12 Features That Make Business Class Great… Or Not

12 Features That Make Business Class Great… Or Not

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In the past I’ve ranked what I consider to be the world’s best business class seats, and I’ve also shared what I consider to be the world’s best business class airlines. In this post I wanted to talk more broadly about the amenities, services, and features, that make a business class product great.

While flying business class is just about always better than flying economy, there’s a huge amount of variance in terms of the quality of business class between airlines. I walk away from some flights thinking “I wouldn’t fly that airline again even if it was the only nonstop option,” while I walk away from other flights thinking “I’d connect in order to fly that business class again.”

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what makes a business class product great. I’ll share the 12 things that matter most to me, roughly ranked starting with what I value most. Of course let me acknowledge that we all have different preferences, and for that matter the order can also vary based on the individual flight, since we’re not always looking for the same thing on all flights.

With that in mind, below are the factors that make for a perfect business class flight, in my opinion.

Direct aisle access & privacy

At the end of the day, business class is all about the seat. While the world’s top first class products can be over-the-top, the single thing that’s most important in business class is the seat, so that you can get some rest. What am I looking for in a business class seat?

  • Direct aisle access, so that I can enjoy looking out the window without having to step over someone to access the aisle
  • Ideally some level of privacy; this doesn’t have to be a door (though I do like doors!), but rather just some sort of privacy shield so that you don’t feel like you’re too exposed to the aisle, and so that you don’t get bumped by service items
  • Bonus points to airlines that have flexible seating options for those traveling together, like Qatar Airways Qsuites, which lets you create a double bed or seating pod
A good business class should have privacy & direct aisle access

Reasonably priced & fast Wi-Fi

In this era we can stay connected just about anywhere, and that includes when flying. Admittedly I value Wi-Fi more than the average person, as this is the second most important business class feature for me. I’m instantly happy if I’m flying an airline that has fast and reasonably priced Wi-Fi, ideally with no data caps (since airlines with Wi-Fi data caps typically have outrageously low limits).

$10 “Super Wi-Fi” on Qatar Airways with no data caps and good speeds? Yes please!

Qatar Airways’ reasonably priced Wi-Fi

Great bedding

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 that gives you a scratchy blanket and a pillow as thick as a piece of cardboard. I love an airline that offers multiple pillows, a cozy blanket that’s not overly warm, and even a mattress pad.

Great airplane bedding can make a big difference

Tasty & nicely presented food

Who doesn’t like a good meal? That applies in the air as much as on the ground. First and foremost, airlines need to focus on something that actually tastes good for what it is. It doesn’t need to be overly fancy, but just needs to be well executed. I’d rather have a tasty salad than a disgusting wagyu meatloaf.

If airlines can get the basics right, of course it’s nice if you feel like you’re getting a restaurant-quality experience.

Not a great business class meal…
A great business class meal…

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).

Just don’t make passengers feel like they’re an inconvenience.

Friendly & attentive service goes a long way

Individual air nozzles

Some airlines are known for keeping their cabins really warm. Admittedly everyone has different temperature preferences, but for those of us who easily get hot, individual air nozzles can make a huge difference. It amazes me how many airlines choose not to invest in these, as I find they help me sleep much better.

I appreciate airlines with individual air nozzles

Dine on demand and/or efficient service

Of course it’s nice when airlines offer dine on demand in business class, where you can order what you want when you want (assuming they don’t run out of food early in the flight, which happens far too often). While I appreciate that, I don’t consider it to be essential. I’m also happy with more “standard” service, though:

  • Ideally service is still customized, and passengers don’t feel like they’re part of an assembly line; for example, if a flight attendant sees an empty glass, they should proactively offer a refill
  • If the meal service is a treat (like Turkish Airlines business class), I don’t have an issue with it being drawn out
  • On a short overnight flight or if the meal service isn’t amazing, service should at least be efficient and quick, so that passengers can maximize their rest
  • Ideally service should get started as quickly after takeoff as possible, with the first drink being served within 45 minutes of takeoff
A dine on demand menu is ideal in business class

Extensive entertainment options

Personally I don’t care all that much about inflight entertainment — as you can see, Wi-Fi is my priority. However, I realize this is an important feature for others, and I won’t turn down an airline with thousands of options. When it comes to inflight entertainment, you can’t beat Emirates’ ICE system, or Qatar Airways’ Oryx One system.

As an avgeek, what I like most from an inflight entertainment system is a good map feature as well as a tail camera.

Who doesn’t like a good tail camera feature?!

