11 Features That Make Business Class Great — Or Not

Filed Under: Advice

I feel like I should change my mailing address to “business class on your nearest flight,” based on the amount of time I’ve spent in business class lately. This is by design, as I’ve been doing what I can to review new business class products, given that I focused so heavily on first class in the past.

I’ve been disappointed by some airlines and pleasantly surprised by others, though they all have room for improvement. I’ve walked away from most carriers basically saying “they’re a fine option if they operate the route you need to fly nonstop, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them.” That’s a stark contrast to my favorite first class products in the world, which I’d go out of my way to fly.

So it got me thinking as to what I value most in business class. What makes for a great business class product?

Everyone has very different preferences, so this simply reflects what I care about. I figured I’d share the 11 top things for me, more or less ranked, starting with the most important. The order can vary based on the individual flight, since I have different priorities based on the type of flight.

With that in mind, here are the 11 factors which make for a perfect business class product:

A seat with direct aisle access and no seatmate

I’ve long said that business class is all about the seat. While first class can be an over the top experience, the single thing I care most about in business class is the seat.

Ideally I’d like direct aisle access, I wouldn’t like to sit next to anyone (or at least have enough privacy so I don’t realize I’m seated next to someone), and I’d like to look out a window.

I’ve shared what I consider to be the best business class seats out there, which include the Apex Suites and reverse herringbone seats, which quite a few airlines offer nowadays.

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Oman Air’s new business class, featuring the Apex Suite

Wifi, ideally reasonably priced

I value wifi more than the average person, as this is the second most important business class feature for me. I hate getting off a longhaul flight and being way behind on work. Give me a flight with wifi, ideally where they charge a fixed amount with no data caps, and I’m a happy camper. Airlines like American, Etihad, and Lufthansa have especially good wifi options on their longhaul flights. On airlines like Singapore, on the other hand, wifi can be outrageously expensive.

Office with a view, in Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment

An excellent pillow & blanket

As I said above, business class is all about the seat, though what’s a good seat without a plush pillow and blanket? This might sound silly, until you fly an airline which gives you a pillow as thick as a piece of cardboard, like Iberia. This is an area where some airlines shine, by offering duvets, multiple large pillows, mattress pads, etc.

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While not the best seat, Hainan business class comes with great bedding

Tasty food

Who doesn’t like a good meal? I think many airlines would benefit from simplifying their menus. On airplanes, good food isn’t about having something which is fancy, but rather having something which is well executed, given the constraints of serving food at 38,000 feet.

But if they can pull off complex/interesting and delicious food, that’s all the better!

Incredible food in Austrian business class

Friendly & attentive service

I don’t really necessarily care what the service style is, I just care that the flight attendants are friendly and seem like they want to be there. I’m just as happy with Cathay Pacific’s hands-off service (where between meals you’ll only see the crew in the cabin when you press the call button) as I am with Singapore Airlines’ outrageously hands-on service (they’re like ninjas in anticipating what passengers want).

A dine on demand concept and/or efficient service

There are plenty of airlines where their great food options are frustrating. For example, say you’re on a six hour redeye and the incredible meal takes three hours to serve. That sort of ruins the point of a great meal, since it prevents you from taking advantage of the seat.

If it’s a short flight, make sure the meal service is quick. Ideally there’s a dine on demand concept, where you can order what you want when you want from a big menu. This is something the Gulf carriers do very well.

Dine on demand in Etihad business class

Extensive entertainment options

Personally I don’t care that much about entertainment, but I sure won’t turn down an airline with a thousand entertainment options, including entire seasons of shows. This is an area where Emirates really excels, with their ICE system.

Also, don’t discount the value of a tail camera or an interactive airshow program. That can be entertainment in and of itself!

Tail camera on the Qatar Airways A350

Good coffee & espresso-based beverages

I love coffee. Airplane coffee is notoriously bad, but there’s a huge variance in the quality of it. Beyond that, there are plenty of airlines which whip up top notch espresso based beverages.

Waking up on a plane after a great night of sleep to a freshly brewed cappuccino is pure bliss.

Freshly brewed cappuccino on Emirates

Good alcohol selection

That’s right, I put coffee ahead of alcohol. Higher quality champagne is certainly preferred over lower quality champagne. The same is true of liquor, or at least just having some types of liquor at all. I was really surprised on my recent Aeromexico and Avianca flights when they didn’t have gin.

Ideally do better with champagne than China Southern does in first class

Amenity kits and pajamas

Sure, I like having some goodies to take with me from flights, like amenity kits and pajamas, which some airlines offer in business class. But it’s not something which is terribly important to me, since I typically bring my own pajamas, and I also have all the toiletries I need.

For example, Singapore Airlines doesn’t give out amenities in business class because they find them to be wasteful (presumably it’s ultimately a cost saving measure), and instead they have all the necessities in the lavatories. That works for me.

Awesome amenities in Qatar Airways business class

Some flair

Airlines can be great ambassadors of their respective countries, so add in some local flair and hospitality. This can be as simple as “local” boarding music, signature menu items from the airline’s home country, etc. I love feeling like I’m on an “exotic” airline.

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Arabic coffee and dates in Oman Air business class

What do you value most from a business class product? How does your list differ from mine?

  1. I agree with all of yours… But I would also like to add that I like temperature controls… Some kind of air. I get easily hot and a good air vent can be a blessing.

  2. 1) The seat- gotta have lie flat, and wide enough to accommodate my shoulders.
    2) Quiet (I was on a Thai Airways flight where the noise from the galley sounded like a dozen monkeys banging on pots & pans, and I’ll never fly them again)
    3) Quick, efficient meal service- 90% of the time, I want to eat fast and go to sleep. Also, if I’m traveling with somebody and you serve one of us 10-15 minutes behind the other, that is not good
    4) Good food & wine

  3. Lucky, do you feel a cabin difference in the more modern planes (i.e. B787 & A350) vs the older model planes (i.e A340, A330, 777, etc?)?

    It is said that the newer planes have better cabin pressure and in long hauls should make you feel less tired.

    Hence I wonder if there is any difference, and if so, how does that factor in your biz class ranking?

  4. As with most of your posts, I agree 100%.

    the only thing I might add is that I like a bar. A place where I can get up and stretch my legs and possibly chat with other passengers or crew. I really like the 380 for that, and have enjoyed the middle eastern a380 bars.

    I haven’t tried the Asian or even the European a380’s yet, but look forward to those that have a bar for business class passengers.

  5. An entire long post that never mentions flat horizontal seats? Not all airlines have flat seats in J. I’ve tried to sleep for years on slanty-flat and armchair (neckbreaker) seats…never again.

  6. Isn’t the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond the Qatar J seat? Which is completely different from Oman Air Seat?

  7. I agree that it is all about the seat. I can be fine with a configuration that doesn’t have aisle access from ever seat under conditions. Qantas’ 747, for instance, is fine for me as long as I am on the aisle seat with the passenger in the middle and on the other aisle traveling together. True, I can’t control that. But, as long as I get a flat bed seat (Even that’s negotiable on certain routes) with plenty of personal space and legroom…I am golden.

    Entertainment options are the only other thing I require. The rest of it doesn’t matter. The food, the alcohol, wifi, amenity kits, pajamas, coffee, flair, attentiveness…simply don’t care. I prefer food on the ground, don’t need any of the rest, and generally just prefer to be left alone.

    This is why I don’t usually bother with F. I don’t get any added value out of any of the soft product offerings above what I’d get in economy. I am all about the seat, the privacy and personal space.

  8. Coffee before ‘Top of the Shelf’ Alcohol?

    Seriously?….. 😮

    There’s most likely a Starbucks in the terminal just before you board, and another one when you arrive. If you are in Europe, maybe even a Costa. I’m not paying for J with $/miles just for coffee.

    If they don’t have Jonnie Walker Blue and either Dom or Krug, preferably both (or something comparable), it’s not really First Class IMHO. In J, as you say, the seat is paramount. Beyond that the true test of J is how close they come to FC with alcohol first, and food next. Which just barely puts friendly and attentive service in 4th place; just barely. 😉

  9. Strongly agree with @Dave H. Individual air vents trumps champagne, pajamas and amenity kits. But not vodka.

    On my wishlist is decent comfort food. I enjoy reading an airline’s dinner menu just to see what creations their celebrity chefs have devised. However, all I ever want is something comforting like a good meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a green bean casserole.

  10. I just want to add that a “good” blanket these days seems to translate to heavy/down blanket which I usually find to be way too hot. Was on a QF flight in F this week and I think the blanket was heavier than some of those lead smocks the dentist makes you where when you are getting X-rays.

  11. Lucky, you really should fly Delta’s 747-400 before they are retired next year. I just flew it Upper Deck Honolulu-Narita and return and for a US Carrier, it is Outstanding! Upper Deck is configured one on each side of the Aisle, which makes for a uniquely private experience-No other US carrier has anything remotely like it!

  12. I only fly international once every other year. I’m just grateful to be in Business, because I know the lowerclass alternative is no place to be for a long haul. So I’m not particularly picky or fussy, just grateful.

  13. I value privacy, a friendly and can-do attitude by the crew and a wide flat bed – that was my Best flight ever on Singapore non stop 18 1/2 hours Newark to Sing. 6 hrs meal and movies, 6 hrs sleep and 6hrs work.

  14. I’m looking forward to experiencing Virgin Australia’s newly revamped 777-300ER business class service between Sydney & LA

  15. I just don’t care about Wi-Fi — not only it’s not #2 on my list, it just plain isn’t a consideration. Long-haul is a great place to unplug, relax, rest and recover; lack of Wi-Fi allows me to do so, and have a perfect justification for the boss.

    As for the rest, it’s spot on. Nowadays almost everyone has a decent seat in business class, so that’s the price of entry.

  16. As a woman, having adequate storage for my handbag (and not having to put it up in the overhead bins for take-off and landing) is one thing that many business class seats do badly. I love the ones that do give you space for that.

  17. For me it’s about seat, then service, then food. This is why American and United strike out so often – despite having reasonably good hard products in J (although nobody would disagree AA > UA at the moment), the service is often indifferent and disinterested, almost to the point of being offensive. Every now and then you strike gold and get a real gem, but more often than not you get a tired bunch of veterans all too eager to cut corners, which means just about every other dimension you’ve indicated here gets dragged down.

    More than once I’ve had to wrestle my meal tray back from an AA crew member who tried to clear it before I was finished, so eager were they to finish service and return to their jumpseats. I’ve had to carry my coat to the galley and ask for it to be hung, an hour into the flight, after sitting with it on my lap waiting for someone to come get it. While they claim to offer dine-on-demand, be prepared for exasperated sighs and pursed lips when you ask for it. And catering budgets for J remain stubbornly low, which means your food often looks like exactly like a Y meal looked twenty years ago, and is rarely plated with any kind of care or attention to detail.

    The US carriers are – for the most part, phasing out F – making J their most premium longhaul offering. All the fancy new seats in the world can’t compensate for poor service, bad food and an inconsistent experience. With airlines like Cathay, Qantas, or Etihad, you’re pretty much guaranteed your J experience will match the brochure. On American and United you have no such assurance.

  18. Really, no one mentioned lounges? I value a great lounge as much as a good cabin itself, especially with long layovers. That’s why CX is one the best airlines imho, as their lounges in HKG are top notch.

  19. Space to the side of the seat. So that you have enough space to be organised, and so that you don’t have to have the main tray down anytime you have a drink or snack.

  20. I find EK’s ICE to be absolutely useless since everything is so censored/edited. Try watching Lethal Weapon…you’re hear more “what the frick” and “mother ducking” than you’ve ever imagined. At least U.S. carriers, and even KrisWorld and StudioCX swear/show a little skin.

  21. In order to relax and sleep on an overnight flight, I need quiet and privacy. I’ve had better flights on the wretched BA Club World seat, facing backward on the upper deck of a 747 directly ahead of the emergency exit, than I have in JAL’s new First suite. AA is the worst when it comes to a quiet cabin. They crews usually carry on in the forward galley after service like it was a nightclub.

  22. @Mark,

    I was on a J flight on Air France recently and my seatmate was watching Eyes Wide Shut. It was not censored…at…all!!! If you need the opposite side of the spectrum, you should go with them!

  23. Good business class requires: (1) efficient, quick, priority boarding and (2) a flat bed. That’s all I want.

  24. Regarding wifi, do you there flights where biz gets wifi but economy doesn’t? I’ve never seen that

  25. Ben, looks like Virgin Australia (refurbed 777) across the pacific will meet all of your requirements in business, and more. Just stunning.

  26. 1) Seat
    2) Service
    3) Food

    In that order on a long-haul. Otherwise flip 1 & 2 around for me on shorter flights. Attitude and attentiveness of the FAs can make or break the experience.

  27. All you reviewers spend least amount writing about business class bed length! Which means you are eitrher small, dont give a shit, and/or are paid for your reviews.
    Most western men like me fly BC for ONE reason bed length! So often airlines lie and/or reviews like your are vague about it. Often 78 inches (198 centimeters) is meassured on the outside not inside, how often have i not paid a lot for BC oNLY to SLEEP and stayed up all night cause the bed length was too short.
    (Being and average) 1.93 western male most bc beds are too short.
    Focus on ACTUAL bed length, your and other people s reviews are embarrassing commercials for the airlines and great for small/average people and totally useless for tall people like me.

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