First impressions of Brussels Airlines business class…

Good morning from Brussels!

I just flew on Brussels Airlines from New York JFK, and had both a bizarre and awesome experience. The bizarre comes in the form of boarding starting well over an hour before departure. I mean, it’s not just the usual “boarding” sign on the departure monitor where the gate is “open,” but boarding was actually active over an hour before departure. I got to the gate 45 minutes before departure, and was among the last to board. When I asked at check-in what time the flight leaves, the agent says “5:15PM, but we like to leave really early.” Okay…

Not only was I excited to fly Brussels because they were a new airline for me, but also because they feature a business class product that has become pretty common that I haven’t flown yet (it’s offered by a bunch of carriers, including ANA, Austrian, Swiss, and many more). That would be the “staggered” configuration, whereby the number of seats per row alternates. In my recent post about the best business class products for couples traveling together I ranked this as the second best product out there.

The flight was off to a lovely start. The seats felt a bit claustrophobic, though the crew was extremely friendly.

The dinner service was quite good, especially for a 6hr30min transatlantic flight.

And they also offered the most silverware I’ve ever received in a napkin — eight utensils.

But here’s my beef, and I’m curious if I’m alone on this. Call me “Big Ben” if you’d like, but I found the seats extremely uncomfortable for sleeping. The seats weren’t especially wide, and more than that the armrest was much higher than the sleeping surface. I’m fine with that, though, and it wouldn’t have bothered me all that much.

The issue is that the area for your feet (which is probably about three feet deep) was tiny. When I reclined you could have literally zip tied my knees, ankles, and feet, and I would have had the same ability to move. I literally couldn’t move my feet, and getting up/out was difficult, since my feet were deep in the “cubby.”

I’m trying to figure out whether I’m just losing it or whether anyone else feels the same? I’d much rather take an “old fashioned” flat bed seat over this, or maybe even an angled flat business class as long as there’s some leg/foot room… or am I crazy?

Certainly an enlightening experience, and lots more details will be coming with the trip report!


  1. Thank you and now I know I am not the only one, who finds the space for feet is extremely tight. I flew Swiss new business class and Delta Business Elite on 764 too. They have similar seat designs but the the SN J seats are just so uncomfortable in terms of feet space. However, the foot issue only applies to the solo seats and if you are flying the pair seats, you get normal foot space. I have a feeling that SN seats have too much gadgets that reduce the foot space on the solo seats significantly.

    I was on the daytime return from BRU to JFK, so I only took short naps.

    Yes they board really early… it will happen in BRU too.

    Look forward to the report.


  2. @Lucky

    Flew this from TLV-LHR on British Airways (former BMI plane) with brand new seats exactly like that.

    I thought the sleeping part was a bit tight, but relaxing and watching a movie was great, huge screens, and ample space if you get the row to yoruself with 1 seat

  3. Their early boarding is a legacy of their African routes. Lots of last-minute passenger offloads due to irregular documentation mean that they have to offload bags pretty much every single departure. Early boarding is the only way to ensure that this doesn’t result in a delayed departure. Rather than change the process for their only non-African longhaul route, they are sticking with the processes in JFK as well.

  4. Agreed – the foot cubby is small. (A rare benefit of small feet?) BUT, the way around this is to secure bulkhead seats – the best of both worlds: lie-flat, lots of counter space, privacy, and the ability to flop around whilst sleeping as much as you please.
    Definitely not a reason to avoid this seat/airline/configuration, but certainly a reason to be thoughtful and diligent about seat selection.

  5. Unfortunately, SN is only good on longhaul.
    Whilst I find SN crew almost always brilliant, their shorthaul product went downhill a lot. Food got much worse (you don’t even get any in the cheap eco fares). Old aircraft. Meh…

    Boarding times at BRU frustrate me, and it’s not only SN. Actual boarding times is usually 30~45 min later than official boarding time, especially with LH. No boarding calls in the (crappy) lounges either.

