Which Airline Has the World’s Best Business Class?

Natalie asked, Which airline has the world’s best business class?

Business class, to me, is all about the seat. There aren’t many airlines where the food and wine are remarkable, though better business class offerings will be fairly good. Mostly you want personal space to work effectively and to sleep so that you wind up at your destination reasonably rested rather than beaten up.

The best business class experiences make the overall journey seamless, from checkin and security to a lounge to wait for your flight to priority immigration on the other end and even an arrivals lounge for a shower when you land (so you can go straight away to meetings, and because your hotel room may not yet be available with early morning arrivals).

The biggest chunk of your time will be spent in the seat, and it’s the seat that’s the biggest factor in saying whose business class is best. Among those with top notch seats, then, we move onto other factors.

The basic kinds of seats you’ll find are:

  • Recliner. There are fewer and fewer of these, it’s what I ‘grew up on’ with United (their first flat seat was introduced in 2006). These are like big easy chairs with more recline than coach and usually foot rests but they don’t turn into beds and don’t go flat.

  • Angled flat. Once revolutionary, Singapore Airlines called their seat the Spacebed. The idea is that the seat straights out fully, but it isn’t parallel to the floor. The seat is at an angle, taking up less space. They’re not great for sleeping, and became known as a ‘wedgie seat’ because you might slip down as the seat slopes downward. Plus, most of them weren’t really flat anyway.

  • Flat bed. These aren’t just fully flat, but parallel to the ground, a flat surface you can sleep on.

The world standard has become the flat bed. British Airways was an early pioneer. Even late-adopters like Air France are moving away from their angled seats and putting in flat beds. United, American, and Delta are pretty much flat for their long haul business class.

Of course, not all flat beds are equal.

  • Do they offer all-aisle access, or does a passenger in the window seat have to climb over the one in the aisle to get out? That’s not very private, and it’s inconvenient when the person in the aisle is sleeping.

  • How much privacy? Even a four-across business class where every seat has aisle access comes in multiple varieties. One common configuration operated by Delta and by Jet Airways is the ‘herringbone’ format that’s not very privacy. I much prefer ‘reverse herringbone’ where seats are angled away from each other which creates greater privacy.

The US Carriers

American offers four-across all aisle access on the bulk of their international fleet at this point. I find that quite confining on the narrow fuselage on a Boeing 767 (similar in many ways to what you’ll get with six-across Boeing 777s from European airlines).

There are still unreconfigured planes out there, of course, and those give you angled seats. But fewer and fewer of them.

Much much better are the business class seats on American’s 777-300ER, 777-200, and 787 aircraft.


American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class


American Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class


American Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class

US Airways actually pioneered these ‘reverse herringbone’ seats. While US Airways never had a great business class reputation, they drove innovation in the business class hard product. Combined between American and US Airways they’ve got the best overall hard product across the Atlantic in my opinion.

Delta offers reverse herringbone seating on many Asia Pacific routes, and a couple of Atlantic crossings including Tel Aviv. Their workhorse transatlantic offerings, however, aren’t reverse.

Here’s their standard herringbone seat I recently flew on the 777 from Sydney to Los Angeles.

It’s a perfectly fine seat, not very private.

United has flat seats. The legacy Continental seats are fairly good, but they’re six seats across on the Boeing 777 rather than four across. That means they aren’t ‘all aisle access’. You climb over your neighbor if you’re in the window. They aren’t private. Meanwhile legacy United 777s are eight across, ‘dorm-style’ business class if you will.

Europe: Two Steps Behind the US

Based on reputation you wouldn’t expect this — but European airlines are for the most part behind the curve of US carriers in business class at least with respect to the seat.

British Airways not only pioneered fully flat but they operated full flat seats uniformly across their fleet for some time. But they haven’t yet adopted the top world standard seats for their next generation offering.

Lufthansa meanwhile has gone six across seating for their fully flat option. That’s like what United is doing, but it’s behind American and Delta. (Swiss is a strange hybrid, staggered rows, with some rows all aisle access but a seat more like American’s 767 offering.)

Air France has lagged the most with their business class, still operating many aircraft with angled seats that I do my best to avoid.

But they’re leapfrogging their competitors with their new seats, reverse herringbone all aisle access like American has gone to.

Austrian has an onboard chef for business class. To me that doesn’t make up for having seats that, while flat, aren’t world 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). Lounges are nice but don’t leapfrog them ahead of the competition.

The Middle East Carriers: Not As Good As You Think

Emirates has a strong business class product on their Airbus A380 aircraft. Apart from the A380 you’re going to find a lot of angled seats. Many people are surprised to find that both Emirates and Qatar operate a lot of planes with inferior business class cabins. For all the flash and all the complaints of US airlines, for bread and butter business class on the whole American and Delta probably offer a better business class across the board than Emirates and Qatar do. (Emirates and Etihad have over the top first class products, of course.)

Emirates does have a swank bar on their A380, though.

And their A380 seat is… fine.

Etihad offers a lot of fully flat seats with all aisle access. I find the seat very tight, however.

The World’s Best Are All in Asia

Not all Asian carriers have the top business class products, but all of the truly best business class products are offered by Asian carriers.

Singapore Airlines

With a four-across configuration, like in first class, Singapore Airlines’ seats are incredible wide and they are also relatively private.

There’s plenty of storage space as well as the little touches like an in-seat mirror. Interestingly in the latest generation of the seat the ‘shell’ is the same size as before but the seat itself lost two inches of width. In exchange for width there’s additional storage space. One of the common complaints, believe it or not, about the old seat was that it was too wide.

Singapore offers inflight internet across their 777 and A380 fleet, something that Etihad and Emirates offer and that American and Delta are increasingly as well.

