These Are the World’s Best Business Class Airlines – You’ll Be Surprised Who Makes the List

Earlier today I wrote about the world’s best first class airline products.

I know a lot more about first class than I do business class, though I’ve flown my share of the latter.

cb writes,

Can you do such a list for business class too? I’d especially be interested in the most consistently good business class products — i.e. carriers that don’t have hidden traps where an equipment change leaves you with terrible old recliner seats.

The truth is this: I do not claim to be an expert on the world’s best business class seats.

I do think myself fairly well-schooled in which airlines and routes have award availability. And I have a general knowledge about the details of the products.

But as with my list of which airlines offer the truly best first class products, I think it’s important to have actually been onboard and sampled the product before drawing too many conclusions and offering up a firm judgment on which ones are actually best.

I’m very fortunate, I generate a lot of miles and book international first class when I can especially for long haul transpacific flying.

For shorter flights, such as transatlantic (I live on the East Coast) and South America, I’m fine with business class.

The way I think about business is all about the seat. I’m almost unconcerned with service levels. If I’m going to have a long layover I would like a comfortable place to work with internet, some decent hot food as snacks, and a shower. But — and this is going to come off very snobbishly, but I think if you can read it generously you’ll understand the sentiment — see business class flying as transportation, the most effective way to be comfortable and sleep in a metal tube.

That said, I have some tentative judgments and I’d bet that readers can help out with this question.

Here are what I think of as the very best business class services offered.

In general my first question is, does the airline have a fully flat reverse herringbone seat with all aisle access?

If it does it almost by definition makes the list (though the US Airways soft product counts against it here). If it doesn’t I’m open to considering other factors that might justify inclusion.

That suggests to me that the very top tier ought to be:

EVA Airways

It’s a reverse herringbone seat on their 777-300ER, similar to what Cathay Pacific offers.

And they offer pre-order meal options. Plus they’re the only airline I know of which serves Dom Perignon in business class.

That makes for a strong soft product on top of featuring what I generally consider to be the best seat.

And I’ve heard many good things about their lounges in Taipei. What’s more, that doesn’t even take into account their Hello Kitty planes, which strike me as the height of awesome, despite being incredibly kitsch. I don’t make my judgment on the basis of Hello Kitty toilet paper, I think of them as having the best business class based on being tied for best seat and having other plus factors. But it does make me smile.

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific’s long haul business class seat is reverse herringbone, all aisle access.

On the 777s equipped with a first class cabin you want the mini-cabin of two rows behind first class for a super exclusive experience.

Food and service are reasonably good. And lounges in Hong Kong are very good — recently renovated, stylish, comfortable, and well-provisioned (who can complain about a noodle bar?).

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines doesn’t offer reverse herringbone seats but they are very comfortable seats for sleeping. They’re so luxurious that in the new business product they actually took away two inches of width (the overall seat shell remains just as big) because customers felt it was too wide and so they added more storage space instead.

They offer full pre-order meal options for many flights, and every business class flight which departs from Singapore (and the menu is very extensive). Singapore’s is the best and most extensive pre-order service of any carrier, called “Book the Cook.”

The best meal I’ve ever had on a plane was in business class, on Singapore, on a flight under three hours: I had pre-ordered their laksa.

And then there’s:

American Airlines (!) surprising as it may sound, although this judgment is for their 777-300ER only. Flying London routes you’re not likely to see any aircraft substitution.

Meanwhile we’re going to soon see a similar, possibly incrementally better, business class seat onboard their reconfigured 777-200s.

Delta – for Pacific and Tel Aviv flights only

They had the fully flat, all aisle access, reverse herringbone seat before American did. But they don’t fly it on their Europe routes.

Across the Pacific they currently have the best seat of any North American airline (American will be flying their version of the seat Dallas – Hong Kong).

Followed by:

US Airways, I’ve always said, doesn’t get enough credit for having pioneered the seat that I consider the current world’s best (at least of those I’ve sampled). They had it first, were initially slow to roll it out, but have more aircraft with it than American does.

Their ranking, though, is tempered by what I view as quite a poor soft product (food, service) overall.

But I’ll have no problem sleeping if I fly US Airways with this seat. And that’s really what I’m after.

Caveats:

Many speak highly of the new JAL product but I haven’t flown it or formed a sufficient opinion about whether or not to include it on this list.

And then we can look at other business products, of which there are many that are quite good and have a variety of features and benefits worth noting. There are good seats that I consider a notch below the seats of the airlines listed above, but have other redeeming qualities that I personally rank as less important but are nonetheless interesting.

Austrian has an onboard chef for business class.

Turkish has what some consider the world’s best business class lounge in Istanbul (and others find that claim heresy given how busy it can be and how it is in direct competition for that title with Virgin Atlantic’s London Heathrow Clubhouse).