  6. Dear lucky,

    I am going to take air Tahiti Nui from NRT to ppt. Is there anyway I can accumulate the miles to any other airline? Thanks!


  7. @ Jenny — Yes, they partner with both American and Delta, and for eligible fare classes you could credit to either airline.

  8. Just did Thais new business seat, two seater in the middle for people traveling together, looks like the SN seat. It was exactly as you described above. Much tighter than Swiss and BA, absolutely no room for your feet

  9. At least some of the business seats on United’s 787 have this footwell issue. Flying last December, I traded seats (from 4A to 2A) so a guy could sit with his girlfriend. Big mistake, as my new seat had a footwell at most half the size of my original seat and providing a temporary foot-binding experience.

  10. I don’t like seats with the footwells. I am a side sleeper and find this design very uncomfortable. I just flew back from Tokyo to MSP on a Delta 777 with a great seat. Once it went flat, it was completely open so I could be on my side with no problem. I have never slept so well on a plane.

  11. I had the same problem in the solo middle seat on a flight to JFK. Impossible to move or get out of seat while in bed mode. None of the other seats have this problem. It seems from placing your foot rest in the area between the butts of the two people ahead of you.

    BTW did they give you a full box of chocolates after the meal service?

  12. I’ve flown in this type of twice on Swiss and once in Thai’s new 777-300ER. If I’m flying solo, I do prefer this to United’s product where someone is always having to climb over someone else for aisle access. That being said, the seat, especially on Swiss is extremely firm in addition to the narrow footwell. Based on my experiences, I’d rank it behind Turkish and the reverse herringbone style on Cathay’s old J product and probably on par with Virgin Australia’s product.

  13. Which lh planes have those seats? They are awful looking. I wear a size 12 6E, I wonder if they would fit?

  14. Wholeheartedly agree. I’ve flown on this seat multiple times with Swiss and Finnair. The footwell is tiny, the back of the seat in front is actually really close to you, so the space feels very tight and, should you end up on one of the outer seats, you sleep with your face on the aisle floor.

  15. I’ve flown on this seat several times on Finnair. My feet are not huge, but I can totally see how the space in the footwell would be a problem for many. You could always sleep the other way (head in the footwell, feet where your head should go). Doubt that would be too pleasant.

  16. @bludevil and @Shawn…

    Agreed, the DL 777-ER flatbeds are the best I’ve experienced. Slept 9 hours straight on a JNB-ATL flight and that was with no alcohol, no pills. Woke up ready to go.

  17. This is one of those cases where the seats may be similar but the cabin configuration makes a difference.

    Brussels has a 2-1-2 layout for even rows on the A330 while Swiss uses 2-2-1. The Swiss layout has direct aisle access from more seats with the trade-off that some of the singles are only “demi-thrones”.

    Having flown this configuration on Swiss myself, I prefer the starboard window (K) seats in the odd rows. In the bed configuration, they’re a bit wider because you have some space between the seat and the wall. I’ve never had problems with seat width or footwell size despite being “generously proportioned” shall we say. Certainly I find these more comfortable than the new Lufthansa and United seats.

    Interestingly, ANA seems to have a 4-across layout on the 777 despite the fact that its cabin width is greater than that of the A330. I wonder how the space compares. I guess I’ll have to give it a try!

  18. I flew in the LX version, and I thought the problem wasn’t the footwell size, but the hardness of the cushions. It’s odd, because I prefer a very firm mattress to a soft one, but those cushions are just really uncomfortable. UA’s new 777 business class is much more cramped, but it’s extremely comfortable. I’d take it any day over the SN/LX et al torture chamber cushions.

  19. @ Lively — For what it’s worth that’s how the bread was served!

    @ mitch — They actually gave it to me before landing.

    @ romsdeals — Nope, that’s a totally different kind of seat.

    @ Beachfan — No Lufthansa planes have these seats.

