Some version of this question comes up all the time, I’d say at least once a week.
Michael C asked,
All things being equal, Would you rather fly:
Los Angeles – Zurich – Paris in Swiss business class
Los Angeles – Munich – Paris in Lufthansa business class
or Los Angeles – Dallas – Paris in American’s old first class (Boeing 777-200)?
I’d pick Swiss over Lufthansa. I’d actually take American’s and Delta’s all aisle access fully flat Boeing 777s (and Delta’s 747) over Lufthansa business class! My general rule though is to always choose first class over business class.
I like Swiss’ staggered business class, they manage five across rather than four but the seats are well-enough arranged that you aren’t as obtrusive to your seatmate. Lufthansa’s six across business class just is not competitive.
The World’s Best Business Class Products
Not all Asian carriers have the top business class products, but all of the truly best business class products are offered by Asian carriers.
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.)
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 they’re among the top business class carriers in the world.
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!
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 and offers a pre-order meal service. So soft product is probably comparable to Singapore’s.
Cathay Pacific’s food is fine at best, more than 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.
The Best of US Airline Business Class Products
Depending on the cabin configuration, I’d take American or Delta first class over the offerings of European carriers. Since business class is predominantly about it seat I will take fully flat, all aisle access, with enough personal space (e.g. 4-across Boeing 777) over six across where a passenger in the window has to climb over the one in the aisle to get out or where there are four seats across in a narrow Boeing 767.
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.
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.
Why I’d Choose Even American and United First Class Over The Best Business Class
First class means a more spacious seat. It’s a more private, less crowded cabin. It’s easier to get the attention of a flight attendant for whatever need you have, like drink refills, even with the inconsistent crews on US airlines.
I believe the seat is the most important feature, especially when comparing to business class. And though the meals on American and United in first won’t be spectacular you aren’t giving up all that much even compared to the best business class meals be it on Singapore or Austrian.
Here’s United’s ‘Global First’ seat.
Here’s the old American Airlines first class seat onboard the Boeing 777-200 that Michael was asking about.
There’s a blanket and mattress pad with small pillow in first class, it was on the seat’s ottoman. And there’s a big pillow and blanket above the seat in the overhead, too. Together they make for quite nice bedding.
Your amenity kit is perfectly fine in American first class.
And there are pajamas. Perfect for a night’s sleep.
The seats even swivel. The most unique feature is that you can turn the seat to face many directions with about a 180 degree turn. If you’re traveling with someone, turn complete to face them and they can do the same.
Is this a proper international first class experience? Absolutely not. But I will take it over business class any day.
First class is disappearing on American’s 777-200s as they get new business class seats. The good news is that I would take American’s new business class on the 777 over Lufthansa or Swiss business class as well, so even booking American first class and getting ‘downgraded’ to business it would still be my choice of aircraft.