There’s a handful of aircraft out there that take the flying experience to the next level by offering bar and lounge areas for passengers to relax in. There are six different commercial airlines to date that offer true bar experiences on board: Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia.
There is a seventh is on its way as well with ANA (other airlines might have mini-bar areas but I’m not counting those.)
Brad and I were able to try out each of these six bars recently as part of one mega, round the world trip that lasted an entire moth. Each of the bars had something special to offer but some of the bars stood out more than others. Here’s my list of the best bars on airplanes and why I thought each bar earned its spot on the list.
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Things to know about the bars
Before I get into the list of the top bars, I wanted to point out a few things that I noticed about visiting these bars that you should be aware of. Knowing these will hopefully help you have a better day/night/14 hours at the bar.
The bars are usually in the back of business class
If you’re flying first class, chances are that the bar is going to be near the opposite side of the plane from where you’re sitting.
This means it’s going to be a little bit of a hike to get back to the first class cabin as you make your way through a dimly lit, narrow aisle with endless rows of passengers sound asleep. If you get a little wobbly after a couple of drinks, this is something to consider.
Only first class and business class passengers get access
These bars are only available to business class and/or first class passengers. Some bars may allow economy passengers access in the future *gasp* but for now unless you’re flying in business class or first class, chances are you won’t have access to the bar.
There are exclusive first class bars
Some of these aircraft have special areas reserved just for first class. This might be where they store the more premium drinks so if you go to those bars you can self serve yourself some of the most premium alcohol at your own mini (open) bar for hours on end.
Be easy on the self-service
On Virgin Australia, a crew member told us tales of people finding their way behind the bar and bar tending themselves. In most cases, you’re not allowed behind the bar and so you shouldn’t take that as your chance to show off why you should have been a mixologist. Just flag down a crew member for help.
The exception to this would be those exclusive first class bars where self service is encourages. Also, you usually can get a photo-op behind the bar so long as you ask the crew first.
Bring your premium drinks to the bar
If you’re flying first class and have special access to super-premium drinks like Dom Perignon you might want to request for them to be brought to the bar so that you can partake with it at the bar. Just try not to make everybody too jealous.
A little turbulence is okay
If you’re at the bar and turbulence hits, they’ll probably just ask you to sit down (and possibly strap in to the seat belt). If it’s really bad they might clear off the bar and then possibly ask you to return to your seat. But if it’s just a few bumps for a little while, you’ll probably be okay just hanging out at the bar.
The bars can re-up anytime
If you’re at the bar and notice your preferred drink of choice is getting low or empty, you can request for that drink to be taken from the galley and they’ll probably bring it out to the bar for you or at least pour you a glass.
The bars can get crowded
The bars on planes can get very crowded so you might want to try to time your visit.
The bars take a little while to get set-up. Chances are they won’t have the bar set up until about 15 minutes after reaching altitude. If you really want to check out these bars (and get photos) you might want to get there as soon as they open because they can get quite crowded.
You’ll likely want to return to the bar later because they usually adjust the lighting at the bar throughout the flight and I always found the lighting to be better and more interesting later on in the flight.
Don’t be one of those people
A lot of people underestimate how much easier it is to get hungover on a plane. A lot of people are also d-bags when they drink. Don’t be one of those people.
So that’s it for the tips and below is the list of the best bars. If you want to find more about how I used miles to book these flights you can follow the links found below.
6. Virgin Atlantic 787
Virgin Atlantic gets some points because they have their bars fitted on multiple aircraft. Whether you’re flying the 747, 787, A330, A340, you’ll find a bar on board (except for the new A330-200s). The design and layout of the bar is a bit different for some of these but we flew on the 787 Dreamliner so that’s what I’m going to focus on.
The bar on the Virgin Atlantic 787 is located at the end of the Upper Class cabin and it’s very open — there are no curtains acting as a divider to the rest of the cabin. This means that bar-goers can create a lot of noise in a hurry and might need to be shushed, which puts a bit of a damper on the experience.
If you’re taking a day-flight from the East Coast to the UK, the odds are probably higher that more people will be visiting the bar and noise might be an issue. Since we departed LAX on a late flight, most people were snoozing away for most of the flight and noise wasn’t an ongoing problem.
While the bar area is quite small, it’s extremely sleek once the flight gets underway and the cabin crew turns the mood lighting on. There are only a couple of stools to relax on on the 787, so you might be standing if you want to check out the bar.
Snacks are offered at the bar but they were among my least favorite out of all of the bars we tried. So while the Virgin Atlantic bar is pretty striking, it’s my least favorite due to the small size and lack of food and drink options.
