Business-class seats are no longer just the purview of suits shuttling between meetings. In recent years, more leisure travelers have started upgrading on long-haul flights—in part, thanks to the desire for more space during the pandemic. This has led to a number of new business-class offerings on domestic and international airlines alike, as well as the all-business-class airline La Compagnie that flies between the USA and France for half the normal price.
What’s the lure of the business-class cabin these days? Oversized seats, lie-flat beds, privacy pods, space, fine dining, elevated service, and those covetable pajamas. Of course, they all come at a cost. Whether you pay that price in dollars, points, or miles, it’s helpful to know what kind of seat you’re booking ahead of time and what kinds of perks come with it. To assist, our frequent-flying editors and reporters have shared their firsthand experiences on airlines’ business-class cabins that they think are worth the upgrade. (We have opinions on worthwhile Premium Economy seats, too.)
Here’s our list of the best business-class seats in the sky, in alphabetical order:
On a recent culinary trip to Paris, my journey to the flavors of France began the minute I stepped onto the plane. I was ushered into my seat—complete with a spacious, cushy footrest that later became part of my bed—with a glass of champagne.
Air France is known for its in-air dining—it regularly works with such Michelin-starred chefs as Anne-Sophie Pic (Maison Pic) and Arnaud Lallement (Assiette Champenoise). So dinner was, appropriately, a three-course affair that began with a lobster appetizer and ended with salad drizzled with balsamic and olive oil, French cheeses, and three petite desserts (including a delightful chocolate macaron). For breakfast, we were offered either continental style with excellent pastries or an egg dish. (As a pastry nerd, naturally I went with the croissant.) For those who somehow managed to be hungry in between, there was a variety of French snacks, including sablé biscuits and French chocolate bars, available at a self-serve station.
The rest of the flight’s amenities were notable, too: a kit stocked with Clarins products, a little cubby to store your gear, complimentary noise-canceling headphones for use during the flight, and a large, adjustable TV packed with French films and shows (like Call My Agent), so you can transform your chair into a bed and drift off to the sounds of la vie française. The experience is already a good one, but Air France is slowly rolling out a new and improved business-class cabin with a pod-like design in its Boeing 777-300s. —Aislyn Greene, associate director, podcasts
Air New Zealand
I used to fly the longest of long hauls often between New York–New Jersey and various countries around Australasia; whenever I could, I would opt for Air New Zealand. The latest version of its Business Premier private pods (on all Boeing 777-300ER and 787-9s) is overstuffed with comfort: plush leather seats that turn into fully lie-flat beds, a memory foam mattress, two pillows, and a duvet I may or may not consider stealing after a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. On my first business trip a year after having my first child, I got nine straight hours of conked-out, nonmedicated sleep in Air NZ’s business class. It was better sleep than what I was getting at home.
In addition to the cozy bed, lots of Taika Waititi movie options, and the top-notch meals (apple hotcakes with fig and blueberry compote, lemon curd yogurt, and vanilla syrup, drool), Air NZ stands out for its laid-back luxury. Flight attendants don’t just make you feel at home—they make you feel like you’re lifelong buddies. The company certainly delivers on its Maori mantra—he tāngata, or, “It is the people”—and its promise to hire “ambitious, helpful, proud, down-to-earth, caring people,” who just happen to look after more than 13 million passengers every year and seem genuinely happy to do so. Kia ora. Welcome aboard. —Laura Dannen Redman, digital content director
I haven’t been on it yet, but I really want to try ANA‘s business class experience, dubbed “The Room.” Whereas other airlines’ biz-class pods are all curves and rounded forms, The Room is defiantly boxy and square, a retro take on the premium class experience by renowned architect Kengo Kuma (check out his Toyama Glass Art Museum and Japan National Stadium and be wowed).
