What’s the Best Business Class for Sleeping?

Unless I’m completely exhausted I don’t sleep especially well my first night in a new hotel. A new sleep environment takes getting used to. How on earth am I expected to get a good night’s rest on a plane?

Add in significant changes to time zone, clanging from the galley, and dry air and it’s a recipe for sleeplessness. Or is it?

Scott McCartney’s Wall Street Journal ‘Middle Seat’ column makes some important points about sleep. The most important one is deceptively obvious: that different people sleep in different ways, so the seat that’s best for one person isn’t best for everyone.

A business class seat, Scott shares, is the most expensive sleep you’ll ever buy if indeed you’re interested in the bigger seat and bed for a good night’s rest which is how many business travelers use it: sleep overnight, get off the plane, shower and change and head to work. The costs of not sleeping and still trying to function productively are huge, too.

Business class is even expensive in miles, and increasingly so — as award charts have devalued increases have disproportionately fallen on premium cabins.

Airlines have invested heavily in better products that promote sleep and attract premium customers. Some of those products are better than others, of course. Some of the key elements in seat and soft product are:

  • Seats crammed together so the bottom of one bed slides underneath the seat in front is a problem. “Seats aligned so fliers’ legs slide up into a compartment beside a passenger in front of them can pose problems..[t]he area for your feet, called the toe box, tapers down.” Since your feet don’t have room to move, their positioning is dictating the rest of how your body aligns for sleep.

  • Width at your hips — not length or shoulder width — may matter most for side sleepers. Many side sleepers curl up their feet so it’s width at the middle of the bed that matters most. But shoulder width matters, too, so you don’t feel like you’re in a coffin.

  • Suites with doors can impinge on the space afforded to passengers in their bed. Compact business class layouts, with doors as add-ons, may not be as conducive to sleep as more open suites that angle seats for privacy (rather than for density).

  • Choose the right seat. If you sleep on your side you may want to be on the side of the aircraft where you’re facing the window on your preferred side, rather than the aisle, so you have a greater sense of privacy and are less disturbed.

  • Bedding matters, not just the seat. The best element of United’s business class is their Saks bedding, which is better I think than any other business class bedding. Before American introduced Caspar bedding I used to bring my own pillow in business class, because the postage stamp-sized pillow without any density just wasn’t enough for me to get comfortable. Not every bedding type appeals to every passenger, or every pillow, that’s why hotels have pillow menus and different hotel chains appeal to different guests on the basis of their beds (I’m a Sheraton Sweet Sleeper kind of guy).

I love a suite with doors in first class. I don’t always love one in business class. British Airways is introducing a new business class seat that essentially takes the American Airlines seat and adds doors. It’s going to be much better than the current BA eight-across Boeing 777 monstrosity, but it remains to be see whether it’s going to be better than American’s seat in terms of sleeping (how the door affects personal space).

Credit: British Airways

In general I want to avoid Boeing 767s. Airlines try to offer four-across business class seats, just as in wider aircraft, but that’s necessarily going to be rough for side sleepers like me. And while United’s Polaris seat is better than their previous 6-across and 8-across Boeing 777 seats lacking in privacy, and doubly so because of their improved bedding, it’s still a dense product.

United Polaris

For the seat alone I’d choose American’s Super Diamond seat (on many Boeing 777-200s and on their Boeing 787-9s) or the stock Cirrus seat on their Boeing 777-300ER over United’s business class.

American Airlines Super Diamond

Objectively ranking ‘best’ business classes I give significant weight to Delta offering doors on their Thompson Vantage XL seats, though I do not love the base seat.

For short transatlantics I want to eat before the flight and go right to sleep. For longer flights I want to adjust to local time as quickly as possible, so dine on demand is especially helpful.

Ultimately Qatar’s QSuite isn’t going to be beat by anyone, and it comes with top notch catering and service. An admittedly unpopular opinion but after that I’d probably take EVA Air (Air Canada and Virgin Australia fall into this same grouping).


The Japan Airlines Apex Suite window seat is a great seat, and you don’t have a foot well boxing in your sleep style, but as a side sleeper I prefer EVA.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Call me crazy, and I’m clearly in the minority, but I’ll take an old true-lie flat recliner seat (think old TK or QR lie-flat biz) over just about ANY reverse-herringbone J seat. What I love about these (and can’t stand about reverse-herringbone) is the symmetry, massive amounts of foot/leg space, and ease of getting in and out of the seat when in bed mode.

  2. “…as a side sleeper, I prefer EVA.” Good to know, Gary, as I too am a side sleeper. The EVA Hello Kitty is on my Bucket List, and my son just moved to Singapore, so EVA Air, here I come, even if I have to side track through Taipei.

  3. I had to read between the lines but sounds like AA was the best or one of the best. I personally agree. UA and DLs plans are old and some of the refit just aren’t that great. AA for all their issues with domestic configurations (although, change to that plan is in the air), they did a bang up job with their Flagship First/Business and Premium Economy. Service and food is also improving so they might be regaining their swagger as the American airlines for international travel.

    Oh the Admirals club and Flagship Lounges far out pace DL and UA’s offerings on the ground too.

  4. Air Canada and EVA’s seats are almost co-equal. I haven’t tried the EVA new seat but Air Canada’s seat features a bigger and better screen than EVA’s old Royal Laurel Class so I think I’d give the edge to Air Canada.. However since their route maps don’t overlap much I don’t think I’ll ever be put in a position of having to choose.

    Service wise it’s not close. EVA wins…just the fact that you can pre-order from a selection of meals tips the balance in their favor. Air Canada’s food offerings are good but I prefer EVA’s choices. Service is kind of a wash. I think I got pampered more on Air Canada…but it was a different type of flight (5 hour daytime flight on Air Canada wherease EVA is usually a 12 hour red eye where I’m trying to sleep most of the time).

