You want a little bit of food that’s edible in business class, for sure, although for a short (US East Coast to nearer Europe such as London) overnight you just want to sleep as much as possible — eat in the lounge or at a restaurant beforehand and hope they’ll finish meal service quickly (to stop the clanging) and turn off the cabin lights.
For service, I don’t need the flight attendants to be nice to me, I just need their help or at least willingness to keep me hydrated.
My expectations for business class are mostly modest. But I want a good seat. Business class is all about the seat.
Regular readers know that I love first class, the journey can be very much a part of the trip. The food is good, the seat is excellent, the amenities are great and perhaps the best part is the spaciousness and privacy of the cabin which just feels less stressful and more restful.
But I don’t always fly in true luxury. And many don’t ever (many don’t fly in business class, but that’s an issue beyond the scope of this post).
The key elements, to me, are that the seat is lie flat. And that the seat is lie flat. And that the seat is lie flat. And within that framework, it helps when the seat is lie flat. (I also want the seat to be a bit wider so I can turn over or stretch without hitting the side, and so I feel a bit less claustrophobic. I want an extra pillow and an extra blanket so that one can serve as a mattress pad. And a bit of actual storage space helps. But these are all distinguishing features that matter only once the seat is lie flat.)
Scott McCartney has a piece in the Wall Street Journal on airline business class seats — why they’re moving to true lie flat, why it takes so long, and which airlines are the farthest along.
Roughly speaking business class seats fall into three categories:
- Recliner seats. These are generally fine for daytime flights.
- Angled flat seats. Singapore was an early adopter of the ‘space bed’ and the genre is sometimes known as the ‘wedgie seat’ since you may slide down, it’s an improvement over recliner seats but I find them rough on my back to sleep in.
- True flat seats. United has the most of these, but on their 777s (and downstairs on BA’s 747s) it feels very dorm-style. The Cathay Pacific and US Airways seats are probably the best.
I’m anxious for American to begin flying its 777-300ERs, their current generation angled seats are pretty rough I think. But their seat is based on the Cathay seat, which is outstanding. But it will be years before they’re fully retrofitted through the existing fleet.
I hadn’t realized that Delta’s long haul fleet was still less than 50% lie flat.
It’s not just me. The seat drives consumer purchase decisions.
Airlines say travelers armed with information from sites like SeatGuru.com and frequent-flier communities like FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com have become a lot pickier about seating. “People look at all aspects of a seat,” says Nik Lusardi, lead designer at Virgin Atlantic in London, which spent five years developing its newest seat. For airlines, “no longer can things be done half-baked,” he says.
Much like US Airways’ decision to add wireless internet fleet-wide, it’s not that they make up the cost of installing the seats in the form of higher revenue, it’s that people book away and actively avoid buying your tickets if you don’t offer the product. So it’s necessary to prevent losing business.
But these seats are expensive.
Carriers have chosen vastly different paths to 180-degree seats, largely because of cost. A single business-class seat can run as much as a new BMW—$40,000 to $80,000, or easily $2 million per wide-body airplane. The investment also includes a few years of design (to shoehorn as many as possible into each plane), and testing and certification work required by aviation regulators.
One reason the seats cost so much: Padding and cushioning for a chair is quite different than for a bed, and a business-class seat is both. “The cushioning is quite intricate,” says Simon Talling-Smith, British Airways’ executive vice president of the Americas. And while some fold out manually, most have push-button systems to go from upright to flat.
I have an upcoming business class booking on Air France. And I know that it’s the epitome of #firstworldproblems but I am very much not looking forward to it. The award space was available, but the seats aren’t just angled, I find them uniquely uncomfortable amongst angled seats (I don’t much care that the flight attendants tend towards the surly side and that food is mostly decent out of Paris but not departing some US stations).
For me, I cannot wait to be able to use my American international upgrades on a true flat seat. With aisle access from all seats, so that no one climbs over me and I don’t climb over anyone else when visiting the lavatory in the middle of the night. No disturbances. Keep me hydrated and let me sleep and then I’m thrilled with business class.