Business Class in Europe: Economy with Some Make-Up On

If you are coming from the US or Asia and are not used to flying short-haul business class within Europe, you might be in for a surprise. While the onboard service is not too different from what you might be used to, the seats will in the vast majority cases not be what you expect them to be.

Continue reading this article to learn more about what intra-European business class is like and why it is not as good as one would hope.

European Business Class
European business class – not what you might expect…

Short-Haul Business Class in Europe: What Is It Like?

Let’s start by taking a brief look at what most intra-European business class products are like. Whether you will be flying Lufthansa, British Airways, or Air France, overall, the product will be very similar – especially onboard.

Intra-European Business Class Generally Uses Economy Class Seats

While there are (very few) exceptions that prove the rule that I will talk about later, in general, business class seats on flights within Europe are exactly the same seats as those offered in economy class. They offer the same legroom and width. The seat functionality is the same as in economy class too. The only difference is that the seat next to a business class passenger’s seat is typically left empty.

On aircraft with a six-abreast layout (3-3) like the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 which operate a good portion of intra-European flights, this means an empty middle seat. On smaller aircraft with a four-abreast layout (2-2) like the Embraer E190, it means one passenger per seat pair. That said, Finnair appears to have recently stopped blocking off seats next to business class passengers on its Embraer aircraft meaning the business class hard product is exactly the same as the one in economy class.

As for the blocked-off seats in European business class, some airlines just leave them empty while others install a drink table on top of the seats. There is also typically a curtain separating the business class section at the front of the aircraft and the economy class cabin behind it.

Intra-European Business Class Seat
Blocked off middle seat on Finnair.
Intra-European Business Class Drink Table
Drink table in short-haul business class on Lufthansa.
Business Class in Europe - Legroom
Business class legroom on a short-haul Austrian Airlines flight.

Except for the Shortest Flights, Simple But Sufficient Meals Are Provided

Unfortunately, the level of meal service in business class on intra-European flights is nothing like what you would find on flights of similar length operated by Qatar Airways. That said, you will still not go hungry.

Other than on very short sub-one-hour flights, you will generally see a single-tray meal service on short-haul business class flights within Europe. Whether that will mean a hot meal or a cold meal will depend on the airline you are flying with as well as the flight’s duration and time of the day. Generally, there will be no choice and everyone will be served the same meal.

Additionally, you can also expect free drinks – both soft and alcoholic – albeit the selection might be more limited than what you are used to on long-haul business class flights.

Intra-European Business Class Meal - Lufthansa
Cold meal on Lufthansa.
Intra-European Business Class Meal - Austrian
Breakfast on Austrian Airlines.
Intra-European Business Class Meal - Finnair
Hot meal on Finnair.

Lounge Access and Other Perks Are Similar to Business Class Elsewhere

In addition to the meal which is what really makes intra-European business class in the air different from economy class, you can also expect the usual suite of perks on the ground.

These generally include access to priority check-in counters which should, at least in theory, be faster than the economy class counters. At some airports, priority security check queues are available too. In most cases you will also be able to stop by a lounge before taking your short-haul business class flight within Europe. If you are flying within the Schengen area, in some cases, the lounge might be slightly less substantial than what you might find in the non-Schengen area of the same airport.

Lastly, just like in long-haul business class, when flying in business class within Europe you will typically have more luggage allowance than when flying in economy class and earn more miles.

Business Class Perk - Fast Track Security
Fast track security check at Vienna Airport.
Schengen Business Class Lounge
KLM Lounge in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport’s Schengen area.

Which Airlines Offer Proper Business Class on Intra-European Flights?

As talked about in-depth in the previous section, the main thing that makes intra-European business class sub-par and different from similar products in other parts of the world are the seats you will find on the vast majority of short-haul flights within the continent.

That is not to say, though, that there are absolutely no intra-European flights with proper business class seats. Those generally fall into two categories of flights, both using aircraft generally used for long-haul flights.

European Airlines Using Widebody Aircraft on Short Flights to Meet Demand

Unlike in the case of domestic flights around Japan, for example, it is fairly uncommon for large, widebody aircraft to be used on short-haul flights within the continent – even on the busiest routes. That is not to say, though, that such flights do not exist.

What is more, unlike in markets where widebodies are used on short-hauls regularly and thus feature adequate cabins, when European airlines use widebodies on long-haul flights, they use the same aircraft that they otherwise use on long-haul flights. This means that even on a short hop you can enjoy full flat seats.

Among others, Finnair is operating regular flights between Helsinki and London Heathrow using its Airbus A350-900 aircraft and Iberia is connecting the UK capital with Madrid using Airbus A330-300s and A350-900s among others.

Finnair A350 Business Class
Finnair uses its A350s on some European flights.

Non-European Airlines Operating Fifth Freedom Flights Within Europe

Perhaps the less common but that much more interesting option if you are looking to fly in a proper business class seat within Europe are fifth freedom flights. These are flights operated between two countries by an airline from a third country that are bookable by passengers traveling just between the two countries.

With most of the fifth freedom flights around Europe being extensions of long-haul routes, these flights offer proper business class seats and sometimes better service overall than their European counterparts too. The downside is, of course, that fifth freedom routes are few and far between and generally only offer one roundtrip a day at most even on routes that otherwise get several roundtrips a day operated by the local airlines.

Some of the fifth freedom routes currently available within Europe include:

  • Larnaca – Malta operated by Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER as an extension of flights from Dubai
  • Milan – Barcelona operated by Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350-900 as an extension of flights from Singapore
  • Vienna – Copenhagen operated by Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 787-9 as an extension of flights from Addis Ababa
Emirates 777-300ER Business Class
While Emirates’ business class seats are nothing to write home about, they are certainly much better than what you can typically find on short-haul flights around Europe.

Is It Worth Flying Business Class Within Europe?

As with everything, the answer is it depends. In general, however, it is not worth paying for business class if you are traveling just within Europe unless you are traveling specifically to try one of the proper business class hard products mentioned in the previous section.

Otherwise, the difference between economy class and business class on intra-European flights is minimal. The seat you get is the same as the economy class seat and the meal onboard in itself is not worth the usually hefty price premium.

The differences between business and economy class on short-haul flights within Europe are even smaller if you have a frequent flyer status which gives you lounge access and extra baggage allowance and/or something like Priority Pass that provides you with lounge access free of charge.

All in all, it is extremely rare for it to be worth paying for business class if you are traveling just around Europe. In other words, the only time it is actually worth paying for business class around Europe is when the flight is part of a long-haul itinerary as in that case you are generally not paying a premium for the short-haul flights.

Summary

In terms of ground service and onboard service, business class on short-haul flights around Europe is not too different from what you would find elsewhere. In terms of seats, however, essentially all airlines chose flexibility (i.e. the ability to upsize and downsize business class cabins as necessary) over passenger comfort by using economy class seats with blocked middle seat as business class.

Because of this, paying for intra-European business class rarely makes sense unless you want to fly on one of the few intra-European flights operated by widebody aircraft or you are flying within Europe as part of a long-haul itinerary.

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