The Room isn’t all about design though, it’s got all the right functions too: Super-wide 37.7-inch seats that recline into lie-flat beds and sliding doors so that you can stretch out in near-perfect privacy. If I end up traveling with someone, I’ll opt for the two center seats: They have a moveable partition between them so that I can be social during dinner but then retreat into my own room when it’s time to go to sleep. —Billie Cohen, executive editor
One of my favorite business classes in the world is on Japan Airlines (JAL) because there’s so much attention to detail. Expect incredibly personalized attention from the crew, a well-stocked amenity kit in collaboration with French brand Maison Kitsuné, plush slippers, and best of all, an incredible food and beverage selection.
If you enjoy Japanese cuisine and you’ve never had a Japanese set meal at 35,000 feet, you’ll be in for a treat. Plus flying long-haul on Japan Airlines includes a mattress pad—with a choice between harder and softer—and luxurious Shiseido amenities in the lavatory. To me, JAL business is seriously worth the upgrade. —Chris Dong, AFAR contributor
It’s the houses that keep me loyal. Sure, KLM’s business class checks all the boxes: cushy seats, great service (love the brisk friendliness that’s oh-so-Dutch), plus good food and a distinctive drinks selection nodding to Amsterdam’s Bols distillery. The lounge at the airline’s Schipol HQ is large enough never to feel overcrowded, and it’s well designed and with ample showers—not to mention that connecting there is a breeze. None of these are deciding factors as to why I’ll detour myself to fly KLM upfront, though.
As the flight’s end nears, I wait for the rattle of a trolley that’s the signal the flight attendant is about to stop by and offer me KLM’s particular souvenir: a house-shaped china keepsake filled with Dutch gin. Every year, the company launches a new design of these small Delft Blue collectibles (of which there are 103 in the world) modeled after specific houses and offers them to business-class passengers on intercontinental flights. I’ve downloaded the enthusiasts’ app and brandish it whenever I see the cart; I’ve noted the houses I have (18 so far) and the ones I’d most like (#95, the Heineken Brewery; #100, the Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch, home of King Willem-Alexander and his family; and #48, the Rembrandt House). Cabin crew don’t hesitate to rifle the boxes to try to find a favorite. I keep mine in pride of place on the mantel, part decoration and part insiderish conversation-sparker—travel-mad houseguests recognize them instantly.
And yes, I know, resellers offload them online at a premium, but where’s the fun in that? I need an excuse to keep splurging on a KLM seat upfront. —Mark Ellwood, AFAR contributor
Muscat-based Oman Air may not have the airlift of its Middle East counterparts, but the airline’s fab business-class experience is every bit on par—and arguably surpasses—the likes of Emirates and Etihad Airways (Qatar’s Airways’ Q-Suite product still stands in a league of its own; see below.)
On a recent flight between Frankfurt and Muscat, I thoroughly luxuriated in my sleek flatbed open suite, enjoying 82 inches of seat pitch (about the standard on Oman Air’s long-haul aircraft), alternating between Taittinger champagne and mojitos, savoring an excellent five-course meal (that skewed more restaurant quality than airplane biz-class cuisine), and catching up on movies through the high-tech in-flight entertainment system.
I was extra impressed to see Japanese toilets on my Boeing 789 aircraft (though these are not available across the entire fleet) and relieved that every seat has direct aisle access (this is the case across the entire long-haul fleet). The flight crew was warm and proactive, delivering a true five-star experience in the air—a standard that’s extended to every Oman Air flight I’ve taken thus far. —Paul Rubio, AFAR contributor
Qatar’s Qsuite is considered one of the most luxurious business-class seats in the world—in fact, Skytrax consistently ranks it the number one front-of-the-plane offering. Each of the seats is an enclosed pod, with 52-inch-tall walls and a sliding door to make the space feel very private. There’s also ample storage space, a 21.5-inch screen, a pull-out table, and an amenity kit that includes products from Diptyque, a French perfume and body product company.
