British Airways European Business Class in Four Photos

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is all we have ever found in Biz class in Europe. Do any airlines have “real” business class there?

  2. @Wendy, of course, some airlines have real business class in Europe – Turkish and Aeroflot come to mind. There are probably more.

  3. I’ve switched to Air France KLM after 25 years with BA
    I’ve had it with the cramped seats in business class inner Europe
    My knees were hurting very badly in BAs so called business class
    The food looked great on your flight compared to the inedible goo they served us on a number of flights
    In contrast we flew Lyon France to Amsterdam on KLM had fantastic service and had a truly marvelous crab salad I would have paid for happily anywhere
    The seat in business class was roomy though the plane was small so don’t know If their full size aircraft are any better than BA

  4. @Gary: “Personally I’ll gladly take the tradeoff of inedible or no food for a bigger seat with more legroom.”

    There is a better option. In coach, there is no meal but “food for purchase”. That food is sourced from Marks & Spencer’s, an upscale UK grocery supermarket chain.

    IT IS REALLY GOOD. Much better, for example, than BA transatlantic business,class.

    This was something, one of the small things, that BA did right. When US domestic carriers switched to food for purchase in coach they pushed third-rate puss-based processed crap. They should always have gone upscale. There are signs that AA has switched to the BA approach now.

    Also, remember food in coach was never free. It was previously bundled into the ticket price so that you paid for me to gorge while you were on your low-carb matchstick diet. Now, it is unbundled so I pay for every crumb that I stuff in my mouth.

  5. @Wendy: The only “real” business class I’ve been in for an intra-Europe flight is on Finnair’s once-daily A350 service between London and Helsinki. Sad to say, these experiences are definitely the exception in Europe rather than the norm – they exist, but they’re rare.

  6. you’re posting this as if it’s a new development. it’s been like this for ages on most of the large European carriers. Why are you posting it?

  7. Nothing wrong with this.
    On average the flight time within Europe is 2 hours?
    Go on a diet if you don’t fit in a Euro Business seat…

  8. I agree with Bob as far as Aeroflot. It is great intra-Europe. The seats on 737s and A320s are bigger and better than US domestic first class, the food is almost international business class quality, and there is seatback video and individual tablets. Just pray for no bus gates this time of year because Russians are very good at keeping airports open in blizzards.

  9. Lol. Last year I flew SAS Plus, which would be sort a business class but with all seats being occupied. So you get to sit at the front of the airplane and get food, plus lounge and fast-track.
    There was an american woman that caused quite a scene because a couple sit right next to her and she kept saying that economy was behind. So she came up to talk to a flight attendant to tell them to move to the back of the plane. The flight attendant calmly explained how things work at SAS. She was speechless.

  10. @Jason
    Because it has gotten worse with leg room if that’s possible.
    Hopefully one day BA will get it

  11. Turkish inter Europe is awesome. You get the great seat and quite possibly the best food on Amy European airline. The downside, unless you are headed to Eastern Europe, is the connection through Istanbul is, to say the least, inconvenient.

  12. Well, in defense of the Euro business class system:

    1. Flights are rarely more than 1-2 hours.
    2. There are real and tangible airport amenities. Lounge access is world class (and you don’t need to be a member) and check in is very separate and sane.
    3. Food is far better than the American equivalent in most cases. When was the last time you had a Do&Co catered snack on a 45 minute flight in the U.S.?

    Sure, the seating is tight. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But in the end for the distance and when balancing the other amenities I think it’s more than fair. If flying from Boston to DC I would much rather have Lufthansa business (and what they offer overall on the ground) over American domestic F any day.

  13. You are right

    Business Class in America, and Asia has big comfortable recliners for a short-medium haul flights

    Business Class, in most European carriers, have Economy Class seats, but they usually have larger seat pitch and the middle seat is kept empty

    Some Airlines, on selected destinations, use a wide-body aircraft for Intra European flights, so, in addition to access to the airport’s Business Lounge and Checkin and Boarding priority, you get the long-haul aircraft hard product, like flatbeds

    The most common Intra European flying time ranges between 1 to 3 hours, the longest flights are usually 5 hours

  14. There is one major benefit to BA business class: it earns access to the One World lounges. At Heathrow, skip AA and BA and spend your time at Cathay’s lounge.

  15. Short hops are not bad but it is same product on LHR to IST which is over 4 hours of discomfort. Take Turkish any chance I get for a true business class experience.

  16. I agree about BA in-Europe business class, but I was flying from NY to London. My return flight was Paris – London – NY. The Paris-London part was part of the (good) deal. I would not have paid for it separately. And, at least, I got there. I would never fly Aeroflot under any circumstances.

  17. Agreed….BA Club Europe seats are awful! On the other hand “first” class on US domestic flights is laughable compared to international first (or even business) class.

  18. Also if you just want a bigger seat, fly SPIRIT airlines. Great seat and service fly Jet Blue premium. Another option is to buy a second xtra seat in economy, and make your own business class without the service.

    In Europe, the trend has been a move towards low cost carriers LCC. I believe that as long as competition is allowed to thrive in the USA, then we will see more LCC and less legroom on legacy carriers.

    Surprising, as long as a flight is not more then a couple of hours, even a cramped flight in coach can be pleasant enough.

    I used to go out of my way to get elite status to get free upgrades. Now I search for lowest fares, book longer flights in F, and book shorter flights in coach. Save a ton of money compared to the days I used to chase free “F” by getting elite status.

  19. Club Europe is only doable if you can a seat in Row 1. Fortunately, they can only be pre-assigned by OW Emeralds, so it is rare that I cannot get 1A or 1F on my LHR-WAW-LHR flights that I’m taking quite frequently these days, even when booked at the last minute.

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