Why is Intra-European Business Class so Much Like Economy?

In my opinion, there are three types of short-haul narrowbody business class products in the world. The most common type is the large recliner product, which is the product that is flown on most US domestic flights, as well as most short-haul products around the world.

Virgin America’s (now Alaska’s) Airbus recliner first class product (which will eventually be phased out). Source: Flickr

A few airlines around the world, but especially in Asia and the Middle East, operate a lie flat product on narrowbody flights. Outside of the US, one example of these airlines is Qatar Airways (on select flights). In the US, most premium transcontinental flights have lie-flat seats. JetBlue even runs their Mint product on select flights to the Caribbean!

American Airlines’ A321 Transcon Lie-Flat Business Class. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And then there is intra-European business class.

First of all, I would like to make clear that not all European business class products are like this. A few products, such as Turkish Airways (recliners) and select British Airways A321s (lie-flat) do not have this third type of business class product. So what is this business class product that is so prominent in Europe?

Economy. With a blocked middle seat.

Lufthansa Intra-European Business Class. Source: Wikipedia

Yes, you read and saw that right. On most airlines within Europe, Business Class is just Economy Class with a blocked middle seat and maybe a full meal rather than snacks (if Economy even offers free snacks). The cost of Business is often multiple times the cost of Economy.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 12.26.52 PM.png
Examples of Iberia flights from London to Madrid, as seen on British Airways’ website. Notice the price difference between Economy and Business.

But if the airlines are blocking the middle seat, why don’t they just give their flyers bigger and more comfortable seats?

There is one big reason. Flexibility.

You see, in Europe, there are some cities that have a high business market, and others that are more of a leisure market. Airlines need to be able to fly their planes to both areas without losing money.

So by offering the same seats in the whole plane, the airlines can change the size of the Business Class cabin for every flight. For example, if British Airways is flying between London and Frankfurt, a route where a lot of elite members and business class travelers fly, they can increase the size of the business class cabin. However, if they are flying to Palma de Mallorca, where most people go for short vacations such as weekend trips and are simply looking for the cheapest prices, they can decrease the size of Business Class.

The Business Class flight to Frankfurt has six rows…

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 1.09.32 PM.png
BA London-Frankfurt Seatmap

…while the flight to Palma has three rows. Both are operated by same type of aircraft (A320).

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 1.08.33 PM.png
BA London to Palma Seatmap

So if you were ever wondering why business class within Europe is so bad, or had no idea that this type of business class existed, well… here you go.

Sorry for the shorter and more disorganized post this week, but I hope you enjoyed it. See you soon for a new post!

By the way, happy 3-month anniversary to RJ Aviation!

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