Topic of the Week: Direct Aisle Access in Business Class

Delta, United

Delta has been going on the offensive lately touting how it will offer direct aisle access to every passenger in business class. This is a stark contrast to United which has every window seat requiring a climb over the aisle and some airplanes with true middle seats in the center section. Does this matter a lot to you? Is this a real selling point for Delta?

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49 comments on “Topic of the Week: Direct Aisle Access in Business Class

  1. Yes, aisle access is very big. I’m a Million Miller on Delta, fly international a lot on Delta. On international flights I like privacy. The potential or actual event of someone climbing over and bumping you while trying to sleep, watch a movie or working is a pain. If I’m on the inside, I feel awful climbing over or bumping the person next to me. I’ll plan my flights according to the seating. It is one of those things that once you have experienced it, why go backward.

  2. Completely agree with Thor. I always choose a seat with aisle access, even if it means sitting in the middle, far from a window/light. Some airlines – BA – say that passengers only care about sleeping and privacy, and the aisle doesn’t matter. But on longer flights, with everyone often on different schedules/jet lag patterns/work needs, there’s no rhyme or reason to how often you or the person next to you needs out of the window seat, and it’s VERY annoying/distracting/uncomfortable to climb or be climbed (not a word) over.

    1. As well as something US Airways has on it’s Airbus fleet (which is the bulk of their longhaul fleet)…take those AA love blinders off for a second, Gary!

  3. And let’s not forget that the best business class hard product today belongs to, of all airlines, US Airways… which pioneered the seat that Cathay Pacific copied for its new business class. Crazy, huh?

  4. Having never been lucky enough to fly Business, I wouldn’t really know, but I imagine it makes a big difference. I wonder, is United doing this to try to get more people to pay for an upgrade to First? I know it doesn’t matter on Domestic, but on International, that might be some of the rational.

  5. Having sat in some of Delta’s old business seating (NWA’s World Business Class), I can say that having direct aisle access is huge. Every time I had to get up during the flight, I had to try and climb over my wife who was watching a movie or trying to sleep. I felt bad, and it was someone I knew. I can’t imagine doing that to a complete stranger. Then again, I suppose the downfall the the direct aisle access is that it is hard really to talk to someone you’re traveling with, since you are facing different directions

  6. Yes. A majority of travelers I’ve seen/met in business class are single travelers and climbing over someone while they are sleeping is less than desirable. Unfortuately, due to my location, I don’t fly Delta as often as other carriers, but I wish them luck!

  7. I’ve never had a problem getting knocked over or disturbing people while on Business First with UA/CO. This direct aisle access is nice but if you are clever enough you would be able to figure out how to get out without disturbing the person next to you.

  8. Since this is international business class we’re discussing then I have to say that I LOATHE direct aisle access. When I am flying internationally 95% of the time it is with my wife and we would rather not have an aisle separating us. I can understand where @Ben is coming from on disturbing your partner, but in my case my wife has expressed her dislike of having to get out of her seat to come talk with me or her inability to steal food from my meal selection.

  9. While I do not fly internationally all that much, the two times I have, I have been fortunate to sit upfront (NW/Delta) for at least one of the legs. Every post on here is spot on. I have been on the A330 and the 767-400.

    As most of my flying is on the CRJs/ERJs/E-Jets, the A330 seat upfront, while antiquated by most current standards, is still a treat (just sat there for ATL-HNL and back in June).

    However, after receiving an op-up on a 767-400 last August, I must say that the totally flat beds and the direct aisle access are a marked improvement over the old NW (experience)/DL (what I’ve heard) products. As I look to burn future miles, I will make a concerted effort to get on some metal that has these features.

  10. Coming from the Travel Sales side of it, yeah its a big deal. People want the personal space. Its easier to justify a bit of a price increase when the product gives you more options. There is a reason why down to Australia that United is cheaper than the others. Its product pales in comparison to QF, or NZ. where as United is just rungs behind this. Delta doesn’t push the fact of their services enough. Id fly delta to australia over united any day purely cause of that aisle access.

  11. To echo other responses, I don’t fly international often and business class upgrades are rare when I do so personally I don’t care, a seat up front is better than the Y seats in back no matter what it is. That said, for the million milers that are always up there I can see wanting direct aisle access. It’s all relative to what you’re used to. For most of my flying I’m just happy if I can get on mainline metal instead of CRJ’s. Got a 767 for a domestic work trip this summer. That was a pure joy for me…business lie flat seats with direct aisle access?!? I’d feel like royalty.

