First Class Ground Services Matter

Filed Under: Travel

Gary and I were both asked by Flightfox to rank the quality of first class products. Gary followed the rankings up with an explanation of some of his rankings, while I followed that up with my thoughts on the differences in some of our rankings.

I love Gary, and generally we have very similar thought processes. So it’s genuinely exciting to me when we can disagree on something, even if it’s as #firstworld as the minute differences between various first class products.

Now Gary has turned this into the “Airline First Class Thunderdome: Two Blogs Enter, One Blog Leaves.”

All I can say to Gary is… BRING IT!


Gary, I’m pretty sure the Biebs isn’t the only thing from 1994 — so are the seats in your beloved Thai Airways first class. 😉

Thai Airways 747-400 first class

Lets go at this backwards, starting with Gary’s “public challenge” to me:

Lucky, here’s a public challenge. Let’s get past your view that British Airways first class is better than Thai. Care to explain how American’s first class is better than Air China’s?

Well that’s easy. I’m not in a position to praise either product, though for me it comes down to Wi-Fi. That’s an amenity I value immensely, and something all of American’s 777-300ERs have (and when I was asked to do my rankings, it was based specifically on the first class product on the 777-300ER). Air China’s hard product is probably marginally better, but neither airline has food or service which is competitive with top carriers. So in my case I’d rather have Wi-Fi and a marginally less impressive hard product than being bored without a decent meal or service on an ultra-longhaul flight.

Air China 777-300ER first class

American 777-300ER first class

Gary calls me out on the following, which I’ll mostly agree with him on:

Although there are a few of his ranking that just make no sense. Looking at his rankings I do not buy British Airways as better than Malaysia and Thai Airways.

I did add the following disclaimer to my original post:

Take my rankings with a grain of salt. Between certain carriers I literally had to flip a coin and close my eyes in order to decide how to rank them.

And that was indeed the case between British Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and Thai Airways. They’re in the bottom quarter of the first class carriers we had to rank as far as I’m concerned, so I don’t think British Airways is better than the other two. I had to flip a coin and that was that.

I will say that I’d probably take a British Airways A380 with a good mixed fleet crew over a Malaysia Airlines A380 or a Thai Airways 747. British Airways’ cabin is just so much more stylish and soothing to be in. Yes, Malaysia Airlines first class food is better than British Airways food, though it’s still almost identical to what they serve in business class.

British Airways A380 first class

But I won’t argue that point, because as far as I’m concerned they’re all in the same range. One carrier isn’t significantly better than another.

Gary says the following about my rankings:

Lucky has more of a European bias than I do. He over-rates Lufthansa, Swiss, British Airways, and Air France.

It’s kind of funny that Gary says I overrate British Airways first class, because he said exactly the opposite in June, when he was advocating for British Airways first class and I was asking if I was generally too harsh on them. Gary said (in part):

I’ve pushed back on Lucky when he’s called BA first class a good business product, although in fairness I think he first said it after flying BA’s 747 which I do find to be less good than what they offer in other aircraft. The forward pair of two seats is actually completely open to the cabin and I can hardly call it first class.

So I certainly don’t think you can argue I’m the one overrating British Airways first class. 😉

But lets talk for a second about Air France, Lufthansa, and Swiss. For me ground services are a huge component of the first class experience. There’s only so much airlines can do to differentiate themselves in the air, while having a seamless ground experience can make a huge difference, in my opinion.

Take Malaysia Airlines, for example. They have a decent first class product onboard, but absolutely non-existent ground experiences. There’s no escort for first class passengers. Their first class lounge in Kuala Lumpur is okay… certainly nothing more. But that’s all a bit of a moot point, since Kuala Lumpur Airport is a pretty easy airport to transit to begin with.

Malaysia Airlines Lounge Kuala Lumpur

But lets compare that to Air France. Charles de Gaulle Airport is one of the worst major airports in the world, in my opinion. Yet Air France manages to make the ground experience in Paris absolutely perfect.

