Courtesy of Cathay Pacific
Ana Silva O’Reilly gets almost misty-eyed when she thinks about a souvenir from her trip to New York several years ago: an Anya Hindmarch bag, featuring a black-and-white photo of London Bridge, which she received while flying first class on British Airways.
“There was something special about the bags,” says the U.K.-based luxury-travelblogger. “They were quite exclusive but, more than anything, very usable. To this day, you see quite a few on security queues—and people smile at each other.”
Even for travelers who embrace all manner of egalitarianism on the ground, it’s hard to argue with the VIP treatment you get while riding in business or first class on long-haul flights. Of course, there’s the legroom and the increasing number of flatbed seats. But for some passengers, the little creature comforts that many airlines offer—like a set of cozy loungewear, or a live orchid blooming over your seat—elevate the front-of-plane experience. “Although it’s not the main reason why I select which premium class I fly to a particular destination,” admits Brian Kelly, founder of frequent-flyer site ThePointsGuy, “a great amenity kit can definitely make a difference to the in-flight experience.”
The airlines are paying attention. According to the International Air Transport Association, “upper-class passengers” account for about a third of airline revenues, even though they occupy a small piece of the plane’s real estate.
When we looked around the world, we found several airlines (most, strikingly, based outside the U.S.) that butter up their first-class passengers with high-end goodie bags and instant-souvenir embroidered pajamas, along with fabulous front-of-the-cabin perks (hot shower before landing, anyone?) that can mitigate even the worst case of jet lag.
Almost maddeningly, too, those perks are not always easily re-created on the ground. Those BA amenity kits, for instance, have an “amazing lip balm that you can’t buy anywhere yet,” says O’Reilly. “I have asked the brand and was told that I would have to fly BA First again—and I could be tempted.”
Courtesy of Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand
Any airline that uses characters from The Hobbit for its safety video clearly doesn’t feel the need to embrace pretension. Perhaps that’s why the amenity kit in Air New Zealand’s Business Premier Class (the airline doesn’t even offer a first class) is a nice blend of luxe and quirky. You get Clarins skin-care products, a pair of hipsterish striped socks and eye masks with cheeky messages—such as “Beware I Sleep Walk”—written across the front.airnewzealand.com
Courtesy of British Airways
The former home of the Concorde has inspired a loyal following for its high-tone, cool-Britannia amenity kits. The centerpiece these days is a Gladstone-style bag by Sloane Street retailer Anya Hindmarch—marked with BA’s traditional seal—filled with eye gel, lip balm and moisturizer by all-natural skin-care maker Ren, and accented with a toothbrush set by D. R. Harris (a company that dates back to Victorian times). britishairways.com
Courtesy of Cathay Pacific
On this Hong Kong–based airline, men get a dash of Milan style with a bag by Ermenegildo Zegna filled with Acca Kappa toiletries, while ladies receive a clutch by Trussardi (once the bag maker to the British royal family) stocked with products from Australian brand Aesop. Everyone, meanwhile, can channel some classic Oriental style in the airline’s heather-shaded sleep suits, featuring a traditional mandarin collar, made by Hong Kong designer PYE. (Coordinate with matching sleep masks and slippers.) To boost the good feng shui, first-class cabins even feature wall-mounted vases with fresh orchids. cathaypacific.com
Courtesy of Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines
Thanks to the recently refreshed BusinessElite class, Delta is one of two U.S.-based airlines to make our list. Its anti-ballistic Tumi amenity bag features a Tumi eye mask as well as lotion and lip balm by sensitive-skin-friendly New York apothecary Malin+Goetz. The kit also comes with such essentials as socks, a comb, a dental kit and, for the traveling germaphobe, antibacterial wipes. delta.com
Courtesy of EL AL
Israel’s national airline goes Italiano for its gender-specific first-class bags by Salvatore Ferragamo. The luxury brand’s goodies are inside too: Ladies receive hand cream, body lotion, facial mist and face cream, while men get shaving gel, aftershave, lip balm and their own refreshing mist. First-class passengers also receive generous perks on the ground such as complimentary chauffeur service from your house to the airport and, once at your destination, from the airport to your hotel (within 62 miles). elal.co.il
