Fifth freedom flights are a great way to fly. Not only are these flights priced competitively for someone wanting to pay cash, there is often very good award availability owing to the fact that the flight starts and finish in the territory which are outside of carrier’s home country. This means that these flight often go unnoticed by the the travelling public who mainly focus on the established carriers operating the route.
Take for instance someone wanting to fly from Brisbane to Auckland, their first thoughts will be to book with Qantas or Air New Zealand. Only the discerning few may even know that the route is flown by China Airlines, let alone that there is often good award availability when you book closer to the travel date.
In similar vein, British Airways operate a fifth-freedom service between Sydney and Singapore, with the flight then continuing on to London after a brief stop in the lion city. As British Airways have the rights to sell tickets exclusively on the Sydney – Singapore sector, there is no need to fly all the way to U.K. if you just wanted to travel on the first leg of this trip.
While the route is operated mostly by one of British Airways’ B-787 Dreamliner, for a few weeks every year (between end of October & early February), the Dreamliner is replaced with a B-777 fitted with their most modern First and Business Class seats.
I had wanted to check-out British Airways B-777 First Class for quite a while, so when the opportunity arose recently I wasted no time in planning an extended weekend away in Singapore.
BA First Booking
British Airways is a member of one-world alliance. This opens up quite a few avenues to book the flight. You could redeem British/Qatar Airways Avios, American Miles or Asia Miles just to name a few.
While American Miles offers the best deal on this route, they are incredibly difficult to come by. Qatar Airways Privilege Club is a transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards Program. If you have an Amex card, you can transfer points to Privilege Club in the 2:1 ratio (2 Membership Rewards Points = 1 Avios).
For most people in Australia though, it is Qantas points that would be their currency of choice and that is exactly how I booked my flight.
I redeemed 107,700 Qantas Points to fly British Airways First Class from Sydney to Singapore. Fees, taxes and carrier charges were just under $350 which I consider a little pricey, but not outrageously so.
As a comparison, you could redeem just 50,000 American Miles or 68,000 Avios to fly this route with British Airways.
Arrival & Check-In
I got to Sydney International Airport (T1) at around 1:30 pm, which was exactly 3 hours before the scheduled 4:30 pm departure. On this day, British Airways were checking-in passengers through Row G.
As I got closer, I noticed that a considerable crowd had already congregated around around the check-in area, however the display screens showed that the check-in had yet to commence.
Only a couple of minute had passed when the screens flipped and passengers hurriedly made their way to the check-in desks. As I had already checked-in online and was only travelling with a carry-on, a kind British Airways staff pulled me aside and handed me the printed boarding pass. Sweet.
I thanked him and headed for the dedicated First & Business Class entrance to clear customs and security. While the main Departure was quite busy, there was barely anybody using this Fast-track entry. As a result I absolutely zipped through it all and found myself at the Qantas First Lounge in under 10 minutes.
I spent about 90 minutes at the lounge sampling some of Qantas’ Spring time offering, besides the perennial favourites such as the Salt & Pepper Squid.
I left the lounge at 3:45 pm to get to the gate. On this day, my British Airways flight was departing from Gate 51 which is a good 10-15 mins away from Qantas lounges. By the time I got to the Gate, boarding had well and truly started.
Following a quick peek of the Passport and Boarding Pass by the staff, I made my way to the adjoining jet bridge and on to the waiting plane.
BA First Class Cabin and Seats
British Airways First Class cabin is fitted with 8 private suites, each with its own sliding doors that can be closed to create cocoon like privacy.
Seats are spread across 2 rows in 1-2-1 configuration offering direct aisle access to every passenger. Couples or those travelling in groups might prefer the two middle seats where they can sit close together.
Meanwhile, solo travellers may want to grab one of the window seats. On this flight, I had selected Seat 2K, a window seat in the second row on the right side of the cabin.
I found the seat to be spacious and well appointed. As you sit down, the large entertainment screen is straight up.
