I fly quite a lot. If it’s a couple of hours, I’m fine with economy, if it’s over five or six, it’s always nice to stretch out on a business class bed.
However on rare occasions when I’m feeling rich (in air miles) I’ll plump for a First Class ticket.
In this post I’ll give a comparison of three of the top airlines’ first class services – even better I’ll talk about the lounges on offer in their home country.
I just mentioned that I usually use air miles, fact is I have a black Amex card and we have lots of company expenses. It racks up spend, which racks up points pretty quickly.
I guess the benefits of various cards would be for another article, but I’ve done really well off the Amex card.
Ok, so let’s get into each of the airlines.
My first experience flying first class was with British Airways.
BA First: London to NYC return: $3,330
The BA experience starts with check-in, no queues and all rather nice. You do still need to wheel your suitcase over there yourself which made me think of Virgin Upper Class.
If you fly from the UK on Virgin and have their included limo service, then your bag goes from your house to the car and to check in without you touching it.
It’s a great service that I’ve only seen from Virgin which otherwise couldn’t be considered on a par with the three I am writing about here.
A restaurant with decent food and premium alcohol, as well as a top notch spa by Elemis. The check-in area is slick, but Heathrow is an older airport so you still need to mix with the general population (oh the horror!) of the airport and find your own way to the gate – there is no boarding from the lounge (see Emirates later).
Onboard – Business in Pyjamas
The in-flight experience is cool. Similar to business class, you’ll get champagne (Laurent-Perrier Grand Siécle) while waiting for boarding to complete.
The cabin is very small, meaning it is very exclusive. Your gift bag is good, and I like the pyjamas with “First” logo – I took them with me and used them at home :)
The food and service is decent, with real cutlery, and cloth napkin and tablecloth and no plastic to be seen. Maybe it’s the English problem where we just don’t give as good service as some other countries, but the service wasn’t a strong point to me.
I wondered why the stewardesses needed to speak so loudly when they were talking to other customers. A highlight was that they had chocolates by my favourite Artisan Du Chocolat, a fancy French brand. Yummy!
The main problem with BA First is that aside from the Concorde Lounge, smaller cabin, and double windows with electric curtains, there isn’t too much to separate it from regular Business Class, kind of like the difference between Economy and Premium Economy. So it’s more like Business Plus.
Flying from London (to NYC for example) you are however quite likely to see celebrities who haven’t quite got the budget for private jets.
BA doesn’t have suites, and the first class isn’t so different from business. The lounge is very good, and the price is quite reasonable – often coming in more like a business class price than a First.
Singapore Suites: Singapore to London return: $13,926
Singapore Pre Flight – Hmmm
The next first class I flew was Singapore Airlines Suites. Check in etc, all good, but quite standard after BA. And no limo service at all, even though it wouldn’t be hard to at least offer it in Singapore where almost anywhere on the island is a short drive.
Their lounge in Singapore – slightly disappointing. It’s just quite small and not especially beautiful or fancy. Food was fine but nothing special. I had to check that I was in the right place because I knew that the tickets can cost up to $20k. Not that it was like Kiev Airport lounge or something, but just not what I’d expect.
Onboard – Givenchy Givenchy Givenchy
On the A380 flight things really stepped up. You are given a choice of Krug or Dom P champagne while waiting for boarding to complete. Very cool. I decided to do a little tasting session and switch back and forth.
The “suite” is well appointed and tastefully designed, and there is a note that says max occupancy 2 people, which invites Mile High possibilities ;-)
The superb experience continues when they start handing out pyjamas and bringing food and you see that everything is Givenchy, the pyjamas, the blanket, the plates, everything. It’s pretty cool, and kind of like the Drake Versace song (but Givenchy obviously).
Air stewards are famously good on Singapore and they really look after you well. It was nice to leave with the Givenchy pyjamas and a nice wash bag too.
