Monday, October 9, 2017

Is Flying First Class Worth It? – Air Canada Business Class Pods Review

If you're a frequently flyer like myself, chances are you’ve experienced one or two dreadful flights. It could have been the bland food, bad service or lack of personal space as a stranger slopped over into your seat, but is splurging on a first class ticket actually worth it?

Most airlines make first class seem like an exclusive club, pulling that annoying little curtain or door shut to separate the people at the back from those upfront sipping champagne. The class distinction has less to do with exclusivity and more to do with your willingness to upgrade for more leg room.

I’m one of those people who love traveling but hate flying. Turbulence makes me anxious because I immediately start imagining the worst case scenario and being confined to a small space breathing dry, re-circulated air is not my idea of a good time.

To ease my travel woes we have started booking first class seats for most trips and now that I've experienced the difference in food, comfort and service, I can't go back to sitting in coach (or as my husband calls it - "the cage.").  For many people it makes more sense to splurge on long, international flights because you have more time to kick-back and enjoy what you've paid for.

Below I've outlined the perks of traveling in Air Canada’s first class or “Business Class Cabin.”

*Personal pod with a seat that fully reclines into a small bed (this is big people).
*Better, more attentive service.
*Duvet blanket and pillow.
*Welcome drink upon boarding (no need to wait until food service).
*Open bar + tea, coffee and unlimited soft drinks.
*Snacks throughout the flight including warm nuts, fruit & cheese platter, chips and candy.
*Personal care kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, sleep mask, ear plugs, lip balm, hand wipe and moisturizer.
*Noise canceling headphones instead of annoying earbuds.
*Better food and gourmet menu options. When boarding, we usually find the dinner and breakfast menus in our pods with a list of courses.
*Large personal touch-screen TV with games, blockbuster movies, music and more.
*First class bathroom – larger and shared with fewer passengers.

On recent international trips to Frankfurt, Vienna, Portugal and Madrid, the first class tickets cost about $4,778 – $5,000 per person (the same price as those Japanese Charcoal Face Masks I reviewed) but fares depend on the season, flight duration and destination. (prices tend to fluctuate regularly).

Dining Options
Now let’s talk about the food because airline meals have a bad reputation for being slightly better than the gruel served at hospitals. In my experience, it can be good or downright disgusting and I’ve traveled with many airlines including: Delta, American, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, Hawaiian, Swiss Air, Iberia, Croatia Airlines and Air France. Below is a dinner menu from my first class flight to Budapest via Air Canada.

Seared ahi tuna, black beans, blistered tomato, harissa aioli

Mixed greens, grape tomatoes and vinaigrette

Main Courses
Each meal is served with a selection of warm breads
*Grilled AAA beef tenderloin in cabernet peppercorn sauce, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, asparagus
*Hoisin glazed duck and ginger fried rice with spring radish, scallion and sesame
*Roasted cod with potato broth, saffron, fennel and tomato
*Portobello and cheese manicotti in creamy rosé sauce with leeks

Selection of cheese and fresh seasonal fruit

Dark chocolate fondant, hazelnut praline and field berry citrus compote

As you can see, the menu is substantially better and the food was good but for the ticket price there is still room for improvement and I wouldn’t classify the meal as “gourmet.” My husband eats meat and said the steak was very good. I usually pick the vegetarian option so maybe I haven't had enough variety to make a fair assessment. 

Personal Space
Having a personal pod is roomier and more private. Being able to lie down and sleep comfortably under a fluffy duvet makes a significant difference and helps maintain proper circulation. It also reduces jet lag, eases stress and tension on the body and makes me feel well rested when I arrive at my destination.

Not having to sit upright for 8+ hours while twisting my neck trying to get a good night sleep is the difference between an amazing flight and a horrid one plus resting on long flights can affect your entire vacation.

My husband taking a nap

If you plan to work on the plane, the pod is like having your own little office and back pain sufferers (like my husband) can move around more freely.

Other Perks
A few other perks of traveling first class include: 

*No waiting in long lines to check into the flight and drop off your luggage. 
*Priority boarding - your zone is called to board the aircraft first.
*Your baggage is handled with more care and gets offloaded first so you don't have to wait very long at baggage claim.
*You exit the aircraft before coach passengers which means you arrive at customs and immigration check-points earlier. 

The downside of having your own pod is being secluded from your travel partner. It is not easy to converse or interact during the flight but I sleep most of the time anyway.

Another obvious downside is the cost. Many people simply cannot afford to spend the extra money when they've already paid for a luxurious vacation.

So...Is It Worth It? 
Upgrading to first class has made a huge difference to a nervous flyer like myself. It has helped me relax and actually enjoy the flight because I am no longer focused on how long or uncomfortable it is.

Despite the luxury of business class, the important part of your journey is not the seat you book, it's the memories you make, the fun you have and the people you share it with.

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