Under the screen there is a boxed storage unit where you could put your shoes or a small bag. Next to the storage unit is an ottoman that forms the foot of the seat when it’s in the bed mode.
To the left of the entertainment screen, there is a cabinet large enough to hang a small coat or jacket.
Then there’s even more storage space adjacent to your right shoulder as you sit. This is in the form of an enclosed mirrored cabinet.
The seat controls panel is conveniently located under the mirrored cabinet and within easy reach when you are in the sitting position.
I must admit, this was my first time flying British Airways First Class and I found the controls a little tricky to operate. The way it works is that you need to push whatever setting you want to change really hard, and then turn the knob. In time, you might get familiar with it but these controls are far from intutitive.
Anyhow, underneath the controls and inside yet another storage compartment, you will find the headphone jack, an AC outlet and the hand-held device to control the entertainment screen.
On the right, a large counter runs along the length of the seat.
The tray-table is fitted to the side of the counter. To deploy, push the lever labelled Table which releases it from the hold, then simply pull it out and use it in partial or fully extended position.
Lastly, each of the seats come fitted with sliding doors for increased privacy. The doors aren’t automated and you need to manually open and shut-them.
Note that the doors don’t go very high. While you certainly can’t play peek-a-boo with your neighbour, it’s low enough that anybody passing through the aisle can take a good look at you.
To sum up, I found the British Airways First Class seat to be a middling product. While it is a step-up from their Business Class seat, in my opinion, it doesn’t differentiate itself enough to warrant the premium it charges.
The cabin feels congested and the aisles a little narrow and cramped. Even so, British Airways First Class is a perfectly acceptable way to traverse this route between Australia and Singapore.
BA First Class Amenities
As I boarded the plane and walked up to my seat, I noticed that a small pillow, blanket and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones inside a hard case had been pre-placed on the seat.
I found the pillow to be rather useless, it was absolutely tiny and somewhat grubby. My understanding is that passengers on the second overnight leg from Singapore to London are offered a second pillow, which is of significantly higher quality as well as the bedding for additional comfort.
The blanket was fine and the headphones worked brilliantly when I put them on later in the flight while watching a movie.
A few minutes later, one of the crew working First Class came to introduce herself. She also brought along an amenity kit with her. British Airways offers Elemis products to its First Class passengers packed inside a soft and stylish bag from Temperley London. A quick Google search showed that the bag alone retails for GBP 12.
But it’s the items inside that I found really impressive. Elemis is a British skincare brand available in more than 45 countries worldwide. Everything from the lip balm and body lotion to the deodorant and shower gel appeared to be of exceptional quality.
More than anything what surprised me was just how much British Airways have managed to pack inside what is a fairly smallish bag. Well done guys.
As this was a daytime flight, PJ’s and slippers were only available on request. I appreciate that the crew proactively asked me if I would like a set and then readily delivered it within a minute or two.
The crew also presented me a copy of the printed menu.
Note that this was just an abridged version of the menu solely for the Sydney – Singapore sector. If you are continuing on to London, expect a more substantial menu on your second leg.
BA First Class In-flight Entertainment
British Airways do a more than decent job with their in-flight entertainment, particularly in First Class. All passengers flying First are offered complimentary wifi for the duration of the flight which is awesome.
You can connect to the BA network soon after take-off and the connection held steady until a few minutes before landing into Singapore. I spent about 2 hours working and found the connection and wifi speeds to be excellent.
My only complaint was that the wifi is only available on the first device you connect. So not only are you are unable to have wifi on multiple devices simultaneously, you can’t even swap devices later on.
On the other hand, if you simply wanted to put your feet up and have a good time, British Airways offers a very large selection of movies, TV shows, Sports, Games and Kid’s entertainment for your viewing pleasure.
Personally speaking, I can’t seem to get enough of watching the moving maps as that is usually how I spend most of my time.
