I like a certain level of comfort when I travel, it’s just who I am. Why be uncomfortable when I can be comfortable after all. This permeates throughout the travel experience, from nice hotels to certain airline choices. Thanks to my busy travel schedule, I’ve had elite status with my airline of choice for many years, and that in turn has given me a few perks. Within the United States, I’m almost always upgraded to First Class, I get to use First and Business class lounges around the world and of course I get a ton of frequent flyer miles. I typically use these miles to pay for Business class when traveling on long haul trips around the world since I refuse to pay $8,000 for a plane ticket. On our vacation this year we once again cashed in some miles and ended up flying around the world with three different airlines in business class, so I thought I’d offer a review of the airlines and share which one truly has a first class Business Class.
Business class on a long haul flight is pure gold. The most important thing the service provides on these flights is comfort and sleep, both of which Business and First class sections help facilitate. However not every airline is made equal and some frankly do a better job than others in providing great service and comfort to their passengers. In reviewing the Business class offerings for the following flights I looked at several factors: Seat comfort and amenities, food, entertainment and other. Other is a grab bag and ultimately is all about how I felt about the flight. Did I walk away content or grumpy?
ANA, All Nippon Airways Business Class
Our journey around the world began in Washington as we boarded the ANA Boeing 777-300ER for a direct flight to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I was thankful for a direct flight, but 14 hours is a long time to be trapped in a metal tube as it’s hurled across the planet. And that’s why we spent the frequent flier miles, for the comfort on an interminable flight. Which is why I was a little confused as to why that comfort seemed to be missing from the flight.
The seat was fine and not unlike any other business class chair. Sadly, it was not the holy grail of flying; it wasn’t completely lie flat. Instead it’s what I call old school business class and was a ‘near’ lie-flat. What this means is that in the fully reclined position you spend all your time trying to not slide onto the floor. This is especially challenging if you are 6’2”, as I am. The good news is that airlines are moving towards including completely lie-flat in their Business class cabins. The bad news is that our plane had not been retrofitted. So while it was certainly better than coach class, it also was hard to get a great night’s sleep.
One of my favorite aspects of flying in Business and First class are the amenity bags passengers get. These little goody bags are filled with fun things designed to make the flying experience more relaxing and enjoyable. That’s why I was surprised – no, shocked – that ANA didn’t provide one. In lieu of a cute bag of goodies, they have a self-serve basket in the galley for passengers; a feature they don’t even mention by the way. Not a very classy decision when people are spending thousands of dollars for a higher quality of service and you are in competition with other airlines with better service.
I didn’t have high expectations given how picky I am about food and the Japanese proclivity to the strange and unusual. So I was pleasantly surprised that ANA offers two menus, one with a focus on Japanese cuisine and the other on a more Western style cuisine. Neither looked particularly great, and in practice the Western menu was fine but not super. I’ll mention this when I review Lufthansa, but I wish airlines would stop trying to out-fancy each other. High-end food does not translate well to flying and most times what people want is comfort food. Also, I wasn’t impressed by the Bowl O’Noodles on request; I can get that for $10 a case at Sam’s Club. But I didn’t starve, so that’s a plus.
Granted I had my iPad and was watching season one of Downton Abbey, but the movie selection wasn’t all that impressive nor was the TV screen. It was smallish and scratched and there were several people around me who had technical problems with the device. If a TV is one of only a few things between a calm passenger and a Caine Mutiny-esque episode, I’d make sure they worked.
On the whole I wasn’t impressed, which surprised me. In my experience airlines based in Asia have the best service and quality of any in the world. They consistently top the Best Of lists and are usually a pleasure to experience first hand. That’s why I was shocked at all the missteps on the ANA flight. Uninterested staff who struggled to communicate; mediocre food; non-lie flat beds and no pride in the work led me to feeling ho-hum as I disembarked. While I certainly didn’t suffer on the flight, I’ll probably never fly ANA again.
Thai Airways Business Class
We flew Thai Airways twice, once on a 6-hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok and then on a much longer flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt, Germany. It’s amazing how the staff set the tone because as soon as I stepped onboard the Boeing 747-400 headed for Bangkok, I felt at ease and comfortable. I also felt well taken care of, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
The seat from Tokyo to Bangkok wasn’t lie-flat, but it was comfortable and yes, I finally got my amenity bag. It was actually a really great one and helped set the tone for the rest of the trip. The real star of Thai Airways was our flight to Frankfurt on a Boeing 777-300ER when yes, we found the Holy Grail and got a fully lie-flat bed. It was my first time and it was amazing. The cubicle, for it was so much more than a chair, was private and comfortable, giving the feeling of First Class comfort in Business class. I was so happy I could barely speak. It’s truly amazing how a seat configuration can make the difference between an ok and a great trip, but that’s what happened on this flight. I think that in all honesty it was the best, the most comfortable and most luxurious flight I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking.
