The World’s Best First Class, Broken Down Into 10 Categories

Back in 2015 I wrote a post with what I consider to be the world’s best first class airline products. An updated version of this is long overdue, especially now that I’ve flown a couple of new first class products. The reason I hadn’t written an updated review yet is because I hadn’t flown Air France’s new 777-300ER La Premiere. Now that I have, I think I can safely say that I’ve flown every one of the world’s best first class products.

However, I’m going to make this post a bit different. Soon I hope to publish my actual list ranking the world’s top 10 first class product, but in this post I want to share which airline I consider to be the best in each of 10 categories. This is taking inspiration from the way Skytrax does ratings, as they rate the best airline in a bunch of categories.

Before I share my rankings, let me say that the below aren’t necessarily what I consider to be the all around best first class products. In other words, the world’s best airline could be one that ranks #2 in each of the below categories, given that many of the below airlines excel in one area and lag in another area.

With that in mind, here are what I consider to be the best airlines in first class in each of 10 categories:

Best cabin crew: Garuda Indonesia

Garuda Indonesia consistently wins the award for the world’s best cabin crew, and for good reason. My experience with Garuda Indonesia staff has been nothing short of incredible, and as far as I’m concerned they have the world’s best cabin crew.

Best food: Air France

The problem with catering is that it’s highly variable depending on the time of day you fly, whether you’re flying out of a carrier’s hub or not, etc. However, the best meal I’ve ever had on a plane was in Air France La Premiere. I’ve had some great airline meals, but this was just next level.

Best champagne: Singapore Airlines

There are a lot of airlines with fantastic champagne, though I think this is an area where Singapore Airlines wins for variety. They offer both Dom and Krug in first class, which no other airline does. Several airlines have Dom or Krug, and some other airlines even have more expensive champagne (for example, Japan Airlines serves Salon in first class), but I still think Singapore Airlines wins in this category.

Best entertainment: Emirates

Emirates’ ICE system is by far the best in the sky. They have hundreds of TV shows, movies, an incredible tail camera, and much more. I especially appreciate that they have entire seasons of shows, unlike most other airlines, with just random episodes that don’t really allow you to get into a show.

Best wifi: Garuda Indonesia

Inflight wifi is something I value a lot, given how much I fly. I care both about speed and price. In general I find that the fastest wifi on airlines with international first class is on Etihad, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, and Lufthansa (they all use the same company). The pricing is reasonable at ~$20 per flight, though the slight edge has to go to Garuda Indonesia, since the offer a free wifi pass to first class passenger. Fast and free wifi with no data caps is tough to beat!

garuda-indonesia-first-class-43

Most stunning cabin design: Etihad Airways

While Etihad wasn’t the first airline to operate the A380, they really revolutionized their onboard product on this plane. There’s no denying that the Etihad A380 first class cabin is stunning, as it’s the first time an airline has used only one aisle on a widebody aircraft. Absolutely beautiful.

Best amenities: Emirates

In terms of awesome onboard features, Emirates easily wins here. Emirates has two onboard showers on their A380s, along with a bar at the back of the upper deck, which is shared between first & business class passengers. Showering at 35,000 feet is quite an experience, especially in a bathroom as beautiful as the one offered on the Emirates A380. On top of that, Emirates offers great pajamas and a beautiful amenity kit in first class.

Most comfortable bed: Cathay Pacific

While I’d argue that there are much more advanced first class seats nowadays, there’s still no bed more comfortable than that in Cathay Pacific first class, in my opinion. The seat is wide, the mattress pad is thick, and the bedding is just great all around.

Best ground experience: Air France

Many airlines invest a lot of money in their onboard experience, but then drop the ball when it comes to the ground experience. This is an area where Air France wins by a long shot, as they have the world’s best first class ground experience at their Paris hub. For one, they’ll pick you up at your arriving flight and drive you to your connecting flight.

On top of that, the lounge itself is gorgeous, has the best food of any airline lounge in the world, offers great spa treatments, and is generally very chic. While I think there are other lounges with nicer decor and even some more frills, nothing can compete with how well rounded the Air France ground experience is.

