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 Mauritius, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Delta, Etihad, Finnair, Iberia, Kenya Airways, LATAM, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Royal Brunei, SAS, South African Airways, SriLankan, Swiss, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Some airlines (such as ANA, Asiana, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Japan Airlines, KLM, Korean Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines) can offer flat beds on some wide-body aircraft but have angled-flat and/or recliner seats on others which vary by route.
Always do your homework by studying seat maps sites such as at SeatGuru.
As a rough rule of thumb you will see many European carriers with long-haul flat-beds as standard; US carriers have upped their game and the big 3 are all fully-flat.
Many Middle-Eastern 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 in its business class cabins on the Boeing 787, Airbus A350 and some Boeing 777-300ERs.
Another element to consider is whether the seat offers enough privacy with good dividers/screens. Some airlines now have sliding doors on their business class seats – including the Qatar Airways’ industry leading Q-Suite, ANA’s The Room and British Airways new Club Suite.
Before deciding on a business class carrier you should seek out some reviews of the airline you are considering. You will find a large collection of video reviews on YouTube with the following particularly recommended: Sam Chui, Wingin’ It! Paul Lucas, DennisBunnik Travels, Noel Philips: inflight Video and Jeb Brooks.
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. The only downside to this configuration is that footwell space can be limited on some types of seat.
The densest business class configuration is 2-4-2, which you will find on the standard British Airways Club World cabin and also on some Etihad and United aircraft. Emirates and Turkish Airlines have 2-3-2 configurations on selected aircraft.
Airlines with 1-2-1 Business Class Configuration
Here is a detailed listing of airlines and aircraft types which have 1-2-1 configurations for their business class cabins. Please note the following key for various exceptions:
* 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
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*/777*/787*
Malaysia Airlines – Airbus A330+/A350+
Royal Air Maroc – Boeing 787*
Qantas – Airbus A330*/A380*/Boeing 787
Qatar Airways – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787
Sri Lankan – Airbus A330*
Aeromexico – Boeing 787*
Air France – Airbus A350/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*/787*
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 – Airbus A380/Boeing 777*/787*
Asiana – Airbus A380/A350/Boeing 777*
Avianca – Airbus A330*/Boeing 787
Austrian – Boeing 777+/767
Brussels Airlines – Airbus A330+
EVA Air – Boeing 777/787
SAS – Airbus A330/A340
Singapore Airlines – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787
South African Airways – Airbus A330*
Swiss – Airbus A340+/A330+/Boeing777+
TAP Portugal – Airbus A330*+
Thai Airways – Airbus A350/A380/Boeing 777*/787*
Turkish Airlines – Airbus A330#*/Boeing 787
United Airlines – Boeing 767#+/777*/787*
Aer Lingus – Airbus A330+
Aer Mauritius – Airbus A330*/A350
Air Serbia – Airbus A330#
EL AL – Boeing 787
Emirates – Airbus A380
Etihad – Airbus A330/A380/Boeing 777/787
Fiji Airways – Airbus A350
Gulf Air – Airbus A330*
Hainan Airlines – Airbus A330*
Hong Kong Airlines – Airbus A330*/A350
Oman Air – Airbus A330
RwandAir – Airbus A330
Virgin Atlantic – Airbus A330#/Airbus A340#/A350/Boeing 747#/787#
Virgin Australia – Airbus A330/Boeing 777
Westjet – Boeing 787
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. The likes of Air New Zealand, Emirates, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic offer this free of charge. British Airways on the other hand charges a hefty £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), Adelaide/Auckland/Brisbane/Melbourne/Sydney (80km), Perth (45km) 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.
Note, Emirates business class award bookings (from Emirates, Qantas, Alaska etc) are 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 slightly lower than Emirates (examples: London 50 miles, Sydney 40km). 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 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.
Note that Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines do not offer a complimentary limousine transfer for business class 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 will usually be at its home airport(s) and at major hubs.
For example Turkish Airlines has an excellent lounge at its new Istanbul base. If you are flying business class with Turkish and have a layover of 4-9 hours with one of your flights longer than 8 hours then you can use a private bedroom suite (subject to availability).
If you know you are visiting a well-appointed 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. If you need a shower in the lounge its best to check availability as soon as you arrive.
One perpetual dilemma of business class flying is how much to eat in the lounge so that you leave enough room for your meal on board!
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 complimentary basic 10 minute Wellness Spa treatments for Upper Class passengers. Longer treatments are available at extra charge.
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 (although we find it’s best to bring our own).
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 the 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.
Many airlines also offer business class passengers free WiFi on board these days.
After your flight arrives, some airlines will have arrival lounges available (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)
- Avoid seats with tight footwells
- 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
No airline can be perfect on board and on the ground all of the time. However, by putting some careful thought into your business class trip, you can increase your chances of a great flight experience.
Article originally published in 2010. Last updated November 23 2019.