AN UNVARNISHED LOOK AT INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CLASS
We think Manhattan or London real estate is expensive, but truth be told it pales in comparison to the square-foot cost to fly international business class. Think about it: Your “rentable” space may be what, three feet wide by six-and-a-half feet if you’re lucky? And for that you’re paying upwards of $3,000 one way? That comes to a whopping $157 per foot. And that’s not per year, or even per month—it’s per 12-hour period.
Yet for all the hype and costs, we all know that travelling to Europe or Asia in business class can make the difference between arriving feeling and looking haggard versus refreshed and ready for action. Why go all that way and have your mind numbed by jet lag? When negotiating deals of any size, it’s chump change to pay the extra $1,500 or $2,000 to fly business class (but let’s keep that between us and not let the airlines know, agreed?).
Okay, now that we have that resolved, the question is which airlines to take. We don’t always have a choice but when we do, it’s nice to have some facts fresh in your mind. I recently made several business class trips from LAX to Europe and have some unvarnished insights to offer.
I have to say, I was actually looking forward to flying Air France, thinking that I would be well pampered and even spoiled while humming along at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic. Truth be told, the business class seat was disappointing. It didn’t offer any privacy from the person seated right next to you. There was no “alcove” or “personal space” that was unique to the seat. In fact, it was just like sitting in a coach seat only wider and with more legroom. And while it reclined almost fully, for that kind of money I was expecting more.
On the other hand, the food did not disappoint. It was actually very good, and that’s saying a lot for airline food. And as you may expect of the French, they kept the wines and Champagne flowing throughout the flight. There were of course appetizers, starter courses and choices of entrees and a myriad of desserts to choose from. All were above average for business class airline food.
In business class, the flight attendants tend to be the cream of the crop. Their manners are more refined, their demeanor more professional and their level of service is elevated, as well it should be for the rates they are charging. Air France scored high marks in flight attendant service. Their wine steward had a good sense of wit mixed in with his professionalism. The flight attendants were all wonderful. Great manners, gracious hosts and hostesses, and they truly made me feel like I was in their home.
All around high marks for Air France’s food and service, but I ding them for their sub-par business class seat. Whichever airline bureaucrat made the decision to go with those seats should enjoy early retirement.
Speaking of business class seats, I have a bone to pick with American. On one flight to London, the business class seat was a 10. It did everything you would want a seat to do. I was able to fully recline, adjust the seat to watch movies, and it offered exceptional privacy. I could not hear or see the person sitting next to me. On the more recent flight, some airline designer decided to angle the business class seats diagonally. Bad call. I found that when reclined, because of the diagonal seat direction, my right shoulder was always bumping into the console and I could never get comfortable. And the seat was too narrow. It drummed up the adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
The food and service on American were both good. I didn’t get a white linen tablecloth to cover my tray. Maybe the local caterer forgot to put them on. But the meals were good, the choice of wines was excellent and the service was professional and attentive—nothing memorable, but that can be good, too. All in all, a very well run business class. But what I enjoyed the most on American was the huge selection of movies. And not just new releases, but an impressive sampling of old black-and-white classics. I chose Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and was happy as a clam. Someone at American was thinking outside the box on their movie selection and for that alone they get high marks. Good job.
All I can say is that I was most pleasantly surprised flying Alitalia and would definitely choose them again if given the choice. I liked everything about Alitalia’s business class. Let’s run down the list. First, the seats were super comfortable and by that I mean wide, fully reclining into a flat bed and offering excellent privacy from the person next to me. In fact, there really is no person next to you as they are thoughtfully staggered. I had my own world.
The movie selection offered some older movies—no black-and-whites like American—but still a nice sampling of old and new. The supplied headphones were comfortable and provided good quality sound. Even at lower volume, the rest of the plane noise disappeared. Again, I was in my own zone and the seat was happy to be adjusted into any number of comfortable configurations for watching movies or reading.
The French love their food but so do the Italians. On this leg, the flight was from Rome to NYC so the caterer was Italian. And yes, the food was attractively presented and even delicious. White linen tablecloths and starched napkins completed the ambience. Italians make the best breads. They just do. And on this flight we had our choice of delicious breads followed by a wonderful selection of starters and main courses. The service was great, on par with Air France, and when combined with the quality of the seats and the absolute privacy they afforded, Alitalia gets my highest marks. It’s an exceptionally well-run business class.