The World’s Best First Class Airline Lounges (2021)

The World’s Best First Class Airline Lounges (2021)

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I’m an airline product geek, and every year I like to publish a list of what I consider to be the world’s best business class seats, the world’s best first class airlines, the world’s best first class lounges, etc. In this post I wanted to share my updated ranking of the world’s best first class lounges.

First, I wanted to talk briefly about my methodology for ranking first class airline lounges, and then I’ll get into my rankings, with an explanation of each.

Why You Should Trust OMAAT Lounge Reviews

Hopefully I don’t have to explain this to regular OMAAT readers, but I feel like this is worth mentioning for those who aren’t regular readers…

All the time I see media outlets ranking first class lounges, though they’re almost always just going off stock media images and how airlines describe their lounges, rather than actual firsthand experience.

Why should you trust OMAAT lounge reviews?

  • I pay for all of my own flights, either with cash or miles
  • I don’t let the airlines know that I’m reviewing their products, and go out of my way to remain as anonymous as possible (there are very limited exceptions, which I specifically disclose)
  • I’ve visited virtually every first class lounge in the world, most several times, so have lots of context for what makes a great lounge
  • I don’t have any sort of financial relationship with any airline
  • This is my passion, I’ve been reviewing airlines for 15 years, I’ve written hundreds of airport lounge reviews, and have logged millions of miles

There aren’t many sites that can say all of the above, and in the case of some other rating agencies (like Skytrax), I certainly wish we’d see a bit more transparency regarding the financial relationship they have with the airlines they rank.

My Methodology For Ranking First Class Lounges

Let me emphasize that my rankings are entirely subjective, and that’s by design. One of the challenges with reviewing airline lounges is that everyone is looking for different things.

Some airline lounges have bedrooms that are almost like hotel rooms. That’s valuable if you have a long layover, but worthless if you have a short layover. Meanwhile other lounges have top notch food, but that’s of limited use if you’re between long haul flights and not hungry. Other lounges can save you time getting through security and to the plane, but it depends on the circumstances.

I’m going to try and balance the above amenities, though you can shift around which lounge is best based on what you value the most. I’m not saying anyone’s rankings should be in the same order as mine, though I think most people can at least agree with my general list of the top lounges.

Let me also note that I’m only putting one lounge from each airline on the list, so you’ll only see each winning airline listed once, even if they have multiple great lounges.

Why I’m Not Fully Updating Rankings This Year

Since the start of the pandemic it has been tough to update my list of the world’s best first class airline lounges:

  • Many international first class airline lounges continue to remain closed, given the lack of long haul business travel
  • Some airlines have greatly scaled back their fleet of planes featuring first class, making me wonder if some of these first class lounges will stick around
  • Even among the lounges that are open, lounge services have largely been scaled back to minimize contact between people

Nonetheless I think there’s value in keeping this list updated, so here’s what I’m going to do:

  • I’m not going to change my rankings compared to early 2020 (the last time I formally published my rankings)
  • With each lounge I’ll note the general status of things — whether the lounge is open, and if a lounge isn’t open, what the likelihood is that it will reopen (I’ve added a section at the bottom of each ranking with “the latest for 2021”)

Hopefully the above makes sense, and in 2022 I can update rankings in a way that fully reflects the long-term changes airlines are making to their lounges.

The World’s 11 Best First Class Airline Lounges

With the above out of the way, below are what I consider to be the 11 best first class airport lounges, starting with the best.

1. Air France First Class Lounge Paris (CDG)

Air France’s first class is the whole package. Not only does Air France offer one of the world’s best first class inflight products, but the carrier’s ground experience in Paris is equally impressive.

If you’re connecting in Paris, you’ll be picked up at your plane and driven to the first class lounge, and then later on will be driven from the first class lounge to your connecting flight.

Air France first class lounge car service

There’s so much to love about the Air France first class lounge, though my favorite thing is probably the restaurant, which has an Alain Ducasse menu. In my experience it’s the best food offered in any airline lounge in the world. It’s not just that the food quality is excellent, but the service and presentation are equally good.

