Picture 85With our return to our monthly Top 10’s, this month we celebrate the launch of several new First Class cabins around the world. Have they made our Top 10 though? Interestingly, as our judges went through the offerings, it became apparent that ‘International First Class’ cabins have changed over the past few years, turning from a first class bed (something 10 years ago was only for the very exclusive) to what is now commonly a private space, usually with a suite doors to separate and provide privacy from other passengers. Technology now has reached a level where the IFE is fairly identical throughout the airlines, meaning the main differences can be found in seat comfort, service, dining and lounge options.

10. American Airlines


Shaking off their dusty old image, American Airlines have adopted a strategy with its first class offering, that aligns it slightly differently than the rest of our Top 10 here. The seats, whilst still perhaps not as sleek or polished in their finish as the contenders here, have taken the liberty of creating a ‘business friendly’ product. This ethos means seats can be aligned and moved to face one and other for a meeting, or dining together. It is this innovative thinking that was commended by a few of our judges. Currently available on select 777’s, the seat also extends to a 6’6″ bed but lacks the privacy of other carriers. The lounge offerings still fall short on international standards too, but American are taking great leaps forward and we no doubt expect to see further improvements over the coming months, hopefully working to improve the quality of service onboard too.

9. Malaysia Airlines


Malaysia Airlines launched its new first class suites last year (designed by Priestmangoode) when their A380 came into service. The A380’s feature a cabin on the lower deck of 8 suites. Each suite has a 26″ wide seat, personal Ottoman for guests, and shielded in a partial wall (with centre suites having an optional privacy screen raised or lowered) and a 23 inch widescreen TV. Here at thedesignair.net, the judges love the red leather finishes, wooden veneers and the black gloss finishes found in the suites, making for a very sophisticated product. Also, famously, the dining is excellent and service exceptional. What we don’t like (sadly) is the fact the suites are only available on the A380, and there are no plans to roll it out across the rest of the fleet.

8. Lufthansa 747 First


Lufthansa, like many legacy carriers have opted to only have first class on certain routes, and certain plane types. The 747 First class cabin which is being refreshed on their 747-400 fleet, manage to provide perhaps the biggest level of opulence available. They have stuck to a mantra that a seat is good for sitting on and a bed is good for sleeping on, they have provided each passenger with both. In a cabin (in the Upper deck) only 8 seats provide a wealth of space and privacy. Whilst no bar onboard, the 17 inch screen, (even though smaller than most) still will provide a wealth of entertainment for the long flights, and failing that, the separate 2 metre long bed will no doubt keep you pampered as you sleep away the hours. We love the idea, although feel we would constantly feel restless not utilising both seats that we had paid for! What we think could be improved is the viewing angle for the TV when in bed, as the TV is only really geared for the seat position. Let’s also not forget their Frankfurt First Class terminal, which featured in our Top 10 lounges 2012.

7. British Airways

BA First Class

British Airways launched their first class suite a couple of years ago, in a bid to win back travellers with a new cabin interior across the board, originally timed to coincide with the entry of the 777-300ER into their fleet. Now also on the A380 (but not their 787) the first class cabin is a designers dream. Plush finishes, neutral colours and automated window blinds all combine to create a thoughtful, well executed environment, that warrants the cost of the tickets. These semi-private ‘pseudo suites’ are all angled away from the aisle (apart from on the A380 centre seats) to provide a little extra privacy and a view out of the windows. The 6’6″ bed, designed Anya Hindmarch amenity kits, and great London lounges all help form what could be dubbed the “Best of British” flying experience. Whilst there has been a battle between BA and Virgin Atlantic for premium passengers to and from the UK, BA have now got a modern product that competes with Virgin, although the price point and service offering still mean there is room for improvement. We recommend booking a return in their Club World cabins, and calling up for the free one way upgrade to first class. It’s subject to terms and conditions and when it is running, but we have noticed, the offer pops up fairly often!

6. Qantas

first qantas

The airline that brought us our Top Airline Lounge 2012, Qantas, whose design is headed up by Marc Newson, have a first class product to be proud of. At 2.1m (or 2.0m on the 747 fleet) the seat is comfortable enough for almost everyone, but it’s the neutral colour palette and sense of space and serenity we love here. Having one design source for the entire airline experience has paid dividends for the airline, with colours, textures and fabrications all working in harmony, from check in to lounge to airline cabin. Some of the elements that we don’t like sadly, are based on the consistency of the cabins depending on fleet type. The 747s feel a lot more cramped, fitting 14 seats into a smaller space, and the smaller TV screens, (10″ compared to 17″ found on the A380’s) The menus onboard match those found in the lounge, designed by Neil Perry, and focus on healthy fresh ingredients, paired by an excellent wine list.

