Flying flat-bed first class for free
a taste of the high life
What could be more indulgent than sleeping soundly in a cozy bed 35000 feet above the Atlantic? Flying British Airways first class is the most luxurious way to travel from Atlanta to London and beyond. With your own private pod, plush pajamas and non-stop posh nosh, this is the sort of pampering that will make anyone feel like a millionaire (if only for 9 hours). Forget the so-called “first class” on US domestic flights; when it comes to long-haul transatlantic, turning left is so upscale that you’ll never want to turn right again.
Hubby and I flew first class to London and back on British Airways’ Atlanta route, which operates one flight every day. Departing from Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we checked-in at the exclusive First Wing, a private dedicated space for first class passengers only. One of the many, many things I love about flying First is the generous baggage allowance - not an eyelid was batted as the attendant slapped “HEAVY” stickers on our bulging suitcases, along with the coveted “Priority” tags. The First Wing also has its own security lanes and direct access to the lounges (more on those later).
Once onboard, (yes, we boarded first) we settled ourselves into 1A and 2A. Each individual pod, known officially as a “suite”, features legroom as far as your whole body can stretch out, giving airspace a whole new meaning. There’s even an extra little seat (which doubles as a footstool) so a friend or colleague can sit opposite you for a chat or a meal. With the push of a button, I spent a few merry moments adjusting the gorgeous glowing blue blinds on the two windows alongside my pod (little things amuse me). For even more entertainment, each suite has a fabulous 15-inch touch screen, with ports to connect your own devices and charging points too. The extensive on-screen library includes more than enough movies, TV shows, music, ebooks and games to keep anyone occupied for 9 hours.
The cabin crew served us a welcome glass of champagne (Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut worth $150 a bottle) and dainty canapés as we prepared for take-off. Reclining in my comfy seat with my legs stretched out, sipping vintage bubbly and listening to ABBA through top-of-the-range noise-cancelling headphones, this didn’t feel like flying at all.
And the food? Well, First passengers are treated to a full service restaurant in the sky. On our outward flight, I ordered a Scottish smoked salmon starter, seared fillet of beef, orange sponge pudding with cream for dessert, followed by the cheeseboard and chocolates. All this was elegantly presented silver-service style, with white tablecloths and napkins, fine china crockery, sleek cutlery and crystal wine glasses, champagne flutes and whiskey tumblers by British designers.
On our return journey, lunch was later followed by traditional British afternoon tea; egg and cucumber sandwiches, a selection of cakes on my own tiered cake stand, and of course warm scones with jam and clotted cream. Cruising at 35000 feet, this certainly was high tea! Being able to order whatever you want whenever you want it is yet another treat. The food, drinks and service onboard really was, ahem, first-class.
When I was ready to turn in for the night, the cabin crew magically transformed my seat into a 6ft 6in fully-flat bed with a quilted mattress, soft pillows and a crisp white cotton duvet, while I popped to the loo and slipped into rather stylish BA pjs designed by Temperley London. I also loved the cute BA amenity bags, again by Temperley London, filled with skincare lotions from luxury British brand Elemis, a full-size toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, earplugs, eye mask, slippers etc. However, I still prefer the previous version we received last year by Liberty of London, which was prettier and more iconic.
Shortly before landing, we woke up to a full English breakfast served with an energizing passion-fruit smoothie, fresh yoghurts and warm pastries. My own personal china teapot was a charming finishing touch.
We landed in London fully relaxed and rested, having been wined, dined and pampered in style for 9 hours in the sky. Hubby and I would have even welcomed a delayed arrival for the chance to extend our high life just a little longer.
Once we’d cleared immigration and customs at Heathrow, we headed to BA’s Arrivals Lounge where you can freshen up with a shower, chill out with a massage in the spa, then feast on even more breakfast. My only complaint here was that the staff were in a hurry to close before 2pm and we all felt rather rushed.
The Departures Lounge at Atlanta airport was extremely disappointing. This lounge is shared between several airlines, which means it’s over-crowded with not enough seating. The food selection was minimal and very poor. There is a bar, but this was packed with travelers who’d paid for entry and were determined to get their money’s worth by drinking as much free booze as possible in the shortest possible time. BA needs to provide a far better departure experience for its business and first class passengers. Also, there is no arrivals lounge in Atlanta.
