Business class is a travel class available on many commercial airlines and rail lines, known by brand names which vary, by airline or rail company. In the airline industry, it was originally intended as an intermediate level of service between economy class and first class, but many airlines now offer business class as the highest level of service, having eliminated first class seating. Business class is distinguished from other travel classes by the quality of seating, food, drinks, ground service and other amenities. In commercial aviation, full business class is usually denoted 'J' or 'C' with schedule flexibility, but can be many other letters depending on circumstances.
Airlines began separating full-fare and discounted economy class passengers in the late 1970s. In 1976, KLM introduced a Full Fare Facilities (FFF) service for its full fare economy class passengers, which allowed them to sit at the front of the economy cabin immediately behind first class, and this concept was quickly copied by several other airlines including Air Canada. Both United Airlines and Trans World Airlines experimented with a similar three-class concept in 1978, but abandoned it due to negative reactions from discount economy class travelers who felt that amenities were being taken away from them. United also cited the difficulty of tracking which passengers should be seated in which section of the economy cabin on connecting flights.American Airlines also began separating full-fare economy passengers from discounted economy passengers in 1978, and offered open middle seats for full-fare passengers.
Around this time, there was speculation in the airline industry that supersonic aircraft would corner the market for the highest-paying premium passengers, and that a three-class market would emerge consisting of supersonic first class and subsonic business and economy classes. In 1977, El Al announced plans to reconfigure its aircraft with a small first class cabin and larger business class cabin on the assumption that most transatlantic first-class passengers would shift their business to the Concorde.
British Airways introduced "Club World," a separate premium cabin with numerous amenities, in October 1978 under CEO Colin Marshall as a means of further distinguishing full-fare business travelers from tourists flying on discounted fares.Pan Am announced that it would introduce "Clipper Class" in July 1978, and both Air France and Pan Am introduced business class in November 1978.Qantas claims to have launched the world's first Business Class in 1979.
On November 1, 1981, Scandinavian Airlines System introduced EuroClass with a separate cabin, dedicated check-in counters and lounges for full-fare passengers. Simultaneously, first class disappeared from their European fleet.
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia offer business class on their domestic networks as well as on trans-Tasman flights to New Zealand. Flights between Perth and Sydney typically feature lie-flat seats, with deep recline cradle seats on other routes.
On the other hand, Air New Zealand does not offer business class on its domestic network. Business Class is available on flights between New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands when operated by Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 family aircraft, both of which have lie-flat seats.
On short-haul flights, Air Canada, the flag carrier of Canada offers recliner seats, which are similar to what is offered on regional business class in the United States. However, on some high-capacity routes, such as Vancouver-Toronto, Air Canada utilizes its long-haul fleet, such as the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Boeing 767, and the Airbus A330. On flights using internationally configured aircraft such as these, the business class product is a lie-flat product. However, on discount carriers, such as Air Transat, and WestJet Airlines, business class is "euro-style", an economy class seat with a blocked middle seat for added comfort.
US carriers generally designate "first class" as the front cabin on domestic aircraft, including two-class aircraft.
Three-class service is offered within the United States by American Airlines and United Airlines. American operates a dedicated fleet of three-class aircraft on transcontinental flights between New York-JFK, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with first and business class seating comparable to international first and business class. United operates three-class aircraft between its hub airports for re-positioning purposes between international flights. United, Delta and JetBlue also offer two-cabin transcontinental flights using seats equivalent to international business class seats.
European carriers generally offer a business class consisting of enhanced economy seating with better service. There may be a curtain to separate business from economy class, based on demand, but the seats are in the same cabin. Some airlines such as Air France and Lufthansa use convertible seats that seat three people across in economy, or adjust with a lever to become two seats with a half seat length between them for business class use.
Business class has started to disappear from some short/medium haul routes, to be replaced with full fare economy and discount economy (KLM and SAS). On these routes, the seats are the same for all passengers, only the flexibility of the ticket and the food and beverage service differs. On shorter routes (typically less than one hour) many airlines have removed business class entirely (e.g. BMI on many routes) and offer only one class of service. British Airways used to offer "Business UK" on their domestic system, offering the same service as economy class, with the addition of expedited check-in, baggage reclaim, lounge access and priority boarding. In flight, until January 11, 2017, drink, tea or coffee and a snack were served to all customers, with a hot breakfast on flights prior to 9.29am.
Most low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair and easyJet in Europe, Tiger Airways in Australia, Southwest Airlines in the United States, and even some national carriers such as Aer Lingus and Air New Zealand on their domestic and regional networks do not offer any premium classes of service. Some, however, have options above a standard coach seat:
Business class is a much more significant upgrade from economy class for long haul flights, in contrast to a regional or domestic flight where business class offers few relative advantages over economy class. The innovations in business class seating, incorporating features previously only found in first class (see below), has narrowed the comfort and amenities gap with traditional first class seats. These advances and added features to business class, as well as the late 2000s recession, have caused some airlines to remove or not install first class seating in their aircraft (as first class seats are usually double the price of business class but can take up more than twice the room) which leaves business class as the most expensive seats on such planes, while other airlines have reintroduced first-class sections as suites to stay upmarket over contemporary business class.
As with first class, all alcoholic beverages are complimentary and meals are of higher quality than economy class. Economy class passengers are usually not permitted in the business class cabin though first class passengers are generally allowed to cross the curtain between business and first class.
Long haul business class seats are substantially different from economy class seats and many airlines have installed "lie flat" seats into business class, whereas previously seats with such a recline were only available in international first class. There are essentially three types of long haul business class seats today. These are listed in ascending order of perceived "quality".
While flying on a long-haul business class flight, airlines such as SWISS, Lufthansa, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, and many more offer in-flight gourmet meals with a choice of entree. Upon settling on their seats, business class passengers are presented with a choice of champagne or water, with a 3-5 course meal to follow during the flight. Some airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, allow travelers to request specific meals not on the regular menu prior to the flight. The bar choices for the business class cabin are generous, with airlines offering different premium wines, and an assortment of beers and liqueurs.
The exact name for business class may vary between operators. Bold text indicates airlines for which business class is the highest class of service offered.
On Amtrak in the United States, "business class" is the premium class of service on medium-haul trains (such as most Northeast Corridor trains and the Pacific Surfliner), the intermediate class of service on some long-haul trains (such as the Cardinal) and the main class of service on Acela Express. "First class" is the premium class of service on Acela Express and is also the designation for sleeper service on long-haul trains.
Until June 2009, Via Rail in Canada premium class service was called "Via 1", on short range routes oriented towards business travel. The premium service on the transcontinental route (The Canadian) is called "Silver & Blue". In June 2009, "Via 1" was renamed "Business Class" and "Silver & Blue" (The Canadian) and "Easterly" (The Ocean) were renamed "Sleeper Touring Class" and "Totem" (The Skeena) was renamed "Touring Class".
Eurostar also offers business class accommodation on their rail services - named "Business Premier", the seats are similar to the premium economy "Standard Premier" offering (wider seats with more legroom and greater recline compared to economy "standard class") but include faster check-in, boarding and a full meal service, among other features.