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) -- In an era of scaled-back travel services and many airlines opting for a two-class cabin versus a traditional three, there are still airlines ramping up their first-class offerings with unprecedented amenities and luxury services that bring aviation back to its golden age -- providing you're seated in the right part of the plane.

Virgin Atlantic

Upper Class begins showing its service muscle even before travelers depart for the airport. For those dreading a rush-hour commute in London or lengthy ride on the Heathrow Express, Virgin Limobike offers select Upper Class passengers one of the fastest and chicest ways to go from city to airport: Travelers are picked up throughout London by specially trained motorcycle chauffeurs that navigate the nooks and crannies of the congested capital as passengers hold on and marvel. Boasted about by celebs and a handy tool for time-strapped CEOs, the chauffeur even provides protective clothing and a fluffy blanket for passengers during colder winter months.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class begins showing its service muscle even before travelers depart for the airport: They can be delivered to this luxury via chauffeured motorcycle.


knows how to treat its First Class passengers, from its impeccable in-flight services to airport lounges that impress in Dubai and elsewhere. Rather than share airline lounge space with less-luxurious code-share partner, Emirates is expanding its infrastructure of airline-operated luxury lounges with its first West Coast location -- San Francisco. Available to first-class as well as business customers, the grand SFO lounge space sprawls almost 10,000 square feet over two levels with glossy decor of veiny marble floors and walls strewn with


clocks. The lounge boasts the biggest dining room of any SFO airline lounge, with nightly dinner service in addition to a full-service bar that makes for the ultimate preboarding send-away for its daily Boeing 777-300ER service to Dubai.

Those lucky enough to score a first-class suite on Emirates' fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft find that well-publicized burl and gold boudoir in the sky with sliding door, stocked mini-bar and fully flat mattresses trimmed in high-thread count sheets. Service is impeccable, with choice of Asian, Western and Middle Eastern dinners and Dom that's poured like Diet Coke. While the onboard lounge and its bartender service is a great perk, it's the signature shower spas that are the true

piece d'resistance

. Guests are offered their own bath time, with water regulated by time per passenger, inside shower suites trimmed in marble and wood paneling with a selection of bath products that include an amenity kit of


toiletries for each passenger that will have you smelling better upon landing than on takeoff.

Picky spirit drinkers will want to look into

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Singapore Airlines

First Class and Singapore Suites, where patrons are offered a choice of

Dom Perignon



champagne. Further perks include cuisine from an International culinary panel, which includes Singapore's Sam Leong, L.A.'s Suzanne Goin and France's Georges Blanc. Passengers can "book the cook" and order favorite main courses in advance of their flight directly through the airline -- an amenity especially popular with Middle Eastern clients.

Design lovers will want to seek the comfort of

Cathy Pacific

with its more minimalist first-class cabins trimmed in muted wood paneling with 81-inch lie-flat beds and low-flung chairs that give the feel of a more spacious cabin.

U.S. carriers often take a pounding when premium passengers assess in-flight offerings, but not likely from the man seated in 1A on select

United Airlines

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transatlantic flights. The United First Suite may not have the gilded bling of Emirates First Class, but it manages just as much room and even a bit more girth for those who like a little more width in their seat. Antiquated leather and drab colors make less of a design statement (and the only cocktail bar is the one in the flight attendants' galley), but a good passenger-to-staff ratio with an improving lineup of celebrity chefs and master sommeliers makes for an ever-improving first-class experience.


Malaysian Air

, first class comes in a series of well-spaced seating pods that convert with the help of staff into fully flat beds with quilted mattress pads and fluffy duvets. Passengers are offered a bag of in-flight toiletries by French brand

La Prairie

as well as a well-designed bathroom with real linen towels. Cuisine is served on bone china with a la carte or a chef-on-call menu from which guests can pre-order online an array of Malaysian or Western dishes -- to be washed down with a universal glass of Dom proving that the golden age of air travel still exists as long as you're in the right seat.

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>>You Don't Have to Check Baggage

>>Airline VIP Lounges That Wow

>>The Low-Down on Virgin's Upper 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.