What IS Business Class?
It was our last day of a two-week trip to France. As we were making our way to the Charles De Gaulle airport via metro from Paris, my husband was checking our flight reservations for terminal, gate, and seat assignments. “We’ve been upgraded to Business Class!!,” he exclaimed. In the midst of navigating between train and airport shuttle, I barely acknowledged him. In fact, the only thought that went through my mind was, “Oh good, he’ll have more legroom.” (My husband is 6’4″, so I understood why that would make him happy). I honestly didn’t give it another thought.
Boarding the plane
Boarding began on time for our flight from CDG to Washington, DC. I was tired and not looking forward to the transatlantic flight. While I’m always excited to be starting out on a trip, the return home is always more difficult. I made my way down the ramp and onto the airplane, greeted the friendly attendants while struggling with my carry-on and tote bag, and then stopped to turn right at the aisle. My husband stopped me. “Our seats are this way,” he said, pointing to the left. I must have looked a little disoriented, as I tried to understand why we weren’t going the way we ALWAYS went when we flew. I realized the seat number on my boarding pass did not coordinate with numbers heading towards the back of the plane. I followed my husband through THE curtain to the Business Class cabin of the plane. But these looked like first class seats to me. You know…the ones you might get a glimpse of but never get anywhere near. Especially when traveling on tickets “purchased” with frequent flier miles.
Is this First Class?
For all practical purposes, Business Class might as well have been First Class. Or in other words, “You have just been crowned King and Queen” in my latest royalty fantasy. Perhaps after visiting so many castles, palaces, and chateaux in France, it was most fitting! But how did this happen?
As a frequent flier award traveller, I am used to sitting in the back of the plane, crammed into tiny inhumane places where I can hardly move, let alone sleep or even shift position. At the end of such a flight, I can hardly walk.
When my husband reached 1,000,000 miles with his business travel, things definitely improved. He was able to permanently upgrade himself and a companion to premier status on United Airlines. This meant we might have a shorter line at security, board a little sooner to get coveted overhead space for our carry-ons, and possibly get more legroom in economy plus. And if we were flying internationally, we could use the United Club during layovers (comfortable seats, free wi-fi, free snacks, and clean bathrooms!) I had never flown first class or business first before. I have no idea why we were upgraded, but I have a few guesses. It was a Sunday midday flight. Probably not the most popular time to be flying. We checked into our flights early. My husband had permanent premier status. And I think the stars aligned. Actually, I really don’t know why. But who’s going to question something like that?
So, what is it like?
Let me tell you how wonderful it was.
When I arrived at my seat, there was a nice pillow and a quilted blanket laid out on my seat with nice headphones. After I sat down, at attendant brought me a glass (not plastic cup) of orange juice, while others were still boarding. Within a few minutes, another attendant asked me if I’d like an “amenity kit.” Wrapped in “Business First” packaging, it contained a faux leather zipper pouch in a cardboard sleeve which included two United Airlines postcards (I collect postcards, so that was kind of cool).
When I opened the pouch, I found the following:
- a clear zipper pouch with Cowshed chapstick, hand cream, and towelette
- earplugs, pen, package of tissue
- slipper socks and eye mask
- mints, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, comb, and hand sanitizer
I’m going to admit that it just kind of felt like it was my birthday or something!
Just before taking off, I was given a menu. A menu?!!! I’m actually not a picky eater. In fact, I can usually find some measure of appreciation for the overly processed food I’ve been served on airplanes. After all, it’s free and it keeps my stomach from growling. I eat what I’m given. But having a menu implies making a choice. Yay! I chose the Peruvian-style breast of chicken.
Not long after taking off, I am given an appetizer of shrimp and salmon, with a beautiful spring salad and my choice of salad dressing. All the while, another attendant was constantly stopping by to top off my drink in a real glass! I only wanted water, but somehow drinking it out of glass instead of plastic made it so much better!
When dinner (or was it lunch?) came, I was impressed. Arranged artfully on a glass plate was my chicken with a roll, real butter, cloth napkin, and real silverware. And let’s not forget the linen tablecloth spread over my tray.
Next a cheese sampler and then ice cream, in true Parisian style. I even got to choose the toppings on my ice cream. Hot fudge. Of course.
I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. After all the trays and dishes had been cleared away, I began to decipher the controls in the armrest console. I was able to recline my seat completely flat! With a foot rest in front of me to complete the length of my “bed”, I tucked the quilted blanket over me and fell asleep.
Did you read that?!?! I FELL ASLEEP! And slept for a blissful 2 hours. No being jarred awake by someone making their way down the aisle. No leg cramps. No constant shifting to try to find a place for my head. And you know what? The seat in front of me was not reclined into my lap! I was still on Parisian time, so I didn’t need more than a nap. But I’m positive that had it been a night flight, I could have slept much longer.
I could get out of my seat to use the restroom without climbing over my husband. I had a remote control for the monitor and lights and fan. And USB ports for charging personal electronic devices. There’s an assortment of snacks available any time. What have they not thought of?
I wondered if the bathroom would be more special. Hmm. Not really. But there was a nice hand cream to use after washing my hands. Thicker paper towels. Oh! And some Cowshed refreshening spritz.
I loved how my automated seat could elevate my legs without reclining the back. For sitting and reading or writing…or for watching a movie, this was very comfortable. With constant replenishing of my beverage, it was like being served in a restaurant.
Near the end of the flight, we were brought a light meal. This time, it consisted of a choice of cold cuts w/cheese or salmon, a roll with real Irish butter, a drink, a bowl of fruit, crackers, and a sweet little box of chocolates — one creme brulee and one dark chocolate salted caramel. Very good chocolate. This wasn’t food to get you by. This was food you might want to BUY! But that’s just it. I didn’t have to buy it. That’s why this experience was so incredibly wonderful for me.
I’m sure people don’t pay extra for Business Class just to get better food. But I’m starting to see why you might want to pay more for that and everything else. Having enough personal space. Being able to sleep comfortably. Eating well. Staying hydrated. Being treated well. Not having to wait in line for a restroom. Well, I can dream, can’t I? I’ll never actually purchase a Business Class seat on a plane. But if I get upgraded again, I’ll be in seventh heaven. Have you ever been surprised by an upgrade?
- United Airlines actually has two business classes: Business Class and BusinessFirst Class (we were upgraded to the BusinessFirst class)
- Were there any disadvantages to being in BusinessFirst class? Yes, just one. There was no place to put a bag you would normally put under the seat in front of you. For take-off and landing, all bags had to fit in an overhead bin. Fortunately, there was enough room in the overhead bins on our flight.
- If you’re using United Mileage award travel to book a flight, a RT Economy flight from the US to Europe will require 60,000 award miles for a Saver ticket or 130,000 award miles for a Standard ticket. First or Business class RT travel requires 115,000 award miles for a Saver award ticket or 300,000 award miles for a Standard ticket.