What is the best first class airline?

It’s all in your personal definition of luxury

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As a luxury travel advisor, I have the pleasure of booking tickets for people headed to swoon-worthy destinations around the world. And when it comes to making your trip special, why not dive into the VIP treatment right away?

You know what I’m talking about: First class.

Since I focus on custom luxury vacations, my itineraries aren’t about stretching dollars. But traveling smarter? Absolutely. As a travel advisor, I’m thrilled to use my expertise and professional connections with the airlines to find the perfect flight and seat for your trip — and at better values than the prices listed online.

But not all first class cabins are created equal. The best of the best fling us back to the glamour of when air travel itself was a luxury, a one-of-a-kind experience for the rich and elite. Worst case? You pay a premium for sub-par service and a seat that reclines a smidge lower than the ones in economy.

Today I’m sharing my own research and comparisons of top airlines’ first class experiences. What’s the best first class option for you? Whether you crave privacy and top-notch service or a Michelin-starred dinner spread, there’s a first class seat for you. Here’s the lowdown.

If privacy is paramount, pick Emirates.

Emirates boasts its first class experience is “as close as it comes to your own private jet,” and I can’t argue. Once onboard (after your deliver to the airport by private driver),  you’ll sit in a personal suite complete with your own mini bar, bed, complimentary pajamas, and a widescreen TV. The privacy means your flight will feel more like a day or night in a hotel than an airplane.

Bonus: If you want to stretch your legs before a cozy night in, Emirates has dedicated part of the plane to a bar and lounge for first class passengers. A shower room is also available.

Hoping for a five-star wine list? Indulge with Singapore Airlines.

First things first: Singapore Airlines gives luxury passengers a chance to “book the cook” and schedule special culinary creations before the flight even begins. Once you’re settled into your private compartment, meal times (on your preferred schedule) let this airline shine. According to Business Class, the company’s three sommeliers have curated a wine list that’s been tried and tested even under cabin pressure. Champagne’s on the list too, so that means no flat bubbly for you!

Foodies, rejoice. Air France has your back.

When it comes to fine dining, there’s nothing quite like French cuisine. Foie gras, coq au vin, caviar. So why wouldn’t the country’s top airline offer up its best to first class passengers? This year, Air France partnered with six Michelin-starred chefs to offer VIP passengers a dining adventure. La Première meals come artfully plated on porcelain dinnerware. It's honest-to-goodness white glove service. Why sacrifice a good meal on vacation if you don’t need to?

Want to disembark feeling like you slept at a five-star hotel? Go for Etihad Airways.

It’s a bit like Etihad Airways looked at every other first class lay-flat seat and thought, “How can we do it better?” There’s first class, which includes private compartments and a mini mingling lounge for first class passengers... And then there’s The Residence. The Residence is a bespoke flight experience within a three-room apartment. This is "first in flight" of a different kind. While I’ve yet to stay in The Residence myself, I would recommend it to couples without hesitation. It would be the cherry on top of a honeymoon or special anniversary. Etihad Airways has created a one-of-a-kind experience in this discreet suite, tucked away with a private chef, butler, and chauffeur to drop you off at a private airport entrance.

Last but not least: Qatar Airways.

I’ll tell you a little secret about Qatar Airways: while it might not offer a specific standout extravagance, it exudes timeless luxury. Impeccable service. Fine dining. Elegant, understated decor. A long bench and vanity for freshening up in the bathroom. It’s the little things. And to me, it’s often the little things that add up to a well-rounded designer experience. Even Qatar Airways’ business class is a cut above. It includes a four-course meal, onboard bar area, and amenity kits stocked with luxury Italian skincare.

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All of the airlines I mentioned (and several others) offer lay-flat beds and elevated meal service compared to economy and business classes. I expect those as a baseline for first class seats because those two factors will help you arrive relaxed and rested instead of aching all over! When travelers choose to include first class transportation in their itinerary, flying becomes enjoyable! And that makes it all worth it.

If you are interested in an itinerary that includes luxury air travel, I recommend perusing your destination region’s airlines to discover the specific amenities available. And if you’d prefer an expert to navigate the pricing and options? Send me a message! I’ll make sure your ticket lands you in the first class seat (or bed or apartment…) perfectly suited for you.