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Economy, Business or First Class? What’s the Difference?

Mon, 02/27/2017
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Whether you call it coach, economy, standard or ‘cattle class’, most of us are used to making do with the cheapest seats when we fly. In fact, many budget airlines which offer short flights around Europe, such as Ryanair or Easyjet, only have economy seats - for shorter journeys it’s usually not worth paying extra to sit in a different class anyway. Economy, business, first class and premium do differ depending on what airline you fly with, but in general there are some typical things you get for your money in each part of the airplane.


Economy is the part of the plane the majority of us are familiar with. We know what we’re getting when we sit here, and it’s normally just the basics. You get: a seat, to yourself, inside an aircraft, which (hopefully) will take you to the place you booked to go to. If you’re lucky there’ll be a power outlet, in-flight entertainment (expect to have to strain your neck to see the TV which serves at least 3 to 4 rows of passengers), headphones (you might have to pay for these), refreshments (rarely free) and if you’re extra lucky you might even get a complimentary sick bag... lucky you.

Premium Economy

Airlines have different names for premium economy. In Main Cabin Select (Virgin America), World Traveller Plus (British Airways) or SAS Plus (SAS) the seats are essentially economy seats with a cherry on top. The cherry will normally consist of wider seats, better TV screens (one each!), more choice of food, free drinks (not always), priority boarding, more baggage allowance, the seats might be in a different cabin inside the plane and you might get lounge access in the airport.

Business Class

While premium economy seats only look (and probably feel) slightly better than economy, business class is a leap away from both of them. Many say that once you’ve flown business once it’s hard to go back to economy class, the flight goes quicker and it’s on a whole different level comfort-wise. In business class, your drink comes in a real glass, your food comes on real china with a real knife and fork, drinks are complimentary, your seat turns into a full flat bed and you’ll (definitely) have a dedicated lounge inside the airport, where you can fill up on free food and refreshments. Emirates’ A380 even has a bar which is exclusive for its business class passengers.

First Class

First Class seats can sometimes cost often twice the amount or even up to five times what business class seats do. Although they have all the same perks, first class is miles ahead in terms of privacy, comfort and luxury. First class spots cannot really by defined as ‘seats’, more as private suites, with a bed and a wall. First class menus are often Michelin star standard. The most luxurious first class is in Etihad’s A380 aircraft, it’s called the Residence and has a living room, private double bedroom and a private bathroom. It costs almost £26,000 to fly one way between New York and Abu Dhabi in the Residence Suite.

First class, business class, economy class or premium economy class does not make much difference when your flight has been delayed or cancelled. Waiting for a flight is still frustrating and might severely disrupt further travel plans. In the EU there are regulations which protect passengers’ rights. And no matter which class you’re sitting in, these rights are the same for all passengers flying to, from or within the EU.

If you’re delayed more than three hours you are entitled to claim compensation from the airline. The amount you are liable to will differ depending on the distance of your flight. Get Paid When Delayed is a free website which can help you to understand your rights, calculate how much compensation money you are owed and create a claim letter to send to the airline. Starting a claim is now faster and simpler than ever!

Read our blogs for more facts and stories about air travel, our FAQs for questions concerning your air passenger rights, speak to one of our customer service representatives for questions using our site or about your claim, or click Start Your Claim to generate your personalised claims letter and contact the airline about your compensation or refund.