With more than half the world’s population and a growing affluent class, premium airline travel in Asia is growing at a very fast rate. In this article, I will be assessing the best 5 short-haul First / Business class Asian airlines.
For the purpose of this article, the geographical region for the airlines included do not include those in the Middle East nor Oceania. I also do not include airlines that operate short-haul fifth freedom flights in Asia, such as Royal Jordanian, Oman Air, Emirates, Ethiopian, KLM, etc.
This ranking combines the First and Business class together, as most short-haul flights are a 2 cabin configuration. The presence of a First class cabin is unusual, rather than the norm. At the basic tier, short-haul business class flights in Asia are generally narrowbody flights with larger recliner seats than economy class (The same cannot be said about Europe unfortunately!). The following airlines have went above and beyond that:
1 – Singapore Airlines
It really should not come as a surprise that Singapore Airlines is the best short-haul First / Business Class carrier in Asia. Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore has a natural advantage in that all flights are international flights, and that all their planes are wide body planes. Singapore Airlines has top notch lounges in Singapore and multiple destinations.
Singapore Airlines have also retrofitted most of their short-haul flights, especially the older Boeing 777-200 planes. Most business class flights have a 2-2-2 configuration in their wide comfortable seats, which can be turned into an angled flatbed. These planes are also in the process of being replaced by the brand new Airbus A350 planes. So, yes – you can try out the new A350 planes with Singapore Airline’s new business class seats in short-haul! I have reviewed Business Class on this A350
Another great premium short-haul flight to try out is the first class service between Singapore and Jakarta. In this short 1 hour 45 mins flight, you experience the renowned first class seats (not the suites, unfortunately!) on Singapore Airline’s 777-300.
One thing that makes Singapore Airlines stand out is their onboard dining options. Singapore Airlines feature “Book the Cook” for almost all their premium travel flights, where you can order special items up within 24 hours of your flight. The lobster thermidor is a particular crowd favourite. What more can you ask for when you are having lobster and sipping champagne and wine in a short-haul flight?
2 – Cathay Pacific
Being in Hong Kong, all flights that Cathay Pacific operates are international flights. After starting up Dragon Air / Cathay Dragon, the entire Cathay Pacific fleet is now wide body planes. The Cathay Pacific First/Business Class experience begins with their superb lounges in Hong Kong and multiple destinations.
The food and beverages served are top notch. There is usually a choices of champagne and a few wines, and a proper multi course meal. All planes also come with Cathay Pacific’s award winning inflight entertainment system, Studio CX, which features a wide variety of movies, TV series, games and audio options.
For most destinations, Cathay Pacific flies multiple trips per day. As such, do keep an eye out when selecting your seats on the Boeing 777-200 and 777-300 planes, as they feature a 2-3-2 seat configuration in business class. Cathay Pacific have some planes configured to feature their Regional Business Class, which is a comfortable recliner seat which leans into a shell casing.
Some Airbus A330 planes features the similar Regional Business Class seat in a 2-2-2 configuration, while some feature their famous reverse herringbone 1-2-1 configuration. For most destinations, Cathay Pacific actually do fly multiple different planes on a daily basis. Therefore, it is possible to get better hard products than the Regional Business Class seats.
For a great premium short-haul flight, you can even savour the renowned Cathay Pacific first class experience. Cathay flies a 4 cabin configuration 777-300ER from Hong Kong to Taipei (1 hour 45 mins) and Hong Kong to Manila (2 hour 10 mins)!
3- Japan Airlines
Japan Airlines probably runs the best domestic airlines in Asia. Operating a mixed fleet of Boeing narrow body and wide body planes, Japan Airlines has also topped the world’s ranking multiple times with their on time performance.
Currently, Japan Airlines is in the midst of rolling out their new domestic / short-haul service, Sky Next. With many routes already covered, these new planes offer seats high quality genuine leather and great legroom due to the slim recliner seats. On top of that, these planes offer Wi-Fi connectivity, which also allows people to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to connect to their Wi-Fi for the inflight entertainment system.
On some high traffic routes, Japan Airlines also offers a superb domestic First Class, such as Tokyo – Sapporo (1 hour 30 mins) and Tokyo – Fukuoka (1 hour 55 mins). The First Class service comes with oversized plush recliner seats, some simple amenities such as slippers and blankets. Japan Airlines also offers great inflight dining in collaboration with renowned restaurants in Japan, as well as a generous selection of beverages, ranging from champagne to sake and high quality coffee and green tea.
4 – Korean Air
I have reviewed my Korean Air Business Class flights. Korean operates a mixed fleet or narrow body and wide body planes, with the Boeing 737 being their workhorse for most domestic flights and some international short-haul routes. The 737 flights are nothing special or different than the average domestic business class flights, with standard recliner seats.
With that being said, Korean Air operates a great selection of widebody on their short-haul international routes, and some competitive high traffic domestic routes such as Seoul – Jeju. Korean Air has 5 different first class products, and 4 of them are featured on short-haul.
For example, you can take Korean Air’s 777-200 from Seoul to Tokyo (2 hour 15 mins) in First class on their 1-2-1 Kosmo Suites seats. Seoul to Shanghai (2 hours) feature the lie flat Sleeper seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Seoul to Beijing (2 hour 10 mins) feature their Kosmo Sleeper seats, which are also lie flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. In business class, Korean Air even flies the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Seoul to Incheon (1 hour 10 mins), which feature the superb 2-2-2 Apex Suites seats.
On top of these good hard products, Korean Air offers great delicious authentic Korean food onboard. Korean food often comes with many appetizer dishes, making the onboard dining a visually and physically sumptuous affair. The selection of beverages is also generous. Passengers can also enjoy the wide variety of inflight entertainment options with their noise cancelling headphones, or just catch a short nap.
5 – Thai Airways
Being the national carrier of Thailand, Thai Airways embodies Thai hospitality at its finest. Premium travel on Thai Airways features begins with their great lounges, in which you can get a free massage if you are flying international routes.
As Thai Airways has a mixed fleet of narrowbody and widebody, multiple different planes are sometimes used on popular routes. For example, on Bangkok to Phuket (1 hour 25 mins), where you can try their regular extra reclining seats in a 2-2 – 2 configuration on the Airbus A330, angled lie flat seats in a 2-2-2- or 2-3-2 configuration in the A330 and the Boeing 777-200, or even lie flats seats on the Boeing 777-300.
Most short-haul Thai Airways business class flights will feature either of these seats, so do keep an eye out if you are looking for a particular type of seat. You can also experience the famous Thai Airways First class in Bangkok – Hong Kong (2 hour 40 mins) in their Boeing 747. On Thai Airways First Class flights departing Bangkok, passengers can place early orders for special dining options from their Chef on Call menu.
Despite the different hard products, the onboard service on Thai Airways is top notch. The dining options are also good, and the inflight entertainment system offers a wide variety of options to keep entertained.
You may also be interested in my top 10 Business Class airlines in the world.