Air China (777-300ER, 747-8)
Air China currently offers international first class on about two-thirds of their 28 777-300s and all six of their 747-8s, though most are currently grounded. The product, which has had an historically so-so reputation, is now quite good. Before the pandemic, Air China installed first class seats on several long-haul aircraft and looked as if it was attempting to compete with carriers like Cathay Pacific for luxury travelers from mainland China. But with the ongoing Covid-related turmoil, it’s not clear whether that’s still the plan or even whether many of their grounded planes will return to service.
Air India (777-300ER)
Though Air India offers a first class cabin on all its 777-300s, it has never offered a competitive onboard product compared to the likes of gulf carriers like Emirates or Etihad, or European and American carriers flying to India. The hard product is fine, with a 1-2-1 configuration across either one or two rows, but the planes are notoriously badly maintained and dirty, the food is subpar, and the service is lacking. There is some hope for improvement, however, given that the airline has now been fully privatized and its new owner, the Tata Group, has been making some positive changes to the airline.
ANA (777-300ER, A380)
Top-notch Japanese airline ANA offers eight first class seats on both its 777-300 and its A380, which at the moment flies exclusively between Japan and Hawaii. About 60% of its 777-300ERs have been fitted with new, stunning first class suites which, most notably, feature a gobsmackingly enormous 42-inch 4K monitor. First class food, wine, and service remain as good as ever, though the lounges are disappointing by comparison.
Lufthansa (747-8, A340-600, A380, A350-900)
Germany’s flag carrier, Lufthansa, currently offers first class on its 747-8 and A340-600 and, from spring 2023, will reintroduce several of its A380s which also host first class cabins. Most excitingly, Lufthansa just announced a brand-new first class product in a (we think) 1-1-1 configuration, and the renders look stunning. The new first class cabin is planned to enter service later this year aboard 10 of the airlines’ A350-900s, based in Munich.
Singapore Airlines First Class (777, A380)
Singapore Airlines’ 777 first class is great, but its A380 first class is world-class. Though the service on both products is phenomenal, the first class cabin on the 777 comprises just four seats laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration–the seats are comfortable, though hardly cutting-edge–while Singapore’s six first class suites on its A380 are essentially small rooms, containing both a seat and a bed. The size and privacy of these suites are unrivaled, even by Emirates’ new first class 777 suites.
SWISS First Class (A330-300, Airbus A340-300, 777-300ER)
SWISS’ first class comprises eight seats laid out across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration regardless of the plane. It’s not the newest or roomiest cabin, but an excellent seat and top-notch service make this one of the best business classes in Europe. SWISS’ first class lounge in Zurich is likewise among the best in Europe with phenomenal food and hotel-like bedrooms. Unfortunately, it’s one of the more difficult products to book with points or miles, since SWISS only opens up first class award inventory to Senator-level elite members in its Miles & More program or higher. Recently, it has become possible to book very last-minute SWISS first class with certain Star Alliance programs like United’s MileagePlus program or Avianca’s LifeMiles, but availability is extremely spotty.
Thai Airways First Class (777-300ER)
Thai Airways lays its first class cabin in a 1-2-1 configuration across two rows. The product is generally excellent, with a roomy, private suite, top-shelf wine and spirits, excellent dining, and some of the highest service standards in any first class. The airline recently took delivery of two brand new 777s with a gorgeous first class cabin but, sadly, the pandemic has made it harder than ever to book Thai first class with miles, since the airline now only flies it on three routes to and from Bangkok which means that even though the product is bookable on a few Star Alliance frequent flyer programs, there’s seldom award inventory.
American Airlines First Class (777-300ER)
American Airlines currently offers eight Flagship First seats on their 777-300ER, set up in a 1-2-1 configuration. It’s worth mentioning that American also offers a similar first class product on its A321T, though it’s only flown on transcontinental routes. Though American’s service, hard product, and amenities are not up to the standard of top international airlines, the seat has a unique (and admittedly somewhat gimmicky) swivel function that allows passengers to directly face the windows while working or eating. Sadly, American Airlines is phasing out its first class cabin and will fully eliminate the product by 2024.
