Long gone are the days when business class simply meant slightly larger seats and an extra pillow. Today's top business class airlines are pulling out all of the stops to make sure that passengers arrive at their destinations well-rested, well-fed (you can forget that microwaved airplane meal), and looking forward to a comfortable ride back home. With once-enviable amenities like fold-flat seats and in-flight films becoming the standard for intercontinental travel, more and more air carriers are looking to distinguish themselves through luxurious cabins that incorporate on-board lounges, personal entertainment systems and high-altitude haute cuisine. Read on to discover which airlines really mean business when it comes to giving their business class passengers the top-tier treatment.
1. Air New Zealand Business Premier
New Zealand may be one of the most geographically-isolated nations in the world; however, this Kiwi air carrier will have you feeling right at home with its comfy 22-inch leather armchairs, premium on demand audio and video, and convenient self-service refreshment areas. An amenity kit provides passengers with travel basics such as eye cream, lip balm and moisturizer, socks, eyeshades, toothbrush kit, earplugs and a pen. Feel the need for some company on your long-haul flight? Your separate ottoman footrest also doubles as a "visitor's seat," making it easy to invite a guest over for a glass of fine New Zealand wine. After a dinner focusing on fresh New Zealand produce and regional flavors, recline your chair to its fully lie-flat position, put on your complimentary noise cancellation headphones, and get some much-needed rest before your big adventure Down Under.
2. Delta Air Lines BusinessElite
While heightened security measures, routinely overbooked flights and the collective belt-tightening of the airline industry in response to rising fuel costs have all conspired to make American air travel a pain, at least one airline is doing its part to pamper frazzled passengers. With Delta's BusinessElite class, guests are given the luxury treatment from check-in to baggage claim, with accelerated security, priority boarding and expedited luggage retrieval all designed to minimize the hassle of travel. On board, kick back in front of one of 250 available movies or 150 TV programs, or, on domestic flights, stay connected with in-flight Internet service. Multi-course dining menus come courtesy of top toques Michelle Bernstein (Michy's, Sra. Martinez) and Michael Chiarello (Bottega), and feature wine pairings from Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson. Once you're stuffed, dream easy with complimentary noise-cancellation headphones and a full-size pillow.
3. Emirates Airlines
When it comes to high-altitude, high-class travel to Dubai and 131 additional destinations, Emirates Airlines literally soars above the competition. Live it up on your long-haul flight with massaging seats, complimentary Champagne and gourmet canapés and meals. Forget the flimsy plastic food tray — five-course lunches and dinners come served on bone china tableware with fine linen and flowers. After dinner, head over to the onboard lounge for cocktails and conversation with your fellow travelers. However, should you become too engrossed in one of the 1,400 entertainment channels playing on your personal widescreen TV, feel free to grab a cold drink from your seat's built-in mini bar.
4. Etihad Airways Pearl Business Class
The national airline of Abu Dhabi boasts all of the luxury amenities that one would expect from the flag carrier of the oil-rich emirate. The 1-2-1 seating configuration, available on all of the airline's wide-bodied aircrafts, gives direct aisle access to each guest, while a privacy shell around every flat bed seat ensures uninterrupted rest and relaxation. For dinner, consult the Food and Beverage Manager for dining options and wine pairing suggestions. Brought in from the world's best restaurants, these highly-specialized individuals undergo extensive training in order to become intimately familiar with the onboard menu. Luckily, the luxury treatment doesn't end when the wheels hit the tarmac. Upon arrival, Pearl Business Class guests receive the added convenience of complimentary door-to-door limo service, complete with a personal chauffeur.
5. LAN Airlines Premium Business
As one of the oldest (and most luxurious) air carriers in the world, Santiago, Chile-based LAN Airlines is a safe bet for satisfactory travel to South America and beyond. On board, business class guests are encouraged to soak up some Latin American culture, with regional wines, cuisine and films helping to set the appropriate mood. Of course, no one can blame you for skipping the in-flight food and instead stretching out on your 73-inch full flat seat for a siesta before you embark upon your South American travels.
6. Qantas Airways International Business
In Barry Levinson's 1988 film, Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman's quirky title character will only fly Qantas — and for good reason. Not only is the Australian air carrier consistently named one of the world's safest airlines, as the simple yet sagacious Rain Man points out, it is also one of the most flyer-friendly. Boasting an in-flight bar and a sumptuous dinner menu created in conjunction with leading Australian restaurateur Neil Perry, Qantas takes our favorite on-land luxuries (literally) to new heights. After dinner, make sure to settle in for the night with your own personal on-demand entertainment system and a quick massage courtesy of your fully-adjustable, fold-flat "skybed."
7. Oman Air
In 2010, Oman Air became the first airline in the world to provide both mobile phone and Wi-Fi Internet service to its passengers. But the reason this airline made our list is because of the state-of-the-art business class seats found on the Oman Airbus A330. These 77.5-inch long, lie-flat chairs offer electronically controlled backrests, leg rests and seat-depth adjustors while the 1:2:1 seating layout of the cabin allows every passenger direct aisle access. Besides lie-flat chairs with privacy screens, business class passengers enjoy an extensive menu of modern and traditional cuisine as well as signature Arabic dishes. In regards to in-flight entertainment, seventeen-inch entertainment monitors installed in each seat’s front partition are fully compatible with personal electronic devices, so passengers have access to their private movie collections on their individual seat displays.
8. Singapore Airlines
Start your Singapore vacation off right with a flight aboard the tiny Asian city-state's luxurious national air carrier. On board, passengers are pampered with gourmet entrées and snacks, Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne and coffee drinks such as espresso and cappuccino. Featuring an elegant seasonal menu created by an international panel of chefs including Suzanne Goin, Singapore Airlines' meal service ranks among the best in the skies, with gourmet dishes providing passengers with an extra-special in-flight experience.
9. Thai Airways Royal Silk Class
Thai Airways' Royal Silk Class invites travelers to live like a king on long-haul flights to Asia and around the world. Passengers enjoy restaurant-style, multi-course meals served on porcelain place settings, and are given an extensive choice of fine wines, premium spirits and vintage ports and liqueurs to wash down their delectable dinners. In addition to enjoying standard in-flight entertainment options, guests can also brush up on a foreign language or even practice meditation with the interactive, new audio-video-on-demand system; however, with Thai Airways' Zen-like business class cabin, the idea of needing a video program to help find inner peace may seem a bit superfluous.
10. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
Virgin Group founder/multibillionaire mastermind Sir Richard Branson is intent upon changing the way we view luxury travel — and if Virgin Atlantic's posh Upper Class cabin is any indication of what he has in mind, we say bring it on! Offering first class amenities at a business class price, the appropriately-named Upper Class provides guests with their own private suite, complete with a large center table, multidirectional 10.4-inch TV and ottoman/guest seat. Looking to get some rest before the big business meeting? Consider booking in the specially-designated "Snooze Zone," which features dim lighting and service designed to minimize interruption for sleepy travelers.
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