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NOVEMBER 6, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 18

Who's Got the Best Business Class in Asia?

Illustration for TIME by Joanna Walsh.

Trying to use a laptop in an economy seat is asking for trouble. When I flew recently from Hong Kong to Shanghai, the passenger just in front reclined rapidly and snapped my screen off at the base. Needless to say I arrived feeling neither productive nor happy. Horror stories like this persuade many companies to spring for business-class seats. But there still is the tough decision of selecting the ideal airline. To determine which local fleet offers the best in business class, Time Asia polled several Asian airlines to find out what amenities they offer high-flying executives. To make the material easier to digest, the airlines were asked to choose a major flight (Tokyo-Hong Kong, Seoul-Hong Kong or Singapore-Tokyo) as the benchmark. All prices refer to full-fare, return tickets.

All Nippon Airways
A seat from Hong Kong to Tokyo costs $1,500. For that you get 127 cm of seat pitch (the amount of space between the front of one seat and the front of the next) and 49 degrees of recline from the upright position. ANA last redesigned its business class nearly a decade ago, and it shows. Seats don't offer power outlets for laptops, so you'd better stock up on batteries if traveling long-haul. And unless you're E.T. you won't be phoning home.


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Cathay Pacific For the same $1,500, on the same route, the Hong Kong carrier offers 127 cm of seat pitch but only 43 degrees of recline on its 747-400s. Personal TVs are installed in each seat and offer a good selection ... of airplane movies. Power outlets are not currently available, but the Empower system being installed next year will give you juice as well as Internet access.

Japan Airlines JAL, which also charges $1,500, offers the only "designer" interior—a seasonally based color scheme that was designed by Terence Conran. Seat pitch is 127 cm and recline a healthy 48 degrees. All seats come with a phone as part of an in-flight entertainment system that also offers games and 12 separate video and audio channels. There are no power outlets for laptops, but JAL does provide a selection of charged batteries.

Korean Airlines For $1,340 from Hong Kong to Seoul, Korean offers 127 cm of pitch and 40 degrees of recline. A majority of its fleet is equipped with personal televisions. (Unless you speak Korean, pray that you get one of the newer planes, as the old entertainment system is dominated by local variety shows.) No outlet for your laptop, but the airline does offer phones. Korean also serves up one of the best meals in the air with its pibimbap, a delicious dish of rice, beef and chili that transcends the usual southwestern chicken or beef stroganoff.

Singapore Airlines Singapore to Tokyo flights are a lot more expensive across the board: a full-fare business-class ticket costs $2,266. The airline redesigned its cabins in 1998, and the upgrade sets the Asian standard. Seat pitch stretches to 132 cm, with 42 degrees of recline. The entertainment system is second to none. With power outlets, a phone, Nintendo and 21 channels of on-demand video that you can pause, fast-forward and rewind, Singapore may be Asia's cushiest airline. But the best entertainment is still peering through the curtain at cattle class and mouthing the word, "Moooooo."

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