Putting on the Ritz

Airlines are sprucing up their business class facilities to attract more passengers.

thompson plane 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
thompson plane 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Airlines are making profits. More profits than ever before. Could it be that finally, after dozens of years, frazzled airline executives have discovered a magic elixir? Reality is far simpler; rather than attack their competitors with low fares, they've discovered that business class pays. In Israel, we're not talking only about businesses that avail themselves of this perk. Many politicians, large organizations, successful entrepreneurs and retired senior citizens have also joined the growing bandwagon, and prefer to fly business class on long trips. The airline industry has become cognizant of this fact, sprucing up its product. From Israel, the most competitive and lucrative route is to New York. Coveted by most airlines, fiercely led by El Al, business class clientele to the Big Apple bring holiday cheer to every airline throughout the year. Helicopter rides into Manhattan are offered to Continental passengers; flat bed seats in a "private cabin" is how British Airways advertises. El Al's clientele begin their journey after checking in at Ben Gurion Airport at the King David Lounge, where you can even relax in a spa before embarking on the plane. Getting a free ride into NYC after the flight or scarfing down copious amounts of food at a business-class lounge prior to the flight might sound like fun, but I've discovered the priority is the type of seat one receives on the plane. As I tell my clients, never take a flight for its cuisine, and when selecting a carrier's business class, the comfort of the seat should be of paramount importance. Let's compare the four non-stop carriers that fly between Tel Aviv and the US and the top three airlines that make the flight with one stop. Some basic definitions will be of assistance. Recliner Seats: These seats don't recline as much as lie-flat (or flat-bed) seats, but they still offer excellent space and comfort. Lie-Flat Seats: Many airlines market these seats as lowering to completely horizontal, but in reality when fully reclined they are slightly angled. While very comfortable for seating and working, it's less conducive to sleep because of the slightly awkward angle. Flat-Bed Seats: When fully reclined, these seats are completely horizontal, creating a bed that is fully flat. These seats receive the highest accolades from clients. Pitch: The space between each seat, both in front and behind your seat. The greater the pitch, the less likely your head will be in someone's feet! Width: Very basic: the wider the seat, the more comfy it will be, especially for those of us who are tall or large. Here is a brief look at what each airline offers:
  • El Al uses both a Boeing 747 and a 777 on its routes to JFK and Newark. With either a 55" or 60" pitch and a cozy 20" width of each seat, it offers a 160-degree lie-flat seat.
  • Continental flies to Newark on a 777. With a 55" pitch, it uses 22"-wide seats and more importantly, a lie-flat seat extending to 170 degrees.
  • Delta Airlines currently flies to Atlanta and from next March to JFK. Flying a 777 with a 60" pitch; the seat has a width of 21". However, with a recliner seat going back only 151 degrees, it doesn't set the standard one would expect in business class.
  • Israir flies a 767 to JFK. With a pitch of 40" and also using recliner seats that only go back 150 degrees, it doesn't promote its business class very strongly.
  • British Airways flies to New York via London, and on the 747 crossing the Atlantic you can indulge yourself in a 180-degree flat-bed seat. With a pitch of 73", it is constantly rated as one of the top business class airlines.
  • Lufthansa flies to the US via Frankfurt on a 747 plane and its flat bed seat also reclines the full 180 degrees. Its pitch between seats is 60".
  • Air Canada operates a 767 plane on its flights to Toronto, before switching planes to the US. With a pitch of 60", its lie-flat bed reclines 151 degrees. Now I appeal to you, kind reader; let me have your feedback. Which airline do you prefer when flying business class, if you're so fortunate? Is the ease of checking in or the quality of the food more important than the comfort of the flight? How much of a factor is price in your decision? Most importantly, what would you like to have in business class that you're not receiving? Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments on all travel related topics, email him at [email protected]