British Airways First Class (777, 787, A380)
British Airways offers first-class seats on its 777, 787, and A380 aircraft, all arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. British Airways A380s and most of its 777s contain 14 seats, while its 787 have a smaller first-class cabin with just eight seats. The product has historically not been great, and been unfortunately dubbed “the world’s best business class,” but its newly refurbished 777s feature doors and a 24-inch display, a significant upgrade from the older exposed seats and pop-out displays. An entirely new first class cabin will arrive in 2026 when British Airways receives its first 777Xs.
Cathay Pacific First Class (777-300ER)
Cathay Pacific’s first class cabins contain six seats, spread across two rows in a 1-1-1 layout. For obvious reasons, 1-1-1 configurations are pretty rare but afford passengers an equally uncommon amount of space. This, along with consistently superb service and catering, makes Cathay’s first class cabins one of my favorites in the sky, so I’m delighted that the airline is once again selling first class tickets after a Covid hiatus. Additional highlights include free wi-fi for first class passengers, as well as access to one of the best lounges on the planet, the Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong.
Japan Airlines (JAL) First Class (777-300ER)
Japan Airlines maintains first class on its 13 Boeing 777-300ERs. Eight open first-class suites are arranged across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. Though the cabin is not industry-leading, the seats offer plenty of space and a respectable amount of storage space. What really makes this product stand out is the food and drink. JAL holds the distinct honor of serving the most expensive bottle of champagne in the sky: Salon 2007, which retails for ~$600 a bottle. JAL also offers a Western and Japanese menu, both of which are extraordinarily good.
Qantas First Class (A380, A350-1000)
The Qantas A380’s First Class is situated at the front of the lower deck and has 14 seats in all in a 1-1-1 configuration. Unique to Qantas, these seats face forward during takeoff and landing but electronically swivel into a herringbone configuration during the flight. Though the seats have recently been refurbished with new materials and an updated screen, the cabin still feels outdated, and the seats are cramped relative to modern first class seats. This makes me all the more excited for Qantas’ new first class cabins on their 12 recently ordered A350-1000s. The upcoming product looks incredible: six first-class suites, arranged across two rows in a 1-1-1 configuration will feature a reclining lounge chair, a separate bed, a privacy door, and a 32-inch screen. If things go according to plan, the new A350s will enter service in 2025 to operate the world’s longest flight from New York to Sydney.
Qatar Airways First Class (A380, 777)
The top deck of the Qatar Airways A380 has eight First Class open suites spread out across two rows in a 1-2-1 layout. The seats are spacious but lack the privacy found in the best first class cabins. Qatar’s best first class seats are found on their 777s, which are currently being leased from Cathay Pacific and feature the same 1-1-1 layout across two rows. Unfortunately, this plane only flies from Doha to Malé, so it’s not easy to fly. Historically, Qatar has devoted most of its energy to its business class product, widely-considered the best in the world, at the expense of its first class. That means that generally speaking, Qatar’s first class is not nearly as good as its Emirati competitors.
Air France First Class (777-300ER)
Air France’s first class, known as La Première, is phenomenal. The best first class in Europe and possibly the world, it’s laid out across a single row in a 1-2-1 configuration and features floor-to-ceiling drapes, uniquely excellent food, and a wide selection of extraordinary French wines. The La Première Lounge at Charles de Gaulle is probably the best ground experience on earth, with a la carte dining that rivals many high-end restaurants, an extensive wine list, and over-the-top amenities like a water menu. Despite having an already exceptional product, the airline plans to begin flying an even better La Première cabin, which includes a seat and separate bed, in late 2023.
China Eastern Airlines First Class (777-300ER)
China Eastern’s 777 contains six first class suites across two rows, the first row having just two seats because of a large table in the center aisle, and the second row having four seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats are exceptionally private, and all feature sliding doors. The coolest feature of these has to be the ability to lower the partition between center seats and create a true double bed. It’s also worth noting that on its A350-900s and 787s, China Eastern has what it calls “the Air Living Room” which is essentially a more spacious business class seat in the first row of its normal business class cabin. Some call this first class, but I don’t think it qualifies given there’s no partition or differentiated service.
Korean Air First Class (A380, 777, 747)
Korean Air’s A380 contains 12 seats in 1-2-1 configuration across three rows on the lower deck, while its 777, contains eight first-class seats across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. These seats are relatively exposed and outdated, so if you plan to fly Korean first, you’ll want to do it on their 747-8, which features six newer Kosmo Suites 2.0 in a 1-1 configuration. Regardless of which seat you fly, you’ll enjoy some of the best service and food around.