  5. One thing to mention is that on the Q-Suites, the A350 series only has air nozzles on the window seats, none in the middle. There’s lots of complaints on the FT forums about it getting quite warm/hot in the middle with the doors closed due to lack of air nozzles. The 77W apparently have individual air nozzles in all seats.

  6. I’m with CW, I fell in love with TK’s hard product and am actually overflying my final destination and backtracking just to be able to fly TK and in the process avoiding BA like the plague and other European carriers paltry excuse for intra-Europe business class.

  7. For us old farts who travel with a CPAP machine and want to get some sleep on the plane, a seat with space to setup the machine and a functional power outlet are musts.

    For the most part, I don’t perceive much difference between any seat type as long as it allows for direct aisle access and reclines fully flat.

  8. @brandonsmith and @CW. TK rocks! I too would choose this airline and overfly just to be on a flight. The Chef in the Sky was excellent and cooked our steaks perfectly.

  9. For me, CX A350 C seats. They tried really hard to utilize every possible corners to augment sleeping space. No bedding is provided but you can always request an extra duvet to put under.

  10. @Dan . Get a battery and you won’t need a power outlet, You can put your control box anywhere and make it work. Without humdification you can get 6-8h out of most batteries easily.

  11. 1. Old QR 777 seats (senter 2 section)
    2. CX 777 – there is a difference betwen these and the ones on EVA – CX is the BEST for side sleepers
    3. AA 777 ER (if you can ignore the fact that it is AA)
    4. Qsuite – I would have ranked it #2, IF they had headrest wings – a simple thing but it is incredibly short sighted to have missed this. Adds to sleeping comfort tremendously.

  12. Oh I forgot to add, I LOVE the last row backwards facing window seat for sleeping on BA! It is the best soft bed and the bedding is fantastic. Skip the service elements – business people like us flying over 600K miles a year, just want to sleep! Get me a glass of wine, some nuts, cold fresh cut fruit and tea (and thats for a 12-16 hr flight) and I am set!

  13. The Delta One suite is cramped. It suffers from the typical problem all non-angled business class seats have — the feet and lower legs must extend into a very tight space under the console of the seat in front. And with the D1 suite, there is no storage or any place to set stuff on the floor.

    A few business class seats avoid the typical problem. The Japan Airlines Skysuite is an example. Korean Air uses the same Apex Suite in business class on some aircraft. I’ve tried it on A330s and the 747-8. The window Apex Suites on the KE 747-8s are the best because they are the widest Apex Suites due to the increased width of a 747. On the A330 Korean Air used to sell the Apex Suite as a first class seat. It disappointed in that role.

    Finnair A330s have a very nice “captains seat” in business that has a console by the window and the aisle. Those seats at the bulkhead have an extra wide footwell that is not cramped.

    The best business class seat that I’ve tried for sleeping or anything else may be the seat on old Singapore Air 777-200s. The seat is as wide as the seat in the Etihad First Class Apartment and there is no footwell. It is extremely comfortable. These seats have more room than the Qsuite. The Qsuite is newer and fancier of course. The Singapore Airlines seats must be lowered manually to the lie flat position. Singapore Airlines provides a mattress (something you don’t always get in business class) and when flat the seat is as wide or wider than the bed in a first class seat.

  14. I’m really not a fan of the seats on AA’s 789s. That protruding tray is awful. 100% coffin simulator

  15. One of the biggest myths out there is the wonderfulness of Singapore’s business class on the Airbus 350. The bulkhead seats (rows 11 and 19) are indeed about the best up there. All the other rows are outright bad. They have a tiny, narrow footwell, preventing all but individuals with shoe size 5 or smaller from laying on their sides. Even then, you can lay only on your left side if you are in a left window seat, and only on your right if you are in a right window seat. And, the body must be contorted awkwardly to fit your feet into the shoe box size well.

    Row 11 offers outstanding comfort, with the footwell spreading across almost the entire width of the seat. Row 19 is even better, being wider that row 11. Strangely, both are marked yellow on Seat Guru.

    Another fail of Singapore is the fact that you need to move the back forward to get the bed position. Usually not a problem. However, if you are sleeping and want to get back to the seating position, you have to get up and start messing with the difficult mechanism. Usually pretty challenging, but impossible if you are unable to get up due to severe turbulence.

    With that being said, I would still take it over a coach seat any day!

  16. My vote goes to SQ’s business seat on the 380. Folds into a real bed with a comforter and nice pillow. On the 12 – 13 hour flight SIN-FRA, both my wife and I were able to sleep nicely.

  17. I have only ever flown NZ’s 77W, the new QF 789, and AA’s 77W. As a side sleeper I would rank them in that order, with NZ a cut above and Qf slightly better than AA just because of the pajamas

  18. Ok I am probably the one single person who thinks this way, but the best sleep I have ever gotten on planes is (don’t hate me) is on BA in business at the window seat. I think it’s to do with the backwards-facing aspect of it. As my head is slightly higher than my feet due to the angle of the aircraft flying, I think it does something really beneficial there. I’m completely flat naturally but at a slight angle due to the aircraft.

    I don’t know!! All I can say is that as tight and generally uncomfortable as their seats are, I’ve taken two A380 flights (one overnight and one in daytime) and both times was out for many hours. I’ve taken a 777 flight with them and slept fine there as well. In fact, I often miss the morning breakfast service as I’m out so incredibly well.

    I’ve had reasonable sleep on IB at the window seat (it’s really private there) and that seat is nice as the footwell is open and not boxed in like reverse-herringbone seats.

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