  20. 1. I’m 6’5″ (c. 1,96) so I’m not the one to ask about foot room!

    2. Do we get to see the menu and wine list?

  21. @ AUSTEX – The menu/wine list will in all likelihood be in the full trip report once Lucky gets around to it.

  22. @ Mandrake – Thanks. Sometimes I get a little confused with Lucky’s timeline. On the other hand, sometimes I just get a little confused in general.

  23. The product is great if you’re traveling during the day. There’s a lot of room, you don’t feel the proximity of your neighbor even if you’re not seated in one of the thrones, and the lounge position is perfect. Sleepwise it’s still doable, but I’d always choose First Class if I wanted to get a decent rest. Otherwise you’re just stuck in a pretty narrow coffin in a hardly comfortable flat yet angled bed. Ben, it’s a shame you won’t get to try LOT’s Elite Club. Please don’t bash the airline for Boeing’s mistakes. 😉

  24. Flew the LX version of this product last year and totally agree re footwell being cramped. Esp weird given these Captain Kirk seats are reserved for *Gs on LX!

  25. Whoa, no pretzel rolls? I really enjoy Belgium and would not mind trying to live there. Something about the food and beer.

  26. @ lucky

    There are some planes Lh flies with foot boxes in business. Have you tried them? Better than these foot boxes?

  27. @ Beachfan — There are, but they’re different. They’re not as restrictive based on what I’ve heard.

    @ Kai — About 6′. The seat was long enough (though just barely), but it was simply the size of the “cubby” that was the issue.

  28. agree, overall a mixed bag. serious company but let down by the poor design of the new seats, either as a seat where you knees touch the huge and crisp screen or as a bed where it is almost impossible to sleep as there is not enough room to have a decent sleep.. pitty given the refreshed cabin is really nice, service good. If you book a night flight be sure you do not get the solo seats as these get very little room.

  29. I flew on AY business class in a similar or identical seat and had no worries with foot room in the cubby. No way would I swap for an angled bed and I like that the cubby means the AVOD screen is close to where your head is. I’m 5″11″. I’ve got some pics on G+ of AY. I was in the ‘1’ seat on the side in the 2-2-1 layout. I prefer the AY/LX/OS cubby to the SQ cubby on their weird wide but short J class seats.

  30. Just flew on the inaugural flight from Brussels to IAD in biz. Service and food was good, but definitely agreed with sentiments above. I did not like the seats at all. Felt they were uncomfortable, both in lounge and sleep positions. I am not a large person either. Also not a fan of the position for the touch screen controls for the seat. Anytime I accidentally laid my hand or elbow on it, my seat would move. Not sure if my controls were just extra sensitive or all are like that. Was fun being on inaugural flight for that route though, even got free ipad cover lol.

  31. My dad traveled from the United States to Cameroon through Brussels Airlines and the contents of his 50pounds box reduced to 15pounds, almost all his items in the box was stolen. Brussels do something about this. I am taking no excuses for this. Better find these guys who did this. You can reach me personally. As a one time journalist my next step is to call my former colleagues to carry out an investigation on how anyones luggage can disappear within airlines. This is really getting serious.

  32. My friend luggage was lost. When she was flying to Prague. She needed to buy basic things. Since she does not speak English I fill out the luggage lost form- the case Case no. 1607-SN-02410.

    There is no communication from the airlines side whatsallever. There is no phone number to call regarding this. I did not see such customer service long time.

    I was told by guys on Prague airport that Brussels airlines are well known for losing luggages a lot.

  33. I think the staggered seating is the stupidest idea ever. I’m seating on the aisle by the window with someone next to me. If he needs the bathroom I have to wake up and move. Why not do the 1-2-1 configuration and no one is ever bothered. Also why do I have to pay the same amount as someone else who has twice as much room in the same cabin. I will never fly this absurd configuration again especially since the website is so ghetto that I couldn’t check in online or choose my seat ahead of time.

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