Travel business class. Image Credit: Getty Images

Lengthy queues, waiting around in airport lounges, and security searches that leave you wondering why you bothered to get dressed in the morning – flying these days is a hassle. And that’s just on the ground. Once in the air you’re sometimes met with tasteless food, cramped seating, and tiny lavatories. And if you’re regularly taking to the skies, added risk of deep-vein thrombosis caused by sitting still in a restricted space for long periods of time.

The 1960s’ glamorous age of travel is a distant memory – or is it? Certain aspects of flying will always be the same, but eschewing economy class to fly business is undoubtedly the best way of enhancing your travel experience. The catch? Such luxury comes with a hefty price tag.

And the limits of such luxury is expanding. Miami-based businessman Gino Bertuccio was the first to check into the three-room suite on a double-decker A380 flight from London Heathrow Airport to Abu Dhabi in December. The Residence, which measures 125 square feet, is an ultra-luxurious fully private suite that boasts a living room, bedroom with double bed and separate en suite shower room, personal vanity unit and wardrobe. Did we add it comes with a personal butler? Costs are from $20,000 (Dh80,000) one way for two people.

Still, even prior to the financial crisis, pundits were predicting the death of business class. But data from aviation company OAG shows a significant rise in the number of first-class seats in the air – up 34 per cent in 2014 globally. In the Far East overall numbers have increased by 63 per cent in the past five years, while in the Middle East Qatar Airways has seen the equivalent of a 132 per cent rise and Emirates business class a rise of 32 per cent.

Airlines rely on business-class passengers – it’s how they make their money – and so the pressure is on to be constantly upgrading premier cabins. Ten years ago a lie-flat bed was a luxury, today people are looking for Egyptian cotton linen, showers and on-board chefs. Cabins should have night-time mood lighting and menus should rival those in top restaurants.

If you think business class is out of your league, you could be mistaken. If you travel long-haul often – even in economy – sign up for loyalty programmes. Of course, committing to just one airline – or alliance – is the best way to accrue the most miles, but they all have their benefits. So what do the top airlines flying from Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer in the line of luxe travel?


The cost: Flying return from Abu Dhabi to London typically costs from Dh12,755.

The perks: Etihad propelled itself into a new league for family travellers last year when it announced the introduction of ‘flying nannies’ on board its long-haul flights. The nannies – all trained cabin crew – are on hand to entertain children with games and arts and crafts, and also support parents in refilling bottles and preparing bassinets for babies. While the nannies serve all classes, Etihad’s business class is recognised as one of the best in the industry. Its business class ‘studios’ on the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner offer total privacy from other passengers and provide space that you can really make your own. There’s also an in-seat massage function across the fleet, while on longer flights a turndown service is offered, which includes a mattress, cotton loungewear and slippers. Then there are chefs – handpicked from some of the world’s best restaurants – on board all long-haul flights and business passengers can choose meals at whatever time suits. Stuck on your decision? The on-board food and drink manager is there to find your ideal dish.

The drawbacks: Some have criticised the standard lie-flat business class seat – found on all aircrafts apart from the A380 and 787 – suggesting there’s little room for storage, and gaps that could be used more effectively to make the space feel bigger overall. But then there is always the penthouse!

The verdict: If you’re looking to travel in style, and take the children, Etihad has by far the best offering.

For more info or to book: Visit www.etihad.com/en-ae.


The cost: A return flight from Dubai to New York typically costs from Dh21,095.

The perks: Emirates is a frequent winner of the world’s best airline. It was the introduction of the A380 – in 2008 – that promoted Emirates to the world stage, and since then it has deployed more super-jumbos than any other airline, with 57 in its fleet. The plane’s business class – located on the upper deck – is virtually unrivalled by any other carrier. The seats are roomy and their herringbone layout offers privacy for individual travellers, while the dual seats in the centre of the cabin prove popular with those travelling with a spouse. At night you’ll be offered a mattress to put atop your lie-flat seat for extra comfort. The Bvlgari amenity kits offer everything from a toothbrush to handkerchief and perfume. You also have the choice of 2,000 of the latest movies and must-see TV shows, on demand and in multiple languages on your personal video screen. There’s the chance to watch live television news on certain routes. If you have work to do you can send emails or upload your latest blog post via the in-seat power socket for your iPad. Dine on world cuisines presented on Royal Doulton bone china plates with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery. On the ground, the business lounge at DXB is amongst the largest in the world and offers passengers a retreat, as well as the chance to grab a quick bite from the buffet or order à la carte. There’s also the offer of a free chauffeur service to collect you from home or work and whisk you to the door of the terminal.

The drawback: The single seats are often pre-selected by passengers who book early, and while the centre seats are great for those travelling with a partner, if you’re on your own you could find yourself stuck in – for business-class standards – pretty close proximity, even with the screen, to the person next to you, however you’ll probably become too absorbed in the experience to care.

The verdict: A truly first-class experience at business-class prices.

For more info or to book: Visit www.emirates.com/ae.

Qatar Airways

The cost: A return flight from Dubai to Beijing, via Doha, typically costs from Dh6,955.

The perks: With chauffeur service, private terminals and new business-class seats, Qatar offers one of the very best experiences for premium travellers. You’ll be pampered from the moment you set foot in the terminal until touchdown. Known for its unrivalled service and immaculately dressed staff, the airline excels in every aspect, and this was recognised last year when the carrier won the best business-class title at the prestigious World Airline Awards.