Most improved: Saudia

I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the huge improvements that Saudia has made. They’ve gone from offering a first class product in a 2-2-2 configuration, to offering fully enclosed suites with onboard chefs. Do they have the world’s best first class product? No. But they’ve made a massive improvement, and that’s worth acknowledging.

Bottom line

Like I said, I’ll soon have a post where I rank what I consider to be the world’s best first class products. I’m not suggesting the above is completely objective (which is to say that there’s still a lot of personal preference involved here), but I at least think it’s more specific, and therefore my logic is hopefully easier to follow.

I’m not suggesting that all of the above categories should be weighted equally. More importantly, to me the world’s best first class product is one that’s consistent and excellent across the board, so stay tuned for that.

I’m curious what you guys think of the above choices — do you think other airlines should have won any of the above categories?

Comments

  1. Not sure if it would make much of a difference, but an irrops category, a plays well with others category (alliance partners and how well they work with them), and maybe a consistency of offering category may be helpful.

  2. What about Swiss? It is better than most of those airlines, especially the seat on the 777 and service on the whole fleet.

  3. I would like to award BA the most deteriorated first class.
    They have gone from good to not worth the money.

  4. You’ve missed JAL for food. It is absolutely sublime. Melt in the mouth Wagyu beef, highest grade specially selected Japanese rice from Niigata prefecture, fabulous uni (sea urchin), the freshest sushi and sashimi, gorgeous slow cooked octopus which is delightfully soft to eat. Beautifully decorated and bursting with flavours. Really the best Japanese food I’ve ever had, on the ground or in the air. Of course, this is dependent on departure point. The food is much much better ex-Japan than from outports.

  5. I really like the touch of the heated floors on Emirates first class lavatories. I’m tempted to do the same thing for my home bathroom.

  6. Thank you! And now wait patiently while you compile the list, reasons and links to each review for a comprehensive article.

  7. I have to disagree on food and champagne. JAL’s Japanese multi-course menu is the most elaborate and tasty meal I’ve had in the sky. The caviar service is also one of the best. W/r/t the bubbly, Salon Champagne 2004 is a much more exclusive and delicious vintage than anything served in this list.

  8. I have to disagree with Cathay having the best bed…in my two experiences flying their F product, the seat had a noticeable lump in the middle of it when it was in bed position which, despite the mattress pad, could be felt while sleeping. The bedding and size was fantastic, though, so I certainly see why you included it.

  9. How about best Frequent Flyer Program in terms of ease of upgrade to First Class or First Class award ticket redemption using miles.

  10. For food i think you have to distinguish between main meals and inflight snacks. Also wine and liquor is a different category than dining and even champagne.

    At the ene of the day though what is best will be a function if the weighting you place on each category .. I will likely come out with a different choice from you because spaciousness onboard is my number one by a wide margin.

  11. Emirates IFE as best? Options wise yes, UI wise sure, fancy controllers, yes!

    But they censor so much stuff — movie & TV fight scenes, explosions, cursing, sex scenes. Ruins it all I think.

  12. Lucky, what about a category that reflects the number of routes you can actually fly first class with an airline?

  13. And as another idea, what about the number of different first class products an airline has installed in the fleet? From one first class product in every airplane (very good) to let’s say 5 different first class products (not that good). As it is annoying to select a specific flight to enjoy “the best” first class product if an airline. And somtimes you might even not being able to book “the best” first class. Tgis is consistency as well in my opinion.

  14. Though a lot more work for you, it would be interesting to see a #2 and #3 from each of the categories above. Thanks for these rankings though! Fun to read your flight reviews!

  15. Thanks a ton Lucky. I’m in Aruba after a late departure from Denver , broken lav. In First and a 15 minute connection in Miami and lost baggagein Aruba, all thanks to AA , the worst …
    Bottom of the worst 10 list.
    This is how the other half lives.

  16. @jake Does Emirates really censor all that? All of a sudden AA and BA start to look pretty good in the IFE category if that’s the case.

  17. I’ve not flown AF so can’t comment on their food but JL is by far the best I’ve ever had and consistent every time. Not a huge fan of fancy champagne, in fact I only drink it while flying up front but taste wise Salon is the best I’ve ever had. Another huge plus to JL is their service. Every one of my flights with them F cabin has been full and service was as good as or better and more attentive than the best service on say CX where cabin has 2/6. Overall best F from all airlines I’ve flown (JL, NH, LH, EK, OZ, EY, CX, MH, TK, AA, UA, TG) has to go to JL.

