Best International First Class Products

Earlier in the week, Flightfox revealed their rankings for the best first class products in the world.

They asked a few bloggers to rank their favorite first class products. And I’m not going to lie, that’s something I struggle with. I’ll gladly give you my top five or top ten first class products, but rank them one-by-one?

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Why is that so challenging? Because I think the top handful of airlines perform at such a high level, that the best experience really comes down to the exact circumstances that day, like which route you’re flying, how exceptional your crew is, whether you’re originating at their hub or an outstation, etc.

Let me give an example. I ranked Singapore Airlines Suites Class as the top product. And I do think it’s the top product. But not always.

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Take the San Francisco to Hong Kong flight I had with them last year, which was a “supper” service. When a flight leaves late at night (even if it’s 15 hours long), Singapore doesn’t do a full dinner service. So there’s no caviar, satay, or dessert, which is kind of disappointing on a 15 hour flight for what’s supposedly the world’s top airline. Of course every other aspect of the flight was amazing.

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But what if you combined that meal service with the crew I had in first class from Singapore to Seoul Incheon, who referred to us as “you people” and didn’t come back into the cabin once after the meal service. Based on that flight, I certainly didn’t come away with the impression that Singapore is the top airline in the world.

Take my rankings with a grain of salt. Between certain carriers I literally had to flip a coin and close my eyes in order to decide how to rank them.

Gary also shared his rankings, so if you’d like to sort by either of our rankings, simply click the heading and it will sort by whichever order you’d like.

Airline-Rankings

I won’t rehash all my picks here, though thought it might be fun to look at where Gary and I disagree. Our rankings are very similar in most cases, so lets look at the airlines where our rankings differ by five or more spots.

Swiss First Class

My ranking: 5
Gary’s ranking: 15

Swiss first class is simply fantastic. I happen to think they offer one of the best meal services of any airline, and the hard product and service are generally quite good as well. There’s just something that feels incredibly “refined” about the whole experience, in a different way than on any other airline. Too bad this product is more or less off limits if redeeming miles nowadays.

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My experiences in Swiss first class:

Lufthansa First Class

My ranking: 7
Gary’s ranking: 14

Okay, so hear me out. I’m often called a Lufthansa fanboy. Hell, I admit I’m a Lufthansa fanboy. So when I ranked Lufthansa first class I tried to be as critical as humanly possible. I literally tried to combine the worst elements of every Lufthansa flight I’ve ever had, from elderflower soup for dessert, to the one not-so-great crew I’ve had. And that’s how I arrived at their seventh place ranking. That’s right, I didn’t even rank my beloved Lufthansa in the top five.

But number 14?!?! This must be a typo. Surely Gary must have intended to type “1” or “4,” and accidentally included them both. I mean, that’s the only plausible explanation I can come up with. Ranking them below Malaysia and Thai? Ouch!

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Just a few of my most recent experiences in Lufthansa first class:

Etihad First Class

My ranking: 9
Gary’s ranking: 4

I know GaryĀ loves Etihad. I like Etihad. They have good a great hard product, wifi throughout much of their fleet, and a good entertainment system. I can appreciate all those things.

In theory they have a great meal service “concept” with an onboard chef, though to I’ve consistently found it to be poorly executed. On the inaugural ~16 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles I had a three course lunch after takeoff, and then 10 hours later when I wanted my pre-arrival meal they had already run out of everything on the menu, and literally served me a “potluck” of sorts. Sadly that wasn’t the first flight I’ve had where they’ve basically run out of food.

Furthermore, while I don’t mind it personally, there’s no denying that their first class food isn’t really “first class.” There’s no caviar or anything else that you wouldn’t expect in business class. So I still think they offer a very solid product, though I can’t in good conscience put them in the top five worldwide.

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My experiences in Etihad first class:

Qantas First Class

My ranking: 12
Gary’s ranking: 5

Qantas offers a really solid first class product, with great seats and good food. That’s why they deserve to be in the upper half of the world’s best first class product. But frankly I don’t find the Qantas experience to be so amazing that it deserves to be higher than that.

I don’t think the service can compete with the top Asian airlines, and while the flights with “tasting menus” are great, otherwise I don’t think the food is that amazing.

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My experience in Qantas first class:

Air France First Class

My ranking: 13
Gary’s ranking: 21

I flew Air France A380 first class from Los Angeles to Paris late last year, and was really pleasantly surprised. Their hard product isn’t amazing, though the food, service, presentation, and in particular ground experience at Paris Charles de Gaulle were spectacular.