And of course Singapore does a really spectacular job with onboard meals. They offer ‘book the cook’ which allows you to pick from an extensive menu and they’ll have your selection onboard for you.

If there’s a knock on Singapore it’s that they don’t provide amenity kits, or pajamas, but they do stock the lavatory with amenities. (Very few airlines offer PJs in business, but both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia do as does Qantas.)

Cathay Pacific

Hong Kong-based oneworld member Cathay Pacific offers reverse herringbone all aisle access seating. So they’ve got the seat.

Add in good service and reasonably good food and they’re among the top business class carriers in the world.

EVA Air

Taipei-based Star Alliance member EVA Air offers a business class product that’s four abreast on the Boeing 777-300ER. That means all aisle access.

The seat is reverse herringbone and very similar to what Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, and others offer. It’s one of the best business class seats in the sky in my opinion.

They offer pre-order meals in their business (“Royal Laurel”) class and onboard internet. They serve Krug champagne. And this is business class, not first!

Whose Business Class is the Absolute Best?

I think that Singapore’s is best, because I find the seat most spacious. I love Cathay Pacific and EVA Air. I find their seats a bit tighter.

EVA Air has the best champagne in Krug, and offers a pre-order meal service. So soft product is probably comparable to Singapore’s.

Cathay Pacific’s food is fine, but a notch below Singapore’s in my opinion. Unlike Singapore and EVA Airways, they don’t yet have onboard internet.

So if I had to rank them I would pick Singapore, EVA Air, and then Cathay Pacific.

A sleeper for the future is Virgin Australia. Already they offer fantastic service and good food. They’ve moving to reverse herringbone all aisle access seats. And they don’t just offer pajamas but also bedding. The mattress pad they use on their current Boeing 777 seats is simply super comfortable.

A blanket and small pillow isn’t enough.. but I can manage that myself most of the time. I usually find myself trying to snag a second blanket so I can use one as a mattress pad and the other as a sheet. Virgin Australia gives you a real, thick mattress pad that’s better than what some airlines have in first class. So I’m excited to try their new long haul business product rolling out this year.

So who do you think wins? Which airline has the world’s best business class?

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. A year late and several dollars short, but I’m surprised you didn’t mention Virgin Atlantic aside from their LHR Clubhouse.

    British Airways: 72 pitch; ?? length (lie-flat); 20 width
    Lufthansa: 68 pitch; 78 length (lie-flat); 20 width
    Air France: 55 pitch; ?? length (angle-flat); 21.5 width
    Virgin Atlantic: 79.5 pitch; 78 length (lie flat); 22 width.

  2. @Jason Lewis – you’re comparing Virgin to subpar business products (although Air France’s new seat is better). Virgin Atlantic herringbone business was one at the top of the market but now lags.

  3. @Gary, I am not comparing VS’s Upper Class to your top picks (Singapore, Cathy, EVA air), where I would agree VS lags behind; but only to the other European carriers you specifically mentioned. In both statistical measures and personal experience (only with BA), I would postulate that Virgin is and remains superior to BA, AF, and Lufthansa.

    First Class, which is not offered by either VS or AF, is obviously another story.

  4. Hi I have RTW company looking for a tour for Singapore to Cairns ,Sydney to New Zealand to New York. Who would you suggest i fly with . I am 62,hubby 65 so we would like to get plenty of rest but privacy . After reading your artical i am thinking Singapore Airlines would you agree

  5. United really, really needs to step up the replacement of their 8 across “dorm beds” as you call them. No shoulder room for sleeping, no storage, no privacy and climbing over other passengers makes this a cattle call seat.

  6. Last year in Feb 2016 I flew Singapore Airline from London the Perth. The seats were grubby as they appeared to be quite old, service was OK, food was OK, seats were OK and at a price of £4,500 for my ticket, I was very disappointed. It was a double decker airbus and I was on the top deck. Overall I was disappointed and I would give them a score of 4 out of 10 for business class. I would not fly with them again unless I knew they had new planes.

  7. Last month I flew Singapore Airlines business class from London to Sydney. It was amazing. I have flown almost every airline and this by far was the best, especially for service and attention from the crew. They couldn’t do enough!

  8. Having flown business class on Emirates I find that their 777-300ER business class seats bad, the inside seated passenger still has to climb over the isle seat on both the side and middle seats, plus although you are entitled to a welcome drink it was very difficult to get because of the continuous flow of economy class passengers getting onto the plane and passing your seat, however it is the A380 that I really like, every seat is an isle seat and I have to say that being able to go to a bar and order drinks as well as talking to other travellers is well worth effort, unlike the 777-300ER where your stuck in your seat for the whole journey.
    Where could the service be improved? certainly the 777-300ER aircraft certainly needs to be improved and the A380? not sure I can think of anything. Emirates offer so much more for your money.

  9. Just been to NZ and back with Qatar in business class. 3 legs on 777s had much more room than the 1 leg we did on top deck or A380. Service was pretty good, plenty of food and drink. I would travel with them again.

  10. Emirates is the WORST first class I’ve so far experienced – it’s not the “luxury” onboard that’s a problem but the lackadaisical attitude towards first class passengers (they couldn’t care less). Until today, I’m still waiting for that call or email from Emirates after a bad experience before boarding, as was related to first class crew who got my details and assured me they would get someone to contact me. Absolutely disgraceful management.

  11. Emirates is the WORST first class I’ve so far experienced – it’s not the “luxury” onboard that’s a problem but the lackadaisical attitude towards first class passengers (they couldn’t care less). Until today, I’m still waiting for that call or email from Emirates after a bad experience before boarding, as was related to first class crew months ago onboard who got my details and assured me they would get someone to contact me. Absolutely disgraceful management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *