Many people ask me why I fly business or first class all the time. Three weeks back, I flew economy class, as I thought this would make me appreciate business and first class again. It did, but not to the extent I thought it would. In fact, it made quite some impact and for this reason I am devoting an unbiased blog post to the difference of travel in economy and business/first.
Let’s be honest – many people, including most probably yourself too, dread the thought of being packed like sardines in their economy class seats for twelve hours. The concept of business or first class seems very appealing: enough space to place your feet and stretch your legs as well a seat which converts into a flat bed. But is there really a big difference in travel experience?
The differences on the ground
Let’s start with having a look at the perks that come with travel in premium cabins. First up is the extra luggage allowance, those seated in business get two pieces at 32kg, those in first three at 32 compared to one (sometimes two) piece(s) in economy at 23. It takes a lot of clothes to get to 23kg, let alone 32. It does, of course, depend on the length of the trip, but it should be ample for most people. Not really an argument to fly business or first class; I myself had no problem with keeping my luggage below 23kg on my recent flight.
Next up is priority check-in. There are check-in counters designated for business and first class passengers such that they don’t have to wait in queue behind economy class passengers. Everyone hates waiting in line, but I haven’t seen people in line for more than ten minutes most of the time. Priority check-in: convenient? Yes. Necessary? Not at all; in the worst case you have to arrive at the airport 15-20 minutes earlier. The same holds for queuing at passport control and security checks.
Then there’s the concept of airline lounges. I used to be a very firm believer of this concept. Heck, there have been several occasions where I would book myself on a six, rather than a two-hour layover just to spend time in an airline lounge. One word of caution: there is a big, big difference between lounges; they range from superb, spacious lounges to small rooms.
An example of a very sleek and inviting lounge, the Singapore Airline Business Class lounge at Changi.
Lounges were designed to relax before heading to the gate. You grab a drink, have a snack, and basically, sit there. I used to go to the airport very early, just to spend some time in the lounge but it does get old very quickly. I’d much rather get to the airport later and spend an hour extra or so with family or friends. Don’t get me wrong: if you have a long layover it is great, but if you have a direct flight it’s not worth dedicating time to. The one thing I do very much enjoy about lounges is the fact that more and more lounges have showers these days. You can have a shower and board your flight feeling fresh.
The differences onboard
In business and first class, you will notice some small touches such as flight attendants asking to hang your jacket, a pre-departure drink and hot towels. However, to much of my surprise, I was handed a hot towel on my recent economy class as well!
Hot towels in economy!
The small touches are present in economy class as well. Did I miss the extra touches? Well, I can do without a pre-departure drink, and my jacket will survive twelve hours in the overhead compartment.
If you have read my other trip reports, you will notice that I rarely have complaints about the crew, whom are always friendly to me. Most of my friends assume this is because I’m in business class and subsequently think flight attendants have to be nice to me because you pay a premium. On my recent economy flight I noticed this is not true at all: if anything, the flight attendants were nicer in economy class (perhaps because most business class passengers are very demanding?). You are treated with the same respect as you are in business class, and, for example, are not looked down upon.
An obvious difference is the legroom…
vs Business class.
This is, for me, the biggest perk. You have much more room to place your feet (especially helpful when you’re tall), you can stretch your legs without standing up and on most planes your seat will fold down to a bed. The question, however is: Do you really need all this? At first, I thought I did. Most of the flights I take are red-eyes which means early arrivals; in order to avoid jetlag you would have to catch some sleep onboard, which of course is much easier in a seat such as the one in the photo above.
If you travel for work and meet clients right after you arrive – sure, you need the bed. You want to appear as awake as possible. However, when flying for fun, or when going for a holiday, is beating jetlag by sleeping onboard really that important? I think not. After you land, catch a quick powernap at your hotel and you are good to go. The damage? Two or three hours.
On my recent economy flight I went to stretch my legs a couple of times and tried to get some sleep in between. I couldn’t quite fall asleep though. Did I arrive much more tired? Yep. But, as stated above, a quick powernap fixed that. When I woke up, I felt exactly as I did after a long haul flight in business class.
We are left with catering. The food served in business class is much better; and on some airlines it really does come close to dining in an upscale restaurant. Comparing it to my latest flight in economy, presentation-wise, it wasn’t close to the meals served in business class, but it was perfectly adequate:
A meal on my recent flight
That being said, the portions served in economy class are simply too small for me. A deal-breaker? Not at all; you can always ask for snacks when hungry.
I have pointed out some differences above. I realize I seem very happy about flying economy class and have excuses for everything, but after careful reflection I do think the inconveniences are only minor and think the excuses are justified.
It all comes down to comfort. Sure, priority check-in, priority boarding, priority luggage handling is nice. Did I miss those aspects on my recent flight? Did I miss mingling with people blabbering on their Blackberries in the lounge? No. I would say my ego was probably hurt most (I do realize that sounds extremely snobbish..).
The same goes for the seat. Was I shocked? At first, yes, it took some time but found a way to get comfortable. Moreover, I was impressed by the small touches in economy class: hot towels distributed after boarding and before landing, lots of rounds of drinks and the same friendly treatment as one gets in business class.
It all boils down to this. Do you need a business class seat? Yes, if and only if you have to appear fresh (meeting for work comes to mind) after your flight. In all other cases, there is absolutely no need for a business class seat. After years of flying business and first class, I have come to realize it’s just unnecessary. Is the big difference there in experience I thought there would be? No, the main difference is the seat. That’s it.
Would I continue flying economy? Yes I would!