Emirates, Etihad, ANA, Asiana, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Swiss — fantastic airlines which offer fantastic first class products. We can (and do!) get into debates all day about which airlines are the best, at least if you’re an ‘avgeek’ like me, and even have intense disagreements over which one belongs in the number 5 spot versus number 6.
But the very best first class products all have something in common. They’re offered onboard the superjumbo Airbus A380s which simply have more space to offer more privacy and more amenities. So the A380 first class product has things in each case that the ‘normal’ first class product does not.
Three airlines, on their flagship A380s, offer a first class that’s beyond all others. And I think any fair-minded observer will rank these as the three best first class offerings in the world, the A380 first class onboard Etihad, Emirates, and Singapore.
Emirates – the Flashiest Carrier in the World — Offers an Amazing Experience
Emirates has perhaps the flashiest first class product in the sky. But there’s real substance to it too. Emirates offers a comfortable private suite, good food and flexible dining, top notch wine and spirits, and a bar that’s matched or exceededonly by Qatar.
Perhaps the single most defining feature of Emirates first class on their Airbus A380s is the onboard showers, large bathrooms with heated floors and showers with plenty of space to get ready after a long flight.
And whereas Etihad has just half a dozen A380s so far, and Singapore has nearly 20, Emirates has 75 with nearly as many on order. That makes the product much easier to fly than that of the airline’s competitors for best first class.
Of the three best first class products, Emirates actually gives you the least personal space. There’s plenty of personal space for a commercial airplane. But they squeeze 4 seats across into the narrower upper deck of the A380 while Singapore puts 4-across in the wider lower deck.
What Emirates suites are, though, is fully ‘tricked out’. And they make really good use of the space.
The seat has a minibar with non-alcoholic beverages. This is a feature I’ve never understood. If you’re a first class passenger, you shouldn’t need to get your own beverages. (Etihad has a minibar as well.)
The suite has a retractable lighted vanity mirror in front of a large video monitor. Beside it is a lamp, which is actually fairly classy (not something I associate with an otherwise ‘tricked out’ product).
There’s an orchid placed in the suite, and a snack basket provided pre-departure (which is then taken away for takeoff, and return afterward).
Champagne is Dom Perignon. Emirates has invested more money in wine than anyone else, and their spirits program is equally impressive, you can have a glass of cognac from a $500+ bottle if you wish.
Emirates has extremely extensive amenity kits were provided as well.
Beyond the amenity kit though the seat itself also comes with amenities stocked.
There’s so much swag in first class on Emirates for long haul that they give you a branded bag for it all.
What sets the A380 apart from Emirates first class on their 777s, and what puts the product at the very top of the world with Singapore and Etihad, is their onboard showers. Only Etihad offers showers besides Emirates, and the Etihad showers do not compare.
There are actually two shower rooms. And there are two shower attendants who keep the rooms clean throughout the flight.
The shower rooms double as lavatories for passenger use when they aren’t booked for showers. These are perhaps behind only Qatar as the nicest airplane lavatories in the sky, and of course Qatar’s don’t have showers.
The shower spas are gorgeous, and well stocked too.
What I love the most, aside from the shower aspect of it, is that the lavatory is spacious and spotless. There’s plenty of room to move around, to change into pajamas, you just don’t feel cramped. And it’s being cleaned between each use and kept up beautifully.
Of course, the shower itself is the centerpiece.
You get 5 minutes worth of water only. After all, water is heavy and takes fuel to carry. But 5 minutes of water is actually plenty. You get a color-coded meter, and can start and stop the water as you wish.
Emirates has a bar behind business class on the upper deck, and of course first class passengers have access (and they’ll fetch alcohol from first class for you, too). This isn’t just a self-serve snack area, it’s an actual bar tended throughout the flight.
One of the only real complaints about Emirates first class, and it applies to the whole aircraft, is the inflight internet. Singapore’s is expensive. Emirates is too cheap. There’s little throughput to the aircraft, and they offer the ‘first 10 megs free’ then $1 for 500 megabytes. Not enough speed, and too cheap for what little bandwidth they have, makes it virtually unusable.
The suite is good — not as good as Etihad’s, even on that carrier’s other aircraft. And it’s not as good as Singapore’s on the lower deck of their A380. It’s even a little cramped. But they make good use of space, and since there are 14 suites in the cabin they’re rarely all booked so award space is doable on many routes.
The food is good with plenty of options, although Singapore’s entrees are better and Etihad often does a better job of customizing preparation. The alcohol service is tough to beat, if that’s important to you. There’s high end champagne, wine, and liquor and plenty of choices.
But the shower spa is amazing. That just makes the whole thing so much more special.
Singapore Airlines Suites Class is an Elegant Oasis
Singapore Airlines has a mythology all its own. It’s built a brand reputation on service, I think, that’s unmatched by any other airline. They perfectly captured that with an ad campaign a few years ago ‘Understanding Your Needs’ which depicted flight attendants traveling the world to find the perfect tea for you and serving it just the way you like it, and in another spot attending film screenings to select the most touching inflight entertainment for your journey. They don’t actually do that exactly of course. But you could imagine them doing it.
I’m not a huge fan of their first class Boeing 777 seat. It’s not especially private, not a suite. But their flagship Airbus A380 premium offering isn’t even called first class, they call it ‘Suites Class’. The suites remind me somewhat of a rail car. And while the suites aren’t ideal for lounging, they offer a great seat and an even more fantastic bed.
Combine that with very good food for main meals, high end amenities, and legendary Singapore service and you’ve got one of the world’s best first class products.
