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Checklist for Flying International First Class

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If you’ve never flown first class, here’s a handy checklist so you don’t miss any of the cool perks. You may feel downright giddy the first time you’re pampered on an international first-class flight.

I remember one of the first times I flew in first class on a foreign carrier. It was my husband’s fortieth birthday and I was surprising him with a first-class Cathay Pacific flight from New York to Bali with a connection in Hong Kong. He had no idea where our ultimate destination was until the stewardess revealed the surprise.

That in itself was super fun, but we were floored by the pampering that defines international first-class travel especially when flying on foreign carriers like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Swissair. Sadly, domestic first class is not that big a deal. While some airlines offer more comfortable seats and marginally better meals and service, it’s absolutely not the same thing as flying international first class.

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when flying in the front of the plane.

Pre-Book Your Onboard Meals

On some airlines you can pre-order your main courses for your onboard meals. American Airlines even offers this on domestic flights, but if you’re traveling internationally, you may have additional options.

Take Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook program, for example. If you’re traveling in a suite, first or business class, you can pre-select your main meals at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure. The menu differs depending on your departure airport and class of service, but first-class offerings may include:

  • Lobster Thermidor with buttered asparagus, slow-roasted vine-ripened tomato and saffron rice
  • Grilled veal chops with natural au jus, with seasonal vegetables and potato gnocchi
  • Pan-seared pheasant with stuffed blini and vegetables
  • Five-spiced Chilean bass with assorted vegetables and fried rice

A Sweet Ride to the Airport

Not every airline offers chauffeur service to its first-class passengers, but some like Emirates, Etihad, Qantas and TAM offer complimentary pre- and post-flight transfers from and to the destination of your choice in a luxury car.

Be aware that when you travel on an award ticket, this service may not be offered by the airline. Check the benefits of first-class passage on your airline and, if chauffeured car service is offered, be sure to make reservations well in advance.

First Class Limousine Service Lufthansa
Lufthansa offers limousine service for first-class passengers

If free transfers aren’t included in your ticket, valet parking at the airport might be. Lufthansa offers premium valet parking to first-class passengers at its hub airports in Frankfurt and Munich.

First-Class Check-in Podium or Terminal

Upon arrival at the airport, be sure to head to the first-class check-in area. Some airlines even have dedicated first-class terminals at hub airports. Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is known the world over for its exclusiveness and high level of service.

Enjoy the Lounge

Whenever you fly first class you have access to the airline’s lounge. Some lounges are spectacular resort-like settings that offer a comfortable place to wait for your flight.

They often include services like complimentary spa and beauty treatments; full bars with the finest champagnes, wines, spirits and beer; and dining rooms with menus designed by renown celebrity chefs. Many lounges also offer bath and shower facilities so you can freshen up during your layover. And, of course, if you need to get some work done, you’ll be able to find a workstation and computer with Internet access.

Arrive earlier than you normally would for a flight and enjoy all of the amenities your airline has in its lounge. Meals at Air France, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa lounges are particularly worth a try.

Lufthansas First Class Terminal in Frankfurt
Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt

Head to the Aircraft

If you’re flying first class out of Frankfurt on Lufthansa, a personal attendant will escort you to a luxury vehicle (sometimes a Porsche) and drive you directly to the aircraft waiting on the tarmac. Other carriers, like Thai Airlines, will ferry you to the gate in a golf cart and escort you right on board. While not necessary, this is a nice benefit especially if you or someone in your party is mobility challenged.

Once On Board

As soon as you are directed to your seat in first class, prepare for the real pampering to begin. You’ll be offered a preflight beverage “often champagne from vintners like Dom Perignon” and the steward or stewardess will gift you with an amenity bag that usually includes designer pajamas, socks, a sleeping mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, brush, perfume/cologne and other goodies.

If you’ve never flown with the airline before, ask the stewardess to show you how the seat works. Remember, first class often has flat bed seats that can recline in a variety of ways. Get the skinny on how the seat works and a primer on how to use the onboard entertainment system.

After takeoff and once you’re at cruising altitude, the cabin crew will come around with drinks and snacks. Some airlines have a menu of signature drinks so be sure to try one. Also, many airlines allow first class passengers to decide when they want their meal served. Let your stewardess know your preferences at this time.

Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines offers first-class passengers priority check-in

Depending on the airline and aircraft you’re flying, you may have access to a hip bar in the sky. Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Korean Air and Qantas all have pretty impressive sky bars in some of their aircraft.

If there is no sky lounge, I usually enjoy my meal right away. Then I change into my pajamas before watching a movie and turn in for the night. When you’re ready to sleep, let the stewardess know and she’ll make up your flat bed with a light mattress pad, pillow and duvet.

Arriving at Your Destination

Don’t forget that you can visit the arrivals lounge upon landing. This can be helpful if you’d like to take a quick shower before heading to a meeting or if you need to kill some time before checking in to your hotel. You can also get something to eat if you slept through mealtimes on your flight.

These are the best-known perks of flying first class. Once you’ve flown up front, it’s really tough to go back to coach.

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