The food was good, especially since Thai Airways gave me the opportunity to choose one of my meals in advance. Wary of seafood I can’t eat, I ordered a steak that was tasty and the second meal was a German inspired wurst. Combined with cheese courses, desserts, amuse bouches and snacks the food choices left me content, happy and full.
Once again, I spent more time on my iPad than with the inflight entertainment, but I did watch a movie on it and it was great. The TV was large, new and featured great clarity. That combined with a hefty selection of entertainment options created a fantastic product.
As you can probably tell, I was very happy with Thai Airways. It wasn’t just the super comfy chair, I felt the same after the flight to Bangkok. It was the environment created by the employees that made the difference. They made me feel special and did everything in their power to make sure I was comfortable. That didn’t happen on ANA and the antithesis was true of the Lufthansa flight, which I’ll cover next. Also, Thai Airways has private Business and First Class check in from Bangkok with expedited processing through immigration. It was nice to skip the lines at security and immigration and head straight to the lounge.
Lufthansa Business Class
Because of the way award flights work, sometimes you have to spend an unplanned night or two in a destination during the journey. That was the case when we overnighted in Frankfurt before hoping on the Boeing 747-400 to Washington Dulles to complete our around the world trip.
Seat and Entertainment
The seats were fine, not lie-flat but standard for Business Class with its tilted recline. Sadly the chair was overly complicated to use and didn’t work well. Instead of a footrest, I often found my feet just dangling in front of me. The TV was hard to extricate from its secret location, to the point where a flight attendant had to help everyone in our row get them out. Once freed of their plastic prisons, the choices were dismal, appropriately reflective of the service.
Food and other
This was not a good flight for a lot of reasons and they all have to do with the staff. They were rude, uncaring and certainly had no concern about our comfort. This is strange in that I’m sure someone (not me) in the Business class section that day paid for their flight and as such expected a certain level of service that was sorely lacking. The food in one term was abysmal. I don’t eat seafood, so I thoughtfully requested a no-seafood meal in advance. I thought this would mean the normal food choices but that I’d be spared from appetizers I couldn’t eat. Apparently though Lufthansa thinks No Seafood means Vegetarian. In all seriousness, every no-seafood option they tried to feed me was vegetarian if not vegan. If you know me then you know this isn’t my style, I’m very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy. When I dared to ask for the beef instead of the inedible mound of veggies placed in front of me I was met with a look to kill. After much angry talking with each other in German, the flight attendants grudgingly gave me the meal I preferred. I felt bad about it, which never should have happened. Yet it continued to happen repeatedly throughout the flight, they couldn’t get past the concept that just because I don’t eat seafood doesn’t mean I don’t like chicken or beef. For the last course after I sent back the veggie blob yet again, they literally threw the plate on my tray, causing the too-high-end food to fall over.
That’s right, too high end. Lufthansa tries way too hard with its Business class menu and it’s a shame. Instead of good, classic food we were given salmon roe and venison jerky. After the flight I heard many of my fellow Business class passengers complain bitterly about the food. It just wasn’t good. I mean who really wants salmon roe on a flight? I grow nauseous just thinking about it. Have higher end food if you must, but also offer some comfort food. Frankly a schnitzel or a burger would have been a welcome sight, instead of the crap on a plate given to the passengers who spent small fortunes on their flight.
The food and the service killed this experience for us, it was truly awful, which is a shame. I flew on the new A380 from Frankfurt to JFK on her maiden voyage and loved the experience in coach. I thought the flight was comfortable, the food good and the service of a high level. I’m shocked that our experience was so bad in Business Class and can only hope, for their sake, that it was the result of a few cranky flight attendants and not endemic of larger issues permeating the corporate culture at Lufthansa. The passenger should be first: The end, no more to say.
So there you have it, my review of flying business class around the world. Overall, it was a good experience and no matter what, Business Class makes traveling so much more bearable and even pleasant. I wish I could fly this way all the time, but sadly I’m limited to my accrual of frequent flyer miles. But that’s a great reason to stay loyal to one airline so that you too can cash them in for free travel and fly around the world in Business Class.
Have you flown long-haul in Business or First class? Which airline did you fly and what did you think of the experience?