Why Business Class Seats Need Doors

Everybody is putting doors in business class. Delta and Qatar have it. British Airways and Etihad are rolling it out. American has committed to it. United is looking at options for which seat with doors to choose as a replacement for Polaris. These are just a few.

And yet occasionally readers question why doors are necessary in business class, going so far as to suggest doors make a seat feel claustrophobic. It’s a more expensive value proposition for airlines. Why has everyone seemingly jumped off this cliff?

Lucky at One Mile at a Time explains the value of doors in business class.

[T]he two biggest luxuries in business class are personal space and privacy. There are limits to how much “real estate” will be allocated to each seat, and therefore airlines are focused on more efficient configurations that create the feeling of having more space.

…[P]rivacy means the ability to minimize the extent to which you’re disturbed by others.

New Business Class Seats, Credit: Air France

This is absolutely correct. In an open business (or first) class configuration I’ll choose the bulkhead row if possible, unless I know that the galley placement on the aircraft will lead to excess noise. That’s because I won’t see anyone behind me and the cabin will feel smaller, as though it’s only one row.

When there are two business cabins, one small and one larger, I’ll choose the mini-cabin. You won’t find yourself in a sea of people.

First world problems too be sure, you’re in a cabin with far fewer people than economy regardless, but small cabins with fewer people around me (whether it’s real or an illusion) leave me far more relaxed. Flying long haul in old British Airways business class, surrounded by people that you climb over, leaves me more worn out at the end of the flight.

Doors help to create a cocoon. They cordon off personal space and leave you less likely to see the people around you. To be sure many of those doors are half-height, and some first class products provide greater privacy as cabin crew walk down the aisle. But the point of the exercise isn’t to give you so much privacy that no one can see you so you can do you-know-what. Instead it can be as much about your own perception of the cabin around you – what you see and do not see – as about who sees you.

In addition there’s the actual privacy benefit, that when you’re sleeping other passengers aren’t looking at you. That doesn’t bother me so much, but it does make many readers uncomfortable, especially women.

Finally, I agree with the points that Lucky makes that,

  • You’ll be somewhat shielded by lights and entertainment screens in other seats
  • You’re not going to get bumped by passengers and crew as they pass down the aisle

British Airways Business Class

Fundamentally doors are a choice. If you don’t care for them, keep yours open. If you want it closed, close it. Offering doors in business class lets passengers better custom tailor their experience. Most people close their doors.

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. Is this thing real about UA looking for doors in Polaris seats?? Or is it just Urban Legend as they still haven’t even finished configuring planes with the other Polaris Chairs. If so, what’s your source???

  2. Interesting how airplane interiors mirror society. The rich getting pampered more and more with more space and luxuries while the lower classes get squeezed more and more in the back and the poor in the back pay for the business mens (is that supposed to be one word?) expense accounts with their buying of their products. Remember when first/business class was a comfy recliner and the plebians had plenty of space in main cabin? I’m not complaining, just noticing. The trend in humans is constantly “more, more, more.” It is what it is…..

  3. I flew Delta comfort suites from Israel to New York. Not that impressed by the comfort of the bed or bedding, and it was fairly narrow. But, I did like having the door that closed. I am not an exhibitionist, and I was able to discreetly change into pajamas within my cubicle. Much preferred to changing in the bathroom (oh, what was that wet spot I just stepped in?). If I had to choose a better bed or a door, I’d choose the better bed. I liked Singapore first class bed without a door better than Emirates first class a380 with a door.

  4. JorgeGeorge Paez,

    The United States isn’t filled with the haves and the have nots. It’s filled with the will and the will nots. So if one have not, it’s usually because they will not…and that’s a personal choice. I know it doesn’t speak for all, but for most of those who loudly complain about the difference classes of America.

    We’re now living in a time where my local gas station (QuikTrip) has signs all over the place advertising full time clerk employee with a starting hourly wage of $18.50. The local Panda Express has signs offering slightly less here in the Midwest.

    So yea, if you have not it’s probably because you will not. So if you want to sit in the front of the plane, in a seat that has a door attached, you have to be WILLING to do a little more than you’re currently doing.

  5. @JorgeGeorge

    Given the relative cost of an F/J seat compared to Y, it’s actually the “rich” who subsidize us in the back.

  6. $18.50/hour for 40 hrs/week is still only about $3000 before taxes per month. Not likely enough for flying first class (or in many places, for paying rent & childcare). Use ‘the google’ to see reports that upward mobility in America isn’t very good these days, and is better elsewhere.

