I’m a huge airline product geek, and every year I like to publish a list of what I consider to be the world’s best first class products, best first class lounges, best business class seats, etc. In this post I wanted to share my updated ranking of the world’s best first class airlines.
First, I wanted to talk briefly about my methodology for ranking first class airlines, and then I’ll get into my rankings, with an explanation of each.
Why You Should Trust OMAAT Flight 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 mainstream media outlets ranking different first class airlines, though almost without exception they’re just going off stock media images and how airlines describe their first class products, rather than actual firsthand experience.
Why should you trust OMAAT flight reviews?
- I pay for all of my own flight tickets, either with cash or miles
- I don’t let the airlines know that I’m reviewing flights, and go out of my way to remain as anonymous as possible
- I’ve flown every single first class airline that I rank, and for that matter have flown almost every single first class product in the world (the only one I haven’t flown is Kuwait Airways first class)
- 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 flight 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 Airlines
Let me note upfront that my reviews are certainly subjective, and that’s by design.
Some might say “well you should make this as objective as possible and use a scorecard to rank them.” I certainly could, but I don’t think that does justice to the special touches that some airlines offer, and also the variability in the experience from flight-to-flight.
A lot of what makes a first class experience great isn’t something you can rank on a scorecard, but rather is this intangible feeling you get when flying an airline, where you feel “wow, they really get it.” As far as I’m concerned, airlines also deserve bonus points for consistency across various flights, because it’s nice to know exactly what you’ll get.
The other issue is that the top first class products are all really exceptional. On a 100 points scale, I suspect all of these airlines would score a 90+ from me.
To give an example of the issue with a scorecard approach, inflight Wi-Fi is something I personally value, but not all of the airlines offer it in first class. If I said Wi-Fi was worth 10 points on a 100 point scale, that would automatically put any airline without it in last place, and that doesn’t seem right, since it’s something that many people don’t care about.
Again, I’m admitting my rankings are subjective, and what I rank #1 may be #10 for you, and vice versa. And that’s totally fine — I don’t think that makes anyone wrong.
I’ve taken flights on every single one of the airlines on the below list and said “that’s one of the best flights I’ve ever taken.”
If anything, I recommend the takeaway from this being the airlines that I put in the top 12, rather than the very specific ranking of them.
The World’s 12 Best First Class Airlines
With the above explanation out of the way, below are what I consider to be the 12 best first class airlines, starting with the best.
Let me emphasize that the post is specific to the onboard experience, and I’ll be ranking first class lounges in a separate post. Furthermore, at the bottom of each ranking I’ll be noting what I ranked the product in 2019, so you can get a sense of how my rankings have changed.
Emirates introduced their new first class on select 777-300ERs in early 2018, and the product is spectacular. Emirates is the first airline to introduce truly fully enclosed suites in first class.
The suites don’t just have doors that add privacy, but rather are enclosed floor-to-ceiling (Air France has curtains that go floor-to-ceiling, but I consider that to be different). As someone who values privacy, I love that.
The seat is also thoughtfully designed, with impeccable attention to detail. The suite is spacious, the TV screen huge, the bed extremely comfortable, and you can control the lighting and temperature in the suite.
The soft product is also exceptional, from their free-flowing Dom Perignon to their dine on-demand menu with all kinds of great options (including caviar).
While Emirates A380s don’t have seats that are impressive, they have the advantage of having onboard showers and an onboard bar, so that’s a treat as well.
The only issue is how few Emirates 777s have these new suites. Emirates only has these first class suites on nine of their planes, and they don’t have immediate plans to retrofit these seats on other existing planes (though upcoming 777Xs will get these seats, once delivered starting in 2021).
(2019 ranking: #1)
There are great first-class products, and then there’s the perfection that is Air France first class. Air France’s 777-300ER first class cabin consists of a single row of seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration. The cabin is so elegant, and rather than offering suites with doors, they instead have curtains you can pull around your suite.
What really sets apart Air France is the first-class soft product. The food is the best I’ve had on any airline, the service is flawless and oh-so-French, and every part of the experience is thought out.
When it’s time to sleep, Air France has some of the most comfortable bedding in the sky, and I love being able to draw a curtain around my seat for privacy.