Air France first class lounge restaurant area
Air France first class lounge dining
Air France first class lounge dining

There’s not a first class ground experience in the world that’s as seamless and has as much attention to detail. It doesn’t matter whether you’re originating in Paris or connecting, Air France has thought of all the details.

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Air France first class same day, or select business class passengers can buy access to the lounge for 500EUR.
The latest for 2021: Air France’s first class ground experience is more or less operating as usual right now, which is another thing that sets Air France apart.

2. Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt (FRA)

Rather than just offering a great first class lounge, Lufthansa has taken it to the next level with its First Class Terminal. This allows you to skip the main terminal at Frankfurt Airport altogether, and instead drive right up to the First Class Terminal, and then be driven to your plane when your flight is ready to board. All formalities, including check-in, security, and immigration, are handled in the lounge.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal exterior

The lounge itself is beautiful, with attentive service, a great restaurant catered by DO&CO, a cigar bar, nap rooms, and collectible rubber duckies.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal bar

As an aviation geek my favorite part is being driven across the apron to the plane. This is one of the few situations where I hope my plane is parked as far from the terminal as possible. 😉

Lufthansa first class car service

Why doesn’t Lufthansa get the number one spot? Because the experience is inconsistent. It’s fantastic if you’re originating in Frankfurt, but if you’re just in transit, the experience isn’t nearly as seamless.

The only time you’ll be picked up from your flight by car is if you’re arriving at a remote stand. Otherwise you’ll potentially have to walk thousands of steps and navigate your own way through the maze which is Frankfurt Airport. The horror. 😉

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Lufthansa or SWISS first class same day, or Miles & More HON Circle members can use the lounge when flying a Lufthansa Group airline same day, regardless of the class of service.
The latest for 2021: The First Class Terminal reopened as of September 1, 2021, though all of Lufthansa’s other first class lounges in Frankfurt (which are convenient for connections) are closed. With Lufthansa retiring its A380s, the carrier’s first class footprint has been greatly reduced, as first class is currently only available on 747-8s.

3. SWISS First Class Lounge Zurich (ZRH)

SWISS’ first class lounge in Zurich is spectacular, and features a gorgeous design.

SWISS first class lounge entrance

In addition to service throughout the lounge, the SWISS lounge has an excellent restaurant, and after the Air France lounge I’d say it’s probably my favorite restaurant in an airport lounge.

SWISS first class lounge dining area

But there are two other features that make this lounge exceptional. The first is that the lounge has private bedrooms for those with long layovers. The beds are as comfortable as the ones you’d find in top hotels, not to mention the bedroom has a view of the tarmac and runways, which made me not want to sleep.

SWISS first class lounge bedroom

Furthermore, the lounge has a large terrace with views of the gates. In summer they’ll even have ice cream out there for guests to enjoy.

SWISS first class lounge terrace

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Lufthansa or SWISS first class same day, or Miles & More HON Circle members can use the lounge when flying a Lufthansa Group airline same day, regardless of the class of service.
The latest for 2021: The SWISS first class lounge Zurich is unfortunately currently closed, though I expect this will reopen in the coming months.

4. Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge Hong Kong (HKG)

In terms of design, Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong is one of my two favorite lounges. The lounge is designed in a way that makes you feel like you’re in a really swanky hotel or even home, rather than at an airport.

Cathay Pacific first class lounge entrance
Cathay Pacific first class lounge bar

The Pier also has a good restaurant with a la carte dining.

Cathay Pacific first class lounge dining area

On top of that, the lounge has private rooms where you can relax, or just watch planes pass by outside.

Cathay Pacific first class lounge nap room

Guests also receive a complimentary 10 minute foot massage, which is a nice teaser.

Cathay Pacific first class lounge massage area

How to access this lounge: You must be flying oneworld first class same day, or oneworld Emerald members can use the lounge in conjunction with a same day oneworld ticket, regardless of destination or class.
The latest for 2021: The Pier first class lounge is unfortunately currently closed, and it’s anyone’s guess when it reopens. This was closed even before the pandemic, as Hong Kong saw a slump in business travel.

