Which Are the Best Long-Haul Business Class Seats?

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As I recently struggled through a sleepless night on an airplane – for the second time so far this year –  I came to realise that, flat bed or not, some types of long-haul Business Class seating are simply better than others. (i.e. the “hard product”) I even started feeling nostalgic for British Airways Club World which, despite its flaws, usually had me sleeping like a baby after my second G&T.

After landing, I decided to do some research to avoid repeating the same mistake again; I found out that there are !SIX! main types of Business Class seat…

1. Herringbone

The name “herringbone” comes from the fact that the cabin layout can appear like the skeleton of a fish, with seats set at an angle to the front of the airplane. Seats are usually laid out in a 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 configuration, depending on how wide the airplane is.

Pros: Reasonably private; Direct aisle access; Plenty of legroom.

Cons: No way to sit next to a travelling companion; Seat faces away from windows; Seat often “flips over” into a bed, meaning that there is little recline for those who prefer a deep recline.

Airlines: Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand

2. Reverse Herringbone

Reverse Herringbone seats are broadly similar to Herringbone seats, except that the window seats sensibly face towards the windows. Again, Reverse Herringbone seats are usually laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Pros: No bad seats; Direct aisle access; Good legroom; Private

Cons: Close to none, although you can’t really sit close to a travelling companion

Airlines: American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France (YMMV), Cathay Pacific

3. Staggered Seats

Instead of having the outer pair of seats side-by-side, seating is staggered – one is moved forward towards the cockpit – so that even window seats can enjoy direct aisle access. The middle block of seats usually alternate between “honeymoon seats” close together and two more classically aisle seats with a wide separation between them, as shown here.

However, in order to avoid having a stranger’s smelly feet in the vicinity of your sleeping face, each seat has a table next to it. Besides the obvious convenience of a large table for your gadgets, drinks, etc., your  neighbour’s legs and feet are hidden away underneath the table.

Which leads me to my main pet peeve of this configuration. Switching from 7 or 8-across to 4-across means that something must give. If there are fewer seats per row, then more rows must be squeezed in. Legroom is accordingly restricted, even more so by the need to provide a gap for accessing window or middle seats…

Pros: Direct aisle access; Private; Plenty of storage space

Cons: Poor legroom; Window seats can feel particularly claustrophobic

Airlines: Iberia, Etihad, Emirates (YMMV)

4. Staggered Seats (Vantage) a.k.a. the “Throne”

Instead of staggering on a “north-south” basis – i.e. staggered towards the cockpit – the so-called Vantage configuration staggers on an “east-west” basis – i.e. shifted closer to / away from the windows. This means that a handful of window seats become “thrones”, so called because tables on both sides of the seat provide the appearance of a throne.


This layout – alternating 1-2-1 and 2-2-1 – means that nobody need sit (or sleep) too close for comfort with a stranger. However it also means that your feet must fit into a tiny cubbyhole that is squeezed into a gap between the two seats in the row directly ahead. (or next to a “throne” seat)

Pros: Both couples and individuals have suitable seating options

Cons: Limited legroom; Some window seats lack direct aisle access

Airlines: Swiss, Aer Lingus, Austrian, ANA, Finnair (YMMV)

5. Fully-Flat Bed Seats

The original… which means they’ve never received a fancy name. (though… are they seats or are they beds? “Fully flat seat” defies the laws of physics and common sense) These seats recline into a flat bed that is parallel to the floor. The most common configurations are 2-2-2 or 2-3-2, with no staggering or guaranteed direct aisle access. (although some airlines offer a 1-2-1 configuration) British Airways manages to squeeze in a 2-4-2 layout with its “yin-yang” configuration that sees many seats face backwards.

No direct aisle access? The lack of those gap-creating inches means that taller people usually can stretch out…

For some truly mind-boggling reason, Lufthansa chose to angle its flat bed seats towards each other; I didn’t realise that Germans so enjoyed playing footsie with strangers…

Pros: Good legroom; Ideal for couples and families

Cons: Less privacy; The “step-over” problem

Airlines: British Airways, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Singapore, Qatar (YMMV)

6. Angled “Lie-Flat” or  Recliner

The design team must have discussed this… “Do you think people will notice? Maybe if we add a footrest…”  Errr.. yes we noticed, as we inevitably slid down the “flat bed”, despite airline claims that “but the plane flies at an angle”. One of the original “travel hacks” must have been determining how to find the sweet spot between fully upright and flat (but not…) to enable some sleep.

Luckily these seats are being relegated to the history books, but you might still find yourself on an airplane that hasn’t been updated.

Pros: None, unless you can only fall asleep by watching a boring movie in a reclined position (or have been upgraded for free from Premium Economy or Economy, in which case you’re thrilled…)

Cons: Too many to mention…

Airlines: Asiana, Ethiopian and too many rogue aircraft to mention.



