Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Air-Travel Best First Class

No. 1 Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is the undisputed emperor of first-class carriers. This Hong-Kong based airline has only eight or 12 seats per first-class cabin (depending on the plane), and seats can be lowered the full 180 degrees, have adjustable arm rests and television screens, and have audio and video in-flight entertainment available on an on-demand basis. Seat amenities from U.K. super spa Elemis are tucked into every seat as well. Dining is on-demand too, and no pre-packaged dinners here: the airline was the first to have an actual rice cooker on board, and rice, congee, toast, eggs, cappuccino and espresso are all cooked to order. Cathay Pacific's lounges in Hong Kong are among the finest in the world; first-class passengers can choose between The Wing and The Pier, order noodles cooked in front of them, enjoy wireless high-speed Internet and even take a shower or a nap next to a burbling indoor water display.

No. 2 Singapore Airlines

With 23-inch wide, fully reclining seats, air-cushioned seat backs and nighttime turndown service, Singapore Airlines makes you almost as comfortable as if you were spending the night in your favorite hotel. Fresh linen, a mini-mattress and Givenchy amenities are all a part of the turndown, as well as Givenchy-designed eyeshades, socks and pajamas in a stylish Givenchy bag. Each passenger receives a personal mobile phone for use during the flight, as well as a Bulgari toiletry bag (different for men and women) with fragrance, lip balm, body lotion and after-shave gel.

No. 3 Thai Airways

Bangkok-based Thai Airways is a member of the Star Alliance and the national carrier of Thailand. The Royal First-Class service makes complimentary beverages available throughout the duration of the flight, such as Cuvée Dom Perignon, 1996; and Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame, 1995. Seats have massage capability and recline to be completely flat, and are sheltered with a pod-like wall that makes napping easy. On-demand entertainment includes videos in each of the following categories: new movies, classic films, sports and the arts. On-board food selections include Western or Thai dishes, and guests can choose from specialties like tom yam kung (or hot and sour soup with prawns) or kaeng massaman kai (massaman curry with chicken).

No. 4 Malaysia Airlines

First-class passengers on Malaysia Airlines can take advantage of telephone check-in service and find their boarding passes waiting for them upon arrival at the airport. And even if you have bags to check, you only need to arrive at the airport 45 minutes prior to departure--even for international flights. Personal seat phones allow you to call anywhere in the world while in flight, or even call other passengers on the same flight, provided you have their seat numbers. The on-board catering features chicken, beef or lamb satay, the airline's signature dish, or order up a tray of cheese and crackers, chocolate and fruit, or cookies. You can even order a sandwich from the cabin crew, who will make it according to your specifications.

No. 5 Qatar Airways

The flagship airline of the state of Qatar, Qatar Airlines operates from its hub in Doha. First-class passengers enjoy an extra baggage allowance, priority check-in and chauffeur service to and from the airport in a BMW 7 series. On board, 180-degree flat beds feature independent lumbar support and a foot massage bar, and a personal telephone, television screen and laptop power point are found by each seat. Meals, which are available on-demand, are ten courses and include a selection of seafood such as caviar, lobster and prawns, freshly brewed coffee and cappuccinos, and cheese and chocolate platters.

No. 6 Gulf Air

Gulf Air, with key airports in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Muscat and London, bills its first class as "the most exclusive cabin in the world," and with just eight passengers per cabin, they might be correct--at least in terms of staff to guest ratio. On-board cabin-service managers, chefs, nannies and flight attendants stand at the ready the minute your BMW 7 series drops you at the VIP check-in. On board, Sky beds, with noise-canceling headphones, are upholstered in leather and New Zealand wool, with beech paneling--and the silk cushions and fitted cotton sheets come in handy when reclining. Cotton pajamas wait on your seat, alongside a "suit pack," which contains your day-time clothes and is stowed by the flight attendant until arrival. On-demand dining, including Middle Eastern or European food, is available, and bedtime drinks such as Horlicks or hot chocolate--or vintage wines like Grand Cru St. Emilion, if that's more your style--are available as well.

No. 7 Swiss

Switzerland-based Swiss International Air Lines will become the newest member of the Star Alliance in 2006. First-class service features large, comfortable seats, each of which comes with its own ottoman for resting your feet or hosting a visitor from business or--gasp--coach. Sixteen audio channels and a wide array of television and video programming, including a financial news channel sponsored by UBS, are available. In-flight catering is the conceptual brainchild of Swiss chef Roland Schmid, and relies upon fresh regional ingredients.

No. 8 Lufthansa

At 51 inches wide and 6 feet 6 inches long, Lufthansa's fully reclining flat bed is one of the roomiest first-class seats out there. Head and shoulder rests are adjustable, and so are the surrounding privacy screens. Passengers flying from Frankfurt can experience the airline's own private first-class terminal, not even a year old, which is 19,000 square feet and has a cigar lounge and its own bakery. Your personal concierge checks the luggage for you as a Mercedes Benz S-Class or Porsche Cayenne drops you directly in front of your plane on the tarmac. On board, food service consists of a four-course meal featuring caviar, freshly baked breads and Scottish smoked salmon.

No. 9 Emirates

Based in Dubai, Emirates flies to more than 70 global destinations and introduced a second daily New York-Dubai flight this November. Emirates first-class service includes a chauffeured limousine transfer to and from the airport, on-demand seven-course meals and beverages served on Royal Doulton bone china and linen napkins. There's also a personal video system with over 50 film titles and 500 channels to choose from. Emirates' new Airbus A340-A500 aircraft, specifically designed for flights longer than 17 hours in duration, have 12 fully enclosed first-class suites, equipped with flat beds and closing doors, which cost $125,000 each.

No. 10 All Nippon Airways

ANA's first-class seat is nearly a full 3 feet wide, giving passengers room to stretch out or cuddle up with their down-filled and silk-lined duvets and pillows. A 15-inch television, personal phone and universal power port for your laptop ensure you're busy, not bored, on your nonstop flight to or from Tokyo. A flexible reading light means you don't have to crane your neck to check your stock prices, and when the cabin lights go down, a footlight under your seat provides just enough of a glow to keep you oriented as you return from the bathroom. Meal service includes seasonal desserts, Krug Grand Cuvée Champagne, a European à la carte menu, light snacks like cheese or shrimp, eel and shiitake tempura and regional Japanese cuisine including kaiseki ryori (small specialty dishes served in sequence).