Your first-class ticket will get you top-notch service and comfort in the air, but at these first-class airport lounges, expect the same level of luxury on the ground.

The benefits of a first-class airline ticket go well beyond the red carpet treatment at check-in and the champagne and caviar on the plane. The pricey ticket also buys you access to the most privileged and exclusive area of the airport – the first-class airline lounge. So while other, less fortunate passengers wait around on hard, metal benches, wandering around uninspired duty-free shops just to kill time, the first class traveler could be getting a massage, surfing the internet, watching movies on plasma TV screens, napping on comfy armchairs, or feasting on five-star food and drink. Suddenly, the time between immigration and boarding becomes a pampering treat.

Yet, while all airports have lounges, not all lounges are the same. In a 2005 survey released in May, Skytrax, a London-based company that monitors international airline and airport quality levels, rated the top first and business class lounges around the world.

Many of the best, as it turned out, belonged to Asian airlines, including Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong and Thai Airways in Bangkok, which ranked first and second respectively. The Middle East was also represented by Qatar Airways in Doha and Gulf Air in Bahrain, while Lufthansa in Frankfurt and Swiss International Airlines in Zurich stepped up for Europe.

"Our lounge ratings are the result of an exacting analysis of standards," said Peter Miller, marketing director for Skytrax. "We are not interested in which airline has the largest lounges, or necessarily the most technologically advanced services - but the combined quality of product and service. A good airline lounge is somewhere you feel relaxed, genuinely welcome, and the expected product facilities are available."

So, while all first class lounges boast expected facilities such as internet access, work desks, showers, food and drink, and others still offer 'added-value' facilities such as children's playrooms, games rooms, DVD players, fitness centers, a la carte dining and such, the highest ranked lounges offer something more abstract – a sense of well-being and pampering that comes from the overall quality and the character of the experience. At Cathay Pacific's first class lounge in Hong Kong, for example, travelers can luxuriate in large, sunken bathtubs, while in Bangkok, Thai Airways offers its first class passengers traditional Thai massages. Now that's enough to make you almost want to miss your flight...

World's Top First Class Airline Lounges 2005 by Skytrax

1. Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong International Airport

2. Thai Airways, Bangkok International Airport

3. South African Airways, Johannesburg International Airport

4. Asiana Airlines, Seoul International Airport

5. Malaysia Airlines, Kuala Lumpur International Airport

6. Lufthansa, Frankfurt International Airport

7. Singapore Airlines, Singapore International Airport

8. Qatar Airways, Doha International Airport

9. Gulf Air, Bahrain International Airport

10. Swiss, Zurich International Airport