Which is Better: American Airlines vs British Airways Business Class?

British Airways has a one minute spot with two kids debating the merits of American Airlines and British Airways business class.

American and British Airways (along with Finnair and Iberia) have an anti-trust immunized joint venture across the Atlantic, which allows them to share revenue and coordinate schedules and pricing. They are (or in theory should be) largely indifferent as to whose metal you fly across the Pond.

So naturally the argument in this spot is that both are awesome! They highlight:

  • Fully flat seats
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Personal touch screen monitor with on demand entertainment (movies, tv shows, games)
  • Inflight power
  • Amenity kits

Here’s the spot:

But this is, of course absurd. American and British Airways business class aren’t the same, and business class isn’t even the same on the same airline regardless of equipment.

For the most part, American Airlines doesn’t just offer “fully flat seats” they also offer “direct aisle access.” On all of American’s transatlantic aircraft that have been retrofit with flat seats, except their 757s, they offer direct aisle access which is something British Airways does not offer.

American has 5 different fully flat business class seats and planes that do not yet have flat seats.

On all retrofit aircraft except the Boeing 757 it is a no brainer to fly American Airlines rather than British Airways. Here’s what British Airways business class looks like on its Boeing 777:

Here’s an American Airlines business class seat on the Boeing 787-8:

American Airlines also offers inflight internet on its Boeing 777-300ER, retrofit Boeing 777-200s, and Boeing 787s.

On the other hand, American’s 767s and flat seat 757s there are tablets, not personal televisions.

So contra the British Airways child’s take, business class products aren’t the same.

  • Features and benefits differ — from inflight internet to video on demand, depending on the aircraft.

  • Seats differ substantially — American’s 777-300ER, retrofit 777-200, Airbus A330, and Boeing 787s offer much better seating than British Airways dense configuration that’s 8-across on their 777s (compared to 4-across at American).

On the other hand, you don’t want your American Airlines business class swapped in for an unreconfigured 777 whose seat looks like this:

(HT: Economy Class and Beyond)

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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  1. American business class is nothing special by international standards – kind of in the middle of the pack, all things considered . But its retrofitted seats and all aisle access put it miles beyond British Airways, which has to be one of the lousiest business class options among all major airlines.

  2. If price is the same, I would definitely go with British. The seats might not be as good but the service, on time arrival rate, overall business is better in my opinion. #NeverAAgain

  3. I loved this piece. Every thing you said is absolutely true. I often fly Premium Coach, and try to upgrade to Club World. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t, and the upgrade seems to be based on whether or not there is a full moon. My husband and I were upgraded on the NY-London flight on our way to Berlin this summer. He thinks the whole business class thing is absurd since neither of us sleeps on a plane even with a not very comfortable flat bed. I like the lounge at Heathrow, and also like Terminal 5, and the fact that the flight form London to Berlin also leaves from Terminal 5. You might ask why I don’t fly NY-Berlin nonstop. I refuse to fly on United or Delta, and certainly not Air Berlin. Until the new airport opens in Berlin – if it every does, we’re flying BA. With the new airport, we might try Lufthansa.

  4. Ditto for everything Steve said. BA business is better than economy–that’s about all I can say for it.

  5. American all the way. And it’s not just the hard product but the food on BA is horrendous and their whole seat assignment hassle when booking through a codeshare is appalling. And, then there’s the fuel surcharges on award flights and their horrible hub at LHR……

  6. I just don’t understand BA. Having flown their business class product from SFO-LHR on the 380…it’s just bad. The service is rushed, the seat is just so-so but the configuration they have is unforgivable. Had I saved and paid for the flight out of pocket as part of some “vacation of a lifetime” I would have been irate. That and even when you book the ticket whether it be on miles or full fare business class to find you can’t even choose the seat until 24 hours prior to departure or get nickel and dimed for another $30 (or is it more?) per person to sit with your family…what is BA thinking? Thankfully there are still ways around the seat selection thing but how many people know about this?

  7. The only thing AA has going for it is the seat(s) – which is quite important I grant you. Everything else is worse. And please try and use comparable photos – otherwise it’s a bit pot calling the kettle black don’t you think?

  8. Agree with @danfromsanfran all the way. BA needs new seats and a new config. Club World just isn’t a competitive premium cabin product at the moment. Unless they want to compete on price (and reprice J accordingly.) Among other things, yeah: direct aisle access is important.

  9. Don’t forget BA also charges most customers if they want to choose a seat before hand too.

    I would take AA’s product any day over BA’s.

    All aspects wash bag, food are worse on BA. Except as you mention on the few AA planes that haven’t been upgraded with the newer product. Don’t forget AA also has wifi on several of their 777 jets.

