So you think First Class is dead? Not at Heathrow…


If you wondered who affords the high prices to fly First Class, bearing in mind how many airlines don’t even have a first class any more, you might be shocked to find out that Heathrow is the primary airport in the world for First Class travel. British Airways just sent out a press release stating they had now had 1,000,000 passengers pass through their First Wing at Heathrow Terminal 5, since April 5 2017.

55% of the seats sold in First Class world-wide were to or from Heathrow. The big Middle eastern airlines all operate some level of First Class, but not on every aircraft and not to every destination.

British Airways still does, but again not on every flight. The 787-8’s for example aren’t equipped with First but the 787-9’s, 777-300ER’s, A380’s and soon A350’s and 787-10’s are or will be. The remaining 747’s still have first as well. Some 772’s do, some don’t.

787-9 First Class on BA

Lufthansa has an extensive First Class option, but it strikes me as rare to find more than half the seats used. I’ve known one flight to Bangalore on a 748i where I’ve been the only person up there. The same has happened on flights from SFO, yet they still keep the class on board.

Real First Class can come in so many different formats. The ME3 airlines are probably the most opulent with Singapore Airlines not far behind. BA and Lufthansa are somewhat less sophisticated on board, while still a mile away from anything you’d find in economy. What can make the difference is the real estate. Let me explain.

It’s often far less about the in-flight experience than you’d think. Most First Class passengers – almost 70% – fly at night so they only want the best possible bed and a quality pre-sleep and breakfast experience.

What makes the difference for them, is being able to waltz calmly into a First Class wing at an airport, be treated like minor royalty, have their bags taken, their passports checked, almost without doing anything. Slip quietly and privately through the special security lane, away from prying eyes, and of course, no line of riff-raff or annoying children waiting for some nondescript flight to a holiday resort in the Mediterranean.

Having emerged from the ordeal of a private security lane, one is then faced with entry to the elite areas of the First Class Wing, and if you’re just a bit above the rest – because Gold Executive Club only gets you so far even here, and you’re actually flying First Class rather than just getting lounge access from being a Gold level customer, then you may enter the Concorde Room. Nothing here is too much trouble.

Champagne flows within reason, food, a la carte, or whatever your heart desires, is provided at no extra cost, in an environment not dissimilar to a Michelin starred restaurant in a five-star hotel. Peace and quiet tend to reign supreme. You can go and have a shower, maybe a sleep, do some work, watch a movie, and if you nod off, someone, who always calls you by name, will wake you up and if need be, walk you over to your gate.

It’s so much nicer than, well you know, business class. Because I mean, there are lots of business class seats – but on most flights a maximum of 14 and as few as 9 in First. It’s a much nicer level of people you know. Well, sometimes it is. Sometimes you just have to sit and watch George Clooney clip his toe nails, but some times it’s merely someone complaining that the in-flight soufflé isn’t quite as good as they’d hoped. Maybe you noticed a chip or mark in the decor? You need to tell cabin crew, or your personal butler, depending on the airline.

Etihad Airways' new first class suite.jpg
Etihad’s First Class Suite bed conversion

Of course the airline’s attitude towards such detailed feedback from their customers is “they’re discerning individuals”….of course they are. And they were discerning enough to fork out $12,000 for a peak flight to London on the overnight. Depending on the ticket sales across the aircraft, you possibly made them their entire profit on the trip.

Now I know many of you would rather eat your own hair than waste money on a first class ticket. I would have said the same until you get given the opportunity for free or because of a ludicrous bargain offer to upgrade.

That’s what happens, they think they can get you forever once you’ve tried it. And they’re often not wrong. Try it and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it before, but everything has its price. I’ve snagged First Class tickets for less than business class many times. If you get to know where you’re going a year in advance, and there’s some sort of sale on, you’d be amazed how often First is amazingly cheap. It may be for an off-peak day time flight for example, but it happens, and its worth every penny. Three times the cost of a basic economy fare is a bargain, especially if its a sale fare in the first place.

You do have to be quick, you have to be able to commit as the fares at these prices are usually highly restrictive and non-refundable or alterable, but if you can make it work, it’s an experience you’ll never forget even if you do it just once in your life.