Picture 85TheDesignAir is proud to launch our Top 10 lists for 2016 starting with our Top 10 International First Classes. Competition this year is tough, with a lot of carriers around the world investing into the front of the plane. TheDesignAir has adopted a new judging matrix for 2016, which includes a variety of criteria including cabin design, seat design, service, amenities, space, privacy, connectivity, entertainment, chauffeur drive service and our acknowledgement to carriers who are going ‘above and beyond’ from an aesthetic and design perspective. Now for the top 10…

10. Garuda Indonesia [new entry]


TheDesignAir Rating 81%
Garuda Indonesia has entered our list this year due to the roll out of their new 777-300ER first class cabins. The five-star airline offers an excellent hard product featuring a well-designed intimate cabin with eight perfectly proportioned private suites. The sliding doors, luxurious finishes, large IFE screens as well as comfortable bedding makes for a sky-high sanctuary, especially on their long-haul European routes. But this hard product mixed with the excellent soft product, amenities, fine champagnes and excellent menus mean this carrier is well worth a trip.

8. [joint] Asiana [new entry]


TheDesignAir Rating 83%
Asiana has an element of quiet sophistication to their first class offering, and their A380 first class product is well deservedly on our list. With giant 32″ TV screens, excellent IFE offerings and suites with doors for added privacy, the seats don’t disappoint, with only the slightly ‘off’ colour scheme of the soft furnishings raising any negative comment from us. The carrier naturally provides the level of service, food and beverages a passenger should expect from an Asian carrier and the added benefit of chauffeur service across the network creates an added level of luxury.

8. [joint] British Airways

British Airways 787-9 First (screen view)

TheDesignAir Rating 83%
British Airways new First cabins found on the 787-9 Dreamliners are the best designed cabin to be launched with the carrier. The mix of luxurious detailing akin to a British sportscar, lavish lighting, large comfortable seat that turns into an expansive bed and giant fixed TV screen means British Airways have listened to passenger feedback and now perfected their product to bring it in line with the very best around the world. With a service level to match the hard product and amenities such as pyjamas and slippers on offer, the carrier’s intimate cabin feels more like a flying luxury hotel than an aircraft cabin.

7. Cathay Pacific

The refreshed First Class suites and new features enhance the overall experience for premium passengers

TheDesignAir Rating 84%
While it is easy for us to wax lyrical about Cathay Pacific‘s new First Class Pier lounge launched last year in Hong Kong and why that alone would deserve a place on our top 10 list; the fact the carrier has one of the largest seats, best service and most luxurious amenities flying the globe also warrants its place. Designed by Foster and Partners, the cool calm luxurious tones of the seats are offset by rich deep coloured carpets, wooden veneer and dark grey finishes. The cabins also feature individual artworks, made of copper and steel created by Maria Lobo and Linda Leviton.

6. ANA [new entry]


TheDesignAir Rating 85%
ANA have been continually updating their product to offer a truly modern Japanese product. The minimal design aesthetic puts form and function at a happy balance, and the ANA first class square suite includes a wardrobe, ample storage, large comfortable chair that reclines into a fully flat bed featuring a separate mattress and pyjamas. Also on offer is a 23″ wide screen, large lacquered table, fine dining including some of the most beautiful Japanese airline cuisine and Samsonite amenity kits. It is no surprise that ANA is one of the leading airlines in the world.

5. Qatar Airways


TheDesignAir Rating 87%
Qatar Airways may now only have a first class product on their A380 but the A380 flagship features super-huge seats and quality finishes along with in-aircraft amenities such as the walk-up bar. A world-class lounge, fine dining, luxury amenities and expansive inflight entertainment ensure that Qatar is still one of the best all-round First Class experiences in the skies. We applaud the deep color palette and designer touches employed on these aircraft although we wish the seats would offer a little more privacy.

4. Emirates

Private Suites for Emirates First Class A380

TheDesignAir Rating 89%
Arguably the most common of all the first class cabins, due to the sheer number of Emirates suites flying international routes all over the world, these cabins are tried and tested and relatively well priced. While the design isn’t as reserved as we would usually like to see, it can only be described as opulent, and that is what a passenger would expect to see from a first class experience. Suites with sliding doors and the most expansive IFE libraries in the sky, onboard showers even a walk up bar with free flowing champagne means that Emirates offers everything a first class passenger could need.

3. Air France


TheDesignAir Rating 90%
Air France‘s latest first class cabin has climbed up the ranks this year due to their fantastic new product, which has come to life with their latest cabin refresh. Cool, calm muted colours with splashes of red and large draped curtains makes La Premiere the epitome of French style and sophistication. We love the cabin designed by Priestmangoode with its touches of Jetset glamour that airlines around the globe are trying to reproduce again. Fine champagne, caviar, excellent wine cellar and the very best french cuisine lift the hard product to a very enviable 3rd place this year.

2. Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines First Class

TheDesignAir Rating 92%
Coming in second place for the second time in a row, Singapore Airlines first class product is almost total perfection. Designed in association with BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the attention to detail on the hard product is superb, and shows great research into the seating habits of travelers in such products. The 777’s truly luxurious cabin with exceptional detailing and fabrication and new seats match the lavish experience found on the carrier’s also phenomenal A380 suites. Mix in the unparralleled excellence of Singapore Airlines’ service & product and the inflight experience is faultless. If the carrier also adopts a chauffeur experience the rating would climb higher.

1. Etihad Airways


TheDesignAir Rating 100%
Etihad has taken the top spot for the second year running for good reason. Whether travelling on the A380 or 787, the carrier has reimagined the first class experience. Onboard the aircraft from galleys to the bar, everything has been redesigned to give the carrier an appearance closer to a luxury hotel instead of an airliner.


We’ve applauded the carrier for the past couple of years and for good reason. Etihad has matched a restrained and luxurious cabin interior with customer service levels that it is famous for. Etihad have received a faultless 100% score because hard product, showers, onboard bar, amenities, chauffeur service, lounges, food and drink, network and service all work in perfect harmony to create a designer haven that is without comparison. With the new First Class lounge scheduled to open early this year, the passenger experience is only going to get better.


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Posted by:Jonny Clark

4 replies on “TheDesignAir’s Top 10 International First Classes 2016

  1. Every now and then there are these lists that pop up and whenever I go through them I roll my eyes because they are normally just ridiculous and completely wrong. But this list is excellent. I ran it past another frequent flyer and he totally agreed too. Well done! Seriously, spot on.

  2. Any real frequent flyer can’t take your seriously when you have British Airways in the top 10. I mean Qantas, JAL, Lufthansa are both not even in the top 10. How is that possible.

  3. Agree with Joe: seems like your comments may be unbalanced vs product that you have flown. British, while decent, is a glorified C class experience. BA loses overall (lounge, seat, catering and experience) vs LH, and that just to stay in Europe. JL product on ground is hardly noticeable but again hard and soft product onboard are way ahead of BA. Not to mention the consistently falutless service vs BA lottery. Thai F is more consistent and somewhat more luxurious than BA ( golf cart transport in terminal? check!)

  4. It is ridicolous that SWISS or Lufthansa First Classes are not present in the list. Their ground services (limo transfer to the airplane), lounges (LH First Class Terminal, new LX FC Lounge in Zurich), seats, service and above all catering & wine offers outperform at least half of the mentioned winners, especially BA. Shame!

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