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Airline Classes Explained

a first class headrest on an aircraft.

Air travel should be a luxurious experience. For this reason, modern airlines now strive to provide excellent hospitality as well as transportation. However, with different budgets, special requirements, and different cultural customs to cater for, many airlines offer passengers a choice when it comes to the service level they receive when flying. This is called the airline class system.

Some airlines offer only a single class ticket. This is referred to as basic economy class. However, many others offer three service levels of travel. These are typically called economy, business and first class. Based on cost, each class offers a different level of service that is provided during the journey. They are also often tied in with different travel extras, such as meet and greet car parking at the airport and fast track security passes. However, is opting for a more expensive class worth it, and what is the difference between each?


In this guide, we explain what each class looks like. This can help you choose which class you’d like to travel in the next time you have the option!


What is the airline class system?


As touched on above, airlines that offer tiered service levels traditionally have three travel classes. On the other hand, there are also airlines that only offer a one-size-fits-all class of service. Starting with this single tiered basic economy class, below is a breakdown of the airline service level system. 


What is basic economy class?

In the air travel industry, basic economy class refers to the single ticket structures of budget airlines. Also referred to as the ‘no-frills’ class, these fares usually don't included seat reservations or baggage allowance as standard. This means in order to select your own seat and travel with a checked bag, you will have to pay extra.

What is economy class?


Economy class usually refers to the cheapest fare with an airline that operates a tiered class system of ticketing. If you don’t need a lot of luxury and are on a budget, this class represents the most affordable option. Economy seats usually make up the bulk of an aeroplane’s capacity and are typically located towards the rear of the plane.

Although cheaper, it is worth noting that economy seats - which are also called ‘coach’ seats - are normally narrower than in other classes. This means you will likely have less legroom than you would have in business or first class. Passengers in these seats also usually do not receive the same free snacks, beverages and in-flight entertainment you may find in more expensive classes. However, this varies depending on the airline. 


What is business class?

Introduced by Qantas in the 1970s, business class offers more comfort and luxury than economy, while also being more affordable than first class. As the name suggests, the original market for this service was business executives that travelled regularly with work.

Seats in business class tend to offer more legroom than those in economy and are often wider, with better reclining capabilities. A set number of complimentary snacks and beverages may also be allocated to each passenger, as well as a wider choice of meal options. These tickets often also come paired with airport travel extras, such as meet and greet parking and access to VIP lounges


What is first class?


As the name suggests, first class passengers can expect a highly luxurious experience. Most first class services offer fully reclining seats with special privacy features. This allows you to have your own personal space during the flight. Superior legroom, a wide selection of meal options, and a full bar service, which can often be used at no extra cost, are also common features of first class travel. 


In modern aircrafts, first class now also includes free Wi-Fi access that can be used throughout the duration of the flight. This is on top of the personal in-flight entertainment systems that are also commonplace. Although certainly reflected in the price of tickets, it’s safe to say no expense is spared when it comes to ensuring first class passengers enjoy a superior-quality journey.