Flying first class used to just mean more seat space and complimentary Champagne. Now, true travel opulence involves nothing less than a five-star hotel in the sky.
Airlines from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe have been upping the game when it comes to onboard comforts, and they’re taking note from luxury hotels when it comes to their first-class services. From designer amenities to personal butlers, there’s no such thing as too much luxe.
The best of the best now offers entire apartments for their most exclusive travelers. These come with benefits such as a travel concierge to deal with pesky documentation, a full spa experience before the flight, and a chauffeured drive to the plane.
First-class travel leaves fliers arriving feeling refreshed and pampered even on the most arduous of long-haul routes, if you can afford to pay upwards of $10,000 for a plane ticket. (Etihad Airways charges close to $30,000 for the privilege.)
Here’s our roundup of the most luxurious first-class compartments in the skies today.
Etihad Airways names their immense cabins in the air after their land-based equivalents: The First Apartment, and the extravagant three-room Etihad Residence.
Guests arrive via a complimentary chauffeured car and check in at a seated check-in desk. Bags are handled by the porter and any “waiting” can be done by enjoying fine dining in the lounge or a treatment at the Six Senses Spa in Abu Dhabi. Once onboard, guests can sit at a table like they’re in a train car, enjoy a full vanity, travel bags designed by Christian Lacroix, Omorovicza skincare products, and a minibar. In the residence, they enjoy a private shower, double bedroom, and à la carte meals served on Bernardaud porcelain by their private butler. The butler is connected to a concierge team, able to satisfy the passengers’ every whim, whether in the air or for onward plans on the ground.
Even the cabin attendant comes dressed in Italian haute couture by designer Ettore Bilotta. It doesn’t get much more luxurious than this.
Singapore Airlines holds the honor of having the first double bed in the sky. Their incredibly refined private cabin suites really look like hotel rooms, with interiors designed by French yacht designer Jean-Jacques Costa and leather armchairs hand-stitched by Italian craftsman Poltrona Frau.
After checking in through the exclusive check-in lounge, the cabins can be arranged as a bedroom, dining room, or office. Guests can select from Dom Perignon or Krug Champagne, or get an onboard sommelier to pair their drink to their meal. Entertainment comes via Bose headphones, the amenity kit is from Salvatore Ferragamo, and the blankets, pillows, and slippers are from Givenchy. You also have your own private air steward who can provide guidance on selecting a meal or a movie.
Emirates’ first-class suite has climate control, lighting control, virtual windows with HD projections from outside, zero-gravity seating, binoculars, remote wireless control, Bulgari toiletries, and Voya organic products. Passengers even enjoy a full shower. Long-haul flights may merit a change of clothes, and for that there are included pajamas that use Hydra Active Microcapsule Technology, which releases nutrient-rich sea kelp as you move.
Advertised by Jeremy Clarkson, Emirates want you to think of their airlines as something akin to a luxury sports car. With the suite’s leather seating and touchscreen control panels created after consulting with Mercedes-Benz designers, it’s an accurate comparison.
Cathay Pacific doesn’t offer full cabins, but it does offer touches such as a massager in the seat and a 500 thread-count duvet on the bed. Their amenity kits come courtesy of Aesop, and guests receive a Chinese-style sleep suit by PYE shirts.
Cathay welcomes guests with a glass of Krug and caviar, and pays special attention to the culinary wonders of its home city, Hong Kong. The airline has been known to feature Michelin-starred meals on some flights from establishments such as Pino Lavarra’s Tosca, the Italian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton.
Much of the first-class experience with British Airways starts before even boarding. BA offers a complimentary 15-minute Elemis Spa experience in their London and New York lounges, private cabanas, a private check-in area called The First Wing in London, and passengers get driven directly to their flights in a Porsche Cayenne.
While the seats in British Airway’s first class aren’t in private cabins, the luxury is in the details. Outfitted in a sleek black color scheme, their first class offers three different types of Champagne and an amenity kit from Liberty London. Passengers get access to a 24-hour concierge offering travel advice and restaurant suggestions, and meals are served on white linen tablecloths and fine bone china.
PHOTO BY MARK SACRO