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5 airlines worth splurging on for the best first-class experience

Jamie Killin   

5 airlines worth splurging on for the best first-class experience
  • Jaclyn Sienna India travels often to scout airlines and locations for her luxury travel company.
  • Her criteria for a great flight include service, privacy, food quality, and cultural immersion.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jaclyn Sienna India, the founder and CEO of Sienna Charles based in Beverly Hills. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve been interested in travel since I was a teenager. I started working at Le Bec-Fin, a highly-awarded French restaurant in Philadelphia, when I was 18. It was elegant and luxurious, and the checks were in the thousands. I was obsessed with listening to the diners talk about where they traveled.

After working there for five years, I wanted to bring that level of service to travel. In 2008, I started Sienna Charles, a luxury travel and lifestyle concierge service.

I’m always traveling to do research for my clients — I’ve been to 90 countries and travel more than 200 days each year. Wherever I am, there’s a hotel to visit, a restaurant to try, or a person to meet.

Service is a top priority for me when deciding on an airline, and the people an airline hires are what make it a great trip. My favorite airlines truly understand what the client wants.

When flying to a new destination, you should try the airline for that region. Fresh, delicious food is also important.

With these criteria in mind, here are my five favorite airlines to fly.

1. Air France

Air France’s first-class cabin, La Première, only has four seats per flight, and it feels like you're flying private. I’ve taken it with my husband, but we’ve also booked it for a family of four.

It offers one of the best flights to Europe because of the thoughtfulness in the way the seats are designed, the materials used, and the privacy you’re given. The food and the wine selections are also really elevated.

Air France thinks about the entire journey, from pick up to drop off. It handles your transportation to the airport, for example, and if you’re waiting in the lounge in Paris, there’s incredible food and a spa where you’re offered a 30-minute treatment.

Some airlines have taken away blankets and pajamas for business-class passengers, but Air France still gives them out. The airline is also primarily staffed by French people, so you can begin to immerse yourself in French culture as soon as you board.

2. Emirates

I will take Emirates as far as possible — from New York to Milan, Milan to Dubai, and Dubai to India. It also transports you to the airport and has fully enclosed first-class suites.

On Emirates flights, I combine working, eating, and sleeping. It feels truly private, so I don’t mind relaxing. I feel comfortable enough to wear a face mask and my pajamas, which I don’t in other, more exposed seating arrangements.

The airline also really focuses on its caviar service, which I love. Its commitment to food quality is high, and you can tell the difference in the product. It also has great Champagne.

3. Singapore Airlines

I always take Singapore Airlines when I’m in Asia. Like many of my other favorites, Singapore Airlines planes have room for double suites for couples and private suites with sliding doors. Its private suites also have full closets.

It offers an amazing entertainment experience. There’s a really fast internet connection and a 32-inch screen in the suite. I don’t watch TV on board, but the number of movies and education offerings in flight is pretty exceptional.

It also works with many great partners to create food menus and pays a lot of attention to its food offerings.

4. Etihad Airways

I’ve flown in Etihad’s first-class apartments, which really feel like an apartment on a plane. They're really special.

You have your own chef. When he asked what I wanted for breakfast, I said truffled scrambled eggs — then he whipped them up for me from scratch.

The apartments also have a living room and a bed. It’s another airline that offers a private chauffeur service to the airport.

5. Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has an on-demand à la carte menu, so you can ask for whatever you want, and it feels less pre-planned. The airline highlights local ingredients on its menu.

I like that it knows people are working and relaxing while on the plane, so there are different settings within the suite for those two environments. While this airline is amazing, it's not as grand as the other four.

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