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12 Highlights From Flying First Class on the World's Swankiest Airlines

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This week, a flight from Newark to Denver had to be diverted because two passengers got in a fight over a reclining seat. It's a testament to the state of domestic economy class that most people I talked to about this weren't surprised—this type of thing was bound to happen.

Sure, complaining about air travel is the Soliloquy Of The Privileged; no one wants to hear about how your satellite TV feed went out or how you had to spend a whole three hours sitting upright and not splayed about like some boneless child. Still, no one would turn down the chance to melt into a full reclining seat and have total privacy on a flight.

You can get this via the first class cabins of international airlines, although this alternative will set you back a few thousand big ones. Those of us who aren't petrol magnates will probably never get the chance to experience these kinds of perks at 35,000 feet. Instead, we'll have to live vicariously through those who are lucky enough to fly on the world's swankiest carriers and who have documented their experiences.

1. Emirates Airlines (Airbus A380; Bangkok to Hong Kong)

Highlights: The shower! Our gracious video host films himself taking a shower mid-flight, which is equal parts insane, mind-boggling, and wonderful.

2. Cathay Pacific (Boeing 777; Hong Kong to Chicago)

Highlights: Cathay was recently named "World's Best Airline," so that must be neat for them. The pre-flight champagne is a nice touch, and so is the personalized hand-written card that comes with the first course wishing the passenger a Happy New Year.

3. Swiss International Airlines (Airbus A330; Zurich to Boston)

Highlights: Free pajamas are a great souvenir, although something tells me first class passengers flying to Zurich can afford PJs.

4. Asiana Airlines (Boeing 747; Incheon to Frankfurt)

Highlights: Here's just some of the food you get to shove down your pampered gullet: Caviar, peppered tuna with carrot-chive slaw, pickled mushroom and chickpea salad, chicken soup with a risotto ball, sorbet, veal tenderloin with lobster, a fruit and cheese plate, and dessert pastries. Keep in mind, that's just one meal. Passengers also get breakfast and lunch if the flight is long enough.

5. All Nippon Airways (Boeing 777; Chicago to Tokyo)

Highlights: Your seat is inside a self-contained little box made with modular pop-out units for entertainment features, charging stations, and storage. You also get a pretty damn big TV.

6. Garuda Indonesia (Boeing 777; Tokyo to Jakarta)

Highlights: Caviar, a nice wine list, and a fully-stocked bathroom kit with like 56 different types of lotions.

7. Etihad Airways (Boeing 777; Abu Dhabi to Sydney)

Highlights: An ornate sliding door provides privacy for each first class passenger. Also, the roof of the cabin transforms into a digital star map at night, which is haunting and seems like something straight out of The Fifth Element's Fhloston Paradise.

8. Singapore Airlines (Airbus A380; Singapore to Melbourne)

Highlights: Turndown service. C'mon.

9. Lufthansa (Airbus A340; Munich to San Francisco)

Highlights: A single rose sits in your armrest's built-in vase. Remember that next time you're jostling your seatmate for elbowroom on the way to Ft. Lauderdale.

10. Qantas (Airbus A380; Melbourne to Dubai)

Highlights: Double-decker A380s have tail-mounted cameras, meaning you can watch take-off or landing on your flatscreen TV from that incredible vantage point (skip to around 15:50).

11. EVA Air (Boeing 777; London to Bangkok)

Highlights: The framed artwork is a nice touch, even if it looks like it belongs in a divorce lawyer's beach house.

12. Thai Airlines (Airbus A380; Frankfurt to Bangkok)

Highlights: Your meals are prepared fresh next to your seat. You may have to bring aboard your own little bag of pretzels if you want that, though.

BONUS: Qatar Airlines (Boeing 787 Dreamliner; Doha to Frankfurt)

While not technically "first" class, this footage comes from an all-business class 787 Dreamliner. This is the newest and nicest passenger jet you can fly, and the features are ridiculous. The armrest magically rises from the console, which is totally unnecessary but that's all part of the joy. The windows are huge on the 787, and you won't find a pull-down shade here; you can control the tint from your digital control handset. It's like transition lenses, except not embarrassing. The toilets "auto-flush" and the bathroom has a window, which is ingenious—there's no reason all plane lavatories shouldn't feature this. Who's going to spy on you? Superman? That guy's a wuss. Oh, and the seatbelts have airbags.

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The Real Bay of Pigs: Big Major Cay in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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This 1940 Film on Road Maps Will Make You Appreciate Map Apps Like Never Before
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Douglas Grundy, Three Lions/Getty Images

In the modern era, we take for granted having constantly updated, largely accurate maps of just about every road in the world at our fingertips. If you need to find your way through a city or across a country, Google Maps has your back. You no longer have to go out and buy a paper map.

But to appreciate just what a monstrous task making road maps and keeping them updated was in decades past, take a look at this vintage short film, "Caught Mapping," spotted at the Internet Archive by National Geographic.

The 1940 film, produced by the educational and promotional company Jam Handy Organization (which created films for corporations like Chevrolet), spotlights the difficult task of producing and revising maps to keep up with new road construction and repair.

The film is a major booster of the mapmaking industry, and those involved in it come off as near-miracle workers. The process of updating maps involved sending scouts out into the field to drive along every road and note conditions, compare the roads against topographical maps, and confirm mileage figures. Then, those scouts reported back to the draughtsmen responsible for producing revised maps every two weeks. The draughtsmen updated the data on road closures and other changes.

Once those maps were printed, they were "ready to give folks a good steer," as the film's narrator puts it, quietly determining the success of any road trip in the country.

"Presto! and right at their fingertips, modern motorists can have [information] on any road they wish to take." A modern marvel, really.

[h/t National Geographic]

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