Flying First Class in Seat 1A – So Close But Yet So Far

My true passion when it comes to methods of travel is overlanding, and I feel it’s the best way to experience a country. Over the years I’ve taken many testing and difficult journeys via this form of travel. From the various long haul journeys throughout the Andes in South America. To one insane bus journey that Liza and I endured in Tanzania, that lasted a whopping 47 hours.

I’ve hitched mile upon mile on all manner of trucks and jeeps, including one 10 hour stint upon hessian bags stuffed with dried fish, in the Congo many years ago. When it comes to hard core travel, It’s fair to say I’ve earned my stripes so to speak.

First Class - Seat 1A

Around Christmas time this years I was arranging a short trip to the Philippines, for a quick island getaway. For these flight I was to use a stack of frequent flier points I’d amassed over the last few years. Anyone who’s booked flights using their frequent flier points, knows all to well that trying to get flights to destinations you desire at the time you want, is not always the easiest of tasks.

I was playing around with different air routes, and managed to work out that the best way to return to Australia was via Hong Kong. Everything was seen to be working out fine, but when I typed in the date to arrange the Cathay Pacific flight between Manila and Hong Kong, I hit a brick wall. All that was available was first and business class, on their Boeing 747-400 aircraft. As Hong Kong is one of my most favorite destinations as far as cities go, I really wanted to go via this route.

First Class in Seat 1A – Just Another New Travel Experience

Seat 1A

The elusive seats 1A and 1K on a Boeing 747. If you were on your own I'd say 1D would be the pick of the bunch though.

As a humble electrician by trade, it would be obvious to say that I’ve never flown first class before. I sat pondering, and though to myself ‘Travel is all about experiencing new things, and travel via first class is definitely something new’, so I decided to look into this a little further. As it turned out, for this short 2 hour flight I only required 22,000 points for first class, and the economy fair was only 9,000 points. A difference for sure, but not insurmountable.

I had the points to cover this (just), so I pushed the send button and booked the flight. I was now super excited and proceeded to the seat selection chart to book the seats. As the flight was still a few weeks away, the elusive seats 1A and 1K (the two seats right in the nose cone of the 747), were both available. So I selected the two premier seats, and the deal was done (or so I thought).

Wind the clock forward a few weeks and we are now going through the madness at Manila International Airport. We’ve had our bags scanned and proceeding to make our way to the check in counter. Running my eyes across the counters, I was surprised to see no first class sign. There was just your usual smattering of economy booths, and the solitary business class counter at the end of the line. We scratches our heads a little and the proceed to the business class counter with our e-tickets.

Sorry, But No First Class on this Flight – Goodbye Seat 1A

The lady behind the counter looked us up and down and stated that, ‘this line is for business class, and economy check was over there’. Pointing at the large line of people all jostling for a counter through a multitude of zig zaging barriers.

I was a little perplexed that she though we weren’t business class passengers, as I had actually put on my Sunday best for the flight. We replied to her, ‘sorry but we have first class tickets’, to which she was a little surprised and quickly snapped them up and told us to wait here.

On return the attendant advised us that there had been an aircraft change, and there was no first class available on this flight. She apologized and informed us that we would have to be down graded to business class. It’s fair to say I was a little disappointed.

Not only would we not get to fly first class, I would also not be sitting in that elusive seat 1A. The check in attendant also muttered something about a complimentary downgrade pack and the use of the first class lounge, as she pointed us towards the immigration gate.

Whilst we were about to board the flight, our names were called and we were pulled aside. A lady not dressed in the standard Cathay Pacific attire, placed a clipboard in front of me with a green document attached to it.

The document was written in English, and It’s fair to say I’m no layer, but I did get the gist of what the document was about. You guessed it, basically it was waiving our rights to any further compensation, as we’d been down graded.

Business Class Bording Pass

The boarding pass from my business class seat. It was certainly a long way from hitching on a truck full of dried fish.

As we were now late boarding the plane, we quickly signed the documents and were each handed a plane paper envelope containing a wad of cash. We quickly boarded the plane, settled into our comfortable business class seats (but not as comfortable as first class!) and then proceeded to open the envelope.

Upon opening I found a total of 3,000 pesos in each (approx US$70), for our downgrade trouble. A bit of a joke really, considering how much the actual cost difference between the two flight would be worth.

Although the business class service and food was quite nice (and easy to get used to), that experience of flying first class in seat 1A was just not to be. I felt this was my best opportunity to see life from the other side of the fence so to speak. Maybe it was just never meant to be, and I will never get to sit in 1A. Can’t say I’ll lose any sleep over it, but it would have been a nice experience.

Your Thoughts and Comments

What’s your take, did I sell out on my backpacking roots by booking this flight? Is there anyone out there, who’s flown first class? From the style of travel I tend to experience and write about, my guess is not but you just never know.


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     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  • Amanda Williams

    Too bad you didn’t get to experience first class! It would have be fun, I’m sure. Or, at least a good story to tell.

    As far as “selling out on your backpacker roots” – no way! Everyone deserves a little pampering every now and again, and it’s not like you forked out thousands of dollars to give first-class a try.

