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Worst Business Class Cabins in the Sky

March 30, 2019
9 min read
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It's exciting to anticipate a flight in business class. At best, the experience can be like enjoying an evening in a fine restaurant, followed by pleasant night's sleep on lie-flat bed in the sky. But some airlines haven't kept all their planes up with the times, which can result in severe disappointment.

To keep you from spending your hard earned points, miles and even dollars on a sub-standard cabin, try to avoid these worst business class cabins currently operating on long-haul flights around the world.

1. United Boeing 777-200 "Polaris"

Not exactly what you'd want to see on a long-haul, international flight.

Many Boeing 777 aircraft still seat nine-across in economy class, so you know you're not getting much space when an airline crams eight business class seats into a row on the same plane. While the seats do lie flat, passengers are squeezed into groups of four in the middle of the rows that are arranged 2-4-2. In other words, two unlucky souls get stuck with middle seats. On a long-haul flight. In business class. Think of this as lie-flat coach seating, and you won't be disappointed.

Instead, try to fly one of the former Continental 777 aircraft that have 2-2-2 cabins, or better yet, fly United's newer 777-300 aircraft or any plane that's been converted to the true Polaris seats. For more information, read Zach Honig's post on Every United Business-Class Seat Ranked From Best to Worst. You can also use ExpertFlyer to make sure you're booking a flight with the "real" Polaris.

2. Copa 737-700 and -800

Photo by Alberto Riva / TPG

You can think of Copa as the Panamanian equivalent of Icelandair, as Copa uses its Panama City (PTY) hub to connect two continents using narrow-body aircraft. And even though it operates flights to San Francisco (SFO) and Buenos Aires (EZE), routes that cover roughly the same distances as some transatlantic flights, they still offer a cabin labeled "business class" with seats that are more like domestic first class in the US. While Copa does have improved business class seats on select planes, they're on the carrier's new (but now-grounded) 737-MAX9 fleet.

If you're redeeming United MileagePlus miles, or those from any Star Alliance partner, for a business class ticket to South America, you'd be better off looking for real business class seats on United or Avianca.

3. Air France A380

Air France A380 Business Cabin (Photo courtesy of Air France)
Air France A380 Business Cabin (Photo courtesy of Air France)

The now-cancelled A380 is still considered to be the flagship of many airline fleets, so you can be forgiven if you expect a great product from Air France when you fly on one of its ten double-decker jumbos. However, don't get too excited, as you'll feel like you've been transported back to the previous decade when you see your seat. The cabin is configured 2-2-2 on the upper deck, which doesn't give you any more width than the seats in their premium economy cabin. These business seats are also an angled-lie flat, a feature which has (thankfully) disappeared from many airlines' long-haul fleets. Air France is slated to replace these seats sometime next year as it downsizes its A380 fleet, but if you're flying in 2019, prepare to be underwhelmed.

If you're redeeming miles from Flying Blue or any other SkyTeam carrier and can't find suitable awards on another Air France aircraft, then I'd recommend trying to cross the pond on Delta or KLM instead. These airlines offer true lie-flat seats on all of their wide-body aircraft.

4. British Airways Club World

Fold down foot rests, fancy!
A Club World seat on BA's 777-200. Photo by Julian Mark Kheel / The Points Guy.

Believe it or not, the UK's flag carrier was ahead of its time when it introduced its business class seat in 2000. However, times have changed, and Club World on planes like the A380 (with its 2-3-2 configuration on the upper deck and 2-4-2 layout on the lower deck) are now firmly outdated. What makes this unique is the way the seats are staggered, facing both forwards and backwards to allow some semblance of aisle access. But as one TPG contributor found, it can be painful to configure the seat into a bed, which requires the footrest to be latched to the bulkhead. Thankfully, British Airways is planning on replacing the seat, starting this summer. It also has a fantastic new suites product that'll be rolled out later this year as the carrier takes delivery of new, A350-1000 aircraft.

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In the mean time, use your British Airways Avios or miles from any other OneWorld partner to fly on carriers like American, Iberia or Finnair, which offer far more comfortable business class cabins.

5. Emirates 777-300ER

Emirates may have swanky first class products, but many of its business class seats aren't anything special. (Photo by Nick Ewen / The Points Guy)

This Middle East carrier would love for us to imagine that all premium passengers receive access to amenities like showers, bars and lie-flat seats. And while this is true when you fly their A380s in first class, the reality is quite different if you're stuck in one of the carrier's woefully outdated 777-300ER aircraft (though the most recently delivered ones are slightly better). As with the Air France A380 business class, you'll have to sleep tilted in an angled lie-flat seat, and like United's 777, there are middle seats thanks to the 2-3-2 configuration. Try to stick with a flight operated by an A380 or even one of the reconfigured 777-200LRs to enjoy a full lie-flat seat.

6. Qatar A330-200 and -300

Qatar's old, angled-flat business class found on some of the carrier's A330s. Photo by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt / Wikimedia Commons.
Qatar's old, angled-flat business class found on some of the carrier's A330s. Photo by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt / Wikimedia Commons.

Like Emirates, this Gulf carrier offers some incredible products, most notably its QSuites. However, that only applies for those who get the right aircraft. If you're flying on some of Qatar's A330-200 and -300 planes, then you might get an old-school, angled lie-flat seat. Thankfully, it's in a 2-2-2 configuration so there's no middle seats, though window passengers without a travel companion seated next to them will still have the awkward climb over. Bear in mind that some A330s have been upgraded to full lie-flat seats, so it's just a matter of luck which one you get.

7. El Al 747 and 777-200

Image courtesy of El Al
Not the most revolutionary or comfortable product out there. (Image courtesy of El Al)

You probably don't expect exorbitant luxury from El Al's business class, so you might not be that disappointed. And if you get to fly the Queen of the Skies (the Boeing 747) in business class, that might help too — especially if you're on the upper deck. On El Al's 777-200 and 747 aircraft, you'll still find angled lie-flat seats, but it's really just the foot-rest that doesn't rise to become fully lie-flat. That said, the seats themselves are really old and don't compare to some of the newer models. If you have the chance, you should look for one of their 787-9 aircraft. TPG Editor Emily McNutt found it's new business class cabin to be much like the new United Polaris seats.

8. Aerolíneas Argentinas

Photo by Aerolineas Argentinas

Both the A330-200 and A340-300 aircraft offer older, angled lie-flat seats that didn't win any awards, even when new. And this is all they still offer. Combine that with this state-run carrier's reputation for poor operational performance, and it's certainly one to avoid. If you're redeeming miles from any SkyTeam carrier, look for flights on Delta or AeroMexico instead.

9. Turkish Airlines A330-200 and A340-300

Photo by TravelingOtter via Flickr.
Photo by TravelingOtter via Flickr.

I really love flying Turkish Airlines business class, which offers some fantastic lounges and delicious cuisine. But I've been lucky enough to fly on the 777-300 and haven't experienced the angled lie-flat seats on the carrier's A330-200 and A340-300 aircraft. Thankfully, some A330-200s do now have full lie-flat seats with direct aisle access. However, if you're looking at redeeming an award on a flight with one of the angled-lie flat seats, then you'd be better off booking seats on other European Star Alliance partners such as United, Swiss, Lufthansa, Austrian or LOT Polish.

Bottom Line

Over the last several years, we've seen some incredible enhancements to business class cabins, from closing doors on Delta One Suites to the quad seating in Qatar's QSuites. Unfortunately, there are still many carriers out there flying planes with business class sections that are majorly outdated, so as you're looking to book your next award trip, pay careful attention to the airline and aircraft. You may wind up with a subpar product.