AIR TRAVEL began as the preserve of the privileged few. The democratisation of flying in recent decades has been brought about by an explosion in discount, budget airlines. Yet the apparently relentless rise of no-frills hasn't been the only story in air travel. Running parallel has been the reshaping of the premium class, brought about by a new generation of planes, particularly the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Lufthansa saw the opportunity that the twin-decked Airbus A380 afforded and introduced a new first-class cabin defined by spaciousness. Gone are the partition walls to allow for a more open-plan cabin design, its first-class also features better soundproofing from engine noise, new seats that fold out into full two-metre long beds and two enormous bathrooms that wouldn't look out of place in a boutique hotel. The Lufthansa concept is being rolled out to the rest of its fleet this year, with the company solving the need for space on smaller planes by reducing the 16 berth cabin to eight berths.
Singapore Airlines is offering a new first-class cabin for its Boeing 777 fleet, again reducing a previously 16 berth cabin to a more luxurious and roomy eight berth that allows 50 per cent wider seats and full length beds. If all the extra room wasn't enough, it's also engaged French fashion brand Givenchy to design its bed furnishings, china and glassware, with Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo providing its exclusive luxury toiletries and perfume kits for each passenger. Overhead stowage has been removed to provide more headroom, with ample storage now located under each of the seats. Each seat is equipped with its own 58cm LCD screen, as well as all-in-one peripherals panel with USB and power supply.
Air France has also opted for more space, switching its new L'Espace Premiere first-class cabins to eight berth configurations from the previous 12 berth, allowing for 50 per cent extra personal space. The airline has also invested a great deal in installing real beds with more comfortable mattresses. Not to be outdone, American Airlines has upped its first-class game with a new turndown service - starting this month, each first class customer on its Boeing 777 flights will receive a luxury amenities kit containing quilted bed furnishings, pyjamas and slippers, as well as an exclusive toiletries bag featuring skincare products from Dermalogica. The airline is also revamping first-class in-flight entertainment, replacing each television screen with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 device that offers a whole slew of new entertainment and gaming options.
The self-titled 'World's Favourite Airline', British Airways, has revamped its Boeing 777 first-class offerings between London and Shanghai. Seats are now 60 per cent wider, with new beds that feature an 'intelligent' mattress. Each first-class cabin berth features its own personal wardrobe, windows with electronic blinds and leather-bound desk space. First-class passengers will also receive an exclusive washbag designed by Anya Hindmarch filled with toiletries from venerable London pharmacist D.R. Harris & Co.
The multitude of improved first-class cabins proves that the premium end of the market is still as healthy as ever. The needs of the wealthy have been met with ever greater luxury at the front of the plane, with the gap between the various cabin classes becoming markedly wider.