You’re finally boarding the plane, checking out your seatmates, and scouting for space in the overhead bin. But first, you have to shuffle through the premium cabins. You try not to notice the passengers’ mimosas, the plush seat cushions, or the oceans of legroom – but you can’t help but imagine how sweet it would be to fly in first class or business.
But what exactly is the difference between the first class and business class? Is it the seats? The service? The caviar?
First class and business amenities vary immensely by airline, aircraft, and length of trip. Some airlines don’t offer first class at all (Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit), while others have merged it with business class into a single cabin (Air Canada, Delta, Virgin Atlantic).
Overall, here’s what you’ll experience in each section if you spring for premium seats:
In first class and business cabins on long-haul/international flights, you may find fully flat seats, angled lie flat seats, or standard reclining seats. The best first class seats are actually enclosed, suite-like pods with workstations, TVs, privacy dividers and aisle access.
For short-haul/domestic flights in either cabin, there will probably be standard seats with additional width and pitch (the distance between one point on a seat and the same point on the seat in front of it).
Here’s a breakdown:
- First class short-haul: 18”-34” width and 34”-68” pitch
- Business class short-haul: 18”-34” width and 33”-80” pitch
- First class long-haul: 19”-35” width and 58”-94” pitch
- Business class long-haul: 18”-34” width and 55-65” pitch
Food & Drink
First class passengers are generally served higher quality meals, wine and liquor than those in business class – but not always. Passengers in both cabins enjoy plenty of complimentary food and alcoholic beverages.
There are more flight attendants per passenger in first class, which results in better service with more personalized attention. Highly trained to anticipate passengers’ needs, first class flight attendants are the best of the best.
Privacy & Comfort
Privacy and a feeling of exclusivity are two of the biggest benefits of first class. Business passengers are not permitted in the first class cabin, and economy passengers are not allowed in either. You’ll also have access to a fancy airport lounge and separate check-in line – however, first class and business passengers often share these amenities.
Perhaps the most dramatic difference between first class and business is the price. Seats in first class will cost at least twice as much as those in business – and those on non-stop routes with private pods or suites may cost up to five times as much.
Airlines have greatly enhanced the seats, services, and amenities of their business class cabins in recent years – making the high cost of first class less desirable. If money is no object or can’t imagine flying without a private pod, first class is for you. Otherwise, business class will provide nearly the same travel experience for a much lower cost. Either way, research your specific flight before you buy a ticket, as the two cabins can differ greatly between airlines, routes, and planes.