Typical business class airfares may seem shockingly expensive to travellers used to hitting the skies on cheap economy fares.
But when companies want highly skilled and compensated employees travelling across oceans or continents to arrive well rested and ready to work, they don’t mind paying those stifling $5,000 to $10,000 round trip fares.
problem is that the quality of the business class seat you get for that fat
fare varies widely among airlines, but the price does not. Most airlines charge
the same business class fare no matter what type of seat you get.
there are three types of business class seats. True lie-flat, slanted or angled
lie-flat and recliners.
very best type of seat is the true lie-flat seat. This latest generation seat
folds down into a 180-degree surface that is parallel with the floor of the
plane — just like your bed is parallel to the floor of you bedroom. Most
business travellers who’ve enjoyed a true lie-flat sleeper seat find it difficult
to accept anything less on subsequent flights.
best is what’s known as “slanted” or “angled” lie-flat. This is a seat that
reclines into a 180-degree flat surface, but is tilted at a slight angle to the
aircraft floor, so your feet fly at a lower altitude than your head, a position
many business travellers find slippery and uncomfortable.
is the least desirable old-school “recliner” or “cradle” type business class
seat that allows you to recline and prop up your legs on a footrest, but that’s
about all. It’s easy to doze in a recliner, but nearly impossible to get really
good sleep because you can’t turn onto your side or stomach.
major international airlines now realize that to compete for the coveted
business traveller, they must offer the new generation, true lie-flat seat. But
while many have grand plans to eventually offer true lie-flat seats across
their fleets, the reality is that most
aren’t there yet.
you or your company are willing to pony up the big bucks for a business class
seat, here is some advice for getting the best one your travel budget can buy.
class seating is a mixed bag across airline fleets. For example, Delta Air
Lines, which is very vocal about its plans to eventually convert to 100% true
lie-flat business class seats, now offers them on just 42 of its 144 long haul
aircraft. (It even has a web page charting
its progress, which now stands at 25%.) While all its Boeing
777 and some of its 767s offer true lie-flat seats, other aircraft are
outfitted with a mix of either slanted lie-flat seats or recliners.
Airways, which pioneered the concept of true lie-flat business class seats in
2000 offers one of the most consistent products across the globe; all its long
haul aircraft offer true lie-flat seats in business class.
“The [business class] seats that get the
best reviews and airlines with consistently good comments are Virgin Atlantic,
British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines and Air New
Zealand. Their business class configurations not only provide seats that
recline to 180 degrees but they also have direct access to the aisle and provide
the most amount of privacy,” said Andrew Wong, senior manager at Seatguru.com, a website that provides
travelers with the foreknowledge of whether a given flight has true lie-flat
seats in business class.
Snyder, president of the Cranky Concierge, a service that
provides air travel assistance and flight planning for travellers said, “If you
want a flat bed on a US carrier, fly Delta to London or on any Boeing 777
flight, a pre-merger United
767 or 747, or a pre-merger Continental 757 or 777 — they
all offer true lie-flat seats. Avoid American Airlines completely. There isn’t
a true lie-flat seat in the fleet.”
the newest plane possible sometimes, but not always, will lead you to a true lie-flat
seat. For example, all of Korean Air’s new Airbus A380s deployed on routes like
New York-Seoul, or Los Angeles-Seoul (in October) offer its true lie-flat
“Prestige Sleeper” seats; other long haul aircraft offer a mix of slanted
lie-flat and true lie-flat seats. Emirates offers true
lie-flat seats (a full 79 inches long) on all its new A380s. On
the other hand, Lufthansa and Air France inaugurated A380 service this year
with slanted lie-flat business class seats. However in an interview last
spring, Lufthansa’s CEO recently admitted to me that he realizes the slanted
seat is not the optimal business class seat. He said the carrier will offer a
new true lie-flat seat on its new Boeing 747 Intercontinental aircraft due for
delivery in 2012.
a true lie-flat seat is not always critical for some business travellers,
depending on the timing of their flight “If it’s a daylight flight, getting
less than a true lie-flat sleeper seat is not nearly as bad,” said Snyder. Most
flights from Europe to the US are daylight flights, meaning they depart in the
morning and fly in sunlight all day. On these flights, travellers usually
prefer to work, socialize or enjoy the in-flight meals and entertainment.
Finally, as airlines transition from older
recliners to newer lie-flat seats, if getting a good night’s sleep on your
flight is critical, consult with a travel agent knowledgeable about the various
business class configurations. Also, check in with websites such as Seatguru.com
or Flatseats.com, which do a great job
of keeping up with rapidly changing fleets. Seatguru’s Wong adds, “A passenger
doesn’t have control if the flight is late, if the crew is rude or if the food
is cold. But so long as the ‘hard product’, the seat and its location is good,
a passenger can have the best flight they can and maximize the value of the
ticket. Given the choice, choosing a good seat is one of the few things in a
passenger’s control when it comes to flying and they should take the time,
especially for long-haul, to choose the best one they can.”
Chris McGinnis is the business
travel columnist for BBC Travel