5. TAM


Here’s one new contender on the list that wouldn’t have made it last year. TAM’s interior for their new First Class cabin, is our idea of heaven. “Designed by Priestmangoode the airline looks to provide passengers in First Class with a “home away from home” experience, the four-seat cabin presents the idea of a living room, with cool grey fabrics, a couch, individual closets, a reading lamp, a dining table, cushions, a Nespresso coffee service, and a library with books, Wallpaper travel guides, and a range of magazines. Wooden tables and IFE all add to the domestic feel,” explains Thedesignair judge, Raymond Kollau. We love the look of this cabin, the fact it is so intimate also adds to it’s exclusivity. Another 6’6″ bed here offers the perfect sleeping environment for the long haul flights the 777 flies. What obviously lets it down for now at least, is the supporting package, with the launch of a new product, lounges, and service levels will obviously take a while to get up to speed.

4. Garuda Indonesia


Garuda Indonesia is another airline entering into this new cabin class this year, bucking the trend of the alleged ‘decline’ in first class travel. When we announced the cabin on Thedesignair.net, we were surprised that the carrier had managed to turn itself around into a successful and well respected international airline. Garuda’s  appealing product for international travellers is well positioned for competing on the ‘Kangaroo Route’ between the UK and Australia (although with a delayed start to the service). The mini-cabin provides 8 first class suites with 82” seat pitch and 22”seat width, which can be converted into full-flat bed with mattress. Team this with a personalised fine-dining cuisine concept with a Chef on-board, ready to present you with an array of diverse delicacies. Enjoy Indonesian regional festival degustation, Japanese Kaiseki or European ala Carte, which has been praised in countless reviews. Naturally, there is an AVOD in-flight entertainment system, displayed on a 23.5” touch screen LCD.

3. Etihad


Here’s a cabin that hasn’t changed in years, and hasn’t needed to. Like all of our top 3 First Classes, there is a true marriage of design, comfort, luxury and service. Etihad mastered this a few years ago when it re-launched the First ‘Diamond’ Class on it’s fleet. The cabin, as beautiful as it is, is also full of character, and we love the black and gold elements, that really provide the sense of luxury and opulence. The private suites (with privacy doors) are a luxurious warm ‘Poltrona Frau’ leather cocoon for your flight, and include such elements such as a perfectly flat, 6 ft 8 inch, extra wide bed with in-built massage. Your own personal chef, 23-inch, cinematic widescreen, Changing room, Personal mini-bar and wardrobe and cosy blankets, pure Dupion silk and cotton duvet, fitted sheets, full-sized pillows and loungewear. Let’s not forget the lounge either, that features a Six-Senses spa and private cigar lounge. (This has now placed Etihad in our Top 10 lists for economy, business and first classes now)

2. Cathay Pacific


Cathay Pacific have been constantly improving their products across the board, recently introducing premium economy, and improving their other classes to add extra comfort and keep their airline ahead of their competitors. Cathay’s latest First Class offering is sheer beauty. Following the spectacular refurbishment of their First Class Lounge at The Wing at Hong Kong International Airport, Designers Foster + Partners extended the sophisticated, contemporary style into the First Class cabin to create a seamless experience. The airline obviously prides itself with it’s connection to art and culture and has decorated the cabins with hand-crafted sculptural artworks created by Maria Lobo and Linda Leviton. The cabin-luxe goes further, offering more luxury amenities such as Ermenegildo Zegna amenity kits for men and Trussardi amenity bags for women – and Aesop brand skincare and toiletries. It’s the cabin finish we love, light and airy, grounded by deep red carpets, and cool calm greys and whites, perfect to enjoy the amazing food offerings and cabin service that is second to none.

1. Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines First Class

Congratulations to Singapore Airlines who continues to keep its position as a global number one carrier by re-launching its First and Business Classes this year. The new first class cabins (showcased in more detail here) create a real modern interpretation of the historical first class product. Luxury literally is en-grained into the product from seat to stitching. Super large seats (35″ wide), 24 inch AVOD screens, LED lighting, padded leather headboards and Bose headsets, the hard product is now exactly the same as the service product. Absolutely faultless. Mixing this with the lounge facilities, and cabin crew, you have the perfect recipe for the ultimate Airline. As this is the best class for the best airline out there, in theory, nothing can get better than this… at least, for this year!

Posted by:Jonny Clark

10 replies on “TheDesignAir Top 10 International First Classes Of 2013

  1. How nice to see Singapore A/L on top position and not to see Emirates and Qatar in the Top10. Big Three Middle East carriers offer ‘cheap glamour’ and meretricious gold dropping from everywhere. Most people tend not to enjoy it as it is simply to heavy. Air transportation is associated with lightness. So what people enjoy much more is a subtle elegance in design and on-board atmosphere.

  2. I would add to this list Air France, with its new understated and exceptional first-class product on the A380. Not a flight for the tacky nouveau riche, but a French classic, albeit updated for modernity.