  18. @ejg239, I’m not sure if this was the case for you. I’m embarrassed to say that I had the same issue with Cathay First Class bed with lump in the middle. Turned out that it was the lumbar support that you have to adjust. Once I did that (towards the end of the flight), it was great!

  19. What about a category for reward availability/cost (in miles). I don’t doubt Garuda and Air France are fantastic overall but most people won’t experience either with points.

  20. @JimC and @ejg239 – Was about the give the same response. Lumbar support was the culprit for me too! Finally figured it out about an hour into trying to sleep. Boy did I feel silly. But once fixed…great bed!

  21. One of my favourite AVGeek conversations (and one which I very rarely get the chance to discuss in person 🙂 )

    I’ve also been given free WiFi on my most recent QR F flight. I definitely get the impression that most airlines are heading down this path with F now.

    I also echo the sentiment expressed by a few others here: JL has the best catering. The number of highly impressive items beyond the usual foie gras and caviar (which they also have), is quite something. The wine and spirits are also extremely impressive from top to bottom.

    I also love the width of the CX bed but feel like QF F is more comfortable overall, the sheepskin mattress topper is amazing!

    Swiss F on the 777 is quite possibly my favourite product right now despite the fact that I’d only possibly place it in the individual top spot for quality of cabin crew.

    On a more negative note: for me the biggest disappointment was GA F and most deteriorated is definitely EY apartments.

  22. Back in the 80s, my roommate’s boyfriend was a steward for Singapore first class. We had a refrigerator full of Dom and caviar that was not consumed on his flight coming into LAX. My roommate was also slowly collecting eight place settings of Singapore china and flatware. They got married a couple of years later. I’d love to know if Thanksgiving dinner is served on the Singapore china!

  23. In all fairness, though, shouldn’t catering at outstations also have to be considered? How is AF catering on flights inbound to France?

  24. lol I love how you always say Lufthansa F is one of your favorite products – yet they don’t seem to be the best at anything.

  25. Personally I think the best/most comfortable bed should be a draw between Cathay Pacific and Qantas as Qantas’s is just as good if not better than Cathay’s

  26. Ironic how Skyteam is considered to have the most hodgepodge of airlines… yet is most represented in this list…

    I think you should have also included “most deteriorated” and “worst overall” categories as well…

  27. What about a category for best award availability or a category for easiest / most value to redeem air miles for?

  28. No Lufthansa?

    They offer First Class Terminal, drive you to your plane, offer a complimentary 3hr Porsche rental around the city….

    AND youre German.

    Im shocked.

  29. U must have not done enough JAL F recently.

    Even if you chose to ignore the fact that Salon is in another notch above Krug (nv) and DP, and also the entire wine list beats SQ hands down, you must be kidding us when u said AF can beat JAL when JAL has the world best catering out of tokyo with their michelin star chefs connections.

    No one can beat catering out of tokyo, and JAL has the best connections for catering out of tokyo. There is simply no competition.

    In fact, JAL wins the best food for business out of tokyo as well.

  30. Hey lucky, I find it kind of strange that you’ve never flown Air China first class, considering it’s the national airline of china. They have great award availability with mileage plus as well as for the dirt cheap 31.5K one ways to LHR using Virgin Atlantic miles. I would love to see a review of them.

  31. IMO lapremiere has the best bed and etihad actually offers free WiFi to F pax, just ask.

  32. Ben, looking forward to the list but let’s be careful not to just put weight towards what you’ve flown once and most recently (i.e. Air France). I last noticed this after the first flight you took in Garuda F, even if you’ve flown it more since, after one flight the whole world suddenly revolved around it.

    Just because you’ve flown JL, LH etc so many times that the novelty has worn off, it’d be great if you could carefully consider those products against Air France and Garuda, particularly when you look at the variation on different AF aircraft and the lack of routes offered by GA.

  33. Lucky, in your LHR-DEL-SFO segment by AI, you had mentioned the ground service if AI is the best ever you had. I suppose you have rated it second best after Garuda.

    Where does it stand as of now?

