There are basically two kinds of people who show up in business class for super-long haul flights: regulars and transients. The first group, the regulars, always fly business class because either they never pay for their own flights or because their disposable income allows them to afford the upgrade. These people approach business class as standard, not special, and it’s likely that the flight is the least nice part of whatever their trip is going to be. The second group, the transients, fly business class once in awhile, basically when they get bumped up by accident or when someone else is paying. For them, the flight is usually the nicest part of the trip. I am clearly a transient on this short trip to Tokyo.
It is easy to spot a transient. Transients do things like (1) take pictures of the cabin, (2) order one of everything there is to eat just because it’s available and the attendants are nice (and you get bored after 13 hours), (3) spend lots of time reclining then un-reclining the seat to get the right position, and (4) compare the experience to economy to see if it’s really worth paying a decimal place more per ticket. Yes I did all of these things, and yes you can read about it.
Start with (4): the answer is no. The improved service is not nearly worth the price bump, not even close. What you’re essentially paying for is the ability not to have to sit among (or stand in line with) the hoi polloi. Given how frustrated I get with people on planes that’s not a small concern, but it’s not nearly enough to warrant the price. Yes the service is more attentive. Yes the booze is free, but you could buy it all in steerage and save yourself a huge bundle. Yes the food is better, but it’s not amazingly better, at least not on Continental. (My experience on my only other business class upgrade on a long haul flight–Qatar Airways from DC to Doha–was different, my meal on that flight was truly exceptional.) That said, it was very comfortable, and I was able to get a lot of work done, sleep, and watch two terrible airplane movies (Green Zone and Robin Hood, both of which were truly awful).
On (1) and (2), I think a picture does it some justice.
One of Everything Except for Unidentified Shellfish
I mean when you look at this it’s not so bad for an airplane. I got fresh sushi, nice cheeses, a real meal on a plate, and a real hot caramel sundae. But if you were to want to complain you could. The sushi was too cold. That salad is a little basic and there was a pit in one of my olives. The kale was gritty. The walnuts on the sundae could have been toasted.
So, it’s not luxury, although the prices are. That said, that was about the smoothest and most pleasant way I can imagine to get to Tokyo from Ithaca, leaving me with just enough energy to walk a bit and have some dinner before crashing.