How to behave in business class – and not embarrass yourself

British Airways Business Class
Devices should always be on silent when flying in business class - British Airways

The first time I was upgraded from economy to business class and was offered wine, I asked: “How much is it?” The stewardess – it was the 1980s – looked at me and said: “Oh, you really don’t belong here.” Flying business class is a social minefield and how to behave changes all the time. After three decades travelling (quite often) at the pointy end, here is my guide to the etiquette of turning left.

Dress down – but don’t go Love Island

Back in the 1980s, most business class travellers wore a suit. Now if you wear a suit, you look like a first-timer. Since airlines introduced flat beds and suites with doors, it’s all about privacy and comfort. So you can dispense with the navy blazer from an obscure Tokyo designer, Sea Island cotton crew neck, light wool trousers and loafers, in favour of chinos or posh sweats, a polo shirt and trainers. But do not turn up in your pyjamas, leggings, sportswear or shorts and flip-flops emblazoned with designer logos.

Keep calm with your carry-on

You can go for a shiny Rimowa, though it’s fallen from fashion since the brand was swallowed up by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Carry on like a pro instead with a battered Globetrotter trolley (two wheels only, for true believers). Add a small holdall, such as a Prada bowling bag or vintage Globetrotter Concorde. Whatever you choose, never display your top-tier status card next to your address tag. Instant social death.

Do stroll up to the fast-track check-in desk, security and boarding

You’ve paid for it. You get extra snob points if you board in Group Zero, which British Airways has just introduced for super-premium customers, who can board before even first-class customers.

airport business class bar
Do: make the most of unique lounge opportunities - Getty

Do not miss unique lounge opportunities

The Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3 is the only place in Britain where you can order a martini at 8am and no one will look askance.

But do avert your gaze…

…if you board first and economy passengers have to file past your seat to get to theirs at the back of the bus. This is especially important if you have booked your other half and children in economy class.

Don’t go nuts

Once you’ve settled into your suite, do not complain if the nuts served with the pre-flight champagne are not on the finest Royal Doulton crockery. Korean Air vice-president Heather Cho ordered her Seoul-bound 747 back to the gate at New York JFK after being served macadamia nuts in a – gasp! – packet in 2014. Cho was later convicted of violating aviation safety, coercion and abuse of power and served five months in prison (where there were no pre-meal snacks).

Emirates Business Class
Don't: be too fussy when it comes to food served - Emirates

Social faux pas

No video calls in the lounge. Nobody is interested in hearing about your business or your family.

No photos. Nobody wants to see you posing for your in-suite selfie – especially if you have snuck into business class early like one influencer on Emirates recently, who pretended she was travelling in style before heading back to economy.

Do not bother the celebrities. I’ve flown alongside Gwyneth Paltrow (Concorde), Raye (Virgin Atlantic) and, er, David Hasselhoff (British Airways). They’re wracked with shame for slumming it on commercial flights and do not want to be reminded of it.

Don’t tell anyone if you “bought” your ticket with miles. Never mention how many miles you’ve flown this week, year, month, in your lifetime.

If your BA plane is late arriving at Heathrow, don’t demand that the airline’s chief executive, Sean Doyle, meet you on the jet bridge to explain why (as one entitled fellow traveller did the other week).

On board wardrobe malfunctions

Pyjamas are for sleeping in only. Your feet stay in your shoes or complimentary slippers. Keep your shirt on. I once saw an Everton footballer take his T-shirt off and sit half-naked on an 14-hour Emirates Airbus A380 from Sydney to Dubai.

Do not clean anything other than your face and hands with the hot towel.

Food and drink

Yes, the champagne is free, but that does not mean you should drink your body weight or demand it pre take-off. (Some Gulf carriers only offer it once airborne.) The same with food. Burgers are a big mistake. Take a leaf out of the cookbook of Neil Perry, Qantas’s chef. Eat light. Keep it spicy for breakfast when you want to wake up and opt for protein with complex carbohydrates for dinner when you need to sleep.

If you are lucky enough to snag the table for four in the bar in the Emirates A380, don’t hog it. An hour or 90 minutes is your limit.

Emirates airline onboard lounge
Don't: hog the airplane bar for too long - Emirates/David Copeman

Devices on silent

If you have to email and WhatsApp, silence alerts and turn off the keyboard clicks. Nobody wants a twittering goblin’s chorus at 39,000ft – or after landing.


Nothing divides ritzy travellers more than the issue of kids in business or first class. “Not to sound pretentious or anything (but we all know I am) why the f--- are children allowed in business class?”, the Apprentice star Lottie Lion recently tweeted from her comfortable seat. When a follower asked: “What are parents flying business class supposed to do with their kids?”, she replied: “I don’t know, put them in the luggage hold or something.” Major airlines won’t ban children from flying at the front for fear of alienating their highest-spending customers going on their holidays. But that doesn’t mean you should book in juniors. I have two children and I never took them in business class until they were old enough to plug into the television screen or an iPad. It’s not fair on others.

What ‘souvenirs’ to take

Pyjamas – but only if flying with Qantas, Qatar Airways or Virgin Atlantic, because they are the only ones that are any good. Plus as many Acqua di Parma amenity kits as you can carry off an Etihad flight. But hands off the life jackets and the noise-cancelling headphones.

And if you are going to go full diva, make sure you take it to 11

Take a Farrow & Ball paint swatch to show the cabin crew the precise shade of brown you’d like your coffee. Complain that the ice cubes are too cold, the plane is travelling too slowly, your neighbour is “too ugly” to share a cabin with, and the blue of the sky does not perfectly complement your outfit. You’ll need a full refund.