  34. Constructive criticism: I’d just add to each category where you just list in your opinion who the runners-up in each category would be. Maybe even 2 runners-up.

  35. Please try and manage a flight on Trans Aero 737-800 first class! I would LOVE to see a report on this!

  36. Recently flew Garuda in F from LHR to CGK en route to SIN. Garuda though, not the full AMS VIP treatment were fantastic from the moment we arrived to the desk in LHR to the moment we got our car to pick us up at the SIN airport. Onboard, Garuda were amazing. The flight was excellent, the bedding too could have been softer but flying in F for the first time it was great, much better than any J. The food was nice, but not the best, the crew were great and value wise – very good but I wouldn’t fork out $10k for the flight. I would assume AF’s F experience would be the best in the world. If my experience in J was impressive with 6 course meal and attentiveness, then AF would win hands down. EY in J is a hit and its for me so perhaps their F onboard is even better (?) but you need to factor in the Ground Service too.

  37. I’m surprised with the lack of WiFi (free or otherwise) on aircraft this day in age. I normally fly SAS long haul (equally in business, plus, and economy), and WiFi is free with no caps for Business, Plus, and Star Alliance Gold and Diamond members. I figured this was becoming more the standard.

  38. I really loved the comments section especially when other bloggers (who have less readers-offcourse) tried ti impose his/her opinion on what is good or what is bad at this blog.

    C’mon… you got your own blog. You got your readers. Why would you deem your opinions in your own blog are so unworthy you need other blogger to speak it up?

    Or maybe you just a fake travel blogger? Lol

  39. Hi Lucky!
    Have you ever flown Qantas first class? If so… do they not make the cut?

  40. Let me add to the praise for JAL. Flew them last week and was blown away. Salon is the best champagne I’ve ever had. The Japanese menu meals were sublime. Free wifi. Flight attendants were the most stunningly beautiful I’ve seen, although Cathay Pacific comes a close second in this category. Sorry to sound so chauvinistic and shallow with this… but one can’t help noticing.

  41. A special award should go to Egypt Air. “Most Religious Crew – All Classes”. Their pilots are praying in the cockpit while the plane is ditching in The Atlantic.

  42. Almost had opportunity to fly Cathay Pacific first class many years ago. Was on honeymoon with first wife and was downgraded from business to coach. Asked to be upgraded and they refused. Refunded me about $30. Zero customer service or concern, especially when on a honeymoon. Will never forget that slight. They never even tried to make it up to me.

  43. For Best Champagne, I would probably choose JAL in lieu of Singapore Airlines. JAL serves a champagne called Salon which is considered to be the best in the world 🙂

  44. I agree with @Tyler, Lucky you should rank the best airline that gives out F award seat like there is no tomorrow. Garuda, Air France, and Swiss would be on the bottom on this list since it’s next to impossible to obtain their F products using miles. I would imagine Korean Air would be in top three in terms of availability of F seats available that you can book far in advance (cough cough CX cough) and number of miles needed to fly from continent to continent.

  45. Flew JAL F for nyc to nrt wich was a nice trip. Food was good even better the crew took the time to teach me the Japanese menu. They seemed excited i was willing to try the Japanese menu over the western counterpart. Flying in F on CX for hkg to nyc. Flew them two years ago and looking foreward to the flight. Prior to this last couple of flights have been SQ suites class and i needed a break from them because their customer service can get intense at times.

  46. Like many others, fascinated to understand where Swiss and Lufty rank in your categories.

    There must surely be a difference between airlines who offer First on a large part of their network vs the likes of Garuda who have a few planes flying First to a handful of destinations.

    In fact, how and why you’d rank BA (bottom we know, but humour me), LH, LX, QR, EK, EY, AF, AA, UA, SQ, QF, JL, NH, KE in each category would be interesting.

  47. I think it would be more interesting to rank them taking all factors into account. Who cares if the champagne is the best if the food is crap? Or you have to wait through security?

  48. Lucky,
    I think you missed the mark with JL. They have the best champagne & catering in the sky. Service wise, JL F is the best among Oneworld Alliance.

  49. interesting article that I like the way you have divided the ‘best’ first class by category. In comparing different first class, there is a cultural component to what is ‘good’ service. It would be interesting to see the 2nd ranked of each category. Thank you for your insights and, happy travels

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