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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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One Day, You May Not Have to Take Your Laptop Out at the Airport
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TSA security lines might be a little less annoying in the future. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the agency will soon test new airport scanners that allow you to keep your liquids and laptop in your carry-on bag during security screening, a benefit currently only available to those who have been accepted into the agency’s PreCheck program.

The ConneCT scanners have met the TSA's "advanced technology detection standards," according to the company that makes them, Analogic, meaning that they can be tested out at airports across the U.S.

Computed tomography scanning technology is regularly used in hospitals and research labs for everything from diagnosing cancer to studying mummies. The imaging technique uses x-rays that rotate around whatever object is being imaged to create 3D images that provide more detail than those created by the regular x-ray scanners currently used to inspect carry-on luggage.

The ConneCT scanners have been in the works for 10 years. The devices have x-ray cameras that spin around the conveyor belt that holds your bag, creating a 3D image of it. Then algorithms help flag whether there's something suspicious inside so that it can be pulled aside for further screening by hand. They've already been tested in airports in Phoenix and Boston, but haven't been used on a national level yet.

But don't expect to see the high-tech scanners at your local airport anytime soon. According to the TSA, they have to undergo yet more testing before any of the machines can be deployed, and there’s no timetable for that yet.

Until then, as you're packing your liquids, just remember—you can always just freeze them.

[h/t Conde Nast Traveler]

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Big Questions
What Are the Northern Lights?
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Over the centuries, many have gazed up at one of the Earth’s most fascinatingly beautiful natural wonders: the Northern Lights. In the past couple of weeks, some lucky American stargazers have gotten the chance to see them from their very own backyards—and could again this week, according to Thrillist. But what are they?

Before science was able to get a read on what exactly was happening in the night sky, ancient tribes had their own theories for what caused the jaw-dropping light show. Many early beliefs had roots in religion, such as that the light was a pathway souls traveled to reach heaven (Eskimo tribes) or that the light was an eternal battle of dead warriors (Middle-Age Europe). Early researchers were a bit more reasonable in their approximations, and most surrounded the idea of the reflection of sunlight off the ice caps. In 1619, Galileo Galilei named the lights the aurora borealis after Aurora, the Roman goddess of morning, after concluding they were a product of sunlight reflecting from the atmosphere.

Today, scientists have come to the general agreement that the lights are caused by the collision of electrically charged solar particles and atoms from our atmosphere. The energy from the collisions is released as light, and the reason it happens around the poles is because that's where the Earth’s magnetic field is the strongest. In 2008, a team at UCLA concluded that “when two magnetic field lines come close together due to the storage of energy from the sun, a critical limit is reached and the magnetic field lines reconnect, causing magnetic energy to be transformed into kinetic energy and heat. Energy is released, and the plasma is accelerated, producing accelerated electrons.”

"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of Earth and Space Sciences. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond. We are providing the evidence that this is happening."

The best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter, due to the Earth’s position in relation to the sun (shorter days means darker night skies). And by the way, it’s not just the North Pole that puts on a show—there are Southern Lights, too. There are also aurora borealis on other planets—including Mars—so rest assured that future generations born “abroad” will not miss out on this spectacular feat of nature.

Haven’t seen them yet? Traditionally, the best places to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights are in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska. Maybe you'll get lucky this week and sneak a peek from your very own window. Check out Aurorasaurus for regular updates on where they are showing.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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