World's best business class seats
Passengers in Cathay Pacific's business class enjoy privacy without feeling ‘cut off’ from the crew and the rest of the cabin
When people learn that my full-time job is essentially to write about business travel, the first question they ask me is "which airline has the best business class?".
(Well, that's not quite right. As often as not, the first question – asked with a hopeful look in their eyes – is "Do you need an assistant, someone to carry your bags?".)
As it happens, any judgment on the best business class involves several factors.
It's not just the seat, although that's typically foremost in the equation.
It's also the meals and the drinks – factors some travellers rate above seat comfort – along with the service.
For some shorter flights, airport lounges can even come into play as part of the overall business travel experience.
But if we pare it back to the basics of the seat – the physical object you're likely to be stuck in for eight to 12 hours, or even more – it's easier to make a call.
Here's my selection of some of the world's best business class seats.
Every business class flight I've taken with Cathay Pacific has been a delight, largely (but not solely) because of their seats, which I rate as the world's best.
The seat ticks just about every item on the list of what business travellers want, and probably adds a few more things into the deal.
A 'herringbone' layout gives every passenger easy and direct access to the aisle without awkwardly stepping over a fellow passenger (or, if you're seated by the aisle, having them climb over you).
The angle of the seat in the cabin plus the walls surrounding the self-contained seat make for what I consider the perfect degree of privacy without feeling too cut off from the crew and the rest of the cabin.
And there's plenty of room for your own stuff. This includes a small closet for your shoes; a shelf to one side of the seat; and a deep side pocket for your laptop, tablet, noise-cancelling headphones, reading glasses and what-not.
Cathay Pacific's seat is based on the Sicma Aero Cirrus model from manufacturer Zodiac, but the airline undertook extensive modifications and refinements.
Sharp protruding edges were rounded off, sound-absorbing material was fitted around the seat, extra storage nooks were added, even a small mirror for checking your hair or make-up was fitted.
Cathay Pacific also trialled mock-ups of the seat with many members of its Marco Polo frequent flyer scheme and incorporated their feedback into the final design.
This business class seat is on all Cathay Pacific flights into and out of Australia as well as most international flights from Hong Kong, apart from the Boeing 747 jumbos.
Those jumbos still have Cathay's previous generation business class seat, enclosed in a high-walled cubicle which many travellers derisively described as "coffin class".
Singapore Airlines' business class cabin is highly regarded, especially on its Airbus A380 superjumbos, and SQ's refresh of the seat doesn't put a foot wrong.
Already flying on the airline's Boeing 777-300ER service between Singapore and London, the new seat retains the forward-facing layout and 1-2-1 configuration with a similar degree of private space.
The 28-inch wide seat converts to a 78-inch long flat bed by flipping the seat over rather than simply reclining it.
However, there are now two positions between the standard upright seating and lie-flat bed, which SQ terms 'Lazy Z' and 'Sundeck' modes.
There's a new amenity storage area on the side console and a separate laptop stowage area, while an "all-in-one business panel" conceals the laptop power supply and USB socket.
There's also a height-adjustable table of 20.5 inches x 14.5 inches deploying from the side console, a personal vanity mirror and cocktail tray, and a floodlight reading lamp.
Even the in-seat LCD screen gets a bump from today's 15.4 inches to 18 inches.
Note that Singapore Airlines has no plans to upgrade its Airbus A380s with the new seat, although it will be fitted to all new Boeing 777s joining the SQ fleet, along with the forthcoming Airbus A350s.
Marc Newson crafted both the original angled Skybed for Qantas, and followed this with the lie-flat Skybed II for the Flying Kangaroo's flagship Airbus A380.
Both seats were among the world's best at the time. And while the Skybed II is still better than many business class seats, there's no denying it is showing its age.
Newson's next-generation Qantas Business Suite will set that to rights, and looks ready to leapfrog just about anything else on today's market – providing, of course, nobody else gets the jump on Qantas before the seat makes its debut this time next year.
Qantas already has mock-ups installed at its Sydney base and will launch its Business Suite on international and domestic Airbus A330 jets.
This means you'll see the seat on the transcontinental trek between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, along with overseas flights to Singapore, Hong Kong (from Melbourne and Brisbane), Shanghai, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila.
You can also expect it to appear on other new long-range members of the Qantas fleet such as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
The Qantas Business Suite is based on Thompson Aero Seating's all-new Vantage XL, but benefits from an extensive Marc Newson makeover.
The suites will be arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration for direct aisle access, with each converting into a fully lie-flat bed which Thompson's website lists as 79 inches, with seat width "up to 26 inches".
Each business suite will be fitted with a 16-inch screen. There's plenty of storage space for your carry-on kit, and Qantas says the new seats can be reclined during take-off and landing.
The arrival of the Qantas Business Suite should raise the business class bar yet again.
I know what you're thinking: "I've never heard of this airline!".
EADS Sogerma is in fact a European seat manufacturer, and its Solstys business class seat is used by many airlines including China Southern, Emirates and Thai Airways – all on their Airbus A380s – as well as Etihad.
Each airline can customise the Solstys as much as their budget can afford – for example, Emirates adds a mini-bar – but the basic platform is the same: a staggered 1-2-1 layout with direct aisle access for every traveller, a fully flat bed and plenty of personal space.
Some travellers find the Solstys seats are somewhat confined in seat width, and some airlines (such as Thai) situate the individual seat pods a little too close together so it's a squeeze to get from your window seat into the aisle.
What's your call on the world' best business class seat, and why has it won you over?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.