I’m a huge airline product geek, and I like to keep an updated list of what I consider to be the world’s best first class products, best first class lounges, best business class seats, etc. 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.
In this post:
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’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 exceptions are Kuwait Airways and Starlux Airlines 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 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 rank first class lounges separately.
Emirates introduced its new first class on select Boeing 777-300ERs several years ago, 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 hard to beat, from free-flowing Dom Perignon to a dine on-demand menu with all kinds of great options (including caviar).
The only issue is how few Emirates 777s have these suites. Emirates only has these first class suites on nine of its planes, and there are no plans to retrofit existing planes with these seats. Upcoming Boeing 777Xs should feature these seats, but those won’t join Emirates’ fleet until 2025 at the earliest.
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, the airline instead has 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 the airline also offers the world’s best first class lounge experience at its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub.
Perhaps most exciting is that Air France has plans to introduce a new first class product, which should start to be installed on select Boeing 777s within the coming year. I can’t wait to learn more details about this, as I wouldn’t be surprised if this puts Air France in the number one spot.
This is the world’s most improved first class product in the past few years, in my opinion, as ANA introduced incredible new first and business class seats 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 its 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 its new 777s, which is much better than the old system.
Add in ANA’s exceptional service, food, drinks (including Krug champagne) and amenities, and this really is a world class product.
Singapore Airlines is known for being one of the best airlines in the world, and the carrier is particularly known for its A380 Suites. Singapore Airlines’ A380s have just six first class seats, spread across three rows on the upper deck, in a 1-1 layout. The airline dedicates 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.
What’s even more special is that if you’re traveling with someone, you can actually create a double suite, so that you have an extra large bed. This is by far the world’s best first class product for those traveling with a companion. What’s not to love here?!
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 the catering is typically excellent, and there’s usually caviar, satay, etc. You can even “book the cook” in advance, and order from a huge menu that’s not otherwise available onboard.
Singapore Airlines also has an amazing champagne selection, with the choice of three options, including Krug.
Service on Singapore Airlines is typically excellent as well, among the best in the world.
Based on the above, you might wonder why I’m not ranking this as the world’s best first class product. While this is an exceptionally good product, there are some things I don’t love about it. For example, each passenger is allocated such a huge space, though I wish that Singapore Airlines actually made the bed larger and more comfortable, as it’s not particularly big.
This is still a world class product, all things considered. However, despite the amount of space Singapore Airlines invested in the Suites, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the fact that the space wasn’t used in a more creative way, to create the world’s most comfortable bed on a plane. The airline certainly had the space to do so.
Garuda Indonesia is another airline that’s both consistent and tailors the experience from the time you arrive at the airport to when you arrive at your destination. Garuda Indonesia first class has eight suites with doors. The hard product is good, though not remarkable compared to some of the other airlines on the list.
But everything about the soft product is perfection. I find Garuda Indonesia to have the best flight attendants of any airline, and the airline even has an onboard chef in first class.
The airline offers tasty food, great wine pairings, exceptional presentation, free Wi-Fi for first class passengers, 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 first class flights was unrivaled.
The only area where Garuda Indonesia can improve is with its bedding. While it’s good, it’s not nearly as plush as what some other airlines offer.
Unfortunately Garuda Indonesia’s first class has a very limited footprint. There are only a couple of Boeing 777s with first class, and it’s offered between Jakarta and Amsterdam. With the airline considering retiring its remaining Boeing 777s, the days of Garuda Indonesia first class may be numbered.
Cathay Pacific exclusively has first class on Boeing 777-300ERs. 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 the bedding is some of the best out there.
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.
Unfortunately the only catch is that Cathay Pacific’s first class is only available on very few routes, and it’s available on just one route to the United States. So while Cathay Pacific first class used to be easy to book with miles back in the day, that’s no longer the case.
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.
Etihad was the first airline to have a single-aisle configuration in first class on its A380s.
The First Class “Apartments,” as they’re called, will take your breath away. I remember being speechless the first time I boarded an Etihad A380.
Etihad has a dine on demand menu with some customization options, an onboard shower, and the second most square footage dedicated to each first class passenger.
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.
While Etihad’s A380 first class has been unavailable for the past few years, there’s good news on that front. Etihad is bringing back the Airbus A380 as of July 2023, so this product will finally once again be available. Note that Etihad’s A380 first class hard product is much better than what you’ll find on the Boeing 787s with first class.
Korean Air offers a consistent first class product. By far my favorite first class cabin offered by the airline is on the 747-8, where there are 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.
The good news is that this product should still be around for a while, as Korean Air plans to keep 747-8s into the 2030s.
Maybe I’m biased due to my German background, but I love Lufthansa first class for how consistent and elegant it is. No, Lufthansa doesn’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 the airline is remarkably consistent in terms of its 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 offers first class passengers free Wi-Fi, and it’s even quite fast.
It’s also nice to see Lufthansa’s first class footprint once again increasing. The airline has first class on Boeing 747-8s, Airbus A340-600s, Airbus A380s, and soon on select Airbus A350-900s, which will feature an all-new first class product.
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 the airline doesn’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.
Several years ago, Oman Air introduced a new first class product, which is primarily on its 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.
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?