So you are thinking about booking and flying business class. How can you make the very best of your business class flight experience? Obviously your perspective will depend greatly whether you’re a business class ‘virgin’ who has always flown at the back of the bus; or if you are a jaded road warrior who regularly flies premium where only the very top first class products feel somewhat special.
Most of you will probably find yourselves somewhere in between. There are 2 key factors in getting the most from your potential business class flight. Firstly, selecting the right business class airline product on your route – in terms of service quality (ground and air) and the type of seating offered.
In addition you want to be able to fully maximise the actual experience on flight day.
Other considerations will be the cost of ticket and perhaps frequent flyer miles, something we will not discuss here. For premium class booking strategies please see How To Get Cheap Business Class Tickets (8 techniques)
Know your business class seat
These days, business class seats can come in various forms, sizes and configurations. From fully lie-flat seats, angled-flat seats, cradle (older-style business class) seats right down to standard economy seats with a bit of extra legroom.
Fully lie-flat seats have become the standard for international long-haul flights. They afford you the best chance of getting a good rest or sleep.
The following airlines offer fully lie-flat seats throughout their wide-body, long-haul fleets: Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Etihad, Finnair, Iberia, Kenya Airways, LATAM (Chile), LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei, South African Airways, SAS, Swiss, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Some major airlines (such as ANA, Asiana, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Japan Airlines, KLM, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines) can offer flat beds on some aircraft but have angled-flat and/or recliner seats on others which vary by route. Always do your homework by studying seat maps.
As a rough rule of thumb you will see many European carriers with flat-beds as standard; US carriers are upping their game and the big 3 are nearly all fully-flat; many Middle-East and Asian airlines have mixed fleets and use wide-body aircraft on both long-haul and regional routes. Long-haul flights may have the flat beds, regional flights still have the recliner or angled-flat seats.
For example, let’s say you happen to be flying business class with Thai Airways from London to Sydney via Bangkok. On the London to Bangkok leg you will experience the airline’s full flat bed product (1-2-1 configuration) on its Airbus A380 or Boeing 777-300ER. All well and good.
However when you get on the Bangkok-Sydney sector (4,600 miles) you could find yourself on a Boeing 747 with the older cradle-style recliner seating in business class (2-2 regional configuration with 50″ pitch, 20″ width) – this could be a disappointment to some.
A European exception is Air France which generally has angled-flat seats in its business class cabin. You will only find fully lie-flat seats across the fleet in its first class cabins and in the Boeing 777-300ER/Boeing 787 in business class.
Another element to consider is whether the seat offers enough privacy with good dividers and screens. Some airlines have seats which are more open.
Before deciding on a business class carrier you should seek out some reviews of the airline you are considering. Ben Schlappig at One Mile At a Time has comprehensive trip reports with photos of many business and first class airlines; Sam Chui also has an eclectic range of airline cabin reviews.
Business class seating – best configuration
Probably the most ideal configuration in business class is the 1-2-1 which gives all passengers aisle access and caters well for both single passengers and couples. A few airlines (see below) offer a 1-1-1 configuration in business class.
The densest business class configuration is 2-4-2, which is the standard British Airways Club World cabin and also used by Emirates and Etihad on some aircraft.
