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The best business class seats on Australia-US flights

By Chris Chamberlin     Filed under: qantas, United Airlines, business class, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, trans-Pacific

Already spoiled for choice, Aussie travellers will have yet another business class option to the US before the year's end with the launch of American Airlines' non-stop flights between Sydney and Los Angeles.

But just how do AA's business class seats stack up against the likes of Qantas, Virgin Australia, Delta, United and also Air New Zealand across the Pacific?

To begin, business class passengers on AA's Boeing 777-300ERs enjoy direct aisle access from every seat, thanks to the cabin's 1-2-1 layout...

... a bed that's 66cm wide and stretches to between 190 and 198cm when fully-flat...

... and that provides ample space to work throughout the day with a handy side table for your extra gadgets and a desk-level power point to stay recharged:

Also read: American Airlines Sydney-LAX business class: what to expect

Qantas Airbus A380, Boeing 747 business class

On all Qantas Airbus A380s and its refurbished Boeing 747s, the Skybed II seats also clock in at 198cm when completely extended, and too go fully-flat for a good night's sleep.

However, they're around 12cm narrower than AA's seats, and come in a 2-2-2 layout on the A380 – which means that passengers in the side pairs are either hopping over their fellow travellers or being hopped over themselves...

... leaving only the middle pair of seats with direct aisle access and nobody climbing over you.

It's a similar story on the Boeing 747, where all seats on the upper deck and most in the nose on the lower deck come as 2-2...

... expanding to a less-than-desirable 2-3-2 further back on the main deck.

Other than the small centre cocktail table to house your welcome drink, most of Qantas' Skybeds also come without a side table or separate working space, which you'll find on AA.

(Exceptions to the rule include row 5 on the refurbished Boeing 747s and the window seats on both the A380 and the Boeing 747 upper deck, which each have a shelf area atop the side storage bins.)

From time to time, Qantas' non-refurbished Boeing 747s can also appear on USA flights, bringing with them the first generation of Skybeds.

While similar to the newer model, these seats don't go fully-flat...

... instead resting on an incline of nine degrees, making them 'lie-flat':

Fortunately the newer Skybeds appear more often than not across the Pacific, but last-minute aircraft substitutions are always a possibility.

Review: Qantas Boeing 747 Skybed I business class

Virgin Australia Boeing 777 business class

Virgin Australia's full fleet of Boeing 777s sport fully-flat beds in a 2-3-2 layout, which again means there's no one 'ideal' seat for uninterrupted aisle access...

... and when in sleep mode, VA's beds are 2-10cm shorter than those on American and around 8cm narrower, also without space to plonk anything larger than an amenity kit.

However, the seats in row 5 are extremely private, with each group of two or three seats completely curtained off from the aisle and the rest of the cabin:

Review: Virgin Australia Boeing 777 business class: Brisbane-LA

The airline will also begin replacing these seats from later this year with new mini-suites, offering each and every passenger direct aisle access and matching AA.

The new seats also boost the 'stretch zone' when you're lying flat with 203cm of space from head to toe – that's 5-13cm more than on American Airlines – and seats that are 71cm wide with the armrests lowered, again topping AA by 5cm.

Adding to that: a moveable conversation screen between the centre pair of seats for travellers flying together, and ample space for your kit on the side table and in multiple storage slots underneath.

Delta's Boeing 777 'Delta One' business class

Also with direct aisle access for all is 'Delta One' Boeing 777 business class, in a familiar 1-2-1 configuration.

Delta's herringbone layout doesn't afford a great deal of privacy, as every seat faces the aisle and is 'on display' for anybody walking towards the rear of the aircraft:

But at 198cm, Delta's fully-flat beds either match or beat the length of those on AA, with AA winning on seat width by 13cm.

Side space is also limited to the small shelf holding your amenity kit, so you'll need to keep everything else on your tray table or in a seat pocket.

United Boeing 777, 787 'BusinessFirst' business class

United uses a different forwards-backwards layout on its Boeing 777 Sydney flights, but which doesn't offer uninterrupted direct aisle access as you'd find on American Airlines and Delta.

Instead, seats are eight-abreast in BusinessFirst – grouped as 2-4-2 and with every second row facing the rear:

United's seats also don't offer much side storage space or indeed the width of AA's, coming in at roughly 15cm narrower...

... but each form a 193cm fully-flat bed, which meets AA's bed length in the middle of the spectrum.

Melbourne travellers get a completely different seat on their Boeing 787 flights, all of which are forward-facing and come in a 2-2-2 layout:

That gives some travellers – at least in the centre pairs – that ideal combination of direct aisle access and nobody hopping over you.

The Dreamliner's seats are also longer than found on United's Boeing 777s and somewhat on American Airlines, as AA's seats again range from 190 to 198cm, depending on where you sit.

There's also a centre cocktail table and a small storage nook next to your head, yet AA's seats remain approximately 10cm wider.

