For business travelers with tighter pockets or flying on the company’s dime, it’s hard to deny that first and business class are better than being in economy class. First class has long been the preserve of the super-rich, while business class has been a perk for those who file their taxes, accumulate miles of wealth or work for companies willing to pay. Premium.
In fact, airline first class travel may be a thing of the past with many airlines eliminating it in favor of more business class seats. In the United States, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have both eliminated their first class offerings, with American Airlines already announcing that it will no longer have first class seats starting in 2024.
For this reason, we decided to take a look at the two premium units and see how they differ from each other. When it comes to short-haul flights, there is no difference between first and business class. In most cases, you’ll get a more comfortable seat, more legroom and more seating than you would in economy. In Europe and some low-cost US carriers, you’ll find a standard seat in a block of three, but the middle seat is closed.
But when it comes to long-haul flying, there are some significant improvements in solid product and service when flying in premium cabins. For comparison, we look at two airlines, Air France and Emirates, comparing Air France’s La Premier service with Gulf’s business class offerings.
Air France La Premiere
Air France has a reputation for having one of the best first class cabins in the sky, so we chose them for comparison. The La Première experience begins before you even arrive at the airport, with Air France sending you to departures in a chauffeur-driven limousine. Upon arrival at the airport, an Air France employee will meet you, check you in and direct you through security to the Air France lounge.
When it’s time to board your flight, they will escort you to the plane and to your seat. Air France has only four seats in first class, giving you the feeling of flying in a private jet. As you enjoy a pre-flight drink before taking your seat, the captain will introduce himself and tell you the details of the flight plan.
Unlike Business Class, La Premiere is like being in a luxury train compartment with table lighting and curtains for ultimate privacy. At La Premiere, you can order whatever you want at any time, so forget about waiting for drinks and food service to start. Also, the quality of the food is equal to that of a Michelin-star restaurant.
As for the cabin, the Air France cabin offers an extremely comfortable armchair with an ottoman opposite. The chair is about 90 cm (35 inches) wide and reclines in various positions, including bed mode. The ottoman has a lap belt, so you can invite a guest into your cabin for a chat or a meal.
Photo: Air France
If you feel like sleeping for a few hours, the cabin crew will make your bed and provide you with special Air France pajamas. All four-person rooms have a shared bathroom. Passengers will first disembark from the aircraft and escorted by passport control on arrival to the baggage claim area.
Emirates business level
All of the Gulf carriers have a good reputation for their business-grade products, so we chose the Dubai-based one for comparison. Like Air France, Emirates will send you a limousine and drive you to the airport. Unlike Air France La Premiere, you need to go to the check-in desk unaccompanied, go through security, and then go to the lounge. If you are flying out of Dubai International Airport (DXB), the lounge of choice for many is the Moat & Chandon Champagne Lounge.
When it’s time to board the plane, you’re on your own again without an escort, and once you’re on board, the captain won’t come to greet you or tell you what to expect during the flight. Also, unlike Air France which only has four first class seats, the equivalent Emirates Boeing 777 has 42 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration.
But you get a pre-flight drink. As for food, you are given a menu to choose from, but instead of eating at your convenience, you have to wait for the food service to start. When it’s time for some sleep, the Emirates cabin crew will turn your seat into a bunk bed. When you arrive, you are alone at passport control without an escort.
The seat itself is 20.5 inches (52 cm) wide, making it significantly smaller than Air France First Class. The IFE screen is 23 inches wide, just an inch smaller than the Air France cabin, and those unlucky enough to get a middle seat in the center block won’t have direct aisle access.
The difference is personal service.
As you can see, Air France’s first class offering is better than Emirates’ business class, but it comes at a price. An Air France flight to Dubai in August will set you back around $3,800 in La Premier, while Emirates’ business class fares for the same dates are less than $2,000.
If you want to fly La Premier, the best way to get a seat in this cabin for less is to buy a business class ticket, and if first class is not full, upgrade for an additional 1,000 euros. Air France is planning to refurbish its first class cabin, which is set to depart for winter 2023/24.