Good coffee & espresso-based drinks

As longtime OMAAT readers know, I love good coffee. Airplane coffee is notoriously bad, probably at least partly because the water comes from the plane’s disgusting tanks. That’s why I appreciate an airline with great espresso-based drinks, including cappuccinos. We’ve even started to see more airlines introduce iced coffee and cold brew, which I’m happy about.

There’s a huge amount of variance in terms of the quality of airline espresso-based drinks. Waking up on a plane after a great night of sleep to a freshly brewed cappuccino is pure bliss.

Iced oat cappuccino in JetBlue Mint? Yes please!

Good alcohol selection

That’s right, I put coffee ahead of alcohol. Nonetheless alcohol matters too, be it good champagne, solid red & white wine options, or liquor. There’s a huge amount of inconsistency when it comes to the quality of this, and I’d say presentation matters too.

Who doesn’t like a nice glass of champagne in business class?

Amenity kits & 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 that’s terribly important to me. It is interesting to see the different approaches airlines take in this regard. If an airline doesn’t have good amenity kits, I at least appreciate if popular toiletries and other items (like dental kits) are stocked in lavatories.

I’d say Qatar Airways is in a league of its own when it comes to this, in terms of the quality of amenity kits and pajamas in business class.

Qatar Airways’ amazing Diptyque amenity kits

Some local flair

Airlines can be great ambassadors of their respective countries, so I always appreciate when they add in some local flair, whatever form that may come in. This is often what stands out to me, and is a common characteristic among my favorite airline brands. This could come in the form of “local” boarding music, signature menu items from a carrier’s home country, etc.

I love Oman Air’s Arabic coffee & dates

Bottom line

While I think most can agree that a great seat is the most important factor of a good business class, we all have different priorities beyond that. Above are some of the things that I value most in a business class product, roughly ranked. Hopefully that provides some useful perspective on why I’m more of a fan of certain products than others.

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

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  1. Suresh mysore Guest

    and the Business amenity kits were a joke.

  2. Suresh mysore Guest

    In last 30 days we flew many many hours on an overnight Lufthansa 747-4 in Business class.
    Was very disappointed.
    We, wife and myself, had seperately requested very different special meals. We were proudly told that yes!! they had the meals!. When the time came for meals so did confusion. The meals fit no commonly used description by airlines and in addition they were unsatisfactory and may have been economy meals.
    On...

    In last 30 days we flew many many hours on an overnight Lufthansa 747-4 in Business class.
    Was very disappointed.
    We, wife and myself, had seperately requested very different special meals. We were proudly told that yes!! they had the meals!. When the time came for meals so did confusion. The meals fit no commonly used description by airlines and in addition they were unsatisfactory and may have been economy meals.
    On bedding down, the beds were narrow and difficult to turn around in, I am a person who is of normal stature and not heavy. On getting up due to the uncomfortable nature of the bed and seeking a snack. I was unable to find anything. On asking one of the staff, I was eagerly told that Business class in Lufthansa provides no night service.
    Granted there is no night service but no snacks are put out for business class clients at night ??
    Lufthansa Business class has sunk to a new low.

  3. JT in Arizona Guest

    I am tall at 6'5", so finding a comfortable lie flat seat is important. Having flown transoceanic flights in recent years on Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, British, Air Berlin, Iberia, and Lufthansa, all of the former were good to excellent. Lufthansa in June 2022 was terrible. My feet were squashed into a tiny footwell. I'll take mediocre service or food, but not a seat where it's impossible to sleep.

  4. JPR Guest

    You are right about the photo of "not a great Business class meal" it was of course United Airlines - that for the past 2 years has just literally dumped a tray on your lap with everything at once, and not so great everything! I really don't understand why United just shut down quality. I sure hope that they get back to what was at one point, at least decent.

  5. Beatriz Fernandez Guest

    Well my experience with Singapur airlines really was so bad!.quality of food not the best! I love EMIRATES!! Qatar also, Srilamnkan airlines Bussiness excelente and The lounge, i Will try again Turkish but Is late flight!

  6. iamhere Guest

    Interesting that you don't consider the price at all whether you pay in points or not is not the point. I think this completely shows that you are doing this as a job. Most people will weigh the price of the preferred airline and other options and number of stops, etc. On some non-major airlines business class is not wonderful and may not be worth the price but it is not like any major airline's...

    Interesting that you don't consider the price at all whether you pay in points or not is not the point. I think this completely shows that you are doing this as a job. Most people will weigh the price of the preferred airline and other options and number of stops, etc. On some non-major airlines business class is not wonderful and may not be worth the price but it is not like any major airline's business class will be that bad too. Usually there is a huge difference in price or points or time and this is the reality of people's thinking especially if traveling with others. Changing planes can add hours for example. There could be thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of points difference between airlines.

