Is European Business Class pathetic?

Anyone who has ever flown on an airline in Europe has noticed the curtain that hangs between some seats in the front and the back. This curtain divides the cabin into the business and economy classes. In this article, I will take a closer look at this “euro business class” that is very common in Europe but not so much in the rest of the world.

Whats “euro business”?

The business class product offered on intra-European flights differs a lot from what can be expected elsewhere in the world. Like on most planes; the cabins are divided with a curtain. What some people don’t know is that the curtain on European flights can be moved. It allows airlines to the size of their business class cabins.

This is what Euro Business seats look like at Lufthansa

“Euro Business” relates to the use of a flexible cabin on European flights. The airline uses a moveable divider and therefore has full flexibility on how many business class seats they want in their cabin. This flexibility is definitely an advantage for airlines; if there is a bigger demand on economy seats on the one flight the airline can adapt to that without losing the ability to sell plenty of extra business class tickets on the return (if there is a big business class demand on that flight).

For travellers, it’s a different story:

  • The seats in the euro business cabin are almost identical to the ones in the back.
  • Some airlines have a few inches of extra pitch on the rows 1-12 (seats that get the extra pitch but are not in the euro business cabin are sold as “comfort seats”.
  • The middle seat is (sometimes) kept free (not on planes with only 2 seats next to each other.
  • Usually, travellers in euro business get better catering (but some airlines still only do a buy on board meaning you have to pay for extra food and/or drinks

I recently reviewed an intra-Europe business class flight operated by JOON to Barcelona. Click here to read my experiences.

Considering there are hardly any European flights that last longer than 3 hours, one could even say that removing the business class from cabins would be the smartest choice. The reason these business class cabins are kept on board is to ensure passengers that connect on the long haul network have a “consistent” product during the whole of their travels. Someone that flies Los Angeles – Rome via Munich on Lufthansa would expect a certain quality cabin on their shorter flight between Munich and Rome.

Business Class flying in Europe in the past

Was it always like this? No! In the 20th century, practically every airline operating flights in Europe had a dedicated business class cabin with better seats; including the recliners that older business class cabins still have, better service and better catering.

Around 2000 and definitely after the economic problems caused by the 9/11 attacks, airlines got into trouble. The rise of low-cost carriers and changing travel patterns meant airlines were looking for a way to optimise their yields by having a flexible number of business class seats on their short haul fleets (compared to a fixed amount of seats). The moving divider was introduced as the most optimal solution and is still there today.

What service can you expect in euro business?

Europe business class usually entails a few extras compared to regular economy flying:

  • Priority check-in, security (customs if applicable) and boarding
  • Extra checked and hand luggage allowances
  • Lounge access
  • The middle seat on planes is kept free
  • Cold platter meal service
  • Extended list of beverages offered
  • Complimentary newspapers

It is interesting to know that if someone has a frequent flyer status with the airline, usually most of the above-described perks are already accessible. As a Skyteam Elite+ for example, one can use all priority services, gets a free piece of checked luggage and has lounge access already.

How is it done in other parts of the world?

So after we investigated the way European airlines deal with their business class cabins lets make a tour around the world to see how it dealt with:

Business Class in the USA:

In the United States, all mainline airlines such as Delta, American and United Airlines offer a full business class experience. This includes dedicated seats; usually wider en with more pitch and a better recline. This kind of service is even offered on the smaller planes in the fleet. For example; American Airlines has their Embraer 190 jets (for the short hops) equipped with wider recliner seats.

On the longer flights such as transcontinental flights (New York – Los Angeles), the airlines offer a business class product that’s comparable to their international products including full-flat seats and other amenities. Its fair to consider the distances of these flights though; 7 hours is not unheard of.

This is the Business Class cabin on an American Airlines E190 regional plane

Business Class in Asia:

In Asia, distances are, just like in the USA, a bit longer. A regular practice in this part of the world is to operate regional flights with widebody planes such as the Airbus A330 or Boeing 767. Next time you fly from Hong Kong to Bangkok (2 hours) don’t be surprised to see the flight being operated by a big plane.

Needless to say, these planes are equipped with a near international business class product including better seats and better catering.

Regional Business Class at Singapore Airlines is no punishment

Fair or not?

So is it fair to only offer a mediocre product in Europe? Considering the distances I would lean towards the Euro Business product but if we take a look on how its done elsewhere in the world I would say Euro Business is indeed pathetic and a joke.

Most US airlines upgrade their most loyal passengers (those with high status) to the business seats that they did not sell before the flights. This is a really nice gesture and makes sure that those who are loyal are given a present in form of a complimentary upgrade once in a while.

On the contrary; this rarely (never) happens on European flights unless overbooked. I often see empty business class cabins. Wouldnt this be an awesome tool for European airlines to reward their high-status pax?

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About Ingmar Bruinsma

Ingmar Bruinsma is an entrepreneur in the travel industry. He also provides consultancy services in the field of marketing, business development to clients in travel & aviation. He blogs about topics in tourism, travel, aviation, digital marketing.


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