Air France First Class Transfer Paris

I’ve experienced all of the world’s best first class ground services — the Air France First Class Lounge in Paris, Emirates A380 First Class Lounge in Dubai, Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, and Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa in Bangkok. — and I still think Air France’s first class ground experience in Paris was my favorite. And I actually think if Gary experienced it as well he would agree with me. When I flew Air France first class I didn’t want to like them. I really didn’t want to. I mean, I’m German, there’s pride at stake. 😉

Air France First Class Lounge Paris

But the ground experience was just flawless, from the transfers to/from the plane, to the level of attentiveness in the lounge, to the quality of the food and spa treatments. Add that to Air France’s solid — though not amazing — onboard product, and I think it’s a winner. Not the best in the world, but on the upper end of the middle of the bunch. Certainly not worse than Air China’s first class product, as Gary ranks it.

Air France First Class Lounge Paris

I’m not sure if I can reason with Gary on Lufthansa and Swiss first class. I’m not sure if Gary has flown Lufthansa’s new first class, as I could certainly see why he’d give Lufthansa not-so-great marks based on their old product.

But the new hard product is simply great. The 747-400 features one of the most innovative first class products out there, with both a seat and a separate bed.

Lufthansa 747-400 first class

And the other cabins feature really comfortable seats as well. They’re not fully enclosed suites, but I actually appreciate that. They don’t feel claustrophobic, and at the same time have sufficient privacy thanks to the “shield” you can lift.

Lufthansa A380 first class

I’m not sure if Gary and I can reconcile our differences on the quality of the onboard service. I find flight attendants to consistently strike the perfect balance between being professional, attentive, and personable.

But more than anything else lets talk about the ground experience. If you’re originating in their largest hub, I don’t think Gary will disagree that it’s the most seamless ground experience in the world. It’s just so simple to never even have to enter the terminal.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt

Yes, it’s not always as smooth if connecting. If you arrive at a remote stand you’re picked up in a car and driven to the First Class Lounge, which is a great service. If you don’t arrive at a remote stand, you’re not quite as lucky.

I guess to simplify our differences into a single argument, I think Lufthansa first class is better than Malaysia first class in almost every way. The ground experience is heaps better, the onboard product is marginally better at worst, and the service is more polished.

Bottom line

It seems like my disagreement with Gary comes down to ground experiences. That’s something I value immensely, since it’s where I think airlines can do the most to differentiate themselves.

I’ve conceded from the beginning that my rankings aren’t scientific and that within certain ranges I had to flip a coin. But I will make this absolute claim, from my perspective — Lufthansa’s new first class is better than Malaysia Airlines’ first class.

I guess my question to Gary is this — do you not value first class ground services as much as I do, or are you just not as impressed by the ones offered by Air France and Lufthansa, for example?

I’d love for other people to chime in with their thoughts as well!

  1. Lucky, I agree w/ you about AF’s ground services. It was very good. Moreover, like you, we had a good crew on board who obviously were taught to interact w/ the passengers. However, the hard product was embarrassing. The planned refresh certainly will help. Nonetheless, I’d much prefer doors over curtains.

  2. “There’s only so much airlines can do to differentiate themselves in the air, while having a seamless ground experience can make a huge difference, in my opinion.”

    Hit the nail on the head there. Honestly, there’s at least a dozen carriers I’d be perfectly happy with on board in business class from Cathay to Singapore, ANA, Qatar, Emirates, Swiss, Brussels, etc. But part of traveling still sucks when you fly business class–the part on the ground. And to have it still suck when you’re flying first class (BA comes to mind here BIGTIME because they A) provide no ground services whatsoever and B) LHR is the worst airport in the world) … IMO you may as well not even be flying first class unless it’s a truly fantastic product (a la SQ, CX).