Departures at Heathrow Terminal 5: The Concorde Room is fabulous and makes waiting for a plane an absolute pleasure. This lounge features discreet booths for intimate dining with full waiter service, private cabanas where you can take a nap and a state-of-the-art business center. After a wonderful 3-course meal, hubby and I indulged in a spot of lounging in the lounge’s gorgeous oversized sofas and armchairs, while our glasses were constantly topped-up with even more vintage champagne; this felt like being privileged guests at an exclusive club.
So how did we fly First for free? It goes without saying that if you pay full whack, being spoilt rotten to this degree costs megabucks; but there are ways and means. Thanks to a hefty stash of air miles (“Avios” in BA-speak) hubby and I have flown First a few times already. Yes, we do pay taxes and fees of course so it’s technically not free, but even so we’ve saved about $10,000 each per return ticket.
The final verdict: flying First is pure luxury and something I could get used to very easily. I’d never pay $10k, but it’s totally worth it if you can save up enough air miles. As reward bookings go, this one is sky-high.
Dickens at The Tavern
It must be more than 10 years ago when hubby and I (with our dear friends Barbara and Paula) first saw A Christmas Carol at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern. It has since become a festive favourite and an annual holiday tradition for us - Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and a trip to The Tavern.
And so we met up with Barb, Paula, Billy, Jason and Jennifer at the Midtown theatre last weekend, excited to discover what new little twists on this timeless classic the ASC players had in store for us this year.
We arrived early, ordered a drink at the bar (a seasonal, sparkling Poinsettia cocktail for me - thank you Jason), then headed to our table in front of the stage. In authentic Shakespearean playhouse style, The Tavern’s atmosphere is always very relaxed and informal. British pub grub is available for purchase beforehand, and the audience is encouraged to continue casually munching on Cornish pasties and shepherd's pies while drinking pints of ale as the play begins.
As the lights dimmed and voices hushed, we were suddenly transported across the pond and back in time to Dickensian London. The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s unique adaptation of A Christmas Carol is officially billed as a “storyteller’s version”, remaining true to the original detail and descriptive language of Dickens’ novel.
The cast of ten actors alternate between narrating the story and playing the various characters.
Although there are a few new faces each time we come, discovering that Drew Reeves has reprised his role as Scrooge once again always feels reassuringly familiar - a bit like seeing the same old (grumpy) friend every Christmas time.
Paula was delighted to find her former fourth grade student Mark Schroeder (now all grown-up) playing Bob Cratchit for the third year in a row, and the lovely Becky Cormier Finch (who is also box office manager and so helpful when I’m making our annual booking) is a regular member of the ensemble, performing several different characters. This version of the story includes live music too, with the talented actors also singing and playing violins, acoustic guitars and percussion instruments. Rather appropriately for a play with this name, there really are Christmas carols (Away in a Manager, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Good King Wenceslas, etc.) beautifully performed amidst the narrative. And enough passing references to mince pies, Christmas pudding and Camden Town to make a certain Brit feel quite nostalgic at this time of year.
The Tavern is a small playhouse, intimate, cosy, and not stuffy at all, where actors (and ghosts) naturally interact with the audience throughout the performances. We were amused by an impromptu moment as Scrooge was moving amongst the tables and someone’s beer accidentally spilt over his shoes. The entire cast joined him (and all of us) in fits of laughter and spontaneous applause as he dried himself with a napkin before climbing back on stage, undauntedly still delivering his lines with a smile.
After the show, the cast took time to mingle with everyone in the lobby, and Paula got a chance to chat with Mark about old times and happy memories.
And then the evening was over for another year. Although Paula, Billy, Barbara, hubby and I are all “Christmas Carol veterans”, this was Jennifer and Jason’s first time at The Tavern. They absolutely loved it, and I have a funny feeling this could become an annual tradition for them too.
As we headed outside into the chilly Atlanta night,
Paula and I reminded each other, as we do every year,
“Now it really does feel a lot like Christmas.”
A Christmas Carol at The Shakespeare Tavern runs until December 23
Guston's in Woodstock
Guston's Grille in Woodstock is the perfect neighborhood bar; great atmosphere, good food and lots of live music.
Every Wednesday is Ladies Night - half price dinner and bottles of wine for all the girls, as well as my favorite 60s, 70s and 80s music by the brilliant
Michael Allen Radio Show band.
As the singer likes to say, "Half price bottles of wine
make the band sound twice as good!".
Check out the band too - @TheMichaelAllenRadioShow
Here are some pictures from our many Wednesday nights at Guston's