RANKED: The Best Business Class Seats In 2018

Over the course of the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to sample every single “generic” business class configurations there is out there. By “generic”, I’m talking about business class configurations that a number of airlines operate. I’m effectively ruling out specific custom-made configurations, such as Qatar Airways’ QSuites, Delta’s Delta One Suites, British Airways’ weird forwards-backwards configuration, etc.. I plan to try those out soon, though for now I thought it would be fun to visit a quick ranking of all the business class seats we’ve flown here at YTHK so far.

(For the record, based on reviews alone I’d predict that QSuites and Delta One Suites are both ahead of the competition compared to all of the products listed below. Here’s to hoping I can prove that sometime soon.)

While economy class is all about the price these days, there is lots of competition for the best business class seat out there

I figured I’d start from the worst and move on up. So here we go:

9. Intra-Europe Business Class

The worst business class hard product out there, hands down, is in Europe. Now, I don’t know how this trend started or how the industry, in general, thinks it’s acceptable, but standard intra-European business class is an economy class seat with the middle seat blocked. Apart from the fact that you have a guaranteed empty seat next to you, there is literally no difference between a business class seat and an economy seat on most intra-European flights.

img_5323Lufthansa Airbus A321 Business Class Cabin

Now, an extra seat does make a difference, as it means there’s more space to put loose items. I’ve mentioned in a post that intra-European business class is better than intra-European economy class. However, in no way does intra-European business class resemble a business class experience, and in no way is the cost justified.

Which airlines use this configuration? If you’re flying any European airline shorthaul – be it Lufthansa, Swiss, etc. – you’ll get this configuration when flying business class. There are a few precious exceptions which include Aeroflot, Cobalt Air, and Turkish Airlines – they offer “legitimate” business class seats on their shorthaul fleet.

Which airline does it best? You’ll never get far in terms of comfort with intra-European business class. If I had to choose, I’d pick any airline that operates flights in a 2-2 configuration (or at least has two seats on one side), such as Lufthansa/KLM’s Embraer 190, or the left side of Swiss/AirBaltic/Korean Air’s CS300. At least, in that case, you’d have two seats to yourself. However, I’d avoid paying outright for intra-European business class, and would avoid it for any other business class configuration if I had the choice.

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

8. Recliner

The most basic “true” business class configuration is the recliner. A recliner doesn’t turn into a bed, though it’s wider, and goes further back than an economy class seat. Back in the day recliners were world-class for a business class product, though nowadays they’ve been outclassed by way more modern and spacious configurations, and mostly serve shorthaul Asian and U.S. routes.

China Southern Airbus A320 Business Class

While the most basic of recliners have manual controls (you’ll more likely than not find a “basic” recliner when flying business class on a narrowbody aircraft within Asia), some more pimped out recliners may be electronically controlled, and even have “shells”, so that they don’t recline into the space of the person behind them.

Which airlines use this configuration? Most airlines within Asia use recliners for shorthaul configurations, though select airlines still fly recliners on longhaul routes. If you’re flying a low-cost airline in a premium cabin (Scoot, Jetstar, etc. in business class), you’re likely to get a recliner, even when flying on a longhaul flight. As far as full-service airlines go, however, you’ll more likely see a recliner in premium economy.

More often than not nowadays you’ll see a recliner in premium economy

Which airline does it best? While I don’t actually find the seat to be that comfortable, there’s no arguing that Cathay Pacific has the best recliner out there – there’s storage space (not nearly enough, though more than any other recliner business class seat you’ll find out there), and the electronically controlled seat goes further back than any other recliner seat you’ll find in business class today.

img_2538Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 Regional Business Class

DSCF6132Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Regional Business Class Reclined Seat

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

7. Angled Lie-Flat Seat

Around 20 years ago angled lie-flat seats were introduced. The idea was that back then airlines thought a fully flat bed would take up too much real estate on a plane, since they hadn’t figured out how to configure planes efficiently. Angled lie flat seats are essentially seats that provide a flat surface at an angle to the floor; they’re good for lounging, but as you’d expect you’d slide down when trying to get some sleep on a longhaul flight.