Without a doubt, I have a strong preference for a herringbone or reverse herringbone seat. Failing that, I find that the standard fully-flat beds are much preferable to staggered configurations, especially if you can nab one of the handful of aisle seats that don’t entail a window seat companion climbing over you.

What do you think? Which are the best long-haul business class seats in the air?

And please jump in with comments, especially if I’ve left out your favourite airline…


  1. David S says

    You have missed the new business studio seats with Etihad which are like BA forward/reverse setting without facing your seat companion and you have direct aisle access. Qatar mainly has reverse herring bone seats now apart from some of the 777 and no mention of QSuites!!!
    In reality I have flown all the above and the only one I was uncomfortable with was the angled seats. All the others were fine but still prefer reverse herring bone seats or the Etihad business studio. Not tried the QSuites which I guess will be a game changer for me.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      You’re quite right David. But unfortunately the Middle East Three have absolutely no consistency in their approach. You might get QSuites or the EY A380s out of London but something resembling short-haul out of a different city. And then you’ll get something entirely different again from the Middle East to your final destination. A nightmare to try to summarise. In fact, it’s probably worth a completely separate post.

      P.S. I am very much a QSuites skeptic, at least until I get around to trying it. Sadly nobody offers me PR jollies… 😉

  2. RichT says

    Good summary! Some bloggers focus way too much on the “I must have aisle access and be protected from other humans at all costs” mentality, forgetting some of us actually travel as couples!

    Air France A380 must be the worst offender for angled seats though… “Ah oui, let us ordeur ze new A380, but put in ze oldest seats we can find…” (my written French accent is awful)

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Yeah, I’ve come to realise that those inches for “must have aisle access” are precisely the ones that make the difference between me stretching out to sleep peacefully and banging my feet into things all night long.

      And the much-praised “throne” was awful, which is why I’ve done my own analysis! 🙂

      I was definitely going to bash AF. Apparently most of their long-haul fleet now has reverse herringbone, except for their flagship A380s with angled lie flat. Madness!

    • Joe Deeney says

      True, though that’s actually why I’m a big fan of staggered 1-2-1s over reverse herringbone – everyone can (usually) get what they want. The ‘true’ window seats are extremely private and perfect when travelling alone, while the ‘honeymoon’ middle seats are great when travelling with someone. I’ve flown a few variations and can’t remember ever finding those sort of seats too narrow, too short, ‘foot angle’ overly annoying or whatever, but that’s probably a height thing – if memory serves, Craig’s quite tall!

  3. Joe says

    Fully Flat is down as ‘less private’ but a BA Club World Window seat is the most private, in J, in the sky (bar Q Suites). I rate privacy very highly so it’s at the top of the pack for me.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      62 A/K are easily my favorite seats. I would probably turn down an F upgrade to keep them.

      But you can’t ignore the fact that the separator being down for take-off, landing, meal service, etc. makes them a bit disconcerting when you’re making close eye contact with a stranger.

  4. David says

    Reverse herringbone is one of the great fallacies of J travel IMO. Only experienced Qatar and finnair 350/380/787 but presumably that’s the bulk of the good stuff, and always I find it an uncomfortable sleep. Just not enough leg area with the cubby tucked into the corner. Regular herringbone makes so much more sense and allows side sleeping etc. Sure, I can’t look out the window easily, but the very reason I pay for a flat bed is because I’m looking for the comfort and hours of successful sleep. I can look out the window in economy if that’s my goal.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      I definitely have no complaints about sleeping on Virgin Atlantic.

      That said, I don’t recall having any issues either with AA or Cathay in their reverse herringbone.

  5. Tom says

    Two words – Apex Suite.

    Reverse herringbone are my strong second preference (have never done EY’s business studio but imagine I would rank it around a similar level to a good reverse herringbone seat).

    • Craig Sowerby says

      I currently have a JAL F reward booked for later in the year. But indeed I have been wondering whether I should just save the miles and look for a J reward on a plane with the Apex Suite.

      • Tom says

        Depends how many miles you have, but to me I’d keep the JL F reward (particularly if ex-TYO). The soft product 100% makes it worth it to me!

        Not that there’s anything wrong with JL J either though, which completely wipes the floor with 90%+ of other J products (and in particular the BA codeshare options if flying between LON and TYO).

      • David S says

        If miles are not an issue don’t cancel your F redemption. The soft product with the excellent service is not to be missed and if you like Japanese cuisine, the food is amazing.

  6. Nigel says

    One person’s claustrophobia is another’s pleasant privacy. The window seat on an Emirates A380 offers the splendid isolation and peace one needs on an overnight business flight. And I’ve never had a problem of leg room – being able to extend into the area below the TV prevents that problem.

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