated in 03A, glass of champagne in my hand at the same time I am relieved of my coat, I am also offered a sleeper suit, which saved me from using my Virgin suit.
After pushback pretty much on time we head fairly east towards Chicago and are greeted by a beautiful view on both sides as we climb over the mountains.
The seat is damn good and the cabin feels nice, I am alone in it so it has more of a private jet feeling :), I feel the seat is a better seat but worse of a bed than UCS, specifically I miss the 30+" of shoulder width I get on the UCS.
My champagne was topped up continuously and food was offered quickly, the menu was.
Fresh lobster with wasabi dressing
Chiva-Som's spicy warm vegetable salad
French onion soup
Fresh salad leaves with your choice of balsamic vinaigrette or Parmesan cheese and black peppar dressing
Grilled fillet steak with Port wine sauce, chanterelle mushrooms, Vichy carrots, broccolini and olive oil mashed potatoes
Seared halibut with lobster sauce, fresh asparagus and fingerling potatoes
Chiva-Som's curried lamb stew with ginger, lime and lemon grass brown rice
Thai chicken salad with sesame ginger dressing
Caramel pecan nut cheese cake
Bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream
Penne pasta with your choice of creamy Gorgonzola cheese sauce or tomato and olive ragoût with freshly grated Parmesan cheese
A selection of sweet biscuits
A selection of cheese and fruit
Chilled fruit juice
An energising fruit smoothie
A selection of fruit or plain yoghurts and cereals featuring Chiva-Som's muesli
Fresh seasonal fruit plate
A wide selection of breakfast pastries and rolls
Warm bacon roll
Full English breakfast of scrambled eggs, grilled bacon, pork sausages, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and hash-brown potatoes
Chiva-Som's stuffed Thai omelette
American pancakes with maple syrup or blueberry compote
Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Chenevottes 2002
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Reisling 2004, Margaret River
Renwood Select Series Viognier 2004
Château Puchon Longeuville, Comtesse de Lalande 1997, Grand Cru Classé Pauillac
Chinon, Clos de l'Olive, 2003, Couly-Dutheil
Beaune 1er Cry Champimonts 2001, Domaine Jacques Prieur
Gordon Brothers Syrah 2001, Colubmia Valley
Opitz Goldackerl Trockenbeerenauslese 2002, Austria
Warre's 1988 Colheita Port
All in all an impressive list, but since I am a bit boring I just stayed with the Champagne, and here SQ does win hands down with the choice of Krug and Dom Perignon 98, but the Piper was fully suited for the environment.
I had the fresh lobster wich was quite good, followed by a special christmas roast dinner which really put me into the holiday mood, I became happy enough eating that and looking out while contemplating the wonders of being able to transport yourself from one side of the world to the other in such comfort that I started laughing out loud. I am sure the cabin crew thought I was quite crazy!
After that I quickly changed into my suit, as I emerged from the toilet a steward was on hand to take my clothes and hang them up, my bed was made and I quickly fell asleep, as I was falling asleep pursuer came around wished me a good nights sleep and left two large bottles of water with me.
I woke up in the middle of the night and watched the Fantastic Four on the screen for a little while, my god what a bad movie so I quickly fell asleep again. Was woken up lightly be the stewardess (I had three different people keeping a constant watch on me, service was really good) exactly 45 minutes before landing, was I had requested.
Decided to order the Chiva-Som omelette with some extras and it was pretty good, beats the VS breakfast easily, we were coming in a bit early and I was hoping that maybe, just maybe I could dash over to the earlier flight to Stockholm and save myself a couple of hours, but circling around Heathrow for 25 minutes crushed that and we arrived around only 10 minutes early. I really wonder how much extra pollution is caused over London by the idiotic approach planning of airplanes coming in to land!
Had to go through Club World to get off, no dedicated bridge, so was number 5 or so off the plane, straight through immigration and then through to the arrivals lounge, where I had a long hot shower and shaved while my clothes were pressed, followed by a 20 minutes relaxing back massage and something nice to drink. My friend Brad showed up and we went out for a little walk until I had to rush through security and board the 767 airplane servicing BA780 to Stockholm Arlanda.
No priority boarding in effect despite the sign, so I just walked to the front of the queue and flashed my boarding card and my EC card and ignored the angry stares from the fully economy section, I was far too tired to care. Slumped into my seat and fell asleep until around 30 minutes before landing. When I woke up I got a really nice view of the area around Stockholm and was treated to a landing at a nearly completely desserted airport, was first of the plane straight through immigration (they wished me happy birthday and merry christmas) and since I had no checked luggage I was out in 5 minutes to my waiting family! I noted with delight that Arlanda Terminal 2 was being played Trapped in the Closet on Christmas Eve and not some cheesy christmas music!
All in all a really comfortable flight, I was able to stay up for quite a while that night despite 16 hours of travelling. Waking up on your birthday onboard an aircraft also felt quite compelling, and non of the stresses of christmas affected me. The only real bummer was that the Remy Martin I bought onboard had been opened and drunk from already! Some cabin crew that had been bored!?!
Would I pay to fly BA F instead of J, no, the difference isn't big enough, and compared to VS the only thing that is better is the food & wine selection, and with the recent change to LP for VS bubbly, I think VS wins on the champagne.