In 2017 I wrote a series of posts about what I consider to be the world’s best first class products. I wrote an intro sharing my methodology, I ranked the 10 best first class products, I ranked the 10 best first class airline lounges, and then Tiffany wrote a post about how to redeem miles for the world’s 10 best first class products.
In this post I wanted to provide an update to that list, both to reflect the changes we’ve seen to these products, and also to expand it slightly, and make the list reflect the top 12 products, rather than the top 10 products.
It goes without saying that this is entirely subjective, so it’s perfectly reasonable if others disagree with me.
Let me also emphasize that I’ve actually flown every single first class product I rank (and paid for the ticket, either in cash or miles), and have flown almost every first class product in the world (the only airline I haven’t flown in first class is Kuwait Airways). So I’m not going off any marketing bullets with these rankings, but rather my firsthand experiences. If you’d like to see more of my trip reports, check out the trip report index.
With that out of the way, here are what I consider to be the 12 best first class products, starting with the best:
Emirates introduced their new first class on select 777-300ER 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 likes 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, you can control the lighting and temperature in the suite, etc.
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 the first class suites on nine of their planes, and they don’t have immediate plans to reconfigure more planes, though it is available now on some US routes.
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.
But 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. So 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 only area where Air France first class could improve is with the addition of wifi, but that’s something they’re in the process of adding.
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 wifi, 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 only a few of those have first class.
Singapore Airlines is known for being one of the best airlines in the world, and they introduced their new Suites in late 2017 between Singapore and Sydney.
Some might be surprised that this isn’t in one of the top two spots on my list.
The new Suites are really, really 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, and at the moment they’re even serving 2004 Krug.
Service on Singapore Airlines is typically excellent.
So 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 very limited.
So 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.
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.), Cristal champagne, the free and fast wifi, 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.
Cathay Pacific’s product has more or less remained unchanged for the past decade, and it’s still one of my favorites out there. 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 three most comfortable beds in the sky. The bed is wide, and the bedding plush.
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.
Historically the airline has lagged in the sense that they don’t offer wifi, but they’re in the process of installing this throughout their fleet, and I can’t wait to be on a flight featuring that.
The one major weakness of Cathay Pacific, in my opinion, is their meal service. Aside from their caviar service, I just don’t find their meals to be that great. The food has been identical for about a decade, and their main courses are typically pretty bland. I wish they’d switch things up a bit more.
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 also added caviar and new amenity kits and pajamas to their A380 first class last year, 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.
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 wifi.
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 wifi, and it’s even quite fast.
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.
Some might be surprised to see me ranking ANA first class a few places below JAL first class. Like I said, there’s no science to my rankings, but there are two reasons I don’t like ANA first class quite as much as JAL:
- I find ANA’s seats to be poorly designed; they’re like cubicles, and have wood panels by your side so that you can’t easily look outside when you’re in a window seat, and can’t comfortably talk with your seatmate if you’re traveling with someone in the center seats; this is such a silly design
- Much more minor, but ANA’s wifi is significantly more expensive
Other than that, ANA first class is great. Caviar, Krug, fantastic Japanese food, etc.
I just wish the seats weren’t so poorly designed.
Last summer 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 incredible customized menu that you can order in advance, and some beautiful Omani touches.
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 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.
Are there any rankings of mine you particularly disagree with?