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Beyond Business Class: The World of Luxury Air Travel

As anyone who has ever hopped between European capitals on a budget flight—cramped next to the window with one’s knees banging against the seat in front—is sure to tell you, not all airlines are made equal. Indeed, from the sad arrays of rubbery sandwiches to the garish color schemes and scowling faces of the cabin crew, it’s fair to say that certain airlines even revel in their cheapness and low quality of service.

There truly are some amazing examples of luxury out there on the market today

Thank goodness, then, that the air-travel industry also happens to have an opposite end of the same spectrum, and offers elite travelers a remarkable level of luxury while cruising high above the clouds. It sometimes seems as though certain international airlines are perhaps the last bastions of accessible luxury for most people, and every year sees new innovations and developments to take that sense of decadence and comfort ever higher.

Emirates and Etihad luxury travel
Emirates and Etihad luxury travel, source Emirates and Etihad

Even those familiar with traveling business class are occasionally taken aback by some airlines’ efforts to go the extra mile. From sumptuous Michelin-star dining to contraptions and luxury layouts previously thought impossible to achieve in an airborne, pressurized tube, there truly are some amazing examples of luxury out there on the market today. While such experiences are never going to be cheap, it’s arguable that they offer such unique and enjoyable experiences, they’re more than worth their inflated prices. After all, aren’t holidays supposed to be luxurious?

So, without further ado, let’s climb aboard, peek behind the partition curtain, and check out what the most elite airlines in the world offer to their most exclusive customers. See you on the runway…

Luxury Before Takeoff

Airports can be stressful places. The crowds, the furtive glances at departure times, praying that there’ll be no delays, the rowdy stag parties, the arguing families… they’re not exactly locations you’d ever choose to hang around for hours on end.

That is, unless you’re spending your time in one of the world’s elite business lounges, where sensory delights and awe-inspiring design brings peace to the minds of the anxious travelers, and pleasure to those looking to indulge before their departure. There are many incredible business lounges in airports worldwide, but our absolute favorites have to be the following examples of sheer class and sophistication.

Sidney International, Qantas First Class Lounge
Sidney International, Qantas First Class Lounge, source Qantas

This luxury Australian air-travel company has been bringing the very best in airborne comfort to the world for decades, and their new business lounge at Sydney Airport is the perfect encapsulation of the company’s values and image. The lounge itself is a stunning example of contemporary architecture, with natural materials undulating around the beautifully designed room. Furthermore, the pan-Asian cuisine on offer from their award-winning chefs is worth traveling for alone, as it uses the freshest seafood from the impeccable Aussie coastline to provide seasonal, fresh delights on a daily basis. Heaven!

Lufthansa First Class Cigar Lounge
Lufthansa First Class Cigar Lounge, source Lufthansa

When it comes to sleek style and effortless efficiency, those Germans really know what they’re doing. The Lufthansa business-class experience in Frankfurt offers its patrons a cigar lounge and a wine bar, showing off the very finest Kabinett Rieslings the country produces. On top of this, you’ll be given the option of being chauffeur driven in a Porsche to your airplane—who could say no to that?


The Spa Above the Clouds

For many travelers, that sense of stress doesn’t end once they’ve gone through customs and onto the plane. Flying can undeniably be an occasionally disquieting experience… but not for those who seek out the very finest the travel industry has to offer. In fact, when it comes to providing relaxation and blissful sensory encounters, this is where certain airlines go above and beyond the competition.

Emirates flights now offer their customers an elite “Shower Spa” experience

Public interest in wellness, massage, and spa treatments has increased massively over the past decade, and one airline in particular, has gone the extra mile to give their passengers what they desire. Thai Airlines has the motto “Fly Sabai”—sabai being the Thai word for “healthy body and mind.” They offer a wide array of spa services at 30,000 feet that would put any high-end retreat to shame. Massages, reflexology, aromatherapy, and more are all available to those who can afford their relaxation packages, and there’s no doubt that travelers are able to let go of their worries in the hands of their skilled practitioners.

Emirates First Class Suite Shower Spa
Emirates First Class Suite Shower Spa, source Emirates

Emirates is another airline synonymous with luxury, and their spa services have recently seen a dramatic revamp… with one notable addition to their fleet of first-class airlines. Certain Emirates flights now offer their customers an elite “Shower Spa” experience; the ability to have a power shower on board their plane, complete with a range of Bulgari soaps, creams, and lotions, and a cold-pressed juice to have you feeling at your peak when touching down.


Flying Gourmet-Style

It wasn’t so long ago that airplane food was almost a byline for inedible, disgusting rubbish, served lukewarm from plastic trays. How things have changed…

Today, fine food and wine are must-have items for any self-respecting first-class cabin, and certain airlines have seemingly been in unspoken competition with each other, constantly trying to outdo themselves with the luxurious dishes they provide.

Source, ANA
Source, ANA Airlines

Most luxury travelers would agree that the Japanese airline ANA is difficult to beat when it comes to sky-high gastronomy. They offer their flyers a tasting menu of twelve sumptuous dishes, showing off the masterfulness of Japanese cuisines and paired with a flight of wines and sakes that take your taste buds to the zeniths of pleasure. To finish, there are pastries designed by Pierre Herme, winner of the World’s Best Pastry Chef Award… and that’s a selling point that’s hard to top. Sushi, sashimi, and beautifully designed salads are on offer for those enamored by Japan’s signature dishes, and for those looking for more substantial dishes, you’ll be presented with a wealth of options to be freshly prepared by your onboard chef.


Fancy a Snooze?

For the majority of us, the idea of luxury air travel is based upon one key factor above all others: space. If you’ve splashed out on a business-class ticket, you’re going to demand the ability to (at the very least) stretch out your legs, and not have to worry about kicking the seat in front of you. If you’re traveling long haul, then a good night’s sleep is that rarest of luxuries when flying… and as everybody knows, getting a proper bit of shut-eye is not going to happen unless you have the space to spread yourself out a bit.

Singapore Airlines Luxury First Class Suite
Singapore Airlines Luxury First Class Suite, source Singapore Airlines

Enter Singapore Airlines, who currently offers the largest skybound beds in the industry. The mattresses on board these beautiful aircrafts are a whopping 35″ x 85″—that’s larger than many domestic beds you’ll find in people’s homes. They feature a down-filled mattress topper for extra comfort, and from your bed you’ll also have access to an entertainment system, a minibar, and a range of lighting options to ensure you are as relaxed as can be.

Etihad's Pearl Business Class
Etihad’s Pearl Business Class, source Etihad

Etihad also excels when it comes to airborne bedtime services. They offer something more akin to a luxury hotel service for their business-class customers, who don’t only get a full-size bed to luxuriate in (featuring rose petals scattered over the seats), but also an en-suite bathroom and a state-of-the-art music and video system. The walnut wood paneling and branded bathrobe will give you that rock star vibe… you simply won’t want to leave!

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Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine and luxury lifestyle journalist from Bristol, UK. He splits his time between England, Hungary and Romania, and is deeply involved in the wine scenes of each country, which he endeavours to champion in western Europe. He is also a published poet and author, and the co-editor of an influential international arts and literature journal.

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