The way I see it, Air France first class is the world’s most well-rounded first-class product. While I do think Emirates wins out in terms of the onboard experience, Air France still offers the world’s most well-rounded first-class experience, given that they offer the world’s best first class lounge experience at their Paris Charles de Gaulle hub.
The main area where Air France first class could improve is with the addition of Wi-Fi, but that’s something they’re in the process of adding.
(2019 ranking: #2)
This is the world’s most improved first-class product in the past year, in my opinion, as ANA introduced incredible new first and business class products in mid-2019, now available on select 777-300ERs.
In the past I’ve always had a strong preference for Japan Airlines first class over All Nippon Airways first class, but that’s no longer the case. For one, ANA has greatly improved the quality of their seats, which now feature doors, are more spacious, and offer a better experience whether you’re traveling alone or with someone.
ANA also has complimentary and improved high-speed Wi-Fi on their new 777s, which is much better than their old system.
Add in ANA’s exceptional service, food, drinks (including Krug champagne) and amenities, and this really is a world class product.
(2019 ranking: #11)
Garuda Indonesia is another airline that’s both consistent and tailors the experience from the time you arrive at the airport to when you leave. Garuda Indonesia first class has eight suites with doors. The hard product is good, though not remarkable compared to some of the other products out there.
But everything about the soft product is perfection. I find Garuda Indonesia to have the best flight attendants of any airline, and they even have an onboard chef in first class.
The food is divine, they have great wine pairings, the presentation is exceptional, they offer first class passengers free Wi-Fi, etc. If you have any special requests for your flight, you can even make those before departure.
But really it’s the crews that make the experience. Many surveys rank Garuda Indonesia as having the best cabin crew, and I have to agree. The warmth of the Garuda Indonesia flight attendants I had on both of my flights with them was unrivaled.
The only area where Garuda Indonesia can improve is with their bedding. While it’s good, it’s not nearly as plush as what some other airlines offer.
Unfortunately, nowadays they only offer first-class on very few routes. The airline only has 10 777-300ERs, and at this point only two of them have first class. I fear this is a product that may disappear soon.
(2019 ranking: #3)
Singapore Airlines is known for being one of the best airlines in the world, and they introduced their new Suites in late 2017.
Some might be surprised that this isn’t in one of the top few spots on my list.
The new Suites are impressive. They’re in a 1-1 layout, with just six suites at the front of the upper deck of the A380. Singapore has dedicated more square footage to each first class passenger than any other airline.
Each Suite has both a seat and a separate bed, which is a mighty nice feature.
On a good day, Singapore’s Suites might be the best first-class soft product in the world. On a lunch or dinner flight departing Singapore their catering is typically excellent, and they sometimes have caviar, satay, etc. You can even “book the cook” in advance, and order from a huge menu that’s not otherwise available onboard.
Singapore is also the only airline to offer both Dom Perignon and Krug onboard, which is a pretty awesome choice to have.
Service on Singapore Airlines is typically excellent.
Based on that, how the heck am I not ranking this product higher? It really kills me to say this, but Singapore Airlines just didn’t put much thought into the design of the Suites. The cabin looks beautiful, and the seats look impressive, but when it comes down to it, the individual components aren’t great.
The seat is wobbly and has limited recline. You can only eat facing the aisle, where you’re looking directly at another passenger. The bed is no bigger than on any other top airline, and it’s extremely hard. There are no individual air nozzles, and air flow is limited.
This is still a world class product, all things considered. However, despite the amount of space they invested in the Suites, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the fact that they didn’t instead use the space to create the world’s most comfortable bed on a plane. They had the space to do it, but they didn’t.
(2019 ranking: #4)
Cathay Pacific has made some improvements to their first class product in the past year, which have really made a difference in terms of the first class experience.
Cathay Pacific first class has just six seats, in a 1-1-1 configuration. While the seats aren’t fully enclosed, they’re angled away from the aisle and sufficiently spacious so that there’s no need for them to be. It makes the product feel less claustrophobic, which I appreciate.
Cathay Pacific has one of the most comfortable beds in the sky. The bed is wide, and they’ve made significant improvements to their bedding in recent months.
