Business class remains one of the most highly competitive markets in aviation. Airlines are making an increased push for premium passengers, and many business class seats are now simply so good that airlines are removing first class entirely. Next year first class will remain on just 18 airlines globally. However, with some outstanding business class products out there, do passengers really need first class anymore? The difference between business and first class has become much more narrow over the last few years, whilst the price gap has remained the same. On some full service carriers, first class does offer a remarkable product, with better amenities, more space and even showers on some aircraft. However, the justification for paying as much as double the price of business class seems to be waning, as the business product still offers lay flat seating.
Here I take a look at 10 airlines that have delivered business class seats worthy of competing with many other airlines’ first class offerings, compiled from my experiences flying around the world over the last 10 years.
Airline awards are not just about the hard product offering (the seat), but also the soft product (meaning the amenities, food and beverage choice and even the cabin crew). Unfortunately, with some airlines having such large fleets, it has meant that not every business class seat on an airline is consistent. Look at British Airways, who have recently introduced their Club Suite on the A350 alongside much media fanfare.
Granted, the product is a marked improvement from their current Club World, offering aisle access and a fully closing door, however the biggest issue is that by the end of 2019 British Airways will fly these planes on just 4 routes. Imagine seeing the media huff and puff about these revolutionary seats and realising they are only on 3% of the British Airways fleet. The same goes for the upcoming press events held for Virgin Atlantic’s A350 arrival, albeit the Virgin fleet will consist of a much larger makeup of the much improved seat, serving New York four times daily by year end.
It therefore pays to do a little research when booking business class, or in fact any flight tickets, especially if you’re splurging on the seats at the front. Don’t just look at scheduled time, but importantly, check the aircraft type, as not all business class seats with the same airline were made the same.
Here are 10 airlines that have got their business class offerings spot on.
Etihad just pips Qatar’s QSuites for me, because I simply find the bed a little more roomy on Etihad Business class. Granted it’s just one inch bigger, but size does matter. The hard product and seat are fantastic and matched by a strikingly attentive, polite and—importantly—fun crew. Etihad doesn’t feel too stuffy, despite an almost perfect product. Great food and beverage choice just add to the offering, which if you’re lucky, and flying on their Airbus A380s, is topped off by an onboard lounge for premium customers, that can feel more like a private jet.
The Q-suite really has changed the game for business class travel, and paved the way for many airlines (including Qatar themselves) phasing out first class. The closing doors on the suite add more privacy than Etihad business class, and the ability to turn the suites into double beds are a game changer for business travel. The crew and soft product on Qatar are magnificently attentive, and they would be a worthy contender for first place in many AvGeeks ratings.
With Singapore Airlines reintroducing an increasing number of ultra long haul routes on its new A350s, the product has dramatically improved to rival most first class seats. Add to that the fact that Singapore Airlines now have added their new fantastic business class seats on many shorter regional routes flown by their 787-10s, you have a product that is becoming increasingly common on SQ. A copious amount of space and storage, with a remarkably comfortable lie flat bed means that the outstanding in-flight service now has one of the best seats to match.
Another airline that bucked the trend and didn’t feel the need to have a first class. Then again, with a business class seat this good, who needs first? It’s the little touches with Virgin Australia that make this such a pleasant airline to fly with. Salt and Pepper pots that are mini Sydney opera house figures, fun and proudly Australian crew members, and one of the coolest in-flight bars in the world. The classic Virgin touch with swanky neon lighting and bar stalls means that long haul Pacific crossings seem to fly by! Pun not intended.
Until fairly recently Oman Air wasn’t winning too many awards for its product. That was of course until they introduced their sensational Apex suites. With closing doors, this certainly feels like your own private mini suite, and the soft product has dramatically improved to match. Your only problem is a fairly limited amount of connecting routes through Muscat versus the other major Middle Eastern carriers.
The ANA business class seat works well. Providing direct aisle access to all passengers. Although ANA doesn’t set the world alight in terms of design (think minimalist), the Japanese hospitality and dining options make this a well crafted experience on any long haul flight!
When you consider that Cathay Pacific haven’t updated their business class seats on some aircraft for nearly 10 years, it shows you just how right they got this product when they launched it. The seat is everything you could need with plenty of storage and privacy, but they could do with a re-vamp of their menu, which does get a little boring if you fly CX often. The Cathay Pacific lounges at Hong Kong Airport are some of the best in the world as well.
Hainan is one of just a handful of five-star airlines in the world. They don’t win that award because of their inflight entertainment or even, perhaps, their hard product, but because of a phenomenal soft product. On board chefs prepare delicious food which is complemented by a cheese trolley and solid wine list. The only thing to watch out for is the variation of seat you may get on Hainan. With a slightly different business class offering on most aircraft types, aim for the A350 or newest 787 dreamliner if you want to experience the very best of Hainan.
In a list that is heavy with Asian carriers, Japan airlines is the second Japanese airline to feature. Japan Airlines Business class can feel like a very sleek First class at times and it’s that incredible Japanese hospitality that makes this such a great product, not just the comfy blankets and food!
First things first, Eva air not only offers impeccable service with strong Asian heritage, but they get the little things right. One of the few airlines that offer pyjamas and slippers to business class passengers and a roomy seat means that whether you want to enjoy the service, or get in some "zzz."