5. Qantas First Lounge Sydney (SYD)

This lounge nails all the basics. The lounge is physically stunning and spacious, with lots of natural light and panoramic views.

Qantas first class lounge seating

I love the food in Qantas first class lounges. The menu is designed by Neil Perry of Rockpool Bar & Grill, and my favorite is the salt & pepper squid (though nothing on the menu will disappoint).

Qantas first class lounge dining

On top of that, passengers receive a complimentary 20 minute spa treatment, with the choice between a facial or massage.

Qantas first class lounge spa treatment room

How to access this lounge: You must be flying oneworld first class same day, or oneworld Emerald members can use the lounge in conjunction with a same day oneworld ticket.
The latest for 2021: The Qantas first class lounge is currently closed, and it’s anyone’s guess when it reopens. Presumably it’s tied to Australia reopening its borders, and it’s anyone’s guess when that actually happens.

6. Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha (DOH)

The Qatar Airways Al Safwa Lounge feels sort of like a museum. The ceilings are probably 40 feet tall, and there’s so much space. Not everyone will love the minimalist and industrial design, but personally I do. While many other lounges feel crowded, this one feels empty no matter how full it actually is.

Qatar Airways first class lounge seating
Qatar Airways first class lounge water display

The lounge also has a restaurant with solid food, though not to the level you’d find in the Air France or SWISS lounges. One other feature I love about the lounge is that it offers private bedrooms for passengers with long layovers, and I’d say these are the second best airport bedrooms after those in the SWISS lounge.

Qatar Airways first class lounge bedroom

While all of those things are great, the lounge also has some confusing policies. The lounge has a spa, but all treatments are outrageously priced. Want to use the hot tub in the lounge? That will cost you ~$55. Lounge agents also seem to enforce inconsistent rules about who can use the bedrooms.

This is a great lounge, though it could be so much better if they didn’t have such inconsistent and illogical policies.

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Qatar Airways first class same day (regional first class flights are eligible), or it’s possible to buy access to the lounge for 600QAR (~165USD) per person when flying Qatar Airways business class.
The latest for 2021: The Qatar Airways first class lounge is once again open for business, and is operating as normal.

7. Thai First Class Lounge Bangkok (BKK)

Thai is another airline that does a great job taking care of you every step of the way at the airport. The airline will pick you up at your arriving flight and take you to your departing flight later (typically by buggy).

Thai Airways first class lounge buggy service

The lounge has several semi-private living rooms for passengers to use, with more privacy than you’ll get in most lounges. There’s also lots of a la carte food, though it’s not quite to the level of what you’ll find in some other lounges.

Thai Airways first class lounge seating

The highlight of the lounge? First class passengers receive a complimentary hour-long full body massage. That’s a great way to relax before a long flight. As you’d expect, this is by far the best spa treatment offered by any airline.

Thai Airways first class lounge spa treatment room

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Star Alliance first class same day.
The latest for 2021: The Thai Airways first class lounge is currently closed, and for that matter I wouldn’t be surprised if this permanent. Thai Airways seems to be planning to retire its Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 fleets, leaving the airline without planes that have first class.

8. Etihad First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi (AUH)

The lounge is well designed, with a restaurant, gym (which none of the other lounges have), a spa, etc.

Etihad Airways first class lounge entrance
Etihad Airways first class lounge gym

The food in the lounge is pretty good, though the airline has definitely cut back on catering since opening the lounge.

Etihad Airways first class lounge dining area

The lounge also doesn’t have any proper nap rooms, other than a relaxation area with seats that recline a bit.

Etihad Airways first class lounge nap area

Still, this is an all around very solid lounge.

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Etihad first class same day, or be an Etihad Guest Platinum member traveling same day on Etihad.
The latest for 2021: The Etihad Airways first class lounge is currently closed, I wouldn’t be surprised if this permanent. Etihad Airways plans to retire its entire Airbus A380 fleet, meaning that Etihad will only have five Boeing 787-9s with first class. It seems unlikely that the airline will keep a dedicated first class lounge for just five planes.

9. Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai (DXB)

Th Emirates first class lounge Dubai is more of a concourse than a lounge. That’s because the lounge literally spans the entire length of the terminal. On one hand that’s super impressive. You have a lounge that’s tens of thousands of square feet, and at times there will only be a few guests.

Emirates first class lounge seating
Emirates first class lounge seating

The lounge also has a restaurant with a la carte dining, a cigar bar, a spa with complimentary 15 minute treatments, and more. One other awesome feature is that you can board your flight directly through the lounge, assuming your flight departs from the “A” Concourse.

Emirates first class lounge dining area

The problem? The lounge is so big that it actually feels incredibly sterile and unwelcoming. You feel like you’re sitting in a terminal rather than in a top first class lounge. The lounge doesn’t have an intimate and residential-feeling design, like you’d find in Cathay Pacific’s lounge, for example.

This is probably the first time in history that a lounge being too big has been a complaint.

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Emirates first class same day, or be an Emirates Skywards Platinum member, or you can buy access for $200 if traveling on Emirates in economy, or buy access for $100 if traveling on Emirates in business class.
The latest for 2021: The Emirates first class lounge is open and operating as usual.

10. Singapore Airlines Private Room Singapore (SIN)

The Private Room is a lounge within a lounge within a lounge. While it doesn’t have amenities like nap rooms, spa treatments, or offer escorts to/from the gate, it features a great restaurant with a la carte dining (including the ability to customize dishes), and an all around very elegant atmosphere with refined service.

Singapore Airlines first class lounge seating
Singapore Airlines first class lounge dining area
Singapore Airlines first class lounge dining

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Singapore Airlines Suites or first class same day.
The latest for 2021: The Singapore Airlines Private Room is closed, as Singapore Airlines currently isn’t offering many routes with first class.

11. Oman Air First Class Lounge Muscat (MCT)

A few years ago Oman Air opened a beautiful first class lounge at Muscat Airport. Long-term the airline will have only two planes with first class, so it’s quite impressive that the lounge is so huge.

Oman Air first class lounge dining area

In addition to the cool design, the lounge has attentive service, a la carte dining, and a spa in the business class section where you can get a treatment.

Oman Air first class lounge dining

How to access this lounge: You must be flying Oman Air first class same day.
The latest for 2021: The Oman Air first class lounge is open. Oman Air has expressed interest in joining the oneworld alliance, so it’s possible that eventually oneworld Emerald members may get access to this lounge.

Honorable Mention: Etihad Residence Lounge Abu Dhabi (AUH)

This can’t be included on the list since it’s not technically a first class lounge. Specifically I’m talking about the Etihad Residence lounge at Abu Dhabi Airport, which is exclusively for passengers booking Etihad’s uber-luxurious three room onboard suite, known as the Residence.

The fun begins on the ground, as you get a private lounge, a butler looking after you the whole time, whatever meal you’d like, as many massages as you’d like, etc. They also take care of you every step of the way, from the second you arrive at the airport until the moment they introduce you to your onboard butler. You don’t even have to check-in.

Etihad Residence Lounge
Etihad Residence Lounge service
Etihad Residence Lounge dining

The latest for 2021: With Etihad in all likelihood retiring its entire Airbus A380 fleet, that also spells the end of the Etihad Residence. Unfortunately this lounge service will probably be a thing of the past.

Bottom Line

Most people dread having time to kill time at the airport, though the above lounges make spending time at an airport a pleasure. From an hour-long full body massage, to being driven to your plane in a luxury car, to getting a private bedroom that makes you feel like you’re in a hotel, these lounges have it all.

I’d like to emphasize that I think anyone would be reasonable to think that the above lounges should be in a different order, but hopefully this is at least a useful list in terms of the 11 all-around best first class airline lounges.

Unfortunately many of these lounges continue to remain closed, and for that matter we could see lasting changes to the services that they offer. Personally I’d be surprised if the Etihad Airways and Thai Airways first class lounges reopen, at least in their current form, given that these airlines are largely eliminating first class.

