MOST OF US can only dream of travelling in the tranquil, spacious confines of a First Class aeroplane cabin. But if you're one of the moneyed few who would consider shelling out around $70,000 for a First Class return ticket between Hong Kong and London, what can you expect to get?
Granted, you get a lot more leg room (around 140cm as opposed to 80cm), gourmet food served on proper china as opposed to plastic plates, stewards that smile rather than scowl; sometimes seats that fold back to become airborne beds. But more importantly, what freebies can you expect? At 10 times the price of cattle class, one would expect the goody bags to runneth over with bounteous booty.
In reality, what you actually get is a pair of pyjamas, a fancier amenity kit and slippers, if you're lucky.
Virgin doesn't offer a First Class cabin, electing instead for the haughtily-titled Upper Class, which it markets as 'First Class service at a Business Class fare'. An Upper Class return flight to London is around $44,000.
I took an Upper Class flight years ago and received a complimentary sweatshirt with matching jogging bottoms in thick grey fleece-lined fabric. Sad as it is to admit, this has since been my primary slobbing-around-the-house outfit. And it shows no sign of fraying, sagging at the knees (or worse, posterior) or stretching, despite having been washed hundreds of times.
But what do the rest of the airlines offer in terms of inflight fashion? If you're flying in the distinguished circle of billionaires, rock stars and top execs you need to look your best at 9,000 metres.
You need warmth to brave the arctic air-conditioning; trousers that don't drag and soak up suspect fluids in the WC, and most importantly; a cut, colour and design that is flattering to the frame, complexion and fashion sense.
Though all the airlines describe their sleepsuits as unisex, they have all, quite blatantly, been designed for men, no doubt reflecting the fact that around 75 per cent of First Class passengers are male. Consequently, they all looked better on my husband than myself.
Virgin's sleepsuits have changed since the time I flew Upper Class, and, sadly, not for the better. I refuse to be a walking billboard for corporate sponsorship (unless the company is Gucci or Burberry). The former grey tracksuit came logo-free, while the new design has both 'Upper Class' and the recognisable Virgin red parallelogram logo on its breast, and the same again running up the right leg.
The colours aubergine and grey are a ghastly combination, reminiscent of a second division football strip. And the American baseball-style slanted sleeves fight with the v-neck. However, for those who prefer substance over style, the Virgin suit was by far the comfiest of all tested, made from pashmina-soft polycotton. The flip-flops in swimming-float -type material are funky and could be worn again as your foot would hide the logo printed on the inner sole.
British Airways and Qantas must use the same supplier as they offer identical sleepsuits, stamped with their individual logos. The white cotton grandad-shirt with a navy stripe around the collar looks dated and the plastic tortoiseshell buttons feel cheap. The satin detailing on the button panel and on the inside of the neckline is a nice touch, and prevents irritation from the seams or interlocking. The navy drawstring trousers were the best of the bunch, and chic enough to wear again, though the gathered ankles were a touch MC Hammer. There's plenty of gathering around the waist so they hang well.
Singapore Airlines provides sleepsuits designed by Givenchy (though quite obviously not by Alexander McQueen otherwise it would be bottom-baring and fashioned from human hair).
These are the most pyjama-like of all we looked at, in thin bright blue cotton which feels a bit cheap. The v-neck is flattering and although there's a logo on the breast pocket, it's fairly unobtrusive. The suit comes in a matching drawstring pouch, but as it's adorned with a huge logo, you'd be less inclined to use it again. The smallest size was still big, and the trousers would drag in the loo when worn by all but the very tall.
The Cathay Pacific sleepsuit is the most attractive of all tested - a jacket with a ribbed collar that zips up - and wide straight-legged drawstring trousers, both in a grey marl cotton. The chunky zip has a smooth mechanism and the brand is subtly plugged on a mere embroidered ribbon on the zip-pull. The trousers don't hang particularly well due to a surplus of cloth, but the straight-legs give the suit a contemporary feel. The outfit comes in an attractive plain zip bag with a Cathay Pacific tab which could be unpicked, while matching grey towelling slippers have a discreet logo.
Lufthansa hands out a navy v-neck sweater (no bottoms) by the leading German sportswear brand Bogner in thick ribbed cotton. One would consider buying it independently had it not been embroidered with 'Lufthansa First Class' in silver thread. You would have to be serious show-off to dare wearing it in public but if you're patient the thread could again be unpicked. Towelling open-toed slippers look fuddy-duddy, though the clever velcro fastening would allow them to expand as your feet do, during the flight.
All in all, the sleepsuits were disappointing considering the amount you pay for a First Class fare. If you're willing to pay $70,000 for a ticket, you're not going to notice an extra $500, which would go towards a swankier suit, perhaps designed by a famous fashion house. I'm sure Tom Ford could come up with something seriously chic, and I'd be more than happy to parade around afterwards wearing a Gucci logo.
Marks Out Of Ten
Wearability in public: 2
B. British Airways & Qantas
Wearability in public: 2
C. Singapore Airlines
Wearability in public: 3
D. Cathay Pacific
Wearability in public: 8
Wearability in public: 7
Dummy from Angi (2104 0335)
Styling: Laura Traver.