Skip to main content

Battle for the business-class traveler

  • Story Highlights
  • Competition among airlines for business travelers is fierce
  • Carriers continuously roll out new products and services
  • The comfort of the seats is especially important for long-haul travelers
  • Next Article in Travel »
By Marnie Hunter

(CNN) -- Will Allen III, a management consultant from Raleigh, North Carolina, is a platinum member on a handful of airlines, but his loyalty is waning.

Planes in Silverjet's fleet are fitted with 100 6-foot-3-inch lie-flat seats.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I can speak for many people I know who travel a lot like me -- we're less loyal than we've ever been because we're tired of the inconveniences of our airline service these days," Allen said.

Allen will still choose a direct flight over a slightly more comfortable, but less convenient experience, but he admits he's not a big fan of the business class seats on some of the major American carriers.

Airlines are waging a business-class battle to win the loyalty of the lucrative long-haul business traveler, and American legacy carriers face a hard fight, industry analysts and business travelers say.

"The problem is they are so many generations behind, even the upgrades that they're doing leave them behind the best of the international airlines," said Joe Brancatelli, editor of, a noncommercial site for business travelers.

Lie-flat and flat-bed seats, gourmet food and wine service, vast in-flight entertainment options and other amenities have become standard business-class fare.

"What first class was five or 10 years ago, that's what business class is now becoming," said Matthew Daimler, founder of, a Web site that evaluates airline seats.

Schedule, price and frequent flier status figure heavily into flight decisions, Brancatelli said. But as the payoff for frequency programs diminishes, stepping up other offerings is critical to competing for business travelers.

Seat comfort is a hot topic among frequent long-haul business travelers. Flat-bed seats (completely flat and parallel to the floor) and lie-flat seats (completely flat but positioned at a slight angle) are becoming the industry standard.

CNN looked at price and seat-style on major U.S., international and business-class-only airlines on the intensely competitive route between New York and London to see how the offerings compared in this small slice of the business-class experience:


Nonstop flights: American Airlines operates seven daily flights from New York to London. Six fly from John F. Kennedy International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport and one goes from JFK to Stansted Airport. American is planning to add one flight to Stansted in August.

Planes: Boeing 777s fly from JFK to Heathrow and 767s fly the route between JFK and Stansted.

Seating specs: All New York to London flights offer American Airlines' Next Generation Business Class with lie-flat seats that extend to a length of 77 inches. In the lie-flat position, seats measure up to 23 inches wide and are sloped 9 degrees. A slightly larger version of the Next Generation seat will be installed in all of American Airlines' 777s by summer.

Price: $8,634 *


Nonstop flights: British Airways operates 11 flights from New York to London's Heathrow Airport -- eight from JFK and three from Newark Liberty International Airport.

Planes: British Airways flies New York to London on Boeing 777 and 747 aircraft.

Seating specs: British Airways has upgraded the Club World flat-bed seats on all of the airline's 747s. Installation of this next generation of flat-bed seats on the 777s is under way and should be completed by the end of the year. The fully reclined seat becomes a flat bed that's just more than 25 inches wide and 6 feet 6 inches long.

Price: $10,681 **


Nonstop flights: Continental has two daily nonstop flights between Newark and London's Gatwick Airport and will add two daily flights from Newark to Heathrow March 29.

Planes: Boeing 777, 767 and 757 aircraft fly the Newark to London route.

Seating specs: Continental features reclining cradle seats in BusinessFirst. The 777 BusinessFirst seats are 22 inches wide and recline 170 degrees. On the 767s and 757s, the BusinessFirst seats recline 156 degrees and measure 21 and 20-inches wide, respectively.

Price: $8,202


Nonstop flights: Delta has two daily flights from JFK to Gatwick. On March 29, those flights will be switched to Heathrow.

Planes: Boeing 767s fly the New York to London route.

Seating specs: Delta's BusinessElite seats on the 767 are 18.5 inches wide with a 160-degree recline. Delta is planning to offer BusinessElite customers a lie-flat seat on the 767 in Spring 2009.

Price: $4,740


Nonstop flights: Eos operates 44 flights per week between JFK and Stansted. The all-business class airline will start service between Newark and Stansted in May. (The airline only flies between metro New York and London. Eos will begin service between London and Dubai in July.)

Planes: Eos flies Boeing 757s outfitted with 48 "suites."

Seating specs: Each passenger has 21 square feet of personal space. Seats are just more than 21 inches wide and convert into 6-foot-6-inch fully flat beds.

Price: $9,253 (This unrestricted fare entitles passengers to free limo or helicopter service to and from JFK and free limo service to and from Stansted.)


Nonstop flights: Silverjet flies from Newark to London's Luton Airport twice a day. (The airline only flies routes between New York, London and Dubai.)

Planes: Boeing 767s fly between Newark and London.

Seat specs: Planes in this all-business class airline's fleet are fitted with 100 6-foot-3-inch lie-flat seats. The seats stretch out at an 8-degree incline.

Price: $4,659 (This unrestricted fare entitles passengers to free car service between some destinations in New York and New Jersey and Newark International Airport and free car service to and from Luton Airport.)


Nonstop flights: Virgin Atlantic Airways operates six flights a day between New York and Heathrow.

Planes: Airbus A340s and Boeing 747s fly New York to London.

Seating specs: The 22-inch-wide armchairs in Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class flip over into fully flat beds. The bed is 79.5 inches long and 33 inches wide across the shoulders.

Price: $8,781 (The return leg of this unrestricted fare is eligible for complimentary chauffeur-driven car service.)

* Unrestricted business class fare located on American Airlines' Web site Tuesday, March 18, for same-day departure and a return Thursday, March 20. (American Airlines' online reservations system was down March 17.)

** All other fares are unrestricted business class fares located on the airlines' Web sites March 17 for next-day travel Tuesday, March 18 and a return Thursday, March 20. E-mail to a friend

All About Air TravelBusiness TravelAmerican Airlines Inc.British Airways plcContinental Airlines Inc.Delta Air Lines Inc.Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print