There is a certain segment of the miles-and-points crowd that is always competing to find the most impressive travel experience. It’s all about fancy food, expensive alcohol, and exclusive lounge access.
Great. I enjoy it, too. I’m not here to be a hater. But I have an unconventional view to share that I’d appreciate your feedback on.
The most important thing to me when I travel long distances is to avoid jetlag and feel refreshed. Being unable to quickly adapt to a new time zone or resting an upset stomach means I lose valuable time to experience my destination. It’s also frustrating. I know I should be sleeping, but instead I’m up all night in a hotel room. Do I go out? Do I stay in and at least try to sleep?
Ironically, the luxury of first class travel is not the answer to this problem. It’s business class.
Coach is simply unpleasant: I can’t sleep on the plane and I arrive hungry even if they feed me. I don’t think I’ll face much disagreement there. But first class is too comfortable: I overindulge and oversleep. At its worst, the aftermath of first class is no different than a hangover.
Business class is my Goldilocks scenario. I usually enjoy a drink during boarding, a second one with my meal, and maybe a third one as we land. Alcohol doesn’t just ruin my diet, too much seems to seriously make it more difficult to rest soundly and enjoy the trip. I’m more likely to resist that temptation if I fly business class because the meal service is shorter and the beverage selection tends to be nothing special.
Similarly, the meals are substantial enough to be filling, but it all fits on a single tray and I don’t feel regret about leaving some uneaten or passing up dessert. I can find Ben & Jerry’s anywhere. I don’t even like Ben & Jerry’s.
My memories of first class include great food, of which I usually try to eat Every. Last. Bite. I have to have a third glass of Dom Perignon and a glass or two of Scotch. On some flights, Singapore Airlines offers a nine-course Japanese tasting menu with sake pairings. Don’t get me wrong: it’s all amazing, but I usually regret it later. (Check out Amol’s review of Singapore’s Suites Class between LAX and Tokyo and note how many photos of food he has.)
Let’s not forget the seat. True, there is merit to a lie-flat seat with aisle access, which you’ll increasingly find in most long-haul business class cabins. But I don’t want it to be too comfortable. The last time I flew first class I slept for over seven hours and woke up just as we were landing around 7 PM. It took two sleepless nights before I fully adjusted to the new time zone.
On this trip I flew on one of American’s older Boeing 777-200s between Dallas and London. I slept for maybe four hours on my angled business class seat, just enough for a good nap. When I finally made it to my hotel in Stockholm at 6 PM, I worked for an hour, ate dinner, worked two more hours, and went to bed at my usual time. I was never tired.
- Re-set your watch immediately.
- Don’t drink too much.
- Don’t eat too much.
- Don’t sleep too much.
What If You Have to Fly Coach?
You can try to replicate some of this advice if you’re still stuck in coach. You’ll probably be facing too little food, not too much, so bring a non-perishable snack like chips or a granola bar. Sleeping on planes is hard (for me) so I try to adjust my schedule in advance. I’ll be tired before I set foot on the plane. But if I wake up, I don’t force myself to go back to bed. I have some extra entertainment to keep me occupied until landing.
Along those lines I recommend that you change your watch as soon as you step on the plane. Act like you’re already there. I do this even when I go to Europe and land at 7 AM. Regardless of how much sleep I get on the plane I force myself through the day as much as possible and go to bed a little earlier to make it up. The daylight will help reset my circadian rhythm, and naps will only throw it off again.
What This Says about the Future of First Class
First class cabins have been in decline for a number of years. They’ve certainly become more opulent, but they are fewer in number as customers and airlines realize that many modern business class cabins are “good enough.” I think they’re not just good enough but maybe also as good as many people want.
If you’re paying for a premium cabin, you don’t want the experience to work against you. I find that more difficult to prevent when I fly international first class. I enjoy it in the air but tend to regret the choices I made once I land. I’m curious to hear if any of you have felt the same. A little extra discomfort and the fewer temptations found in business class seem to do the trick for me.