  7. Doors don’t prevent people from seeing you when they stand in the aisle. Doors prevent people from seeing you and you seeing them when you are seated in your seat and also are lying down. This is important as most of the time there is no one in the aisle. You can have privacy. On a nighttime flight, a lot of people are sleeping. Flight attendants are nowhere to be found for hours at a time. You don’t have to look at people when you eat. You can scratch yourself.

    The only issue with doors is if they are designed poorly. Silence is optimal and opening and closing a door shouldn’t disturb the seat next to you.

    A Floor to ceiling partition like in first class would be appreciated in business. It would be hard to design as the dimensions of business class seats are not symmetrical. There is also the safety issue of not seeing if anyone is tampering with the aircraft structure. This isn’t a problem in center seats, only window seats. In first class the price of the seat negates this risks while there are more business class passengers and it’s easier for a random wrongdoer to afford. I sure there can be sensors for tampering, although, those can be prone to error.

  8. Flew J in Qatar 350 QSuites and Emirates 777-200ULR refurbished J last week. Having doors make a huge difference. New J on Emirates is beyond exposed on the aisles and it’s hard to get comfortable with people constantly passing by.

  9. @LK

    Individually, that is true. That’s why most people will need a spouse so a household can have sufficient income. 2x your figure gives a decent household income for those parts of the country with a lower cost of living. The median household income in the U.S. is $62,000 versus €30,000 for Germany or France. There is a lot less economic mobility in Europe because of lower incomes and high taxes. Government funded tuition doesn’t help if the wages aren’t high.

    Median income means half of the households have higher. A significant percentage of the population can’t afford international first class but they can afford business class every 2 years for an international vacation every 2 years. If all illegals were deported and prevented from entering, the oversupply of cheap labor would end and wages for even menial jobs would rise. $400 billion spent in government funding for illegals and their kids ($10,000 a year for k-12 costs per kid in public school) would be able to help a lot of real Americans.

    Yes, wages should be higher on the low end and that would happen without government taxing people to send $40 billion to Ukraine, without excessive regulation, and without incentivizing (welfare babies) the worst people to breed violent criminals who commit a disproportionate amount of unprovoked violent attacks in cities and neighborhoods across the country (and world). Imagine if property values weren’t affected by property taxes and the riff raff moving in.

  10. @LK

    If one job doesn’t cut it then work a second, or at least a full and a part time. The problem is the have nots want luxury and convenience without having to work more than 8 hours a day…and it’s probably never going to happen.

    Thankfully their “will not” attitude doesn’t hinder their ability to travel, it just means they’ll have to do it with a lot less comfort.

    And by the way, for an unskilled person, $18.50/hour as a starting salary in the Midwest isn’t terrible. It may not be enough to support a family but if you’re only making $18.50 then your properties shouldn’t be to stay a family anyway…at least not until you’ve worked at said place for a while and have turned that $18.50 to maybe $25.00/hour via performance reviews or internal promotions…or have become a dual income household.

  11. So @Jackass Waterson has a co-pilot in Fatass 2808. Great, just what the world needs, 2 over-the-top morons. Your parents must be real pieces of work to have raised you as such asses.

    You actual proved @JorgeGeorge Paez correct.

  12. @ Jackass — Don’t forget about the trillions for tax cuts for the wealthy. It is the most egregious social program provided by our government.

  13. There is doors done right, like Qsuites, and there is doors done wrong like the narrow uncomfortable Delta One suite.

  14. @Ray,

    It’s okay. Just take your whining to the back of the plane. And please be polite and don’t stare if you happen to pass those in first class, it’s kinda rude.

  15. What a petty article and comments. I could fucking care less if people can “see” me when I’m seated in international business class. Basically this blocks the view of a couple of seats across the aisle. Wow – marketing BS and all you bloggers bought it.

  16. @Gene

    Tax cuts mean more people keep more of their own money to spend as they see fit instead of sending it to launder in Ukraine, for gender studies in Pakistan, or benefits for illegals and their kids. Tax cuts are always welcome. Don’t pretend that higher taxes would mean more money for citizens. They’ll spend it on foreign wars, building stadiums, and sending aid to Somalian warlords.

  17. @AC,

    Couldn’t the same be said for you? You came here, read it, and posted a comment. So…if the bloggers bought it…your reading of this article and comment that followed….means you bought it too, right?