  7. Frank Guest

    Cool temperatures. Warm cabin spoils nearly everything.

  8. Kate Guest

    1.Lie flat bed
    2. Comfy

    bedding and pillow
    3. Nice food
    4. Great selection of in-flight entertainment.
    5. A caramel latte would be amazing but never had one as yet.
    Thats all....

  9. Alonzo Diamond

    It's clear that Qatar and Turkish check all of these boxes. Not one single US carrier except for maybe Jetblue on London routes only.

    1. Mick Guest

      American is pretty good. I don’t think too far away from most carriers. A little anti us bias from commentators but I think American a pretty nice carrier.

      For me it depends on length of flight. Short flights from the USA to London should have snappy dinner service and lights off.

      Footwells massively underrated. I think I prefer old United, Kenya airways etc where you get the big footwell. Would trade privacy for...

      American is pretty good. I don’t think too far away from most carriers. A little anti us bias from commentators but I think American a pretty nice carrier.

      For me it depends on length of flight. Short flights from the USA to London should have snappy dinner service and lights off.

      Footwells massively underrated. I think I prefer old United, Kenya airways etc where you get the big footwell. Would trade privacy for more space. Mind you etihad old biz and ba sometimes means you are halfway in the aisle which sucks.

      Grilled cheese or ramen noodles on demand would go a long way for me. :)

      Cathay my perfect level of service. Nothing too hard but not in your face all day long.

    2. Jerry Diamond

      I don't think the middle seats, or windows without direct aisle access on Turkish would check all the boxes.

  10. EC Guest

    I'm not sure why, in an era where we're trying to curb waste (especially in the context of a carbon heavy long-haul flight in Business Class) you are encouraging (however lightly) amenity kits. To me, they're a thing of the past and should probably be banned, or removed voluntarily. So many people just using 1 or 2 items, then never touching them again. Leaving at the seat partially used. Taking them home so they can...

    I'm not sure why, in an era where we're trying to curb waste (especially in the context of a carbon heavy long-haul flight in Business Class) you are encouraging (however lightly) amenity kits. To me, they're a thing of the past and should probably be banned, or removed voluntarily. So many people just using 1 or 2 items, then never touching them again. Leaving at the seat partially used. Taking them home so they can gather dust in a closet only to be tossed later (guilty). It's such an unnecessary set of bits and baubles, all plastic wrapped.

    Let's turn a corner on this and go on demand. If anything this means the airlines can stock a greater variety of things in fewer numbers, mapping expected demand to known passenger loads - just like they do with meals.

    I know Singapore used to do this, although believe they may have changed their approach.

  11. Ed A. Guest

    We recently flew on Brussels air in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. The window seat was broken so we had one of the two aisle seats and were assured that the window seat would be vacant. But a Dutch guy wanted to sit there regardless and my wife was sitting next to him with his socks off. I had to sit next to his overweight wife with a short skirt and had no privacy....

    We recently flew on Brussels air in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. The window seat was broken so we had one of the two aisle seats and were assured that the window seat would be vacant. But a Dutch guy wanted to sit there regardless and my wife was sitting next to him with his socks off. I had to sit next to his overweight wife with a short skirt and had no privacy. If that wasn't enough, my wife's seat got stuck in the upright position and the crew was unable to lower it for landing. The plane was Euro Wings that BA had apparently bought. Double thumbs down.

  12. FokkerOne Guest

    Don't forget the added convenience of use of the lounge, priority boarding and priority luggage handling. In these days of swamped airports those things are great to have.

    1. Otic9000 Guest

      I question if priority luggage handling actually exists. I think the only true 'benefit' of priority luggage handling is the perception of relevance with the added little 'priority' tag. After speeding through immigration with Global Entry, it's always a thrill to view the hundreds of non-priority bags come out before the 'priority' bags.

  13. Jerry Diamond

    "Just don’t make passengers feel like they’re an inconvenience."

    ...And you show an AA cabin. I see what you did there!

  14. Julia Guest

    Unless they are using bottled water, it doesn’t matter how great that iced cappucino is, it’s still the same nasty water from the same tanks.

  15. BookLvr Gold

    Fun list!

    I care about
    1. Direct aisle access.
    2. Lay flat bed - and agree that not having a narrow footwell is important.
    3. Pillow/bedding.
    4. Food.
    5. Bathroom to passenger ratio.
    6. Ability to recharge electronics if needed.

    I personally do not care about wi-fi as I'm happy to be out of contact for the duration of my flight (though on second thought...my teen feels otherwise, and...

    Fun list!

    I care about
    1. Direct aisle access.
    2. Lay flat bed - and agree that not having a narrow footwell is important.
    3. Pillow/bedding.
    4. Food.
    5. Bathroom to passenger ratio.
    6. Ability to recharge electronics if needed.

    I personally do not care about wi-fi as I'm happy to be out of contact for the duration of my flight (though on second thought...my teen feels otherwise, and I would rather not hear complaining!), entertainment, coffee, alcohol, or the amenity kit. I mostly just want to sleep and read a book.

    I agree that cultural flair is appreciated. KLM's little Dutch houses are cute. Air France features France in menu and the safety video. So that's a bonus, but not necessary to my happiness.

    1. Mick Guest

      I never engage wifi. Only time in my life to disengage and feel like I don’t have to do work.

  16. Clive Warshaw Guest

    This is a good article but I feel the writer has wrong priorities. Whenever I can, I choose 1st class. What's important to me?

    1 Being left alone.
    2 Showers
    3 Nice snack items as Emirates provides.
    4 The only bits of bedding I think are important are the mattress and pillow.
    5 I wish more simple, plain food would be available.
    6 Real espressos
    7 All alcohol...

    This is a good article but I feel the writer has wrong priorities. Whenever I can, I choose 1st class. What's important to me?

    1 Being left alone.
    2 Showers
    3 Nice snack items as Emirates provides.
    4 The only bits of bedding I think are important are the mattress and pillow.
    5 I wish more simple, plain food would be available.
    6 Real espressos
    7 All alcohol should be banned on every flight. There is absolutely nothing in its favour, particularly when it comes to jet lag.

    1. Otic9000 Guest

      I'd comment on your comment, but I think you'd just prefer to be left alone.

  17. NK3 Member

    I really appreciate being able to preorder your meal. They won't run out of your choice. If I don't love the options, I may snack more in the lounge. Some airlines have "preorder only" options.

  18. Dempseyzdad Gold

    All of these "must-haves" plus most of the comments here completely eliminate any and all American air carriers. DL might come close, but UA and AA could barely get 2 of these. AA is amongst the worst of international carriers.

    1. Mick Guest

      Not true

      American international has flaws but the seat is great especially in the mini cabin

  19. Ben Guest

    I would say a feature that really matters is footwell size. The current trend of pseudo privacy with doors have made the foot space extremely narrow. Ever QRs qsuite (a top product) has a narrow footwell.

    Would definitely sacrifice “doors” for a less restricted foot area.

    1. KATA Member

      I completely agree on this. Having a seat that feels free of a footwell just feels absolutely nice. One reason I absolutely hate the seats on Singapore Airlines (in addition to how hard the surface is).

  20. KATA Member

    On Pyjamas and Amenity Kits:
    What about EVA Air? I thought their Pyjamas were great and despite no longer being Rimowa, their Ferragamo kits are still very nice too.

  21. Mike1977 Guest

    The only thing I would add is slippers. I love slippers!

  22. Joshua Guest

    Comfort in lay flat is the most important for me. Usually the bed is too hard and a mattress pad is offered too infrequently. I’ve started carrying an inflatable backpacking mattress pad and will never leave home without it. Makes a huge difference when trying to maximize the 4-5 hour sleeping window.

    1. Tortuga Diamond

      How much space does your mattress pad take up in your carry-on, @Joshua? Just wondering.

    2. Joshua Guest

      I don’t have a ruler handy but it looks to be 12” long and and maybe 5” in diameter when deflated. It’s roughly the size of a pair of cargo pants rolled up. It’s not tiny, but it’s not huge either. It has its own stuff sack that could be slung/attached outside a backpack.

    3. DLPTATL Diamond

      I like this idea a lot! Worth a try for longer flights when I generally end up using whatever bedding is available to pad the seat and then cover myself with my coat.

    4. Patrick Guest

      Nice idea!
      Does it make the "typical squeaky" sound when moving around on it or is it pretty silent?

    5. Joshua Guest

      It’s a nylon covering, so there is some degree of the “woosh” sound as you move in it. For me that’s a very small price to pay to sleep well.
      This is the pad I currently use. Itjust fits every biz class seat I’ve tried it on (admittedly very few)

      https://www.thermarest.com/sleeping-pads/fast-and-light/prolite-sleeping-pad/prolite.html

      I have a regular. Any other pad will work, just watch the length and width for the chair and the footwell.