Its in-flight dining has also been much celebrated of late after the airline employed a cast of the world’s greatest chefs – including Nobu Matsuhisa whose restaurant in Copenhagen was named the best in the world – to design a menu adapted for optimum taste at 38,000 feet. You’ll also be kitted out with designer sleepwear, Italian Frette linen and a selection of Ferragamo Attimo toiletries. This month the airline will become the first carrier to fly the Airbus A350 XWB, reputedly the most advanced plane in the world with the widest seats, HD entertainment screens and a state-of-the-art ventilation system. What’s not to love?

The drawbacks: While Qatar’s new A350 XWB and A380 planes have upgraded business seats, many of the older planes feel a little cramped and lacking in the rockstar factor. However, the airline is combating this and slowly upgrading seats across its fleet.

The verdict: If on a route served by a new plane, you’re in for a super treat.

For more info or to book: Visit www.qatarairways.com/ae.

British Airways

The cost: A return flight from Dubai to London typically costs from Dh9,070.

The perks: British Airways made history when it introduced Concord flights from London to New York in 1976 (until it was retired in 2003). You could land before you took off, the flight was so quick – and many years later BA was the first airline to introduce lie-flat beds in its business cabins in the early Noughties. Such innovation set the British flag carrier apart from the rest of the world. Over the decade other airlines have caught up, and now BA is designing a new first-class seat, completely under wraps at the moment, that – when unveiled later this year – will once again set the carrier apart from the rest of the industry. On board you can choose your three-course meal from an extensive menu, while enjoying in-flight entertainment on a 26cm flat-screen display. You’ll also be provided with a memory foam pillow, blanket and an Elemis amenity kit. BA is also offering “World Sleeper Service” on some long-haul routes. Enjoy your food in the lounge, and then a quick drink before lights out in the sky. On the ground in London and New York, business-class passengers have access to BA’s Elemis spa, where the free treatments include massages and facials, as well as beauty treatments such as manicures, eyebrow shaping, and for men, a ‘power shave’. That said, securing a slot is easier said than done.

The drawbacks: Some of British Airways’ older planes are showing their age. While the Club World – business – cabins are well looked after by the airline, that doesn’t compensate for the fact older Boeing 747s jumbo-jets – commonly used on one of the twice-daily Dubai to London flights – are noisy. Check when booking, as opting for a flight using a Boeing 777 is likely to improve your travel experience.

The verdict: If you’re looking for a tried and tested experience, with lashings of old-world British etiquette, the UK’s flag carrying airline offers just that.

For more info or to book: Visit www.britishairways.com/ae.


The cost: A return flight from Dubai to Melbourne typically costs from Dh26,500.

The perks: Travelling with work colleagues and have a pressing topic to discuss? Qantas’s A380s boast a small on-board lounge, complete with 132cm television for displaying presentations or videos. Alternatively you can forget about work, grab a drink from the small bar, and chat with friends about adventures at your destination. Back at your seat, food is made to order from the Rockpool designed business menu. Arrive refreshed thanks to the well-stocked Kate Spade and Jack Spade amenity kits, which feature Australian-made Aspar spa products, allowing you to land feeling clean and refreshed.

The drawbacks: Qantas business class flights are often really expensive. It’s known for its tip-top service in economy, so weigh up the benefits if paying personally – are on-board sommeliers and meeting rooms really worth the exorbitant prices?

The verdict: A classy carrier with lots of little nuances to make your journey as enjoyable and relaxing as possible.

For more info or to book: Visit www.qantas.com.au.

Jet Airways

The cost: A return flight from Dubai to Delhi typically costs from Dh3,200.

The perks: The herringbone cabin configuration is attractive for solo travellers looking for privacy while in the air. The 39cm touch-screen in-flight entertainment system is also particularly good, and offers a huge selection of both Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters. Last month the airline announced a new interactive “book your meal” service that allows first class and premiere (Jet Airways’ name for business class) guests to pre-order meals ahead of departure. Since November 2013 – when Etihad acquired a stake in Jet Airways – first and premiere passengers have benefitted from access to Etihad’s lounges, which offer a fantastic range of amenities at its major hub airports, including London.

The drawbacks: Some reviews suggest that food lets the business class offering down – with one reviewer describing it as “stale” – particularly for those less keen on Indian food, or seeking more mainstream dishes. However, the new food booking system may compensate for this problem.

The verdict: Jet Airways may be India’s most decorated airline having won many accolades over the years. However, it’s been some time since it scooped a major travel award, which suggests it’s beginning to be left behind.

For more info or to book: visit www.jetairways.com.


It’s the food that sets Swiss apart. The dishes – created by some of the country’s best chefs – are refined yet substantial and are cooked to order in the air. This being a Swiss airline, it is super punctual, with even minor delays considered a disaster. The cabin interior is also Swiss chic. However, overall the business-class offering is functional not glamorous. Visit www.swiss.com.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has always been synonymous with bringing the glamour back into air travel. The new upper class takes the airline into a new league with a chauffeur service, wonderfully spacious seats, fantastic in-flight entertainment, and carefully designed food. You’ll also be given pyjamas at bedtime and a superbly well-stocked amenities kit. The clubhouses are more like luxury hotels than lounges. Fly to London and it gets hi-tech too – check in is completed using Google Glass. Visit www.virgin-atlantic.com.

Singapore Airlines

The business-class seats on board its newer planes cannot be faulted – especially on A380, Boeing 777-300ER and refitted 777-200ER flights, which are the most spacious in the world. In fact, the whole experience is hard to fault: from the food and entertainment to the design of the cabin. What is disappointing, however, is the lack of pyjamas for bedtime – a little extra comfort on the long flights would be welcome, especially now they provide bedtime mattresses. Visit www.singaporeair.com.