Business class to the US: which airline is best?

On any given day there are almost a dozen direct flights from Australia to the US. Those are all primarily to Los Angeles, although there are also flights from Sydney to San Francisco (with United Airlines, and soon Qantas) and Dallas/Fort Worth (Qantas).

But after years of relatively staid operations, the stateside routes are being shaken up a little. We're seeing new business class seats, new aircraft and even new airlines plying the trans-Pacific skies.

Here's how they compare.


Qantas business class.

The Flying Kangaroo commands the lion's share of Australia-US flights with its flagship Airbus A380s and the older Boeing 747s.

Both sport the same Skybed II business class seat designed by Marc Newson. It's wide, comfortable (especially when fitted with a mattress for sleeping, to smooth out the bumps) and like every other business class bench on this route converts into a fully flat bed.

But the 2007 design is also showing its age. There's not a lot of space to stow your laptop, tablet or other carry-on creature comforts while keeping them close at hand.

And the A380's 2-2-2 layout means that unless you choose a seat in the middle pair (an E or F seat) there'll always be somebody stepping over you (if you're in B or J) or you'll be delicately climbing past your seat mate (if you've snared an A or K window seat).

Both of those traits stand in marked contrast to the latest Qantas A330 Business Suite, although Qantas says this impressive seat won't be retro-fitted to the A380 superjumbo.


It's even trickier on the Boeing 747, where business class on the main deck is 2-3-2 – you don't want to get stuck in the E seat – while the jumbo's upper deck 'hump' is a straight 2-2 layout. (In other words, in every business class seat on a full Boeing 747 you'll be either the climber or the climbee.)

That said, the Skybed II remains a good business class seat on its own, and the lounges at both end of the trip plus the Neil Perry inflight meals make for a pretty solid package.

Also noteworthy: from December 18 Qantas will launch Boeing 747 flights between , resuming a route it dropped in 2011.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Business Class.

With Boeing 777s darting daily from both Sydney and Brisbane to Los Angeles, the Red Roo's challenger also has a decent lie-flat seat. The disadvantage is that the 2-3-2 layout means there's no ideal seat if you want an uninterrupted trip.

That will change in November when Virgin Australia starts flying Boeing 777s which have been upgraded to the airline's new '' business class seat – the same as will be seen on Australia's east-west routes from August.

Like the Qantas Business Suite, Virgin's new Boeing 777 seat offers direct aisle access for every passenger, with copious personal workspace and storage space. Each super-wide seat folds down to a 2m long bed.

With Luke Mangan overseeing the nosh, this will be a game-changer to give Virgin Australia the best business class seats on Australia-US flights.

United Airlines

United Business Class.

It's a mixed bag on United Airlines, with Boeing 777s flying Sydney to Los Angeles and San Francisco while the newer Boeing 787-9 does Melbourne-LAX.

The Sydney flights have relatively narrow 'BusinessFirst' seats which convert to a 1.9m flat bed. But they're arranged 2-4-2 – no fun for passengers in the middle two seats – with little storage space and a somewhat oddball arrangement that sees every second row facing backwards.

Melbourne wins with United's Boeing 787 for a smoother, more comfortable and . You also have the option for some sky-high surfing, with inflight Internet available for $US17 for the duration of the flight.

The Dreamliner's seats all face forward in a 2-2-2 arrangement (choose D or E seats for the middle pair) and are noticeably wider and longer than their Boeing 777 siblings.

Compared to Australian airlines United's inflight meals tend to be unexciting business class fare, apart from the ice cream sundae for dessert.

Delta Airlines

Delta business class.

Virgin Australia's US partner has just one local flight, that being Sydney to Los Angeles. While often ignored by Aussie travellers, it deserves a closer look. The Boeing 777 'Delta One' business class seats are wide, long and have direct aisle access thanks to a 1-2-1 layout.

The high-walled design adds privacy when it's time to snooze, although there's almost nowhere to stow your personal stuff.

The meals are above par, with the latest menu listing local king prawns and barramundi as mains, followed by Serendipity ice cream and Aussie cheeses.

American Airlines

American Airlines business class.

American is a relatively new name to Australia skies, having last flown here in 1992 and returning to the Sydney-Los Angeles route on December 17, 2015. Ironically, American's international business class is better than that of joint venture partner Qantas.

The wide seat is largely identical to those of Cathay Pacific, giving it a headstart as one of the world's best designs with direct aisle access, good storage and inflight workspace.

Another advantage: stay online throughout the entire flight for just $US19 via satellite Internet.

My pick?

Right now I'd rate Qantas' Airbus A380 business class as the pick of the pointy end, even if it means I forgo a window seat for one in the middle of the plane. Add the airline's new Los Angeles lounges plus top-shelf inflight meals and wine and it's a winner.

But by year's end we'll see markedly superior seats from both Virgin Australia and American Airlines. I'll report back after flying those for a second take on the stateside challenge.

What's your preferred business class option for flying from Australia to the US?

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of  magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of 51698009 readers.