Airlines: squaring up

Continental tailfin 12.05.06British Airways 12.05.06
American AirlinesContinentalBritish Airways
Price£2,032 and the airline is currently upgrading cabins and seats£2,041, but summer specials start at £1,162 £2,034 buys you a seat across the pond
SeatSeat pitch is 59”; width 20.3”; recline 160°. The new Next-Generation Business-Class seat will lie flatAt 22” wide with a 170° recline, giving two metres of sleeping space, this is one of the widest business-class seats available BA pioneered flatbeds and is spending £100 million upgrading. The current seat converts into a six-foot flatbed.
FlexibilitySix flights a day from Heathrow to New York JFKOne flight a day from Gatwick to NewarkTen flights a day from Heathrow (seven to New York JFK and three to Newark)
Food & DrinkThe new premium-class menu offers a five-course meal with a choice of five main dishes. There is an extensive wine and champagne list Continental offers a wide variety of menus and premium wines to keep the discerning traveller happy Freshly prepared meals are served on white china. Customers can dine in the BA lounge to maximise sleep time and there’s an express service on board
EntertainmentThe 10-channel programming system and choice of movies are all enjoyed through Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphonesA choice of 18 channels of film and television and 16 video games 16 multi-lingual video and 13 audio channels
PerksAmerican Airlines has its own terminal at New York JFK, the Park Avenue check-in, plus access to its air-side departure area at HeathrowThe arrivals lounge at Heathrow includes a suit-pressing service, health and beauty treatments and business facilities One of the highest ratios of cabin crew to passengers (1:8) and a superb network of onward connections in the US

Maxjet tailfin 12.05.06United tailfin 12.05.06Virgin tailfin 12.05.06
MAXjetUnited AirlinesVirgin Atlantic
Price£854 in its all-business-class service£2,018 and the carrier is currently upgrading business-class cabins£2044 – the most expensive
SeatWidth is 19”, but seat pitch is 60” and recline is 160°, providing plenty of space. All seats are either window or aisle. Seats have 55” pitch and recline is 150°. The airline is upgrading its business-class product, although a launch date has not been set.The ‘armchair’ flips over into a separate bed with a mattress and is, at 79.5”, the longest bed in either business or first class.
FlexibilitySix flights a week from Stansted to New York JFK One flight a day from Heathrow to New York JFK Five flights a day from Heathrow (three to New York JFK and two to Newark)
Food & DrinkA freshly prepared four-course meal with a choice of three dishes plus wines from both sides of the AtlanticA choice of three entrees, with some dishes created by celebrity chefs, served on Noritake porcelain with award-winning wines and Starbucks coffeeThe Freedom menu offers main meals and snacks. Passengers can choose to eat before their flight in one of the Virgin Clubhouses
EntertainmentIndividual digEplayer loaded with more than 100 hours of movies, TV shows and music Individual armrest video with nine channels of video and 20 channels of audio. There is also a CD player with electronic noise-reducing headphonesThe V.Port system has 50 movies, 130 TV programmes, 14 audio channels, 50 CDs and four audio books
PerksWith their lounge right next to the boarding gate and a maximum of just 102 passengers to board, it’s the quickest and most painless boarding experienceSeparate airport check-in position and access to the excellent Red Carpet Club. United will also be the first airline to offer in-flight Wi-Fi access.A chauffeur-driven car to the airport and the new Virgin Clubhouse which has a mini spa and hair salon, plus in-flight massage and beauty treatments.

And the very best is…

Virgin atlantic logo

As things stand, Virgin Atlantic edges in front of its bitter rival British Airways with more perks – drive-through check-in, in-flight massage and the like – and a better entertainment system.

That said, BA wins in the all-important flexibility market. Not only does it have three more flights a day to New York, but in the critical area of seat availability, BA can probably offer as many business-class seats per day to New York as all the other airlines put together. This is crucial to those travellers who need to book or change flights at short notice.

To be fair to the US airlines, in the aftermath of September 11, they have being playing catch-up with limited funds for investment. American Airlines and United Airlines will shortly unveil new products. Watch this space.

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