Thai Airways Boeing 747 Business Class Seat Angled Flat

Being born in this century I’ve never had the chance to fly angled-flat on a longhaul or redeye flight (I’d say I was lucky enough not to, but I’ve spent quite a few in an economy seat that I would’ve been glad to swap for an angled-flat seat instead). However, having spent quite a few shorthaul flights in angled-flat seats, I can confirm they’re fine for lounging and napping. It’s worth noting that not all angled flat seats are made equal – some are more angled than others, others have parts that jut out that attempt to support your butt to stop you from sliding down (e.g. Thai Airways, pictured above), etc..

Which airlines use this configuration? Many smaller airlines still run their longhaul flights with angled flat seats – Fiji Airways comes to mind. Hong Kong Airlines runs angled-flat seats on their A330 flight to Auckland – their only longhaul flight where this is still the case. You can expect to see angled-flat seats flying regionally to Hong Kong on JAL, Thai, Hong Kong Airlines, Asiana, and select aircraft from Singapore Airlines, Thai, EVA Air, etc. to name a few.

Which airline does it best? My favourite angled lie-flat seat goes to an airline that has very carefully crafted all the ergonomics of their seat. Singapore Airlines’ regional business class has very good privacy, a very nice amount of storage space, and it’s overall just a very carefully thought-out seat for regional flying. The same seat has also been used by EVA Air, China Airlines, and Hong Kong Airlines (which I first flew this seat in).

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Regional Business Class Bed

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

6. Forward-Facing Fully Flat Bed

Now, what’s not to like about a fully flat bed? Next on the list is the most rudimentary version of the fully flat bed currently in the market – simply seats that are arranged in a 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 configuration, facing forward. These seats are nothing to complain about, but you do have to climb over your neighbour to get to the bathroom, it’s not often easy to get out of your seat when your tray table’s out, and storage space is, more often than not, very limited.

LATAM Airbus A350 Business Class Cabin

While these seats are no longer competitive due to all the different configurations offering direct aisle access and whatnot, they’re still comfortable – especially if you can snag a window, where the seat becomes quite private. Nowadays most forward-facing business class seats are also equipped with privacy partitions between seats.

LATAM Airbus A350 Business Class Bed

Note that I’m including seats that slope a couple of degrees downward in this category. When B/E Aerospace created their Minipod seat many years ago, they elected to have their seat’s fully flat position angle downward by a couple of degrees, since the plane flies nose-up. Personally I don’t find the 2° to make a difference at all, so I’ll count this as a fully-flat seat as well, flown by Korean Air, Egyptair and Philippine Airlines – Emirates flies a modified version on their older 777s (sadly, their newer 777s feature the same uncompetitive forward-facing fully flat configuration, save the 2° angle).

Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Bed

Which airlines use this configuration? Most European airlines actually use forward-facing fully flat beds – Lufthansa, KLM, Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines come to mind. Most airlines that currently operate forward-facing fully flat beds are either smaller airlines that prefer to maximise capacity while trying to offer a comfortable product, but many larger airlines have chosen to outfit these seats onto their new aircraft as well. Some have just done so as they’ve introduced forward-facing fully flat seats many years in the past and have yet to update their seat, while others just don’t find the need to be competitive. From Hong Kong, expect these seats longhaul when flying Qantas’ A380s and 747s, KLM, Lufthansa, and Air Mauritius, among others.

img_5487We give Lufthansa crap, and their business class configuration isn’t competitive, though there’s still nothing to complain about a fully flat bed – and I find Lufthansa’s seat to be one of the better ones within its category

Which airline does it best? Now I’m being completely unfair here, since Singapore Airlines’ business class product features a 1-2-1 configuration, and the seat pitch isn’t as much as what you’ll get on other airlines, since you kind of have to sleep in an awkward position. But objectively, the best, most spacious, most storage-laden forward-facing fully flat business class seat would undoubtedly have to go to Singapore Airlines. Now, the seat isn’t perfect, since you have to sleep diagonally – though it’s the only forward-facing fully flat business class product that gives you direct aisle access, and objectively it’s still a very good product.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Business Class Bed

