Is The Worst First Class The Best First Class?

Filed Under: Travel

I’ve long said that business class is all about the hard product, while first class is about a combination of the hard product and soft product.

And I’ve also long said that I often arrive more well rested having flown business class than first class. That’s because if I have a comfortable seat in business class I’ll often just sleep the whole way, because I know I’m not really “missing out” on much of an experience. So I’ll gladly skip the meal and recline my seat right away, since I know I’ll feel best if I maximize my rest and don’t overeat.

I’ve gotten some great sleep in US Airways business class

In generally I have a hard time doing the same in top first class products. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because when flying first class, getting there can be half the fun. I mean, seriously, what’s not to love about Emirates first class — you can grab a drink (or seven) at the bar, take a shower, choose from thousands of hours of entertainment, text friends, etc. I just can’t bring myself to sleep much in Emirates first class, because the experience is so much fun!

Emirates first class cabin A380

Emirates A380 business class bar

Which brings me to my travels last week. Over a seven day period I flew 35,000 miles.


Now, I fly 400,000+ miles per year, but 35,000 miles in a week is a lot even for me. The good news is that the flying consisted almost exclusively of longhauls, as I flew to Beijing twice, and once even routed through Europe.

Given that I was flying an average of 5,000 miles per day, I figured I’d have a bit of a recovery period. Admittedly it’s much easier to travel in first class than economy class, but regardless of which part of the plane you’re sitting in, flying and timezones are exhausting.

There are always tips you hear about how to arrive at your destination most well rested, and they’re certainly mostly true. For example, you should go to the gym, drink lots of water, not overeat, not drink alcohol, and adjust to local time as quickly as possible.

All that sounds nice in theory. Except often what we should do and what we actually do are two different things. Because what we should do often isn’t fun.

What’s the fun in saying no to Krug in Cathay Pacific first class?

Which brings me to American’s first class. The product is old, the food is borderline inedible, and the entertainment is lacking (that personally doesn’t bother me)… yet I was so well rested after the flights. I don’t remember the last time I got so much sleep on longhaul flights.

American 777 first class cabin

I slept for nearly 10 hours on the first American flight. And that was despite there not being a curtain between the galley and the cabin, and there being quite a bit of light. On the return flight I was quite angry that I “only” slept for six hours, which on any other airline would be a ton of sleep for me.

American first class turndown service

I guess my point is that if the goal of premium cabin travel is to arrive well rested, then I think the “worst” (or at least less good) products might just be the best.

Now, is someone going to pay as much to fly American first class as Emirates first class? Probably not. But it does make you look at what the “best” experience is a bit differently.

There’s an idea for American’s future marketing campaigns, maybe… 😉

  1. Yes, but Lucky how do you know AA has the “worst first class” when you have not yet sampled the delights of Kuwait Airways first class?

  2. Try Emirates’ “First Class” product on the A330s. Makes American Airlines look glamorous.

  3. Ben,

    A while back there was both an issue with my reservation and a giant convention in town. So….long story short….I had to stay at a Residence Inn by Marriott. It was horrific. But, the next week when I returned to my usual haunt, I nearly kissed the ground I was so happy to be back. Indeed, for weeks after I was constantly aware of how lucky I was.

    So, here is my plan. You set up a go fund me to raise +$20k for the charity of your choice. If we raise the money you fly American – in coach – from DFW to HKG stay at the Newton Hotel for two nights and fly back.

  4. John, that sounds like a great attitude adjustment for Lucky! Maybe afterwards he will return to “Ask Lucky” and answer questions and comments of his loyal followers! Maybe!

  5. Don’t expect this redneck to think about charity He just cares to fly in 1st class and be as obnoxious as he can be.

  6. Ben,

    Just got back from sfo-dxb-pek-pvg-hkg-sfo..

    Got back thursdays and im exhausted.. It takes me a week to fully get over jet lag. I dont know how you do it. Doesnt matter which class you fly its still time zones that you have to adapt to.

    EK first was awesome, except ICE was ok and food wasnt that great. Service was good and staff was super nice.

    CX business on way back reminded me of united, kinda sad. Its starting to feel like old ladies that leave the snack cart out and help yourself.

  7. Ben –

    I think what you’ve discovered is the common practice of people who regularly travel F on long-haul flights for the purpose of getting to their destination, rather than for the journey.

    Normally, if you’re somebody who travels F as often as you do, you’re doing it because you’re a highly compensated senior executive/partner/etc., and you’re not as interested in enjoying all the amenities. You’re interested in being fresh for whatever it is you have to do at your destination.

    I wish I got to travel in F more often than I do, but these days when I do, it’s typically because I’ve upgraded myself on a business trip, and so I tend to eat relatively light (compared to the opportunities on board), do some work and get some sleep. I rarely have more than a glass of wine, and I rarely watch a movie.

    Every once in a while, when I’m flying on the weekend and can afford to enjoy myself, I’ll have an extra couple of glasses of something and eat a little bit more, but I still am mindful of what I have to do on the other end, just like I would if I were considering whether or not to party at home.

