There’s no better way to fly internationally than the business-class cabin—but there are increasing flaws in design and comfort that airlines hope you don’t notice. Various flight-review bloggers fail to mention these flaws in business class, and there’s a reason why: while they may know airlines well, they don’t necessarily know the luxury travel sector.
This isn’t a jab at the reviewers. I read many of them regularly, and they do a fantastic job, but I worked in luxury travel for 15 years, so I have an eagle eye trained for luxury. The reason why luxury on a flight is important is because airlines tout “luxury in the sky” for their business-class cabins—though many airlines are beginning to cheat passengers out of many luxuries while they continually charge you more for airfare.
Also, to clarify, there’s a big difference between luxury and modern comfort, and most business-class cabins offer modern comfort while luxury gradually declines.
Another reason various flight review blogs may not be aware of certain luxury downgrades is experience. My first flight in business class was on Lufthansa in 2004, where I had to review the airline for the magazine I worked at (Business Traveler).
Since, I’ve taken over a hundred business-class flights on international routes (over 15 years), whereas some airline blogs hire writers who have only taken business-class flights in the past few years, so they don’t necessarily see whether the airline has progressed in luxury much (again, I value and appreciate their work, and I’m so glad they are helping readers).
That said, every year, while I notice a subtle decline in product, amenities and other offerings (which I’ll discuss below), I should also mention I see a sharp rise in the cabin experience. Business class has come a long way in 15 years, and I’m constantly in awe with the latest technologies, innovations and improvements we experience in business class these days.
If you flew international business class ten years ago, you’ll know some business class seats on long-haul flights didn’t even lie-flat, and not everyone got a personalized screen. Now, lie-flat seats are a standard, in-flight entertainment displays movies currently in theaters, and there are bars, showers and suites onboard.
Also, business class is getting bigger, taking over a huge chunk of space on planes, while first class (and economy class seats) continue to shrink. This means airlines are putting all their money in focusing on and upgrading business class experiences for travelers.
While airlines are improving the business-class experience, I do notice (sometimes glaring) flaws every time I fly. After 15 years of flying business class on the most prestigious airlines in the world (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Turkish, Cathay Pacific, Singapore), multiple times on different aircraft, I experience the gradual changes. In fact, as business class cabins continue to go to the next level, and it’s as competitive as ever, airlines are cutting back on luxuries they hope you won’t notice.
I like to analogize the sly cutback of luxury in business class to a box of cereal.
When I was a kid, you would get so much cereal in one box (my favorite was Golden Grahams). That box of cereal could last you longer than a week.
As I grew older, cereal companies started offering less cereal, but in a way they hoped you didn’t notice. They shaved a few centimeters off the side of the box, and shrunk portions up to 2.5 ounces. So when you saw the cereal at a grocery store on the shelf, nothing appeared different to you—but you were paying the same price for less product. Sneaky! Consumers eventually caught on, and CNN did a great story on this in 2008, during the height of the cutback. You can check it out here.Turkish Airlines business class.
Airlines have been doing this with their business-class seats. They have quietly been reducing the quality and quantity of luxury amenities, hoping passengers don’t notice— and it’s working, since most passengers don’t notice. The reality is that people are shelling out top dollar for business class travel, and they should be given top quality in all aspects of the flight. Don’t you agree?
Here are the six ways airlines cut back on luxuries in business class— and hope you don’t notice.
1. Cheaper bathroom toiletries.
Every bathroom on a flight provides hand soap and often lotion, no matter what class you fly, but the business class cabin has always upgraded this experience with lavish hand wash, facial mist, lotion and sometimes facial toner and wash.
While I love the fact airlines offer these pampering products, many airlines have resorted to extremely cheap brands.
I remember the days airlines used to provide gorgeous bottles of Clarins or Molton Brown, which are high-quality, expensive product lines with great ingredients. Now, to likely save costs, the same airlines offer the cheap stuff that are full of chemicals and fragrance (a chemically engineered “scent” that is not only bad for your skin, it’s gross to smell). I’ve experienced this in the last 3 business class flights I took in the past 6 months, but also a few flights last year.
Maybe passengers keep taking the expensive bottles, so airlines decided to cut back. Who knows. They are definitely cutting back on the luxury brands. Also, I should mention I was a beauty writer for a long time, and I reviewed products, and I had to know my ingredients, so I can personally tell you that the ingredient quality on these products in business class bathrooms definitely declined.
The good news is that not all airlines put lipstick on a toiletry pig yet, and many offer great brands, like Cowshed on United Polaris, Aesop on Cathay Pacific and Voya on Emirates. And, thankfully, Turkish offers Molton Brown (pictured).
2. The in-flight amenity kit is getting worse.
A huge perk for flying business class is getting those fun amenity kits. They’re usually chockfull of things you need for the flight, like eye masks, ear plugs, socks and luxury toiletries.
However, if you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice subtle downgrades. For instance, on many business class flights, the eye mask is the same quality you get in economy class. They are cheaply made, unlike the eye masks of yore that were luxurious, fluffy and extra padded.
As I mentioned in No. 1 above, the quality of the toiletries have degraded in many airlines, and it’s the same for the amenity kits. Have you noticed the actual bag is cheaply made?
Also, have you noticed many personal amenity kits no longer have toothbrushes and toothpaste? They are now provided in the bathroom. Airlines have been cutting costs (yet keeping profits high) by doing this. Furthermore, on some airlines, the toothpaste no longer comes in mini-travel size but those tiny, itty bitty tubes. Obviously, this isn’t a crisis. I’m just pointing out the cereal effect here. I used to love getting those mini-sized toothpaste, especially when I forgot mine at home, so it’s one reason I noticed this.
For now, many airlines have incidentally improved their kits, so hopefully they don’t downgrade to cut costs. Shout outs to Delta, who partners with Tumi for a kit (which is no longer the cool, hard-sided kit I love, but a soft-sided one, further reflecting the fact airlines are cutting back, as The Points Guy also noted); British Airways using Aromatherapy Associates; United Polaris offers Sunday Riley and Singapore goes one step above with fabric cleaners, like stain removers, from The Laundress. Cathay Pacific offers Jurlique, an all-natural brand, and Swiss Airlines works with high-end Victorinox for the bag design.
Another step up is ANA, which offers Japanese brand Sekkisei MYV face wash, lotion and cream, as well as aroma cards (you smell them for better sleep). You can also request a foot roller!
Listen. No airline in the world will have great food, period.
Even if an airline touts partnering with a celebrity chef, that celebrity chef doesn’t have access to quality ingredients, fresh produce, fresh meats and so forth, and the preparation for quality meals on ground in an actual restaurant take far longer than the food you’ll eat on a plane.
That said, no one should raise their expectations for food on a business class flight, although it will be significantly better than what’s served in economy class, which is just food that’s reheated in a tray… although, that’s essentially what happens to first class and business class food anyway. All food is made on the ground then put in a special oven on a plane. Have you ever seen a kitchen on a plane?
Even while the food is not great, the not-great-food on a plane has significantly declined, including dishes you just can’t mess up in general if someone’s paying a couple grand for it.
On several recent flights I took in business class, the food was less memorable than it has been in the past. One way you can tell the meal is going to suck is by the bread. The fresher the bread, the better your odds are, and the bread was crusty, at least a day old and hard on my flights. Of course, the meals that followed were not great. The biggest things airline officials look for in dining is that a) the food looks good b) there’s little scent c) texture.
I remember being served garlic bread fresh out of the oven on past flights, but the pre-packaged stuff airlines have been serving are insanely inedible. You can put fun little candles on a dining tray to make it cute, but it’s not going to make the food taste better.
Some airlines do better than others, and I find the ones that consult with a well-known chef do improve theirs, like Air France (Daniel Boulud, etc), and Cathay Pacific (Daniel Green), since these chefs won’t put their name on something that is worse than great.
Also, have you noticed more airlines are offering packaged snacks in between meals rather than the fresh stuff they used to (like fruit, noodles, even cheeseburgers)?
4. Cheaper materials for seat comfort.
Your business class seat is getting bigger, but does it feel a little less comfortable than it used to? It’s because airlines are using cheaper fabrics and bedding materials. On a recent flight, my seat was uncomfortably uncushioned, as many other flight reviewers have also pointed out.
On many airlines, to sleep, you’re given a “mattress” but mine (on recent flights with different airlines) was hardly anything worth writing home about. The blankets are cheaper now, and not as plush as they used to be, and even the pajamas the airline provided recently felt like something from Old Navy rather than Banana Republic. I’ve flown Business Class with a specific airline many times, and I have so many of their pajamas. The quality has definitely declined, so you could just pick up your own PJs before a flight, like these below from Amazon.
Again, I’m not complaining, I love free PJs, I’m just pointing out that airlines are cutting back on passenger luxuries to increase their profit. On a plus side, Qatar offered a very plush blanket with velvet on one side. Was it the best blanket I’ve ever used on a flight? No, but it was comfortable. Same with Turkish Airlines, which offered a silk-like blanket that was actually cozier.
Some airlines, like Delta, don’t even provide mattress pads.
Thankfully, British Airways, which I haven’t flown in years, partners with The White Company for duck-feather duvet bedding in Club World, so not all airlines are created equal in bed. And I can’t wait to try ANA’s new business class with the Nishikawa Air Cyclone Bed Pad mattress and down comforter.
Also, this is just me, but many business-class pillows are so bad now. I broke my back in a boat accident 6 years ago, so for a while, I had to fly with a personal travel pillow for lumbar support.
Once I was able to fly without my pillow, I was looking forward to the pillows provided in business class. They were fluffy and had bounce, but now, many are similar to the ones provided in coach. Again, this is something you might not notice and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have my back issue.
United offers memory foam pillows in partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue… a nice step up no other airline offers! ANA has a feather down pillow with a 100% Egyptiain cotton pillow case, and Air New Zealand offers a memory foam mattress topper and two full-size pillows (not the short ones other airlines offer!).
Seatback entertainment is out of control with huge screens. I absolutely love it. I love watching movies and TV shows on these big screens, but here’s one thing the airline didn’t take into account: resolution.
If you watch an action movie, like Godzilla or Matrix or whatever, you can expect the quality of fast-moving scenes to be extremely bad quality and blurry. This is because the airlines don’t provide high-resolution media to match the large screens. It’s like if you download a low-resolution movie and watch it on your own screen at home, it won’t be as good as the resolution of a high-definition download. The reason why I’m mentioning this is because we are in a generation where everything is 4D or high definition, so airlines are a little behind the times and need to invest a little more in this.
Also, airlines have been going nuts with movie edits. They edit scenes out of a TV show or movie, essentially offering a completely different showing than what you’d see in the theater or home. What is the point of providing currently-in-theater movies to passengers when curse words or full scenes are completely censored? Last October, Olivia Wilde called out Delta for doing this since the airline completely altered her film Booksmart.
On the plus side, the screens are substantially bigger than before, and the quality is almost there. There’s more entertainment than you can image, and some movies shown are still in theaters. But, remember, you will have a different experience watching these movies in your seat than at home or in a movie theater. Often, you won’t even know some scenes were edited out.
Oh, also, I should point out some airlines give a disclaimer before a show, which I thought was odd. I flew Qatar Qsuite last week, and the disclaimer that came on before Modern Family was so random.
6. The reverse-facing seat isn’t so private.
I love that airlines have reverse-facing seats, which is meant to squeeze more seats in the cabin, and airlines tell you the seats are super private, but they are not as private as you would expect. The obvious reason is that, every time you get up, you will make direct eye contact with the person in the reverse-facing seat. On some planes, you’ll face another passenger directly across the aisle with no divider.
Don’t airlines test these seats? Anyway, it’s not as bad as British Airways 777-300, where you literally sit next to a stranger. Or face one in literally any seat. Those privacy screens are ridiculous. I’ve flown BA 777-300 business three times in the window seat, and each time, I watched as an arriving, panicked passenger ask the flight attendant to switch seats to avoid sitting next to a stranger because that privacy screen is not always up before and after a flight.
At least you get a lot of overhead space!
Do you think airlines have cut back on luxuries in business class? Let us know your thoughts below!
I tried the secret VIP terminal at LAX – this is what it’s like
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Please do! I’m a one-man team for this website, so any help is sincerely appreciated.