First class for the U.S. carriers has gone the way of the dinosaur. You might find first class on a transcontinental American Airlines flight, but most U.S. carriers have phased out first class in favor of business class. In some cases, such as first class on United, business class seats are marketed as first class.
However, if you fly first class internationally, you will have a private pod, be served the best food and alcohol whenever you would like it, and you may even have a private bathroom and shower. In some cases, your pod will even include a sitting area separate from your bed. And you will have a completely flat bed to snooze on, of course.
A flat bed used to be unique to first class, but now most business class seats on international flights lay flat. As a result, business travelers that used to only fly first so they’d arrive at their meeting well-rested are now flying business, and first class is being pared down or removed from newer plane models.
“You see a lot of carriers starting to phase out first class because the only difference really these days are you get a little bit better food and better wine onboard,” said Andrew Yiu, Air Canada’s managing director for product design.
At 30,000 feet, you can smell and taste your food about 30% less, so airlines call upon celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay to create dining options worthy of first class, including meals of lobster, caviar, and Dom Perignon.
First class also comes with nicer amenities, and oftentimes you will be treated to services on the ground such as spa treatments and transportation.
But some value most the personalized service onboard that comes with flying first class. “[F]eeling that you are someone who is important to the people that are serving you […] is a big factor,” says Cathay Pacific’s COO, Rupert Hogg.
But, all things considered, this is the true difference between first and business class: space.
First class seats from ten years ago have become the business class seats of today. In 2019, first class is less a seat than it is an apartment in the air.