Saudia Airlines First Class (777-300ER)
First class on Saudia Airlines’ 777-300 ER comprises 12 private suites arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across three rows. Saudia is a pretty underrated product: the hard product is excellent and it is one of the few first class cabins with a dedicated chef. Be forewarned that Saudia is a dry airline, so as long as you don’t book a Saudia first class ticket expecting world-class champagne, you won’t be disappointed.
Xiamen Airlines First Class (787)
Xiamen Airlines’ 787-8 first-class cabin features just four lie-flat seats across a single row. The seats are spacious and the cabin intimate, but the product is pretty outdated; there are no partitions between seats which means little privacy and the IFE screen is old and small. While the standard of service aboard Xiamen is generally excellent, the food and drinks served are identical to that in business class.
Emirates Airlines First Class (A380, 777)
For good reason, Emirates is renowned for its over-the-top luxurious first class. The airline’s A380 first class cabin features 14 seats spread across four rows in a 1-2-1 configuration and its 777 contain eight identical seats, arranged in the same configuration across two rows. Though I don’t find the seat itself particularly special–Singapore Airlines uses the same area to accommodate just six first-class seats on its A380s–the two onboard showers in the A380 reserved for first class passengers set Emirates’ first class apart. Emirates’ fully redesigned 777 first class cabins, appropriately dubbed “the game changer,” are even more special. They feature just six first-class suites, laid out across two rows in a 1-1-1 configuration, and are fully enclosed with floor-to-ceiling walls. Each suite is equipped with an array of wild features like a thermostat, lighting controls, room service by video, and virtual windows. Unfortunately, there aren’t many opportunities to fly the new first class cabin because only a fraction of Emirates’ fleet have been retrofitted, and the airline seems to be moving pretty slowly rolling out the new product. The soft product across all planes is excellent, and the drink selection is uniqu; Emirates holds the honor of pouring the most expensive spirit in the sky, Hennesy Paradis, which retails for ~$1,500.
Etihad Airways First Class (787, A380)
Etihad’s first class hard product differs drastically between the A380 and 787. The 787, though perfectly respectable, contains a fairly standard first class product, with eight seats laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration across two rows. By contrast, Etihad’s A380 features 9 seats, each of which is probably twice the size of the 787 first class seats and boasts both a seat and a separate bed. The service, food, and drink on both products is phenomenal, though the ground experience leaves some to be desired due to a somewhat outdated first class lounge in Abu Dhabi.
Oman Air First Class (787)
Oman Air’s 787 first class cabin holds eight seats and is laid out across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats are equipped with double doors and are fairly private, but are generally unremarkable, and not a whole lot better than Oman Air’s phenomenal business class hard product. What I like about Oman Air’s first class, though, is that it’s bookable on Air Canada’s Aeroplan, one of my favorite frequent flyer programs out there.
Kuwait Airways First Class (777-300ER, A330-200)
Kuwait Airways’ 777 first-class cabin has eight seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across two rows. While the hard product is good though not particularly special, the soft product is lacking–food, drinks, and service are subpar, making Kuwait’s first class much more similar to a good business product than an internation first class one, especially compared to its superb middle eastern competitors. The airline is also dry, which makes the first class experience a bit less special to those of us that appreciate a good glass of wine. The first class cabin on Kuwait Airways A330s is also a letdown, laid out in a reverse-herringbone configuration, with seats and service that are essentially identical to other business class cabins. What Kuwait’s first class has going for it are its ticket prices, which are typically substantially lower than other international first class tickets, often going for under $2000.
China Southern Airlines First Class (A380, 787, A330)
China Southern Airlines’ first class is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration on its A380s, 787s, and A330s. Though the hard product is spacious and private, the seat is outdated and the entertainment system is downright old. Onboard service is also generally poor, with a subpar wine selection and mediocre food. One bright spot of the product is that it can be booked with American Airlines AAdvantage miles, and award availability is generally quite good.
TAAG Angola First Class (777-300ER)
TAAG’s 777s feature an eight-seat first-class cabin arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across two rows. Across the board, the product is fine but not great, with poor service, okay drink selection, and pretty average food. All that is partially made up for with a new hard product that is competitive with other international first cabins, though the old 777 first class cabin is extremely outdated.