Whether embarking on a luxury vacation or meeting with an important business affiliate, there is no doubt that flying business class or first class guarantees comfort, convenience and attentive flight attendant hospitality over premium economy or economy class. These days, business and first class cabins seldom coexist on domestic flights; however, international flights regularly employ both. Though the difference in cabins greatly depends on airlines, routes and even airplane models, flying first class always supersede business class seats on international flights.
On the Ground
Differences between the two classes begin prior to boarding; pre-flight services for first class passengers often trump business class services. Within exclusive first class lounges, such as the classy Emirates lounge found in Dubai International Airport, first class passengers indulge in gourmet meals, caviar, top-notch spirits, fine wines served and selected by master sommeliers, a cigar lounge, a dedicated shopping area, private rooms for rest and relaxation, private bathrooms with showers, amenity kits, children's daycare, spa treatments including facials and manicures, entertainment centers, conference rooms, dedicated computer consoles and Wi-Fi -- all complimentary. Meanwhile, most airports do have lounge access for first and business class passengers or clubs that provide food and drink as well as work space, Wi-Fi and concierge services to business and first class passengers simultaneously. However the business class lounges often lack some of the more elegant amenities that you only get with the first class experience. Passengers also experience a difference in airport perks; first class tickets may provide expedient check-in, priority boarding and security services and complimentary limousine pickup.
Sit or Sleep
Without a doubt, first class flights set the bar for sedentary comfort. Aside from outrageous legroom, nearly all modern international first class seats offer 180-degree, flat bed technology, allowing them to fold out horizontally on long-haul flights. Business class flights are witnessing a rise in this type of seating but often provides high-angle reclining seats instead, with reclining angles ranging from 150 to 170 degrees. Some of the latest innovations in airplane seating include suite seats in first class that provide passengers a roomy, private enclosure around lie-flat seats. On average, first class seat dimensions exceed those of business class by 1 to 2 inches of width and 10 to 30 inches of legroom.
Not Another B-Movie
Airlines understand and commiserate the need for entertainment on international travel, especially when those transcontinental flight times creep into the double-digits. Business class travel can employ state-of-the-art technology in visual and audio entertainment such as 10- to 13-inch television screens on the back of every seat and brand-name, comfortable headphones; however, some airlines still use neck-craning, shared televisions. In contrast, the industry standards in first class travelers enjoy dedicated 15- to 20-inch television screens and complimentary, noise-canceling headphones. Additionally, first class services offer premium programming such as HBO and Showtime. Airlines usually supply newspapers and magazines in business class and always supply such reading material in first.
Hand and Foot
The first thing you notice in any business class cabin is the staff-to-passenger ratio -- on average, about one crew member per six to eight passengers. This ensures that travelers draw the attention of staff upon request. In first class, this ratio is closer to four passengers per crew member, and while crew members train arduously to serve in both classes, only the best serve first class passengers. Both classes serve fine food, but the first class product commonly cooks the competition, serving multi-course meals and pairings designed by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay with Singapore Airlines. The food and drinks are complimentary in both premium cabins, but only in first can you order a la carte and at any time you please.
What Is It Worth?
First class will cost significantly more than business class. Though the route, airline, travel time and date are important factors in calculating the price of a business class ticket, you can expect to pay about twice the fare for first class. Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways have consistently eclipsed industry standards with innovations in comfort and convenience and are likewise the priciest options for business and first class, on average. Many other airlines like American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines are overhauling business class cabins to provide some of the same conveniences and comforts to their business travelers. Research your flight and airline beforehand to assess the value of the twofold price.