What's the coolest thing about flying first-class? For Brian Kelly, it's the fun of seeing how the other half flies. Last year on a New York-London trip with Madonna, for example, when pounding rain delayed takeoff, the British Airways pilot actually came out of the cockpit to apologize personally to the singer. For the weather.
Later, Madonna entertained herself (and everyone else) summoning members of her 10-person entourage, munching on macrobiotic muesli served by a personal nutritionist, and commanding that the entire first-class cabin sit in darkness so she could enjoy a movie on her laptop (the crew complied).
"There are lots of egos in first class; the sense of entitlement is palpable," sums up Mr. Kelly, who travels the world as a campus recruiter for a major New York investment bank. But this is still the most efficient, pleasant way to fly, and it's more accessible than you think - hobnobbing with Madonna cost Mr. Kelly 110,000 frequent-flier miles.
And after years of scaling back on premium offerings, airlines have begun unveiling more imaginative, elaborate services and amenities for first-, upper- and business-class tickets; perks that won't break the bank, especially if paid for in points. Take it from the young executive, who writes ThePointsGuy.com blog, advising ordinary fliers on how to maximize their miles to fly as VIPs.
In first class, there's always a free ride. Etihad Airways, Emirates, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Iberia all have chauffeured limo or luxury cars to pick up passengers (at home or hotel) and drop them off at the airport. In Frankfurt, Lufthansa ferries first-class passengers in a Mercedes S 400 Hybrid or Porsche Panamera. But Qatar Airways goes furthest, depositing you via chauffeured BMW 7-Series right at your plane at Doha International Airport.
COMPLIMENTARY HELICOPTERS, LIMO-BIKES
Depending on the airport, Virgin Atlantic offers upper-class (equivalent to business-class) ticket holders the choice of a limo ride or a complimentary train ticket. Meanwhile, speed-seekers heading to Gatwick or Heathrow can reserve Virgin Atlantic's sport-touring Yamaha FJR1300 "limo-bike" outfitted with a chauffeur and an intercom/phone system to either communicate with the chauffeur or make hands-free cellphone calls en route. And between Tokyo centre and Narita International Airport, both Virgin Atlantic and All Nippon Airways offer a helicopter ride.
FREE PARKING, FLIGHTS, CELLPHONES
Iberia gives business-class ticket holders three days' parking at international airports in Madrid or Barcelona, while Turkish Airlines offers a valet and week's free parking at Istanbul Atatürk Airport for first class. Emirates kicks in free domestic flights in Britain to London Gatwick or Heathrow airports for those flying on to international destinations, with three week's use of a cellphone.
Many airlines now also offer premium ticket-holders a concierge at the departure gate or in lounges to work out the kinks in connecting reservations, order a special in-flight meal or book a hotel or restaurant in town. Air Canada's Clefs d'Or-connected concierges are reserved for super-elite-status fliers and holders of "executive first" tickets.
After picking up first-class passengers from their plane arriving at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkish Airlines escorts those needing layover accommodations to an airport hotel for a free night, then back again for their next leg of a long-haul itinerary.
Beating mile-long check-in and security screening is "a huge benefit," says Mr. Kelly, and airlines including ANA now fast-track the process by means of VIP lines or by designating whole sections of the terminal. Iberia guarantees business passengers will clear security at Madrid Barajas in two minutes. Virgin Atlantic's "Drive-Thru" checks in upper-class fliers at Heathrow while they sit in a chauffeured car, passes them through private security screening, then on to their own lounge. Emirates (though it doesn't publicize this) and Singapore Airlines both offer a first-class door to the airplane itself, so it feels as though you're boarding a private jet. "You don't even have anyone walking by your seat," Mr. Kelly says.
But there's nothing quite as luxurious as one's own terminal. Lufthansa and Qatar Airways have been the pioneers in this: Qatar Airways' Premium Terminal at Doha International Airport for first and business class has a nursery, a spa complete with hot tub and sauna, gourmet restaurants, duty-free shopping and a 24-hour medical centre. Lufthansa's First Class Terminal in Frankfurt features a cigar lounge and a rest area with pod-like daybeds (each with an alarm clock, closet and mirror).
Surely, Madonna would approve.
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