For years Business Class consisted of wider seats, more leg room and a curtain dividing the business traveler from the riff raff in the back of the plane. Over the past decade airlines began aggressive campaigns to woo customers onto their planes, with the consumer coming out on top. My, how things have changed.
Today, Business Class service begins long before the passenger boards the aircraft, with high end amenities such as chauffeur-driven limousine airport pick-up and drop-off , and deluxe business class lounges providing a wide selection of drinks and meals accessible at airports around the world. Some of the best lounges offer massages, showers and even nap rooms. Dedicated boarding and security lanes are often provided for faster access on and off the plane.
Once on board, it’s the level of service provided where the difference becomes quite distinctive from the remaining passengers. Certainly the seats are wider and plusher, but that’s just the beginning. When it’s time to sleep, those same seats will most often convert to flat-beds complete with cotton sheets. Prior to nodding off for the night, a printed dinner menu would have been offered, filled with high end restaurant selections, which were served on porcelain dishes with actual cutlery. The wine flowed. Perhaps a night time cocktail? At the onboard lounge?
If sleep doesn’t overtake you, the inflight entertainment options might. Reviewing the available selections is entertainment on its own. Electricity outlets for today’s technology dependent traveler, along with Internet access, is often available. In today’s global economy, business doesn’t stop. Not even at 40,000 feet.
Finally, when you land at your destination, you will be first off the plane. A separate line for immigration purposes may await you, to get you quickly and efficiently on your way to your next business meeting. The chauffeur service waiting to whisk you away will also contribute to you arriving on time.
Which airlines then are offering the best Business Class service? Here’s a list of the best as identified by American Express Executive Travel’s 2014 Top 12 list of the Best Airlines for Business Class.
12 Jet Blue
Mint, JetBlue’s Business Class service launched in June of 2014. It aims to provide a top-notch service without stuffiness. Seating includes 16 lie-flat seats, four of which are suites with privacy doors. Dining is provided by New York’s hip Saxon + Parole restaurant, who created a small-plates menu with a variety of fresh options. Full-bottle wine service along with complimentary alcoholic beverages is offered. New York to Los Angeles spring rates begin at $1496, return.
11 Turkish Airlines
This carrier’s food and wine program is top rated, having won the Gold Ribbon for Business Class Catering in the 2013 World Airline Awards. Boston to Istanbul is $7588, return, in early May. You can expect mouthwatering multi-course meals, including hors d’oeuvres served on beautiful porcelain plates. Expect delicate sugar-dusted Turkish delight to be available throughout your flight. Of course.
This Dubai-based airline was ranked No. 2 in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine readers in 2013, and it’s easy to understand why. Emirates has one of the youngest fleets circumnavigating the globe and on all its A380 aircraft, lie-flat seats are available. Fine dining-quality meals begin with Arabian mezze platters and end with gourmet cheeses. Royal Doulton fine bone china with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery, add to the luxury provided on an Emirates flight. New York to Dubai starts at $9144 return. Don’t leave your Godiva chocolates behind.
Known for its wines (Qantas won Best Business Class Sparkling and Best Overall Cellar in the 2013 Cellars in the Sky Awards), Qantas has taken fine dining in the sky to the next tier, with dishes conceived by Sydney’s celebrity chef, Neil Perry, which are served on tableware designed by Marc Newson. This summer return flights from Toronto to Sydney start at $6314. A good night’s rest on that long transpacific flight can be had on Sky Beds with massage options. Turndown service with a mattress and duvet in available on request. At 40,000 feet, luxury doesn’t get much better than this.
8 Cathay Pacific
With one of the world's widest business-class seats at 32 inches and a side storage compartment that doubles as extra knee space for those who prefer sleeping on their side, passenger comfort is the key to Cathay Pacific’s on-going success with business travelers. The airline’s highly regarded food and beverage program and legendary service also top the charts. In 2013, Cathay Pacific was No.1 in Skytrax's poll for World's Best Cabin Staff. And who doesn’t want to fly with the best? Los Angeles to Beijing, return, starts at $6156.
