WHO’S ON FIRST (CLASS)?
If you’re a seasoned business-class traveler, have you ever wondered what exists “up front” ahead of your lie-flat seat as you board your airship to a faraway place? I am sure, if you’re like me, curiosity prevailed and you poked your nose in that cabin up front at the right time to check it out. Did you see anything glaringly different from that of your business-class seat and cabin?
In most cases, I didn’t, with the exception of some airlines like Emirates A-380, China Southern Airlines’ newer first-class cabins and Singapore Air’s offerings. Their first-class suites are strikingly different and a definite “upgrade” from your business-class seat, and maybe there are not as many of them.
But is it really worth the $10,000-plus price difference on top of your business class ticket price? What do you get for that extra cash outlay?
It seems that these days the line has become blurred between premium offerings of international business class and first class. For instance, upon starting your flight, it may be difficult to see the differences between first and business, beyond the obvious: First class may offer a “suite” with more space versus the lie-flat business-class seat.
However, in both cabins, the food is over the top and the libations are at no charge, right? But is it worth it? On a recent flight I took from LAX to NRT (Narita International Airport), I flew Japan Airlines’ business-class offering, and with a 2-3-2 staggered cabin layout, each window and middle seat had a retractable vertical partition that could be raised after takeoff, essentially closing you off from your seat mate and the entire aircraft! It was a “first class type mini suite” of its own at less than half the cost of first class. I’ll take that any day!
When comparing today’s major airlines offering updated or newer cabins, the basic differences between first and business classes on long-haul flights in excess of 12 hours may be as follows:
- First class areas are less dense than business class, and most have private, semi-secluded pods or cubes. However, the comfort level when business-class seats are laid flat can be much the same as in first class.
- Lie-flat beds are now common for both cabins (although some business classes come with an angled flat). First-class seats are typically wider and longer, and better padded, and a better-quality blanket, such as a duvet, and larger pillow may be offered.
- Both classes of service offer brand name toiletries depending on routes and origination points, and first class goodie bags may have a few more bits and pieces to them.
- First class food selections and service may have a slight difference over business class relative to the food offerings, and more personalized attendant service is achieved due to fewer seats in first spurring better attendant-staff-to-passenger ratios.
- For food and beverages, business class meals are usually very good. In first class though, one may see luxury items such as fine wines and Champagnes, or even caviar and lobsters.
- For entertainment, first class may offer a larger screen and better headphones, but generally the video content should be the same. Many passengers these days bring their own entertainment systems anyway.
- Many airports now offer private first-class lounges and separate dedicated-boarding procedures.
Sure, if you step up from an economy seat to business class seat, you’ll notice a definite improvement, one that can often be warranted so you have a more relaxing long-haul flight. However, a bump from business to first class hardly justifies what more you get other than the above. A better meal, premium wine and maybe a bit larger seat? For how much more?
Some airlines, noting the small discrepancy between amenities offered and the corresponding large difference in price between business and first classes, have taken on the challenge of offering travelers over-the-top, first-class service on some routes with their own “suites.” in the hopes that they’ll pay for the privilege of a Hong Kong-sized apartment in the sky.
At the end of the day, is first class really worth it? I say, maybe … if you can afford it and if the products and services are perceived as being unique. However, if you’ve ever wanted to fly international first class, you had better do it now as many airlines seem to be replacing the most favored first-class seats on their aircrafts with enhanced versions of business class in the hope that their big spending customers will have a harder time telling the difference.
From this frequent traveler’s viewpoint, the days of a first-class travel experience don’t exist like they used to, as most airlines seem to have simply flown away from the good ol’ days.
Brad Dwan is Managing Director for International Energy Sales, Inc., a manufacturer’s representative for mid-level manufacturing companies based in the U.S. and assisting them in expanding their global businesses.