    The seamless ground experience of flying LH is worth a lot IMO. Last week, I barely saw other pax and had no delays whatsoever between deplaning from CDG-FRA and getting in my car at IAD (assist to Global Entry). When traveling doesn’t suck, it allows you to enjoy the on board experience more.

  3. I find it awfully convenient that in the trip report you linked to you have the Thai NEW 747 product, which is way better than the most recent one before that and the one use used “from 1994” in this post to make your point. You are comparing it to BA’s newest first product on the A380. Maybe it would be fair to compare the two A380 products, or at least the one you flew in from FRA-BKK?

  4. @ villox — That part was a joke, hence the smilie.

    But yeah, not a fan of Thai’s new 747 first class either. It feels incredibly cheap and like it’s made of plastic. Thai’s A380 first class is in my opinion the second least impressive A380 first class hard product out there.

  5. What you said about the importance of the “ground” experience struck a chord with me and actually applies to flying privately as well. One of the best parts of flying privately is skipping the air terminal entirely and then being driven directly both to and from the plane. The pain of having to deal with an ill-designed airport — and I’ve experienced what I think of as CDG’s Long March many times — makes any palliative worth its weight in gold. Maybe someday I’ll get to try even one of the services you’ve had multiple times . . . !

  6. I thought a first world problem was me not having enough jelly for my morning toast. No, I think this is a NeNe Leakes-grade “I’m rich, b!tch” problem!! lol

    You two are never going to agree. There’s no one-size fits all when it comes to any product. It all depends on what someone values the most in their travel experience.

  7. My partner and I are big fans of Thai Airways. They may not have the best hard product (though I think it’s solid) but they have phenomenal ground service and awesome flight attendants.

    We just spend that past two weeks in Asia for vacation. We are at the United Club lounge in LAX waiting for our flight home to New York after just experiencing Asiana’s A380 first class suite from ICN-LAX.

    All I can say is…WOW!!! The cabin was only half full so I was able to sleep in one of the suites not occupied. I usually have trouble sleeping in flights even if it the bed is fully flat, but I had no trouble sleeping on this flight. I think being able to close the door for privacy helped. In addition, both the food and the service from the flight attendants were just awesome. The only thing that would’ve made this experience a home run was the ground service. Asiana’s first class check-in at ICN is nothing like the Thai Airways first class check-in at BKK as well as Asiana’s first class lounge. It was just okay and, again, nothing like Thai’s Royal Orchid First Class lounge and the Royal Orchid Spa.

    Anyway, when will you fly Asiana’s A380 first class suite? I can’t wait for that trip report so I can compare your experience with ours.

  8. On ground services it all depends on where you are coming from to the airport… CDG……as I entered CDG on a recent trip from Normandy I drove into the airport rental car dropoff at CDG and literally walked less than 100 yards to check-in………I can’t imagine that AF or LH is going to send a car 200 miles to start my trip so from that perspective I note that CDG is a GREAT AIRPORT for rental car dropoffs…………so the ground experience becomes neutralized by my mode of travel to the airport area……..

  9. I agree that Lufthansa is better than Malaysia Airlines. But Malaysia Airlines First Class is still a lot better than other airlines (except Lufthansa) .

  10. I agree with Lucky about the importance of ground service. I know Gary gets it – see his note on TG. My only data point is a recent trip where I flew F on LH, TG, and CX. Based on that experience, I would rank LH and TG slightly above CX. LH was terrific in both air and ground. TG air service wasn’t as polished but I enjoyed the warmth, and their massage – oh the massage. Just Perfect. CX ground service sorely lacked behind the former 2. The Wing was completely, overstuffingly full with disgruntled passengers; I couldn’t believe it was a F lounge. The only saving grace was the cabana, which is awesome, but the temperature had me freezing even with a blanket. I found their hard product in the air slightly better than the other 2, but the ground service really drags it down for me.

    So Lucky, I assume you took ground service into consideration when you ranked CX and SQ far above LH and TG?

  11. Ben, good retort! Much enjoying this back and forth, and I do see your points.

    Let me see if I get this straight, though.

