What Is the Best First Class Airline?

First class flying provides amenities from check-in to touch down. Here are FLYING’s choices for the best first class airlines.

Best first class airline

Check out some of out top picks for first class airlines. [File photo: Adobe Stock]

Why do we fly commercial when you know that we, as pilots, understand that the best first class seat is the front left one? And if you’re flying for the airlines, you’re most likely to experience sitting in first as the result of your nonrev travel privileges on company or partner airlines—so your experience will naturally involve your own carrier’s amenities and travel experience. For many, flying first class should be a pleasant experience, and it’s critical for key business travelers, especially if you are flying long distances. Some airlines go above and beyond for their first class passengers, here’s FLYING’s top picks for first class airlines. 

Quicklook: Best First Class Airline

7 First Class Airline Options

If you can pick which airline to fly first class—you will choose, obviously, an airline based on schedule, destinations, amenities, and comfort. 


Emirates introduced its new first class on select Boeing 777-300ERs a few years ago and it seems everyone wants to try out the luxury “apartment style” seating. Emirates is the first airline to introduce truly fully enclosed suites in first class.

Best For:  Fliers looking for privacy

Locations flown to: 85 countries 

Lounge access: Yes

Special features:

  •  Floor-to-ceiling privacy suites 
  •  Some aircraft models have onboard showers and an onboard bar
  •  Full, lay-down bed


  • Unlimited Dom Perignon 
  • Dine on-demand   
  • Temperature-controlled suite 


  • Few Emirates aircraft have suites
  • One of the highest cost first-class tickets ($7,000+ one-way)

Lufthansa Airlines 

Lufthansa prides itself on its services and amenities onboard, and its first class is a significant step up from what you experience in economy. While the first class seats are not as private as Emirates, the cabins are spacious. The in-seat amenities like the Bose headset and the array of ‘goodies’ given to first class passengers is rarely seen in other airlines.

Best for: Great service

Number of locations: 74 countries 

Lounge access: Yes

Special features

  • Preflight champagne and roses 
  • Luxury bedding 
  • Dedicated storage locker


  • Free, fast wi-fi
  • Bose headset 
  • Privacy partition  


  • No individual air nozzles 

Etihad Airways 

Etihad Airways gives those flying first class privacy by being the initial airline to offer a single-aisle configuration in first class. This not only gives the passengers privacy but also tons of space. Etihad Airlines is well-suited for travelers on both short-haul or long-haul flights, while other airlines seem to put most of the effort in long-haul first class. 

Best for: Wine lovers

Number of locations: 47 countries

Lounge access: Yes, but not at most airports

Special features

  • Customizable menu
  • Onboard showers


  • Extra seating in the “apartment” style suite   
  • Carefully curated wine menu


  •  Seat does not recline completely 
  •  Small bed comparatively 

American Airlines

For U.S.-based airlines, American Airlines stands alone as the last major US airline to offer a true international first class product, as Delta and United have dropped first class from international destinations. Note that other features of its domestic first-class service have been scaled back, so your experience on U.S. short-haul routes will vary widely.

Best for: Pre-board amenities 

Number of locations: 70+ countries

Lounge access: Yes

Special features

  • Guaranteed aisle seat 
  • Score more frequent flyer points by flying first 
  • Flagship First, upscale version of AA’s traditional first class 


  • Fully reclinable seat 
  • Lower-priced first class seats than competitors
  • Sit-down dining experience pre-board for Flagship First passengers


  • Domestic first class seats are only a marginal step up from economy
  • Some pre-board amenities are only offered to Flagship First fliers 

British Airways 

British Airways has made a name for itself in Europe and in the US for being a customer service driven airline. British Airways has its top tier first class on the 787-9 Dreamliner where it has one eight first class seats compared to the usual 14, meaning more space and privacy for its passengers. 

Best for: Traveling to Europe

Number of locations: 70 countries

Lounge access: Yes

Special features:

  • His and Hers amenities bags with luxury skincare
  • Less seats = quieter cabin 
  • Turndown service


  • Dine anytime 
  • Fully laydown seating


  • Wine list is lacking 
  • Food scores low in taste 

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines has long set the bar for overall service, winning its place on travel industry “best of” lists for the past two decades. Its long-haul flights direct from the U.S. to Asia are of particular note, using the Airbus A350-900 ultralong-range model, the Boeing 787-10, or the Boeing 777-300ER. Suites are available on the Airbus A380, if you really want to splash out.

