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The Perks of Flying First-class


Dom Pérignon, Hermès hand lotion, personal video screens, reclining leather seats . . . we're not in coach class anymore, Toto. A round-trip coach fare from San Francisco to London this September costs around $1,100; a first-class ticket, anywhere from $8,848 (Continental) to $12,546 (United). Is first-class pampering really worth up to 11 times the price of a coach fare? You decide. Check out what some airlines are doing for the high rollers once the dark curtains are drawn.

Goodie Bags

  • American — Origins Lip Remedy, cooling gel, and (on request) Blade Runner shaving cream.
  • United — Aerosense mouth wash, lip balm, and moisturizer, all created for the airline.
  • Delta — Lip balm and lotion from L’Occitane.
  • Continental — Rembrandt toothpaste and toothbrush; blue cotton socks.
  • Virgin — Virgin Vie eye gel, essential oil body gel, pen, paper, and mints.
  • Singapore — Hermès lotion and Neutrogena lip moisturizer; aromatherapy oils and mist.

To Help You Sleep

  • American — A privacy divider and a fully reclining seat.
  • United — Full-size pillows, a privacy divider, and a fully reclining seat.
  • Delta — An eye shade with a terry liner, and comfy, ergonomically designed seats.
  • Continental — Full-size pillows, electronic lumbar support, and an adjustable footrest.
  • Virgin — Fully reclining seats, eye shades, cotton pajamas, and soft, cozy socks.
  • Singapore — Seats turn into beds with fresh linens and duvet. Plus: Givenchy pajamas.


  • American — Filet mignon pot roast, paella, or lamb chops in rosemary sauce.
  • United — Golden sesame chicken napped in citrus sauce with fried rice and peppers.
  • Delta — Five-course meal with entrée choices ranging from beef tenderloin to vegetarian pasta.
  • Continental — Grilled veal chop with porcini mushroom sauce and roasted vegetables in wine sauce.
  • Virgin — Menu allows you to select from 23 items, from a light salmon salad to a Philly cheese steak.
  • Singapore — Lobster thermidor, steak, lamb noisettes, or a barramundi fillet baked in a banana leaf.

And for Dessert

  • American — Vanilla flan with white chocolate mousse or coconut manjar with chocolate sauce.
  • United — Ice cream sundaes with hot fudge, walnuts, and whipped cream. Dieting? Fresh fruit.
  • Delta — Old-fashioned ice cream sundaes with the works.
  • Continental — Hot fudge sundaes, apple cobbler, and cognac.
  • Virgin — Sweet nibbles, including miniature raspberry cheesecakes and meringue tortes.
  • Singapore — Healthy sweets, such as sliced fresh fruit, or berry sorbet with a fruit compote.

Free Booze

  • American — 1996 Bordeaux and Pommery Cuvée Madame Louise 1988 champagne.
  • United — Dom Pérignon and Chivas Brothers Royal Salute scotch.
  • Delta — A selection of wines from around the world.
  • Continental — Grand Marnier and Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
  • Virgin — Order some Virgin vodka or Rémy Martin cognac at the stand-up bar.
  • Singapore — Champagne from Dom Pérignon and Krug.


  • American — Personal TV screen with a DVD player.
  • United — Personal TV screen with programs from NBC, Disney, and ESPN. Plus your choice of films.
  • Delta — Personal TV screen, films, and video games, ranging from blackjack to Tetris.
  • Continental — Personal screen for viewing The Simpsons, first-run movies, or classics like Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Virgin — Watch new films (or favorite oldies) on your personal screen. Or you can play Nintendo.
  • Singapore — Personal 14-in. screen; interactive information on your destination.

Seat Size (pitch is distance from seat back to back of seat behind)

  • American — Pitch: 89 in. Width: 21 in. (30.5 in. on international flights) Recline: all the way
  • United — Pitch: 78 in. Width: 21.5 in. Recline: all the way.
  • Delta — Pitch: 60 in. Width: 21 in. Recline: 17 in.
  • Continental — Pitch: 55 in. Width: 20-21 in. Recline: 15 in.
  • Virgin — Pitch: 55–60 in. Width: 22.5 in. Recline: converts into a bed.
  • Singapore — Pitch: 78 in. Width: 23 in. Recline: converts to a 76-in. bed with an inflatable air mattress.

Luxurious Amenities

  • American — Bose noise-cancelling headsets.
  • United — The seat can inflate and deflate every two minutes, giving you a massage.
  • Delta — A self-service snack station with cheeses, fruits, and nuts.
  • Continental — Complimentary limousine service upon arrival; open snack bar.
  • Virgin — In-flight massages and manicures; free limo service.
  • Singapore — Sip your Dom Pérignon from crystal glasses.


This article was first published in September 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.