Different Class Sections of a Plane Explained

people sitting on airplane

When flying on a commercial airliner, it is obvious there are various seating sections or classes of service.  These different sections which offer different accommodations are referred to First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, and Economy Class.  The design, size and configuration of a given plane will determine how many classes of service will be available.


If you are debating which service class might best suit your flying needs (and pocket book), this overview may help.


First Class


First Class seating is, as expected, the most costly as well as the most comfortable.  The main difference between First Class and Business Class are the seats and the type of service; but the types of accommodating services (such as more personalized attention) can vary, greatly, between airlines.  Interestingly, First Class service on a domestic flight will differ, significantly, from First Class on international flights.  Also, First Class on a two-cabin domestic flight will not even rival international Business Class!


First Class passengers can expect higher-quality meals and alcoholic drinks in addition to the pampered attention to personal needs; but there is a greater price to pay.  Seats in First Class will cost at least twice as much as those in Business Class; but paying five times as much as a Business Class ticket is the norm if a First Class passenger has access to a private suite.


The luxuries offered on international First Class are the best of the best such as personal audio/video on-demand systems with a vast array of movies and music options, a large flat-screen monitor at each seat, lie-flat beds, luxury duvets and pillows, and top-notch menus crafted by celebrity chefs.  Virgin Atlantic airlines offers a dedicated toilet, pre-departure drink and post-dinner liqueur in addition to everything else.


The first class cabin will, usually, accommodate no more than 20 people who receive incomparable service reserved for celebrities or the mega-rich.  Airlines will bend over backwards to cater to First Class passengers since these types of tickets generate huge revenue for the airlines.


Business Class


Business Class is synonymous with ‘Executive Class’ and is very popular for those who simply do not wish to relinquish the creature comforts, yet are not willing to pay top-dollar prices, either.  For those who choose Business Class over Economy Class, space becomes the deciding factor, according to Insider Flyer magazine.  Business Class seats will allow passengers to recline an extra 8 inches; although any extra room in Business Class sections of different airlines varies, greatly.  Some airliners, such as British Airways, offer touch-of-a-button sleeper-bed seats to Business Class fliers as well as First Class passengers.  Additionally, Business Class and First Class passengers can enjoy personal television monitors, power adapters for laptops, complimentary internet access, more spacious luggage allowances and other sought-after amenities.


On-ground pampering is a nicety, as well.  Business and First Class passengers are often offered perks while in the airport.  Access to exclusive lounge areas with complimentary snacks and massages is not uncommon.  After it’s all said and done, it truly boils down to a major point concerning Business Class:  the services you receive as this level, verses First Class, are not significantly different.  The only noticeable difference would be fancier meal choices and enclosed, suite-like spaces for First Class fliers during international flights.  For many, there is no reason to pay for a First Class ticket when one can get virtually the same amenities, via Business Class.


There are several things to consider with Business Class, when compared to First Class:  1) almost the same amenities are available at a much cheaper price 2) there is a greater likelihood of being able to work-expense Business Class than First Class 3)  Business Class perks are becoming increasingly improved 4) earned flier miles are almost the same with Business and First Class options.


Premium Economy


Premium Economy is a step above Economy Class.  Premium Economy offers greater distance between the rows of seats as well as roomier seats.  Due to the tight quarters of Economy Class, Premium Economy is becoming increasingly more coveted and is, currently, a huge growth component with virtually all airlines.  In fact, the Premium Economy cabins of some airlines almost equal the luxury found in some Business Class cabins.  USA TODAY states:  “Some Premium Economy seats on international-based airlines give you about as much comfort as you’d find on a US Airways First Class domestic seat.”


As a side note:  for business travelers who are forbidden to fly as Business Class or First Class, Premium Economy can offer a much more comfortable experience than Economy Class, without breaking your company’s policy on flight rules and regulations.


Economy Class


Economy Class goes by two other names:  Coach Class or Travel Class.  Those who may not need to travel often and are willing to deal with smaller seating spaces or desire to cut their air-travel expenses will choose Economy Class.  One of the most noticeable differences between Economy Class and Business and First Class are the seat widths and legroom.  It may interest you to know that the difference in measurement of seat widths varies from 17 inches to 33 inches; and the legroom differences go from 24 inches to 34 inches, with the smallest measurements, of course, being relegated to Economy Class.


Yes, Economy Class can be a tight squeeze; and this flying option has come to represent unpleasant, crowded conditions for many people.  Some experts in the aviation arena, such as Fly Guy columnist, George Hobica, firmly believe some carriers are making regular economy class so uncomfortable (intentionally) in order to wean fliers out of Economy and into Premium Economy.  Economy Class legroom is up to 6 inches shorter and some Economy Class flights offer 50% less recline than Premium Economy.  Fortunately, a few amenities do exist with Economy Class including in-flight Wi-Fi for a fee and seat-back video screens.  With that being said, however, some airlines are attempting to make Economy Class more tolerable by offering some unexpected amenities:  1) seats that convert to flat beds 2)  new designs in seating, such as curves and couch-style seats that allow for more space and privacy 3)  additional leg room and 4) enhanced in-flight entertainment including satellite TV, a music library, digital games, digital shopping and more!


If you have enough frequent-flyer miles, you can use them to upgrade your ticket from Economy Class to First Class, though stipulations between airlines can vary.  Also, if you want to switch from Economy Class to First Class at the last minute, it is entirely possible to purchase an upgrade as you check in or once you arrive at the gate, assuming there is space available.  Again, however, certain restrictions may apply.


For most fliers, the bottom line boils down to one factor: money.  And the question most people ask themselves, is:  “How much money am I willing to shell out to pay for my ticket?”