    * You value ground service, so you rank Thai down near the bottom.

    * Since ground service is really important, British Airways is really great.

    And what was that thing about defending American Airlines first class again? 😉

    When you write “It’s kind of funny that Gary says I overrate British Airways first class, because he said exactly the opposite in June, ”

    You had argued it was a business class product. I argued it was a first class product — just not a very good one.

    And that’s exactly what I’m saying here. You were knocking BA before, you’re giving them plaudits on this list. Not sure I follow…

    The assignment ‘as-given’ was to rate specific products by each airline, the best product they fly or in some cases the carrier is listed twice for different products (SQ A380 and 77W, for instance). That old Thai 747 doesn’t count anymore. 😉

    I agree that ground service is part of making the whole experience seamless. Lufthansa does a good job on departure in Frankfurt. They do not do a very good job on arrival (unless you’re arriving at an apron position).

    I would still take Singapore first on their 77W over Lufthansa first, and I would still take Thai first over BA first.

    I grant that Lufthansa is good, I just felt that the products I rank higher are better. My experiences simply haven’t been as good as yours. I’ve flown them many times, I even had my worst service experience ever with them.

    That your experiences and mine differ touches on another thing I mentioned in my post … that maybe we both lack enough data points to settle our differences.

    And that means we just have to fly first class more!

  12. I’d take MH A380 first over the Concorde Room any day. MH has a lounge that’s acceptable, and BA has…

  13. Talk about a First World problems discussion:-) Having said that there is nothing like the rush you get driving up past a bus full of waiting Y and C pax, while you breeze past and up into the plane after exiting the S Series Mercedes that has just literally driven you under the tails of several B747s and A380s on the way to your flight at FRA.! Of course then reality hits when you land at the outstation…

  14. Haven’t flown American F but even Delta BusinessElite soft product is better than Air China’s Long Haul First Class soft product…it’s very obvious Gary hasn’t flown enough of the carriers he has rated to know what he is talking about.

  15. I think this points out a couple of things…

    Making rankings based on one or two experiences seems silly.

    Given the variety of different F class products in the fleets of most airlines, which aircraft you get is of supreme importance. For example, TG A346 v A380 v the updated 747.

  16. I think it is a question of taste. I flu two times only first class. One time with Thai, one time with BA (Hong Kong – LHR). My first flight was Thai with the new first class cabin, and backwards with the former first class cabin (Dec 2014/Jan 2015). The former first class cabin is a bad joke; that 2015 is it in the air. The new first class is for my taste very good. Two things are a big different to BA First. What is for you more important is up to you. In the Thai First class you get Caviar, but not in the BA First. The ground service of Thai in BKK is for me the main reason to fly Thai.
    Arrival BKK: You get picked up in a “golf cart” and bring through the imigration (fast track). On the other side waiting the next employee from Thai to bring you to your luggage and take your luggage from the luggage belt. He brings your luggage to the exit of your choice.

    Depature BKK: You have a separate entrance zone, I showed one my e-flight ticket give behind the door my passport and luggage a woman, which do the complete handling with all. The waiting zone (some old seats) was disapointing, but not the service. Few minutes later I got a privat hand luggage carrier who bring me to the first class lounge of Thai. Phantastic. Separate rooms with computer, wide flat TV and a good service. Further you get a free massage if you want.

    That all you do not have with BA. What is a reason to fly BA is a (perhaps) higher seat quality as by Thai. The flat screen is smaller as by Thai, but acceptable. The concorde room in LHR is nice, but the service could be better. I had wait approx. 20 minutes till someone comes to take my order. Ground service? What is that? But also here you could get near the concorde room a free massage (belive is limited to 20 minutes). I do not know that by Thai is there a limitation of time, but you can take a real good Thai massage till one hour.

    Conclusion: Thai offer a better service, but BA is not bad. I do not understand the critism about the BA’s First.

    So long, Stephan

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