The best reason to fly first class is now available in business

The gap between business class and first class is about to shrink a little more, with British Airways rolling out a new version of its Club World seat sporting sliding doors which transform each pod into a cosy private cocoon.

BA is the only the fourth airline to take the suite approach to business class.

Qatar Airways' superb Qsuite is probably the best known and easily the most highly-regarded – and the one I still rate as the world's best business class, when you take into account other factors such as the Gulf carrier's high level of finish on the seat, a 'dine on demand' meal service plus superfast WiFi.

Flights of privacy

US carrier Delta Air Lines has its own Delta One suite, which will begin flying between Sydney and Los Angeles from April 18 and subsequently raise the business travel bar on the toughly-contested trans-Pacific route.

And China Eastern's latest business class – which uses the same suite as Delta – is already flying between Melbourne and Shanghai on a  Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with Sydney-Shanghai getting the same suites on an Airbus A350 at the end of this month.

But for British Airways, the Club Suite isn't merely a new seat. It's a colossal stride from the airline's current business class, which has been flying since 2006 in a crowded dormitory-like cabin with passengers sitting backwards as well as forwards.

A step ahead

"With this seat we want to achieve two things," admits British Airways CEO Alex Cruz.

"One is catch up, in some respect. Our seat… was incredible when it first came out, but even its subsequent releases are not as competitive as some of the other seats out there. And secondly, to go a little bit beyond (our competitors)."

In other words, BA couldn't afford to simply play catch-up to a market which had steadily moved ahead because the next generation of seats would overtake its efforts. Instead, the British flag-carrier had to take a step ahead of the crowd.

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Numbers games

Much of the new Club Suite is making up for that lost ground. It ditches the 'high-density' two-four-two layout which had been the bedrock of Club World since 2000, when BA introduced the world's first lie-flat business class bed.

High flyers can instead look forward the same one-two-one layout that's become the standard in business class, with direct aisle access for every passenger.

The Club Suite has all the other mods cons, too: a large 18.5" video screen, far more storage space than the Club World seat it replaces, inflight WiFi, and an exceptionally comfortable 2-metre lie-flat bed dressed with a padded mattress cover, oversized pillows, super-soft duvet and a woven blanket with satin trim.

The Business

As a point of reference, BA's new Club Suite is based on the same platform as Virgin Australia's excellent Airbus 330 and Boeing 777 business class, aka 'The Business'.

So, take everything you like about The Business as your starting point and add some bespoke BA enhancements such as turning Virgin's slim tablet nook into its own storage space with a vanity mirror on the hinged door.

But it's the doors which will be the drawcard. By all means, leave them open if you're a tad claustrophobic. That's the same advice for flyers in the Qsuite and Delta One business class berths.

Otherwise, slide them shut for a little of that 'private jet' feel. The tall shell which wraps around the seat, as well as the inside of the sliding door, has been lined with a soft noise-reducing material.

Well rested

Sadly, there's no 'Do Not Disturb' light to alert crew that you're prefer to snooze rather than snack – but your eye-mask, bed swaddling and the odd snore should communicate that you're in hibernation mode.

British Airways will begin flying the Club Suite on its factory-fresh Airbus A350 jets from August, with plans to upgrade its existing fleet – including the Boeing 777, which flies from London to Sydney via Singapore – across  what CEO Cruz describes as "a two-and-a-half to three-year rollout."

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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