I know though that I want to avoid most South American airlines, United’s legacy fully flat 777s (8 across rather than 4!), Air France (but then really anything that’s angled rather than fully flat), and even British Airways (who I used to love, and helped pioneer fully flat but in my opinion has fallen behind).

So what’s best? What’s the best you’ve flown? Who else deserves to be on this list?


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I agree that the seat is the most important. But also, I always fly with my wife and to me it is important to have seats suitable for a couple – and so I generally prefer business to first class on long-haul flights as the new first class seats are often far apart.

  2. @Rich C – did you WANT one? 🙂 I’ll leave that job to Lucky, once he’s back from flying Kuwaiti and Aerolineas Argentinas.

  3. Delta’s 777s are herringbone, not reverse herringbone. Their reverse herringbone are 330 and 747 only.

  4. @Gary – well they fly 777s transpacific, and you called out transpacific as one of the routes to fly. I doubt you meant to include the herringbones as the best seat of NA carriers.

  5. No doubt reverse herringbone is a great configuration, but you place way too much emphasis on that. Having a fully flat allowing for sleep is the most important, reverse herringbone or not. Anything beyond that, and it’s a matter of preference and the soft-product.

    With that said, I think South African Air definitely deserves a mention. Despite an aging fleet, they have fully flat seats and great food, and generally good service. Kenya Airways’ new 787 and 777-300 have the same seats as Turkish,and i’ve heard good things about their service. I’m surprised you left out Swiss and Brussels air. Again, the seats aren’t reverse herringbone, but they’re fully flat and the food and service onboard is pretty good, though nothing to write home about. Asiana (Quadra Smartium?), Qatar, and ANA also deserve at least a mention, though I haven’t flown them. Perhaps Air Berlin and Aer Lingus too, but haven’t read much about their new business products

    Additionally, you rate EVA way too highly. Apart from having reverse herringbone seats, they offer Dom Perignon. That’s it. That’s all that distinguishes them. (Please don’t mention Hello Kitty. I flew them twice, and the food on board was definitely a low point of the flight. Lucky’s review also confirmed this as have others who have flown them.

  6. Air France is supposedly rolling out full flat for transatlantic beginning in June 2014. I have 2 scheduled trips coming up; I’ll let you know.

  7. what about Air Canada’s new 777HD? oh, sorry. this is a list of best, not worst.

  8. Great list and completely agree. Don’t forget to mention the rimowa amenity kits that you get flying Eva J when most give it out in F.

    What about Asiana? I would think their new J should get a mention as well.

  9. Why do you exclude DL European routes? Delta has full-flat seats with all-aisle access on all transatlantic flights now.

  10. Gary you should follow this up with the best business class attainable with poi ts. I know Delta has good availability for 1 and poor for 2. AA haz near 0 availability on the 77W and poor availability for two on most other routes.

    I do agree with the rankings you give.

  11. @Flyer Turkish has too many old business seats and on several routes there’s risk of an aircraft swap, Emirates still has plenty of angled seats, both are pretty decent when you get the good seats though.

  12. @ABC; are you serious about the Israel comment. Israel is not and does not consider itself part of Europe

  13. What about ANZ Business Premier? Great seats, comfy beds, great food, and the best IFE on any plane that I have flown on. Also their flight attendants are fabulous.

  14. I recently flew ANA Business on their 787 Dreamliner and posted a review. Both hard and soft product were solid.

    United Business was part of same trip but we don’t need to talk about that.

  15. Gary ,I think both TK and Austrian should be on the list.DO&CO catering is fantastic.TK has probably the best biz lounge(@ IST) and complimentary in-flight wifi …well,if it’s installed on the aircraft you’re flying 🙂

  16. @Gary

    I’m not an F junky — I’ll take it when the stars and the moon line up, but I won’t go out of my way for it. Did CX F once, and I just didn’t get the warm fuzzies that get discussed in all of the blogs. J is a-ok in my book. (I actually want to go visit the places I travel to, the flight is transportation to get me there.) So, I’m starting to get a bit of a taste of various world J products.

    I think when you set the “ground rules” for this list, an automatic not-winner is one where you have to try too hard to makes sure you are experiencing the best that the carrier has to offer. It’s not enough to have a particular fleet fully configured, particularly if a given city/region gets a mix of fleet types. TK fails on these grounds, as does AA and OZ. Basically, I want to know that “long haul” (or at least North America) always gets a particular product.

    1. I’m not a fan of the JL new J seat. They do a lot of things right, but at the end of the day, I’m a side sleeper, and that seat is just too narrow. It’s also not clear to me where their best lounges are at NRT. Had a layover on the way to ICN, and wasn’t impressed with the lounge I did find.

    2. If you’re going to ding CX F service for having to reach for the call button, CX J wins for exactly the same reason. Push the button and they come running. They’re also really accommodating if you want meal service at your own time.

