What consumers expect in business varies greatly around the globe, especially for short haul and regional flights. You’ll probably find the world’s best regional business class products in Asia (including the Middle East), where you’ll often receive lounge access, flat beds, delicious food, and attentive service.
Meanwhile in the United States and Europe, it’s a totally different story. I’m always intrigued by how OMAAT readers have different takes on which region has the worse business class, so I figured that would be fun to discuss in this post.
In this post:
Comparing two unpopular business class experiences
All else being equal, would you rather fly business class on a regional flight in the United States, or business class on a regional flight in Europe? Now, personally I have a strong preference, but I’m always caught off guard by how many people have a totally different take. Let’s go over the pros and cons of each (let me note that in both regions there are outliers, so my analysis is based on the “average” flight in each region).
Regional business class in Europe
Regional business class in Europe typically consists of an economy seat with a blocked middle. The size of the cabin can be changed with each flight based on demand, as the curtain is simply moved back and forth based on how many people book the cabin.
Suffice it to say that booking business class and getting an economy seat is quite underwhelming, especially given how little legroom there is on most flights within Europe. Some airlines offer Wi-Fi and power ports on these flights, while other airlines don’t, but there’s not much consistency there.
There are some advantages to intra-Europe business class, though:
- The food and drink selection is generally quite good, better than you’d find in the United States; even on a very short flight, you’ll be served something substantial and/or fresh
- You get lounge access on intra-Europe flights when traveling in business class, which generally isn’t offered on flights within the United States
Regional business class in United States
Typically the forward cabin on domestic flights in the United States is marketed as first class rather than business class, which tends to cause some confusion among foreign travelers. In the United States, the business class cabin has different seats, and therefore the size of the cabin is the same on each flight.
Domestic first class seats are probably most similar to international premium economy seats. You can expect that they’ll have considerably more width (as they’re usually in a 2-2 configuration rather than a 3-3 configuration), and also feature substantially more legroom. However, aside from some premium markets, don’t expect that you’ll get a flat bed product.
The advantage of business class within the United States is obvious, which is that there’s more space. However, there are also some downsides:
- A domestic ticket usually doesn’t offer lounge access within the United States, so unless you’re a member or otherwise have lounge access, you’ll be stuck waiting in the gate area
- The quality of food and drinks on domestic flights is typically underwhelming; on flights of under two hours, you’ll typically just be served packaged snacks at best, and on longer flights you might get a hot meal, but it’s unlikely to be great
Which business class experience is better?
There doesn’t really seem to be any consensus as to whether business class in the United States or Europe is preferred.
Some people say that business class within Europe is an embarrassment, as you’re just getting an economy seat. Meanwhile others say that business class in the United States is awful, since you don’t even get lounge access, and the food typically isn’t very good.
Where do I stand? Given the choice, I’d choose business class within the United States any day of the week. To me the single most valuable commodity on a plane is personal space, and that’s an area where US airlines win. I care a lot more about being comfortable than I care about having a decent meal, or getting lounge access. For that matter, there are lots of other methods for accessing lounges in the United States, beyond just the ticket you booked.
When traveling in domestic first class, I can typically be every bit as productive as at home. There are consistently power outlets and Wi-Fi, and I don’t have to contort my body to be able to work on my laptop.
In defense of intra-Europe business class, I still see value in the product when redeeming miles. Would I pay an extra $500 for a business class seat on an intra-Europe flight? Nope, probably not. But you can regularly book business class for an extra 5,000-10,000 points one-way, so based on my valuation, that’s often like paying the equivalent of under $100 to upgrade.
To me that’s well worth it for the premium ground services, the better inflight service, and most importantly, the guaranteed blocked middle seat. When you have an empty middle seat, you can at least get relatively comfortable.
I also think it’s worth calling out how there’s frequently saver award space in business class on flights within Europe, while it’s extremely rare to come across that on domestic flights in the United States.
Airlines in both the United States and Europe are often criticized for their regional business class products. Some prefer business class in the United States for the better seats, while others prefer business class in Europe for the lounge access and better food and drinks. Personally I’m more in the former camp, as I value space above all else on a plane.
Where do you stand — for regional flights, do you prefer business class in the United States or Europe?