  12. Seems to me to do that there will be less seats in the cabin which means they will be filled more by people who actually buy business seats and less seats to upgrade from coach. They are smart to do this to keep the coach paying folks in coach. Or are they making the businesfirst cabin larger and shrinking coach?

    If the window coach passenger in a row of three seats can disturb two others to get in and out of a seat, a business passenger can disturb one other person.

    1. I’ve noticed that many airlines angle the direct aisle seats to get almost as many seats as their old configuration.

  13. Direct aisle access in biz is huge difference maker. Climbing over people on a $6000 J ticket sucks. Once you’re used to the DL/AC/CX/VS type of layout you do realize that all biz class is not created equal.

    I understand that it sounds pretty stupid/insignificant to people who haven’t experienced it or dont travel for work much but does make a big difference. If you’re taking 5 TPACs a year you are spending 200 hrs on planes – 5 full work weeks in a cramped aluminum tube!

  14. Aren’t we comparing apples to oranges in some respects. I realize this all about business class, but how can one compare an airline that a hybrid and other is not.

    United is a hybrid airline with both 2 class and 3 class international aircraft. Delta is all 2 class, so they will try to market a business class seat as a quasi-first class seat. CO used to do this and the new UA is doing it as well with the BusinessFirst offering.

    All United 3-class aircraft have aisle access for 1st class but not for business.
    So as a business traveler I have the choice to buy business and upgrade on many (but not all) routes or buy first which gets me the ‘feature’ you are calling out as important.

    So I would argue Delta is bring 1st class features to business. Which is great, but it is unfair to compare when United can have a 1st class product that exceeds Delta in some respects.

  15. Yes – hugely important. American’s current product is miserable if you are not on an aisle. Peace and privacy and ease of access is fundamental if you fly this class of service. The upgrade to AA with their 777-300s coming on line at the end of this year with all aisle access is mega – but why wait so long to bin first class and go all business on the 200s now – AAs seats on the current 763 and 772 are starting to look tired and we need action now – should be part of product improvement being done through bankruptcy.

  16. I think that United AIrlines has the most crowded Business Class in the Airline Business. Cathay Pacific has aisle access for alll of their Business Class Passengers.

    1. Agreed. UA missed a great opportunity to introduce something new in Business on their 787s. Have flown NH’s 787 twice from HND to FRA. Great product!

  17. Yes it is a huge deal – bigger than food, service quality or decent AVOD availability. I have switched almost entirely from UA to NH on my flights to Asia due to NH’s staggered seating that allows direct aisle access to every passenger. Despite 1-K status on UA and despite BA’s less than stellar service service, I try my best to use BA on flights to Europe if AC doesn’t work in the itinerary.

  18. It is a major advantage. I always book seats with all isle access, also when it means sitting in the middle row where either side there is an isle. Hate the three across in business. Anything more than 2 seats across belongs in Ryanair and not in business or first.

  19. Definitely agree that it is a big deal. I rank it only behind the comfort of the lie flat seat (which I hope most will have by now, although I’ve been stuck on a few old UA planes recently…). Even though I am tall and can use my go-go-Gadget legs to climb over a sleeping neighbor, it is still very awkward (especially if he or she happens to wake up when I’m in mid stride….)

  20. It’s certainly a huge deal to me. I’ve only flown J with a loved one and still felt bad when I needed to climb over them to get to the aisle. I can only imagine the horror having to do it to some random passenger that I don’t know. It’s probably less of a big deal on a transatlantic from the East Coast, but I’m sure it could be a huge selling point on much longer routes, especially to Asia.

      1. Why would DL jeopardize what has been considered the best FF program in the air by making drastic/negative changes?

        What gives, Stan

  21. I hate the old UA planes that are four middle seats in BusinessFirst..they are horrible to get in and out of and I avoid them…..I always try to book the old CO planes that have direct access in the middel section of the plane.

  22. When I read about Business and see one airline doing this and another airline doing that, it makes me want to know:

    For each carrier, the percentage of business seats, (1) paid for by the passenger, with no reimbursement, (2) paid by someone other than the passenger and the cost effectively of no interest to the passenger, (3) are the result of FF mile redemptions, and (4) are simply upgrades, by reason of the the passenger’s status, FF or otherwise?