Food was very good, but even in First it’s not going to be as good as in a real high-end restaurant, it’s just hard to have delicious fresh food on a plane. I did however note that everything seemed to taste better off of the Givenchy plates.
Singapore Suites are wonderfully luxurious. The on-plane experience is fantastic, but things could be better overall by adding a limo service and some extras in the lounge (how about a free 15 min shoulder massage like Virgin offer on their cheapo Upper Class?).
Emirates First Class: London to Mauritius via Dubai: $6,238.40
Emirates Pre Flight – Limo, Lounge, no Peasants
A big benefit of Emirates is their limo service.
Free limos are available from/to most destinations for Biz and First customers. Mauritius wasn’t one of the destinations unfortunately so we only had one free transfer, but in many cities you’ll be able to save a lot of hassle and cost by using this service.
If anyone describes the Emirates lounge in Dubai, they’d need to use a synonym of huge, it’s just really really big.
All of the areas to eat and relax with different kinds of seating, with TVs, without, arm chair, sofa, with power points, whatever you need. The first class lounge is a little prettier than the already very nice business class lounge.
More water features and a sleeping room which is great if you are there for longer than usual. Of course there are the usual shower rooms and the food is surprisingly good, plus they have Moet on tap if you want to continue drinking.
Dubai airport is relatively modern, so they were able to design things smartly, this means that if you have lounge access, you can access the plane right from there. They have gates at the end of the lounge.
Then you have your separate sky bridge to board. A very nice feature since it means an end-to-end “peasant free” experience. Maybe they can trademark that?
Onboard – Gaudy Gold but all Good
Just like Singapore, Emirates have “suites” in first class. The difference is that they are kind of Dubai style in that of course they are gold coloured and have the pop-up vanity mirror.
But what they lack in taste they easily make up for in all the trimmings. There is no Krug choice, they assume that Dom P will be good enough, and it’s provided in infinite quantities.
I haven’t talked about in-flight entertainment, since it’s usually pretty standard. All three First Class cabins have great televisions of decent size and resolution, Emirates though has been voted top in in-flight entertainment pretty much every year, mainly because they offer the biggest choice.
Onboard food is fancy, they go for expensive ingredients, that deliver the expensive vibe that they are trying to convey with everything. Cheese course with vintage Port is pretty balla too.
Their wash bag is Bulgari, very similar in business and first class, in first it’s made of leather and actually quite nice as a small gift to someone if you forget to get them something better or are a cheapskate.
The stuff inside is more functional than fancy, with deodorant and shaving cream in the men’s version along with an aftershave. If you fly with a stop, you’ll pick up 2, along with 2 sets of pyjamas (which were strangely only available in L or XL), so you are already making a few $ back off the ticket price ;-)
The flight crew is cool, they always highlight how international they are, speaking 18 languages or whatever it’ll be on that particular flight.
The chair has a massage function! Nice to keep the blood flowing and avoid DVT. I had it running for the whole flight, definitely the longest massage of my life.
Emirates did one-up Singapore on something – the shower.
No, not the shower in the lounge, the one on the plane! Their bathroom is already spacious and the shower just gives a little wow-factor.
I had to try it. It’s just a shower, but the idea of being in the sky and showering – especially while you know that the poor people in economy are sticky, suffering and sweating…it’s bliss.
Emirates does really well pre-flight and onboard. Seems like they thought of everything start to finish. The benefits of a new airport and new fleet of planes. The old-school airlines definitely have a lot of catching up to do.
Verdict: So What is the Best First Class Airline?
If we are talking value, then BA is the clear winner. Singapore is the most expensive and does have a few elements that are decidedly better – Givenchy everything, come on!
However, Singapore has more in the bells and whistles department, and not really worth stumping up that much more cash for. Emirates has the best lounge, the shower, the limo service, and in other departments it just about keeps up, therefore I have to give the final nod to Emirates Suites.
Safe flying everyone!
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