  18. I am flying in Club World on an A350 next week and excited for the new Club World Suite on BA. DL is already adding “suites” and AA will start soon. UA is still putting Polaris in which will make them a generation behind. . .again.

  19. Here’s a thought experiment for those who think about income mobility across the generations:

    Imagine a society where one can enter from the outside and get a job, any job, but you do well enough to marry and have children. Those children in turn get an education, get a job, marry, and have children. Etc., etc., across the generations. The society is semi-meritocratic – those with more talent and skills and drive do better, not completely fair, but one can do better if one is more competent and if one is incompetent, the money and power gradually dissipate, with the family resorting to the mean. Competence is also transmitted culturally and genetically, families teach their children the value of hard work, how to get along, put priority on education and smart parents have smart children.

    Now further this society by introducing two sorting mechanisms – college and allowing women to attend college and enter the workforce in large numbers. Who men and women marry is no longer as random, they marry who they meet in the workforce and in college, not just who is in their hometown or in their social circle. And if the colleges are sorted by merit and the workforces are sorted by merit, again, not always, but there is a trend toward that sort of meritocracy, what is going to be the end result after a few generations? Smart, competent people marry smart, competent people, who then have even more smart and more competent children. Yes, there are going to be the children of the Uberman who marries the trophy wife that are dumber than a box of rocks, but eventually, that line is going to be downwardly mobile even if Uberdad can buy their success for a few years. (See Biden, Hunter. Get back to me when his grandchildren are in a trailer or on a slab at the medical examiner.) But those ultracompetent children, why would they go down in a meritocratic society?

    Now imagine a society where things are handed out on an “equitable” basis, with you being assigned a job as either garbageman or doctor on a random basis, depending on which group you belonged to. Lots of income mobility in that society, not sure it’s going to hold together for long. And the competent will prefer to leave that society for a more meritocratic one, or work in the underground economy.

    I think we want a fair society where people can rise on their merits, and we do have that to a large degree. People still come here from outside and rise – and existing residents have to compete with that. (If that weren’t true, why do people come here instead of staying in more income mobile societies? Perhaps because mobility also means you can go down for non-meritocratic reasons?) But after sorting for awhile, yes, total mobility will lessen. That’s just a sign that even semi-meritocracy works – maybe not in every case, but I’m willing to take my family’s chances on it.

  20. Doors are OK but I would much rather have honeymoon seats/seats together. It seems whenever doors appear the honeymoon seats disappear. I would much rather sit next to my husband because I hate flying, even in first class. And Heavy, people like you are why they hate us. It’s possible to be wealthy and have empathy for others. I believe my mother calls it class. My cleaning lady has more class than you are displaying. At least pretend you care about others. Didn’t you learn about the French Revolution in school?

  21. Reason why i love Aman Resorts-space and pribacy.. i love it. I dont want people to stare at me. So i guess i want it.

  22. Usa airlines don’t really care you want doors or not. It’s the cost associated with it. Installing it, regular maintenance because I can just see thise doors getting damaged by US flyers.
    Now they are left with a door not working and the seat can’t be sold.
    Also safety plays a role because crews can’t see if you arw safe in your seats during turbulence or when seat belts are needed

  23. Seriously, any business class is better than the alternative, I fly for work , take a laptop or two , work a bit , sleep a bit . Enjoy the experience, door or no door , I don’t care I’m just very happy to be flying again and any business class is better than what at the other end of the plane …

  24. I love the privacy of not having to look at people or them at me when I sleep or nap. It’s not a pretty sight to see. I truly appreciate the QSuites on Qatar. I was in economy a few years ago coming back overseas, and the man sitting next to me was digging his nose and flickering it. I wanted to puke. NEVER AGAIN sitting in economy. Business class with doors always, if there’s an option, especially long hauls.

  25. The doors on the qsuites are nice but quite honestly, I was always perfectly happy in the previous reverse herringbone seats. Similarly, sometimes the plane makes it not the doors…. I have fond memories of the upper deck of Delta’s 747. In my view, doors nice to have but by no means essential, many other factors (such as seat configuration and space) more important.

  26. My first thought is that doors seem silly. But then I thought about the Polaris flights I’ve taken and how nice it is to have that big table thingy between me and the aisle. It does make me feel more private and pampered. It will be interesting to see how many travellers actually ‘shut the door’ of their space going forward. Doors have gotta add quite a bit of weight to the plane.

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