In fact I think think that Singapore Airlines has the single best looking first class on their A380. It’s both gorgeous and understated.
The Singapore Airlines first class bed really does have to be made, it isn’t just pressing a button to make the seat flat and then adding a sheet and maybe a blanket. The seat itself has to be flipped over so that the flat mattress comes out in place of the seat.
Singpaore Airlines is the only carrier that stocks both Dom Perignon and Krug as champagne choices. There’s something special about a Singapore flight attendant asking whether you’d care for champagne. You accept. And then you’re asked, “would you prefer Dom or Krug?” (I believe the correct answer to this question is: “that depends, what year is the Dom?”)
And their quality approach to wine doesn’t end with champagne. Since wines very much taste different at altitude than they do on the ground, they’ve used a pressurized room for tastings so that they can simulate the effect of the cabin when selecting the right wines to servce inflight.
Meals are excellent. Singapore Airlines offers a ‘Book the Cook’ service. You can pick the meal you want from an extensive menu that varies based on cabin class (business class or first class) and varies from city to city. Different airports have different choices. One of my very best meals ever on a plane was a pre-ordered choice in Singapore short-haul business class.
Designer amenities from brands like Givenchy and Ferragamo round out the effort.
Ultimately I think there’s no more attractive cabin or better bed than Singapore offers in this A380, although for seat and bed I’ll take the Etihad A380 overall because the Singapore seat isn’t fantastic as a recliner and because of Etihad’s overall spaciousness.
There’s no better inflight service, either, and the main meals especially departing Singapore are truly fantastic. The amenities and inflight entertainment are top notch as well.
They don’t have the bling factor of Emirates with the onboard showers. The seat could be better for lounging. For longer flights they could use a better snack menu.
Unquestionably, though, Singapore Airlines offers one of the very best first class products in the world with the suites onboard their A380s.
Etihad’s Airbus A380 First Class: Unparalleled Even Compared to Emirates and Singapore
The scarcest resource on a plane is square footage. Every inch counts. The greatest luxury, therefore, is space and privacy. And Etihad offers that in a way that no other carrier can come close to.
Whereas Singapore Airlines offers suites that are 4-across on the lower deck of their A380, and Emirates offers suites that are 4-across on the somewhat narrower upper deck, Etihad offers just two seats across on the upper deck of their A380. The ‘First Apartment’ is a single aisle product on the superjumho jet. That’s unprecedented, and it’s what more than anything makes Etihad’s A380 first class product better than any other commercial first class in the sky.
You get a super wide seat and you also have a bench where folks can sit with you inside your suite. A dining companion can sit across from you (and even be seatbelted in) for a meal.
It’s that bench that folds out and turns into a bed, of course with a mattress and sheets and a blanket that’s softer than any I’ve hand on other airlines. Some find the bed a little hard, and might want another pillow (it’s worth asking) but those are minor quibbles.
Traveling with someone? The wall between rows 3 and 4 on each side of the aircraft comes down. When you’re both in bed mode, you can be laying next to each other with nothing between you from the waist up — almost like home.
Etihad is also the only airline besides Emirates to offer an onboard shower. The bathrooms aren’t as spacious as they are on Emirates. In fact, I’m not really sure why they put the shower in the smaller of their two bathrooms in first class. So you do have to squeeze a bit. The ‘spa showers’ with their own dedicated inflight attendants on Emirates are more luxurious. But there’s still something amazing about being able to shower prior to landing (and that’s by far my preferred time to do it, so I always ask for the very last shower time immediately on boarding).
Etihad does a great job with onboard cuisine. They have an ‘onboard chef’ concept — a flight attendant with restaurant experience who has primary cooking responsibility inflight — and there are great chefs who really tailor their cooking to your preferences and others who ‘only’ offer what’s on the menu. But they hit some great heights at times. They can customize meals to your preference. And the ‘dine anytime’ concept means you can have anything from across the menu throughout the flight. While I’ve read reports of running out of food inflight, the only items I’ve ever seen that with are the biryanis that always seem more popular than what’s boarded.
Now, there’s an onboard lounge area but it’s not a tended bar the way that Emirates and Qatar have. And their first class alcohol choices isn’t as quite as high end as you’ll find on some other airlines, notably Emirates. Still I find their wine choices thoughtful, and the lack of $300 whiskey and $700 cognac is a small quibble that doesn’t mean much to me.
Finally, all first class and business class passengers receive complimentary car service on departure and arrival (though not during stopovers, and not available at every international destination). Unlike Emirates, this is even offered on award tickets booked by partner airlines.
So Where Does Each of the 3 Best First Class Products Excel?
While I rank the best products as:
And I’ll make a strong case that the Etihad A380 first class product is the best overall, there are elements of each airline’s offering that are best and your preference will vary based on the importance you place on each.
- Seat and bed: Etihad which has a more comfortable seat than Singapore, though arguably Singapore’s bedding is better. Still, the sheer space of the Etihad First Apartment is far above and beyond anything else.
- Food: Emirates for variety, Etihad for customizability, Singapore for main meals but not inflight snacks
- Wine and spirits: Singapore for wine and Emirates for other alcohol
- Bathroom and shower: Emirates
- Onboard Lounge: Emirates
- Service: Singapore
All three airlines offer pajamas and amenity kits, of course. I tend to like Singapore’s products best, but opinions vary and some will maek the case for Etihad there. I don’t think any of the three offer a top 5 lounge experience though I give Etihad the nod for ground service with their complimentary car service.