BA First Class Service and Dining
A pre-departure beverage was offered prior to take-off in Sydney, the choices were still or sparkling water, juice or Champagne. I had the still water. About 5 minutes later the crew returned with a ramekin of assorted nuts.
This was followed by a hot-towel service while we were still on the ground.
After take-off and once the plane had levelled, the crew returned to ask if I would like to eat. Having eaten a big meal at the lounge I was full, so I asked to be fed about mid-way through the flight. While British Airways don’t officially have the Dine Anytime policy like some other airlines do, the crew was quite happy to oblige on this occasion. I then spent the next 2 hours getting some work done.
About 3.5 hrs into the flight I let the crew know I was ready for dinner. Take a look at the full menu on offer on this flight.
As you can see, there was a pretty good selection of Starters, Mains and Desserts to choose from. Diners could also sample one of the many cheese platters as seen in the Menu above.
Service started with an amuse-bouche platter of smoked salmon, avocado and walnut salad and prosciutto with smoked tomato. To drink I ordered a glass of champagne which came out of a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle.
The remaining courses were served much more elegantly on the tray-table adorned with crisp white table cloth. An assorted bread basket accompanied with butter, salt and pepper shakers and a bottle of vinaigrette was offered.
I kicked-off proceedings with the prawn salad which came with greens and smoked paprika mayonnaise. It was delicious.
I had the Mushroom Tortellini as the Main dish. The tortellini itself was quite good, unfortunately it came buried under a mountain of cheese so overpowering that after a few spoonful’s my taste-buds couldn’t taste any other flavours.
I rounded-off the meal with a plate of Milk Chocolate & Hazelnut Mousse which was divine. It was so rich and creamy it nearly put me in food coma.
Given the length of the flight this was the only substantial meal served on this route, although you could always order something from the small meals section of the menu if you get hungry later on.
Once the table was cleared I had a quick look the lav.
First Class on British Airways is served by a solitary lavatory at the front of the cabin just outside the cockpit. It was slightly bigger than your average airplane lav’s and contained some nice amenities such as hand wash, hand lotion and napkins instead of the standard paper towels.
Once back at the seat, it was time to test out the British Airways First Class bed. Although British Airways are known to offer turndown service in First Class, that wasn’t the case here. So I made my own bed which reclined into a fully-flat bed as you can see below.
I tried to get some shut-eye but in the absence of any bed-topper, not to mention the flimsy pillow, I couldn’t sleep a wink. So I just laid on the bed and ended up watching a movie called Cocaine Bear.
It turned out to be the stupidest movie ever. As the name suggests, the story revolves around a rampaging black bear high on cocaine. Urghhhh….
The crew offered a light meal about an hour 20 minutes prior to landing which I politely declined as I was absolutely stuffed.
Arrival into Singapore
The First Officer came on the P.A. system about 40 minutes prior to touch-down and announced that we were about to begin our descent into Singapore Changi Airport. At this time, he indicated that we should land at 9:30 pm local time, right on schedule.
Unfortunately, due to congestion the Air Traffic Control put the plane into a hold as we got closer to the airport which lasted for about 10 minutes.
Once we were released from the hold, the bright city lights appeared outside the window. To my mind, Changi airport offers one of the most eye-catching landing views of any airport around the world.
We touched down at Changi at 9:43 pm local time which was slightly behind the schedule. From here on, the plane taxied to the Gate, a jet bridge was attached and the doors opened soon after. I grabbed my luggage and made my way out of the plane and into Terminal 1.
I quite enjoyed my British Airways First Class flight. Admittedly, the short nature of the flight meant that I couldn’t quite capture the full First Class experience.
The seat was comfortable, service friendly, and the food and drinks were on expected lines. Unlimited complimentary wifi and the mammoth catalogue of viewing content means that passengers are well entertained.
Although there are plenty of options to fly between Sydney and Singapore, the convenient late afternoon departure out of Sydney, coupled with generous award availability means that British Airways should always be in the consideration of savvy points and miles collectors.
Have you flown British Airways First Class? Leave a comment below.