Browsing Tag: First Class

My Ride to LAX - A Qantas A380 named after Sir Reginald Duigan - Photo: Mal Muir -

My Ride to LAX – A Qantas A380 named after Sir Reginald Duigan – Photo: Mal Muir –


After leaving the Qantas Lounge, I headed back downstairs into the terminal in Melbourne and boarded directly through the lower airbridge to the Airbus A380 heading to Los Angeles. It was hard for me to realize that this was really happening.  2.5 years of waiting and the moment was here; flying in first class on a Qantas A380.

I was greeted at door 2L and then turned left.  Left into happiness, left into exclusivity, left into REAL First Class.  Qantas has its First Class Suites on the lower deck of the A380 unlike Emirates, Lufthansa or Thai Airways which all have them on the upper deck.

Flying Qantas First Class - Photo: Mal Muir |

Flying Qantas First Class – Photo: Mal Muir |

I was beginning my day off the way any premium cabin passenger should; spending time in the lounge prior to my flight.  But this wasn’t just any lounge and this wasn’t just any flight.  For two and a half years I had dreamed and worked towards this day.  I had been earning Qantas points purely for this reason:  First Class flight on a Qantas Airbus A380.

Arriving at Melbourne Airport I was dropped off in front of the dedicated First Class check-in area, which can be easily missed if you don’t know where to look.  Thankfully my driver did know as the check in was hiding behind a line of trees.  I was a little too early to check in for my flight, but was able to sit down in the lobby area (which looks almost identical to the First Class lounge).

Virgin America, Breanna Jewel, sits at LAX after arriving.

Virgin America, Breanna Jewel, sits at LAX after arriving.


Airline: Virgin America
Aircraft: Airbus A320 (named Breanna Jewel)
Departed:  Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
Arrived: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Stops: None
Class: First Class
Seat: 1A
Length: 2.75hrs

Cheers: Best domestic first class product, hands down.
Jeers: Please wash your windows.
Bottom Line: You get what you pay for and you shouldn’t feel bad paying for this.

Virgin America's first class seats are spacious and colorful.

Virgin America’s first class seats are spacious and colorful.


It has been a while since I have done a review on Virgin America and when I recently flew from SEA to LAX for #Dorkfest, I decided it was time for another review.  I have flown Virgin America quite a few times, but always at the back of the (air) bus. I was hoping to review their premium product; First Class and luckily I made it work out. (Note: I paid for an economy ticket and was upgraded one-way by the airline to do the review).

Having a premium ticket gave me access to use the TSA priority line at SEA. My flight was leaving at 7:10am on a Saturday, so the priority line only saved me about a minute.

After getting through security with a first class ticket, do not expect lounge access. There is no lounge for Virgin America passengers in Seattle and lounges in New York, San Fransisco and Washington DC will cost you from $35-$75 to enter, even with a full fare first class ticket.

Have to love the Starbucks coffee sitting on the tray table in the Virgin America flight deck.

Have to love the Starbucks coffee sitting on the tray table in the Virgin America flight deck.

I was running a bit late and missed the first class priority boarding period. When doing a review, I prefer to board as soon as possible (or get pre-boarding access), but luckily the front cabin was still empty when I entered the A320.

It never gets old boarding a Virgin America flight. Where most other airlines welcome you with white lighting (snoozers), Virgin America gives you a pink and purple feast for the eyes.

Hunting down my seat, 1A, was not too difficult. After taking some photos and settling down I watched as the front flight attendant, Justin, was interacting with the kids boarding the plane. One was dressed as a superhero (seriously rad) and he was invited into the flight deck, but wasn’t having it (even super heroes have bad days I guess).

Every other child that boarded was given a similar invite, which most agreed. Well heck… I finally asked if adult-kids can go see the flight deck as well and I was more than welcome to do so. I have found that Virgin America is pretty welcoming to pre-taxi flight deck visits, which many other airlines are reluctant or just do not allow it.

After the kid in me got to check out the front of the plane, I was back to enjoying my pre-flight drink (coffee) and see what my seat has to offer.

If you love purple, you will love Virgin America first class.

If you love purple, you will love Virgin America first class. I had to take pretty photos inside the cabin, since taking photos of the outside weren’t happening.

The safety video, which features Richard Branson’s voice, has been playing for a while now, but I haven’t quite gotten sick of it yet. However, I wasn’t able to watch it on this leg of the flight. Those in first class can hear the video, but a flight attendant shows the safety features, since the TVs remain in the armrest.

