First class (aviation)
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First class is a travel class on some airliners intended to be more luxurious than business class, premium economy, and economy class. On a passenger jetliner, first class usually refers to a limited number (rarely more than 20) of seats or cabins toward the front of the aircraft which have more space, comfort, service, and privacy. Propeller airliners often had first class in the rear, away from the prop noise.
First-class seats vary from large reclining seats with more legroom and width than other classes to suites with a fully reclining seat, workstation and TV surrounded by privacy dividers. International first-class seats usually have between 147–239 cm (58–94 inches) of seat pitch and between 48–89 cm (19–35 inches) of width while domestic flights may have between 86–173 cm (34–68 inches) of pitch and between 46–56 cm (18–22 inches) in width. In fact this means there is less discomfort for taller people. Some airlines have first-class seats which allow passengers to let one guest sit for a short while face-to-face with the occupant of the cabin.
First-class passengers usually have at least one lavatory for their exclusive use, with more than one on larger planes. Business- and economy-class passengers are not normally permitted in the first-class cabin. Normally AVOD (audiovisual on demand) entertainment is offered, although sometimes normal films, television programs and interactive games are provided on medium-large seat-back or armrest-mounted flat panel monitors. Especially for long-haul and high-yielding routes on top airlines, a first-class seat may have facilities akin to a five-star hotel, such as a mini-bar.
Recently, some airlines have gone far enough to model their first-class section as suites. Singapore Airlines now markets its highest class on its A380s as "suites", with the tagline "A class above first." The 2 m (78 inches) bed is separate from the seat and folds out from the back wall, with several other components of the suite lowering to accommodate the mattress. Windows are built into the doors and blinds offer privacy. Suites located in the center can form a double bed after the privacy blinds between them are retracted into the ceiling. Other A380 operators like Emirates also have a suite-like first class with similar amenities but the bed and chair are integrated where a button is pushed to turn the seat into a bed in seconds and vice versa.
On the ground, first-class passengers usually have special check-in and security zones at the airport. Some airlines operate private first-class terminals and/or offer international first class passengers complimentary limousine rides to the airport. While it is typical that these passengers have lounge access, some airlines have separate lounges for first and business where the former may have more luxurious amenities. These passengers can often board the aircraft before other passengers, sometimes through their own jetbridge.
Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary and gourmet meals are usually served with a choice of wine, dessert, and aperitifs. Often these meals have been designed by leading chefs and are served on white linen table cloths and with real cutlery (often with the exception of knives for security reasons).
When it comes to mileage, revenue first-class passengers are entitled to more bonus miles which can make the earning of a free ticket and other perks (such as a higher tier on a frequent flyer programme) much faster.
Historically, first-class air travel has been expensive. First-class long-haul fares regularly exceed $10,000 per person round trip, as opposed to $4,000–5,000 international business class tickets and $1,000-2,000 economy class tickets. With the emergence of frequent flyer programmes however, passengers have been able to upgrade their business- or economy-class tickets through membership in elite frequent-flyer programs and through the policies of some airlines that allow business and economy-class passengers to purchase last-minute upgrades on a space-available basis.
Access to the first-class portion of the plane is usually restricted from those traveling in business and economy classes by curtains, although for security reasons, US-based airlines are increasingly removing these cabin dividers or installing transparent cabin dividers.
In North America
On most flights within or between the United States (including Alaska but not Hawaii), Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean - what is normally regarded as regional business class or premium economy in the rest of the world is branded as "domestic first class" by US airlines or "Executive Class" by Air Canada. The service is generally a step below long haul international business class. US territories in the Western Pacific (Guam and the CNMI) and sometimes Hawaii are considered international for service purposes and generally feature long haul business class.
However, domestic first class does have two very different meanings on certain transcontinental routes between New York City and California. American Airlines and United Airlines both operate a special service on the JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO routes known as "American flagship service" and "United p.s." (p.s. stands for premium service) respectively. In these cases, first class is actually a three-cabin first class which is different from two-cabin first class, both in comfort and price (such as lie flat seats in first class, for example). In these cases, domestic business class is generally slightly higher than a two-cabin domestic first class ticket. The three-cabin first class is more of a true first class rather than a rebranded business class.
US discount carriers (such as JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines) do not have first class cabins, instead opting for an all economy layout, sometimes with a few select rows with extra legroom (such as bulkhead and emergency row seats) available for a nominal fee.
The exact name for first class may vary between operators. This list does not include international premium products that are a combination of first and business class, nor does it include regional business class offerings on US domestic and North American routes branded as "First Class".
Many airlines brand their highest level of international service as "First Class", although some carriers attempt to be distinctive:
- Air Algérie - Rouge Premiere
- Air France - La Premiere
- Air Seychelles - Pearl Class
- All Nippon Airways - First Square
- American Airlines - Flagship Suites (international three class B777-300's and refurbished B777-200's), American Flagship Suites (JFK-LAX/SFO three class B767-200's and upcoming A321-200 ETOPS)
- British Airways - First
- Garuda Indonesia - First
- Etihad Airways - Diamond First
- Japan Airlines - First
- Korean Air - Kosmo Suite, Kosmo Sleeper
- Lufthansa - First Class
- Malaysia Airlines - First Class
- Qantas - First Suites
- Singapore Airlines - Suites (A380), First (B777)
- Swiss International Airlines - SWISS First
- Thai Airways - Royal First
- Transaero Airlines - Imperial Class
- United Airlines - United GlobalFirst (international)
- Air New Zealand - Dedicated First Class cabin was previously available on the B747-400, but was withdrawn 2006-2007 with the introduction of Premium Economy and flat bed suites in Business Class. "Business Premier" is now the highest class of service.
- LAN Airlines - [First Class]/ Dedicated first class cabin comprising a single row of five seats offered on Boeing 767 and Airbus 340 aircraft until late 2009
- South African Airways - Dedicated first class cabin withdrawn 2001. First Class was known as 'Blue Diamond Class'.
- Turkish Airlines - First Class suites previously available on long haul 777 aircraft. Progressively removed from September 2011 following the introduction of Comfort Class, the carrier's premium economy product
- US Airways - International First Class originally consisted of six flatbed suites found in the first row on the Airbus A330-300. International First Class was eliminated as a separate class of service in 2002, although the seats remained until the A330-300 fleet was refurbished in 2010-2012. Any Envoy passenger could reserve an "Envoy Sleeper" seat in the first row for a small fee at booking, or for free at check-in if seats were still available - ground service, on-board service, catering and entertainment were identical to Envoy.
- Lufthansa - [First Class] / In a letter addressed to staff and later leaked to two German national newspapers, the German national carrier admitted that it had already commenced the phased withdrawal of a dedicated first class cabin on selected routes.
- Qantas - [First] / Qantas announced in February 2010 that it was to phase out its first class cabin on two thirds of its international long haul routes in response to changing customer demand
- United Airlines - Currently is in the process of removing United First from the transcontinental p.s. fleet used between New York and California. These aircraft will be reconfigured in a two cabin layout featuring the former Continental flatbed suites in United Business, as well as AVOD and numerous other upgrades for all passengers. United has no plans to remove First Class from the intercontinental fleet at this time.
- Aircraft cabin
- First class
- Wide-body aircraft
- IATA class codes
- Business class
- Premium economy
- Economy class
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