How to behave in business class – and not embarrass yourself

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

The first time I was upgraded from economy class to business class and offered wine, I asked, “How much is it?” The flight attendant – it was the eighties – looked at me and said, “Oh you Real don’t belong here.” Flying business class is a social minefield and behavior is constantly changing. After three decades of traveling (very often) at the pointy end, here is my guide to left-turn etiquette.

Dress smart – but don’t go to Love Island

In the 1980s, most business travelers wore a suit. Now, if you wear a suit, you look like a first-timer. Ever since airlines introduced flat beds and suites with doors, it’s all about privacy and comfort. So you can forego the navy blue blazer from an obscure Tokyo designer, the cotton crew neck from Sea Island, the light wool trousers and loafers, in favor of chinos or chic sweats, a polo shirt and trainers. But don’t show up in your pajamas, leggings, workout clothes or shorts and slippers emblazoned with designer logos.

Stay calm with your carry-on luggage

You can opt for a shiny Rimowa, even though it has fallen out of fashion since the brand was swallowed up by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Instead, carry on like a pro with a battered Globetrotter trolley (just two wheels, for the true believers). Add a small weekend bag, such as a Prada bowling bag or a vintage Globetrotter Concorde. Whatever you choose, never place your highest status card next to your address label. Instant social death.

Walk to the express check-in counter, security and boarding

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

business class bar at the airportbusiness class bar at the airport

Thu: Take full advantage of unique lounge options – Getty

Don’t miss unique lounge options

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 bat an eyelid.

But avert your gaze…

…when first and economy passengers have to file past your seat to get to their seat 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 crazy

Once you’ve settled into your suite, there’s no need to complain if the nuts served with pre-flight champagne aren’t on Royal Doulton’s finest china. Korean Air Vice President Heather Cho ordered her Seoul-bound 747 to return to the New York JFK gate after serving macadamia nuts in a – gasp! – package in 2014. Cho was later convicted of violating aviation safety, coercion and abuse of power and served five months in prison (where there were no pre-meal snacks).

Emirates Business ClassEmirates Business Class

Don’t: Be too picky when it comes to food – Emirates

Social faux pas

No video calls in the lounge. No one is interested in your business or your family.

No pictures. No one wants to see you posing for your selfie in the suite – especially if you snuck into business class early, like an influencer at Emirates recently, who pretended she was traveling in style before returning to economy class.

Don’t bother the celebrities. I’ve flown alongside Gwyneth Paltrow (Concorde), Raye (Virgin Atlantic) and, um, David Hasselhoff (British Airways). They are ashamed of having let it down on commercial flights and don’t want to be reminded of it.

Don’t tell anyone if you “bought” your ticket with miles. Never mention how many miles you have flown this week, year, month or in your lifetime.

If your BA plane arrives late at Heathrow, don’t demand that the airline’s CEO, Sean Doyle, meet you on the jet bridge to explain why (as an entitled fellow traveler did last week).

Wardrobe malfunctions

Pajamas are only for sleeping. Your feet stay in your shoes or complimentary slippers. 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.

Don’t 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 have to drink your body weight or demand it before takeoff. (Some Gulf airlines only offer it when they’re in the air.) The same goes for food. Hamburgers 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 proteins with complex carbohydrates for dinner when you need to sleep.

If you are lucky enough to get a table for four in the Emirates A380 bar, don’t hesitate. An hour or 90 minutes is your limit.

Lounge on board Emirates airlineLounge on board Emirates airline

Don’t hang on the plane beam for too long – Emirates/David Copeman

Devices on silent

If you need to email and WhatsApp, turn off the alerts and disable the keyboard clicks. No one wants the chattering goblin choir at 35,000 feet – or after landing.


Nothing divides chic travelers more than the issue of children in business or first class. “Not to sound pretentious or anything (but we all know I am), why are kids allowed in business class?” Pupil star Lottie Lion recently tweeted from the comfort of her chair. When a follower asked, “What are parents flying business class supposed to do with their kids?”, she replied, “I don’t know, put them in the hold or something.” Major airlines will not ban children from flying at the front for fear of alienating their highest-spending customers going on holiday. But that doesn’t mean you have to book juniors too. I have two kids and I never took them in business class until they were old enough to plug into the television screen or an iPad. It’s not fair to others.

Which ‘souvenirs’ to take with you

Pajamas – but only if you fly Qantas, Qatar Airways or Virgin Atlantic, because they’re the only ones that are good. Plus as many Acqua di Parma amenity kits as you can carry on an Etihad flight. But leave out the life jackets and noise-canceling headphones.

And if you’re going full diva, make sure you turn it up to 11

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

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