    All of this you can do really easily on LH or EK (just did this on LH 2 weeks ago), and the more often most people fly on them, the more likely they are to not be troubled by “missing” some of the experience.


  8. I always find this fascinating… flying first for the experience. I.E. flying for the sake of flying and being in first class to take a shower and drink champagne.
    I get the point of miles for free travel or upgrades when you have to fly somewhere. But the experience… I don’t get it.

    “… you can grab a drink (or seven) at the bar, take a shower, choose from thousands of hours of entertainment, text friends, etc”
    I can do all of this in my house and much more. If I don’t have to travel, why travel to “experience” these things?

    But hey, great for those who enjoy it!

  9. I’m looking at options for offline entertainment for an Ipad for later this year, for flights and general down time. I currently have no subscriptions, and wondered how you work this out with your offline downloads.

  10. Choco – I think you’re on the wrong blog.

    Ben: “I mean, seriously, what’s not to love about Emirates first class — you can grab a drink (or seven) at the bar, take a shower, choose from thousands of hours of entertainment, text friends, etc. I just can’t bring myself to sleep much in Emirates first class, because the experience is so much fun!”

    Excluding the shower, all of that is available in J though.

  11. @Tom C – “Excluding the shower, all of that is available in J though.” Yes, but the indignity of travelling in business class when there is first on the same flight – that is intolerable cruelty for lucky!

  12. Thats was funny that so many people go to a wrong blog and some people use coach standard to evaluate first class

  13. I couldn’t care less about handing out money for reviewing The Residence but I will gladly donate some cash to put Lucky in coach for fifteen hours straight. Should make for a rather interesting trip report and maybe an unexpected moment of humility.

  14. Couple of things.

    First, completely agree with the others that for the most part, arriving fresh so I can get work done with minimal jet lag is the main goal. And even when travelling for vacation, I’d rather arrive fresh than ready to sleep for the first 24 hours once I get to the hotel.

    Next, while I usually love the posts, this whole premise is ridiculous. I am the airline’s guest. I get to decide whether I want to sleep, eat, party, or binge-watch some crap TV shows. I shouldn’t have to settle for a great night’s sleep because the food stinks – or there are no showers.

    We get that you love AAdvantage. But from all of the reviews recently, there’s nothing that qualifies AA F as best, even best at sucking.

  15. @ Tom C Some of them not just offer in first class but also in coach such as entertainment system, but you compare the high rating and normal rating you will see the difference.

    Last summer i have traveled Jet airways MUM-LHR . The entertainment system in their b777 offer a huge number of movie and soaps, but most of them are either Bollywood or classic Disney like Snow White or Cinderella (Released before my mum born) and spoke Hindi . There is only 5 non-Indian film and the only one released in 2014 is the Lego movie……

    Although the entertainment system in CX/SQ/EX is not so good, at least they do not just have Chinese/Malay/Arabian films, they also offers several latest English movies/soaps which i am interested in.

  16. @ Christian — I don’t watch that much TV, but I just download season passes for my favorite shows through the iTunes Store. Nothing fancy.

  17. My two cents.

    Most who can afford to fly first on Emirates (with cash, not miles), can afford to charter private or already own a private jet (or their company can). So, in my opinion the best first class experiences that cater to that crowd, cater to convenience.

    Having just flown Emirates F for nearly 23 hours, I found the experience aboard to be excellent (as good as any I’ve experienced), however the ground services (outside of the FCL) in Dubai are atrocious. The culture of the Middle East just doesn’t allow for anything more than what it is, unfriendly and disorganized. On top of that, transiting through Dubai is incredibly inconvenient for nearly every routing.

    If I ran the premium departments of any airline, domestic or otherwise, I would focus more on making the airport experience more palatable and less on what type of champagne they should serve, otherwise most who can afford to buy the ticket will avoid continue to avoid commercial and the $16,000 seats will continue to sit empty.

  18. @Lucky “regardless of which part of the plane you’re sitting in, flying and timezones are exhausting” – truer words have never been said.

    As an experiential traveller Ben, not a corporate flyer, it’s strange to hear you extol the virtues of airline cabins so underwhelming you really have no choice but to maximise sleep so as to not be awake for the ongoing disappointments 🙂

    Personally I think it’s fine that you buy and fly sub-par First and Business flights on AA, as a necessary evil to keep your AA/OneWorld elite benefits and redemption options leveraged and maximised (so you can redeem great experiences on other carriers). Arbitrage requires trade-offs, and you have to grind at least some of the time to maximise your benefits. Sometimes you have to take some pain, for later gain.

  19. Perhaps the people who can actually afford to travel First class on EK or similar “posh” carriers are the ones who are the least excitable and take these bells and whistle as a matter of course and therefore are able to rest and not partake in the offerings?

  20. There is a difference between sleeping as a matter of choice, despite bells and whistles, and sleeping because it assaults the senses to remain awake on a bells and whistle free service 🙂

  21. @Jonathan go the other direction SFO-HKG etc much better, you’ll enjoy it or at least I enjoy this direction – I’ve done it twice. @ LUCKY nice supposition 🙂

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *