What It’s Like to Fly International Business Class for the First Time

Contributor: David Bernard

There’s nothing quite like your first time sitting in a premium cabin on an airplane. Over the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to have several enhanced flights thanks to some detective work and a little bit of luck. For almost a year now, I’ve been lucky enough to have an elite status with Delta Air Lines, all because I consolidated all of my travel to SkyTeam airlines and credited the points to Delta. Last year I made silver status, and just last month I finally achieved gold status thanks to some rather long-routing that I had worked into my tickets this year. As you may remember, in March I flew from NYC to Singapore via a stopover/day-trip in Paris. The layover was 12 hours and gave me lots of time to explore the city, however Air France still considered it to be a through fare, thus giving me the savings. I did the same thing on the return, but this time via Amsterdam instead on KLM. Both spending miles and status miles credited to my Delta account.

This effort has made it somewhat easier to try and claim discounts and more flexibility with my travels. In December of 2016 I took a trip to Amsterdam to visit a friend for New Year’s and I purposely wrote a ticket with two stops just so that I could try the Air France A380. I was due to fly Boston-JFK-Paris-Amsterdam, a journey of about 12 hours combined, but in the end i found it incredibly worth it after what transpired. At check-in, I was prompted with an enticing offer by Air France. Since I had ticketed myself in premium economy for the A380 flight, and had silver elite status, they offered me an upgrade to the business class cabin for just $261 USD. After some considering, I knew I couldn’t pass that up. The ticket had cost me about $1380 to write an outbound in premium economy and a return in regular economy (yes I believe there is a big difference between economy and premium economy on Air France which makes it worth the extra $200-300), so in total I’d be paying about $1640 for an outbound in business and a return in economy (certainly not bad given the holidays). I had cleared an elite first class upgrade (thanks to the silver status at the time) on the flight between Boston and New York, and for the flight between Paris and Amsterdam, it was so short that I didn’t mind, especially since European Business Class isn’t really exciting in my opinion.

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I had ridden first class domestically before, thanks to another elite upgrade one time, however they were still only between Boston and NYC, so there really isn’t much service to experience. This A380 flight however was going to be a big difference. Flying down to JFK it still hadn’t hit me yet, but when I finally got myself to terminal 1 and had my boarding pass reprinted (because I just HAD to keep the boarding pass which said “business” as a souvenir of the experience) that’s when it started to hit me. I took advantage of my free entry to the Air France Lounge in Terminal 1 at JFK, and treated myself to some early champagne and light snacks while waiting for boarding. I then found myself boarding relatively early (along with about 100 other passengers in business on the A380) thanks to SkyPriority boarding. I took my seat by the window (as usual) and began to explore the seat.

 

 

My first impressions were as followed:

  • Uh oh… I can already predict that the return flight in economy (and any future international flights in economy) will now be a disappointment… [this still holds true today, haha]
  • There is so much storage space, as well as I’ve already found some slippers provided for later. When they handed out the amenity kit, I was shocked to see it so stocked (as opposed to the stingy supplies in economy)
  • I know this seat reclines into a full lie-flat position, but I also want to be respectable to the other passengers who probably fly business a lot, so I’ll just wait to enjoy playing with the seat after takeoff.
  • There’s a footrest, about 2-3 feet out in front of me. I’m too short to even experience it, but it’s still there!
  • I was just handed a menu book (yes a book!) that contained about 3-4 luxurious options for dinner. The medium-rare cooked tournedo steak looks too good to pass!

As the service went on, I must have looked like a total rookie to the other flyers in this cabin, but after paying for it I was certainly going to enjoy the luxurious amenities! After takeoff, I played with the recline on my seat for at least 5 full minutes, probably looking like a fool to the guy sitting next to me. He had clearly been a connoisseur of business class travel, but of course I was still going to enjoy myself. I settled on a partially reclined position, so that I could enjoy some TV shows and drinks, before the dinner service was set to begin.

We then proceeded to dine on three courses of food. Each with complete with real porcelain dishes and metal silverware. I was also met with a small tablecloth for my tray table and a hot towel service to wash up before starting. The food service started with crackers and an amuse-bouche, then proceeded to the appetizers, and finished with the main course. Dessert was served with the main course as well, and to finish it all, we were given some digestive liquors, coffees, or teas (I had hot chocolate, although they had to go back and make it separately). Each course was met with another round of free-flowing drinks, and you could pretty much have whatever you wanted from their drink menu. The entire service began about 30 minutes after takeoff, and lasted for at least 2.5-3 hours in total before the final things were cleaned up. It certainly didn’t feel that way however, as Air France kept always offering me something, whether it was drinks or additional breads/snacks. It made a long transatlantic flight feel much shorter.

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After the final plates and dishes were cleared, I decided to sleep until breakfast. I reclined the seat to it’s full position and got a very restful 2 hours of sleep. My amenity kit had some socks and an eye mask, which definitely enhanced the comfort of my short sleep. I was woken up to the sound of more dishes as the flight attendants began to place tablecloths over our tray tables once again. It was time for breakfast.

I was given a variety of pastries, some fruit, yogurt, and another hot chocolate. The flight attendant, to my amazement, remembered I had mentioned after dinner that I don’t drink coffee or tea! (I guess I’m not used to the personalized attention yet, since Economy passengers rarely see it!) They cleared away all the dishes again after finishing, and it almost made me rather sad. I knew that was going to be the last remaining service for the flight.

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Upon landing I packed my things, a bit sad to be leaving, but also of course happy to be on my vacation in Europe. As I left the plane, I was also treated to SkyPriority access to customs and immigration, thus giving me more time to enjoy the layover services in Paris. Some weather between Paris and Amsterdam was causing delays, so I used the extra time to enjoy the Air France lounge in terminal 2F where I’d meet my connecting flight. In addition to enjoying more food and other treats for breakfast, I went for the complimentary shower facilities. One should NEVER underestimate how refreshing it is to take a shower after coming off an international red-eye flight! I felt completely refreshed and wide-awake, even with the rather short 2-hours of sleep on the flight.

If there’s anything I learned from my first time in business class, it’s that there is certainly a big difference from economy, and it does justify the cost somewhat. Through a lot of research, I’ve been able to enjoy discounts on the upgrade now multiple times on the trips I’ve taken after that. I just completed my third international business class flight, and I’ve decided to continue to figure out how to keep getting it without spending the costly price of a regular ticket. Now with my higher gold status, I’m eager to see how this will affect the upgrade price at check-in. I definitely want to continue to take advantage of these offers whenever possible!

Have you experienced international business class before? Comment and share your first-time experiences below!

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