No, all business class seats are not created equal

seat, assignment, flight, plane, airplane, airline, interior, trip, travel
By | May 25th, 2017

Martha Mayakis booked business class seats on Norwegian Air Shuttle, through Travelocity. After she booked and paid, she researched the airline’s seats. She was disappointed when she discovered that Norwegian Air Shuttle business class seats are just slightly larger than its economy class seats.

As Mayakis tells the story:

I had a good experience with Travelocity in the past, so I booked a package deal with hotel and airfare from California to London, through Travelocity. I specifically opted for spending more money for business class accommodations because of the width of the seat and the comfort. I mentioned this repeatedly to the Travelocity representative at the time of booking. When I investigated the airline seating, after I had paid for the nonrefundable flight, I realized that the business class seats are just slightly larger than the economy class seats. I called, and I went to Norwegian Air Shuttle’s website, and learned that it doesn’t even offer business class seats. It offers 18-inch-wide “premium economy” seats, not 21-inch-wide business class seats. This is a big difference.

I called Travelocity and talked to agents up the chain. I was told that Travelocity wasn’t going to pay anything for me and my case was closed. I was even told that premium economy was better than business class. I asked for proof, and of course, there was none. The Travelocity agent said it fulfilled its agreement, and I could take it or leave it.

Wow. Travelocity sold a premium economy seat, but represented it as business class seat. Then it tried to convince you that the premium economy seat it had sold you was better than a business class seat.

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Shame on Travelocity.

Norwegian Air Shuttle advertises itself as the “world’s best long-haul, low-cost airline.” The airline offers only two classes of seats: an economy cabin seat or a premium cabin seat. The seats in the premium cabin that Travelocity sold you differ from those in the economy cabin by 15 inches of legroom. The economy cabin seats have 31 inches of legroom, and the premium cabin seats have 46 inches. There are other amenities in the premium economy cabin, such as meals and drinks, but there doesn’t seem to be a difference in the width or recline of the seat.

There is a big difference between first, business, premium economy and economy airline seating. There are variations among airlines, and variations within an airline. A business or first class seat on one airline can differ from plane to plane. For example, a first class seat on American Airlines or Delta Airlines on a particular flight might be a fully reclining, lie-flat seat, or it may only partially recline. Seating will vary by destination and by the type of plane flown for the route.

You sent emails to Travelocity and spoke with its representatives, but it remained firm and would not refund your tickets. Our advocates contacted Travelocity on your behalf, but it refused to acknowledge that it sold you premium economy seats that it represented as business class. Travelocity’s rationale was that there is no standard definition of business class. It took the position that business class simply means “service and amenities between coach and first class.” That may be true, but Travelocity’s position assumes that there is a first class. If Norwegian Air Shuttle doesn’t offer first class, what “service and amenities between coach and first class” is Travelocity selling?

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Travelocity also asserted that there is no standard seat width for a business class seat. And that a comparison of seats among various long-haul airlines shows some business class seats from 18 to 20 inches in width. The comparison chart Travelocity relied upon to justify its refusal to refund Mayakis is a helpful tool. But it is notable that Norwegian Air Shuttle isn’t listed on the business class comparison chart Travelocity cited, presumably because Norwegian Air Shuttle doesn’t represent its premium cabin seat as a business class seat. Travelocity ignored the fact that Norwegian Air Shuttle wouldn’t be included on a long-haul business class comparison chart, because it doesn’t sell a business class service.

Travelocity’s rationale is flawed, and its treatment of Mayakis is a cautionary tale for all travelers. The “good experience” Mayakis had with Travelocity in the past is, well, in the past. The only way to understand exactly what type of seat is being purchased is to research the actual flight and type of plane being flown on the route, on the individual airline’s website. The airline website should identify the width, degree of incline and legroom of the various seats on the actual plane that is expected to be flown. In addition, using the comparison chart and reading the passenger reviews of various seats before booking is helpful. Do your homework before you book, and don’t rely on an online agency, which is Travelocity in Mayakis’ case, to do the research for you.

