10 reasons why first class air travel is the best way to fly

Call me a snob, but when it comes to flying abroad, there is nothing like sitting up front in the first class cabin. Sure, it may still be the same metal tube the rest of the passengers are traveling in, but there is something to be said for three course cuisine over a bad sandwich, or 1 flight attendant for 6 passengers instead of one per 50.

Unlike the 50’s and 60’s, when flying in first class involved wearing your best suit, nowadays the front of the plane is occupied by all kinds of passengers. You’ll still find the well dressed CEO, but you’ll also run into the roughneck oil worker on his way home from a 6 month gig. Of course, “F”, is also the cabin of choice for most celebrities. During some of my trips, I’ve sat close to celebs like Naomi Campbell, Sir Elton John, Reverend Desmond Tutu and even No Doubt, on their way home from a concert I had seen the night before!

If you have never had the pleasure of sitting up front, let me list ten reasons why I consider it to be “the best way to fly”.

Elite check-in lines and security

The “F” experience starts as soon as you reach the airport. In front of the terminal are usually signs telling arriving passengers which door to use, and you’ll often see that first class passengers get their own little corner of the massive departures area, where they can check in with a little more dignity.

Once you are checked in, you can usually proceed to a dedicated line to have your bag inspected. Of course, these premium check-in and security lines are also available to passengers flying coach who have elite status with the airline.

Do you want to experience flying a premium airline, in a premium cabin? Check out our Gadling 4th anniversary giveaway where you can win 2 PREM+ tickets from New York to Amsterdam on OpenSkies!

Lounge access

Which would you prefer? Sitting in the departure area with 500 other passengers fighting over a seat and tripping over other peoples luggage, or sitting in a serene lounge with top shelf booze and full dinner service?

Yeah, me too.

The lounge is often a tranquil place where you are surrounded by others flying in first or business class, who just want to relax, have a drink, and wait for their plane to board.

Most North American lounges are fairly basic and run down, but airports like Hong Kong and London Heathrow have lounge facilities with everything from a spa service to a noodle bar.

In some lounges you will also find the tools you need to get some work done, like free wireless Internet access, and even a business lounge with computers and printers.


Gate lice. No, this is not contagious, nor does it really involve lice. It is a phenomenon best described by our own Grant Martin in this article. Gate lice are the people that gather around the departure gate area, in the hope of pushing their way onto the plane before anyone else.

They are usually the ones carrying the most bags who plan to run onto the plane and grab all the overhead bin space. Gate lice are also the ones who have probably never flown before, because they don’t realize that most airlines call passengers aboard based on their cabin and frequent flier status.

What this means to you, as a first class passenger, is that you’ll usually be one of the first to board the plane, probably right after families with small children are aboard. What this also means, is that you can slowly stroll onto the plane, without the fear of running into a full overhead bin, or someone trying to sneak their way into your seat.

Walking onto a plane and being greeted with a glass of champagne and some warm nuts is so much more civilized than walking into a cabin with 200 people trying to claim their space.

The seat

Ah, the seat. When push comes to shove, it is the seat that makes the first class ticket worth its money. The first class seat is usually a highly adjustable leather recliner, with a large fold-out table. Some seats feature lumbar support and even built in massage controls.

Many seats convert into a fully flat bed, often with quality bedding and plush pillows. Leg room in an average coach seat is measured in centimeters, in most first class suites, leg room is measured in meters.

The amenities of a coach seat usually include nothing more than a folding arm rest and a pouch for the vomit bag, but in a first class suite you’ll have ample storage space, folding drink holders, several magazine pouches, a large table, a foot rest and more. With some first class suites, the first 10 minutes after boarding are spent figuring out how to take advantage of all that space.

Power ports

Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to work during the flight. Having access to a power outlet at your seat can make the difference between 10 hours of boredom, or 10 hours of productivity.

Of course, not all of us fly for work, so having power at your seat also means you can charge your iPod or other media player. In addition to regular power outlets, some airlines have started adding USB power jacks, and even network ports.

The food and beverage service

An average coach class menu still has a strong emphasis on the old “chicken or beef” concept, and while some airlines are even working on removing that amenity, the first class cabin is still where you’ll find the good stuff.