Air New Zealand Boeing 777 business class

Air NZ remains a popular option for Aussies heading to San Francisco and also Los Angeles via Auckland, with an AA-beating bed length of 202cm when fully-flat:

Every passenger also enjoys direct aisle access, but privacy is relatively limited with the walls between each seat extending to waist-height...

... and which face directly towards that aisle, rather than away from it. NZ's seats are also around 10cm narrower than AA's, although it's fair to highlight that AA doesn't currently serve Auckland.

Which is your business class seat of choice on flights to the USA, and do the new seats of American Airlines and Virgin Australia sway that decision? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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About Chris Chamberlin

Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, an opera ticket and a glass of wine!


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 6/7/15 by T

Qantas needs to update its business class, especially competing against the Middle East carriers, it's is really crap compared to other airlines, and why doesn't  VA fly from Melbourne to lax

1 on 6/7/15 by gaschmon

VA did fly MEL-LAX non-stop until last year. Obviously they weren't making enough money on that and decided to beef up their BNE-LAX offering.

1 on 6/7/15 by T

I thought they did, I am disappointed, only Qantas and United, I wish there where more options

2 on 6/7/15 by curly

VA dropped MEL-LAX the same day UA went non-stop with the 788

1 on 6/7/15 by reeves35

It was actually a couple of days before.  UA use 789 on LAX-MEL

2 on 6/7/15 by riley

Lucky the middle east carriers don't operate these routes. They'd have a field day offering a superior product at a better price!

1 on 6/7/15 by Hugo

Meh, I flew Etihad for the first time recently (business class on a selection of various A330s and 777s) and wasn't all that impressed. The airline seemed more interested in selling my eyeballs to advertisers than in providing any service. Seat and food were fine but no different to many others.


Honestly I just got a bad vibe from the airline.

1 on 6/7/15 by Marc

You're not the only one. A colleague of mine just flew business class Amsterdam-Sydney (first leg through KLM). First part on KLM was fine but felt she felt completely ignored on the Abu Dhabi-Sydney leg. Luggage was lost too which costed three days to get it back. I now have second thoughts about using them myself.

2 on 6/7/15 by julius-grafton

Air NZ do it for me, until the new VA seats come online. The UA 777 arrangement is downright kookie, staring at FOUR people accross the aisle, all squahed together. QF are going to lose business if they don't adopt new product in the A380 and 747. Haven't flown Delta.

1 on 6/7/15 by Bizflyer

Delta is suprisingly good for a U.S carrier good hard and soft product not like QF and VA but it isn't horrible. Same with me I am quite a fan of ANZ busniess as it has superb soft and hard product. 

3 on 6/7/15 by djcz

I'm confused how a bed can go between 190cm to 198cm, are there certain seats that have longer beds?

1 on 6/7/15 by T

Yes, just the layout of the seats, it's just how it is

4 on 6/7/15 by Geoff

I have flown on most of them currently and the Air NZ seat coupled with a better level of in flight service ticks my boxes at this stage, even with the extra km's crossing to NZ.

1 on 6/7/15 by Jared

I think the service on VA outclasses airnz these days. Something has changed on airnz in the past 6 months. They are not as friendly or helpful as they once were. 

5 on 6/7/15 by Richrrrd

Have flown VA twice up front, both times in row 5 - brilliant service and very private. The upcoming refresh for me makes it the clear winner. The only downside for me -living in Melbourne - is having to route via SYD or BNE, which means using the often crowded Air New Zealand lounge

6 on 6/7/15 by manicottiK

Being from Philadelphia, I'm captive to US Airways, which used to be in StarAlliance with Air New Zealand. The NZ Business Premier bed and the service were great for years. When AA bought US last year and moved them to OneWorld, I used Qantas for my next Australian trip. The Qantas seat does not compare well to the NZ seat. I'm splitting mileage this year between Star and OneWorld to stay in the NZ seat.

I've had the opportunity to fly the US business seat trans-Atlantic many times and enjoy it, although it's not as nice as the NZ seat. The one that AA is using for the new aircraft is the next generation of that seat, so it should narrow the gap quite a bit,.

7 on 6/7/15 by Martin

I all ways fly with DL & VA. They offer the best commections and service for a reasonable price. Also the new Delta One Check In facilities at LAX are awsome .

8 on 6/7/15 by henrus

You have also left out Fiji Airways A330 business class from Sydney via Nadi to LAX which I find quite good

1 on 6/7/15 by Chris

Hi henrus, we didn't include Fiji Airways as the time spent transiting in Nadi ranges from around five hours through to almost 16 hours depending on which Australian city you're flying from and the time of your departure (with the one exception being FJ910 from Sydney where the transit time is around three hours), in the same way that we haven't included Cathay Pacific to New York via Hong Kong, for example. But agreed – Fiji Airways can be great for the price.

1 on 6/7/15 by VC10

Good point Chris.Perhaps the subject of another thread, but I recently flew a combination of First and Business with CZ from SYD-JFK, and was very impressed, especially for the price.

