Not all Firsts are equal

One thing that you can be fairly certain of when you book an economy seat on pretty much any airline is that you will probably get a very similar offering. Most fly a 3-3 configuration with little leg room for anyone over 6ft tall and offer a drink and a snack (unless you are flying on a low cost carrier).

The same cannot be said for first class seats and first class service. On my recent trip to the States, I flew on several flights in First, three of which earned me 210TP each, but had very different experiences.

My British Airways First was on a Boeing 747 LHR-JFK. I had a my own little booth (to call it a suite is over-egging it somewhat) with plenty of room to stretch out. The crew greeted me and took me to my seat, before proffering a glass of champagne in a real glass.


I was also treated to an excellent meal which was matched with fine wines. The staff were attentive and very proactive.

I next flew on an American Airlines A321T in their new First seats on the JFK – LAX Transcontinental route, Again, there was plenty of room and I was able to lie flat to doze for a while. Pre-flight drinks were offered, and I was able to have champagne again, although this time it was out of a plastic tumble which somewhat dampened the luxurious feel.

The meal service was excellent and the wines were delicious.


The service on board was good; the cabin crew took the effort to learn my name and were always on hand to meet requests. It was, however, not as polished as British Airways and did not have the same opulence that they manage to create at 38,000ft. I would suggest that it was also fairly egalitarian, as I discussed here, but the same could not be said for the next flight.

My last First class leg over 2,000 miles was on an American Boeing 737 from Las Vegas to Miami. This was an overnight flight and, departing at about 2200, I was ready for a sleep. However, this did not come equipped with the lie-flat bed I had enjoyed on the way to LAX, but rather a reclining chair which was not the same for snoozing.

Service on this flight was perfunctory; the crew served a pre-take of glass of water, followed by some warm nuts and then a cookie along with the drinks run. They did provide a large can of tonic water and two miniature bottles of Bombay Sapphire, perhaps in the hope that I wouldn’t bother them again. I did; I asked for a whisky and lemonade, only to be told that they did not have lemonade. I asked for Sprite, to be told that they didn’t have any, but they did have something else. Not being American, I didn’t know what it was, nor can I remember the name now, but he said it was like Sprite. Why he couldn’t have just got there himself in the first place when I asked for lemonade I don’t know.

As I said, all of these flights were in First class, and earned 210TP a piece, but there was a huge variation in the levels of service. As someone who wanted to maximise the Tier Points from the travel, it was not a huge issue that some of the flights did not match up to the initial British Airways one. I also knew that the 737 wouldn’t be at the same level of excellence as the 747 or A321T were. If I had been going for out and out luxury, I would have been disappointed with the 737.

So, next time you are booking a trip that includes a First class leg, have a little look at the aircraft you will be flying one before you book the ticket. If you are looking to maximise your TPs then the 737 will do the job, but if you can get on the A321T running between JFK and LAX or SFO, you will get there in more style!

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