My biggest problem with the entire flight were the windows being filthy. Not a huge deal for your average traveler, but one that needs (okay, maybe wants, but it feels like a need most times) to take photos out the window. The pain became much worse when our flight flew right by Mount Rainier and out of about 30 photos taken, none of them turned out remotely decent. At least there were great things to distract me inside the aircraft.

No matter what cabin you fly in, passengers get access to free satellite TV, games, ability to order food from the screen and some of the other things that make RED awesome. The bonus of being up front is all the on-demand tv and movies are included in the price of the ticket.

Probably the best banana bread I have had. How did they keep it so moist?

Probably the best banana bread I have had. How did they keep it so moist?

Talking about free; you also get free drinks and food. And we aren’t talking about a meal in a box food here, we are talking real food — the best I have had domestically.

For breakfast, I decided on the steel-cut oats (not sure what that means) and American breakfast: “Chilled steel-cuts oats tossed with oranges, apples, maple, walnuts, dried cranberries  cherries, currants, and creamy yogurt, topped with multigrain granola, raspberries, and blackberries. Served along cage-free scrambled eggs finished with chives and cream cheese, accompanied by cheddar hash browns, apple and chicken sausage, roasted tomato, grilled green onion and mini French toast filled with vanilla and orange cream.” Dang, that is impressive — remember this is on a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles.

They even had Glenlivet 12 year old scotch, which is rare to even find on an international business class flight. Only if it was later in the day, I would have enjoyed it, but some OJ and coffee sufficed.

It is hard to remember this is a domestic product. Sure, the seats do not fold flat, but they get quite comfy.

It is hard to remember this is a domestic product. Sure, the seats do not fold flat, but they get quite comfy.

If you want to guarantee a seat up in the front, make sure you purchase your first class ticket well in advance. If you are willing to take the risk, you have the ability to grab an upgrade for pretty cheap.

Elevate Gold Members are eligible to purchase First Class upgrades for themselves and a travel companion from 24 hours before departure. Elevate Silver Members are eligible to purchase First Class upgrades for themselves and a travel companion from 12 hours before departure.  All other Elevate Members and other guests are able to purchase upgrades to First Class from 6 hours before departure. For a short-haul flight (like SEA-LAX) you can get a economy to first class upgrade for $79 each way. That goes up to $139 for medium haul and all the way up to $299 for long haul.

I have had no problem stating that I feel Virgin America has the best domestic economy product and I am happy to say the same about their First Class product. I am not one that has a ton of money to throw around, but I would feel okay spending the extra money for this product.

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At a time of “Occupying Wall Street,” type of protests seen around the world, it is interesting timing to take a look how airlines are creating a larger difference between low class (economy), upper class (first/business class) and middle class (economy plus).

Many American airlines have been suffering since 9/11, but have more recently started making profit again. Others have also been distracted with mergers (America West & US Airways, Delta & Northwest and still United & Continental), which has left many premium products (especially domestic ones) aging. Recently, airlines have started putting money into their premium products, while cutting options on economy, but why? I think there are a few reasons:

Singapore Airlines offers these first class suites on their Airbus A380's. They can cost over $20,000.00 roundtrip.

Singapore Airlines offers these suites on their Airbus A380's. They can cost over $20,000.00 round trip.

* Premium products, especially internationally, are very profitable
Scott Mayerowitz writing for the AP points out that, “first-class and business-class passengers make up only 8 percent of international travelers but account for 27 percent of revenue.” Why wouldn’t an airline go for where the money is at? At the end of the day, airlines are a business and they are meant to make profit. Now that they have money to make investments into products, does it not make sense to give passengers what they want? The wealthy want a better product and most of the non-wealthy want cheaper tickets.

* Legacy carriers need to keep their frequent fliers 
Newer airlines, like Virgin America, have been shaking things up with-in the US. They provide superior first class and economy product and might make some of the frequent fliers on legacy carriers think twice. Take away points and rewards and what would you rather fly? On an old MD-80 aircraft (still flown by American and Delta) or a newer cabin on Virgin America’s new Airbus A320s?

* It is cheaper to keep a current customer versus the money to get a new one
It is basic Business 101. Companies will spend much more money trying to attract new customers than just trying to keep the ones they already have. It makes long-term financial sense to improve first class.

