Today (November 20, 2015): Travel tip: British Airways versus American Airlines: which one has the best Business Class?
The airspace over the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and Northern America holds some of world’s densest plane traffic. Every day, between 2000 and 3000 aircraft fly across the North Atlantic between Canada, the United States and Europe, with London-New York being the single most profitable and busiest commercial route. The following, fascinating animation by the UK air traffic control service shows 2,524 flights that travelled between Canada, the US and Europe on a single day in August 2013:
The North Atlantic skies have been taken over by airlines belonging to the three major airline alliances:
- Oneworld: British Airways, American Airlines, Air Berlin, Iberia, and Finnair.
- Star Alliance: United Airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, LOT Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.
- SkyTeam: Delta Air Lines (which partners with Virgin Atlantic), KLM, Air France, and Alitalia.
Last year (2014), the leading carrier in the transatlantic market was Delta Air Lines with 9.76 million available seats (11.7 % share), followed closely by British Airways with 9.70 million seats (also a 11.7 % share) and then United Airlines with 9.55 million seats (11.5 per cent share). The range of Business Class products that are offered on board the planes flying across the pond varies from mediocre (e.g. American Airlines’ older planes) to very good (e.g. Austrian Airlines) and everything in between.
These days, American Airlines and British Airways are my preferred airlines to travel between Europe and the USA, mostly because (1) I stick to the Oneworld alliance when possible to earn the most useable miles; (2) I prefer a stop-over in London Heathrow (which has the most direct flights to the USA) over a connection within the USA itself; and (3) I appreciate the Business Class product offered by both carriers, which both feature in my top 10 list of airlines with the best longhaul Business Class.
The last couple of months, I published several trip reports about my recent flights with American Airlines and British Airways. You can read them here (and there are more to come):
- Read here my review of American Airlines’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER (Los Angeles to London).
- Read here my review of American Airlines’ First Class in a Boeing 777-300ER (London to New York)
- Read here my review of British Airways’ Business Class in an Airbus A380 (London to Los Angeles).
- Read here my review of British Airways’ Business Class in a Boeing 747-400 (London to San Francisco).
Or if you prefer to watch clips instead of reading my trip reports, you can have a look at my videos that I have uploaded on my Youtube channel (which has 12,500+ followers so far).
- Watch here my clip aboard American Airlines’ Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER (Los Angeles to London).
- Watch here my clip aboard American Airlines’ First Class in a Boeing 777-300ER (London to New York)
- Watch here my clip aboard British Airways’ Business Class in an Airbus A380 (London to Los Angeles).
- Watch here my clip aboard British Airways’ Business Class in a Boeing 747-400 (London to San Francisco).
When you have a choice between American Airlines and British Airways, the big questions is which one has the best Business Class product? Well, here you have some facts comparing each carrier’s products & my opinion about the overall winner (you can also share your opinion below in the comments section or poll):
- Chauffeur service (to/from airport): while chauffeur service is a highly appreciated feature of some carriers (such as Emirates and Etihad Airways), it is not offered by American Airlines nor British Airways. Currently, Virgin Atlantic is the only transatlantic carrier that will take the stress out of traveling to and from the airport with complimentary chauffeur driven car service for Business Class passengers at both ends of their journey.
- Lounges: it is imposible to compare all the lounges of both airlines, but overall, the Business Class lounges of British Airways are far superior to those of American Airlines. They feature a more refined and elegant decor, a greater selection of food (with extensive cold and hot buffets in selected airports) and – in some lounges – complimentary Elemis spa treatments. You can read in my trip reports my reviews of the British Airways lounge in London Heathrow and the American Airlines’ flagship lounges in Los Angeles and New York’s JFK airport.
- Fleet-wide consistency: British Airways offers a pretty consistent Business Class product across it wide-body fleet of Airbus A380s, Boeing 777s, Boeing 787s, and Boeing 747s. The exception to the rule is British Airways’ smaller and aging Boeing 767 fleet, which features an inferior product (still lie flat seats though). When you book a British Airways Business Class flight, you know what you will get. In contrast, American Airlines (now fused with US Airways to form the world’s largest carrier) offers a confusing variation in Business Class products across its wide-body fleet. The latter is composed of Boeing 757s, Boeing 767s, Boeing 777s, Boeing 787s, and Airbus A330s, and every plane subtype holds a different Business Class product (ranging from poor to excellent; see below).