  3. Most beautiful cabin belongs to TAM, but I think that Lufthansa and ‘daughter’ Swiss are the carriers with the most elegant, refined, sophisticated F-class hard and soft product. They have a certain sense of understated luxury: incredible attention to detail, great crew, top notch quality. It’s difficult to explain, but compared to e.g. Singapore Airlines or the Japanese airliners (JAL & ANA), it feels more personal, like they make you feel at home. I remember reading somewhere that the retrofit of the Boeing 747-400’s with this F-class had something to do with the inability to use their latest generation F-class seats (as found in the A380) in this particular plane. Lufthansa wouldn’t design a completely new elaborate F-class seat, as their 747-400’s would retire in a few years. Lots of parts from the old first seats were being reused.

    I also welcome carriers that really create something different of the space inside the plane. It’s not only the carpets and seats, but the entire cabin we’re talking about. BA is a perfect example; stunning window panels with electrical blinds, different light set-ups, attention to the wall panels and bulkheads. The first class passengers don’t have the feeling that they are inside an aircraft and it’s all about the total package (and Virgin Atlantic is another great example who has mastered this). With the introduction of the A380 and Boeing 787, it’s a pity that a lot of airliners are using some ‘generic’ seats from the airline seat manufacturers; Garuda’s new first class for example is almost identical to China Southern/Etihad/Thai/Malaysia/Asiana/Jet Airways. The only differentation are some small details and the colour scheme. Other than that, the cabin has the typical (semi)enclosed suites with a large ptv in front of you, an ottoman and white ceilings/bulkheads all around you.

    I agree with W.A. about Air France and their cabin; it doesn’t ‘scream in your face’ and looks very stylish. I’m curious how their new F-class product will look like. I’d like to add another great mention to Japan Airlines’ Skysleeper Solo, which unfortunately can only be found on two routes nowadays and probably will be replaced by their latest Sky Suites. This is such a breathtaking futuristic and organic design by Ross Lovegrove, way ahead of its time.

  4. It’s disturbing to see that your editors do not catch the error “it’s” used as a possessive. “It’s” (with an apostrophe) is a contraction for “it is.” Its (no apostrophe) is the possessive. E.g., “launched it’s (sic) new first class suites…” and “when it re-launched the First ‘Diamond’ Class on it’s (sic) fleet.” On the other hand, you nailed it correctly here, “It’s the cabin finish we love…” where it means that It is the cabin finish we love. Got it? Otherwise, I found the article interesting. For me Singapore Airline still wins, hands down. I am also eager to try TAM.

  5. Great compilation Johnny! As you’ve pointed out in a couple of cases above, a good First Class is not just the in-flight comforts, but the holistic offering – on the ground, and in the air.

    Having personally flown half of these products, I was deeply impressed by Lufthansa’s overall product – the First Class Lounge, the extra bed, even the separate urinal in the toilet is well thought out. SIA’s product is well ahead of most competition, and Etihad does a good job with their on-the-ground spa and massages to go along with the in-flight product.

    Though, the one that impressed me the most was actually Emirates – and that’s surprisingly missing from your Top 10. In-flight, you have full suites and a shower/spa, in addition to a bar and a personal butler. On the ground, you get Timeless Spa massage sessions (the Balinese one is especially good!), shoe shine, five dedicated waiters in the fine dining restaurant and even a cigar bar! To say I was overwhelmed, is an understatement.

    Of course, no one has the floating rubber-ducky in their bath tub, like Lufthansa does, but that’s what makes First Class special, isn’t it? 🙂

  6. Swiss and Air France should be on this list for sure. I am not sure if Etihad, Garuda and AA should be there. TAM looks excellent. What a pity they leave Star for oneworld. I will miss flying them. I am just wondering if TAM’s F Class cabin is not too small and claustrophobic and lacks enough ‘fresh air’.

    One more issue. Why so many window seats miss window. I like to seat near the wall as I enjoy looking out of the window, but that is rather impossible aboard most of the airlines from Top10 list. Also if we consider Etihad, Malaysia, Garuda and Singapore passengers seated in the middle seats have no chance to see sky as the closed door of window ‘cabins’ do not allow it.

    Do agree with Douglas thats Europeans (LH, AF, LX, BA) have better soft product than the rest. Most non-Europeans are just ok in hard product, but the service is rather not very personal and no human touch.

    Do agree with Giorgio that Middle East carriers F class service is nothing special. To much ‘heavy’ gold.

  7. Why is AA on this list given the numerous shortcomings, while other great carriers like Qatar and Korean are omitted? The author points outs that “the seats, whilst still perhaps not as sleek or polished in their finish as the contenders here…the seat also extends to a 6’6″ bed but lacks the privacy of other carriers.” “the lounge offerings still fall short on international standards too.” Doesn’t sound like a top first class product to me.

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