  • Jason

    Hey Amanda, I just wanted to see what it was like. Oh well maybe never. I think the air route from Manila to Hong Kong is one of the shortest international routes in the world that offers first class, so I suppose I’ll never get another chance. It was worth the try though. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Ciki

    hell no! you did not sell out at all. I myself would actually feel worse having 1A come so close, and end up not having it – i’d rather not have tried and not known any better at all! Anyway, it could still happen.. like in the next 10 years or so? LOL :P

  • Megan

    I don’t think you’re selling out – I’d love to fly first class! I would have been fuming had this happened to me.  

  • Amer

    I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get to fly first class. I don’t believe in the term ‘selling out’. In the end, we’re all travellers and most of our goals are similar. Yes a bit of pampering is good for you too. I was lucky to be upgraded to First Class on Etihad aswell as Business numerous times. Didn’t pay a penny nor points! It was ofcourse the best flight I’ve ever taken. You can check here for the article - Anyway Cathay is still one of the best airlines in the world and I’m sure your journey was a great one anyway!

  • Jason

    Hey Megan, Glad you agree I wasn’t selling out. I was a little disappointed that’s for sure, but at least I was still in business class. I definitely would have been angry if we had to go economy after booking first class. I know it was a points booking, but yes it was disappointing. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Jason

    Hey Ciki, I had to give it a go, as it would probably be the only air route in the world short enough to enable me to use my frequent flyer points to travel first class. Thanks for rubbing it in, but I will continue to look for an opportunity.

    Maybe one day I’ll get to eat my meal complete with a sterling silver spoon, as I sip on fine french champagne (I don’t even like champagne, but if it’s on the house, what the hell).

  • Jason

    Hey Amer, Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you don’t agree with the term selling out, but I thought I should ask the question to see if I get a response. It seems most people agree, if you get the opportunity then go for it.

    I could only imagine what first class on Etihad was like. I read your review, and it seems your luck was on your side, where I was the opposite. You didn’t book first class, but due to an aircraft change you were upgraded, where I was down graded (story of my life….). Oh well it was worth the shot.

    The Cathay service was still really nice, and something I could get used to, but my bank balance and flyer miles would not agree. Thanks for your comment mate.

  • Acceleratedstall

    Sell out?  No way.  How can you critique if you don’t try?  Travel is about experience and life is short.  I don’t hitch but I don’t normally fly first class either as it’s outrageously priced.  I go with what’s right for me at that moment in time.

    Try for 1st again when you can, if for no other reason than to say, “Yeah, I did that once.”

  • Jason

    Hey Maria, Good point, and I certainly agree. I suppose it’s like most things in life. It’s hard to have an educated opinion unless you’ve experienced it. That was the selling point I put to myself, before making the booking. Just another travel experience.

    I will try again one day to see if I can get a points booking on First Class. I thought that the Manila to Hong Kong route would be my best chance as it is one of the shortest air routes that run a First Class service.

    One day…..

  • Steve

    Flying first class is something I’d like to experience at least once too.  It’s too bad that you couldn’t make it.  You were so close too!

    That would have been great to sit all the way in the front like that.  I did have a seat in the absolute last seat in the plane once.  There was just one seat and I got it.  Not as glorious as the first seat, but still interesting in my opinion.

  • Dave from TLWH

    I thing the only time I took a 1st class “anything” was a train in Pakistan. It was 40 hours and cheap so why not. There is a difference.

    The interesting thing I think about when I see first class seats is … they are quick to criticize developing countries for have such “class” systems. Yet in the west, it’s right there too. 

    Personally I’d like to see politicians back in economy instead of taking first class flights when traveling, which they do a lot of. 

    Enjoyed the humorous post, hopefully you’ll get that special seat in the future! 

  • Dave from TLWH

    I thing the only time I took a 1st class “anything” was a train in Pakistan. It was 40 hours and cheap so why not. There is a difference.

    The interesting thing I think about when I see first class seats is … they are quick to criticize developing countries for have such “class” systems. Yet in the west, it’s right there too. 

    Personally I’d like to see politicians back in economy instead of taking first class flights when traveling, which they do a lot of. 

    Enjoyed the humorous post, hopefully you’ll get that special seat in the future! 

  • Jason

    Hey Steve, It’s certainly something I’d like to check out, and as you say at least once. Sitting in 1A and getting the full royal treatment would have been a great old laugh for a crusty old back packer such as myself.

    Sitting in the last row, does have it’s plus side Steve. From all accounts it’s the best place to survive a plane crash.

  • Jason

    Hey Dave, I suppose you’ve got to throw a few humorous (or attempted in my case) posts in now and again. I’d love to see the pollies in the back with the rest of us, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen. Business Class is about as low as their going to go.

    I think I may have taken that same train ride in Pakistan, as Liza and I took a couple of long haul trips while we were there. From memory, I think we took one from Zahedan on the Iranian border to Quetta and another from Quetta to Pindi (I think?). As always thanks for your comment.