When you fly domestically in “first class” you get a bigger seat usually it’s two seats next to each other versus three in coach. You get something that passes for a meal, free drinks, and a checked baggage allowance. You get early boarding so you aren’t forced to get check your carry on bag when overhead bins fill up. But as a general matter there’s not a whole lot that’s special about the experience.
US domestic premium cabins are sort of in the middle of what’s offered on short and mid-haul flights around the world. In Asia you’ll frequently find the same internationally-configured widebodies flying short missions as long ones, meaning fully flat beds even on one or two hour international flights.
Many Americans are surprised – shocked even – at what passes for business class in Europe, though. And the remarkable thing is that over the past five or six years it’s generally gotten worse.
Over the past week I took a couple of flights in ‘Club Europe’, the forward cabin of British Airways short haul international. It was a quick hop from London Heathrow to Paris, so it didn’t much matter what the product was like. However I have to say if you have elite status for baggage benefit and lounge, there’s really no reason whatsoever to upgrade to business class for short British Airways flights.
Four photos it seems to me sum up the essence of the experience. The most important thing to know is that the seats in business class are exactly the same as coach, except the middle seat is blocked with a tray. You don’t really have much extra usable width, but you don’t have someone squeezing up next to you. You don’t have any extra legroom.
What’s more the distance from seat back to seat back is just 30 inches — the same as what you’ll find on Ryanair. In fact British Airways business class offers less legroom than Ryanair ‘premium’. Thirty inches is the new, less comfortable standard that America Airlines is moving to for domestic coach.
This is not enough room to work on a laptop, which is alright because British Airways while British Airways is rolling out inflight wifi none of my four flights – long haul or short haul – offered it.
At the same time there’s one thing I have to give them credit for. On a 216 mile flight you get fed. That’s the distance of New York – DC, and only about 10% longer than Dallas – Austin. If Dallas – Austin is bumpy you may not get a drink service on American. Yet the service on British Airways didn’t seem rushed.
Personally I’ll gladly take the tradeoff of inedible or no food for a bigger seat with more legroom.