    3. Reverse herringbone is good, in part because it doesn’t really “wall you off”. If you want to steal some extra space, it’s yours, unlike the new JL seat.

    4. Back to TK, their lounge is just way. too. crowded. For everything it does right, they just didn’t give it enough space. Not enough locker space, not enough seating space, and way at the end of the terminal.

  17. @Gary

    For novelty, I offer up J on the MAS Wings ATR 72. Have you flown it? I just got back from a trip, and can send you a couple of pics. For a one hour flight on a turbo prop, well, it was certainly a novelty.

  18. Qatar.
    Among the best in my experience.
    I have flown CX, SQ long haul in C and know.

    Do not forget LH if you are lucky to fly the 747-8 routes.
    I actually like this the best for the professional service.

    After a while, a seat is a seat and I do not think that Business class is ALL about the hard product.

  19. @Gary, thanks for making this post!

    And I agree about the main metric being getting a great seat. I’d much prefer flying a flat bed seat with United than an angled LH or AF seat. Or Delta flat bed BusinessElite instead of QF if it is going to be those angled seats.

    I’ve heard Swiss is consistent for TATL business. All lay flat.

  20. I’d add Oman Air business class too on your list (especially their A330s.) Their seats are huge and though the soft product may need work, hard product is top notch.

  21. I am the opposite of you. I occasionally fly first but fly a lot of international J. I would put Emirates near the top for hard product, but service is always mediocre. I would put Turkish near the top for both hard and soft, and their food is outstanding (even in Y). Finnair is tiny, but they have a great hard and soft product (they don’t have F). I agree with you on CX and the new AA, although I still find that the geriatric flight crews on long haul flights don’t frequently give great service. Thai also is worth a mention (at least for their new planes).

  22. USAir flies a crappy B757 from PHL to AMS. Bad aircraft, worse service, even in Business (Envoy).

  23. The reverse herringbone may be a great design from a privacy and aisle access point-of-view, but is deeply flawed from the standpoint of checking for any Twilight Zone gremlins that may be creeping about upon the wings, to say nothing of contemplating the wonders of the landscape or seascape below.

  24. @Highplainsdrifter – I think you got herringbone and reverse herringbone mixed up. You face to the window in the latter; the former are also sometimes negatively referred to as coffins by some and are becoming dated now ie: mainline AC offering (changing to rev. with A788.

  25. Cathay is right at the top. They clean the toilet after every use AND put down a new toilet seat cover. Virgin Atlantic is probably even better , especially the 747 product with only 14 Upper Class seats. No issues with sleeping and you can recline on takeoff.
    EVA and US Envoy are essentially the same in my view, but they all force your feet together somewhat as the foot compartment narrows inward. Avoid that on US by choosing one of the window seats in the front row. Qatar is nice, maybe slightly better but my longest flight was 5.5 hours so hard to say. Food was great.
    Worst, AA from London, United (how do you have an 8 across lie flat business cabin with 4 in the middle?)
    I don’t agree with the gentleman about SAA . You have to have all-aisle access. I can’t stand someone stepping over me and seat is hard. I could feel the guy in the middle aisle breathing on my face across the aisle. Yuk.
    I’ll be doing the long haul on Delta to Sydney, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m happier with an F product by far. United Global first is , well , a little mediocre comparatively , but I won’t complain. That shoulder harness on takeoff is weird. But one thing that makes the trip a heck of a lot shorter is wifi, and United has it transpacific.

  26. Alitalia actually has one of the best, most spacious business class seats (classe magnifica) — it’s not angled but very spacious. Plus, their meal service is delicious – superior I think to every airline mentioned in this article.

  27. PS — Alitalia’s seats are lie-flat of course — I just meant that they are facing straight, not angled – so they really take up a lot of space, and your legs are not cramped in the least. Direct aisle access from every seat. It beats the seat layout of US, Delta, American, Continental etc

  28. Swiss is very consistent in business, and I’ve found their service to be very attentive. Lie-flats were always there in my TATL experiences.

  29. Aside from having window seats without aisle access, the business product on LA on the 787 is solid. Great selections of Chilean and Argentinian wines and shockingly good service including a breakfast order card. Within 15 minutes of waking up after 7 hours of sleep, my breakfast appeared exactly as ordered. They also have an express dinner service for those who want to maximize sleep.

    They give out Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits as well (which you seem partial to judging by your other post on F service).

  30. I fly from the USA to Perth West Australia several times a year. For business class product, Singapore (no surprise) and ANA (surprise?) are really good. If you connect in Bangkok, Thai is pretty good. United tries, but their lie-flat beds force anyone over 5 ft 5 inches to sleep at an angle. My wife likes them, but it doesn’t work for me.

