Which airlines offer companion dining in first and business class?
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Flying in a luxurious premium cabin on a long-haul flight can make the journey as exciting as the destination. These trips are plenty of fun to take solo (especially if you’re flying on an airline with a good inflight entertainment system and onboard amenities like a bar and shower), but it’s much more fun to share these experiences with a companion, whether it’s a spouse or family member or a colleague on a business trip.
Privacy is one of the most important considerations for an airline when designing first- and business-class cabins, but many carriers also offer the opportunity for premium-cabin passengers to dine with a companion at their seat. Whether you’re planning a romantic date night or an important business meeting, few things can be more exciting on an aeroplane than sharing a restaurant-quality meal inflight. Today, we’re going to take a look at which airlines offer companion-dining options in first and business class.
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How companion dining works
While serving two people at one table is actually easier for flight attendants, nothing is simple when you’re in a metal tube hurtling through the sky. First of all, airlines need to ensure that the tray tables at each seat are large enough to accommodate two passengers at once. In this regard, airlines with extravagant multi-course meals actually have a harder job, and space quickly becomes scarce. I’ve even had flight attendants move glasses or side dishes to other parts of the seat, including storage space along the window, to make room on the table.
In order to comply with civil aviation regulations, airlines also need to ensure that the second passenger will be safe in the event of turbulence. Many airlines create a companion-dining setup by having one passenger sit on the ottoman of the seat (where your feet would go when you’re sleeping), and adding a seat belt there. On larger jets like the A380, some airlines will bring out a small chair or stool that the second passenger can sit on. In the event of turbulence though, you’ll likely be asked to forget about your meal and return to your original seat. This means that if you’re planning on taking advantage of companion dining, you’ll have to decide who gets to stay in their comfortable seat and who will be sitting on a stool or ottoman for the course of the meal.
Of the major European airlines, British Airways is by far the most committed to its long-haul first-class product. You’ll find a first-class cabin on all of its 747s, 777-300ERs, A380s and 787-9s, plus some 777-200s. Companion dining is available in all of British Airways’ first-class cabins with the exception of the 787-9. When I flew British Airways first class last year I was rather underwhelmed with the experience, especially a hard product that felt more like business class than first. That being said, the ottoman/foot rest area was quite spacious and looked like it would make a comfortable companion dining seat.
With Air France’s recent announcement that it would retire its fleet of A380s effective immediately due to the coronavirus pandemic, the French flag carrier is now left with a first-class product only on some of its Boeing 777-300ERs. Frankly we won’t miss the A380 very much, as it offered subpar seats in premium economy, business class and especially first class, but Air France’s 777 La Première is possibly the chicest cabin in the sky. Each of the four seats in the first-class cabin comes with a spacious and comfortable-looking ottoman, should you wish to dine with a companion in flight.
Swiss maintains one of the most exclusive first-class products, especially for award travelers. The carrier does not release first-class award space to its Star Alliance partners, meaning the only way to book this ticket (other than paying cash) is through the Swiss Miles & More program. You’ll find a first-class cabin aboard all of Swiss’ 777-300ERs, A340s and A330s. All of these planes are equipped to offer companion dining, thanks to a seatbelt discreetly located on the ottoman.
Companion dining is primarily a first-class amenity, though as we’ll see soon there are a few exciting exceptions. American Airlines is the only North American airline to offer a true long-haul first-class product, which can be found exclusively on the carrier’s fleet of Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Before the pandemic, these planes were used to fly to London, Tokyo, Sydney and South America, though it’s anyone’s guess where they’ll go when travel resumes. American uses a unique swivelling seat in its 777 first-class cabin, and first-class passengers do have the option to dine with a companion at their seat.
Many airlines were struggling to make the economics of the A380 work even before the coronavirus ground travel to a halt. As of August 2019, Asiana has stopped selling first class on its A380s, the only planes in its fleet that feature a dedicated first-class cabin. Instead, these seats are now sold as business class despite the fact that they offer much more space, plus closing doors, than is found in the business-class cabin. It’s unclear whether Asiana still advertises the ability to dine with a companion in these seats, but as long as they haven’t removed the seatbelts from the ottoman I’d assume it’s still possible.
Japan Airlines first class, found exclusively aboard the carrier’s fleet of 777-300ERs, has a few interesting claims to fame. JAL is the only airline I know of that offers passengers a choice of mattress (hard or soft), and it also serves multiple different premium champagnes on board, including the very pricey Louis Roederer Cristal 2009.
JAL’s first-class cabin doesn’t look like it would be well suited to companion dining, but when you unlatch the tray table from under the TV and slide it towards the seat, it creates enough space on the ottoman for someone to comfortably join you for a meal.