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

5. Herringbone Seat

Back in the day herringbone seats were the pinnacle of business class flying, due to the added concept of privacy in business class travel. Back then direct aisle access was the exception rather than the norm, so herringbone seats were quite popular with a large number of airlines. Due to how exposed they feel (since you’re facing the aisle) and with the more spacious configurations out there, these seats are getting quite outdated by now, but they’re still not too bad for longhaul flying.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class

IMG_3002.jpgCathay Pacific Airbus A340 Business Class

I’d say, however, with the lack of storage, the inability to easily look out of the window, and the confinement caused by the seat walls, that out of all the modern-day business class seats that offer direct aisle access, this configuration is my least favourite. Still, however, the seats go fully flat, so you’ll get a good night’s sleep.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Upper Class Bed

Which airlines use this configuration? Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand have sworn by herringbone seats for the past few years, saying that they’ve been “incredibly popular” with customers. Virgin Atlantic even went so far as to file a lawsuit against seat manufacturer Contour many years ago, since they “copied Virgin Atlantic’s product” and sold it to many other competitors, including Cathay Pacific, Jet Airways, Air Canada, Delta, etc.. At this point, however, herringbone seats are past their prime, and Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand are the only two airlines that continue to pump out their “incredibly popular” herringbone seats (actually, even Virgin Atlantic is considering a new suite-like product now).

Which airline does it best? I don’t actually have a preference for my favourite herringbone seat. I’ve only flown Cathay Pacific’s herringbone configuration before they phased it out after they retired their last A340 in 2017, as well as Virgin Atlantic’s this year. So I can’t speak for the best herringbone seat flying out there – can you?

I can speak for a herringbone seat I would avoid, though – Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand have herringbone seats that fold down into beds. The upside of that is that you can recline your seat during takeoff and landing. The bad news is that the recline only goes marginally further than your average economy seat, and I don’t actually find the bed to be any more comfortable. So while both airlines otherwise offer great business class experiences, their seats are the worst herringbone seats out there, due to the inability to get into a lazy-Z position for reading.

The furthest recline goes in “seat mode” in Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

4. Staggered Seat (Solstys Style)

When airlines were trying to increase their seat density while keeping seat comfort in mind, staggered seats became very popular. There are two types of staggered seats: Solstys style staggered seats, and Vantage style staggered seats. The main difference with Vantage style staggered seats is how they are laid out; while both generally outfit seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, the middle seats in Vantage-style seats are spaced out evenly between rows, whereas Solstys-style middle seats alternate between honeymoon seats (two seats together near the center) and seats nearer to the aisle, which you’ll read about below.

IMG_0052Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class Middle Seats

Vantage-style staggered seats are laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration most of the time, but sometimes you will see them alternate between a 1-2-1 and 2-2-1 configuration.

IMG_0143Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class

In those cases, some rows will feature two seats by the window, which are the only seats on the plane that lack direct aisle access. They’re actually not a bad choice for couples that want to look out of the window, but I’d avoid them if traveling alone (the aisle seat, in particular, isn’t very private).

IMG_0055Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class “Pair” Seats

The idea of staggering lie-flat seats is that the footwell of the seat behind you lies under the seat console next to your seat. This means that in front of, and behind every “pair” seat near the window is a “throne” seat, as pictured below. These seats offer extra storage and privacy, and I’d highly recommend them if traveling in this configuration; the only downside is that the footwell is quite limiting, due to the fact that it’s “wedged” between the two “pair” seats in front of you.

IMG_0181Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class Solo Seats

If you get a throne seat you’ll have a great flight. However, between the “pair” seats by the window and the limiting footwells at all seats (particularly the throne seats), this is my less favourite of the two types of staggered business class seat.

img_4979Swiss Boeing 777 Business Class Bed

Which airlines use this configuration? Out of those that fly to Hong Kong longhaul, Swiss, Austrian, South African and Qantas come to mind as airlines that operate this configuration. Other notable operators of Vantage-style staggered business class seats include ANA, Aer Lingus, Malaysia Airlines, and Air Belgium.