* Rich people want nice things, less rich want to get there as cheap as possible
It comes down to market demand. Those that do not have the money, normally want to get from point A to point B as cheap as possible. When comparing prices, they might see that it will cost $20 more for one airline, but would rather save that $20 (or $80 if a family of four) for their trip. However, this doesn’t stop the person from complaining about the lack of service and amenities.

Those that can afford the extra costs or have earned enough rewards to be upgraded, care more about the amenities offered. They are more willing to shell out some extra money for a higher level of service.

As Mayerowitz points out, “Most of the 3.4 million Americans expected to fly this holiday week won’t get anything close to that treatment. They’ve paid a little under $400 for their round-trip tickets. And it’s a cutthroat business. To save $5, passengers are likely to choose another airline.”

* There are some things given to economy, but most cost money
Just because economy passengers are not seeing the royal treatment, doesn’t mean they are not getting anything. Many airlines have been installing Wi-Fi onto their planes and are offering some pretty decent food options — but you have to pay for both. This allows airlines to offer rock bottom prices and additional add-ons that passengers can pay more to increase their level of service. This seems to be working for most airlines, since they are making record profits on the additional options in economy.

American Airlines is replacing some of their MD-80s with Boeing 737s with the new Sky Interior.

American Airlines is replacing some of their MD-80s with Boeing 737s with the new Sky Interior.

* The middle class now have an option
Flying used to be just for the rich. Then just for the rich and middle class. Now, almost anyone can snag a cheap ticket and flying is open to the masses. You have the rich up front, the non-rich in the back and now some airlines are offering premium economy options for the middle class. Delta , JetBlue, Frontier, United and Virgin America all offer premium economy seats, but is the extra cost worth it? I guess it depends on who you are and how long your flight might be.

Edward Russell, with, recently took a look at the different options and if they are worth it.

* Conclusion
I have been flown around the world in many airline’s premium products and have loved them. However, they would have cost me anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 if I would have paid out of pocket — that is not even first class. When I am flying on my own dime, there is no way I could ever come close to afford that and mostly I am looking for the cheapest fare.

If one can consistently afford a premium product, I can understand getting spoiled and demanding a high-level of service. But for most of us, we are happy with getting to our destination as cheaply as possible.  “They want their luggage. They want to arrive on time. They want the airplane to be clean,” Andrew Nocella, US Airways senior vice president of marketing explained to the AP. “Most importantly, they want a low fare.”

Airlines know that many people in economy just care about the low fare and that people who can afford a better experience care about amenities. If airlines are just giving passengers what they want, why do so many people always seem upset at them? Oh that’s right. Many people want to pay economy level prices, but get that first class treatment. I doubt we will be seeing that anytime soon.

The Airbus A380 has allowed airlines to highlight their newest and best high-end products and Lufthansa Airlines is no exception. With the introduction of the A380, Lufthansa has been able to showcase a new level of luxury with their new first class seats found in the front of the upper deck. Many airlines call this set up “suites,” but these are really a hybrid.  If you are flying with someone you know and get two tickets, you have the ability to put down the mid-screens and easily interact with your companion. If they are a stranger (or someone you know, but don’t want to talk to), you are able to put up the wall and have your own private suite-like space.

Although I haven’t been able to test out the first class suites on a flight, I can say just sitting in them for a few minutes is quite nice. Experiencing on of these seats first hand, will set you back a pretty penny; a round trip flight costs about $20,000.00.

Although the suites are quite impressive, the two lavatories are unreal. You have plenty of room to freshen up or use the facilities. It is also the prime location to join the mile-high club, if that is your thing.

The VIP cabin gets quite a few things the rest of Lufthansa A380s do not First is a bit more headroom with the lack of overhead bins. Passengers will find plenty of room to store their items either in their suite or in a storage locker, which they can personally lock. There is also additional sound deadening material to keep the first class cabin a bit more quiet for the long journey. To help reduce jet-lag, there is a special humidifier created by Lufthansa, just for their Airbus A380 first class cabin.

More Lufthansa Airbus A380 Good Stuff:
* Photo Tour of an Airbus A380 at Lufthansa Technik in Frankfurt
Hitching a Ride With Lufthansa on Their Frankfurt to Miami Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight
Photo Blog: An Inside Look at Lufthansa’s Airbus A380
Photo Tour of Lufthansa’s Exclusive First Class Terminal at Frankfurt