I absolutely don’t think their first class product ranks towards the bottom of the group.

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My experience in Air France first class:

Malaysia First Class

My ranking: 19
Gary’s ranking: 10

I flew Malaysia Airlines A380 first class last year and overall enjoyed my flight. I thought the hard product was comfortable, though can’t say I loved the tones (that isn’t a huge deal, admittedly).

The service was good, though somewhat unpolished. It kind of felt like Singapore Airlines in training.

And personally I enjoyed the food since they had satay, which is probably my favorite thing ever. But the first and business class menus were virtually identical, so I don’t really think it’s that exceptional of a first class product. They’re solid and I’d fly them again, though I wouldn’t really go out of my way to experience the product again.

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My experiences in Malaysia first class:

Thai First Class

My ranking: 20
Gary’s ranking: 9

I love the Thai ground experience, but every other aspect of flying with them leaves something to be desired.

The service ranges from excellent to surly (I don’t think there’s another Asian airline with such a huge spectrum of service quality), the food isn’t especially good, and they have so many different hard products that there’s hardly any consistency.

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My experiences in Thai first class:

Bottom line

There’s no “exact” order in terms of the quality of first class products, so don’t read too much into my rankings. That being said, I was harsh with my rating of Lufthansa first class, and Gary is just being downright mean. šŸ˜‰

What are your thoughts on our rankings?

Comments

  1. Battle Royale showdown begins in 3…2…1

    In the end, it is all about personal preferences. I was shocked to see that Gary ranked Transaero ahead of AF.

    One thing everyone probably will agree on is placing UA dead last.

  2. Clearly, the differences between you and Gary are your preferences in food genre. Ex: Gary loves Thai food, hence he rates Thai higher; he loves Malaysian food, that is why he ranked Malaysian higher; the Arabic Mezze on Etihad…..I can go on and on.

  3. Gary’s is the old man ranking, yours is the young gun ranking. You can tell by the adjectives and the priorities.
    I’m closer to your age, and I tend to agree with yours. I enjoy reading your trip reports while gary’s make me want to nap and go get an early bird dinner special

  4. @ Jon — Funny enough I actually LOVE the mezze, and love Thai food, but just wish Thai served more/better Thai food aboard. I also love Malaysian food, but there’s no denying they serve exactly the same food in first class as in business class.

  5. FML. I practically emptied my AA miles balance on my trip to europe for next summer flying on American Airlines first class, which is ranked near the bottom on both your lists. At least it’s the new 777-300.

  6. @ Luis — Not “FML” at all! For travel to Europe you can’t beat American 777-300ER first class in terms of value. It’s a solid hard product and they have wifi, and if you flew British Airways there would be huge fuel surcharges. So you’ve done good!

  7. I think Thai and Singaporr are in the same ballpark, it depends on equipment, imo. In my few flights on each, TG A380 > LH, otherwise, LH > TG.

  8. yeah I guess this is a true first world problem. AA miles just suck for TATL flights. Either fly AA metal or fly British Airways w/ huge fuel surcharges. Just wish I could have used 250k miles on a more aspirational flight… at least one that serves good champagne.

  9. @ Gene — When I did my rankings I indicated whether I had flown each airline or not. We had to rank all 25. Looks like which airlines we’ve actually flown doesn’t show up on the results.

  10. I find both yours and Gary’s ratings interesting. But I feel detached from the whole flying 1st class thing. Some are almost unobtainable and others very difficult. Some the bloggers say are so easy to book, yet really only become available days before departure. I would really like a ranked list of the Business Class services. This is something that I think, more people need to know. As so many international flights only have a Business Class as their premium cabin.

  11. @Lucky – I completely agree with your assessment of MH. I flew them long haul LHR – KUL and short haul KUL – HKG in F on the A380 and found the service in to be just “fine”. Hard product was solid, but the food was just ok (but yes they do have Dom). Not really worth repeating. Still wondering why they are ranked 5 stars on Skytrax. OZ F (ICN-LAX on 747) was another fight that despite all the raving about – was also “fine”. Service was like you’ve described your “ok” SQ flights and no Korean food ex-ICN and half empty cabin?

    CX definitely lived up to its 5 star reputation in F. Having also flown them in coach, I can also say their service at the back of the plane was very nice. Recently flew JL F and they were a really pleasant surprise – service was outstanding, as well as the food. Narita lounge was nice as well.

