The Ultimate Jetsetter Guide: The Best First-Class Airline Experiences In The World
Get the full royal treatment with three of the world’s best first class experiences, where nothing is too much to ask
1/15 Emirates First Class
Emirates’ new first-class suites onboard its B777-300ER aircraft are the first in the industry to be fully enclosed, with sliding doors that extend all the way from the cathedral-like ceiling to the floor. Each suite features its own temperature control unit and you can request room service, as you would in a five-star hotel, via the video call function of your personal entertainment system.
It is also the first airline to have found a creative solution to the unpopular middle seats. On its new 777s, Emirates has installed virtual windows, and the view is exactly the same as through the real windows. Needless to say, Emirates’ onboard experience offers unparalleled luxury: passengers receive Bulgari amenity kits and are served wild caviar and free-flow Dom Pérignon, while the fully flat beds can be placed in a “zero-gravity” position inspired by NASA technology, giving a feeling of relaxation and weightlessness.
2/15 Etihad Airways The Residence
Arguably the closest experience to a private jet in commercial aviation, Etihad’s A380 The Residence continues to set the benchmark in first-class travel. The Residence is a three-room private suite that can accommodate up to two people. Upon entry, guests see the living room, which features a gorgeous sofa; it is also has a separate bedroom and a private bathroom with shower.
On the ground, trust the Etihad VIP Travel Concierge team to take care of everything— from booking the chauffeur-driven limousine to bringing you to your own private airport lounge. Passengers are encouraged to make special requests before departure. For instance, if you want a specific bottle of vintage whisky onboard or like a specific cologne waiting for you in your ensuite bathroom, just ask. The Residence is currently available to or from Abu Dhabi, London, New York, Sydney, Paris and Seoul.
3/15 Singapore Airlines First Suites
Singapore Airlines (SIA) raised the bar once again when it launched its new A380 first class suites. Practically mini hotel rooms, the SIA first suites on the flagship Airbus A380 double-deckers come with a swivelling chair upholstered in full grain leather by Poltrona Frau, a massive 32-inch touchscreen monitor, as well as a separate full-size bed.
Travelling with a loved one? Not a problem. On the A380, the centre divider between two adjacent suites can be lifted, forming a luxurious double bed.
If you’re departing from Singapore, the pampering experience begins as soon as you arrive at Changi Airport, where a porter will escort you from check-in all the way to the SIA Private Room—a lounge accessible only to first class passengers rather than status card holders. From there, and possibly throughout your journey, it will be a tough call between the 2004 Krug or the 2006 Dom Pérignon to pair with the airline’s exceptional inflight menus. Better yet, take advantage of the ‘Book the Chef ’ programme, where you can choose a main course crafted by the airline’s acclaimed culinary panel consisting of top chefs from around the world.
See Also: More Miles, More Journeys with EastWest Singapore Airlines
From prestige wines to designer interiors, these airlines have upped the stakes in their relentless quest to provide the finest first-class lounge experience
4/15 Cathay Pacific
Designed by Studioilse, Cathay Pacific’s The Pier first class lounge woos premium travellers with its elegant ambience. The entire space is decked out with natural materials, warm, cosy lighting and stellar runway views. Naturally, The Pier has its own fine dining, à la carte restaurant serving up local and international delights, a spa offering full body and foot massages, and eight day-suites for those on longer transits.
5/15 Japan Airlines
Japan Airlines is welcoming guests to its new first-class lounge at Narita Airport, which opened in mid-2019. Made for the gourmand in mind, it offers a variety of seating and dining options including a dedicated Tsurutei sushi bar, Afuri ramen on demand, and freshly baked breads from Maison Kayser. There’s also a medical massage chair and a shoeshine service in collaboration with British premium shoemaker John Lobb.
6/15 Qantas Airways
In December, Qantas opened its newest first class lounge—a luxurious space spread over 10,000sqft at Singapore’s Changi Airport with capacity for 240 first class passengers and top tier frequent flyers. The interiors were spearheaded by Australian designer David Caon, in collaboration with Kelvin Ho of architecture and design firm Akin Atelie.
The lounge has a number of Singaporean influences, from design touches that reference the city’s shophouses and Peranakan details, as well as local food and drink offerings. An open kitchen serves the Rockpool a la carte seasonal menu featuring delicacies such as the signature tea-smoked duck breast and crayfish laksa alongside perennial favourites like chef Neil Perry’s salt and pepper squid.
