First of all, I have to admit to being completely spoiled. Spoilt too, I suspect, but that is another story. I have been fortunate to be able to travel in First Class for several long-haul flights and despite the acerbic emails that I may get for these comments, I feel it a public service to offer a glimpse behind the curtain.
Firstly, no pun intended, it has to be accepted that there are people to whom money carries fewer responsibilities than the rest of us; there are also folks who travel from continent to continent on multimillion dollar business for whom peace and quiet trump the huge price of the ticket. It is, it has to be said, a step down from the private jets that whizz the truly rich and famous around the world, but it is a pretty nice way to fly.
First Class travel starts well; no congress with the mass of folks checking in for the myriad of long-haul flights; a discreet desk in the corner of the terminal, or in the case of Lufthansa in Frankfurt, a terminal of one’s own to complete the mundane formalities in a minute or two. Oddly, it is at that point that airlines seem to divide into two categories; those that are playing lip service to their most valuable clients, and those who actually value them.
United has possibly the best seats in First Class, but the worst customer interaction. Their staff are usually acceptable, but their menu, security by-pass systems and lounges all rank poorly. Lufthansa now (2015) have wonderful seats, and their ground facilities are extraordinary; Swiss seem to manage both. In a few weeks I will be able to add Thai to my comparison, and am looking forward to experiencing their renowned lounge in Bangkok.
For most, waiting a the airport is uncomfortable and dull; First Class passengers, on the other hand, are happy to check in a few hours early. In Frankfurt the Lufthansa lounge has a magnificent bar and a first-class restaurant within the facility, naturally with no bill in sight. On-site spa treatments, and when it is finally time to go, a private passport control and a late-model Porsche to whisk you to the waiting aircraft. In Bangkok, I gather, Thai First Class passengers are entitled to a complimentary one-hour massage in their spa, in addition to one of the finest restaurants in Bangkok available for their pleasure.
In Paris, it is said that that the operators of the Air France First Class lounge, a Michelin-starred place if ever there was one, are paid a flat €500 per passenger; one can only imagine the service that is on offer.
All this before one even boards the plane. Once on board, seats are huge and discreet. My personal favourite is actually Turkish Airlines who offer each passenger their own cabin that can be open to the masses or closed into a private cabin. Sadly they don’t fly to Winnipeg or Toulouse.
Once on board, service ranges from extraordinary, Johnnie Walker Blue is the Lufthansa house scotch, to the mundane; United’s catering does not match the promise of their wonderful seats, and in fact would be comparable to most airline's business class offerings. Swiss offer a splendid seven course meal with a selection of marvellous wines to compliment every course. And when consumption is complete and one’s eyes start to wane, the seats turn into beds.
Some, United’s are the best example, are simply magnificent, self-contained suites that offer comfort and privacy. Others, and Swiss is the best for this attention, place a mattress over one’s absolutely flat seat and a duvet above to complete a fine bed. And, of course they include pajamas.
So, refreshed, but not overly so, one arrives and can then head to a special arrivals lounge, complete with a shower and breakfast. At this point, one usually has to mix with business class passengers, but sated with the flight’s pampering, food and wine, compromises can be made.
All in all, it is a pretty nice way to travel.