My 747-400 Awaiting Departure in Seattle – Photo: Colin Cook
In late 2016, my girlfriend Molly and I began planning a 2017 trip to Europe, with the goal of using points and miles to fly in a premium cabin. After considerable research, we ended up flying on a British Airways 747-400 to London, and on a Virgin Atlantic 787-9 home. This first post will review our British Airways first class experience, and the second will review the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (business class) product.
One of the items on my AvGeek bucket list has been to fly international first class. I’ve had some wonderful experiences flying international business class (Air Canada 767, Lufthansa 747-8, and British Airways 777-300ER), but I’ve never had the chance for the best of the best. That all changed with this trip. I was already excited to be flying in first class, but I also unlocked another AvGeek desire: I was able to make the coveted “left turn” upon boarding the aircraft. When I have flown in a premium cabin previously, I have always boarded from the front left door. Sure, sure, there are benefits to both, but if you’re a passionate flyer, you can probably understand my excitement.
The beautiful terminal at Singapore Changi Airport – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
I recently needed to travel between Singapore and Hong Kong while on vacation. There are a lot of options for airlines and equipment for that four-hour flight. I had done the opposite route on the way there in Cathay Pacific business class on an A330. Since I’d never had the opportunity to fly Singapore Airlines (SQ), despite the rave reviews, I decided to transfer points from my Chase account to my SQ KrisFlyer account to redeem for first class. I figured the flight, while not long-haul, was long enough to get to experience the airline.
This article will focus on the ground experience at the excellent Singapore Changi Airport, which many consider to be the best airport in the world. I can see why.
- Entrance to the private check-in area
- Inside the private First Class check-in area – Photos: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
- Dedicated immigration line for First Class passengers
We arrived at the terminal via the MRT train. Given the chance again, I would have just caught a cab or an Uber, since it was nowhere as convenient and timely as, say, the Hong Kong airport express train. Also, when you arrive via car, you can be dropped off in the driveway of the private First Class check-in area. Instead, we had to wander through the terminal to find it – luckily my wife has become more patient with these types of adventures.
A6-APC landing as EY454 in Sydney, and I’m in 4A! – Photo: Bernie Proctor
The Boeing 777 just can’t compete with the Airbus A380 when it comes to luxury, but I still enjoyed my previous 777-200LR flight on Etihad. You can’t even put a shower on a commercially configured one! Good thing Etihad ordered 10 Airbus A380s and they have five in service right now. I wanted to try the most supreme of airline products currently out there — the Etihad First Class Apartment — and I did. One cannot experience something like this alone. I had my friend AirlineReporter Senior Correspondent Jacob Pfleger along for the ride.
Jacob would, of course, take a photo of his future seat at the Dubai Airshow, but he did too good a job not to use it. Mine was a lighter brown over in 4A – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
My general rule of thumb for first class flying is “if it’s overnight, and you are paying with currency, fly business class.” I looked at AUH-JFK and that was out. So too were some of Etihad’s London flights. Besides that, seven hours on an A380 is nothing. Eventually, I realized the best way to maximize my enjoyment of First Class flying was to do a paradoxically timed “daylight” flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney. Which was good, because I needed to be in Sydney anyway.
American Airlines Airbus A321T business class – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
It is no secret that true international-style first class service is quickly becoming an endangered species. Airlines like American and United are either eliminating or drastically reducing the number of three-class aircraft they operate, but a few exceptions remain. On American, lie-flat first class can still be found on the flagship Boeing 777-300ER, unrefurbished 777-200ERs, and also the subfleet of Airbus A321T’s operating the premium transcontinental routes.
Occasionally, American will operate a three-class aircraft on different and unexpected routes. When that happens, savvy passengers in the know (that’ll be you in just a few minutes) can fly business class for the price of economy, or maybe even true first class if they’re lucky enough. That’s exactly what happened to me on a flight between Boston and New York’s JFK Airport.
The American A321T at JFK – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Rather than have the aircraft sit all day (an aircraft on the ground doesn’t make any money), American occasionally schedules the A321T to operate between JFK and Boston or Dallas, and the 777-200ER between various hub cities. When I noticed one of my business trips to Boston happened to coincide with one of these turns, I immediately booked the flight.
When American operates a three-class aircraft on a non-standard route, business class is often available to anyone booked in Economy. The seats are right there on the seat map when booking, but how many people would even think about clicking on a business class seat when booked in Economy? Not many. At some point before the flight, Business Class was locked down to elite status passengers or full fare Y (economy) ticket holders, but I was in before the cut. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. If I wanted a Main Cabin Extra seat instead of my business seat, I would have had to pay extra.