Premium cabin passengers are usually handed a menu when they board, and you’ll almost never have to worry about them running out of your choice when it is your turn to order.

I’ve been fed some of the best Asian food I ever tasted (at 35,000 feet), prepared for me by a famous Chinese chef who had access to his own airplane rice steamer.

Many premium airlines also stock top shelf alcoholic beverages, and serve a scrumptious breakfast prepared exactly as you like it. Forget that soggy cheese sandwich at 5am, waking from a long nap in your flat sleeper seat to a freshly prepared omelet is just such a better way to start the day.

Better entertainment options

Entertainment options on most airlines have greatly improved in recent years, but the best in entertainment is still reserved for the first class cabin. Many airlines have at least switched from antique video tape systems to computerized video on demand libraries, offering thousands of hours of entertainment. On some airlines, you’ll even find in-seat games, Internet access and iPod connectors. The better the cabin
, the larger the screen, so some airlines currently offer flat panel screens as large as 15″ in the first class cabin.

Flight attendant to passenger ratio

As I mentioned earlier, the larger the cabin, the more passengers there will be for each flight attendant to look after. Flight attendants are awesome, and I’ve been treated like royalty by many of them, but when each poor flight attendant has 50 passengers to attend to, it’s not surprising that it may take a little longer to get that bottle of water.

In most first class cabins, there will be one flight attendant for about 5 or 6 passengers. You’ll also notice that they have more time for the little touches, like making sure your drink is never empty, or placing a bottle of water next to you in your suite, for when you wake up from your nap.

Room to work

Thankfully I have never become the victim of a “reclining seat related laptop injury”, but I do know several people who have lost their precious laptop when the passenger in front of them decided it was time for a nap without looking back, slamming the top of their seat into the laptop screen. Laptops are not designed to be crushed by a seat, and the seat usually wins the battle.

Thankfully this problem does not exist in the first class cabin; you usually have your own table, and it is impossible for the person in front of you to get even remotely close to your screen. Room to work means room to be productive. Especially on daytime flights, being able to plug in, sit back with a drink and some music, and get some work done can be more productive than any time you’d ever spend at the office.

Quieter cabin

No, the first class cabin is not completely sealed off from the rest of the plane, but there are two things that make it a quieter environment. The cabin is almost always up front, away from the jet engines, and there are fewer passengers. There is also no nice way to put it; there are also fewer loud passengers. In a coach cabin with 200 people, there will always be some people that are inconsiderate of others, the first class cabin tends to be a slightly more sophisticated place, where passengers are more aware of others.

In an upcoming article, I’ll describe several ways you can fly first class, without having to take out a second mortgage, or sell one of your kids to scientific research.

10 tips for smarter flying

Why does Gadling seem so fond of Virgin, OpenSkies and Southwest?

If you’ve been around the blog for more than a few weeks, you may have noticed that we seem to cover some of the newer and edgier carriers a bit more often. Virgin America and Atlantic, Southwest and OpenSkies seem to edge into our network fairly often and it seems like there’s always a Gadling blogger close at hand (usually with a vodka tonic) to report on the hijinks.

Why is this? Are these companies secretly paying for extra exposure? Do Gadling bloggers get free tickets any time they want to jet set across the country supporting their vokda binged lifestyle?

The simple answer is Public Relations. Every day Gadling bloggers are out, scouring the interwebs, newswires and telephone lines finding out new information for you, the reader, and reporting on daily developments. And what we learn and how we report is directly related to how friendly, prolific and open the PR staff is. Contacts and friends that we’ve made at the above carriers keep us in the loop, let us know when things are happening and occasionally send us piles of spam. Unfortunately, that’s about all we get for free.Conversely, most legacy carriers don’t give a rip about what Gadling writes or what we publish – so they’re not interested in talking to lowly bloggers.

From what I can tell, PR warmth is directly related to marketing strategy. Hipper, younger airlines trying to cater to the Gadling demographic (you know who you are) know they have to keep the blogosphere positively spinning. Older, more established carriers who may cater to more of an elder or family demographic, on the other hand, might communicate in more traditional places like, oh, church bulletins.

