Traveling first-class is a luxury occasional experience for many passengers although it is more commonplace for some elite few. Many perks abound including more comfortable seating, personalized cabin service, and a potentially wider array of entertainment and food and beverage options.
Seats in the first-class cabin of an airplane are typically wider than those throughout the rest of the aircraft. They also have a larger seat pitch which makes for a more comfortable travel experience even for someone taller.
In general terms, seats on first-class international flights are usually 19–35 inches wide while those on domestic flights are between 18–22 inches in width. In comparison, standard economy class seats are 17 to 18.25 inches wide.
The Evolution of Different Seat Classes
Airlines first started to differentiate their classes of service in the 1950s with Delta Airlines among the pioneers to present two separate cabins on the same flight. Previously, first-class and economy class were two different flights altogether.
At the time, airlines were heavily subsidized so there was little or no need for them to, by themselves, turn a profit. Seats were larger and more comfortable and there was no correlation between passenger demand and destination routes.
Over time and with the introduction of deregulation, it was incumbent on airlines to devise ways to get more passengers on their flights. Soon, seats became smaller and the number of seats available to be sold increased.
The “hub-and-spoke routing” system now meant that airline routes were determined by passenger demand and profits were made by the number of seats sold.
Airlines have since evolved from offering merely a two-class service to multiple options to suit passenger demand. Choices range from economy, extra legroom economy, recliner class all the way up to business class and first class.
The sale of premium seating became necessary in order for airlines to be able to offer economy class seating at a discount for the more frugal traveler.
How Do Airlines Categorize Their Seating?
Comfort plus, main cabin, premium economy, economy plus, business class, first-class – whatever the names – airlines typically categorize their seating into four segments. These are first-class, business class, premium economy, and economy.
A select few airlines provide additional options such as a three-room suite – to simulate the private jet experience – or “cuddle class” for couples, honeymooners or families with small children.
Low-cost carriers are the exception to the rule somewhat, as they sometimes have only one class of fares or seating. These airlines are “no-frills” and are usually short-haul flights so separating cabins is not feasible due to the design of the aircraft.
The class of seating or cabin matches the price per ticket with the level of comfort, space, or amenities afforded to the traveler.
First-class passengers, therefore, enjoy the highest level of comfort offered by the airline and passengers typically pay a premium for this option. Business-class is a close second in terms of comfort, offering a higher quality of seats, and is the preferred option for the business traveler.
Premium economy is becoming more and more popular for its wider seats and more legroom; this is a slight step-up from standard economy. The increase in popularity might be attributed to airlines’ continued efforts to lessen the space available in economy seating, driving passengers to a more comfortable choice with premium economy.
What Are the Benefits of Flying First-Class?
Elite passengers can avail themselves of quite a few perks associated with flying first-class beginning at check-in, all the way through to disembarking.
Dedicated check-in desks are allocated to first-class travelers who opt to check-in at the airport, and with their generous baggage allowance, these premium passengers have their bags priority checked. This means that when they deplane, their luggage will be offloaded first.
Prior to boarding, first-class passengers may take advantage of airlines’ first-class lounges where sumptuous meals are provided free of cost; they can take a shower between flights, and even enjoy some wind-down time away from the busy hustle and bustle of the general airport.
First-class passengers are the first to board and enjoy a smaller, more private cabin with larger and more comfortable seats, offering varying positions for relaxing onboard. These seats are also typically equipped with individual power outlets in order to charge personal devices in flight.
In addition to enjoying more personalized service from a dedicated cabin crew, a bathroom is exclusively allocated to this cabin, typically intimating minimal waiting times to use the facilities.
Some airlines go as far as to differentiate their deluxe offering by advertising in-flight shower access and meals prepared by Michelin-starred chefs thereby allowing passengers to delight in more sophisticated fare in terms of meals and beverages. In many cases, champagne is served as an aperitif (airline and route dependent), and select wines with dinner.
Other airlines propose an enviable first-class for their long haul routes wherein passengers benefit from a quasi at-home experience with lie-flat beds. Passengers who have the wherewithal jump at the chance to be pampered while they are airborne.
As previously mentioned, at the end of the flight, first-class passengers’ bags are usually offloaded first so that they can be on their way to their destination shortly after landing.
Is It Worth The Hefty Pricetag?
Depending on the type of aircraft and operating airline, one can choose from a wide array of cabin classes to suit one’s pocket and comfort level.
First-class seating offers a much more luxurious travel experience for passengers who have the means to pay a premium or those who have sufficient loyalty points for an upgrade.
Having a more private, quiet cabin and being separated from masses of other road-weary travelers, seems to be worth the almost 70% extra cost for as much as 51% more space on some airlines.
Amenities such as pajamas, brand named toiletries, top-shelf champagne, and in some cases, a private chef, make for a truly opulent exploit.
More practically, occasionally travel plans do change, and having a first-class ticket could be the difference in receiving a full refund on your flight ticket or losing your hard-earned cash altogether. This flexibility makes rebooking or changing your flight much more seamless than in the economy experience just in case you don’t have travel insurance.
Access to the first class lounge is a welcome respite after a long flight or between flights with long layovers.
This can offer home-away-from-home comforts, alleviating many of the stresses associated with traveling and potentially presenting a highly enjoyable experience.