Picture 85They’re back! TheDesignAir has partnered with our strategic print partner Airways magazine to bring you an updated and regular Top 10 lists for 2015. This year starting with our Top 10 International First Classes 2015. As well as appearing online, they will appear in print in every monthly issue of Airways magazine, available around the world. There have been some game-changing entries to the market last year, as one of the most innovative years ever in regards to passenger experience. Our team of judges have reviewed the very best products and whittled down their ‘Top 10’ to experience in 2015 and rate them out of 100. As always, we look at the entire package when judging each airline, but we place a heavier weighting on aesthetic and design – after all, that is our forté here at TheDesignAir. One thing is for sure as we enter 2015. The passenger experience at the front of the plane, has never been better.

10. Swiss [New Entry]


71A decade ago, Swiss was one of the best “designer” airlines, in part due to the input of designer Tyler Brule, who took to the airline to create a wallpaper-esque skew to the aviation experience. This was one of the first carriers to embrace texture, color, tone and fabrication to create a unique First Class experience. Even now, its First Class provides one of the most comfortable and well-designed cabins, although its slightly older, more open style doesn’t really compare with the more recent First Class “suites.”

9. JAL [New Entry]


72This new entry is due to the product developments continuing with the carrier, which is constantly improving its First Class offering. JAL’s best products are found on its 777s. The fairly utilitarian cube-like suite may not have the luxurious and soft finishes found in its competitors, but the overtly Japanese style is what we really like about the First Class cabin. It is filled with gadgets and technology, but the opulent comfort expected of First Class still remains. JAL really has turned itself around to become one of the best Asian carriers.

8. Qantas [-2]


76The airline that brought us our Top Airline Lounge 2012, Qantas, whose design was headed up by Marc Newson before his defecting to Apple, has a First Class product to be proud of. We love the natural color palette and the sense of space and serenity. Having one design source for its entire experience has paid dividends for the airline, with colors, textures and fabrications all working in harmony, from check-in to lounge to airline cabin. The A380s’ First Class cabins are the best in the fleet, offering much more space and larger TV screens, and we can’t forget to mention the award winning First Class lounge, which is out of this world.

7. Qatar Airways [New Entry]


80Qatar Airways beat Etihad to the post with its new A380 First Class product and, while it is excessively luxurious, it does not feature the privacy or innovation of its competitor, which places the carrier lower on this list. That said, the super-huge seats and quality finishes, along with the A380 bar, make the First Class one of the best out there and, mixed with excellent dining options along with ground services, ensure that Qatar is still one of the best all-round First Class experiences in the skies. We love the deep color palette and designer touches employed on these (slightly delayed) aircraft.

6. Emirates [New Entry]


81Appearing on our list for the first time—due to the amount of A380 First Class suites now available on Emirates’ network, which has increased its consistency of product—the airline was one of the first carriers to offer privacy sliding doors and more luxurious amenities than their competitors. While there is a wealth of walnut trim and polished gold finishes, the suites have a tongue-in-cheek bling feel that we now embrace when traveling with Emirates. After all, we all need a bit of over-the-top luxury in our lives from time to time.

5. Air France [New Entry]


84Air France launched its brand-new 777 First Class cabins this year — called “Designer Suites” — which stay true to their name. With its softer touches, such as drape curtains for privacy and coloring that suits the super-Chic Parisian set, this cabin is one of the most feminine we have seen.

There is a touch of “living room” in it, making it definitely less airplane, more private residence. Another example of PriestmanGoode’s excellent cabin design, it excels above their previous projects, offering something truly unique and refined in appearance.

4. British Airways [+3]


85Now that British Airways has rolled out its A380s, the new, larger First Class cabin is a designer’s dream. Plush finishes, neutral colors and automated window blinds all combine to create a thoughtful, well-executed environment that warrants the cost of the tickets.

These semiprivate “pseudo suites” are all angled away from the aisle (apart from on the A380 center seats) to provide a little extra privacy and a view out of the windows. Next year will also be interesting, with the announcement of new First Class suites for their 787 aircraft.

3. Cathay Pacific [-1]


89Cathay’s latest First Class offering is sheer beauty. Following the spectacular refurbishment of its 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 design experience. The airline obviously prides itself with its connection to art and culture and has decorated the cabins with hand-crafted sculptural artworks created by Maria Lobo and Linda Leviton.

It’s the cabin finish we love, light and airy, grounded by deep red carpets, and cool, calm grays and whites, perfect for enjoying the amazing food offerings and a cabin service that is second to none.

2. Singapore Airlines [-1]


94Designed in association with BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the attention to detail here is superb, and shows great research into the seating habits of travelers in such products. This is a truly luxurious cabin with exceptional detailing and fabrication. Mix in the excellence of Singapore Airlines’ service and product, and there is all the reason for this being the top of our picks last time.

1. Etihad [+2]


98Etihad has taken the top spot this year, moving up two places from its last appearance in the list, and for good reason. In case you have been living under a rock for the last 12 months, Etihad has revealed and launched its award-winning A380 and 787 interiors, which have revolutionized modern-day air travel. The aircraft, from top to tail, have been treated to a designer makeover, rebuilding them from the ground up with revolutionary new design concepts.


At TheDesignAir, it was impossible to ignore this “game changer” and nowhere has the change been more apparent than in the First Class “Apartments” on the A380. Situated on the top deck – with an aviation-first: single aisle on a widebody – the suites have been turned 90 degrees to offer full-length beds, and space that is unparalleled in the skies. The new designs represent the height of luxury, including: chilled mini-bars; fold-down, full-size beds; large, comfortable recliner chairs; swivel TVs; and vanity mirrors to make sure you arrive looking like a million dollars.

As well as The Residence (a private 3-room suite for two people), the A380 also boasts a warm and inviting lounge, separate shower areas, and all the service and quality in product we have come to expect of this relatively young carrier.


Six years in the making, this whole Etihad product has really been carefully considered, and the time and money spent developing this hotel-in-the-sky has been worth it. Every element, even down to the dappled lighting, has been created specifically for Etihad, making it one of the most customized Airbus types ever conceived. While still relatively new to service (commencing late December 2014), the product has been one of the most sought-after airline tickets.

Posted by:Jonny Clark

8 replies on “TheDesignAir’s Top 10 International First Classes 2015

  1. Nice review! However you should have included GARUDA INDONESIA’s First Class which has recently launched last year on its brand new Boeing 777-300ER and has caught people’s attention. A true Indonesian hospitality.

  2. Agreed. The Garuda First Class has taken a major leap forward with their new long haul product.

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