The best luxury airlines take your trip to the next level.
The Best Luxury Airlines Through History
We all know that the industrious Wright Brothers’ early stick and cloth aircraft made history when they became the first human beings to take flight by plane. Even still, air travel didn’t really come into its own until after World War I. In fact, air travel in the 1920s was harrowing. Planes couldn’t travel very far, the cabins would be incredibly cold, and the sound of the engines made talking impossible.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, when metal planes became the standard, that people began to see air travel as luxurious. There were no best luxury airlines then, because there were very few airlines to choose from. The below ad from Britain’s Imperial Airlines shows how even then, these early airline pioneers highlighted the luxury and comfort of their craft. They modeled the interior design of planes on trains, the most common method of long-distance travel at the time. These craft featured spacious cabins, dining areas with tables, and seats where passengers could sleep.
During this time, traveling was truly an event. People dressed up, rather than traveling in loose-fitting pajamas. There was something about traveling on an airliner that felt luxurious for everyone. Yet, as time went on, air travel lost its luster. For this reason, the best luxury airlines work hard today to provide amenities and services that bring that special feeling back to air travel.
Why travel the best luxury airlines?
Of course, the reason air travel’s novelty waned is because it has become a commonplace way for people to get from one place to another. Thereby luxury airlines look to set themselves apart for the traveler who is willing and able to shell out a bit more for a quality experience.
It may not seem to make much sense to book a seat on the best luxury airlines. We tend to treat air travel as a means to an end, rather than something one can enjoy. The best luxury airlines want to challenge that idea, showing that the travel itself can be as glamorous as any destination.
For a long time, when people thought of “First Class” travel, they thought of a little extra legroom and free alcoholic drinks. The best luxury airlines today know that it takes much more than that to truly make their passengers happy. Through innovative design and technological updates, some fancy airlines make traveling in a private jet seem like a foolish idea.
The Benefits of the Best Luxury Airlines Beyond Passengers
There is another reason other than comfort to travel on the best luxury airlines, but it has nothing to do with you. Luxury accommodations in the forward cabins helps to keep air travel safe for everyone. Planes are expensive, and airlines often don’t want to upgrade their vehicles. Older luxury planes are not as comfortable as newer models, and could become unsafe as things break.
Additionally, the same innovations that make luxury air travel more comfortable are also applied in the other classes as well. Everyone ends up with more room, and your fellow passengers are more comfortable. There are also environmental concerns that are alleviated when fewer people fly private.
What Are the Features the Best Luxury Airlines Offer?
Every airline is different, so each one will offer different amenities. However, people are people, so what air travelers want when it comes to fancy airlines is similar. In fact, you can probably boil down their desires into two categories: Space and Comfort. So, all the best luxury airlines must address those concerns and everything else they offer is simple window dressing.
Any air travel nightmare usually begins with an uncomfortable seat offering, not enough legroom, and a little too much close contact with your neighbor. Seats recline right into your lap. Your legs are jammed under the seat in front of you (with your carry-on, no less). The little kid behind you keeps kicking the back of your seat. The list goes on.
Comfort, comfort, comfort
That’s why the best luxury airlines offer large seats with lots of room for your legs. In fact, many seats will turn into full-fledged beds! However, because of creative designs in cabin interiors, your neighbors in front and in back of you will never even realize it. Some simply put fewer seats in their cabins, allowing for all that extra room. Other fancy airlines will arrange things creatively, maximizing the space they have. They even offer more than just a tray table for your devices, books, or even an old-fashioned card game.
If people are comfortable enough, they will feel like royalty even if the cabin isn’t lined with golden chandeliers or fancy lighting. (Of course, those things are available in some of the best luxury airlines, too!) Comfort goes beyond simply the quality of the seat cushions and whether or not you can put up your feet. As mentioned above, flights in the olden times used to be cold, because the temperature is not balmy at 30,000 feet. Today, thanks to heated seats other high-tech gadgets, passengers can sit in practically different climates without inconveniencing each other.
Okay, you’ve convinced me. So, what are the best luxury airlines?
Now that we understand how we got here, let’s talk about the luxury airlines who are doing things the way they should be done. Below we will examine how luxury can be found when traveling both first and business classes.