    6. Tortuga Diamond

      Thank you, @Joshua. I may just give that a whirl. I like a much softer bed than that of any of the J products I've flown.

    7. pstm91 Diamond

      I simultaneously love this idea but would also cry laughing if I saw someone blowing up an inflatable air mattress in J. I just keep picturing you setting up a tent in the aisle afterwards. Maybe a camping hammock hanging in the aisle from two seats.

    8. Joshua Guest

      Throw up a cot in the bar at the back of the A380?

  23. Airfarer Diamond

    Friendly & attentive service.

    What is this of which you speak? On United?

  24. LEo Diamond

    Also, I think non-alch choices are also important, most of the Chinese domestic J I was on, don't stock sparkling of any sort, not even soda water, let alone providing any mocktails etc. Lesson learned, just help yourself in the lounge!

  25. Adam Guest

    With the baby I'm wondering if that will influence how you rank business class options and what you personally prioritize. I definitely would agree with what you listed here, but once I had kids and had to travel with them, looking for business class options that worked well for families became much more important. As bad as the old BA business class was, the middle section with the bassinet was fantastic for families as you had your own space for the family.

  26. Donna Diamond

    Priority check in that is quick and efficient. Fully flat bed. Cabin that isn’t overly dense (4 across maximum) because the more people, the harder it is to sleep. Multiple main course food options with good meat choices in at least half of them (the pendulum is starting to swing too far into the vegan spectrum). Good and reasonably priced Wi-Fi. Decent wine list. The not so important stuff is entertainment, amenity and PJs, coffee...

    Priority check in that is quick and efficient. Fully flat bed. Cabin that isn’t overly dense (4 across maximum) because the more people, the harder it is to sleep. Multiple main course food options with good meat choices in at least half of them (the pendulum is starting to swing too far into the vegan spectrum). Good and reasonably priced Wi-Fi. Decent wine list. The not so important stuff is entertainment, amenity and PJs, coffee (why bother, it’s just awful), and dine on demand.

    1. DLPTATL Guest

      @Donna, I'm hoping that the vegan options have been a function of cost cutting not a long-term move away from meat. Hopefully with improving revenues we'll see a pivot back toward better and heartier food.

    2. Dr. McFrugal Guest

      There should be even more vegan options compared to what is offered now.

    3. BookLvr Gold

      Agree about the priority check in and fully flat bed.

      We are that family that wants the vegan option. (College-aged human is vegan, and I eat mostly vegetarian, with many vegan dinners.) But I agree that it should be an OPTION, not a mandate!

      I will also note that while we are grateful for anything vegan, whether a pre-order special meal or otherwise, some airlines have rather peculiar ideas about what vegans eat, e.g....

      Agree about the priority check in and fully flat bed.

      We are that family that wants the vegan option. (College-aged human is vegan, and I eat mostly vegetarian, with many vegan dinners.) But I agree that it should be an OPTION, not a mandate!

      I will also note that while we are grateful for anything vegan, whether a pre-order special meal or otherwise, some airlines have rather peculiar ideas about what vegans eat, e.g. this rather odd United Airlines business class entree:

      "Braised Celeriac Wedges with Celeriac Truffle Puree, Sauteed Kale, Carrots, and Herbed Bread Crumbs."

      So many yummy vegan possibilities...and this is not one of them!

  27. Scudder Diamond

    The airport experience ranks up there for me—efficient priority check-in, security fast lane, comfortable lounge with good amenities and not packed with pax, properly managed priority boarding/boarding groups at gate.

    1. Tortuga Diamond

      Amen, brother. This is (at least/somewhere around) one-third of the battle for me.

    2. Joshua Guest

      Boarding form the emirates lounge in Milan. Best thing ever.

  28. MildMidwesterner Guest

    I’m surprised cleanliness isn’t on this list. It certainly matters to me!

    1. AOH Guest

      Very good point. I was recently on Lufthansa flying transatlantic business class, and I was shocked at how disgusting the seat, storage compartments, etc., were.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Joshua Guest

Comfort in lay flat is the most important for me. Usually the bed is too hard and a mattress pad is offered too infrequently. I’ve started carrying an inflatable backpacking mattress pad and will never leave home without it. Makes a huge difference when trying to maximize the 4-5 hour sleeping window.

6
Scudder Diamond

The airport experience ranks up there for me—efficient priority check-in, security fast lane, comfortable lounge with good amenities and not packed with pax, properly managed priority boarding/boarding groups at gate.

3
Jerry Diamond

I don't think the middle seats, or windows without direct aisle access on Turkish would check all the boxes.

2
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