I also love the ability to dine face-to-face with a companion. Caviar and good champagne at 37,000 feet is a heck of a date night. I also appreciate that Cathay Pacific offers a full meal service even on departures in the middle of the night.
Cathay Pacific crews are also consistent and attentive. They’re always there during the meals, and when you need something during the flight, they appear in just a couple of seconds after pushing the call button.
In the past I didn’t love Cathay Pacific’s meal service, aside from the caviar. However, even that is something that they’re in the process of improving.
(2019 ranking: #6)
There’s no country where there’s more pride in the service industry than Japan, and that’s incredibly evident when flying Japan Airlines first class. It’s like getting a taste of Japan before you even get there. Japan Airlines has fully flat beds in first class with direct aisle access, though the seats as such don’t stand out that much.
What does stand out is the excellent food (caviar, sushi, wagyu beef, etc.), champagne, the free and fast Wi-Fi, the ability to choose the firmness of your mattress pad, and the perfect service.
The Japan Airlines first class soft product is pretty close to perfect, as far as I’m concerned.
(2019 ranking: #5)
Etihad was the first airline to have a single-aisle configuration in first class on their A380s.
Their First Class “Apartments,” as they’re called, will take your breath away. I remember being speechless the first time I walked on an Etihad A380.
Etihad has a dine on demand menu with an onboard chef who can help you customize your meal, an onboard shower, and the second most square footage dedicated to each first class passenger. The airline has also added caviar and new amenity kits and pajamas to their A380 first class, so in some ways they’re improving.
However, there are some areas where Etihad is style over substance, in my opinion. While the suite is huge, it isn’t actually that practically designed, as the seat doesn’t recline that far back, and the bed isn’t that large. This is the same issue I have with Singapore’s new Suites.
(2019 ranking: #7)
Korean Air offers a really consistent first class product. By far my favorite first class cabin they offer is on the 747-8, where they have just six seats in the nose of the plane.
The seats are spacious, the amenities are excellent, and the food and drinks are very good as well.
The only thing I don’t love about Korean Air is their entertainment selection and lack of Wi-Fi.
(2019 ranking: #8)
Maybe I’m biased due to my German background, but I love Lufthansa first class for how consistent and elegant it is. No, they don’t have the most private first class seats out there, but the cabins are elegant (in a German way), the service is among the best of any western airline, and they’re remarkably consistent in terms of their offerings.
There’s just something about the pre-flight champagne, nuts, and roses that makes me feel like I’m at home in Lufthansa first class.
Lufthansa has great bedding in first class, and they offer first class passengers free Wi-Fi, and it’s even quite fast.
(2019 ranking: #9)
It’s a toss-up between Lufthansa first class and SWISS first class, so I could have just as easily ranked SWISS ahead of Lufthansa. SWISS’ 777-300ER first class cabins have eight seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The food presentation and quality are definitely higher-end feeling than on Lufthansa, even though they don’t consistently have caviar.
I’ve had great service in SWISS first class, though I’ve also had pretty bad service, so I find that part of the product to be a bit inconsistent.
SWISS’ first class bedding is plush and comfortable, so a great night of sleep on SWISS is a given.
(2019 ranking: #10)
A couple of years ago Oman Air introduced a new first class product, which is exclusively on their 787-9s flying between Muscat and London. The cabin consists of eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. These aren’t the most spacious seats, but they’re very comfortable and have a sleek design.
What makes Oman Air so great is the soft product — Cristal champagne, an incredibly customized menu that you can order in advance, and some beautiful Omani touches.
(2019 ranking: #12)
This can’t be included on the list since it’s not technically a first class product, but rather is the most incredible experience you can have in commercial aviation. Unfortunately it’s also priced accordingly. Having your own three room suite, including a private bedroom and shower, with butler service, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and then some.
Man, how fondly I think back on my flight in the Residence…
There you have it. Those are what I consider to be the world’s 12 best first class airline products.
I’d like to once again emphasize that I think anyone would be reasonable to think that the above products should be in a different order, but hopefully this is at least a useful list in terms of the 12 all around best first class products.
What do you rank as the world’s best first class airlines?