I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers make of my rankings! Are there any other lounges that should have been on the list?

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  1. glenn t

    It should be stressed that if you'd like a nap room or a massage/spa treatment you must book this well ahead of your travel. Some lounges ask you to do that immediately on arrival, but unless you have a long layover no slots may be available.
    Oh, and some bookings do not 'stick' for some reason. Nothing like having your booking getting rescheduled past your departure time.....

  2. Schar

    Ben, here's an idea: how about you do a list of VIP Airport services? For example, Heathrow VIP, PS LAX, Fattal VIP, etc. Would love to see a comparison, price, experience, etc.

  3. Jed

    Did you exclude the Wing at Hong Kong because you only wanted one lounge per airport? Or is the Wing really not even worth an honorable mention? I think the Wing is fantastic.

  4. homer3152

    Great review, very helpful, big thank you. The only point where i would strongly differ is your assessment of the Al Safwa lounge having an "industrial design". Tastes and impressions are subjective of course. But for me it is pure magic. Design wise, there is no comparable lounge in the world. For me, it always resembles a procession way in a temple in ancient Egypt. It is a place to walk very slowly and whisper,...

    Great review, very helpful, big thank you. The only point where i would strongly differ is your assessment of the Al Safwa lounge having an "industrial design". Tastes and impressions are subjective of course. But for me it is pure magic. Design wise, there is no comparable lounge in the world. For me, it always resembles a procession way in a temple in ancient Egypt. It is a place to walk very slowly and whisper, admiring the ancient peaces of art. It is simply stunning. Yet, you missed its weak spot: the food. It is just not good. Maybe because they have no fire to cook. But above all because, despite having all spices of the world, they just dont know or dont dare to season food properly..eveything is just a bit bland.

    1. Super

      Industrial is a style, not a criticism. It would be like saying Victorian, or Mediterranean.

    2. Bill n DC

      Nice open status update I’ve enjoyed 5 + EY Residence lounge on long layover. I tried the relaxation area but uncomfortable for napping chair and video disrupting So paid $100 and napped on the coach and had shower in Residence room
      I also like CX Wing cabana.

  5. Josh

    Qantas's oneworld Emerald-equivalents also have access to its SYD and MEL F lounges when travelling JQ and also have access to the EK F lounges in DXB.

  6. mick

    I haven't been, but the Air France lounge looks kind of tacky compared to the Swiss Lounge. Qatar lounge looks amazing. I enjoyed Etihad lounge but at night it wasnt that beautiful inside.

  7. david

    I would rank the ANA suite lounges at NRT and HND on this list and above the middle eastern lounges. Their food is excellent.

  8. Mm

    Finnair’s Helsinki lounge with sauna seems like it should be here, along with JAL’s handmade sushi in narita

    1. Eskimo

      Finnair doesn't have First Class. And their Platinum Wing doesn't really stand out. But if TG can make it into this list maybe AY can make it too.

  9. Hal

    I would give Lufthansa first class terminal another demerit. You have to pay 75 euros to get a customs stamp there for VAT back. It also takes an hour for the customs agents to come to the lounge.

  10. anon

    CX lounge really underrated. It has ensuite bathroom. That is really a nice bonus , compared to , say LH

  11. EC2

    Would be nice to see a hybrid list of rankings with lounges and hard/soft products considered together. Would see Air France would take the top spot, but curious about the rest of the rankings.

Featured Comments Load all 14 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Schar

Ben, here's an idea: how about you do a list of VIP Airport services? For example, Heathrow VIP, PS LAX, Fattal VIP, etc. Would love to see a comparison, price, experience, etc.

EC2

Would be nice to see a hybrid list of rankings with lounges and hard/soft products considered together. Would see Air France would take the top spot, but curious about the rest of the rankings.

Bill n DC

Nice open status update I’ve enjoyed 5 + EY Residence lounge on long layover. I tried the relaxation area but uncomfortable for napping chair and video disrupting So paid $100 and napped on the coach and had shower in Residence room I also like CX Wing cabana.

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