7/15 Thai Airways
Departing from Bangkok, the Thai Airways first class experience begins kerbside where a uniform-and-glove-clad porter will escort you to the exclusive check-in area. After you sit down for formalities, an attendant will lead you through a premium class-only immigration zone to the airline’s fabled Royal First lounge and spa.
The lounge and spa are a class act of their own, offering complimentary, hour-long treatments. The Touch of Silk full body oil massage remains a favourite among Thai frequent flyers; they can also take advantage of the steam, shower and slumber rooms. Food-wise, they have an exclusive, à la carte fine dining area serving traditional Thai and international cuisine.
Big in Japan
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8/15 All Nippon Airways
In 2019, All Nippon Airways (ANA) launched a brand new first-class product available on the airline’s flagship A380 and B777-300ER fleets. Designed with attention to detail by famed architect Kengo Kuma and leading British designers Acumen, The Suite is inspired by luxury Japanese hotels and is the most spacious fully enclosed seating on a Japanese airline.
New features include the addition of privacy-enhancing doors, as well as a crystal-clear 43-inch monitor that is the world’s first 4K personal screen on a commercial airliner. The Suite also features moveable partitions in the centre section, which can be adjusted to create a double bed.
See also: Japan Is Most Popular Destination For Travellers In Asia Pacific
9/15 Japan Airlines
Travelling in First on Japan Airlines (JAL) continues to be a class act, and a lot of it has to do with the quality of their first class seat, which remains popular with leisure and business travellers alike. Many frequent flyers would comment that the JAL seat is the most comfortable out there, affording utmost relaxation and many hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep.
But therein lies a potential problem: why sleep when there’s so much else to do in JAL first class? The Japanese flag carrier offers an exceptional in-flight dining experience—it is one of only two airlines to serve the prestigious Louis Roederer Cristal champagne, which guests enjoy with dishes like freshly steamed lobster.
Just as compelling is the JAL first class service—a great example of omotenashi—where you don’t ever have to ask for anything because they just know. On one flight from Haneda to London, we asked for a bottle of water. We still remember the response: “Thank you so much for asking. I have already placed two bottles in the cupboard at your seat. This is first-class; we must be prepared. You should not have to ask for anything.” Count us thoroughly impressed.
From thoughtful environmental initiatives to groundbreaking wellness offerings, these airlines have invested in progressive policies and products
10/15 Sustainability Leaders
Airlines are finally catching up with the concept of eco-friendly operations, which in itself will remain somewhat of an oxymoron as long as aircraft continue to be powered by jet fuel, but small steps it is.
Kiwi flag carrier Air New Zealand has begun trialling edible coffee cups with customers in the air and on the ground as it explores innovative ways to meet its sustainability targets. This is in addition to the airline’s Project Green initiative whereby 40 types of inflight products were reclassified so they can be reused on future flights if they are removed from aircraft sealed and untouched. To date, Air New Zealand has re-injected more than 280 tonnes of product and recycled more than 302 tonnes of glass.
See also: Have A Green Holiday In Monaco, One Of The World's Leading Sustainable Travel Destinations
Japan’s All Nippon Airways continues to roll out ever lighter versions of onboard tableware in business and first-class, saving significant amounts of fuel spread out over a year. For many years, the airline has been using recycled paper napkins inflight and the vast majority of its groundhandling vehicles are powered by electricity.
Air France is a frontrunner in environmental protection, too. From January, the airline has begun offsetting 100 per cent of CO2 emissions on its more than 450 domestic flights a day. Additionally, passengers travelling from Singapore can make a donation to Trip and Tree—an Air France programme that allows customers to do something for the planet and reduce the environmental impact of their trip. Guests can opt to Plant a Tree or make a cash donation.
11/15 Wellness Revolution
The airline industry hasn’t been spared by the wellness craze, and there are plenty of initiatives on board to encourage mindful travel. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific is rolling out an array of thoughtfully chosen enhancements to the service, soft products and culinary offerings in first and business class.
These enrichments are designed to offer passengers a more holistic, sensory experience that begins from the moment they begin their journey. They include a “service moment” upon boarding in the form of a welcome reception tray with a personalised welcome note, hot towel and a glass of refreshing sparkling jasmine silver needle tea from Jing.
The wellness mindset extends to the menus, which include healthier options for the main and breakfast meals (such as superfood bowls), lighter protein side dishes and cold-pressed juices. It does not stop there: all Cathay first flights will feature refreshed amenities and bedding from Bamford, including a 600 thread count mattress and duvet, a soft, full-size pillow and a botanic pillow mist for better sleep.