The seat itself reclines 180 degrees to make a lie-flat bed, and when you’re ready to sleep, flight attendants offer a turn-down service, where they add a quilted mattress, pillows, and a blanket (giving you time to change into the complimentary pajamas). Meals are served on your schedule; just press the button to summon delivery. The menu is extensive and offers Arabic options and Western meal choices. There’s also a top-notch wine and spirits list.—Bailey Berg, associate news editor
I agree: Whenever you have an opportunity to experience a Qsuite on Qatar Airways, run, don’t walk. There’s a reason why it was voted “World’s Best Business Class 2022” by Skytrax. Beyond the pure luxury of actually having a cabin door and being able to slide it closed, I love the private access to customs and immigration upon arrival in Doha. And predeparture visits to my new favorite Al Mourjan Lounge have me arriving at the airport far earlier than usual. —Joe Diaz, AFAR cofounder
The Swiss experience starts with the decor: blond wood and tweedy seat cushions, like something out of a lovely living room set, that then convert into a lie-flat seat with 79 inches (or roughly 6.5 feet) of space. That’s among the longest in business class (United Polaris, Qatar Airways, and Lufthansa stretch a little farther, with Lufthansa offering a whopping seven feet).
The chair’s massage function gets a hat tip, as do the wine, cheese, and chocolate. In 2023, Swiss Air started paying homage to the Canton of Bern with wines from the Lake Biel region and meals prepared by chef Marc Joshua Engel of Michelin-starred Aux Trois Amis. You can enjoy several courses before tucking in for the night, or opt to enjoy meals over two to three hours. The whole experience is, dare I say, elegant. —LDR
I recently flew from New York to Istanbul on Turkish Airline’s 777-300 aircraft. The 777 business-class equipment/configuration has been around since 2010 and is not nearly as nice as what Turkish has on its 787 and A350 aircraft, which have all-aisle access, greater privacy, and just more contemporary equipment than what I experienced.
Even though I missed the superior equipment, I must say I was completely taken by—and can recommend Turkish Airlines for—three things: wonderful, friendly service; truly superior onboard food and beverage; and, finally, the most wonderful lounge in Istanbul. It is truly worth arriving early for your departure back home. They have chefs cooking homestyle food right in front of you while your mouth waters.
I’ve been fortunate to be in some nice airport lounges in my day, but I must say the Turkish Airlines lounge is my favorite. It is absolute tops for warmth, comfort, and food that I would get to the airport two hours early for. —Greg Sullivan, AFAR cofounder
I know it is popular to bash our American domestic carriers, but I am not ashamed to say I love flying United’s Polaris international business class. Introduced in 2016, United is scheduled to finally complete the installation of Polaris business class (as well as United Premium Class) seats in all of its international wide-body aircraft by the fall of 2023.
There are three main things I love about Polaris: Every seat faces forward (it goes without saying that every seat lies completely flat—an absolute necessity in today’s market). Every seat has some privacy in the form of partitions that keep other people from seeing whether you are working, not working, or anything else. I’m really not a big privacy person. I live in an apartment in NYC where my neighbors can watch me to their hearts’ delight—but from a distance. I am not crazy about having a stranger sitting right next to me judge my movie selections (my standards go way down on a plane) and learn whether my mouth is open when I sleep.
Finally, and most importantly, every seat has aisle access. This is huge to me. I hate the idea of being “trapped” in my seat while the person next to me with direct aisle access is fully reclined—and fully asleep. Do I attempt to crawl over them to go to the restroom? How much longer will they be asleep? Are they really asleep? These are things I don’t want to have to think about.
United has some great Polaris airport lounges in its hub airports, some nice amenities onboard, including a cooling gel pillow, and above average food service. But those are not key to me. It is the equipment. And, of course, the fact that Polaris is not as expensive as some of the ultra-nice suites. I can get Star Alliance miles when I pay, and sometimes purchase using my MileagePlus miles or, even more rarely, upgrade to Polaris from Premium Class using United’s Plus Points. —GS