Ana Silva O’Reilly gets almost misty-eyed when she thinks about a souvenir from her trip to New York several years ago: an Anya Hindmarch bag, featuring a black-and-white photo of London Bridge, which she received while flying first class on British Airways.
“There was something special about the bags,” says the U.K.-based luxury-travel blogger. “They were quite exclusive but, more than anything, very usable. To this day, you see quite a few on security queues—and people smile at each other.”
Even for travelers who embrace all manner of egalitarianism on the ground, it’s hard to argue with the VIP treatment you get while riding in business or first class on long-haul flights. Of course, there’s the legroom and the increasing number of flatbed seats. But for some passengers, the little creature comforts that many airlines offer—like a set of cozy loungewear, or a live orchid blooming over your seat—elevate the front-of-plane experience. “Although it’s not the main reason why I select which premium class I fly to a particular destination,” admits Brian Kelly, founder of frequent-flyer site ThePointsGuy, “a great amenity kit can definitely make a difference to the in-flight experience.”
The airlines are paying attention. According to the International Air Transport Association, “upper-class passengers” account for about a third of airline revenues, even though they occupy a small piece of the plane’s real estate.
When we looked around the world, we found several airlines (most, strikingly, based outside the U.S.) that butter up their first-class passengers with high-end goodie bags and instant-souvenir embroidered pajamas, along with fabulous front-of-the-cabin perks (hot shower before landing, anyone?) that can mitigate even the worst case of jet lag.
Almost maddeningly, too, those perks are not always easily re-created on the ground. Those BA amenity kits, for instance, have an “amazing lip balm that you can’t buy anywhere yet,” says O’Reilly. “I have asked the brand and was told that I would have to fly BA First again—and I could be tempted.”