What's the best business class seat to fly from Australia across the Pacific to the US?
At Australian Business Traveller, we're asked questions comparing the business classes a lot, since these are long flights and you want to get the best seat for your money.
So we've pooled our expertise on these airlines and come up with a definitive guide to the most comfortable seats on the major airlines crossing the Pacific:
- Air New Zealand
- Air Canada
- Virgin Australia
How we compared the seats
These are 12-14 hour flights, so getting as much sleep as you can is important. We've placed an emphasis on undisturbed sleep, so beds that go completely horizontal beat beds that don't.
Read our exposé of the "lie-flat lie" about angled flat seats for more on why fully flat beds are important on long flights like these.
Direct aisle access, where window or middle passengers don't have to hop over the person in the aisle seat, is also a plus in our book.
But so is comfort in the seating mode and overall service, together with the lounge offerings on both ends. We've briefly mentioned all those things where they're relevant to your choice.
But, like most business travellers, we've really focussed on the seat you'll be occupying for the better part of a day.
Ranked: the best business class across the Pacific
Starting with the best, we pick:
1. Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand isn't the first name that springs to mind when you're thinking of flights from Australia to the USA. And for good reason: flying AirNZ calls for a connection in Auckland.
A stopover instead of a direct flight won't appeal to many business travellers, but we promised to call out the best business class seats – and Air New Zealand's flagship Boeing 777-300 business class, Business Premier, is spectacular.
You get direct aisle access and a seat that flips over to create one of the best beds for sleeping in the sky -- especially if you prefer to sleep on your side or stomach.
The downsides, apart from that Auckland connection? The the seat doesn't recline all that far when you're using it in seat mode, and the herringbone layout where seats angle slightly into the aisles.
Bonuses include the fantastic and unusual NZ wine selection, plus Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer points.
Air New Zealand's older Business Premier seats, which you'll still find on the airlines' Boeing 747 and 777-200, are still among our favourites but they're not quite up there with the 777-300ER.
They still boast aisle access and the flip-over bed, but it's not quite as good a mattress and the entertainment system is a bit last-generation
In summary: if your schedule can spare the time, take this trip.
2. Air Canada
Here's another curve-ball. Air Canada doesn't fly directly to the US -- but its Sydney-Vancouver flights make good sense if you're heading to the northern US cities like Seattle. Why put yourself through the 'Seven Circles of Hell' punishment of LAX when you can transfer via, and maybe break your journey at, Vancouver?
Air Canada's very comfortable Executive First business class has direct aisle access in a herringbone layout and a seat that reclines into a fully flat bed, so they're great for getting the sleep you need to help skip across the west-to-east timezones.
However, there's no "wow" factor like other airlines have. This is a functional business class, not one with flair. Plus, Air Canada's Sydney lounge is the Air New Zealand business lounge, which is often crowded.
Delta's herringbone layout on its trans-Pacific Boeing 777-200LRs also reclines rather than flipping over, but you get all the benefits of direct aisle access.
Bear in mind that Delta's business class lacks a bit of panache: this is, again, one of those business classes where the seat wins over the rest of the deal.
4. Qantas: Skybed Mark II (Airbus A380 and upgraded Boeing 747)
If you're on one of Qantas' Airbus A380s or its refurbished Boeing 747-400ERs, you'll find the second-generation Skybed.
It's a very comfortable seat, and since they're in the nose or upstairs on a 747 -- or on the upper deck of an A380 -- you can be sure of a quiet ride too.
The main drawback of the Skybed layout is that it faces forward in regular rows: so you've got middle seat passengers in the main cabin downstairs on a 747, and window seat passengers on the A380 have to clamber over their aisle neighbour.
Qantas' lounge complex in Sydney (especially the world-beating first class lounge) is firmly above average, but the Los Angeles one isn't up to the same standard.
But when you put together the seat and the inflight dining, this would be the best direct service from Australia to the US.
Read more: the best business class seats on Qantas' Airbus A380: both the new version and the old version. For the Boeing 747, you'll need the guide to the refurbished long-range 747-400ER -- it's the only jumbo jet with these new seats.
5. Virgin Australia
The old V Australia business class wins on style, so if you like the Virgin flair you'll love this one. The exclusive Row 5 is a real gem and very private, though subject to noise from the bar ahead and economy behind.
The seats are among the least comfortable of the bunch, though: they're generic, forward-facing flatbed seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, so you might get lumped with a middle seat, and you'll be subject to the clambering problem wherever you are in the cabin.
6. United Airlines
United has the narrowest seats across the Pacific at nineteen inches -- around two to three inches narrower than the rest.
They're fully flat beds, but arranged in a forwards-backwards layout where one row faces forwards, but the next faces backwards.
They're the only airline to do direct Sydney-San Francisco, though (and we have one of our signature reviews of the service), and also fly from Melbourne. The lounges are nothing to write home about, however.
7. Qantas: Skybed Mark I (original Boeing 747)
If you fly business class on an older Qantas 747, you'll be booked on the angled lie-flat Skybed.
This is the least comfortable bed across the Pacific, and it'll be phased out as the Red Roo retires or refurbishes its 747 fleet.
Read more: to pick the best business class seat for your flight, check out our guide to the four-class Boeing 747-400ER, the four-class Boeing 747-400 (not the -ER model) or the two-class Boeing 747-400, which just has business and economy.
We should point out that several airlines fly recliner seats across the Pacific, which are similar to what you'd find in domestic business class in Australia. Those airlines are Air Pacific, Air New Zealand, Hawaiian Airlines, and Jetstar (to Honolulu only).
Since they're firmly below the standard of the other airlines, we've not included them here.
What do you reckon? Do you sing the praises of one of the seats we rate? Or are you a fan of one of the business classes we're not so keen on? Share your thoughts in a comment below!
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.