The Real Truth About Flying First Class

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I have flown first class a few times, usually because he’s saved up enough points and it’s a long enough trip where we’d rather be in first than economy class seats. We usually save those trips for when we go overseas, although we’ve occasionally used them for when we’re just going cross country.

Anyway, a few years ago, Insider Magazine posted an article titled:


The post was mainly several photos and comments about each photo. Its synopsis is:

  • Despite its reputation, flying first class isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
  • Advertisements for first-class accommodations — and even our own imaginations — can look vastly different from the true experience.
  • Take a look at what the full experience of flying first-class — from check-in to the exclusive lounges to the seats and meals on the flights themselves — can really look like.

Well, I read the whole article and looked at all the pictures, and all I have to say is, what a load of crap!

Here’s the article. Take a look at it so you know what I’m talking about 😉

The stuff in large bold is my introduction to each section. The stuff in regular size bold is from the article. The regular print is my own descriptions and thoughts.

The author first talks about the check-in process:

You might think check-in is all smiles for people who purchase first-class tickets (photo of a smiling gate agent on a Premier Access line).
But in reality, travel is always hectic, and there’s bound to be some confusion at some point.
(photo of a crowd of people waiting to check in on Ryanair)

Well, I don’t know very many people at the check-in desk who smile and treat first-class passengers like royalty but they do indeed have special access lines for people who are flying first class, both domestically and internationally, so they don’t have to stand on the queues that you might see for those flying Economy or on a Ryanair flight (Ryanair doesn’t even have first-class, does it?)

He then goes into the TSA security checkpoint:

Before arriving at your gate, your security screening may be seamless and easy. (photo of a smiling family going through regular X-ray with a smiling TSA agent looking on. Oh, and there’s no one in line behind them)
But you could still get stuck in long lines. (photo of a typical long queue at the checkpoint)

Well, how/where you go through security has absolutely nothing to do with what kind of plane ticket you have. It’s all about your having TSA Pre-Check or not. A traveler who has done his/her homework would know that. There can also be a preferred lane for first class and business customers but that will just dump you into the normal security lane after getting your ID checked.

Next up – waiting in a lounge:

Thankfully, the airline club lounges once you get through security look to be rather luxurious — a welcoming respite from the huge crowds. (photo of an empty lounge, with every single seat perfectly placed)
That is, until they’re overcrowded with a ton of other passengers who paid for the same “luxury.” (photo of a very crowded lounge)

Just because you have a first-class ticket, it doesn’t automatically mean you have lounge access. You might, but the rules vary from airline to airline. So how crowded the lounge is might be a moot point; unless you have access another way, you’re not getting in, anyway.

He then tries to differentiate waiting in the lounge if you’re flying international first class:

If you’re flying international first class, you may expect to find your lounge to look like the halls of a palace. (photo of a modern, swanky lounge, with flat screen TVs and bud vases on the tables)
But even for international flights, your lounge may very well just look like the lobby of a Holiday Inn.
(photo of a lounge that looks like it was designed in the 1970s)

True, not all lounges, even not all international or first class lounges are the same. If you’re in a small airport, for example, they might not bother to upgrade the international and/or first class lounge very often. That being said, knowing what your lounge will look like before you go is all a matter of a passenger doing his/her homework. All it takes is a search on this website – by this point, just about every lounge out there has probably been reviewed at some point or another. If you don’t like what lounge you thought you were going to go to, see about getting into another one.

He then discusses boarding the plane:

On the surface, boarding the plane into first class should be an orderly process. You’re likely one of the first groups to board, after all. (photo of an empty gate, with absolutely spotless carpeting and no fingerprints on the windows or mirrored wall)
But boarding can still be completely chaotic, even if you’re allowed to board first. (photo of a gate swamped with gate lice)
One-touch boarding would seem to solve this problem
(photo of an entry to Delta Sky Club that’s using biometrics for entry)
Unfortunately boarding a plane is usually much harder than it appears.
(different photo of gate lice)

I’m not quite sure what the author’s point here is. If you’re loaded into the plane first because you’re first class, you miss all the rest of the chaos, don’t you? And even when/if biometrics become available everywhere for boarding (again, the pic the author used was for the Delta Sky Club, not a gate to a plane), it’s not going to stop gate lice.

The author then goes into great detail about the differences between domestic first class and international first class:

(the pictures for each are lovely international options or what you’d typically see in domestic first class)

On the plane, those international first class seats are advertised as luxurious and spacious.
Yet the reality of domestic first class is typically only a large leather chair.

On some international flights, first class accommodations are the size of a room, and they may come with various toiletries for your convenience.
Other first-class accommodations include seats that allow you to fully recline.
But on domestic first class, your seat may look more like this, with little space to spread out.

You might plan on getting some sleep in your luxurious first class pod…
… but you could still get stuck sitting near a crying baby.

In international first class, you might expect the cabin’s bathroom to include a shower, clean towels, hand towels, and a marble sink — and some do.
But, especially on domestic first-class flights, the bathrooms can still be rather tight spaces that make you feel claustrophobic.

You might also expect to have a large, high-definition TV screen with a multitude of entertainment options on your flight — and you could get this on some international first-class flights.
But, particularly in domestic first class, you might still have to make do with a small, low-definition TV screen.

In first class, you might expect to be served lobster tail and rice pilaf — and some airlines do offer that on their international flights.
But in domestic first-class, you should be prepared for meals more akin to reheated tortellini and a dry salad.

Holy Moley, apples and oranges much? No one has ever said that domestic first class is anything like international first class. I mean, if you’ve been on even one domestic flight, you’ve walked past the first class cabin – you’ve seen what it’s like. It’s OK – the seats are bigger and cushier, and you may get fed more than a Stroopwafel and a cup of soda. But even if you have no idea of what international first class travel is like, you’ve SEEN what it is on domestic flights. Those leather seats don’t suddenly turn into pods, a’la Transformer toys, when the curtain is closed. Talk about unrealistic expectations…

The rest of the article delves into after you’ve left the plane:

Upon landing, you may go to baggage claim and have a pain-free process of retrieving your luggage.
Or you could find it stacked in a pile with no discernible plan or focus.

When you finally leave the airport to return home, you may be picked up by a driver who will take your bags for you.
Or you could arrive right in the middle of a blizzard — flying first class doesn’t exempt you from the weather, after all.

And even if you do choose to ride with one of the many taxis waiting outside the airport …
… chances are you’ll still be stuck in a horrible line with the rest of the travelers who want to get home …
… and then will endure even worse traffic trying to leave the airport.

I really think the author is trying to convince people that if they get first class tickets, they might want to think their whole life will become first class, but “here’s why it really doesn’t.” Why is he pushing and then taking away an unrealistic agenda? Sure, if you’ve flown first class, your bags might come out among the first, but what does traffic out of the airport have to do with flying first class? Or the weather?

The bottom line

If you’re just a regular person, not a bajillionaire who can pay cash for first class tickets, not someone who has so many miles that (s)he doesn’t know what to do with them, and somehow gets a first class seat, just sit back and ENJOY IT. Don’t expect first class service for any aspect of your travel besides things that have to do with the airline – TSA, taxis and the weather don’t care if you have a first class ticket or not ;-).

If you want to know what to expect before your flight, do your homework and learn what you’re going to get in terms of seating, meals, etc. But don’t be disappointed just because you had unrealistic expectations of your experience – that’s on you, not them.

As for the author and his, “You might expect this, but don’t” outlook? It’s just pushing for those unrealistic expectations…and then taking them away, almost in the same sentence. Which was just…weird.

Feature Image (cropped): TravelingOtter / flickr / CC by SA 2.0

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary, or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


HiAperture November 21, 2019 - 1:16 pm

Yea, a real doozy of an article. Like you said, even if you have not flown domestic first class you have certainly walked by it plenty of times, how is 90% of what that article includes news to anyone, even a casual flyer. I do think it is hilarious they used a photo of a lie-flat united seat that just has an overstuffed purse as the “con” comparison photo to a seat that turns into a bed!

Christian November 21, 2019 - 3:13 pm

I totally second your load of crap statement. The idiot that wrote that trash has obviously never flown a good Asian airline from their home base.

Jon Ben November 21, 2019 - 7:50 pm

I like domestic first for any flight of about 6-7 hours. I just hurt less getting off the plane so its worth the discounted upgrade price. The real issue for me is shoulder width of reg class seats. I can deal with leg room but I dont like sitting sideways for 7 hrs.

Is Flying First Class all it's Cracked Up To Be? | No Mas Coach! February 1, 2020 - 11:23 am

[…] question was asked recently if flying first class is worth it, and what the real truth about flying first class is. The truth? It’s the only way that you should fly, and it’s not that difficult to […]

Anthony May 5, 2021 - 3:13 pm

Domestic First Class and International Business class are completely different things and they shouldn’t be compared to each other.

DaninMCI September 11, 2022 - 7:38 am

Defining first class and business class is an important factor but flying by private jet is the real treat.


Leave a Comment