Singapore Airlines has partnered Canyon Ranch to bring wellness to the airline’s ultra-long-range A350 nonstop flights to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle through science-based recommendations and strategies for improved sleep, balanced meal choices and exercises that promote circulation. Ambient mood lighting in the cabin aids sleep and reduces jet lag, while videos promote relaxation through soothing massages, as well as prompts for deep, calm breathing.
On flights to Hong Kong, Frankfurt, London, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, Singapore Airlines is serving a menu in collaboration with wellness brand Como Shambhala. Guests can look forward to healthy and flavourful meals rich in antioxidants and micronutrients, such as kiwi, yoghurt, beetroot and strawberries.
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12/15 Chefs in the Sky
About a decade ago, Turkish Airlines began siphoning off passengers from the Middle Eastern and legacy Asian and European carriers by storm. It did this with an unprecedented growth spurt that saw the airline add state-of-the-art Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft with flat-bed seating and snazzy interiors and, as of late, Airbus’s passenger favourite—the humidity-controlled and extremely quiet A350.
Turkish has also gained a particular reputation for its creative and high-quality inflight culinary offerings. A signature of Turkish’s business class service is the Flying Chef, a specially trained professional who will prepare fresh onboard meals in accordance with individual guests’ dietary requirements. Another favourite among passengers are the Turkish Airlines dessert carts that are wheeled through the cabin after every meal. They are typically packed to the brim with traditional Turkish desserts like baklava, kadayif, kunefe, tropical fruit and a selection of cheeses.
Another airline that does a really good meal service is Gulf Air. Departing from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Manila, expect extra-private and spacious Falcon Gold lie-flat seating onboard brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliners that come complete with 22-inch high-definition screens, vintage champagnes and five-star service by dedicated Gulf Air Sky Chefs and Sky Nannies who have been trained at some of the world’s leading hotels.
See also: Tatler Asia's Guide To The Best Places To Travel In 2020
13/15 Here's A Toast
As ever-improved lie-flat seating products became standard across first and business cabins, airlines aim to differentiate themselves with their wine cellar offerings. Over the years, a small number of carriers has emerged as clear winners among wine aficionados.
Qantas offers a highly commendable wine selection in first class. The Australian airline’s Penfolds Reserve Bin 15A Chardonnay 2015 and the Flametree SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay 2016 have received particular accolades. All Nippon Airways follows close behind with an exceptionally well-curated list of red and port wines in first class, while Japan Airlines and Oman Air are the only airlines that serve the very decadent Louis Roederer Cristal.
In the business cabin, Eva Air has gained a reputation for serving Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008, while both Qatar Airways and Malaysia Airlines stand out for pouring Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs—only available to first-class passengers at other competing airlines.
Ready, Set, Jet
Asia’s elites can be fastidious about controlling elements of their life. For the ultra-discerning, here’s a primer on private aviation, whether you’re buying or renting
Part of the Luxaviation Group, Execujet offers a wide range of sophisticated business aircraft and rotorcraft strategically located at operating bases worldwide. It even have its own loyalty programme for those who have been spoilt and don’t want to go back to commercial. With the SimplyFly membership card, Execujet offers a genuinely simple pricing policy for chartering aircraft, with an ever-growing menu of features available in two pre-designed packages depending on your Execujet region.
Some of the most spectacular private jets are made by Gulfstream. In October, the private jet company launched an all-new cabin on the G700 that allows customers to extend their personal and professional lifestyle to their aircraft.
With up to five living areas, the G700 offers an extra-large ultra-galley with a passenger lounge or crew compartment; a six-place dining or conference room; and a master suite with shower. The cabin experience promotes and enhances wellness through 20 Gulfstream panoramic oval windows, which is the largest in the industry; the lowest cabin altitude; 100% fresh air and a whisper-quiet cabin.
Another big player in private jet travel, Vistajet offers access to more than 70 private aircrafts around the world at 24 hours’ notice. Whether passengers need a fully enabled business suite or a restful family space, Vistajet customises its cabins for various requriements.
Fine bed linen, cashmere blankets, private dining sessions created with some of the world’s renowned restaurants, Christofle silverware and porcelain, and a curated library by Heywood Hill ensure a home away from home. Best yet, your furry companions are also lovingly catered to with its VistaPet programme.