How to behave in business class – and don’t embarrass yourself

Devices should always be on silent when flying business class – British Airways

The first time I was upgraded from economy to business class and was offered wine, I asked: “How much is that?” The warden – it was the 1980s – looked at me and said: “Oh, you Seriously you don’t belong here.” Flying business class is a social minefield and behavior changes all the time. After thirty years of traveling (often) at the sharp end, here’s my guide to encounter etiquette left

Dress down – but don’t go Love Island

In the 1980s, most business class travelers wore suits. Now, if you wear a suit, you look like a person for the first time. Since airlines have introduced flat beds and rooms with doors, it’s all about privacy and comfort. So you can ditch the navy blue blazer from an obscure Tokyo designer, the Sea Island cotton crew neck, light wool trousers and loafers, in favor of posh chinos or sweats, a polo shirt and trainers. But don’t be in pyjamas, leggings, sportswear or shorts and flip-flops emblazoned with designer logos.

Keep calm with your behavior forward

You can go for shiny Rimowa, although it has fallen out of fashion since the brand was swallowed by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Carry on like a pro instead with a battered Globetrotter trolley (two wheels only, for true believers). Add a little flair, such as a Prada bowling bag or a vintage Globetrotter Concorde. Whatever you choose, don’t display your top-level status card next to your address tag. Instant social death.

Stroll up to the express check-in, security and boarding desk

You paid for it. You’ll get extra snob points if you board in Group Zero, which British Airways has just introduced for super premium customers, who can even board before first class customers.

airport business class barairport business class bar

Do: make the most of unique lounge opportunities – Getty

Don’t miss out on unique lounge opportunities

The Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3 is the only place in Britain where you can order a martini at 8am and no one will be watching.

But avert your gaze…

…if front and economy passengers have to get into your seat to get to their own seats at the back of the bus. This is especially important if you have booked your significant other and children in economy class.

Don’t go nuts

Once you’ve settled into your suite, don’t complain if the nuts served with the pre-flight Champagne aren’t on Royal Doulton’s finest crockery. Korean Air vice president Heather Cho ordered her Seoul-bound 747 back to the gate at New York’s JFK after being served macadamia nuts in – gasp! – packet in 2014. Cho was later convicted of violating aviation safety, coercion and abuse of power and spent five months in prison (where there were no pre-meal snacks).

Emirates Business ClassEmirates Business Class

Don’t: be too fussy about food served – Emirates

Social faux pas

There are no video calls in the lounge. No one is interested in hearing about your business or your family.

No photos. No one wants to see you posing for your in-suite selfie – especially if you’ve checked into business class early like one recent Emirates influencer, who pretended she was traveling in style before returning to economics.

Don’t bother with the famous people. I flew alongside Gwyneth Paltrow (Concorde), Raye (Virgin Atlantic) and, era, David Hasselhoff (British Airways). They are ashamed of slumming it on commercial flights and don’t want to be reminded of it.

Do not tell anyone if you “bought” your ticket with miles. Don’t mention how many miles you flew this week, year, month, in your life.

If your BA flight is late arriving at Heathrow, don’t demand that the airline’s chief executive, Sean Doyle, meet you on the jet bridge to explain why (as one entitled fellow traveler did the other week).

Wardrobe malfunctions

Pajamas are for sleeping only. Your feet stay in your shoes or slippers for free. Keep your shirt on. I once saw an Everton footballer take off his T-shirt and sit half-naked on a 14-hour Emirates Airbus A380 from Sydney to Dubai.

Do not clean anything other than your face and hands with the hot towel.

Food and drink

Yes, the champagne is free, but that doesn’t mean you should drink your body weight or claim it before take off. (Some Gulf carriers only offer it once in the air.) Same with food. Burgers are a big mistake. Take a leaf out of Qantas chef Neil Perry’s cookbook. Eat light. Keep it spicy for breakfast when you want to wake up and choose protein with complex carbohydrates for dinner when you need to sleep.

If you are lucky enough to take the table for four in the bar in the Emirates A380, don’t miss it. Your limit is one hour or 90 minutes.

Emirates Airline on board loungeEmirates Airline on board lounge

Don’t: pig the plane bar too long – Emirates/David Copeman

Silent devices

If you have email and WhatsApp, silence alerts and turn off the keyboard clicks. No one wants a chorus of goblin twittering at 39,000 feet – or after landing.


Nothing divides ritzy travelers more than the issue of kids in business or first class. “Not to sound pretentious or anything (but we all know I am) why the f— are children allowed in business class?”, the apprentice the Lottie Lion star recently tweeted from her comfy seat. When a follower asked: “What are parents flying business class with their kids supposed to do?”, she replied: “I don’t know, put them in the hold or something.” Major airlines won’t ban children from flying up front for fear of alienating their highest-spending customers on vacation. But that doesn’t mean you should book in the juniors. I have two children and I didn’t take them into business class until they were old enough to plug in the TV screen or iPad. It is not fair to others.

What ‘memories’ to take

Pajamas – unless flying with Qantas, Qatar Airways or Virgin Atlantic, as they are the only ones that are good. Plus as many Acqua di Parma amenity kits as you can fit on an Etihad flight. But throw hands on the life jackets and noise canceling headphones.

And if you’re going to go full diva, make sure you take it to 11

Take a Farrow & Ball paint swatch to show the cabin crew the shade of brown you’d like your coffee to be. Complain that the ice cubes are too cold, the plane travels too slowly, your neighbor is “too ugly” to share a cabin with, and the blue of the sky doesn’t complement your outfit perfectly. You will need a full refund.

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