- I recently flew in business class for the first time on an American Airlines flight from London to New York.
- The seat was more comfortable and private than I imagined, but the food wasn’t quite as luxurious.
- Here are the things that surprised me, and why I think people really splash out money or miles to fly in business class.
I wish I’d been smarter with airline miles so I’d never have to fly in economy class on a long-haul flight again.
That’s what I found myself thinking as I settled into my first business-class seat on a recent American Airlines flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s JFK Airport.
As a pretty frequent traveller across the Atlantic – I’m a Canadian living in London who makes the trip home regularly – the idea of splurging on a first- or even business-class ticket has always seemed beyond me, especially as I’ve been properly collecting miles for under two years.
However, when I was offered an upgrade from economy to business class at the gate as I was boarding my eight-hour flight to New York, I jumped at the chance (even though I was travelling with my boyfriend, who, having booked separately, didn’t have the same option).
We took turns in the upgraded seat to see what flying long-haul in business class is like – and there were a few things that surprised me.
As my upgrade happened at the gate, I can’t tell you what the business-class lounge or priority check-in is like. As an economy passenger, I checked in on a screen (which took a while and involved more steps than most airlines) then dropped off my bag.
My booking had been placed on a “space available upgrade” list. Passengers can be added manually by the airline, or AAdvantage members can exchange miles for a spot on the list. It applies to only that passenger, however, so travel companions aren’t eligible.
Being on the list means that once you’re at the gate, if there are empty seats in the cabin class above yours, you might be offered an upgrade. But it’s not guaranteed. I got lucky and was surprised to be told at the gate that my assigned economy seat had been swapped for one in business class.
Here’s what the seat — one of 52 business-class seats on the Boeing 777-300ER — looked like when I boarded. A pillow and a duvet were waiting on it.
Here’s a better indication of pillow fluffiness and blanket thickness.
I was surprised by how spacious the seat was. I could fully stretch my legs out, and they still didn’t hit the bench at the other end. I also couldn’t believe how many empty seats there were around me.
I had always assumed business and first classes were fully booked – but most business rows were free, and there was only one person sitting in premium economy in a flight that was otherwise packed.
I felt unprepared for a photoshoot in jeans and trainers, but at least I was comfortable.
A friendly flight attendant came around with the option of juice, water, or Champagne while we were still at the gate. I opted for Champagne, because business class.
They came around to offer a second glass before we took off – and even let me take a glass back to my boyfriend in economy.
I took the opportunity to check out my surroundings. The seat was comfortably roomy, at 20.5 inches wide, with a more luxurious headrest than I was used to.
While the seat cushioning didn’t feel all that different from a modern economy seat, I loved the privacy of the seat – I couldn’t see much in my peripheral vision or hear fellow passengers chatting, which was a treat and probably one of the biggest unexpected perks of business class. It was pretty nice not to be fighting a neighbour for the armrest or more legroom.
I couldn’t figure out what this little bench was for at first, but I quickly realised it was there to complete the transformation of my seat into a lie-flat bed — something I did later in the flight.
To the left of my head were a TV remote, a light, a plug, a USB port, and seat controls (which I admit I didn’t really take advantage of) offering the ability to recline the headrest, prop up the footrest, or slowly turn the seat into a bed.
There was a handy compartment to the left of my feet, below my pullout tray table, that I filled with my books, headphones, and purse.
To my right was a magazine holder.
Business-class passengers get Bose headphones to use during the flight — certainly a perk versus economy class, though you do have to give them back, which I wasn’t 100% clear on until a flight attendant asked for them at the end of the flight.
They were comfortable and made watching movies more pleasant than the little earbuds though.
It didn’t take long for the cabin crew to ask for my dinner order. The menu was waiting for me beside my window.
There was a small plate, a salad, a choice of four mains (though the chicken wasn’t available), and desserts. I ordered the Mediterranean-style lamb.
