5 leading airlines with the best business class options for international flights

Inside a business class cabin of a leading airline. Picture: Supplied

Inside a business class cabin of a leading airline. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 19, 2024


Leisure travellers from South Africa looking to upgrade to business class for their next long-haul flight, now have more options than ever before.

Airlines worldwide compete not just on routes and fares, but on providing a differentiated in-flight experience designed to meet shifting passenger expectations.

According to Flight Centre South Africa, each airline’s business class product offers its own unique selling points - from fully-enclosed suites and celebrity chef cuisine to lounge access and personalisation services.

With airfares being roughly equal, the travel experts said that understanding the contrast between offerings can help travellers make the best choice.

Flight Centre’s latest trend report showed that 2023 saw an increasing emphasis on enhanced comfort and personalisation within business travel.

“Competing beyond routes and fares, airlines are now focusing on delivering experiences that reflect the evolving preferences of today’s business traveller.

“This shift towards customised air travel experiences mirrors broader industry trends, prioritising the creation of a distinct, comfortable, and streamlined journey for each individual traveller,” said Flight Centre South Africa.

If you’re looking to upgrade your next international flight seat, here are the airlines with the best business class options operating international flights from South Africa.

Qatar Airways

According to Flight Centre, Qatar’s patented Qsuite, is a standout option. It has been hailed as as the best business class in the world in the 2023 Skytrax Awards.

These ultra-private suites feature direct aisle access, movable panels allowing travellers to customise their space, tailored into a workspace, lounge, or double bed, available on certain aircraft/routes.

Antoinette Turner, General Manager of Flight Centre said Qsuites uniquely accommodate different preferences.

“Whether you want a private area for two, including a small double bed, a working office, or family space for four guests, the Qsuites can be adapted. However, be sure to specify your preferred layout when booking so our travel experts can advise on your ideal seats,” she said.

Turner revealed that Qsuite amenities include Diptyque toiletries, mood lighting and a do-not-disturb indicator on the privacy doors and the in-flight entertainment is first-rate with a wide range of options available on a large screen.

“Qatar also promises on-demand dining, conceptualised by world-class chefs. Before boarding, travellers can visit Hamad Int’l Airport in Doha, recently voted among the World’s Best Airports for its luxury spas, lounges, upscale shopping and fine-dining, she said.

From Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, the airline seamlessly connects to over 140 global destinations.


Emirates offers two outstanding business class products including the iconic A380 experience and a newly redesigned Boeing 777 option.

According to Flight Centre, both provide lie-flat seating, on-demand dining, personal minibars, and over 6 500 channels on the award-winning ICE entertainment system.

“Flights even offer live TV, so you won’t miss that sports game,” said Turner.

She said that on-board, the A380 features the one-of-a-kind Onboard Lounge for socialising over drinks and canapés, while the 777 offers plush leather seats and 23-inch screens.

“Travellers can pre-order main courses from an extensive menu up to 24 hours before departure on the A380 as well as on select 777 aircraft. With a vast wine selection, some are exclusive to Emirates flights, travellers can enjoy the finest wines 30 000 feet in the air,” said Turner.

She also said that the Emirates business class ground experience is just as indulgent as a chauffeur service transports travellers to and from the airport in BMW 5 series vehicles in Dubai.

“Business class passengers can refresh at Emirates’ lavish Terminal 3 lounges, including the world’s only Moët & Chandon champagne bar in an airport. Emirates operates both the A380 and 777 from South Africa, so enquire at the time of booking which service you can expect,” said Turner.

Flights operate from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban to over 130 destinations worldwide.

Turkish Airlines

While seat configuration varies across aircraft, Turkish Airlines’ business class offers comfortable lie-flat beds on all long-haul routes and built-in seat massagers further enhance relaxation on select aircraft.

Flight Centre said that premium amenities such as Ferragamo amenity kits provide high-end essentials with a touch of distinctive Italian style and even your ears will look stylish on trans-oceanic flights thanks to noise cancelling Denon headphones to tune out cabin noise.

“The airline has an eye on sustainability - amenities like slippers and shoe bags use fabric woven from recycled cotton and polyester,” said Turner.

She highlighted that what truly sets Turkish Airlines apart is its famous flying chef programme.

“On select routes, expert chefs on-board prepare and serve gourmet, seasonal menus that change weekly,” she said.

Travellers with a layover in Istanbul can also participate in Turkish Airlines’ acclaimed Stopover in Istanbul programme and it allows travellers to explore this historic city and even enjoy free accommodation in select partner hotels.

Singapore Airlines

Renowned for its award-winning service, Singapore Airlines’ business class seats are considered the industry gold standard, widest in the sky at 36 inches with lie-flat seats and ample privacy.

“Every pod in the forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration has direct aisle access. Inflight entertainment shines with 18-inch high-definition touch screens and noise-cancelling headphones. But it’s the business class dining that is the highlight of many flights,” said Turner.

She said that The Singapore Airlines’ ‘Book the Cook’ service allows advance meal orders from a menu curated by renowned international chefs and the signature dishes include lobster thermidor and pan-fried halibut in champagne sauce with an extensive wine list that perfectly complements meals served at 35 000 feet.

“The experience extends to the ground with Singapore’s spectacular Changi Airport consistently ranking among the world’s best. Renowned for exceptional facilities, amenities and options, Changi makes travel a pleasure.

“And while Singapore has traditionally been known as a stopover destination, more and more travellers are choosing to visit for longer, more immersive experiences,” she said.

Ethiopian Airlines

As Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines is renowned for its extensive network across the continent and beyond.

The carrier operates modern Boeing 787 Dreamliners featuring lie-flat business class seats arranged spaciously 2-2-2, allowing direct aisle access for every passenger.

“Ethiopian consistently surpasses expectations when it comes to service and amenities,” said Turner.

She said inflight highlights include custom-crafted cuisine, an expansive wine list, and noise-cancelling headsets.

“Rated 4 stars by Skytrax and praised for exceptional service, Ethiopian Airlines delivers a superb experience on routes connecting Africa, Europe and Asia.

“On the ground, business flyers can take advantage of premium lounges, chauffeur transfers and transit hotels in Addis Ababa,” said Turner.