Best for: Traveling to Asia

Number of locations: 32 countries

Lounge access: Yes

Special features:

  • Suites available on some aircraft
  • Wide cabins in first class
  • Mood lighting


  • Book your dining up to 24 hours in advance
  • Private space


  • Best cabins only on certain aircraft
  • Route structure not as large

Cathay Pacific Airways

Pilots at one time set Cathay Pacific as the ideal airline to fly for—and the service in the back continues to meet that high standard. For travel around the world—especially to the Asia-Pacific region—Cathay remains one of the best first-class experiences, should you be so lucky.

Best for: Traveling to the Asia-Pacific region

Number of locations: 35 countries

Lounge access: Yes

Special features:

  • Softest bed in the sky, with 600-thread-count bedding
  • Foodie delight: Hong Kong menus available
  • Award-winning onboard cellar


  • One of the widest seats in the class
  • Bose noise-cancelling headsets just like you’d have up front
  • Natural skin products from Bramford


  • Route structure limited beyond Asia-Pacific and Africa/Middle East
  • Partner lounges outside of main hubs

What Is a First Class Airline? 

First class is a category of airline seats that are typically more luxurious than economy or business class and are priced at a premium. First class offers pre-board lounges, upscale dining and drinks, and in some cases, “apartment style” suites and on-board showers. 

What’s Special About First Class Travel?

The first class experience for passengers should start at check-in on the ground. Priority check-in, and access to first class lounges with complimentary food and drinks followed by priority boarding is just the start. Not only are the amenities such as upscale dining and drink available to first class passengers, private seating, and increased attention from flight attendants are also perks of flying first class. Full lay-down seats are crucial for long-haul, international, flights, and a primary reason why business travelers incur the additional expense for this type of travel. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of your company’s first-class offerings, it can give you insight into what it deems most desirable in its customer base—and it’s a great perk if you pursue a career as an airline pilot. Of course, flying yourself is the ultimate in first class!

Selecting First Class Airlines 

When it comes to choosing an airline to fly first class with, keep in mind that not all the amenities are available on all aircraft or locations the airlines fly from. Research before booking to ensure you are getting all the airline has to offer for first class passengers.

Available Locations

When choosing a first class airline, get the best experience by choosing an airline that has lounges at all your legs of journey. Some airlines put lounges in its most flown locations. It is also important to note where the airline flies with the top-tier version of its first class before booking to ensure you get the full experience of what it has to offer.  Following the pandemic, some airlines have scaled back or changed their offerings, so be sure to check before you book or make a nonrev reservation to ensure that you know what to expect.

Lounge Access

Lounge access on the ground is a perk almost all airlines offer to first class passengers. Lounges are not offered at every location, so be sure to check your itinerary in advance to see the locations of your airline lounges.


Some airlines offer lay-flat seating while others only offer reclinable seats. Depending on the length of your flight and what time of day you will be traveling, choose an airline that has the most comfortable seating for your travels. In-seat entertainment may also be a top priority for you. Keep in mind what the airline offers for entertainment.


Amenities of a first class experience start on the ground with lounges, but in-flight amenities are available as soon as you step foot on the aircraft. In most cases, first class passengers are met with champagne and a snack upon arrival and continue to receive service, on-demand, throughout the flight. On some airlines, such as Emirates, long-haul flights come equipped with a first class bathroom with an in-flight shower. 

Depending on the length of the flight and what matters most to you, choose an airline with amenities that speak to you. 


In most cases, first class passengers on long haul flights are given vast amounts of space to spread out, lay flat on a bed, and provide privacy. On short-haul flights though, less space and less privacy is bound to happen due to the smaller airframes being used.  


First class privacy varies depending on the airline and the length of the flight. Some airlines provide full ‘apartment style’ seats with floor-to-ceiling walls to maximize comfort and privacy. Others offer expanded style economy seating. Keep that in mind when booking a first class ticket if privacy is top of mind. 

First Class Flying

Whether you fly first class regularly, you are looking to experience first class for the first time, or you get the chance as a perk of your airline employment, you’ll want to choose—if you can—the best airline based on priorities, and amenities. You can look to stay informed about all things aviation for pilots, and subscribe to FLYING Magazine. Flying first class is not enough? It shouldn’t be if you love aviation. Learn about how as a pilot you can fully experience the perks of luxury aviation living at The Fields



Which Airlines is Best for First Class?

The best airline for first class will depend on your top priorities. If you are looking for an airline that exceeds expectations in every aspect of first class flight though, Emirates is like no other.

Which Airline Has the Most Expensive First Class?

The Residence in Etihad Airlines holds the title for most expensive first class ticket, coming in at $31,000 from New York or Abu Dahbi round trip.

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