What is the difference between first-class and business-class cabins?

From double beds and butler services, to three-room suites in the sky, discover the perks of elite flying with Emirates, Etihad Airways and more

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Like traveller’s cheques, departure cards and baggage without wheels, first-class air travel could be on its way out.

This week, the world’s second-best airline Qatar Airways announced it was scrapping its fanciest cabin seat – and it’s not the first to pull the plug on first-class flights of fancy.

Air New Zealand, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Latam have also called time on first-class cabins, with American Airlines to follow suit on international flights next year.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker believes that investment in the most luxurious seats doesn’t justify the returns, claiming the “future lies in business class”.

So, what is the difference between first-class and business-class seats, and is the former a gimmick or a once-in-a-lifetime splurge worth making?

Here, The National looks at the difference between first-class and business-class seats at five of the world's biggest airlines.


Individual suites in Emirates' first class. Photo: Emirates

Emirates promises ultimate luxury in the skies and the airline’s first-class service has won its share of awards over the years.

Available on both its A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft, the first-class service is described as being “as close to it comes to your own private jet”, with individual suites, large flat-screen TVs and a menu that includes lobster and caviar.

Food is served on Royal Doulton fine bone china and the A380 even offers fliers a smart shower spa and Exclusive Collection Bvlgari amenity kits.

In business class, passengers can stretch out on spacious lie-flat seats complete with a personal minibar and a widescreen TV, although they miss out on the privacy of sliding doors.

The caviar is replaced by a selection of light bites, though passengers can expect the same crockery and shower kit.

Certain jets even offer an onboard business-class lounge where guests can dig into canapes and make new friends around the bar at 40,000 feet.

Etihad Airways

Business-class passengers on Etihad have reclining seats and can choose a la carte meals. Photo: Etihad Airways

Flying to London? With Etihad, travellers can kick back in a private three-room suite, featuring a bedroom, living room and en suite shower room, under the care of a private butler.

The Residence cabin will be available to book in the summer when the airline's four A380s from Abu Dhabi to the UK capital are back in the sky.

As well as breakfast in bed and a full turndown service, fliers can also watch multiple widescreen TVs and savour gourmet cuisine on designer tableware.

Back in “regular” first class, passengers can expect a private suite, an a la carte menu, a boutique drinks list and a fully flat bed.

In the business cabin, beds also recline and meals are served a la carte.

The newly launched Constellation Collection in business class, meanwhile, features cabins designed in collaboration with Giorgio Armani, and come with a memory foam mattress and luxurious Armani bedding.

Singapore Airlines

Suite Class cabins on Singapore Airlines. Getty Images

The Suite Class cabins on Singapore Airlines are designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, and have single and double en suite rooms akin to a luxury hotel.

In first class, the extravagance continues with extra-wide leather seats with curved partitions for privacy, as well as a 24-inch HD TV and a Book the Cook service, offering a selection of a la carte dishes including lobster, scallops and roast duck.

In business class, seats are unsurprisingly smaller, though seats on international flights can recline into a flat bed crafted from soft leather. Selected routes also offer Book the Cook with paired drinks.

British Airways

Upgrading to first class on British Airways gives guests access to a private suite complete with a lie-flat seat with a memory foam mattress topper and 400 thread count sheets.

First-class British Airways passengers can also choose from an a la carte menu featuring Herefordshire beef and pan-fried stone bass, paired with a selection of drinks.

In business class, passengers will have to forgo the suite, though the blow is softened by a fully flat bed and global cuisine, plus BA’s signature afternoon tea on certain routes.

The airline's newly revamped Club World Suites, meanwhile, offer a spacious 198cm fully flat bed with a door for extra privacy.


From next year, passengers flying with Lufthansa will be able to choose the First Class Suite Plus cabin on the Airbus A350 as part of Lufthansa Allegris, the airline’s new long-haul project.

The service will offer double suites in both first and business-class cabins, with a few important differences. Where the first-class option will feature ceiling-high walls and entirely closable doors, the business-class cabin will offer chest-high walls and sliding doors for privacy.

Both options will also feature fully reclining beds with an inbuilt heating and cooling system with widescreen TVs and noise-cancelling headphones.

Updated: June 12, 2023, 1:50 PM