Despite being the only route in the world where one airline alone carves out more than a billion dollars in annual revenue, flights between New York and London have never-ever enjoyed the best business class cabins in the sky. In fact, not even close. In the third quarter of 2019, that all changed. For the first time in more than 15 years, British Airways – and – Virgin Atlantic launched all new business class seats, with absolutely no similarity to their predecessors and their US counterparts each iterated to bring their own compelling products onto the route.

Since the landscape is now wildly different than it was just a month ago, here are the best business class seats flying between New York and London…

Winner: Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350 Upper Class

GSTP Review Score: 94

Virgin Atlantic pulled off quite a coup in September. The Upper Class experience was always a fan favourite in terms of service and pre-flight experience, but people just didn’t love the “coffin” seats. Now, the airline launched its brand new Upper Class suite, not only alleviating almost all the previous gripes, but also bringing the only ultra modern and fuel efficient Airbus A350 plane onto the route, which now flies twice daily, and counting

Ground Experience: The ground experience for a non elite status holding business class customer is unrivalled by any other airline in New York or London. At Heathrow, Upper Class passengers enjoy a hotel lobby like “drive thru” check in at the Upper Class Wing, and the Clubhouse lounges in both Heathrow and New York JFK are exceptional by first class standards, let alone business class.

On Board: On board, the privacy, comfort and tech features – like in seat food and drinks ordering via touch screen – separate this overall business class experience and the A350 and its jet lag reducing cabin environment is a real game changer for all NY-LON flyers. The seat lacks storage space, but the bedding, the on board social “loft” space and other features make it a winner, by a small margin.

Runner Up: British Airways Boeing 777 Club Suite

GSTP Review Score: 91

British Airways – which by the way is the airline creating more than a billion dollars between Heathrow and JFK alone – is set to impress this month as its Boeing 777 fleet gains the new retrofitted Club Suites, which debuted between London, Toronto and Dubai respectively on the airlines new A350.

Ground Experience: The airline has invested in refurbishing pre-flight dining in New York, and more attention is being paid to its Heathrow “Galleries” lounges. British Airways has been a trailblazer in biometric boarding, which speeds up boarding times and is trialling biometric immigration along with the US CBP to streamline faster arrivals.

On Board: Unlike the current, dense, 8 across layout, the new Club Suite features a full on privacy door, direct aisle access and gate to gate entertainment – in addition to excellent storage. The 18.5” screen is amongst the best in class, and the soft touches, including Do&Co catering are a massive improvement. Do note, this far superior on board setup is only available on select Boeing 777 flights and won’t be found on any operated by a 747.

united polaris business class cabinThird Place: United Boeing 767 Polaris Business Class

GSTP Review Score: 88

United – really? Really. United has made London Heathrow a priority market from NYC, making it the only airline presently offering its very best seat on all direct flights between the two cities. United flies the Boeing 767 and each of the airlines five daily flights feature the newest Polaris seat.

Ground Experience: While there’s still much to be desired in London, United’s Polaris business class lounge at Newark is extremely impressive, with a la carte food and premium wine and spirits. T2 at London Heathrow offers plenty of lounges to sample, even if none are particularly brilliant.

On Board: You can expect the standards like direct aisle access and a nice, crisp HD entertainment screen, but it’s the soft touches where United is really taking off. The Saks Fifth Avenue bedding is excellent, but the gel pillow has fast become one of the most beloved pillows in any cabin, so much so that passengers buy them online for their homes. United has upped the ante with better beverages and catering worth a glance, with increased privacy due to the angle of the seats.

American Airlines A321 First ClassHonourable Mention: American Boeing 777-300ER Flagship Business

American had a long way to go, but they’ve made great strides in adding a premium element to their “flagship” service. The crews may still be like playing a roulette wheel and the plastic glasses to serve pre flight champagne still remain, but the seat is no slouch and Flagship lounges are exceptionally good.

Ground Experience: The American Airlines Flagship Lounge at JFK T8 is an overwhelming success, especially by US airport lounge standards. The drinks offer a highly respectable rotation of wines worth drinking and the varied seating areas offer something for everyone. In Heathrow T3, the lounge is perfectly nice, but the other options of Cathay Pacific, Qantas and British Airways make for great amusement before a flight.

On Board: The Boeing 777-300ER seat (avoid the 777-200) chosen by American is quite similar to the revered Cathay Pacific seat – in fact, it’s pretty much the same. American has done a solid job introducing Casper bedding and the entertainment selection is always amongst the best in the sky. The experience is still let down by hit or miss service, plastic cups (go green, why don’t ya) and lack of privacy doors, which are becoming increasingly popular, even in business class.

But What About Delta?

It’ll be interesting to see how Delta answers back this year. The airline has announced plans to retrofit cabins with privacy doors, or at least partial privacy screens and with the shared ground experience the airline offers with Virgin Atlantic in London, doing so could shift it up the rankings dramatically…

What would your rankings be, and why?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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5 Comments

  1. Is this really useful when the two top products you ranked (the new products from BA and VA) aren’t even really available on more than a handful of flights yet? Even UA is slower than molasses rolling out the real Polaris seats.

  2. Doesn’t the VA seat have a table that only works for those with less than a 32″ waist at the moment?

  3. This is my personal view but I think BA is better than Virgin now. To me the hard product is the most important although a good soft product is very nice. For me I’m definitely not convinced by the whole “social airline” thing Virgin has and although the soft product, particularly the food is fantastic the flaws in the hard product are just too great to ignore. The issues with the table (being fixed), the issues with finishes, problems with the Bluetooth phone remote thing and above all the lack of storage just can’t be made up for by food. It’s a shame really because almost everything else is perfect. I still can’t hide my disappointment with how they didn’t bother to make a proper suite with a proper door instead of the half baked privacy screen.

    British Airways has a much more refined product that is much more catered towards the business traveller whereas Virgin’s is for the leisure traveller. An area where Virgin completely trumps BA is on the ground, which makes sense given the fact that Virgin is a much smaller airline which allows them to tailor the experience to each passenger a bit more. Given the fact that BA is a much larger airline I think they do a fine job with what they have.

    To me I much prefer the refined luxurious privacy of the Club Suite to the much more vibrant upper class. I’m looking forward to flying the Club Suite more often because it has better food (thanks to Do&Co), is more private and I find easier to sleep in a more private and enclosed space

    1. …IF you get the Club Suite and IF you don’t suffer IT related issues and IF they’ve bothered to clean the cabin and IF they bother to load adequate catering and IF you don’t mind being ripped off for seat reservations in business and IF you don’t mind paying a premium for a brand that is no longer delivered, then BA are OK. Must of the time though, they’re not only bested by VS but also #BelowAverage when compared to almost any other national airline once the price paid and promises made are taken into account.

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