  31. Delta does fly some A330’s TATL, CDG-JFK and MSP-AMS come to mind. Those also have reverse herringbone

  32. I agree with you on EVA. I just completed an extensive award trip, and their J seat is fantastic — but only on the 777-300ER. On all other planes the seats are comfortable, but not full-flat. The service was excellent regardless of the equipment.

    The EVA Royal Laurel seat is an interesting design. They’re a very tightly herringboned 1-2-1 layout, to the point where you feel almost like you’re in a cocoon. The screen swings out on a hinge so it’s big and close to you, but can’t be used for takeoff and landing. (If you’re in the middle, though, you can clearly see your row-mate’s screen.) They also have RCA video and audio inputs for the screen, which was surprising and the first time I’ve seen that. And they have a folding tray table that is the largest I’ve seen in J — bigger than most F trays. Also, their pre-order food was very good; better than Thai F (which was overcooked and tasted weird).

    I don’t know if you’re ever interested in guest trip reports, but I just did this routing and took a bunch of pictures, though mostly of the food:

    LH F 747-400 BOS-FRA
    TG F A380-800 FRA-BKK
    BR J 777-300ER BKK-TPE

    BR J A330-300 TPE-ICN
    OZ F 747-400M ICN-FRA
    LH F A340-600 FRA-BOS

    My biggest surprises were 1) how awful TG’s F service was; it was worse than business service I’ve had on United(!), and 2) how incredibly awesome every aspect of LH’s service was.

    I know you’ve had problems with LH in the past, so maybe we got lucky or they turned things around. The new 747-400 F cabin experience was the most singularly incredible flight I’ve been on. Only two other seats were booked, so it was like being on our own private plane. The bed was incredibly comfortable, the food excellent, and the service very professional. At one point we had a question about the wines, and our flight attendant insisted on opening all eight and having us taste them all. (The way back was also excellent. We only had one other guest in the cabin, but the old-style seats and the A340 wide cabin just don’t have the same privacy.)

    We then had a long layover in FRA where the lounge service was completely over the top. Showers and jacuzzi tubs, a full-service restaurant, a water bar with 30-odd bottled waters from around the world, and a broader high-end spirits selection than any bar to which I’ve been. We also were able to take advantage of the 99-Euro rate for a 3-hour Porsche 911 rental and had a nice drive along one of the suggested routes.

    On the way back three days later, our flight was delayed so we ended up having a 30-minute connection from OZ to LH for our final segment. Both we and our luggage made the flight. I’m still not sure how they did that.

    Across all of that I intend to book Lufthansa whenever I get the opportunity. The only other carrier that was close in quality was Asiana — their amenity kit was the best (Bulgari toiletries, a real leather bag), and they had the best meal service by a nose. I had a perfectly medium-rare wagyu skirt steak on an airplane, which I never thought would be possible. The seats were very narrow, though, and the cabin not very private. Also, I know this is probably a cultural difference in what’s expected of service, but the flight attendants kneeling at your seat and whispering whenever they came by was a bit off-putting.

    Of course, my biggest complaint flying back home in the US now is that every single carrier I was on had espresso in J and F as well as an extensive selection of tea, and now I’m back on United where my choice is Starbucks burnt drip coffee, or Lipton tea, which I’ve heard cleverly referred to as the dust they sweep off the floor at the tea factory after processing everything else. The food and service on my last UA J flights was actually surprisingly good.

  33. No love for ANA? Their 787 transpac business class is great, I’m looking forward to going back on it.

    But my biggest gripe about your review is that it is not based in reality: how wonderful any seat on any plane is, it’s useless if there’s no way to actually get your ass in that seat. You should be honest about how easy (or how impossible) it is for real people to get these seats. In many cases, the seats are literally never, ever released for award tickets – something that is becoming increasingly common (thank you, bloggers for that).

  34. @Jon – EVA has pretty good award availability. So does Cathay. Those are my top two. I’ve written extensively about challenges getting premium cabin award seats on American (except first class to Asia) and Delta (except to Europe and especially London in the fall). Singapore you can get pretty easily using Singapore’s own miles, and can transfer those in from Membership Rewards or Starwood.

    Sorry you believe htat this blog’s readers are stealing award seats that rightfully belong to you!

  35. Generally agree. Would add the following.

    Emirates business a380 (cheap WiFi great staff good food and lie flat bed)
    Virgin Atlantic HKG LHR upper class (Fast 787 WiFi and Heathrow lounge is best lounge period.

  36. Emirates was a huge disappointment…….flew Hong Kong to Dubai and then Dubai to Milan. The business lounge was amazing – but the Business Class flights were terrible,,,,,small, uncomfortable seats and average service. Singapore is 10 Times better.

  37. Regardless of how they would rank, I’d enjoy reviews of Iberia and Jet Airways business classes between North America and Europe.

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