    Do these percentages really vary by airline? Do they vary by route? By distance flown?

  23. As someone who actually prefers having a window seat, I prefer direct-aisle access in business, since it’s difficult to climb over another lie-flat seat.

  24. That’s all fine, but Delta has some 757-200s where bulkhead seating in FIRST CLASS offers desperately substandard legroom (in some cases they’ve taken out the offending row, but not in all). First Class legroom is a must; Business Class aisle access is a frill.

  25. On UA 747s, you could theoretically arrange the seats in the upper deck such that everyone gets aisle access (1-2-1 config as opposed to 2-2), but the aisles would be narrow and the FAs probably wouldn’t like it much.

    Otherwise, there is just no way to pack in as many business class seats without forcing the climb. If they give every seat aisle access, they have sacrifice the number of seats on the plane.

  26. It is an advantage if that is the only factor taken into consideration when choosing an airline.

    However, if, for example I had the choice of Austrian Airlines with its food and connection to VIE, versus an airline that went into either LHR or FRA, I would not rate the aisle access very highly compared to the pain of going through LHR or FRA. The food on Austrian and the ease of navigating VIE would more than make up for the fact that Austrian Biz has a true middle seat. It would take more than aisle access to make up for the nonsense of a dysfunctional airport at the end. This is only an example of course, but there are many more considerations in Business class than aisle access. Economy class is another matter.

  27. Yes it matters. I fly Delta often, as a gold elite member and the introduction of the newly renovated 747s, along with the now older 777s and 767s, that allow aisle access is a real plus. The upper deck of the 747s are amazing in that they only have 1 seat on each side with a wide aisle! There are not two seats together and it feels very exclusive and comfortable.

  28. It certainly matters to me. I don’t sleep very well on airplanes, and prefer a window seat. Unfortunately even with Business class that isn’t easy to obtain on most airlines, On BA’s club world, IIRC there are only 6 such seats on the aircraft (and I always tried very hard to end up with one of them). I have never considered being climbed over in the middle of night to be part of the premium class experience. So yes I think it is a significant feature for DL.

    Whether it will be enough to overcome the typical addiction to FF points/perks is another matter however. I have long been amazed at what even paying premium cabin passengers will put up with just for their points….

  29. Have only seen this configuration on transpacific flights, and only once on a transatlantic flight. All transatlantic flights (I’ve taken)are 330s or 767s still with 2x2x2 configuration. Direct aisle access for all business seats would be outstanding.

  30. How important depends on the specifics of the seats. For example with UAs “old” seats (still on the 777 yesterday from LHR-SFO), if the seats are all reclined, it is VERY hard to get out of the window/middle seat. (With the new lie flat seats, it isn’t so bad because the seat in front doesn’t overhang the ‘jump’ space so one can dance out gracefully)

    That being said, what were they thinking putting a block of 4 in the middle? With 3, there were decent odds that the middle would be occupied by a co-traveller of the other aisle sitter or be empty.

    I’m curious about the seat density of this UA config (and the proposed ‘all aisle one for DL) compared to the config on Air Canada. That one has all seats angled and all aisle. This uses width for a single seat rather than parallel seats but I suspect they lose some total capacity with lost triangles etc.

  31. It’s not like I fly J or anything, but I’d much rather have aisle access. Jumping over people is a pain… Although I love the window seat, I value being able to get up and walk around when I feel like it more.

  32. Well,
    obviously given the choice i’d prefer to have no one jump over me.
    But really that’s kind of too obvious.
    Why wouldn’t you choose it if you are not giving up anything else?
    In realtiy, connections and price factor in, and your location will influence your frequent flier ties.

    I’ve flown both the new United business, jumping over people as well as the Delta business seats. (also was lucky on United first once)
    My #1 preference is direct connections.
    Both international business products are lie-flat seats and offer a decent meal. I want to be able to sleep, work a bit and not leave the plane hungry.
    So, with that in mind, i’ll want the direct connection.

    Obviously now cost factors in, as, thanks to smart pricing, the one-stop on business often ends up offered at a lower rate than the easy direct connection one. Is it a convenient connection? Going back to the US and stopping over is almost a deal-breaker for me.

    So having lived in both UAL and DAL served places, I usually end up with the incumbent offering direct business flights.

    If i could choose my home town based on business seat it would probably be DAL though, for the reasons of convenience outlined by previous comments

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