5. Etihad A380 — “The Lobby”
The Etihad A380 is a magnificent aircraft. While only flown on six routes, it’s a thing of beauty especially its first class cabin which is home to the Apartment (and the Residence) not to mention a shower as well. The bar on the Etihad A380 is known as “The Lobby” and it’s open to both first class and business class customers.
The Lobby reminds me of a booth you’d reserve at a nice lounge or wine bar where you’re there just to relax and chat with colleagues. It’s not a large area, but there’s room for about six people to relax on some comfortable seating and take advantage of power outlets if needed.
There’s no bartender present in the room for the most part so it’s a good place to have a private conversation/business meeting. The crew will come by to serve you up some drinks and/or serve you up some light snacks but you kind of feel like you are on your own at The Lobby and the snacks aren’t very extensive.
Overall, The Lobby is a cool place worth checking out but it’s not the most memorable in-flight bar out there. It’s also a bar that’s one of the tougher to find since Etihad only flies the A380 to six cities:
- New York
4. Korean Air A380 — “The Celestial Bar”
The Korean Air A380 houses the aptly-named Celestial Bar which is one of the most interesting bars in the sky. This cosmo-inspired bar is a pretty spacious area with comfy benches to relax on and a bartender who remains on-duty at all times.
The Celestial serves up a whole roster of vodka drinks, which you can order from their special menus. Many of the drinks, served in martini glasses, are pretty satisfying but if you’re not a vodka person, you may want to bring your own wine, champagne, or beer with you from your seat.
They’ll also have a good mix of savory snacks and desserts on a rotation, some of which consisted of tasty items I’d never tried before.
The Korean Air A380 actually has two other smaller bar/lounge areas, including one on the bottom deck of the A380 that’s exclusive to first class passengers. In this area, you can have more snacks all to yourself and also fix up your own drink, making it as potent as you’d like.
Oh yeah, and I realize it’s not a bar but I felt the need to point out that there’s also a duty-free shop on the Korean A380 as well.
3. Virgin Australia 777 — “The Bar”
The Virgin Australia 777 is home to a beautiful bar area located between the two business class cabins on the 777. This is one of the toughest bars to fly on because LAX is pretty much the only place that these 777s fly to from Australia.
On our visit, the bar tender/flight attendant got the party started for us and the bar ended up being the funnest experience out of all of these in-flight bars during our flight from SYD to LAX. The nice vibe I got at the bar is why I’ve put this bar at number 3 — it was truly an enjoyable bar visit.
There’s a decent selection of beverages to choose from, including a selection of whiskies like Maker’s Mark and Aussie wines, though no truly premium drink is served.
You can snack on chips, chocolates, and some other light bites and check out a nice selection of magazines as well. If you ever find yourself in need of a refill with no bartender in sight, there’s a call button located at the bar you can use to get service as soon as you can.
The back side of the bar has an iconic Virgin Australia logo and makes the bar look pretty epic with the right lighting.
2. Emirates A380
The Emirates A380 is another pretty magnificent aircraft. It’s got an amazing first class complete with tricked-out suites and even showers. But it also has one of the best onboard bars that’s open to both business class and first class passengers.
There’s also a lot of tasty desserts and snacks to choose from like olives, fruits, and even some sandwiches. I really liked this bar because the cabin crew was great, the snacks were on-point, and the crowds never got that bad. It’s also a pretty cool looking bar.
The bar area is pretty spacious and I thought it was great for socializing. If you have a middle seat in business or first class, you can come out to the bar and enjoy the views for a while, too.
Emirates also has a special bar only available to first class passengers which is found at the front of the plane. This is where they store the high-end stuff like Dom Perignon and Hennessy Paradis, which is a Henny that goes for close to $800 per bottle.
There’s also new version of the bar being rolled out which steps up the elegance game but we really enjoyed this version.
1. Qatar Airways A380
Qatar also has a beautiful A380, including an awesome first class cabin. While there’s no shower on board the Qatar A380, I think Qatar has to win for the best bar. The bar area is just immaculate with beautiful lighting and decor that exudes elegance.
The design of the bar is also seamless and it’s put together in a way that’s perfect for socializing and relaxing. The only problem with the bar is that it’s very popular with passengers and can start to fill up pretty quickly.
Qatar serves Krug in first class but not in business class. However, you can still get served Krug at the bar even as a business class passenger, which is a major plus for this bar.
The snacks, desserts, and canapé offered at the bar are gourmet and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a bar at the Ritz-Carlton. Even the glassware and silverware has an elegant feel to it. For all of the reasons above, I have to give Qatar the nod as the best airplane bar experience.
Qatar doesn’t operate its A380 on many true long-haul flights but you can find it on the following routes:
Getting out and stretching your legs in a bar is a fantastic way to refresh on a long-haul flight. Some of these bars will amaze you with great drinks and atmospheres so much that you’ll forget your on a plane.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.