And its not like we haven’t tried fostering relationships with legacy carriers – most firms just don’t realize the leverage that blogs can provide. So we’ll let them be and continue the subliminal message that we’re sending from Gadling. I’ll have another vodka tonic please. Thanks.


Expansions in the business-class-only service

The all-business-class model for airline carriers has been a touchy subject over the last few months. With all but two of the airlines now out of business (OpenSkies and Singapore Airlines‘ select flights), many wonder if the original approach was a good idea.

Yet OpenSkies (EC, owned by British Airways) and Singapore Airlines (SQ) continue to press on — and even expand. Earlier this month, OpenSkies announced that they would be adding service further into the European Union, while SQ just expanded their A340 service from Los Angeles into Singapore.

How can these carriers thrive in such tight times? How can they survive where so many others failed? Well, there’s no doubt that the deep pockets of each carrier are helping ride out the storm of high oil prices. While Americans sort out their financial woes, each airline plans to build a product and loyal customer base, get the word out on their product as much as possible and fight for a place in the future market.

Things could be a little rough for OpenSkies. With the American economy suffering and the EU economy headed in the same direction, demand for business class seats is going to be dropping off pretty quick. Unfortunately, the worst may yet be to come.

According to Singapore Airlines, their business-class-only service has conversely enjoyed packed flights and thriving business.

The true gauge for each airline, regardless of their current situation, is long term sustainability independent of their parent airline or routes. If the routes fail to generate profit after a few years they will surely disappear, but perhaps if we’re all lucky and the trend picks up, OpenSkies’ and SQ’s business-class-only flights will be here to stay.

How much are those Heathrow landing slots worth?

Now that Open Skies is in full effect, carriers left and right are scrambling to take advantage of all of the sweet landing slots in the EU’s congested airports.

Case in point, London‘s Heathrow Airport. Most travelers flying into the United Kingdom prefer landing at Heathrow because of better connections and proximity to London via the Tube. But landing slots at LHR are all full, so whenever one opens up, competition is hot to fill it in. Similarly, carriers want to hold on to their high-value slots to make sure that any competition doesn’t come in and snatch up some capacity.

So what do you do when you can’t book enough passengers to justify flying in and out of your slot? This case might show up if, say hypothetically, you’ve been cutting capacity like crazy to save cash and demand is low because travel is so expensive. Sound like any economy you know?

In that case, what do you do with your landing slot? Well, according to BMI, or British Midland Airways, you keep flying. Without passengers.

British Airways did the same thing earlier this year to try to preserve landing slots and we figured that the subsequent disgust with their MO combined with the price of fuel would be a deterrent for other carriers to do the same thing. But I guess those slots are just too valuable.

Why not at least auction off the empty seats on the aircraft? I know that you have to pay flight attendants if you have passengers onboard, but I feel like you can make enough to pay a few employees and offset the price of jet fuel a bit. But I guess that would make too much sense.

A conversation with OpenSkies’ Dale Moss

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dale Moss, the managing director of OpenSkies, the planet’s newest airline flying between New York City and Paris. After test driving his airline out last week, I had a few questions about the airline and Mr. Moss was kind enough to call me personally. Here’s what he had to say.

Gadling: For the lay person who’s getting into the transatlantic market, what’s the big difference between OpenSkies and a legacy carrier?

Dale Moss: Well, I think there is a whole load of difference. If we got into the market with the same offering as a legacy carrier, it certainly would have not have fulfilled the mission that we were given to by British Airways: to take advantage of new legislation called Open Skies that gives a company like British Airways an opportunity to fly directly, non stop from European cities to New York. So OpenSkies the airline is a manifestation of that mission. And we said to ourselves, “How do we want to be different?”

We want to be predominantly a premium kind of carrier. We’re not going after the masses – we never want to be a large airline with huge airplanes, because that defies what our mission is. Our mission is to go after an intelligently priced product for customers who are discerning.And it is a terrific product. It’s a 757, so it’s not like traveling with 300 of your closest friends; it’s only about eighty people on the airplane when we’re full. And that’s a very different experience. I’ve flown the Concorde maybe two hundred times myself, and I think think that [Open Skies] is one of the most unique travel experiences since Concorde for a transatlantic journey.

When you walk on the airplane you get this great feel, almost like an intimate, corporate jet. And this goes for every cabin – not only for the business seats. It’s all very discreet, a nice way to travel and the service is great.

If there was one word that I would look to that helps us distinguish ourselves, it’s attitude. It’s remembering that we’re starting the airline at a difficult time so we know that we have to better, have to be different and that we just can’t have bad days. Our people are geared for that, we want to be very attentive and take the sensitivity we have for our customers to a new level of anticipation.

We have a different platform – the 757, we’ve got a great suite of products and the prices are absolutely fantastic at every price point through that airplane. We also have the uniqueness of a very nice brand – an up and coming brand that people want to be part of. It’s an exclusive feel without any snobbery. We think that it’s a great way to travel over the Atlantic from Paris to New York and we’re starting to get some great traction with customers.

I noticed on the flight out there that you have the three class configuration. Is that something that you’re going to continue or are you going to expand Biz and Prem +?

We’re going to give it the first six months or so to evaluate what the market is like, what customers are saying, where the returns are and then we’ll perhaps be in the position where we can look at what the product portfolio would be going forward. It’s still in the early days – this past Thursday was our three week anniversary.

With respect to that market that you spoke of — there has been a little bit of volatility in the niche sector recently and obviously you have stronger financial backing than some of those carriers – but is there anything that you plan on doing differently to prevent yourself from going down that same path?

There are some dramatic differences and distinctions between some of the folks that have gone before us. Two of them were using 767’s, and we believe that was just an airplane that is too large for the mission that we could give it. Another was using a 757 with only 48 seats and we thought that that was way too rich a configuration.

There are a number of items that I think are important to note. We have the endorsement of British Airways. We have their support on the sales side. We have a full range of opportunity for people to book with us, whether this is on our website or on BA.com as a BA codeshare. We have the British Airways frequent flyer program.

To have all of those things right out of the box and the special uniqueness of being able to have our own signature we think gives us a tremendous fortification and every chance to be a successful company.

We also take advantage of the British Airways fuel hedge.

There are great synergies that we can use where don’t have to spend a lot. For instance, we have the British Airways lounge facility at JFK and now that we’ve made the acquistion of L’Avion, they have their facility at Newark. We can use the British Airways facility at Newark in the course of time. All of this plays to the economies of scale that we would get because of our relationship with British Airways.

This is to say that the combination of British Airways and OpenSkies gives customers more opportunities and it never pits British Airways against OpenSkies because we’re flying in different markets.

And with your acquisition of L’Avion, are you initially going to use their routes and slots into Orly or are you going to expand their aircraft into the other markets that you’ve been looking at?

It gives us a great footprint into Orly, and that’s the first and most important thing. Now we will have three flights a day, so it really puts Orly on the map for New York. When you have three departures per day you add some girth to your schedule which is something that frequent travelers care about and which will also help us grow.

Beyond that, with regard to how we bring the two companies together, we have some plans — but they need to be tempered with discussion and joint planning. They’re great people. They’re have a great little company and we are very confident that the combination will be infinitely better than the two companies were separately.

Can you tell me what other markets are on your radar?

We hope to make another announcement later this summer. We’re considering four cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan. We’re on the threshold of making that decision at the end of the month.

We hope to have, by the end of 2009, seven or eight airplanes in the fleet with perhaps five or six destinations.

And will those all be rebadged 757s and L’Avion planes?

Two airplanes will come from the L’Avion fleet while the rest will come from British Airways.

With regard to the mileage program, do you have any plans to perhaps integrate with the Oneworld program?

What we’ve tried to do is keep our company as simple as we can. We’re a point to point premium airline and we’ve tried to keep away from affiliation. Certainly in the beginning we’re going to keep our process very simple, keep our cost structure down and we can make the prices that we offer to customers – even though they’re really premium products – very attractive. That’s our initial strategy.

You’ve got a great airline, thanks for speaking with me.

Thank you.