Economy, business and first class seats: what’s the difference?

It’s fair to say that most of us make do with economy class, also known as coach or standard, but for those of us looking for a little something extra during our flight, there is always the option to upgrade to a different cabin. 

To better understand the different cabin seat options, we’ll run through what you get for your money for your typical economy, premium economy, business and first class tickets. The first and most important thing to remember is that all seat specs and luxuries (or lack thereof), depend on what airline you’re flying, what airplane you’re on and if you’re on a short or long-haul flight. 

You can see what cabin options are available to you on your next flight by using momondo’s cabin class filter. After making a search on momondo, click the drop-down menu next to ‘number of passengers’. You’ll see options for economy, premium, business and first class – so you can select your preferred way of flying.

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Economy class

Kiss your knees goodbye

Kiss your knees goodbye

Generally speaking, in economy class you’ll get a seat that takes you from point A to point B. There are some differences however, the most noticeable of which are seat width and pitch (legroom). Pitch can vary from 28-34 in and width from 17-33 in. While these few inches might not seem like much now, when you’re in that seat for 6+ hours – they matter! Other factors that may vary are power outlets, Wi-Fi, food, in-flight entertainment, type of TV screen and level of service.

Before we move on to premium economy class, we should mention that there could be an in-between class on some flights, especially in the US for example. Not quite premium, but certainly one step above economy is what is known as ‘economy plus’ (or Economy Comfort, Economy XL, among other names). This basically means you are flying with the same service as economy, but you will have a few extra inches of legroom as well as seat recline.

It usually costs a few extra dollars to reserve these few select seats, but at least your seat will feel a bit more spacious and who knows, there might even be a few extra perks like food and drink service or speedy boarding (again this depends on the specific airline you’re flying with).

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Premium economy class

A little more legroom and a TV. Worth the extra cash?

A little more legroom and a TV. Worth the extra cash?

Premium economy can be called many different things. Virgin America calls it Main Cabin Select, British Airways uses the term World Traveller Plus and SAS calls it SAS Plus. But it’s all the same thing: economy with some added oomph. And added cost, of course. That said, it’s not anywhere near as much as business class airfares.

Flying premium economy will give you a dedicated lounge at the airport, and the seats will be in a different cabin to economy. Usually, you’ll get a wider seat with a greater pitch, larger TV screens, better food (this could be a larger selection, complimentary drinks, etc.), and a greater luggage allowance.

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Business class

Now we’re talking

Now we’re talking

They say that if you fly business class once, you’ll never be happy in economy again. While it might be hard to easily see the benefits of premium economy over economy, the luxuries of business over premium economy are immediately apparent. Business class is in fact becoming so good, that many airlines have abandoned their first class seats altogether.

Simply put: everything is better. From pre-flight drinks in real glasses, to meals served on real china with proper knives and forks, you’re spoilt rotten. Full flat-bed seats are the general standard for business class, with seat width going as wide as 34 in and pitch all the way to 87 in.

Some airlines even offer a chauffeured pick-up and drop-off service if you live within a certain distance from the airport, and most – if not all – have a dedicated lounge in the airport where you can fill up on free food and drinks.

Never one to shy from excess, Emirates has an entire bar on board exclusively for business class passengers on their flagship A380 planes. The bar is a proper, semi-circular, fully-stocked bar, serving hot and cold snacks and all the cocktails you could manage. What more could you want?

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First class

Dream on…

Dream on…

The pinnacle of air travel, first class is reserved for celebrities and the super-rich (or the super-lucky). Think all the perks from business, lathered with a thick layer of luxury. Aside from privacy and seat size (bear in mind that many first class flights don’t so much have seats, as individual suites),  noticeable difference is price, with seats costing up to five times as much as business class seats.

The standard of service is incomparable in first class, with highly trained crew able to anticipate a passenger’s every need. The standard of food leaps up a notch up too, with many menus and dishes created by Michelin starred chefs.

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If you’re interested in knowing more about  seats for specific flights, don’t forget you can always check sites like SeatExpert to find out details about particular seats, on particular aircraft, with particular airlines. Alternatively, the airline’s site will have details regarding each of their classes and planes.

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