ANA has always been an undeniably luxurious airline, but the first-class cabin on board most of the airline’s 777-300ERs is frustratingly boxy and not conducive to chatting with your travel companion, let alone enjoying a meal with them. Last year, ANA surprised the aviation industry by introducing stunning new first- and business-class cabins, available on a limited number of 777 aircraft. These planes are only flying between Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) airports and three destinations: London (LHR), New York (JFK) and Frankfurt (FRA). “The Suite,” ANA’s new first-class cabin, addresses many of the complaints about the old version and now includes the option for companion dining.
China Eastern has a diverse long-haul fleet, comprised of 777, 787, A330 and A350 aircraft. While the carrier offers a first-class cabin on a number of different jets, only the A350s are configured to allow companion dining.
Cathay Pacific has offered one of the most consistent first-class experiences over the years. That’s not to say it’s the most opulent or luxurious, but rather that it’s consistently excellent, with very little variation from flight to flight and even from year to year. Other airlines have come out with more innovative first-class cabins, but Cathay’s spacious and open layout has stood the test of time. Cathay was one of the first airlines to offer companion dining, and the orchid you’ll find at each seat can really help set the mood for a romantic date in the sky.
It’s no surprise that Singapore Suites is one of the most aspirational award redemptions out there, as the airlines does just about everything right from the ground experience in Singapore to the onboard food and drink to some of the best service you’ll find anywhere. Singapore Suites (the name of the first-class cabin aboard the carrier’s A380) comes in two configurations. In the older version, shown below, your companion can sit on the ottoman of your seat during a meal, while in the newer version, the flight attendants will bring out a small stool so you can dine together in one suite.
Garuda Indonesia first class is a very elusive product, as the airline now only has two 777-300ERs with a first-class cabin, one of which it leases to the Indonesian government (and therefore isn’t always operating commercial flights). Garuda first class is also nearly impossible to book with points and miles, but the onboard experience has been called one of the best in the world, made even more enjoyable by sharing a meal with your travel companion.
Thai Airways offers companion dining in first class aboard its older 747s, though these birds may be retired because of coronavirus. Thai was in a precarious financial situation before the pandemic began, and has been actively overhauling its fleet by focusing on smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft like the 787 and A350, not gas guzzlers like its older 747-400s.
Qatar Airways offers two different forms of companion dining. You’ll have this option if you’re flying in first class on the carrier’s A380, though Qatar only has a few of these jumbo jets and they operate a limited selection of routes to Europe, Australia and Asia. Qatar also made first class obsolete for many people when it introduced its industry-leading Qsuite business class. While companion dining might be a bit of a stretch here under normal circumstances, if you’re flying with a group of four you can connect the seats in the centre section of the cabin to form a quad layout, as shown below. The IFE screens slide to the side, and while you might need to lean forward to clearly see everyone, this could be a great option for some last-minute prep work before you land and head off to a business meeting.
Etihad stunned the world when it became the first airline to introduce a single-aisle cabin on the A380. At the front of the upper deck, you’ll find nine first-class “apartments” as well as the three-room “The Residence,” arguably the most exclusive (and expensive) experience in commercial aviation. Given that The Residence has a separate living/dining room and a private butler, companion dining here is never going to be a problem. Meanwhile, the apartments are uniquely well configured to offer companion dining. Right across from the main seat in each of them is the bed, meaning that your companion may even have more room to spread out during the meal than you do.
While essentially a nonstarter among award travellers, Kuwait Airways offers beautiful and spacious first-class suites aboard its 777-300ER aircraft. These come equipped with the ability to offer companion dining, and as you can see in the photo below, your companion will even be able to access the suite’s minibar from the ottoman. Our experience in Kuwait Airways’ first class was, however, quite disappointing.
SkyTeam member Saudia offers fully enclosed suites in first class on its 777-300ERs. The bones of the suites are very similar to what you’d find on Asiana’s A380s, for reference. Passengers travelling in first class can dine with a companion at their seat, though if you’re sitting in the middle section the privacy partition can be lowered all the way and you might be more comfortable staying where you are.
Oman Air has an incredibly sleek first-class cabin aboard some of its 787-9s, with elegant finishes and stylish lighting and panels around the suite. The ottomans come equipped with an extra seat belt, meaning you can dine with a companion.
Given the popularity of Australia as both a business and leisure destination and the limited number of nonstop flight options, Qantas’ A380 first class is an incredibly sought-after and hard to find award. Qantas uses a very interesting seat layout, with forward-facing seats that swivel towards a large ottoman and the TV. This means that if you choose to dine with a companion, they’ll have more space than they would on some other aircraft.
With reporting by Alberto Riva, Benjamin Smithson and Christian Kramer
Featured photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy