Once you fly business class, it feels utterly impossible to go back to coach. Well, impossible until your company stops paying for it.
Downgrading to economy class isn't easy emotionally or physically -- especially on long-haul flights. But at the end of the day, the cost to fly business and first class can ring in at double and triple the price of an economy-fare ticket. That is murderous on budgets.
The good news is that some airlines do appear to care about their finance-conscious passengers.
So if you've had to say goodbye to the sweet life up front, but still require something of a comfortable flying experience, here are some things to look out for when flying economy on your business trip.
This is the best option for the downgraded. Unfortunately, this class is less frequent with U.S. carriers and more of a foreign carrier option. United Airlines (Economy Plus) and Virgin America have this seat class. International fleets like Air France, British Airways, KLM, Japan Airlines, and Qantas do premium class well too. Although these seats are more expensive than fully flexible economy fares, they are still monumentally less costly than business class and first class seats. A good price guide: Premium economy seats should cost 15 percent to 20 percent more than full fare economy class tickets vs. the 90 percent more a business class and first class seat can cost.
"Premium economy started when businesses had to cut into their travel policies but were still traveling on business and required more of a comfortable experience," says Andrew Wong, a senior manager at Trip Advisor's Seat Guru. "There are no screaming kids here and you get served your meal right away. There is a place to plug in your laptop and phone chargers"
Familiarize yourself with airplane jargon, like seat pitch and seat width.
In premium economy, the seat pitch allows for ten inches or more space than regular economy seats. Virgin Atlantic and British Airwaysoffer 38 inches.
Virgin America and United Airlines offers 36 inches. South African Airlines offers up to 34 inches of legroom along with special designed cushion seats in its regular economy seats. But Thai Air tops this chart with a whopping 43 inches.
By comparison, short haul flights on American Airlines, Continental, and Delta offer between 30 and 32 inches. (In terms of seat width measurement, 18 inches is average, and 22 inches is your lucky day.)
International vs. U.S. Domestic Carriers
American carriers don't give the greatest economy seating. Their business class seats, outside of United, still treat the lie flat experience as a foreign concept.
Amenities improve on longer haul U.S. flights, but the best airlines tend to be Asian and Arab.
"The U.S. has the most competitive market with five major airlines competing with each other, so the economy product is often left behind," says Wong. "The U.S. product in general is very good, but when compared to some international carriers, they aren't as good."
Internationally-speaking, Malaysia Airlines, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Air Canada are lauded as some of the best airlines in the business because their top service extends to their economy class seats. They've been able to maintain and improve on such a reputation because their flights typically are all long-haul.
A free drink can make that economy-class seat feel a whole lot better. We're not recommending that you get smashed on your flight, but it's always nice to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer, and not be gouged again for it. United Airlines kindly buys its passengers a first round of drinks in economy. South African Airlines cleverly offers their economy class passengers complimentary local wines to promote the country's wine industry.
And if it's not free, you should at least expect a little variety. Virgin America tops the bar offerings with champagne cocktails and Hornitos-sponsored margaritas.
Because Asian and Arab airlines excel in the long-haul flight, they have mastered offering up tastier products. Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates have notably tasty in-flight menus. (Think: Lamb marinated in Arabic spices.)
Cathay Pacific planes have in-flight toaster ovens and rice cookers, which adds a fresh quotient to the dining experience.
Singapore Airlines can count Gordon Ramsay as one of eight world-renowned chefs who are part of a panel that contributes to the in-flight menu. If you're flying to Turkey for business, also note that Turkish Airlines has some lovely dishes for economy passengers. (The cheeses, from my experience, were most memorable!)
"This is such an easy investment for an airline," says Wong. "And good to have when you're on flights that are delayed on the tarmac and with rude attendants."
The long haul international carriers with money to throw into the in-flight experience do this best. Emirates, Etihad Airways, Air Canada,Virgin America and Cathay Pacific all offer great movies, as well as the latest in HBO and Showtime series.
Jet Blue's satellite TV service transformed the airline and the in-flight experience.
Wi-Fi is increasingly becoming a necessary amentiy for business travelers, too. Look for airlines participating with GoGo InFlight. Delta ranks best with their wi-fi service: they are operating the world's largest fleet of wifi-enabled planes. American Airlines, Virgin America),AirTran, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Frontier, United, and US Airwaysalso participate in the service.
Right now, in-flight wifi is still a domestic amenity on U.S. fleets. Transatlantic wi-fi is in the works. "The ability to use [tools like] Skype in-flight is a huge bonus for business travelers," says Wong. "It looks like
Lufthansa will have transatlantic wi-fi first with Boeing. They are trying to work out the cost. It is very expensive right now."
Cathay Pacific perhaps thought it was being kind to economy passengers when it introduced its slouching cushion seats. They don't recline back, but instead go forward to theoretically allow everyone more knee space. (I experienced it on a flight from New York to Hong Kong, and personally disliked it.)
In contrast, Air New Zealand (which doesn't just fly to New Zealand -- the airline flies many fleets between the U.S. and Europe) offers the "sky couch" in standard economy, and it is a life- and sleep-saver. Passenger duos can block out the row and convert it into a cuddly wide bed, says Wong. "It's great for business travelers who need their rest, and for families and people who want to lie down together."