    Having done several LH F flights now, it is a bit crew dependent, I will admit. I also think knowing “the drill” with LH helps. I have had a few AMAZING LH flights and nothing beats the product on the ground.

    I think people are very hard on BA. On a short flight from JFK to LHR, I really couldn’t have asked for better service and food was tasty (and ex-JFK that is saying something). Yes, it’s crowded in the nose of the 747, but half the people just want to go straight to sleep, so service was very attentive. No, it’s not CX, but I’d rank them ahead of MH and even OZ.

  12. excellent summary Ben, as always. Agree with you overall. Interesting that Emirates is nowhere on this list…. And I absolutely agree that when you’re comparing across the top carriers, it boils down ultimately to individual flight experiences. I have had one of my best flight experiences ever on American Airlines — an airline that would otherwise never be on my top list.

    one comment: lack of caviar cannot be used as a gauge of quality, especially as some airlines do not offer it for ethical reasons.

  13. @ adi_t — That’s a good point regarding caviar.

    Emirates was on my list, but Gary and I had similar assessments. I ranked them #6, he ranked them #3.

  14. Here starts the dueling F class cabin posts between Lucky and Gary… šŸ˜€
    About a month a month agao, I had a chance to fly F cabin on Asiana (747), Thai (A380) and LH (A330). The temperature in all 3 cabins was a little too warm for me.
    – Why is this?
    – Which airline/s would you say maintain a cooler temperature in their first class cabins?
    – Putting aside everything else, which has the best lie-flat bed/seat?

  15. Ben, have to disagree with you on your assessment of Thai. We have flown primarily flown first class and business when first is not offered. We’ve flown from ZRH-BKK, BKK-SYD, BKK-MUC, HKG-HKT, BKK-HKG, BKK-KBV. Out of all those flights the in flight service has been top notch and not left me wanting for more, except maybe a longer flight. So curious as to what the surly situation on Thai was for you?

    The only negative we’ve experienced was ZRH-BKK which was on an old 747 that was probably assembled before I was born …

    Anyway, we’re about to board Asiana A380 first class ICN-LAX. We’ll see how this experience is. We have high expectations.

  16. @EthaninSF Re “Still wondering why [MH] are ranked 5 stars on Skytrax”. As noted on the Skytrax website, a 5-star rating is not all about luxury/premium features but, rather, reflects the fact that the largest number of an airline’s passengers fly economy/coach.

  17. I’m more with Gary on this one. You have always been way too in love with LH. It is NOT one of the best First Class products out there and until a couple of years ago (with those retarded blue seats) I wouldn’t have even considered it a First Class product at all. Granted, the FCT is great, but that is one lounge in the entire system and a place you may spend a couple of hours on average during a trip — if that. Not a huge variable in the equation. And Swiss is also not that great. They have very good food, but the seat is uncomfortable. And frankly the crew leaves a lot to be desired most of the time.

    On the flip side, you don’t give enough merit to Middle Eastern and Asian carriers. There, you will find a much more service-oriented culture and far superior hard products. And generally better food than the European carriers as well.

    Yeah, I’m with Gary.

  18. @A.S.

    While I agree, Ben’s fascination with Lufthansa is one of the great love stories of the last 100 years, I think that whereas Lufthansa and Swiss may not be either the most innovative, nor the most blingy, I think where they do win is the absolute consistency and reliability of service. Air France, on the other hand is (for me at least) more hit or miss.

    Lucky- would you consider doing a similar comparison of the best airlines in terms of lounges?

  19. I agree with Ben, Thai meal service is more or less average at best, and at times borderline inedible.

  20. In regards to Qantas First..In your post on the 23rd of May you said “Qantas has phenomenal catering in first class” and now you say “I donā€™t think the food is that amazing”. What’s the go with that? Seems like you are contradicting yourself.

  21. @ Lucky – I don’t think the readers realize what a great personal sacrifice you’d made when doing these rankings. Because you didn’t rank LX/LH/OS first-class products as #1-3, I know you had to turn in your German passport! šŸ˜‰

    P.S. And, yes, I know there’s no OS F but Herr Spohr and Frau Merkel still wanted it to be on your list! šŸ˜›

  22. You do know Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines were once the same airline company many decades ago (e.g. Lufthansa+Swiss) ? And Malaysia and Singapore were once married in the same household…

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