  10. @Danfromsanfran nails it. As a Brit I expect Americans on here to look to big up AA, but I can’t help but agree with them. BA’s business class is shameful; no direct aisle access makes dinner advice etc irritating and then you have to sit and stare at someone else or appear rude by putting up the divider. AA crew and service are poor, but these days BA aren’t any better. That scam of making you pay to reserve a seat when you’ve spent thousands on a ticket is an utter disgrace when people like Virgin and Cathay let you reserve when you book. I use Cathay on my trips to and around Asia now and it’s so much better than BA, and cheaper too. On a Dreamliner and a new Airbus next month, while with BA I’d be stuck on some tired old bird that should be retired. As a national carrier BA have fallen so far now that I always grimace when they are my only choice of flight. They just did away with free snacks in economy – Now you have to pay for M&S sandwiches.

  11. Assuming that AA and BA have reasonably similar products, I do not understand why BA has its outlandish fees attached to award tickets. The cost of an award ticket between AA and BA should be similar since the two airlines fly the same LAX – LHR – LAX route and are partners.

    However, if I select a business award round trip from LAX – LHR with AA, the taxes and fees are $264.00.

    But, if I select a business award round trip from LAX – LHR with BA, the taxes and fees are $1,221.00.

    The extra $957.00 to fly BA over AA is absurd. Other than greed, what is the purpose of the extra $957.00? Why is the comparison of being ripped off by BA not a factor in comparing AA versus BA?

    The extra charge of nearly one thousand dollars is difficult to justify or understand. As I said, greed seems to be the only explanation.

  12. I take exception to this line “On all retrofit aircraft except the Boeing 757 it is a no brainer to fly American Airlines rather than British Airways.” As a business traveler that prioritizes sleep above all else, the combination of seat AA seat uncertainty (i.e. 772 retrofits are bad, some seats seem to shake, etc. only 77W are very solid products that I go out of my way to fly, but these seem to be scaling back at least in the JFK-LHR route) and certain BA services (i.e. BA will offer me a pre departure dinner service at JFK’s lounge, allowing me to sleep the full flight to LHR, seat is not the best but is solid for sleeping).

    Finally, while I reckon the old angled seats in the AA 772 were bad, I can assure that they are better (for sleeping) than the first installed seats on the 787-8 (shaking was so bad I could not sleep on a recent 11 hour flight, when I usually get 7-9 solid hours)….

  13. @julian – the 772 seat is far less desirable than the 773 seat, but it’s still better than BA’s 8-across business class on the Boeing 777

  14. Following up on @david comment…
    Gary, do you know why there is such disparity on AA vs BA award availability using AA miles? I’ve been monitoring awards the last couple of months for an ORD to London trip leaving the last week of Dec returning after New Years, and the only saver awards both in Economy or Business are in BA, which means hundreds of dollars in surcharges each way. Seats look wide open on AA metal. Any idea what’s going on? New policy or something else? Something quirky with the JV agreement?

  15. @gary disagree, BA has several issues but the newest AA seats (772 and 787) are very lacking and arguably BA has a very comparable, if not better, hard product than AA.

    As far as the 8-across argument, it is somewhat misleading: what needs to be discussed is the real estate that each seat occupies. While I agree that BA aisle access is more limited, or needs climbing over someone’s feet, and personal space is more restrained, the bed is more comfortable in BA, in my opinion. Cushioning and overall comfort is better, and also take off/ landing positions are much more comfortable. In summary, I can sleep well in a BA plane (6.3 tall) whereas AA is an issue (other than the magnificent 77W J seat).

    In summary, J value to me is all about not having to be preoccupied with any relevant matter and sleep to make it fresh to morning meetings. While I find a standard hard product in BA, albeit with flaws, the AA offering is heterogeneous and requires that I research which seat shakes, which don’t, based on plane model and seat model. That to me reduces the overall value of aa.

  16. as someone that isn’t really able to sleep on long flights even with lie-flat seats I kinda prefer the old 777-200 biz seats as they seem to be wider and have more leg room. just went RT to Europe and had one of each type to confirm my belief.

  17. You’re forgetting the US Airways transatlantic 757s too, which are worse than the ex AA ones – they aren’t even angled flat. (The daytime PHL-LHR for example) That is the worst transatlantic business class seat in the sky.

  18. Just flew AA First SFO -ORD and AA Business Class ORD- MAN.
    I thought BA Business Class was lousy. AA was far worse.
    AA First was on an old plane with a senior citizen crew. I am not exaggerating. The Steward looked to be at least 70 years old. Friendly guy. The seats were awful and I was shocked that they could not lean back. Fixed seats in AA First? I could not believe this. The ground crew was very unpleasant and had a bad attitude. I flew SQ economy class and it was far superior than AA First. Just an appealing experience.

    Then my flight to MAN was on an old and dirty plane that reminded me of the 1980’s. Apparently AA has no shame and nothing but contempt for their customers to still be flying such a piece of garbage.
    It had the angled seat and not even a power outlet. Just disgraceful.

    Plus the flights were both late.

    Despite its many short comings, I will choose BA Business Class over AA any day. AA is the Motel 6 of the airline industry and has the nerve to charge high end prices to fly on it.

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