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With summer travel around the corner, many are busy gearing up for flights — not only by booking reservations, but mentally preparing for hours spent huddled with seats and tray tables in their upright and locked positions. However, while some carriers continue to cut space and service, several have gone a different route. Committed to luxury for the long haul, the following airlines have taken off in popularity, thanks in part to cabins that make conventional first-class compartments seem commonplace and that offer a passenger experience that rivals five-star resorts. Here is how we rank the top 10 first-class airline cabins.
1. Qantas First Class
With a safety record that is second to none, Australia-based Qantas also has a reputation for refinement. Each premier pod in the First Class section contains an oversize seat that fully extends to accommodate a sheepskin mattress and a bounty of bedding. When awake, passengers can easily pass the time with a 17-inch entertainment system programmed with movies, games, and radio channels—all enjoyed with noise-canceling headphones.
In-flight meals—a gastronomic eight-course tasting menu—are prepared by Australia’s culinary giant, chef Neil Perry. A la carte entrées are also of equal excellence. Those who prefer wine when they dine have access to Sommeliers in the Sky who will pair dinner with the ideal varietal and vintage. This atmosphere of elegance may have a few feeling underdressed in Qantas’s complimentary cotton sleeping suits, but not to worry—a jacket is not required.
2. Korean Air Kosmo Suites 2.0
Premiered on Korean Air’s new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental aircraft, the carrier’s first-class Kosmo Suite 2.0 improves on its predecessor with a sliding door of one-way glass and higher partitions for enhanced privacy. Within each enclave is a 24-inch, high-definition monitor with a handheld remote and Bose headset, office space with a worktable, and a seat that is spaced almost 7 feet away from the nearest neighbor and is fully adjustable with one-touch controls.
Korean Air’s first-class fare combines cuisine from Japan, China, and the West with traditional Korean specialties in order to tempt any taste. Also sating the senses is an amenity kit with Davi skincare essentials and designer sleepwear from Gianfranco Ferre.
3. Lufthansa First Class
With ample room to move about the cabin, German carrier Lufthansa’s First Class section comprises only eight posh pods aboard its Airbus A380. Passengers are ensconced in ergonomic seats measuring 1.98m in length and over 76cm in width. Turndown service before slumber transforms the seat into a cozy bed with a mattress topper, fine linens, and a temperature-regulated duvet.
Many of the longer flights from Germany are catered by a rotation of top chefs from leading hotels (currently, outbound intercontinental flights feature entrées from Michelin three-star chef Harald Wohlfahrt from Hotel Traube Tonbach). Also pleasing the palate are wines selected by former Sommelier World Champion, Markus del Monego. More delightful distractions include a personal selection of 100 films in eight languages, 200 television shows, 300 music CDs, and over 30 radio programs to peruse.
4. British Airways First Suites
The sun may have set on the British Empire, but not on its elegant airline, as proven with British Airways’ First suites. Serenity starts pre-flight with a therapeutic treatment of choice at the Elemis Travel Spa (if traveling from London’s Heathrow or New York’s JFK airports). Once on board the airline’s A380, First passengers bask in one of 14 suites that contain generously sized seats and 15-inch televisions with 1,600 hours of entertainment (including 130 movies and 650 shows).
On the menu are multi-course meals comprising a starter, a gourmet entrée, and a variety of desserts including a cheese platter garnished with chocolates and seasonal fruit. An afternoon tea service keeps delightfully true to the culture and is nothing short of scrumptious, as is the traditional English breakfast. And to nourish the skin, the complimentary amenity kits include products from Elemis.
5. Air France La Première Suite
A bon voyage is assured if flying in one of Air France’s La Première Suites aboard its Boeing 777-300s. Limited to only four per aircraft, each of the ample accommodations — dressed in wood accents, metallic finishes, and tweed-like touches—provides an expansive seat (with leather headrest) that doubles as a full-length futon. Curtains block out the rest of the cabin’s bustle, and a 24-inch display (programmed in 12 languages and loaded with 1,000 hours of entertainment) keeps any chance of boredom at bay.
As would be expected of an airline whose country is famed for food, Air France presents La Première passengers with delicacies crafted by Michelin-starred master chefs Michel Roth, Anne-Sophie Pic, Joël Robuchon, Guy Martin, and Régis Marcon — complementing the cuisine with an ever-changing wine list. The sumptuous spread is served on Bernardaud porcelain plates accompanied by Christofle cutlery and glassware—sophisticated touches that give any journey that je ne sais quoi.
6. Cathay Pacific Airways First Class Suites
A top-tier transport for almost 70 years, Cathay Pacific Airways continues to come up with new ways to coddle passengers. Its Boeing 777-300ER airplanes now feature nine redesigned First Class suites set in a cabin accented with art from sculptors Maria Lobo and Linda Leviton. The solitary sanctuaries include leather-trimmed seats that transition to beds, a widescreen television with numerous on-demand audio and video selections (as well as a multiport connector to stream from your own tablet to the television), and an LCD touchscreen controller to adjust seat settings and the immediate environment. The complimentary amenity kit carries a 100-percent-cotton sleep suit from PYE (complete with slippers and eye mask) and an assortment of Aesop skincare products.
First Class dining is just that. Working in partnership with chefs from the Mandarin Oriental hotel group for many of the flights, Cathay Pacific’s exclusive menu reflects the diversity of the airline’s home city Hong Kong. Global gourmet selections are created in a galley equipped with rice cookers, toasters, and steam ovens so that meals are made fresh to order—and caviar is a constant.
7. Qatar Airways First Class
Quality in quantity is the hallmark of Qatar Airways, especially in its First Class cabins. Each personal parlor presents a flat-bed seat, a 26-inch LCD display with over 2,000 choices in entertainment, and work space facilitated by a USB port and on-air mobile service. Bedtime is a dream with Frette linens, designer pajamas, and, when ready to rise, a Giorgio Armani amenity kit.
In-flight meals have reached a milestone as the airline has teamed with celebrity chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia to craft culinary delights that take into account religious and dietary restrictions and comprise flavor combinations best suited to our altered taste at altitude. And while alcohol is not part of Qatar’s repertoire, the ambience is intoxicating enough.
8. Singapore Airlines Suites
Already synonymous with excellence, Singapore Airlines ups the ante with first-class Singapore Airlines Suites available on its A380s. Recalling deluxe sleeper cars from the golden age of train travel, the enclosed compartments are decked in dark wood finishes and leather, and equipped with sliding doors and window blinds to diminish distraction. The comprehensive entertainment system consists of a 23-inch LCD display, over 80 on-demand movies, numerous interactive games and applications, and Bose noise-canceling headphones. Hours of sitting are sublime thanks to an oversized, hand-stitched-leather Poltrona Frau chair. And when ready to recline, a dedicated bed also beckons.
To personalise the pampering even more, passengers can customize their culinary experience through Singapore’s Book the Cook service (arranged at least 24 hours before the flight), selecting, in some cases, from over 60 memorable meals. And a wine list lush with celebrated Champagne, Grand Cru Burgundy, and Second Growth Bordeaux adds beautiful balance.
9. Emirates First Class Private Suite
The sultan of the skies, Dubai-based Emirates serves those in its First Class Private Suites (available on its Airbus A380s and A340-500s, and most Boeing 747s) as if they were sheiks. Lavishly cocooned from the rest of the cabin, passengers dine any time they desire. Regionally inspired entrées (with ingredients culled from local sources) are paired with sommelier-selected wines and served on Royal Doulton bone china mated with Robert Welch cutlery and white-linen tablecloths. When sleep is on the menu, mattress-padded seats recline completely flat to form a bed.
On the A380, other A-list amenities include access to the Onboard Lounge (and its array of canapés and cocktails) and the A380 Shower Spa supplied with Bulgari bath and beauty products. No wonder actress Jennifer Aniston has nightmares about flying with anyone else.
10. Etihad Airways Residence and First Apartments
Etihad Airways and global aircraft-charter specialist Chapman Freeborn have partnered to present the Residence and First Apartment cabins aboard Etihad’s Airbus A380 in conjunction with the charter’s premier point-to-point service. Air travel that combines the size and support of a major carrier with the exclusivity and convenience of a private jet is now a reality as Chapman Freeborn’s clients can experience long-haul luxury and privacy while aboard the largest commercial passenger plane in the world.
Within the Residence, guests spend their flight time in the rarified comfort of a 125-square-foot, three-room suite that includes a living room with a Poltrona Frau leather sofa, two dining tables, and a 32-inch flat-screen television. A separate bedroom features a double bed draped in Egyptian-cotton sheets, a natural-fibre duvet, a selection of pillows, and an en suite bathroom with shower. The Residence also comes with its own butler, as well as a private chef ready to custom-create menus to order. The gourmet cuisine is served on fine bone china and complemented with Studio William’s Royal Oak cutlery and Lucaris crystal. A selection of Cognac served in glasses from Normann Copenhagen makes for a notable nightcap.
Those traveling solo can also opt for one of the nine First Apartment cabins on board. Smaller than the Residence, but still large on amenities, each cabin features a Poltrona Frau leather armchair and ottoman (the latter unfolding to form an 81-inch bed when it is time to retire), a 24-inch flat-screen television with over 750 hours of programming, a small refrigerator, a vanity, and access to the First Class bathroom with shower.