Most people board a plane and shuffle down the economy class aisle. They might have booked a window seat for the view or opted for an aisle seat for easy access to the lavatory. However, what happens next is in the lap of the gods.
Heading towards your seat, you might be considering a whole host of possibilities that could cause unwelcome distractions while onboard. For example, will your neighbour be fidgety or insist on fighting for the armrest? Or will there be a lively child directly behind you constantly kicking the back of your seat? Will there be enough legroom? Will the meal be something you like, and will there be enough food to sustain you during the journey? Despite these concerns, economy class passengers usually end up at their destination having had a perfectly pleasant flying experience.
For passengers who want a more exclusive experience, there is the option of business class or first class. Both are more luxurious compared to economy, and indeed premium economy, but the differences vary from airline to airline, and narrowbody to widebody. Generally, business class offers more legroom than economy, but you won’t necessarily be given a private space. In first class, there is usually a seat which turns into a bed, and sometimes a private space or even apartment. Food and drink in business class is typically at good restaurant level, whereas in first class, there is likely to be an impressive menu carefully curated by an award-winning chef.
In today’s economic climate, however, with commercial aviation now recovering from the pandemic, some airlines are concentrating on business class and phasing out the first class offering altogether. Even before Covid-19, in the 10 years to 2018, British Airways dropped 100,000 of its first-class seats, and when ordering new aircraft today there is no first-class option included. The US airline Delta has halved its first-class seats from 400,000 to 200,000 in the last 10 years.
So, if you want to experience the high life, now is the time to do it. We have selected five of the most luxurious first-class spaces to take your pick from.
The luxury first-class experience on Qatar Airways ensures complete privacy and offers a top of the range, fully flat bed to ensure passengers get a perfect sleep and arrive refreshed, along with designer lounge wear from The White Company. There is an à la carte menu prepared by top chefs, including some with Michelin stars, and food can be ordered from it at any time. The personal spaces can be transformed into a workspace with onboard Wi-Fi and there are in excess of 4,000 inflight entertainment choices.
Etihad Airways is one of the two national airlines of the United Arab Emirates, along with Emirates Air Lines. The Etihad first-class passenger journey starts with a luxury limousine to the airport, a lounge and, once on board the aircraft, encompasses fine dining, expert wine pairings with your meal and a ‘signature Cognac service’ to finish.
The chairs recline into a flat bed when required and there is free Wi-Fi access, an amenity kit with body lotion, cologne, eye mask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, plus over 1,000 hours of on-demand in-flight entertainment. For the ultimate experience, passengers on the airline’s A380 can book The Residence, a luxurious suite for two, with its own private shower room, bedroom with double bed and separate living room.
This first-class area was designed as a luxury cocoon and boasts a hand-stitched, diamond-quilted reclinable leather armchair and mood lighting which can be adjusted to each passenger’s preferred level. The airline’s Michelin-starred chef partners have created a notable menu which comes with carefully chosen wines and full table service. To while away the time, there are 1,800 entertainment options, a video touchscreen handset and a 24-inch HD-enabled personal LCD monitor with top quality noise-cancelling headphones.
Lufthansa’s first-class experience includes an ergonomic seat which converts into a two-metre bed with comfortable mattress, temperature-regulating duvet and top-quality bed linen. The spaces have been designed with footfall sound insulation, soundproof curtains, and intelligent lighting to ensure passengers remain undisturbed. The multi-course meal option by top chefs is preceded by a large portion of caviar, and wine and artisan chocolates can be chosen from a central bar area. The entertainment options are operated by a remote control with an integrated games console.
Travelling first class on BA brings a spacious private suite containing a chair which reclines into a fully flat bed with a foam and microfibre mattress topper and 400 thread count bedding. Temperley London loungewear is provided as well as a high-end amenity bag. The menu comprises top-quality ingredients and the elegant dining experience is enhanced by crockery, cutlery and glassware designed exclusively for BA by British designers. For entertainment, there are 1,000 hours of programmes and a large library of music, books and games.
First-class travel has evolved into today’s sumptuous experience from the very earliest days of commercial flight. After WW1, companies began to convert fighting planes into carriers, with one of the largest seating 14 passengers in wicker chairs in an elaborately decorated cabin that included an in-flight meal as well as the unimaginable luxury of an onboard toilet and wall-to-wall carpeting. After WW2, larger planes could carry more passengers, and the need to make a profit meant that people were packed in more tightly. Routes were sometimes split into faster (fewer stops en route) and slower; this is when different classes of flight began to appear, although splitting the aeroplane body into separate cabins for each class didn’t happen until 1955. On the slower routes, when it was time to serve lunch, sometimes the plane would land and serve passengers in a hangar or at picnic tables!
Arriving at a destination refreshed, revitalised and full of superb food and drink is something few airline passengers will experience unless they splash out and enter the rarefied world of first-class travel. But we can always dream…
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