Which airline does it best? Despite not having flown the configuration before, I’ve heard that the new Vantage XL seat (configured in the same way) is more spacious, and features more storage. This is featured on SAS, Qantas, China Southern, South African and Rwandair’s A330 aircraft, as well as Philippine Airlines’ newer A330s and A350s. Otherwise, this configuration is probably best enjoyed if you can snag a throne seat on a wider aircraft (such as a 777 or A350), preferably during daytime flights, due to the footwell issue.

(For the record, I didn’t count Delta’s A350s as having this product. Although Delta crafted their A350 Suites product from a Vantage seat configuration, they added a door, so not having flown it before I’m not sure how it affects seat comfort.)

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

3. Staggered Seat (Solstys Style)

Now for the other type of staggered seat, which I marginally prefer. Solstys-style staggered seats are always arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, and I find space to generally be better utilised in this seat. This differs from the Vantage-style business class seat as there are “honeymoon” seats – the middle seats alternate between seats that are next to the aisles, and seats in the center right next to each other.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Seat 18K

Below is a picture of one of those “honeymoon” seats – you’ll see that they’re right next to each other, whereas the seats behind are quite far apart. While I personally wouldn’t want to be seated in a honeymoon seat, I know some people will feel otherwise, and in most cases there’s always a privacy partition you can put up, in case you end up being seated next to a stranger in this configuration.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Honeymoon Seats

As with other staggered configurations, not all seats are created equal; some are closer to the window, and others are closer to the aisle (pictured below), and much more exposed. However, that’s a problem that Vantage-style staggered seats face as well – at least here all seats get direct aisle access.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Aisle Seat 17H

The main advantage of this seat over the Vantage-style seats is that the footwell is larger, so it’s easier to roll around comfortably in your sleep. Also, there’s ample storage at all seats, whereas in the Vantage-style configuration some seats have significantly less storage than others.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Seat in Bed Mode

Which airlines use this configuration? If you’re flying out of Hong Kong the most notable example will be Hong Kong Airlines. Emirates and Etihad operate variants of this configuration, and other airlines that do include (but aren’t limited to) Thai Airways, Asiana, and Iberia – some of Virgin Atlantic’s A330s operate with this configuration too. United’s new Polaris product on the 777-300ER actually features a modified version of this seat.

Which airline does it best? I found the configuration rather tight on the rather narrow A330, so this seat is best enjoyed on wider aircraft, such as the 777 and A350. If you can snag a windowside seat on an A380 configured with this seat configuration, you’ll also have a great flight, due to the added shoulder space due to the side storage bins.

0-weu-d3-4638819b7e3405970ad0c62d88c66fe2Emirates’ A380s feature this type of seat, complete with side storage bins, too

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

2. Apex Suite

This is one of the two business class seat configurations that I consider as world class. Apex Suites are laid out in a simple 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 configuration, and look similar to forward-facing business class seats at first glance.

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class

However, upon closer look at the seats closer to the window, you’ll realise that the seats are offset from each other, and are set up to maximise storage and privacy. All seats have direct aisle access – every window seat has its own “mini-aisle” setup that heads into the aisle.

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class

The true reason why these seats are so highly acclaimed are the window seats. When the privacy partition’s up, the privacy and space afforded in these seats are second-to-none, whether you’re seated upright, or in bed mode.

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class Window Seat

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class Bed

Why isn’t this the best business class configuration out there? While I love Apex Suites, there’s something to be said about the fact that the aisle and middle seats aren’t nearly as private as the window seats. Korean Air extended the privacy partition to make the aisle and center seats more shielded from aisle traffic – on the other three carriers that operate Apex Suites, even this shield isn’t present. So while Apex Suites are brilliant business class seats, I can’t in good conscience rank them as the best business class configuration in the world (in other news, storage in these seats is lacking).

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class Aisle Seat

Which airlines use this configuration? As of writing, exactly four airlines use this seat configuration: Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Oman Air, and Gulf Air. Japan Airlines is actually phasing out this seat for a reverse herringbone seat on their 787s, so they really only operate Apex Suites on their 777-300ERs, in a denser 2-3-2 configuration.

Which airline does it best? Korean Air has an unfair advantage because they’re the only airline to operate Apex Suites on the upper deck of a 747. However, since there’s basically unlimited storage space by the side storage bins when flying on the upper deck of Korean Air’s 747-8, I’d take a window seat Apex Suite on Korean Air’s 747-8 over a reverse herringbone seat on any airline any day.

