Last month Lucky from One Mile at a Time updated his list of best first class products. He’s flown more premium products than anyone I have met, and he’s flown a few that I haven’t, but I’m going to quibble with his list and also offer my own.
The key to these rankings is subjective weight that goes into different components of the product. I value personal space more highly, so a first class configuration that’s four seats across isn’t going to rate as well for me as one that’s two or three seats across.
I’d never rate Air France or Garuda as highly as Lucky does — despite phenomenal ground service and attentiveness — because of the lack of real estate each first class passenger gets in the cabin.
Here’s the One Mile at a Time list:
- Emirates New First
- Air France New First
- Garuda Indonesia First
- Singapore Airlines New Suites
- Etihad First Apartment
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Lufthansa A380 or 747-8
- Swiss 777-300ER
- Qatar Airways
- Oman Air
Here he chooses one product from each airline only, but I will take a different tact. I think that Singapore’s older A380 suites are still among the best first class seats in the sky (and on more planes than the new suites) and deserve to be ranked. The same is true for Etihad’s standard first class on aircraft other than their Airbus A380.
Etihad Boeing 777 First Class
The Etihad First Apartment I think gets a bit of a bad rap. I find the Etihad seat comfortable even though it doesn’t offer a true lounging position, and I don’t find the bed hard. Plus though it doesn’t compare to Emirates in this regard it does offer a shower on board for first class passengers, which is an amazing amenity at the end of a long haul flight. I don’t emphasize ground experience as much as Lucky I suspect so Etihad’s lounge cutbacks don’t drive down their ranking as much for me.
Etihad A380 First Class Cabin
Etihad First Apartment Seat
To be fair I haven’t flown Singapore’s new first class suites. I attended the launch event for the product in Singapore back in November, and recently had the chance to fly Singapore’s 10 year old Suites product alone in the cabin. I sat in the new seat, I tried it out, but I didn’t experience it inflight.
New Singapore A380 Suites
Old Singapore A380 Suites
Funny thing is that while Emirates’ old A380 first class does feature the shower (which keeps it on the list, it’s wonderful with heated floors in the lav), strong catering and top notch liquor, the suites themselves are really quite tight.
Emirates A380 Shower Spa
Emirates A380 First Class Cabin
ANA’s catering though is really top notch, especially if you enjoy Japanese cuisine. It’s probably an underappreciated first class product overall (not to mention the amazing value of spending 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for roundtrip Midwest or East Coast – Japan in first). The seat is only alright it doesn’t offer much storage space. But the extensive on demand menu and Suntory Hibiki 21 year makes up for it.
ANA First Class
ANA First Class Snack, Ramen is Amazing
I have a hard time seeing Korean Air in the top 15. The best thing about Korean Air first is that it isn’t hard to book using Korean’s miles. However the seats aren’t super comfortable, they’re still flying too many long haul flights without their Kosmo Suits product, language is often a barrier for English speaking customers and their food and beverage program is fair. Their lounges are worse than mediocre.
I’d never rank Korean ahead ahead of THAI despite the latter’s inconsistencies. Qatar Airways has nice lavs for first, and the business class bar, but totally open seats without any privacy whatsoever.
Korean Air Kosmo Suites
Qatar Airways First Class Lavatory
Of course that’s what’s fun about these lists, debating and reorganizing based on the relative value we place on each element of the product. And I applaud almost everyone that tries to pull it off these days, who knows what they’re talking about.
Here’s my top 15 international first class products list:
- Emirates new first
- Singapore new suites
- Etihad apartment
- Singapore old suites
- Emirates A380 suites
- Air France new first
- Garuda Indonesia first
- Cathay Pacific first
- Etihad non-A380 First
- Japan Airlines first
- ANA first
- Malaysia Airlines A380 First
- Swiss 777-300ER
- Lufthansa A380 or 747-8
- Qantas first
My approach allowing more than one product entry for a single airline does move some things down the list. For instance I rank Cathay Pacific 8th and Lucky calls them 6th — even though they’re behind the same 5 airlines. Their seat while old is still one of the most comfortable and offers more personal space than all but 3 or 4 other products. Their lounges in Hong Kong (and business class lounges at outstations) are good. T
heir service is excellent. What Cathay lacks is ground service beyond the lounge, larger lavatories, and better main entrees (but their snacks are good). I still sleep better on Cathay Pacific than almost any other airline.
Cathay Pacific First Class
If I had to offer a 16th best product, since Lucky does, I’d probably opt for Singapore Airlines 777 first class. That seat is vexing, it doesn’t recline into a bed but ‘flips over’ so the relaxation position isn’t all that relaxing. It’s still a good bed, with only modest privacy, but features Singapore’s excellent service and main meals.
The product on this list that disappoints me the most is Qantas, because it’s a good seat (albeit much wasted space) and they have good lounges and I’m partial to Aussie wines. However service tends to be lackluster and the dining uninspired. And (like Cathay) they still lack internet on much of their fleet — including the A380s which feature their first class cabin.
To be sure all of the airlines on these lists are excellent in their most premium cabin. I’m fortunate when I’m able to fly each of them. Overall what makes a great first class:
- Spaciousness and privacy
- Well thought out design, there’s a logical place to store your things, a comfortable way to relax, and an even more comfortable way to sleep
- Good food and beverage program, with plenty of choice that matches the airline and destination, and that’s both customizable and served on demand
- Effortless travel from curbside when you arrive at the airport to curbside when you land. Thai is outstanding at this in Bangkok, Qatar does a nice job on arrival in Doha. Lufthansa and Air France get this right in their home markets. I don’t think anyone does it better than Garuda, though Malaysia does a nice job too. Ultimately you shouldn’t have to worry about what gate you’re leaving from or where you’re going in the airport, someone takes care of that for you.
And of course there are amenities like an onboard shower, oversized lavatories, and top notch toiletries though I don’t place significant emphasis on the amenity kit.
What’s your top first class? And what’s most important to you?