I checked out the TV, which pulled out from the wall in front of me to my right. It was a good size and made for much better movie-watching than in economy, though I found that the touchscreen didn’t work that well and that I was better off using the remote (which was, oddly enough, not an issue in the economy seat).
There was WiFi available, but it took a few hours for me to connect. It also wasn’t free — or cheap — so I didn’t bother with it.
I was at least an hour into the flight before I realised there was another compartment to my left, with a mirror, a little pop-up shelf (helpful for makeup application), a water bottle, an amenity kit, and the plug for the Bose headphones. (I hadn’t been able to figure out where to plug them in until this point.)
The kit was a blue leather pouch that contained a pen …
… hand lotion and lip balm …
… a toothbrush and toothpaste …
… a giant eye mask …
… and tissues, mouthwash, and earplugs.
Before dinner was served — which was much earlier in business class than in economy — a flight attendant set my tray table with a tablecloth, a napkin, and some nuts.
They also asked if I’d like any wine — the list had two whites, two reds, a dessert wine, and Champagne. I opted for a glass of the Albariño, which was very nice.
There were other drinks available throughout the flight, including spirits, liqueurs, beer, cider, soft drinks, and coffee and tea, though I noticed that instead of flight attendants regularly coming around to take orders, passengers had to push their service button or get up to ask for them, which was surprising.
You could browse some of the beverages on the entertainment system, though you couldn’t order via the screen.
Delicious warm rolls were brought around. The starters — marinated heritage carrots and a red chicory salad — were beautifully presented, on real plates, with real cutlery.
However, neither had much flavour, and the carrots were a bit undercooked. I didn’t eat much of either dish.
The lamb — which came with a potato gratin, tomatoes, and a container of pesto — was tough and chewy, and the rest of the dish didn’t have a ton of flavour, though it was piping hot. I didn’t eat much of it, but it was nice to be eating off a real plate.
It was also nice to have much more space while eating than in economy, with a full shelf to my left where I kept my other belongings. I watched “Crazy Rich Asians” during dinner and felt pretty at home.
The dessert, a slice of chocolate orange cake, was definitely the highlight. It was light and delicious, and I polished it off in no time at all.
I finished my glass of wine (the portions were huge) while looking at the stunning sunset over the clouds, since I had a window seat instead of one in the center of the cabin.
The view from these seats is something I wasn’t expecting, as the window is directly in your line of sight rather than to your side.
After the meal was cleared away, snacks like chocolate bars, chips, fruit, and sandwiches were put out in the galley for a few hours for business-class passengers. There were also plenty of mini water bottles on hand.
I noticed that at this point in the flight, for more than an hour, the cabin crew didn’t come to check on passengers, who simply got up and got what they wanted from the galley.
I handed business-class duties over to my boyfriend after the meal. He didn’t take many photos and instead fell asleep in the lie-flat bed, though he did tuck into the light meal he was given about an hour or so before the end of the flight.
He opted for the toasted chicken fajita sandwich, which came with chips, fruit, and chocolate pudding, and found it to be pretty tasty. Here it is, half-eaten.
Before landing, we switched back. I made sure to check out the business-class bathroom. It was a bit more modern-looking than the ones in economy.
It also had nicer products, like toner and moisturizer, and a full-length mirror.
I also tried out the seat in the lie-flat position. It was cosy with the duvet and the pillow, and I definitely could have slept well here.
The view as we started our descent into New York was impressive. It was nice to see the lights without having to crane my neck or ask a neighbour if we could open the blinds.
As I came to the end of my first business-class experience, I felt less drained than I would have in economy class, thanks to being more comfortable. While the food was perhaps not as luxurious as I had imagined, the seat was so great that I didn’t care — and the Champagne and nice wine were certainly a plus.
I now understand that it’s the privacy, quiet, and comfort of premium cabins that people are splashing out for when they travel — if they have the money or the miles, that is.
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