Courtesy of Etihad
The national airline of the United Arab Emirates offers first-class amenity bags so personal that they almost seem like bride-and-groom gifts. Gentlemen are presented with a leather cuff-link box, while ladies get a Swarovski crystal–studded clutch—and both include lotions and toiletries from Swiss-made La Prairie. The flat beds are topped with glossy, dupioni-silk-and-cotton duvets, and you can slip into your cozies in the luxury changing room, which has a full-length mirror. There’s also no need to push the flight-attendant call button when you’re parched: First-class suites come with their own mini-bars. etihad.com
JetBlue’s new Premium service, called Mint—on flights between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, starting June 2014—promises seriously Gotham City–style perks at the front of the plane. Passengers will get tapas and specialty cocktails created by NoHo bar and grill Saxon + Parole, as well as an amenity kit with a rotating selection of toiletries from Birchbox, a NYC-based company known for its luxe travel-size goodies, such as Cartier deodorant, eucalyptus towelettes and even Italian-made “strong mint” Marvis toothpaste (which also used to be a staple of the esteemed BA amenity kit). jetblue.com
Swiss International Airlines
You’ll feel like a native in first class with your medley of Swiss-made products: eye cream, hand cream and lip balm by La Prairie; reusable earplugs by Phonak; and navy-blue, polo-collar cotton pajamas by legendary underwear-maker Zimmerli. A spokesperson for Swiss also says that flight attendants take notes on your druthers. If, say, you request a medium pj top combined with a small size of pants during your flight, they’ll keep that information on file for your next trip. In keeping with Switzerland’s model of diplomatic neutrality, first-class passengers also get an adjustable wall for privacy.swiss.com
Courtesy of Singapore Airlines
The Asian airline dazzles its first-class passengers with top-drawer Parisian brand names. On flights to and from the U.S., the toiletry kit is stocked with lotion, facial cream and lip balm by Sothys. Come bedtime, you get turndown service at your flat bed with Givenchy-made linens, a duvet and even zippered Givenchy pajamas. To shut out any racket while you watch your movie, you can use anti-noise headsets by Phitek.
Looking for even more creature comforts? On the airline’s A380 flights, you can book a suite with a true flat bed—not just a seat that folds out. Couples can even opt for middle cabin suites with double beds (two twins pushed together). singaporeair.com
Courtesy of Turkish Airlines
Like many airlines, Turkish offers slightly different amenity kits in business and first class. First-class passengers these days are given a Porsche Design hard case filled with Acca Kappa toiletries—fabulous, no doubt, but business class is no downgrade. The toiletries are by old-school Crabtree & Evelyn, while the 21st-century bag, not so coincidentally, perfectly fits your iPad. Turkish Airlines also distinguishes itself by offering a hajj amenity kit for pilgrims (riding in any class) en route to Mecca. The bag includes a prayer mat, prayer counter, hip bag, unscented liquid soap and fresh socks.turkishairlines.com
Courtesy of Qantas
The Australian airline’s his-and-her kits offer skin care by über-luxe global brand SK-II; dedicated users have described the facial essence treatment ($100 for 2.5 oz.) as “holy water.” For a little down-under protection, Qantas bags also include Rexona deodorant (the Aussie cousin of Degree). Come bedtime, first-class passengers can put on cotton-jersey pjs in charcoal gray, featuring an embroidered kangaroo. qantas.com.au
The Dubai-based airline was already worthy of the first-class big leagues thanks to its Bulgari amenity bags: Men score aftershave and cologne, and a razor from Taylor of Old Bond Street, based in London, while ladies get Bulgari face lotion, nourishing hand cream and Thé Rouge eau parfumée. But the airline put itself in a different stratosphere with one addition to its double-decker A380 (which flies to 21 cities, including Rome, Moscow, Hong Kong and Auckland, New Zealand). The plane has an onboard hot shower stocked with fluffy towels. The only hitch? You’re limited to a five-minute soak.emirates.com