7 Virgin Atlantic
It’s assumed that the airline Richard Branson owns would have business travel down right. And it does. Virgin offers modern planes, an upbeat staff and loads of perks like 22-inch-wide beds that convert to 33 inches when it's time to sleep. Its flagship London Heathrow Clubhouse is what makes Virgin’s Business Class really stand out. Here you can sip a Champagne cocktail at the bar, have a facial or a close shave at the Cowshed Spa or enjoy a full English breakfast prior to catching your early morning flight to your next business meeting. Expect to pay $7,270 return, between Los Angeles and London. Naturally, a chauffeur to get you to and from the airport is provided.
6 Swiss International Air Lines
From Atlanta to Zurich this spring, $6245 is the return rate on the airline with the seating configuration that is a favorite for business travelers, especially on overnight flights. "The seating configuration is one of our favorite options right now," writes Robeel Haq on the well-regarded travel blog The Aviation Writer, "providing privacy when you need it and the ability to travel and talk with a partner if you desire, plus it solves the dreaded 'step-over-a-sleeping-stranger' maneuver for the usual 2x2x2 seating configuration." It’s true. We all hate that.
5 Etihad Airways
Launched in 2003 as the flagship carrier of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad Airways has won the hearts of well-heeled travelers. It’s also won several awards, including top-10 ranks for food, lounge and business class overall. Expect thoughtful touches like mood lighting to help ease jet lag. On the ground, be pampered in the business lounge's Six Senses Spa. Business Freedom rates between New York and Abu Dhabi start at $6553.
4 British Airways
With features like its Elemis amenity kits and an onboard "Club Kitchen," where snacks can be had between meals, this airline continues to be a favorite with business travelers. A return flight from Montreal to Manchester is $5,033. For that, enjoy British Airways top ranking lounges like The Heathrow Club World Lounge, which achieved third slot in the 2012 World Airline Awards Best Business Class Lounge category -- with special mention going to the Galleries Arrivals lounge, which features an Elemis Travel Spa, 94 shower rooms and cabanas with infinity bathrooms -- enough luxury amenities to cause you to miss your flight, I’d say.
3 Qatar Airways
The lavish experience offered by Qatar, begins on the ground in its Premium Terminal lounge in Doha, Qatar. Here, business class passengers can indulge in amenities like high-class duty free shops, congenial bars, and fabulous fine dining from haute cuisine to delicious snacks. In the air, enjoy wine selections handpicked by two Masters of Wine. Return fares between Washington and Doha starts at $13,655. Qatar Airways is the only airline to offer rosé Champagne in business class -- Billecart-Salmon, of course. Nothing but the finest.
2 Oman Air
Based on the grounds of Muscat International Airport in Seeb, Muscat, this airline has made its mark in the business class category. With outstanding service on the ground and in the air, Oman greets its business passengers with Arabic dates and coffee, provides champagne and a wine selection along with door-to-door complimentary chauffeur-driven airport transfers in select destinations such as Paris, London, Muscat, Oman, and Mumbai, India. Oman does not fly to North America, but get yourself to Paris where for $3077 round trip, you can fly to Kuala Lumpur and experience for yourself why this airline is rated No. 2.
1 Singapore Airlines
For $8039 return, fly between Los Angeles and Singapore this spring on the airline rated No. 1 Best for Business Class. Singapore Airline’s 34 inch seats on its Airbus A380-800, are the world’s widest according to SeatGuru, and, thanks to the 1-2-1 layout, it provides every passenger direct access to the aisle, and we like that a lot. There's Givenchy tableware and a special "Book the Cook" option which allows passengers to preorder their main course online. Philippe Kjellgren from Hotel Insider is a fan and states, "Singapore's business class is better than first class on most other airlines," he notes. "You get an almost queen-size bed, turndown service and proper linens. If they can do it, why can't everyone else?" Exactly what we want to know.