First Class Road Test
First class is the ultimate way to fly and many of the major airlines have upgraded their cabins and service in order to stay competitive. So who delivers the best that elitist travel has to offer? We tested three of the most renowned – Qantas, Singapore and Etihad – to compare their versions of silver service in the sky.
Qantas First Class offers you five-star service from the second you leave your doorstep until you arrive at your final destination. As part of the new Chauffer Drive service (when travelling to London, Los Angeles, Dallas or Dubai), a luxury vehicle will transfer you from your home to the airport – and on arrival, to your hotel. The lounges in Sydney and Melbourne also include spa treatments and a great restaurant.
On the plane, you are shown to your private suite – which includes a full-sized flat bed that transforms into your seat and dining configuration. The space is large enough so you can dine with your partner or recline in comfort.
We found the Neil Perry Rockpool menu and wine selection excellent and the service warm and friendly. Our flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles was extremely pleasant and memorable.
On the down-side however, if you are travelling with a partner, the experience can be a little lonely and isolated as the suites are arranged in a herringbone fashion for ultimate privacy. The amenities are just ok – and the pyjamas provided are not flattering and far too warm for air travel.
While there is no chauffeur service on offer and the lounges in Melbourne do not hold a candle to Qantas, Singapore Airlines makes up for these shortfalls once you’re in the sky. We travelled on the A380 from Melbourne to Singapore and experienced the new first class suite.
The standout feature is a stand-alone bed! An actual bed that is not simply a converted version of your seat. The cabins include their own doors and windows so you can have as much privacy as you desire – and if you are travelling with a partner you can request middle seats so you can enjoy the experience together.
The Singapore service is legendary and continues to be the most attentive and friendliest we’ve experienced in the sky. Both the amenities and pyjamas are luxurious and generous – certainly the quality and brands you expect in first class.
Coming home, you can experience the Changi Airport first-class lounge, which includes a four-star restaurant (we had mouth-watering lobster), an excellent wine list (a must) and spa.
The only criticism is that no flight announcements are made in the lounge – so engrossed in your surroundings, you may well miss your flight!
Diamond First Class includes a door-to-door chauffer service in 25 cities worldwide. The hero lounge is located in Abu Dhabi and includes a restaurant and spa. In Australia, Etihad shares lounges with Air New Zealand whose lounges while pleasant, are certainly not first class quality.
Once on-board, the suites do not seem as spacious as Qantas. Like Singapore, Etihad offers a completely flat bed. For those travelling with a partner, the central seats are connected allowing you to enjoy the experience together. The pyjamas are the best in the air (you can see this is a major draw card for us) and amenities very good, although not as extensive as Singapore’s. However, on our 11pm night flight from Australia to Abu Dhabi, we experienced some small problems. We received drinks and nibbles soon after departure, and then it was time to close the doors of the suite and sleep. While you can snack at any time from the extensive menu and excellent wine list, the formal service did not resume until 20 minutes before arrival time – which left no time for breakfast, so you may arrive hungry.
Our tip is to be very clear about what you want during the flight and put your requests in early. We did note our experience with Etihad, but have received no reply to date.
So depending on what you’re after, each of the airlines has its pros and cons. If alone-time is important, then Qantas is a comfortable experience with some great extra services. On the other hand, if you want to stay close to your other-half, then Etihad offers an amazing on-board experience, just be sure to plan your meals before you fly. For us however, Singapore Airlines is the epitome of luxury and nothing can beat the Singapore service.
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