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Just a few years ago, it seemed like first class was becoming a thing of the past. Fortunately for AvGeeks like myself, reports of its death were, as it happens, greatly exaggerated. In the past year, we’ve seen announcements of several new cutting-edge first class cabins, from Air France to Lufthansa to JAL, each representing a step change in the quality we’ve come to expect from these cabins. In this article, I’ve compiled an overview of every international first class currently in the sky (though please let me know if I’ve missed any) as well as exciting new cabins we can expect this year or next.
Air China First Class (777-300ER, 747-8)
Air China offers international first class on about two-thirds of their 28 777-300s and all six of their 747-8s. The product, which has had a 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.
Air India First Class (777-300ER)
Though Air India offers a first class cabin on all its 777-300s, it has never offered a particularly competitive onboard product compared to the likes of gulf carriers like Emirates or Etihad, or even European and American business class cabins. The hard product is fine, with a 1-2-1 configuration across either one or two rows, but the planes are badly maintained and the food is subpar. 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 First Class (777-300ER, A380)
Top-notch Japanese airline ANA offers eight first class seats on both its 777-300ERs and its A380, which at the moment flies exclusively between Japan and Hawaii. About 60% of its 777s have been fitted with new, stunning first class suites that feature a gobsmackingly enormous 42-inch 4K monitor. ANA’s first class food, wine, and service are among the best on earth, but its lounges are disappointing by comparison.
Lufthansa First Class (747-8, A340-600, A380)
Germany’s flag carrier, Lufthansa, currently offers first class on its 747-8, A340-600, and A380. Most excitingly, Lufthansa has announced a brand-new first class product that looks stunning. The new first class cabin will enter service this year aboard 10 of the airlines’ A350-900s, based in Munich.
Singapore Airlines First Class (777, A380)
Singapore Airlines offers first class on its 777-300ER and its A380. First class 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 “game changer” 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. 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 with gorgeous runway views. 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 of its Miles & More program or higher. In the past, we’ve seen limited last-minute SWISS first class award availability 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 excellent, with a roomy, private suite, top-shelf wine and spirits, excellent dining, and some of the highest service standards in any first class. Since the airline now only offers first class on three routes to and from Bangkok, 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. On transcontinental routes, American offers a similar first class product on its narrow body A321T. Though American’s service, hard product, and amenities are definitely not up to the standard of top international airlines, the seat has a unique swivel function that allows passengers to directly face the windows while working or eating. If you want to experience this, book soon–American is phasing out its first class cabin and will eliminate the product in 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, often dubbed “the world’s best business class,” but its newly refurbished 777s feature doors and a 24-inch display, an upgrade from the older, more open seats and smaller pop-out IFE screens. A 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, affording passengers a crazy amount of space. This, along with superb service and catering, makes Cathay’s first class one of my favorites in the sky. Access to one of the best lounges on the planet, the Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong, is another great reason to love this product.
Japan Airlines (JAL) First Class (777-300ER)
Japan Airlines has first class on all of 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.
JAL’s completely new first class product will hit the skies early this year, which looks stunning and industry-leading.
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.
Fortunately, Qantas will introduce entirely 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, which means that 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. Flying it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a plane.
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 2024.
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,” sold as first class, which is essentially a more spacious business class seat in the first row of its normal business class cabin.
Garuda Indonesia First Class (777)
Garuda’s first class is a critically endangered animal, currently only flown between Amsterdam and Jakarta. While the hard product isn’t cutting edge, the service on Garuda is considered among the very best out there. Those who’ve been lucky enough to fly this product have told me how aspects of the service verge on the absurd (they were called ahead of time and asked what they’d like to eat, and that cabin crew literally removed their shoes for them and put on their slippers). The cabin comprises eight open suites spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.
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.
Air Peace (777-200)
Nigeria’s flag carrier began selling first class tickets after it acquired a Boeing 777-200 from Emirates. Air Peace flies the plane between Lagos (LOS), Jeddah (JED), Mumbai (BOM), and Guangzhou (CAN), and its hard product is essentially identical to Emirates’ old 777 first class cabin (i.e., not the game changer). As for the soft product, there are (as far as I can find) no reviews online.
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 contains 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 has been retrofitted, and the airline seems to be moving very slowly to roll out the new product. The soft product across all planes is excellent, and the drink selection is unique; 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.
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 international 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.
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.
Starlux Airlines’ first class comprises four seats located in the first row of the business class section. There’s no physical separation between first and business class, though first class seats do have higher privacy partitions and sliding doors. The service is largely on par with international first-class standards, but the hard product is only marginally different from business class and seems akin to the “business class plus” products we’ve seen from airlines like Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue rather than a true international first class. Confusingly, the price difference is substantial, with first class fares being significantly higher than business class. Since booking this product with points is not currently possible and ticket prices are astronomical, this isn’t something I plan to fly soon.
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.