- Cabin interior & design: British Airways’ contemporary cabin design with its smoothing white and blue color palette is more sophisticated than American Airlines’s dull cabin interior, which is dominated by grey and brown colours. British Airways’ design definitely feels very British, while American Airlines reflect its Midwest American roots with functionality above esthetics.
- Amenity kit: British Airways amenity kit is a drawstring bag, while American Airlines’ amenity kit is re-usable toiletry bag as amenity kit. The amenity kit’s content is more or less identical for both airlines, with essentials such as an eye mask, earplugs, wash cloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, skin lotion, a pen, and socks.
- Seating & sleeping comfort: British Airways offers flat beds (with 180 degree recline) across its wide body fleet. American Airlines only offers flat beds on its Boeing 777-300ER, Airbus A330s, B787s, and its refurbished B777-200ERs and B767s. So, chances with American are that you will end up in a much less comfortable and old angled lie flat seat, when you travel one of their non-refurbished B767s, B757s, or B777-200ERs. The good news is that American Airlines is upgrading its fleet (they are phasing out the angled lie flat seats in their longhaul fleet), and the comfort of the flat beds on its B777-300ER and Airbus A330 is superior to that offered by British Airways.
- Seat direction & aisle access: British Airways’ window and middle Business Class seats face backwards, while aisle seats face forwards, and because of this unique seating concept, you have to jump over other passenger’s feet to reach the aisle when seated in a backward facing seat. In American Airlines planes, all seats face forward (except for their refurbished B777-200ER planes) and most have direct aisle access (except for their B767s, B757, and non-refurbished B777-200ER).
- Pyjamas: pyjamas are only offered to First Class passengers in both carriers, not to Business Class passengers.
- Bedding: American Airlines is clearly the winner here, with a large, thick pillow and lovely blanket, while British Airways’ offers its Business Class passengers a thin blanket and a disappointingly small (and uncomfortable) pillow. Unfortunately though, British Airways nor American Airlines offer duvets to its Business Class passengers, so you will relax and sleep directly on the seat’s cushions (you get duvets in First Class though). If you need a duvet on your Business Class lie flat seat to increase your sleeping comfort above the Atlantic, then you will need to book a ticket with Virgin Atlantic or Delta (the latter created its bedding in partnership with Westin Hotels & Resorts).
- Food: while none of them is offering a fine dining experience, meals are ok with both carriers. IMHO, American Airlines offers better food and larger portions. Food with British Airways can be a hit or miss, and I am not a fan of their afternoon tea and plastic embedded sandwiches.
- Number of meal services: on longhaul flights, both carriers offer 2 meal services: one after take off, and one 90 minutes before landing.
- Onboard bar: British Airways planes have a walk-up “Club Kitchen” onboard, where Business Class fliers can graze between meals. However, this pales in comparison to the walk-up bar onboard American Airlines’ new B777-300ER, which offers a very nice spread of a large assortment of tapas and snacks (a visual delight!) that is constantly replenished during the flight.
- Inflight entertainment: American Airlines is far superior, with large screens (15.4-inch) and an extensive range of films, television shows, and audio options. The inflight entertainment on British Airways is rather poor, with small screens (10.4-inch) and a limited selection of films and tv programs. In addition, American Airlines offers Bose noise cancelling headphones, which is not the case on British Airways.
- WiFi: onboard WiFi is only offered by American Airlines new or refurbished planes (it works great and is not too expensive). Unfortunately, WiFi is not offered by British Aiways at the moment, although they are currently testing it on one of their B747 planes.
- Frequent flyer program: even though it recently devalued, American Airlines’s AAdvantage program remains far superior to the Executive Club program of British Airways. I explain here why AAdvantage was – and still is – my preferred frequent flyer program (although that article was posted before the devaluation kicked in).
Although British Airways offers the best ground experience (with great lounges), the new American Airlines wins in term of the inflight experience (better seats, food, and entertainment). Nevertheless, the experience will largely depend on the aircraft subtype, so always take that into consideration when you book a flight. These are my preferred wide-body Business Class cabins (in order from excellent to poor):
- British Airways 747 upper cabin: the small space feels like a private jet (read a trip report in the upper cabin here).
- American Airlines B777-300ER;
- American Airlines B777-200ER (refurbished) and B787;
- British Airways A380, B787, B777, and B747 lower cabin;
- American Airlines A330 (ex-US Airways planes);
- American Airlines B767 (refurbished)
- British Airways B767;
- American Airlines B777-200ERs and B767 (not refurbished);
- American Airlines B757 (ex USA Airways planes)
What’s your favorite transatlantic carrier: British Airways or American Airlines? You can leave a comment below or take our poll!