Airlines with 1-2-1 business class configuration
American Airlines – Airbus A330/Boeing767/777/787
Cathay Pacific – Airbus A330*/A350/Boeing 777*
Finnair – Airbus A350/A330+
Iberia – Airbus A330/A340/A350
Japan Airlines – Boeing 767*/787*
Malaysia Airlines – Airbus A330+*/A350+
Qantas – Airbus A330*/Boeing 787
Qatar Airways – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787
Sri Lankan – Airbus A330*
Aeromexico – Boeing 787*
Air France – Boeing 777*/787
Alitalia – Airbus A330/Boeing 777
China Airlines – Airbus A350/Boeing 777
China Eastern – Airbus A330*/Boeing 777
China Southern – Airbus A380/Boeing 777*
Delta Airlines – Airbus A330/A350/Boeing 767*/777
Garuda – Boeing 777/Airbus A330*
KLM – Boeing 787
Saudia – Boeing 777*/787
Vietnam Airlines – Airbus A350/Boeing 787
Xiamen Airlines – Boeing 787*
Air Canada – Boeing 777/787/767#/Airbus A330#
Air New Zealand – Boeing 777/787#
ANA – Boeing 777*/787*
Asiana – Airbus A380/A350/Boeing 777*
Avianca – Boeing 787
Austrian – Boeing 777+/767
Brussels Airlines – Airbus A330+
EVA Air – Boeing 777
SAS – Airbus A330/A340
Singapore Airlines – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787
Swiss – Airbus A340+/A330+/Boeing777+
TAP Portugal – Airbus A330*+
Thai Airways – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787*
Turkish Airlines – Airbus A330#*
United Airlines – Boeing 767#+/777*
Aer Lingus – Airbus A330+
Air Serbia – Airbus A330#
EL AL – Boeing 787
Emirates – Airbus A380*
Etihad – Airbus A330/A340*/Boeing 777*
Gulf Air – Airbus A330*
Jet Airways – Airbus A330#+/Boeing 777
Hainan Airlines – Airbus A330*/A350
Hong Kong Airlines – Airbus A330*/A350
Oman Air – Airbus A330
Virgin Atlantic – Airbus A330#/Airbus A340#/Boeing 747#/787#
Virgin Australia – Airbus A330/Boeing 777
Westjet – Boeing 787
* aircraft type also has denser configurations, so double check
# aircraft can have a 1-1-1 configuration
+ aircraft has 1-2-1 rows but also has 1-2-2 or 2-2-2 rows
Once you choose which airline and aircraft you are flying on then check the seating configuration map in detail to decide which are your preferred seats. For example, you may want to sit in a smaller cabin – say the upper deck of a Boeing 747.
Most airlines allow business class passengers to assign a seat at the time of booking. Air New Zealand, Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic offer this free of charge. British Airways on the other hand charges £60 for an advanced Club World seat assignment (free for BA Gold members).
Alternatively wait for online check-in – where you can choose a seat for free – but do so as early as possible to get the widest possible seat availability.
Complimentary chauffeur service for business class
A number of airlines offer business class ticket holders a free limousine transfer at departure, arrival and possibly when making a stopover. You will need to book the cars in advance, either online or by telephone, depending on the airline.
Emirates – The Emirates Chauffeur Drive service is available for business class passengers at over 70 airports worldwide. Tickets must only be issued by Emirates or Qantas though there are some restrictions on Qantas codeshare flights operated by Emirates. Book online at least 12 hours beforehand in the UAE and 48 hours in advance elsewhere.
Mileage ranges are London Heathrow/London Gatwick/Glasgow/Manchester (70 miles), New York/Los Angeles (50 miles), Auckland/Sydney (40km), Perth (45km), Adelaide/Brisbane/Melbourne (60km) and Dubai (all of UAE).
Note that the following flights are NOT eligible for the business class chauffeur service for: Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro; any Australia-New Zealand flight; Hong Kong flights including Hong Kong-Bangkok.
Emirates business class bookings made by other Skywards partners such as Alaska Airlines are also NOT eligible for Chaufeur Drive.
Qantas – Since becoming a joint-venture partner with Emirates, Qantas has introduced its complimentary Qantas Chauffeur Drive service. This is currently only available to business class passengers (revenue and award) booked on the Australia-London route on flights QF 1/2/9/10. The chauffeur is also included on any additional domestic/trans-Tasman connections. City mileage limits are the same as Emirates. Tickets must be issued by Qantas or Emirates and the car must be booked at least 48 hours in advance.
Virgin Atlantic – Offers a free chauffeur driven car service for Upper Class fares in revenue booking classes J/C/D at over 30 airports worldwide. Award bookings are not valid though you can use 17,500 additional Flying Club miles to book a transfer. The mileage range is generally 75 miles from the airport with a few exceptions. Upper Class transfers must be booked within 12 hours of departure.
