First-class travel evokes luxury, personal service and prestige. It offers many benefits over economy class. Business travelers prefer the ambiance first class provides, as well as the extra room that allows easier use of laptop computers. It can also be a luxurious beginning and end to that vacation of a lifetime.
First class differs according to the two basic types of commercial aircraft: domestic/intracontinental and over-water international aircraft. The former generally has two classes of service--economy and first class--while international aircraft usually have three classes: economy, business and first class (some carriers offer business and economy class only). The pitch, or distance between seat rows, and the seat size distinguish first class from the others. The pitch for international first class can be up to 80 inches, almost three times the space for an economy seat. For domestic flights, first class offers 20 to 25 percent more room.
First-class domestic in-flight services include free meals (flights over two hours) and free cocktails, including pre-departure beverages, as well as more-attentive service. Free headsets and newspapers are commonly provided. While airlines have eliminated pillows and blankets in economy, they remain in first class. Most airlines now also provide laptop hookups. Some larger international aircraft feature first-class seats that can be converted into lay-flat beds. Other highlights include individual video screens and play-on-demand movies. Customers can choose between several gourmet meals, often by well-known chefs. These are accompanied by premium wines from around the world.
Special check-in areas and security checkpoint queues speed first-class customers through the airport. They are also invited to board first, and on international flights are given free access to airport lounges (including showers). Customers do not pay for the first three pieces of checked baggage, either domestically or internationally (though oversize and overweight charges may apply, depending on the area).
While first-class fares can be hefty, domestic business travelers sometimes get discounts through their company, or can upgrade with frequent-flier miles. Airlines offer upgrades to their best customers first. International first class, however, can be in high demand for full-fare-paying customers. International upgrades from business class are possible, but they should be sought in advance.
First-class travelers can receive bonus frequent-flier miles. Choose a program in which the airline is part of an alliance so the miles can be pooled between different airlines.