There are several elements to the first class experience that start and end entirely outside the in-air experience. Airlines that compete at the top end have invested heavily in their ground experience alongside their inflight soft and hard products. Some of the best are:
- Thai Airways
A notch below, in my view:
- Cathay Pacific
I’ll go out on a limb and claim that Qantas has the best first class lounge food. It’s nearly all cooked to order out of an open kitchen, with no buffet (though there are substantive bar snacks strategically placed throughout the lounge).
Singapore’s Private Room has a good cooked-to-order menu, and a willingness to go off-menu to accommodate preferences, but I’ve found the food to be only average. Lufthansa’s Do&Co offerings are quite good — I really love the wienerschnitzel — but isn’t above average compared to outside the airport.
Cathay Pacific has the best shower rooms of any airport — their cabanas in the first class side of The Wing lounge.
British Airways’ Concorde Room cabanas are dated, and unreliable to book. But they offer room service. There’s a menu in the cabana to place an order from. It would be an even better concept if it was another lounge’s food, but the idea could certainly be done by someone else.
Lufthansa does more extensive tarmac transfers for first class passengers than anyone else — all passengers in the separate First Class Terminal in Frankfurt have to be driven to their aircraft, and passengers in select other first class lounges whose flights arrive or depart from a non-gate position get that treatment as well.
Thai Airways has the best airport spa, by far — offering hour-long Thai massages to first class customers (and 30 minute treatments for business class).
Surprisingly, the 20 minute treatments offered by Qantas in their first class lounges in Australia go more than one-third as far as Thai’s 60 minute version — though the Bangkok-based carrier is the clear number one.
Thai Airways also does the best job of seamless escort in their home airport.
- Originating in Bangkok, you get taken through passport control and to a waiting buggy that drives you through the business class lounge to the first class lounge.
- Connecting in Bangkok you’re met on the jetway of your arriving aircraft and escorted to the lounge.
- Departing passengers are taken from lounge to gate.
- Arriving passengers are met planeside and taken through expedited immigration.
The best experiences make the ground process effortless. In Lufthansa’s first class terminal you don’t even know your departure gate — you couldn’t get yourself there if you wanted to (without leaving the terminal and entering the main airport). It’s someone else’s job to collect you at the allotted time, take you downstairs through passport control, and out to your waiting driver.
Very few airlines do even more than one ground experience item well. For all of Singapore Airlines’ skill in the air, there’s very little assistance at all on the ground. The same holds for Cathay Pacific, even in their sprawling Hong Kong hub.
Thai Airways offers personal assistance and a great massage. Lufthansa has good food and tarmac transfers. Qantas has in my view the best food, and a good spa. But none put the entire experience together.
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