First class can't keep up with the world's best business class seats

There's a bit of argy-bargy over which airline can take the credit for creating business class. British Airways debuted Club Class – the forerunner to today's Club World, as a premium cabin above economy class – in October 1978.

One month later, Air France introduced Le Club, while in 1979 Qantas rolled out Business Class – the capital letters denoting the first formal use of the term as a proper noun.

But regardless of which carrier claims the business class crown, there's no denying that almost 40 years on, the world's best business class is kicking first class to the kerb. Here's why.

Lie-flat seats

British Airways launched the world's first fully flat business class bed in 2000, and almost every international airline has followed in stealing this formerly first class-only indulgence.

Even regional business class – pointy-end seats intended for medium-range flights – are evolving from 'sloping sleepers' to lie-flat beds, as evidenced by Singapore Airlines' new 2018 regional business class design for its Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350 jets.

Direct aisle access

Being able to step into the aisle without stepping over your seat mate is another trait of today's best business class seats.

Not every airline has got religion. Qantas' original Airbus A380 business class seats, circa 2008, still has that outdated two-two-two layout, while even Emirates' latest Boeing 777-300-ER jets retain the hated middle seat in its two-three-two configuration.

Privacy doors

A sliding door for privacy used to be the trump card of the best first class suites, turning them into luxury cribs with a private jet vibe.

But Qatar Airways changed that with its extraordinary Qsuites: over-sized business class suites with their own privacy doors.


Delta Airlines has adopted a similar approach with its Airbus A350 'Delta One suites', although first-hand reports say they feel more confined than the spacious Qsuites.

Personal storage space

The generous footprint of first class suites made it easy for designers to create all sorts of shelves, nooks and cubbyholes where travellers could stow their stuff.

Instead of tossing everything into a bag which in turn went into the overhead bin, passengers could keep reading glasses, books, smartphones, laptops, amenity kits, documents and what-not close at hand. Some suites even had dedicated shoe lockers.

That's now become a trickle-down trait of modern business class seats. You no longer have to bob up and down to grab and fossick through your carry-on bags.

Indeed, Singapore Airlines' latest Airbus A380 business class seats let you stow your laptop bag and a standard carry-on bag under the seat.

Big screens

Begone, pokey inflight video screens! With the same movies and TV shows available to every passengers, the only differentiators of first class have been the size of the in-seat screen and the inclusion of noise-cancelling headphones.

Many airlines now provide noise-cancelling or noise-reducing headphones in business class, although savvy travellers pack their own.

And as for screen size: Emirates' Boeing 777 business class whacks a massive 58cm (23 inch) high-definition screen in front of each passenger. The result is something close to an inflight IMAX experience.

Other showstoppers include the 55cm screen of Qatar's Qsuites, 47cm for Etihad's Business Studio and 45cm on Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia.

Dine on demand

Also on the up: business class dining which lets you eat what you want, whenever you want to. Instead of kowtowing to the airline's schedule of when they'll serve you breakfast, lunch, dinner or a mid-flight snack, savvy customer-centric airlines are letting the passengers call the shots.

Had your main meal at the lounge? Trying to reset your bodyclock to the timezone you're headed for? Prefer to avoid a heavy dinner in favour of dining light throughout the flight?

Persian Gulf powerhouse airlines Etihad and Qatar both offer dine on demand in business class, with Cathay Pacific considering its own 'Anytime Dining' roll-out this year.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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Do you think business has overtaken first class with perks and comfort? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.