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Time for U.S. Carriers to Make First Class Better

Stocks in this article: AMR

The first-class seat
The best thing about a first-class seat shouldn't be merely its ability to flatten into a bed, as it is on most domestic airlines. Instead, they should embody the "suite" labeling pursued by airlines such as United and American. First, upgrade the technology. Televisions should be widescreen LCDs and play digital on-demand content on all flights, not prehistoric tapes. And can we not build in noise-canceling headphones instead of begging to have them passed out an hour into the flight and collecting them so long before arrival?

Both sides of the seats should offer a privacy screen so a sleeping face isn't exposed to travelers passing en route to the bathroom or a flight attendant's occasional knee. Duplicating great amenity kits with some designer collaborations (who wouldn't love a Ralph Lauren tote?) or just offering such things as the Emirates Airlines in-seat minibar with full-size snacks and upgraded alcohols goes a long way toward satiating service-hungry passengers.

Ditch the flying port-a-potty
Why is it that the typical airline bathroom hasn't changed since the advent of the jet age? If you're seated in first class you sometimes get a wider selection of toiletries such as those facial sprays on United, but other times not so much -- like on a certain rival airline that didn't even replace the paper towels on a recent eight-hour flight.

While we understand that some airlines will never be able to offer the showers offered on Emirates, would it be too much to offer a wider sink with better fixtures, or a color other than beige for travelers often paying 10 times the median economy-class ticket for the same trip?

It's all about service
Annoyed by the ticket agent, visually sickened by the first-class lounge and perplexed by the dated plane, many travelers simple expect that even an international first-class flight will be a long one. But then came the Sunday edition of The New York Times even before takeoff, still crisp and relevant, and efficient flight attendants that never forgot a drink or let empty trays linger too long.

Astute service can switch a traveler's focus from the dated seat to enjoying service that should be the norm, not the exception. Even if you don't change a single physical thing for first-class travelers, at the very least bring the service mentality back to airline travel. Flying should be more like checking into a hotel and less like getting onto the bus, especially in first class.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.
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