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A first timer's guide to flying in first or business class

March 21, 2021
6 min read
Champagne at the Airport
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Editor's Note

Flying during the COVID-19 pandemic is very different than it has been previously, and nowhere is that more evident than in premium cabins where many of the signatures of premium service are on pause. Keep this guide handy for when the time comes to finally go all out.

While some have flown in business or first class, not everyone has been able to sip Champagne and lounge in a lie-flat seat at 35,000 feet. So, for those who haven't, TPG wants first-time business or first-class flyers to know how to make the most out of every second of your first experience turning left.

From booking your ticket to getting to your destination, there are ways and means to make every penny, point and mile count the most.

Here are a couple of guides that might help you when deciding which airline to choose for your first premium experience:

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(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Before You Fly

Let's start with before you even get to the airport.

One of the first things to do is check your baggage allowance when you make your booking. Premium cabins are often very lenient, allowing usually two or more checked items. This varies per airline and per route, so double check before you do your packing. Remember that the amenity kits you are given in premium cabins often come with toothpaste and moisturizer. Keep that in mind when packing your liquids in order to save space and weight in your carry-on luggage and make things easier for yourself when going through security.

Related: 7 tips for picking the perfect airplane seat every time

You should also think about your seat selection. Most airlines offer free selection for premium passengers. Even when that's not possible, I'd highly recommend choosing your seats as this can have an impact on your experience — especially if you're traveling with friends or family. Sites like SeatGuru advise on certain seats to avoid if they're near the galley or require straddling the person next to you while they're sleeping just so you can go to the restroom.

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Some airlines, such as Emirates, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, offer a chauffeur service for premium flyers. It's worth checking whether this particular perk is still included, as airlines have cut back on contact services like chauffeurs because of the pandemic. Revenue tickets usually include this at no extra cost, but you are likely to have to pay additional miles for award tickets. In this case, be sure to check the value of using miles against the cash price of getting to the airport yourself.

At the Airport

Premium tickets almost always include lounge access — a favorite perk of mine. Be sure to factor in enough time to visit your lounge for a preflight drink or meal. Unless you have access to the most premium lounges like Lufthansa's First Class Terminal, which is renowned for its incredible preflight a la carte menu, then I would avoid eating too much in the lounge to save room for food in-flight as you'll get wined and dined.

Where there's a choice, like in London's Heathrow Terminal 5, be sure to check out our lounge reviews to see which one is best for you.

Some airlines also offer spa treatments in their lounges. Unfortunately, again due to the pandemic, this perk has been temporarily suspended in most cases. If your lounge continues to or restarts a massage service, availability can often be very limited. So, to avoid disappointment, double-check with your airline or lounge about what they offer and make a reservation early, if possible.

In the Air

Not all aspects of flying in business or first class are offered without first prompting the cabin crew. On my last ever flight onboard a Virgin Atlantic 747, I only found out that pajamas were available because I asked. I ended up being the only passenger who was given them.

On that note, don't think you have to get suited and booted if you're flying in business class or first class. You've paid your money and you deserve to travel in comfort. That said, it doesn't hurt to board the flight in something smart casual, then have something comfortable to switch into once you're in the air.

Don't be afraid to ask for more — whether that's asking for a wine top-up, snacks if you're hungry or even asking the crew if you could eat at a certain time instead of during service. Many airlines offer this dine-on-demand option, but they don't always publicize it. As my favourite Geordie saying goes "shy bairns get nowt" ("It never hurts to ask") — and that holds true even when you're on the plane.

Taking photos is usually fine. Whether it's for the 'Gram or just for memories' sake, don't be shy to take a selfie or two or even ask the crew to take a snap for you. In my experience, cabin crew are usually more than happy to and even sometimes keen to join in.

On Arrival

Depending on your destination and airline, there might be an arrivals lounge. They are great when you're arriving in the morning after an overnight flight and would like to get freshened up and grab breakfast if you decided to sleep through it on the flight.

Access to arrivals lounges can be complicated and depend on your length of flight or whether you were flying in first or business class. If you think you'd like to use an arrivals lounge, make sure you check if one is available before you travel.

Bottom Line

Now more than ever before, we deserve a little bit of luxury in our lives.

Enjoy every second of your first premium cabin flight, and don't be afraid to have a little fun! Always keep in mind to be respectful to the other passengers around you and especially the crew who work tirelessly to make sure you're having the best experience possible.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.