It has been a busy year for Business Class, with a staggering array of new products being launched as carriers fight for their most lucrative passenger base. Our list contains some surprises, with familiar names falling off and lesser-known carriers appearing. Generally speaking, the products scored lower this year, possibly because consumers’ expectations are rising. The judges looked, as always, at hard and soft product first— but the very highest standards of service, food and entertainment also had to be met.
10. China Airlines [new]
The judges here at TheDesignAir have been won over by China Airlines’ next-generation long-haul product. The carrier has celebrated its cultural roots and created a unique onboard product that far exceeds it previous incarnation. A cabin filled with fully flat herringbone seats, large responsive in-flight entertainment screens, a custom walk-up bar and curated library make China Airlines a carrier to really be reckoned with when crossing the Pacific. This carrier is on the verge of becoming a crowning glory of the SkyTeam alliance, and we look forward to seeing how it rolls out its new product over the coming months including San Fran and Frankfurt later this year.
8. [joint] Finnair [new]
Finnair has brought a touch of Finnish design magic to the skies by employing the famous design team Marimekko. A cool gray cabin has been converted into one of colour and pattern. Bright bold cushions and blankets add a vibrant flourish to a successful and comfortable fully-flat business class seat. Finnair impressed the judges with an excellent menu and wine pairing, all delivered on innovative and unique place settings that reinforce the design-led concept for the airline. We also love the attention to detail, such as the limited edition kimonos for crew brought out during the Sakura festival in Japan. As far as airlines go in Europe, Finnair really understands design.
8. [joint] QANTAS [new]
QANTAS’s older Marc Newson fully flat Business Class seats were great, although not the strongest bed in the sky. But this year the carrier, in what seems a never-ending wave of improvements, has launched a truly robust, fully flat bed, in the shape of the Vantage XL product. All forward-facing with swaths of privacy, the new seats acknowledge that modern Business Class seat models far out perform the older generation seats. Black leather and wooden veneer add a touch of contemporary warmth to the cabins. Although the seat is only available on the A330, we are hoping this it will roll out across the fleet.
7. British Airways [+3]
British Airways’ new and improved seats (787 and A380) fit perfectly with the new-look Premium Economy and First Class cabins. For the ultimate in luxury, fly on the 787; the solo rear facing seats in the center of the cabin are the epitome of privacy. The new fleet is just an indication of the upgrades across the airline, including new Business Class lounges and spas, and improved amenities such as at-seat drinks service. Also impressive is the new in-flight entertainment system, with better-resolution screens. But stay tuned! Leaked reports suggest BA may be on the verge of announcing a new Business Class product.
6. Korean Airlines [-3]
Korean Air has mastered the ‘lighter touch’ in aviation. Bright airy cabins, beautiful cabin crew and excellent food and drink—as well as great connections through Seoul’s Incheon Airport—make for a great connecting airline between Europe/North America and Asia. Whether reclining into Korean’s brand new fully flat seats with all-aisle access or their A380’s modern Celestial Lounge, the perfect place to soak up a martini and chill out with a good book or friends, you will find comfort almost everywhere you look. The whole ethos of Korean Air is the offer of effortless luxury, and they produce it in vast amounts. For those in need of some retail therapy, it’s also the only airline to offer an onboard, real life duty-free shop.
5. Japan Airlines [new]
Japan Airlines has made it onto our Top 10 this year, and we couldn’t be happier. It had fallen just short of the cut for the past few years, and we had hoped new seats and products would bring them over the line where they deserve to be. JAL has one of the most futuristic cabins in the sky and isn’t afraid of boxy designs—a signature style in Japan. The hard product is a class leader in many ways. JAL’s long-haul cabins feature forward-facing private suites with aisle access (even by the window). With the additional plus of one of the lowest seat-count 787s on the market, JAL’s spot is set to rise.
4. Cathay Pacific [-2]
There’s something quite special going on at Cathay, with a shift in brand and a delightful new on-the-ground experience in the shape of its latest lounges. The seats set a new standard in Business Class seating, and the entire long-haul fleet will soon offer fully flat beds with wide, comfortable seats and undisputed comfort. Still maintaining competitive prices, the airline hasn’t cut costs on its staff, where the training really shows. Each time our judges travel we experience improvements, and the airline consistently demonstrates its desire to do things properly. We are huge fans of Cathay, and their design ethos. Simplicity, functionality, and luxury all work in harmony to create a quiet environment that puts the passenger first—and their latest lounges offer something that some carriers still are struggling to deliver, warmth.
3. Qatar Airways [+1]
Qatar has crept up the list by one this year, although losing a few points at the same time—but that’s no reflection on the carrier’s ambitions. With chauffeur services, private terminals, and award-winning cuisine and service, it is a pure delight to fly with Qatar even before you board. When you do board, the new 787 and A350 seating options are a huge improvement over the rest of their fleet and very competitive with their Middle Eastern counterparts. Winning countless awards, including Airline of the Year 2012 from Skytrax, it is no surprise that the name is on our list. But the introduction of the new Business Class seat (pictured here) across the fleet or the improvement of the current seats should boost Qatar to the top of the airlines.
2. Singapore Airlines [-1]
Singapore’s well-established Business Class falls just shy of first place, but still gives us goose bumps. The new Business Class seat designed by JPA is even better (if possible) than the previous incarnation—offering a more luxurious and less utilitarian finish. And yet Singapore’ most iconic selling point remains its signature cabin crew and food. Fine china, excellent and extensive menus, beautiful wine pairings and champagne until you are full (and a little giddy) are all reasons to take to the skies with what still is the best airline in the sky. From booking your flight to arriving at your destination, the whole experience is effortless,— as close as it gets to the ‘jet set’ yesteryear we all wish we’d lived in.
1. Etihad [+7]
It is no surprise that Etihad, of the United Arab Emirates, has taken our top spot again this year, reinforcing its position as carrier ‘Number One’. The latest Business Class cabin found on the 787 and A380 exceeds the already faultless Business Class on the rest of its long haul fleet, with each glorious seat (designed by the gurus at Acumen DA, as part of the EDC) offering aisle access, fully-flat beds and dine-when-you-want menus.
The new seat hard product, however, are what have blown the judges away, with an attention to detail and luxurious finish, including custom-made lamps, Poltrona Frau leather seats, and massage functions that rival the best therapists on terra firma. With an effortless in-flight entertainment system, large screen, and refined table setting, Business Class on Etihad surpasses many First Classes around the world. It’s the quality, detail and finish that really set this carrier apart.