Korean Air Boeing 747-8 Business Class Upper Deck

In addition to that, while JAL operates Apex Suites in a 2-3-2 configuration on the 777, Korean Air operates a 2-2-2 configuration on their 777s, as well as the lower deck of their 747-8s, which are even wider. So I’d say that Korean Air has the most spacious Apex Suite out of the four airlines flying it, at least on the 777s and 747-8s (all four airlines operate 787s with Apex Suites in a 2-2-2 configuration, and Korean Air and Oman Air both operate A330s with Apex Suites in a 2-2-2 configuration as well).

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

1. Reverse Herringbone Seat

The reverse herringbone stemmed from the innovation that a herringbone seat brought to the table; how angling the seat away from the aisle would generate lots of utilisable space. However, unlike herringbone seats, reverse herringbone seats have the whole package; they’re private as they angle away from the aisle (as opposed to towards the aisle), and they have plenty of storage space.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 Business Class Seat

I ranked this above Apex Suites for two reasons. The first is that reverse herringbone seats typically offer more storage options. The second, and much more importantly, in my opinion, is that all reverse herringbone seats are similarly private. With staggered seats some seats are much more private than others, and even with Apex Suites the window seats are infinitely better than the aisle seats.

Here you can end up with a center seat in the last row of the business class cabin seated next to a stranger, and you’ll still have a private flight with lots of storage space. Some people go as far as to say that the introduction of reverse herringbone seats was why we see first class starting to shy away from the aviation industry.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Business Class

As you’d expect these seats also recline into flat beds in all instances; most airlines’ reverse herringbone seats have adjustable armrests, so you can choose between more head privacy and a few extra inches of bed width. It’s worth noting, for the sake of comparison, that you’ll get substantially less head privacy than if you were seated in a window seat in the Apex Suites configuration.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Business Class Bed

Which airlines use this configuration? After US Airways introduced reverse herringbone seats in 2010, they quickly gained popularity – Cathay Pacific was the first to introduce it in Asia, and it quickly became popular in the aviation market, being picked up by American, Delta, Air Canada, Finnair, Air France, Hainan Airlines, Virgin Australia, Xiamen Airlines, even Thai Airways (but then, they operate all but one of the above configurations across a range of aircraft, SMH) – just to name a few.

Which airline does it best? Most airlines have pretty similar configurations, and I’ve only flown the reverse herringbone seat configuration on a handful of airlines. But in terms of bed spaciousness, storage, and privacy, I like the Rockwell Collins Super Diamond rendition of the seat, used by Air Canada, China Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Virgin Australia, and Hong Kong Airlines (on their newest A350s), among quite a few others.

The seat has some massive storage compartments, and I find the tray table to have many different adjustable positions, making it easy to get in and out of your seat. I tried this configuration out on a Hong Kong Airlines A350, and found the customisability of the seat to be beyond that of what most business class seats offer, and the abundant storage to be more favourable than an Apex Suite.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 Business Class Bed Mode

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 Business Class Storage Area

The other great version of this seat that I’ve tried is Cathay Pacific’s A350 business class, which is also modified on the storage front and is customised to maximise bed width, but I find the Super Diamond seat described above to have better storage options.

Reviews we’ve done of this configuration:

Bottom Line

It’s insane to think that only half of the configurations in the above list existed a decade ago. I haven’t even included all the configurations flown in business class today – namely, I left out Delta’s Delta One Suite and Qatar Airways’ QSuite, which I hadn’t flown yet, and didn’t consider to be in the same league. As space is becoming more efficiently utilised, who knows what different business class seat configurations we’ll see in ten years?

It’s important to keep in mind that the above are my own rankings of the 9 “generic” types of business class seat out there. I’m pretty sure that #9 will be the same for all of you out there, but the rest may vary – I know some people who swear by a recliner over an angled lie-flat seat, others particularly like herringbone seats, some may prefer Vantage-style staggered seat over Solstys-style (due to the throne seats), etc..

Do you agree with these rankings for the main business class seat configurations out there? Was there a configuration I missed?

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