First Class Vs. Business Class: What’s The Difference?

A reader asked me what the difference was between first class and business class. It also occurred to me that the answer is a bit more nuanced than the first thought. I wanted to give a detailed answer to that question.

There is confusion about class.

There is confusion about the difference between first class and business class. Let me give you an example of why.

This is a first class seat.

The American Eagle E175 is the first class.

This is a first class seat.

Air France has a first class Boeing plane.

This is a business class seat.

The business class of the airline is called the A320.

This is also a business class seat.

The business class is all Nippon Airways.

The terms first class and business class don't tell you a lot about what to expect.

First class vs. business class is a subject of marketing.

The way I see it, first class is true.

An airline has a cabin that is above business class.
In these situations airlines have four cabins, usually first class, business class, premium economy, and economy.
First class cabins can be found on long haul international flights, and tickets can cost five figures.

There are other times when a flight will be marketed as offering first class. When you travel within the United States, the forward-most cabin on most domestic aircraft is marketed as first class rather than business class, even though it is a mediocre product that doesn't compete with long haul business class.

American Airlines has a Boeing plane.

Why is that happening? Different regions of the world approach the marketing of premium cabins differently.

The forward-most cabin on flights within the United States that have just two classes of service is usually marketed as first class.
Business class is the most popular class on international flights with just two classes of service.
The same seats that are marketed as first class on domestic flights are also marketed as business class on short haul international flights.

To sum it up as simply as possible.

Airlines in different parts of the world approach first class and business class differently.
When people talk about first class on a plane, they usually mean long haul international first class on a plane that also has a business class cabin, and these cabins can often cost $10,000+).

Business class is different from first class.

Long haul international first class is better than long haul international business class. There is a huge amount of variation in the quality of the airline, but I wanted to cover some of the differences between the two experiences.

All of my flight reviews, as well as my posts about the best first class lounges, the best business class seats, etc., are available for a more detailed look at some of these products.

There are quite a bit of variation, so this is very broad, but I think the six biggest differences between first class and business class are in no particular order.

The experience on the ground.

The first class experience starts when you check-in. If you are visiting a first class lounge, that is even more true.

Some airlines offer first class services on the ground. If you are flying out of Paris in Air France first class, you can expect to be driven to your plane by car and enjoy a la carte dining in the lounge.

You should be driven to your plane when flying first class.

I have never had a business class ground experience like the one I have at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London, which is personalized in the same way as the business class lounges.

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse isn't the same as the other ones.

The personal area.

First class usually provides more of the precious space on a plane than second class. There are some great business class products out there which feature direct aisle access, and are better than first class 10 years ago. The Qsuites is one of my favorites.

Qsuites is an amazing business class.

When it comes to first class hard products, the innovation is different. Take a look at the new first class cabin of the new 777, which has fully enclosed suites with individual temperature and lighting controls. You will forget you are on an airplane.

The new first class is my favorite.

There are amenities.

I think a good night of sleep is more than just the amount of personal space, it is also about what the airline does to make it comfortable. Many first class products come with additional amenities, like pajamas, and some airlines even offer these in business class.

First class pajamas.

Good bedding is the most important amenity. Several first class products offer name brand bedding products, which can rival the sleep you would get at home. A good mattress pad is a huge point of differentiation.

The bedding in first class is great.

The onboard shower on the A380 is reserved for first class passengers, so it isn't bad.

The shower on the A380.

The service is provided.

There is a different approach to service in first class and business class. In first class there is usually one flight attendant for every few passengers, while in business class there is usually one flight attendant for every 10 passengers.

In business class, I expect to be served like I am part of an assembly line, given how many people need to be served at once.

There are many people in business class.

My expectations of service are different in first class. The service at a Medieval Times dinner and live show is more attentive than it is at a restaurant, where you feel like you are being served in a restaurant and dining at your pace.

I don't feel guilty asking for things in first class. I feel bad ordering a coffee in business class since I know the crew is busy and they have a lot of people to take care of. I don't feel that way in first class.

It is easier to provide attentive service in first class.

The food has something to do with it.

In business class, I hope for food to be good, andmediocre, and in first class, I hope for a meal that is good.

A first class meal may include many courses you want, and will often include caviar.

Enjoying a meal in first class.

The drinks.

It doesn't appeal to everyone, but some airlines have an amazing selection of alcohol in first class, whether it be Dom or Krug.

China Southern first class has worse champagne than Qatar Airways business class, but on the whole you will find some first class products with great drink selections.

Dom Perignon is in first class.

Most airlines serve specialty coffee drinks in first class but not in business class.

The french press coffee is in first class.

The bottom line.

There can be some confusion about the differences between first class and business class. The cabins are usually called what they are called.

Unless you are traveling on an international long haul flight in a cabin that is marketed as first class, I wouldn't consider business class to be the same as first class. The best experiences in commercial aviation can be found there.

It is important to remember that not all products are created equal. It's important to keep in mind that experiences can differ substantially, so this is intended to be a big-picture look at the differences between cabins.

I haven't answered any questions about the difference between business and first class.