It’s one of those things we only dream about… flying first class. I’ve flown business before, with a free miles upgrade, but first was something that was probably never going to transpire. Yet when I flew to Australia recently, that’s exactly what happened.
We’d initially planned for business class. My back would not have survived 24 hours of economy, so booking something that allowed a fully reclinable seat was an imperative for me to even consider the journey.
The jump in price from economy to business is monstrous… the jump to first is still hard to swallow but comparatively not as hard. So we figured, with the extra benefits of first, why not take the leap. And if you’re going to do it, why not do it properly? So with some trepidation about my back, but a little spring in my step, I boarded an Emirates A380 for my 24 hours of luxury. Was it worth it, you ask? Well read on!
Meals are a-la-carte
Choose what you want to eat… when you want to eat it. At the beginning of each flight I received the menu for the duration… which for a long flight can include breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Given that I sadly could not partake in the extensive cocktail or wine list, I went to town on the food. Bring on the canapés, then the appetisers, then a main and dessert. And yes, I’ll have a virgin mojito to wash it all down. And some warm nuts please. I stuffed myself so full on the first leg, that all I could manage at the beginning of the second was pudding and a cheese platter before putting myself to bed.
Regardless of if it’s technically breakfast time, if you feel like a steak you can have that… cooked exactly to your liking. On the way back I enjoyed the Kerala spiced prawn curry for dinner, and for dessert I took the pancakes from the breakfast menu. Bliss! Overeating on a plane is fairly common (purely due to the fact that they feed you so often), and I certainly did, but I only ever ate what I wanted. And when I was just a little peckish, I had the option to simply order a small salad or appetiser.
The second advantage of eating a-la-carte in Covid times is that people order at different times. They say that contracting Covid on a plane happens most often when everyone takes off their masks to eat at the same time. In first class, this risk is considerably lower.
Fewer people in the cabin
Compared to a possible 76 seats in business class on the A380, I counted only 14 in first, which was only full on one of the four legs. Fewer people in the cabin means less noise, distraction and importantly, minimised Covid transmission. Not only did I not want to impact my holiday by contracting it, but being pregnant meant I was being extra cautious.
You get your own space
The seats in first class are designated as private suites – they have a little more space and importantly, a door that closes. With the press of a button you can shut yourself off from the rest of the flight. This private space comes with a fully reclinable bed, drinks and snacks on hand when you need them and a giant TV screen to pass the time. You can hide away while you eat and sleep and recline in complete privacy!
There’s a shower
What? You ask. But it’s true. In first class on the A380 you can shower during the flight. I had to stifle a laugh when I was asked by the sweet cabin attendant… “Would you like to shower with us today?”
And I must admit I was tempted, purely for the experience, but at the same time having a stopover with lounge access means it wasn’t really necessary. And I couldn’t help picture myself wet and nude during a bout of sudden turbulence… not pretty. But I can see that if you had a long flight with no stopover, that the option of a shower would be a definite plus.
Having flown business once before, I was familiar with the whole skipping the boarding cue and being given preferential treatment… however first was a whole level. You only have to wave that ticket with its FIRST inscription and the smiles broaden, and you’re being quickly waved around groups of frustrated families and bored suits. Once on the plane you can do all those things you can’t do in economy – have a drink and snack right away, use the bathroom, or just wander around instead of being forced to sit and stay. Then there are the pyjamas. Hell yes I want pyjamas. And a bag a fancy toiletries. I had to keep reminding myself that it was ok to press the button to ask for an attendant when I wanted something… and yes they will be there in 30 seconds or less.
My first flight was delayed by 2.5 hours… which is considerable when you only have a three hour or so stop over, so I was a bit panicky about potentially missing my second flight. But the flight attendant put me at ease. No worries, he told me, they know that you specifically are on this flight. It is going to be fine. And sure enough, there was a lovely attendant waiting just off the plane, holding up a sign with my name on it, ready to take me to my next flight, in time and with no stress.
Having lounge access is one of the best things when you’re doing a long haul flight. Even when we fly economy we have tend to purchase lounge access – just having somewhere quiet to sit, to shower and maybe a quick nap after a long flight is well worth the cost. Of course with first you don’t have to pay any extra. Due to Covid, unfortunately some of the lounges were closed, so I didn’t get to enjoy the full experience. And in Dubai I would have had to change terminals to get to the big lounge with the free massages, but still, walking into that First Class signed lounge felt a bit like being a celebrity.
You can pack really light
Unlike economy, where you need to make sure you have everything with you, in first it’s pretty much all supplied. I didn’t actually need that extra change of clothes I usually take because I changed into the supplied pyjamas on the flight (but spare undies is always nice). I didn’t need moisturiser or lip balm or a hair brush cause that stuff is all given to you, and you know you’re going to get a decent eye mask. You don’t need to throw in an extra scarf or baggy jumper because you can always get an extra pillow/blanket if you get cold. I took way too much on the flight over, and packed really light on the way back. Because all of that extra stuff you can just check in… all 50kg of it… and yep… I managed to make the most of it!
Upon arrival, you still get a last little bit of advantage. You can skip queues if you’re not in your home country, and generally your bags come out first. In Australia I was first to the baggage carousel, but a technical delay meant a 1.5 hour wait, and by the time the belt started up I’d retreated to the safety of the back of the room. Let all those impatient people go first. My ticket also came with a free airport transfer, so no one had to bear the indignity of picking me up at the airport at midnight (or 2am which was the actual time I left due to the baggage delay).
Back in Vienna, not only did I not have to line up for passport control, but 3 of my 4 bags came out first (the fourth only a few bags later), and I gleefully stacked them up and got on my way.
So was it worth it?
For the average person who can handle an economy flight I would say absolutely not. The cost is exorbitant and it doesn’t change the fact that you are still stuck in a tin can for 24 hours. But for me, pregnant and needing additional help with bags at times, needing a fully reclining seat and extra room due to back pain, and wanting to mitigate the Covid risk, it was absolutely worth it. Will I do it again? Well, let’s see what the future brings!