Best Luxury Airlines for First Class
The top luxury airlines below are our top choices for first class travel. Expect to be treated to only the finest when you fly these options!
Etihad, an airline out of the United Arab Emirates, offers a furnished suite finer than most people’s apartments. Dubbed “The Residence,” passengers can travel in a three-room suite for the long flights connecting Abu Dhabi with New York, London, Paris, and Australia. Staffed by a butler, trained at the Savoy no less, a sous chef, and even a Norland College trained nanny, you might be inclined to take your vacation in this plane. You can shower in the suite, relax on the double bed in the bedroom, or hang out watching television in the living room.
Singapore Airlines offers a similar experience, with suites on either side of the aisle in their Airbuses. You can fly in an individual pod or the middle wall can be removed for a shared experience. These mini-suites offer a leather recliner to sit in and a large bed. Each pod has a large flatscreen television. They also offer a gourmet dining experience, with meals optimized for the methods of preparation available to airline staff.
Emirates is also one of the best luxury airlines in the field right now. While their first class accommodations are not as spacious as the other two options, they are plenty luxurious. Each pod comes equipped with a Bulgari travel bag filled with luxury hygiene products. They also provide pajamas optimized for air travel to promote circulation and prevent passengers from becoming dehydrated. The pods can be closed off for privacy in order to sleep or watch the large flatscreen television in front of each seat. If you’re feeling more social, you can go to the lounge area of the cabin mingling and watching a 55-inch television.
Best Luxury Airlines for Business Class
If you're constantly traveling for your profession, the best luxury airlines are the perfect way to unwind before that international board meeting.
The new “Qsuites” from Qatar Airways makes it one of the best luxury airlines for the business traveler. They are designed like a more economical version of the first class pods mentioned above. The individual pods can be opened up to accommodate two passengers or four-person groups. You can shut a door for increased privacy and quiet. The seats fold down into full beds, and each pod comes equipped with its own flatscreen television. You can also get a full bed set, complete with duvet, for an extra fee.
Making its second appearance on our list, Etihad offers a “Business Studio” designed for travelers who want to sleep on their flight. The seats are basically beds, and each one comes with a unique blanket that is fuzzy on one side and smooth on the other. The color-scheme is a neutral palette of Earth tones which is a more calming look than the stark colors normally found on a plane. The studio also offers a semi-private place for the traveler who needs to work through the flight. If passengers want to chat or mingle with others, they might disturb their sleeping or working neighbors. So no one is inconvenienced, Etihad offers business class passengers to their luxury lounge to accommodate them.
Cathay Pacific was one of the first to use the “reverse herringbone” seating design, now copied on many of the best luxury airlines. Instead of facing each other, seats are paired facing the cabin windows. This allows seats to be able to recline all the way to a flat surface while not denying aisle access to any passenger. It also creates a lot of space for tray tables and places to store luggage and devices.
In Memoriam: The Best Luxury Airline for Economy Premium
Of course, economy premium is not our first choice. Even still, if this is the only seat left, this step up from economy used to be one of the best choices.
Air New Zealand
If you are forced to travel Economy Premium, you will likely find a comfortable seat, some extra legroom, and a generally typical airline experience. However, Air New Zealand tried to bring luxury to the economy traveler when it premiered its own take Economy Premium in 2011. The seats were roomy, positioned in the reverse herringbone design found on Cathay Pacific in Business Class. When the seats reclined, they moved forward rather than backwards so it didn’t intrude on the passenger behind them. Each seat came equipped with a touchscreen monitor for watching movies. Passengers enjoyed a gourmet meal experience as well. Sadly, Air New Zealand dropped this service in 2016.
Traveling Is Tough -- Treat Yourself
Sure, traveling today may not be as much of a hardship as it was during the age of the Oregon Trail, but it’s still not usually fun. The reason the best luxury airlines focus on providing the amenities they do is because they want to change that feeling. Sure, nothing will make rushing through the airport, getting manhandled by security, or waiting in long lines at ticket gates enjoyable. But these airlines believe that the time you spend in the air can be.
What do you think? Share your pick for the best luxury airlines out there in the comments below!
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