Virgin Australia – Offers a complimentary limousine service for some business class passengers on international long-haul flights. Eligible fare classes (revenue-only) are F/A/J/C/D on flights to/from UAE and fare classes J/C on flights to/from US. Limo ranges are Australia (60km), US (50 miles) and anywhere in UAE. Book up to 24 hours in advance.
Etihad – Etihad business class travellers (excluding reward and discounted fares) currently still get a chauffeur transfer at Abu Dhabi (AUH) International airport to anywhere in the United Arab Emirates. You should book at least 24 hours in advance. In 2017 Etihad discontinued chauffeur services for business class passengers in other countries.
Air China – Air China offers a complimentary chauffeur transfer for premium passengers with booking classes F/A/J/C/D/Z/R. The transfers are available in the following cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Tianjin and Xi’an. The transfer must be requested at least 48 hours in advance.
Hainan Airlines – Hainan also offers a complimentary limousine transfer for business class passengers with booking classes C/D/Z/I. The transfers are available in China and selected cities in Europe and the US including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Brussels, Berlin, Moscow, Manchester, Tel Aviv and Rome. It can be requested 30 days to 24 hours in advance.
Note that the likes of Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines do not offer a complimentary limousine transfer for premium passengers.
Business class airport experience
On arrival at the airport, business class passengers can use dedicated business check-in desks which should keep waiting time to a minimum. Many airports also have a fast-track security lane for premium passengers.
Find out exactly what your lounge access options are – business class passengers are generally entitled to enter an airline or partner lounge. An airline’s best lounges tend to be at its home airport(s) and at major hubs.
If you know you are visiting a good airline lounge then try to arrive around 3 hours in advance so that you make the most of the experience. On arrival at a lounge you should do a quick overview to check what facilities are on offer and if there are any quiet areas.
Spa treatments for business class passengers
The following airlines offer complimentary spa treatments at their lounges for business class passengers:
British Airways – It has Elemis Travel Spas at its lounges at London Heathrow (T5 and T3) and New York JFK (T7). Club World passengers can get a complimentary 15 minute treatment from an extensive menu – bookable on arrival at the lounge, subject to availability.
Virgin Atlantic – The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges at London Gatwick/Heathrow and New York JFK offer free spa and hair treatments for Upper Class passengers.
Note, Etihad have recently eliminated complimentary 15 minute treatments for business class passengers at its Six Senses Spa at its lounges at Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow.
Some airlines such as Air France, Thai, Qantas, Etihad and Emirates only offer complimentary spas to first class passengers.
Business class flight experience
Most airlines have priority boarding for premium passengers. Board at your leisure unless there looks to be a chaotic boarding procedure in which case it’s probably best to board early to avoid being engulfed by hundreds of economy passengers.
Once on board, familiarise yourself with the storage options, seat adjustment controls and the entertainment system. These days noise-cancelling headphones are standard issue in business class cabins.
If flying with a major airline you can expect a pretty decent level of service. You need to find your own balance in enjoying the meal service, using the entertainment system and getting some rest or sleep. Be friendly and courteous to cabin crew and they should (hopefully) treat you well.
It’s your choice, but try not to overindulge in rich foods, caffeine and alcohol! See our tips on staying healthy on board your flight.
Some airlines offer arrival lounges (particularly at their home airports) where you can freshen up, take a shower and perhaps eat a light snack before leaving the airport.
Maximising business class: summary
There are a number of factors when choosing a business class product and taking the flight:
- Seat configuration, 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 being optimal
- Fully lie-flat seats (rather than angled-flat or recliner seats)
- Cost of ticket
- Frequent flyer/alliance considerations
- Complimentary limo transfers
- Quality of airport lounge(s) – including food/drink, ambiance and spa treatments
- Airport experience – dedicated check-in, fast-lane security and priority boarding
- On-board service – food, drink, attentiveness – small touches can enhance your trip
- Enjoying the service vs getting maximum rest
There is no one particular airline that is both perfect on board and on the ground. By putting some careful thought into your business class trip, you could increase your chances of a great flight experience.
Last updated 31 October 2018.