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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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