In the never-ending quest to offer the very best premium cabins in the friendly skies, airlines continue to up the ante. In a day and age where lie-flat seats, luxurious amenity kits and 5-star cuisine in flight are de rigueur, airlines must become even more creative to attract discerning passengers who know what they want when it comes to the world’s first- and business-class cabins. Business travelers especially know the importance of a restful, comfortable flight; work demands they hit the ground running, and it all starts with the flight.
Those travelers are much like you, our readers, making an average of 32 flights per year both internationally and domestically and opting to fly first and business class on every flight. In an effort to ease your decision-making process — and with so many airlines around the globe and so many varied offerings, it can be overwhelming — we have compiled the charts you’ll find on the following pages. Which airline’s amenities and perks best suit your business — or leisure — travel needs? You’ll find all your questions answered in our comprehensive charts. We know the specifics matter, and our annual first- and business-class surveys contain important information on aircraft type; configuration; seat pitch, width and recline; entertainment options; and lounge information.
Our 10th annual survey includes all the airlines flying between a U.S. destination and another point anywhere in the world. From the more popular airlines to the lesser-known carriers, all the information is in one convenient place. Along with the charts is more information on airlines that have implemented major cabin changes in the past year, and GT Tested flight reviews from some of these very same cabins, reviewed by GT staff and writers.
EUROPEAN CARRIERS SAW a number of significant cabin changes in 2013. airberlin introduced a new level of comfort in its business-class cabin with the addition of lie-flat seats. Fully adjustable with an integrated massage function, the seat also features ample storage space, shelves and ambient lighting. The 19 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration offer direct aisle access from every seat; joining the brand-new seats are individual 15-inch screens with more than 200 hours of entertainment. The menu was developed in conjunction with Sansibar restaurant on the island of Sylt, complemented by Sansibar wines.
Austrian Airlines launched an updated business-class concept in January 2013. The fully flat seat-bed’s innovative air-cushion system allows passengers to adjust the seat comfort to their own personal preferences. The armrests can fold away for additional space. The individual touch-screen entertainment systems are easy to use, with an intuitive user interface and a plethora of options. An onboard Flying Chef highlights the restaurant-quality food service, and a Flying Coffee House offers 10 freshly prepared classic Austrian coffee specialties.
Currently being rolled out fleet-wide is Iberia’s New Business Plus cabin. Extra-wide seats and a touch screen 50 percent larger than the existing ones are just a few of the enhancements introduced by the Spanish flagship. WiFi and GSM texting capabilities are coming soon. In addition to a cabin overhaul, Iberia is improving airport services at Madrid-Barajas Airport, implementing more intuitive check-in software and streamlined procedures.
KLM’s new World Business Class is impressing passengers with a warm look and ambience that makes travelers feel right at home. The Boeing 747-400 premium cabin features 35 180-degree seats in a 2-2-2 configuration.
Aeroflot Russian Airlines took delivery of new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft this year, launching an updated President Class. Six hundred music albums, 166 movies, 25 games, 32 documentaries, five TV shows and 10 serials accentuate lie-flat seats. The onboard cuisine is a blend of Russian culinary classics and modern European food trends, paired with sommelier-selected wines and Champagnes.
THE BIGGEST CHANGE to come to United in the past year was the introduction of its Boeing Dreamliner 787, available on flights throughout North America and to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The BE Diamond Flat Bed cabin’s 36 seats convert to a fully flat 6-foot, 6-inch bed. In addition to flying on the aviation industry’s newest, most innovative aircraft, passengers enjoy an on-demand music selection, 150 movies and 185 TV shows.
American Airlines also took delivery of several new aircraft in the past year, including Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A319s. The Boeing aircraft feature American’s signature Flagship Suite, one of the most popular first-class designs in the industry. The seat transforms into a 6-foot, 8-inch bed with drop-down armrests for more space while resting. Updated interior trim and finishes add a modern feel to the cabin, offered on routes to Latin America, Europe and the Pacific Rim.
JAPAN AIRLINES UPDATED both its business and first cabins in 2013. JAL First Class offers eight suite seats with a bed length of 78.5 inches. A Tempur mattress and pillow are provided, as well as turn-down service for each passenger. The liquid-crystal LCD touch-panel hand-held controller makes adjustments and enjoying the onboard entertainment convenient. JAL Business Class, also offering lie-flat suite seats, features new 23-inch personal monitors that are among the largest in the industry.
Formerly Air Pacific, the newly rebranded Fiji Airways debuted a new business class as well. The overnight sleeper service (lie-flat seats have an 8-degree angle) is offered on flights to Hong Kong and Los Angeles; the new Yadra Vinaka — Fijian for “good morning” — breakfast service caters selections to travelers’ personal requests, served up to an hour and a half before landing.
Also upgrading in the South Pacific was Air Tahiti Nui. Eliminating its first-class cabin, the airline updated its Poerava (black pearl) business-class cabin. At 160 degrees, the angled lie-flat seats are a highlight of the new cabin — bright, light and airy with a décor in the colors of the Tahitian islands. The on-demand, touch-screen system offers 20 audio channels, 14 movies, 24 other video channels and 15 games.
HOME AWAY FROM home is the philosophy behind TAM’s first-class cabin concept. Passengers on flights to and from Miami and New York to São Paulo are in the lap of luxury with a dining room table, a full-flat bed, a couch and a closet. It’s like they never left home! Also featuring a personalized entertainment system, other amenities include a library, an award-winning wine list, a menu designed by Brazilian chef Bel Coelho, Nespresso service and a luxe amenity kit. The “home away from home” concept also translates to the new TAM VIP lounge at Guarulhos Airport.
ROYAL AIR MAROC introduced a brand-new business class this year featuring fully flat leather seats with electric in-seat massage functions. The upgrades also include USB ports for smartphones and tablets, electrical outlets, a 15.3-inch personal video screen and a wide selection of entertainment.
Abu Dhabi’s national carrier, Etihad Airways, updated Diamond First Class and Pearl Business Class in 2013. In addition to all the typical leading-edge amenities, first class features a 57-inch sliding screen door, an electrically operated privacy divider on center seats, a personal illuminated wardrobe with mirror, a beverage compartment and minibar, a built-in massage function and 23-inch personal screens.
With so many options, where to start? With our charts and feedback, then experience the grandness for yourself. No matter the amenities, each airline brings a unique character and cultural element worth experiencing on your next trip. And we’ll turn our attentions to 2014 — we can’t wait to see what the next wave of upgrades brings.
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