We were unable to help Mayakis obtain a refund and have no choice but to dismiss her case.

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  • Jeff W.

    While there could be some fault on Travelocity, the purchaser also bears some of the plane.
    The time to research a purchase is before you buy something not after.

  • Lindabator

    ALWAYS do your research before you buy, or trust it to a real travel agent

  • Chris_In_NC

    While I understand the OPs frustration, I am curious… How much was the “business” class on Norwegian Air? Business class on full service airlines to Europe generally are thousands of dollars (though discounted business class tickets may be as low as $1500-1700 each way). I am willing to bet all the marbles that the “business” class ticket on Norwegian was less than $1500 each way, and probably it was less than that. So, ultimately, the question is, does the OP have unrealistic expectations?


    I was just typing the same thing. No mention is made of cost–only that she spent more on business class. Was it so low that any reasonable person would have questioned it? She does share responsibility here. Research is done before you spend the money and not after.

  • Nathan Witt

    If Norwegian Shuttle says it doesn’t offer a business class, and seat says Norwegian Shuttle doesn’t offer a business class, it seems like Travelocity ought not to sell or market business class tickets on that particular carrier. Yes, the specifics of a business class seat vary between airlines, but Travelocity is the only one in this story using the term, and that seems misleading, like selling first class seats on Southwest.

  • Hanope

    Stories like this is why I don’t use these bulk OTA anymore. You have very little ability to make changes or solve problems when there’s a middle man that’s only on the internet. I’m all for using them for research on prices, times, dates, but then book directly with the airline when I flnd flights I like.

  • AAGK

    Where did she get the idea she was purchasing a traditional business class seat.
    Also, Travelocity’s reference probably intended to demonstrate the lack of uniformity. That this airline does not offer business does not help the OP.

  • deemery

    I think I looked into this once. Norwegian premium seats are less than “real” business class, but a significant premium over their coach seats.

    My thought is 75% of the fault lies with the person who didn’t do their research, and 25% of the fault is with an over-sell by Travelocity (if they did/do represent these as “business’ versus “premium economy.”)

  • Lindabator

    and had she doen so, it clearly shows Premium seats – and that they are in the Economy cabin — $570 vs $1170 each way just FYI

  • Alan Gore

    There are sites that specialize in rating premium airline cabins, and other sites that host forum discussions on the subject. Check for ratings of hard product (seats, lavatories, entertainment systems, etc.) vs soft product (service and amenities). Know before you go.

  • MarkKelling

    Every seat on Southwest is 1st class!

  • cscasi

    I went to Travelocity and entered a trip from LAX to LON for a date in September. with hotel. I was given a listing of hotels; selected one, then was given listing of flights. Norweigan was listed as 0 dollars more for the quoted price for flight and hotel, while there were other airlines listed but were $1043 more. I selected the Norweigan flight and then I looked down at the “flight and baggage details” listed below the flight schedule. There it shows that the flight is booked on Norweigan Air Shuttle 794 and next kibe Business (I), next line, BOEING 787-9 Hot Meal Cold meal. All this is available before one proceeds to booking the actual flights/hotel and paying for it.
    So, this DOES show that Travelocity is booking the Norweigan Air flight in Business class (even though there is no business class. How does it explain that?

  • cscasi

    Travelocity does represent these seats as Business (I) when one requests a business class seat and books the trip from LAX to LON.
    So, Travelocity should be penalized for posting false information; even though it does show all the other available airline flights with business class which are shown as $1043 more per seat.

  • joycexyz


  • cscasi

    It does as I did it. See my post. It’s pretty black and white. And, it definitely shows Business (I) when booked that way.

  • jsn55

    Yup, a perfect example of using an online travel booker instead of booking directly through the airline. You can surely do so, but you better be ready to do lots of research before hitting that ‘buy’ button.

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