Building the Perfect First Class Ground Experience

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
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas

A notch below, in my view:

  • Emirates
  • Etihad

And then:

  • Asiana
  • 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Agree with the critiques of CX. For all that they put into their in-air and lounge products, they completely drop the ball on simple stuff like priority boarding for F and golf cart gate transfers.

  2. No one does ground service like TG, including LH.

    Transiting BKK in TG F is a dream:

    On arrival, we were met at gate and were in a cab less than 5 mins later. On check-in the following morning, we were back in the F class lounge and in our massages within 10 mins of arrival at the airport.

    Even more impressive is that on our BKK-HKG segment, we were met at the gate in *HKG* and driven to immigration.

    Yes–TG has better ground services at an outstation than 95% of airlines have at their hubs.

    Other airlines can only hope to compete.

  3. BTW — it was nice bumping into you in the Private Room a couple weeks ago.

    Next time, I’ll ignore you and just say hi to your wife. She deserves it 🙂

  4. You seem to forget two airlines that have top notch ground experiences:

    – Air France: with similar transfer service than LH and a much better food / drinks offering than the FCT or FCLS. In the air their food / drink still needs some work though.

    – Garuda: with a very impressive ground offering including a great meet and assist, an amazing lounge. They even serve Wagyu steak.

  5. I would love to enjoy seamless Alliance integration. Couldn’t Alliance airlines trade ground services as they do lounge access. Frankfurt FCT to the Thai A380? Maybe not a Benz, but a tuk tuk at least.

  6. I agree TG has the best ground services in the world at BKK. I also agree the QF F Lounge in SYD is MUCH better than the TG F Lounge in BKK. If they could combine these two you would have the worlds best F ground experience. It really amazes me that some airlines strive for perfection in some areas but don’t bother fixing issues in others. I was amazed there was no premium screening/immigration at HKG for example.

    Gary I’d be very interested in other ‘building the best’ articles – you could do best onboard experience (hard and soft), best FF program, best fleet etc etc.

  7. If LH offered free massages at the Frankfurt FCT IMO they would have the clear #1 product. But even if you manage to get a day room and a bath (there is only one bath) I think it can still be improved……probably the massage would do it.
    I did TG 1st with massage at BKK earlier this year and though really nice, IMO not quite as good as Frankfurt FCT

  8. Etihad has an OK First product. But still a long long way to go to compete with the Asian carriers.

    – There isn’t a dedicated F lounge outside AUH and now, J and F are sharing the facilities until the new F lounge is ready sometime in April.
    – The massages are 15 minutes.
    – The current shower facilities at AUH are a joke – obviously designed to look good on paper but completely impractical when actually using them!
    – Forget about any ground handling anywhere….you’re out with the crowds.

    Yes – first world problems….but when comparing with the other airlines, Etihad still has a ways to go!

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