2 on 10/7/15 by henrus

Yeh good points

Luckly from Brisbane the layovers that I have done stay at around 2-4 hours which have been similar to some Air New Zealand flights through Auckland which is my favourite

9 on 6/7/15 by bsbtraveller

I'm stuck on QF because I'm addicted to my platinum status. Their seats are terrible, but the new product on the 330 is awesome, truly awesome.  If they put those across the pacific it would be a no brainer.  Plus the F lounges are pretty compelling.  I suspect they know this and new seats will be a while off.

(BTW, I don't agree the Middle East carries are that much better service wise.  Haven't been Etihad, but the other two are incredibly variable and all that EK bling does not win me over but the seats are a cut above esp QR)

Have flown VA, on the plane is good, but the airport experience and status perks are nowhere near comparable.   It's pretty much a virtual airline anyway and I live in Melbourne, so doubly so.

Have been on NZ 777 J only to AKL, loved it, but I would never pay 6 or 7 k to LAX and stop in AKL.  

Not been on the U.S. carriers, seems pointless if you're an Aust FF trying to maintain status

1 on 6/7/15 by crossfitter

Yeah the new Sky Suites look pretty amazing. Will they roll it across their international fleet though?

2 on 6/7/15 by Fonga

The Sky II isn't a terrible seat, just uncompetitive. It lacks the extra bench space that is becoming more common and you have a 1 in 3 chance of having to step past/over someone to get to the aisle. Both killer weaknesses.  However, it is still a great experience. It wasn't so long ago those seats were winning design awards and praised as setting the pace. Things move fast though and compared to the new business standards it lags.

I agree the new suites are fantastic. Much better than you expect on first sight. The Qantas ads don't do them justice. I also much prefer facing stright forwards in the cabin, and not at an angle or even backwards! Maybe they'll wait till the 787-9s come on stream before extending them beyond the A330s. 

1 on 6/7/15 by bsbtraveller

Can't agree the Skybeds I or II are good now or in the past.  I've disliked them from the start, never found them comfortable and were perplexed when they won awards...but just like all other (airline) awards, you can buy or lobby (for the less cynical) first place.

2 on 6/7/15 by bsbtraveller

Can't agree the Skybeds I or II are good now or in the past.  I've disliked them from the start, never found them comfortable and were perplexed when they won awards...but just like all other (airline) awards, you can buy or lobby (for the less cynical) first place.

1 on 8/7/15 by petrhsr

The Skybeds were brilliant back in the day when the only competition was the United 744s and their cradle recliners. Ughhhh.....

I found the Skybed 2 comfortable, but I agree that 6-abreast (and the middle seat in the 744 cabin) just doens't cut it anymore.

On another note, I'm intrigued by status-addiction.  If you're flying in the best cabin available on the route, who cares?  I don't even put an FF number into half my reservations these days.  If you're in F already, it's moot.

10 on 6/7/15 by Andrew

I find Cathay flight from AU to Hong Kong then to Chicago avoids LAX and provides a far better product and service than all the airlines mentioned in this article.

If youre going to the mid-west or east coast, try CX instead.  1-2-1 layout, great HK lounges, great transit times to ORD flight, and a full 2m lie-flat bed.

1 on 6/7/15 by T

Yeah, but how long will that take, a very long time compared to direct flights

1 on 6/7/15 by 11sjw

Again the precursor was "If you're going to the mid-west or east coast."  I took that to bring CX right into the equation as you'd have one stop anyway (now I'm assuming New York here).  I'd rather that stop be in HKG than LAX.

However even if it meant that New York was a 2nd stop I'd still take that over LAX.  Especially given it was on CX's J product.

11 on 6/7/15 by grov

For us "outsiders" on the west coast, there are plenty of other, potentially better, options, including CX via HK and Emirates, Etihad, Qatar to the east coast of USA.

12 on 7/7/15 by Serg

AA is worse company that I ever fly with, but their Business looks very sleek indeed.

13 on 7/7/15 by subichow

Thanks for the updated comparison! I actually used a previous comparison article on here to help choose which airline to fly with on an upcoming SYD-LAX flight. The problem I found was that while I wanted to fly direct, there wasn't really a product at a price I wanted. Having flown last year on the VA flight I didn't like the layout and as I will be travelling alone again I didn't really want to sit next to someone.

I like the reverse herringbone layout that AA offers and the new VA mini-suite looks like something I would like to try as well but neither will be in operation by my travel dates. I ended up going with Air New Zealand and got it at a good price too!

14 on 12/7/15 by Nicholas

I think Qantas needs to update at least some of their a380's to the new business class and economy. Although it will take a while for that to happen...

15 on 30/8/15 by Jeannene

Air NZ seats the best, until new VA seats installed and AA comes online with the fabulous Cathay Pacific-type seats. The Qantas A380 and 747 seats are insulting to loyal FF pasengers. Twin seating and narrow spacing between rows are a rip-off. No shelf space for aisle passenger. Beds are not true "flat beds" as advertised and are too narrow. Didn't see one passenger sleeping fully horizontally (except for a passenger who put his cabin bag under the foot of his bed). Also very difficult to get into the best setting for sleep. Qantas set to lose even more passengers to quality airlines.




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