Five ways to make business class travel better

By John Walton, July 12 2011
Five ways to make business class travel better

Frequent flyers know that most of the business class experience is absolutely worth the extra money. Airlines have generally raised the bar when it comes to seats, meals and service.

But there's still some pain at the pointy end, and often you end up scratching your head and wondering why airlines haven't fixed the problem already.

Here are five ways in which business class still falls short, and some ways that almost any airline can make its business class even better.

1. Last-generation business class seats

Too many airlines still have old planes with last-generation business class seats lurking around their fleets. 

It's frustrating for passengers, who either don't know what seat to expect (and thus how much work or sleep they'll be able to manage on the flight) or have to go delving deep into the intricacies of figuring out whether the plane with the good seats is the A330-200 or A330-300, and whether that's on flight 810 or 812 on a Thursday in June.

Obviously, we recognise that there's a market for short-haul and long-haul business class seats. You don't need a fully flat Skybed from Sydney to Melbourne. 

But Qantas has five different types of business class seats on Australian domestic flights alone: the original Skybed, Dreamtime, Millennium, "Jetstar-plus", and Convertible. (That's not counting the excellent A380 new Skybed.)

Similarly, Singapore Airlines boasts a fantastic flagship business class -- on the A380, Boeing 777-300ER, and A340-500 -- but older planes make you suffer in a much less comfortable seat, while the tickets aren't any cheaper.

We're not saying that airlines should only have one type of business class seat. But they should make it easier to find out  which seat you'll find on each flight.

2. Climbing over the aisle passenger in business class

Earlier this year there was a great hue and cry about Qantas putting a 2-3-2 seating layout -- with a middle seat in the centre section -- on their Airbus A330s, which had previously been configured in a more spacious 2-2-2 layout.

But Qantas isn't the only one where you have to climb over people. British Airways and United both have 2-4-2 layouts on their Boeing 747s in business class where everyone in middle or window seats has to clamber over the person in the aisle's legs if they're asleep or reclining.

Fortunately, the tide is turning towards everyone having individual aisle access. Cathay Pacific was an early and eager champion of 'herringbone' layout, from the controversial cubicle-class to the new business class seats.

Virgin Atlantic uses a similar herringbone pod layout, where seats are set at an angle, that's also licensed by Air New Zealand. Singapore Airlines' newest long-haul business class is in an incredibly spacious 1-2-1 layout. 

And some carriers' business class, including Etihad's Pearl Business Class and Emirates' A380 business class seating, is staggered so that everyone has direct aisle access, with window and middle seat passengers squeezing out in their own little gangway without having to clamber over anybody.

Let's hope we see more of these. Whether you're an aisle fan who doesn't like being trampled, or a window person who hates the hold-on-and-lunge of nipping out to the loo, direct aisle access is the way to go.

3. No in-flight power

It's almost unforgivable for a major international airline to not have at-seat power in business class on its long-haul flights. No, scrub that -- it's absolutely unforgivable, full stop.

Very few laptops have batteries that last 12 hours, and part of the draw for business class is that you can get some work done, perhaps watch a DVD, and not have to rely on the airline's in-flight entertainment.

And those "buy this $30 connector on board to be able to use the funny socket" in-flight power options don't count either. Proper AC powerpoints with international sockets have been in aircraft for years now. It's time for this to be a standard.

4. Slow airport check-in

Fortunately, with the advent of online and app-based check-in for many flights, check-in queues have diminished from their snaking-around-the-terminal heyday.

But some airlines still don't use web check-in, and we've stood around for a good fifteen minutes to check in when in business class. 

That's a pain no matter what class of ticket you've purchased, but it's even more frustrating when you (or your company) is dropping a serious amount of cash for a more comfortable, simple and fast experience.

5. Kids in business and first class

Our recent article on children being banned from Malaysia Airlines' first class cabins created something of a worldwide stir, with many business travellers calling for kids to be banned from both first and business class.

