If the 1960s were the Golden Age of travel, the twenty-teens are the diamond age. Gone are the cigarettes, La-Z-Boy-style seats and pungent smells of jet fuel; in their place are massive suites, showers in the clouds and caviar collections fit for a Russian czar. Don’t forget the bespoke bedding and bone china collaborations for in-flight afternoon tea, either.
While many airlines have folded their first class into business in the midst of strict corporate travel policies, a few have pushed their suites to soaring new heights. If you’re looking for the best in the sky, these first-class cabins have everything – and more.
SINGAPORE AIRLINES A380 SUITES
Condé Nast Traveler US’s Readers’ Choice Award-winning Singapore Airlines has doubled down in recent years to create what’s widely regarded as the single finest commercial flying experience. That’s not just hyperbole – at 50 square feet, it wins by measurement as well.
The fact that it starts with a trip to a lounge formally known as The Private Room never hurts. Here, Dom Pérignon flows like water and the space feels downright serene. If there’s one complaint to make, it’s the fact that it’s too quiet, too polished and too nice.
Onboard, you’re in a true suite, with a reclining swivel chair that faces out toward the windows or in toward the cabin for dining, with a desktop for work and separate bed. A tablet controls everything, from dimming lights to changing their colours. You can carry it with you throughout the suite, too, and use it whether you’re in your chair or lying on the bed. And then there’s the 32” television, which wouldn’t look out of place in most living rooms. Singapore Airlines also went one step further for people travelling in pairs: certain suites can be combined to form a 100-square-foot palace in the sky.
CATHAY PACIFIC SUITES
Cathay Pacific’s first-class suite lacks many of the bolted-down features you’d expect on a list of the world’s top cabins. No, it doesn’t have a door, nor a separate seat and bed. But if you ever wished a lie-flat seat could be your actual bed, it would be this one.
Booking into Cathay Pacific first class means you’re never let down at any point in your journey. Cathay’s lounges in Hong Kong rival many of the finest five-star hotels when it comes to decor – and arguably spa extras, too. On the plane, it’s impossible not to revel in the handwritten welcome notes given to each guest, before being asked the question ‘Would you like a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée 2004?’ Cathay’s first-class beds are wide enough to comfortably sleep two, which makes them more than suitable for one. And the crew arranges each pillow, duvet and mattress topper just so.
AIR FRANCE LA PREMIÈRE CLASS
There are first-class cabins with more space and plenty more bling, but Air France’s first class is the epitome of sophistication. There’s high-thread-count bedding, crew who could pass most sommelier exams and teams on the ground tasked with ensuring that every step of the journey is flawless. For example, each passenger gets a private car from the lounge directly to their plane, bypassing the woes of the terminal entirely.
For those who’ve experienced the other end of the plane, the first thing to enjoy onboard is the fact that you’ve got four windows all to yourself. Your seat, if you insist on degrading it by calling it that, is the ultimate relaxation chamber. Because doors are boring, Air France introduced floor-to-ceiling curtains, which only intensify the feeling that you’re in a chic Parisian bedroom, rather than an aircraft. This is an experience where 24-hour fasting beforehand should almost be mandatory, too, as the brilliant onboard tasting menu was designed by a rotating group of the world’s finest chefs.
ETIHAD A380 FIRST CLASS
Located in the first rows of the Etihad Airbus A380 Upper Deck, the First-Class Apartments give a new definition to leg room. The suite is more than just a seat that turns into a bed: it’s a seat and a separate bed, with enough room to do push-ups and work off all the fine dining you’re consuming. If you’re travelling with a companion, there are also suites where the privacy wall can be taken down to create a spacious cabin for two.
Etihad has turned its airline menus into ingredient lists where guests can create bespoke dishes directly with onboard chefs. When you need a change of pace, there’s a bar to mingle with other guests. And for those who want to feel refreshed before landing, first class has shower suites, too. Don’t ever underestimate the glory of a private shower after 10 hours in the sky at 39,000 feet.
EMIRATES 777 FIRST CLASS
With virtual reality, zero-gravity seats and fabrics inspired by Mercedes-Benz interiors, Emirates’ new first-class suites are completely over-the-top. Perhaps what makes this experience so unique is the notion that the middle seat is actually the best option. For the new Boeing 777, Emirates offers two rows with three suites across, rather than the traditional four. To make sure that middle seat passengers weren’t missing out, the airline created virtual-reality ‘windows,’ which show the scenes going on outside in HD clarity. After a few glasses from the airline’s £395-million wine cellar, including favourites such as Château Mouton-Rothschild, it does indeed feel like you’re in a window seat.
Emirates also commissioned top space engineers to create a zero-gravity position in the first-class seat, so it seems as if you’re floating through the sky. And with a seat that comfortable, who wants to get up to ask for a top-up? Emirates created a FaceTime-style set-up, where you can video chat with the crew to make any requests. It has also upgraded the TVs in these suites to 32” HD monitors, while also introducing the only floor-to-ceiling privacy doors in the skies.