A review of our first experience flying first class- Was it worth it?

On our trip earlier this year to Hawaii, we elected to fly first class. This was the first time that we had been in a position to spend the additional money on transportation for a major vacation. This was partly because the trip had been delayed multiple times due to the pandemic and because we had not spent any money on any travel for the two previous years. Ultimately our dread about the long flight and our lack of recent vacations prompted us to splurge on the first class airfare. Keep reading for review of our first experience flying first class and our conclusion about whether it is worth the expense.

The lie-flat seats and other amenities in first class
The lie-flat seats and other amenities in first class

Our decision

Our original flight was booked approximately two years earlier with American Airlines because we had airline credit from a previously canceled flight. We ultimately had to reschedule our trip and flights multiple times before finalizing the dates for this trip. We typically purchase seats with extended leg room as my husband is quite tall and is very uncomfortable in standard airplane seats. On this trip, we considered upgrading to first class primarily because the main flights were eight hours long and the return flight was a red-eye that left at 8:45pm Hawaiian time. 

When considering the cost of the first class tickets, we took into account the cost of getting seats with extended legroom as well as the checked baggage fees. Ultimately, the first class seats were significantly more expensive, but we all decided to splurge for the reasons mentioned above. Upgrading our flights to first class basically doubled the price of our airfare. 

The first class cabin featured individual reclining seats that laid completely flat so that you can potentially get some sleep on the flight. While I don’t have a problem sleeping while flying, Brian finds it very difficult. We hoped that the lay-flat seeds would allow him some rest before (and after) our 10-day vacation.

First class review 

Our experience was extremely positive. It was exciting to board the plane first and to not have to wait for others to stow their luggage or have to climb over strangers to get to your seat. The first class seats were in individual little cubicles. This area included a pillow, private screen, a significant amount of legroom, and quite a bit of storage for your personal belongings. There was also a small toiletry bag that included earplugs, an eye mask, a pen, a toothbrush and toothpaste, lotion, and a pair of socks. These items came in a really cute bag from Shinola.

Once we found our seats we were greeted by a flight attendant by name and offered a warm towel, warm nuts, and champagne or water. The flight attendants checked in with us several times before the flight departed and we were offered beverages and snacks throughout the flight. 

Shortly after boarding we were served a light breakfast (or dinner on the return flight). After eating, we decided to try to get some sleep. We positioned our seats to lie flat and used our pillows and eye mask. We were both able to get around four or five hours of decent sleep. When I wasn’t sleeping, I enjoyed watching some television on my private screen. Due to the length of the flight, we were actually served another smaller meal/snack on both flights about an hour prior to landing. Eating in first class felt extra fancy because we were given a fabric placemat and real metal silverware. 

The shorter flights (to and from DFW)

Obviously, the benefits of first class seats were not as significant on the shorter flights we had to and from our layover in DFW. The seats were significantly larger with more legroom and had adjustable headrests. They also served us a meal on each of these shorter flights. Unsurprisingly these much shorter flights used smaller planes and did not offer the lie-flat seats, but the additional amenities were very nice.

Other perks associated with first class

Other Perks of Being first class included boarding and disembarking first. The cost of our first-class tickets also included two checked bags. Another other really nice benefit associated with our first class tickets was that we were granted access to the American Airlines lounge in the airport. This was really nice to use on our layovers and even while waiting for our initial flights. We enjoyed sitting in some comfy chairs and munching on some free snacks while waiting for our flights. Each seat in first class also had its own window (or two). In the first class seats there wasn’t a shade you could pull down to close the window, instead you had the option to tint your window to several different level settings.

First class tickets also give you priority check-in which can save some time. Another advertised perk that we did not ultimately experience was that our checked bags were supposed to be unloaded and to baggage claim first. We actually found that our bags were some of the last appear in baggage claim on both legs of our trip. The first class section of the plane also had a dedicated restroom at the front and three additional shared restrooms toward the back of the section which made it easy to find a restroom when needed. There was always a bathroom facility available when I needed one.

Tips for flying first class

We did not realize upon booking our seats that seats across the aisle from one another in the first class select section are staggered. As a result, it was difficult for Brian and I to communicate during the flight without standing up and going to the other person’s cubby. (Obviously this may vary from one airline to another and even from one plane type/size to another.) If we are ever able to fly first class again, we will be sure to select two center seats. The center seats (there were a total of four seats across in the first class cabin) are lined up and you can put down a small divider to allow communication between those two seats.

Also, be sure to select your meal preferences prior to your flight. After they distributed the meals that had been reserved online, they asked the other first class passengers for their meal preference. I know for at least one of the meals they ran out of one of the meal options and the remaining first class guests did not have a choice.

Overall experience 

Ultimately it was the extra legroom and the ability to actually get some sleep that made us feel like the extra expense of first class was worth it. On previous eight-hour or longer flights I have generally felt that the first day or two of the vacation was ‘lost’ due to exhaustion and the time change. In addition, I suffer from chronic migraine headaches and major disruptions to my sleep will often trigger a headache. Unfortunately I did have a migraine when we arrived in Maui, but I believe it was less severe than it otherwise would have been. In addition, I did not experience a migraine on their return flight.

The various neck pillows, eye masks, and other accessories we have attempted to use in the past were never very effective at helping us sleep on long flights. No matter what we have tried we eventually begin to feel very uncomfortable and antsy and feel like we have to move around. However, in the first class seats neither Brian nor I experienced this. And other than my mild headache upon arrival, we were much more energetic and just felt overall much better than we had after taking long flights in the past. 

Conclusion

Ultimately we felt that the extra cost of first class was totally worth it if you can swing it. We were able to get several hours of sleep which was invaluable and greatly improved our overall vacation experience. We have decided that moving forward we will attempt to purchase first class seats on any flight over five or six hours (if we are able to afford to do so). The benefits of these seats were absolutely worth the cost for us on our long flight. It is important, of course, to point out that this was our first (and so far only) time flying first class. I will be interested in hopefully experiencing flying first class with other airlines in the future to see how they compare.

the Honolulu airport
The Honolulu Airport

Have you ever flown first class? Do you think the cost is worth it? Let me know in the comments!

If you are looking for additional travel content, check out my blog post on the top things to see and do in Maui or my review of the Norwegian Cruise Line.

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