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.
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.