Our own poll on the subject saw 43% of AusBT readers endorsing such a ban, and 15% opting for a first-class only ban, while less than 20% believed babies should be allowed in any cabin. (21.5% suggested a separate baby-free 'quiet zone' in business class, although we know that would be difficult to implement on a practical basis.)

On those numbers alone, Malaysia Airlines could be onto a winner. We feel the number of business travellers who would approve of the 'baby ban' and book long-haul flights in MAS' premium cabins would far surpass the parents who would take their first class fare to another airline.

But really, our gripe isn't children -- it's inconsiderate parents who haven't prepared for the flight (so their kids are bored, tired, or hungry, and therefore disturbing other people) or are off their parenting form.

There's not much the airlines can do about bad parenting, but we always look better on the airlines that have extensive child packs with games and quiet activities.

Bonus gripe: security queues

Yes, we know that security isn't in the hands of the airlines. It's the domain of local or national government. But many airlines provide fast-track security on departure and arrival, and for business class passengers and very frequent flyers that's a real timesaver.

Of course, airlines need to make sure that the fast track is actually faster than regular security. Terminal 5 in London Heathrow is particularly bad at having longer queues in the fast-track lane than in the "slow-track" one. 

And with airport-hired security people, it's well within the purview of airlines to fix -- they are the airport's customer, just like you are the airline's.

Share your own business class gripes

What irritates you when flying business class? What do you wish that airlines would fix about the experience? Share your thoughts in a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: @AusBT

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 527

Being woken up for breakfast! Qantas have the best system in place for breakfast with their innovative "room service card" style where you fill out what you want and can indicate on it whether you want to be woken up or not. They also leave the lights dimmed so that those who are asleep can sleep a little more. Most other airlines I fly turn the lights on when it's breakfast service time and make enough racket to wake you up, ear plugs or not!

Lack of AVOD. If there is one thing that should now be available, it's audio visual on demand. It is so disheartening to get on a plane for a long flight and discover that they still have looping movies or even worse, only mainscreen entertainment!

Wow... Do I sound as spoilt as I think I do?! :-)

12 Jul 2011

Total posts 75

It would be a tie between rude flight attendants, uncomfortable seats and having to turn my iPod (classic) off when we go in for landing.

Flight attendants: the rude one's that behave as though they're doing you a HUGE favour just by being there. That includes those flight attendants who try and convince you (and rather condescendingly at that) that you will love eating the shrimp and vermicelli entree when you are allergic to seafood and that you'll get a special treat if you eat it (the special treat is also known as anaphylactic shock, in case you were wondering. FYI - they aren't very special.). Yes, these flight attendants do exist (on Air New Zealand no less).

Uncomfortable seats: hello airlines, we don't pay over $10k to go from SYD - LHR. Fix your seats. Enough said.

Turning off my iPod classic: why do I have to turn off an electronic device that (last time I checked anyway) does not emit anything except music through head phones. How can it interfere with the aircraft's electronic systems if it doesn't emit any signals at all? Seriously.

Talk about first world problems, but how hard is it?

24 Aug 2012

Total posts 3

The turning off of iPods and other such electronic music devices is one of safety with respect to being able to hear announcements from the cabin crew.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Jan 2013

Total posts 12

Also, so you are alert in case there is an emergency and are not dozy ;)

26 Jun 2012

Total posts 1

What I hate is companies that advertise their new lieflat seat and then introduce it 5 years later. SWISS advertised a new seat in 2006 and just finished the fleet in 2011....a joke and misleading to the flying public!

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

25 Aug 2012

Total posts 21

Without a doubt being woken unnecessarily early for an unwanted breakfast and having the "cabin prepared for landing" long before the event. Interminable P.A. announcements are irritating too.

01 Feb 2012

Total posts 370

This is a massive gripe for me - especially because in economy on Qantas they don't let you even listen to music during take off. On the A380 final boarding call is like 30 minutes before actual take off. For 30 minutes u sit there unable to do anything.

On a typical CX flight I can arrive with 5-10 minutes before take off.  And they let you listen to music on your iphone provided its on flight mode. Someone stupid at Qantas decided that if you fly in economy, "flight mode" is not safe enough - but of course only on economy. 

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