Business class seat installations onboard long haul aircraft have probably witnessed the most significant transformation in recent years.

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    The business class seat has evolved over time, to the point that it has nearly replaced first-class cabins on long haul flights. One of the major and most evident developments of such seats has most certainly been the embedment of lie-flat capability features.

    While the trend to densify the seating capacity applies also to the premium part of the cabin, those carriers which offer a ‘luxury area’ – and these are mainly the major flag carriers – are continuing to look for maximum comfort and lie-flat capability, even if this is achieved with smarter and more compressed layouts, thus reducing the space-consuming bulkier products of the long haul cabin classes, notes Doria De Chiara, business development manager at Geven.

    With a large number of new widebody aircraft being delivered, these new flagship aircraft have typically been given the first priority for the installation of new business class seats.

    “Airlines are focused on providing the highest levels of comfort and amenity for the passenger, so fully flat beds, adjustable levels of privacy and plenty of personal storage has become the standard for business class seats,” says Mark Vaughan, vice president of sales and marketing for aircraft seating and interior systems at Rockwell Collins.

    “We are currently modernising our Airbus A330 aircraft and providing fully flat seats in our World Business Class. In 2017, we completed the retrofit of the Boeing 777 fleet and earlier of the Boeing 747 fleet. We already have fully flat seats in our Boeing 787s as well. KLM will have 100 per cent fully-flat seating in all long haul aircraft by the end of 2018,” notes KLM airlines.

    “Our Boeing 787 seats have direct aisle access in Business Class. The positioning of the new seats in the cabin and various other smart design elements ensure maximum privacy while sleeping or working.

    “The palette of warm colours, which are different for every seat, combined with plenty of storage space, ensures greater comfort and more personal space for passengers. Together with bigger, soft cushions and luxurious new blankets, all this ensures a warm and friendly atmosphere in the new World Business Class.”

    In recent years, fully flat seats (180° in flight) have become standard and all-aisle access is gaining ground as well. Angled lie-flat seats have practically disappeared from the fleets and step-over products are hardly in demand at all anymore, according to Mark Hiller, chief executive officer of RECARO Aircraft Seating.

    Business class seats, personal electronic devices

    “Whether eating, working, watching movies or sleeping, the passenger should feel good when flying. What is needed are products that offer a very good living space with high layout efficiency in terms of passenger count.

    “Our long haul CL6710 business class combines these requirements as a ‘hotel room in the sky’. In addition to offering ergonomic comfort with a fully flat bed and all aisle access, the CL6710 is characterised by lightweight and it allows efficient use of space in the cabins of widebody aircraft.”

    Lie-flat seats in business class have become the overwhelming majority and have expanded on to narrowbodies. “For example, flydubai’s recent launch of its new 737 MAX sees fully flat seats introduced into the all-new Business Class cabin, which we have designed,” says John Tighe, design director transport at JPA Design.

    “It is now possible to purchase many different fully flat business class seats from manufacturers’ catalogues, with a wide range of passenger densities to choose from. Business class has gone through several revolutions; first angle-flats, then fully flat beds, then aisle access.

    “Now, we are often asked what’s next once a flatbed is expected. Our answer is linked to our work in other parallel industries, as we also design hotels, restaurants and luxury sleeper trains. Every hotel room, of course, has a fully flatbed, but it does not mean that people will not pay ten times the price for a better quality bed and its surrounding space. Business class travellers are very discerning, and in the social media travel blog era, depth and quality really count.”

    The new Business Class of Lufthansa will be available on regular routes for the first time in 2020, with the roll-out of the Boeing 777-9. “The new seat is the key element of the service and comfort level in the cabin, which have been improved even further.

    “It was developed with the goal of facilitating the best and soundest sleep above the clouds. Lufthansa guests can not only look forward to beds with a length up to 86.6in, but also the comfort and convenience of the seat ensuring heavenly dreams, and the construction of the backrest making it possible for the shoulder to sink in when you are lying on your side.

    “This keeps the spine straight and makes it possible for side sleepers to also benefit from ideally healthy and relaxing sleep,” notes Lufthansa.

    Conflicting with first class

    Overall, airlines are reducing or in some cases even cancelling their first class from their long haul fleets, while enhancing the business class by adding first-class features. “It seems as though the trend is to offer a better business class experience rather than the pure first-class experience as the demand grows more for the former than for the latter product type,” says De Chiara.

    “The front business class seat row is increasingly becoming an ‘embedded business class plus’ where the living space and stowage space and even the monitors are enlarged. We also offer a solution with front-row monuments. The integration of wellbeing- oriented features into the seat such as a combination of massage, seat heating and ambient lighting were already introduced by RECARO at the AIX – using the CL6710 as take off example,” says Hiller.

    Revenue management for an airline is extremely complex and each airline would need to address the revenue question specific to its business model.

    “With an elevated business class experience, a first-class needs to work harder and be more exclusive to remain relevant and successful for those airlines that offer a truly first-class experience. This is why we think you have seen more exclusive and even more premium first-class products being introduced in the market recently, for example, Emirates New First and the Etihad Residence,” says Vaughan.

    With business class seats increasingly looking like first-class seats there is more than a risk for airlines of losing high yielding first-class passengers. “There are several airlines who have business class and first-class products that are too close together.

    “However, as business class seats have been getting better, this has driven exciting new dawn of super luxurious first-class products, which are far and above any business class offer. Generally, we are now seeing lower numbers of first-class seats on each aircraft, but each passenger is getting far more personal space.

    “Now on certain airlines, you can expect a super-elite first-class product, which is luxurious and exclusive, with a ticket price that reflects this. So I would say that it is exciting times within the first-class world,” says Tighe.

    Technological upgrades

    Upgrading the business class with first-class features almost inevitably increases the seat weight while impacting aircraft efficiency and range. For this reason, Recaro Aircraft Seating is focusing on innovative lightweight construction materials.

    “Thanks to our several years of in-depth know-how and to AAT, our in-house supplier of lightweight components, we launched the CL6710, which weighs only 80kg (depending on equipment). It is one of the most lightweight business class, long haul seats on the market,” says Hiller.

    The latest Singapore Airlines Business Class seat, launched at the end of 2017, uses JPA’s Monocoque technology which is weight saving, notes Tighe. “We are now progressing this further for future seats. This patented solution uses a carbon fibre Monocoque, providing the opportunity to give the passenger more space, save weight, and fit more seats in,” he says.

    Another important trend is the digitalisation of the aircraft cabin.“Under the Internet of Things heading, we also developed the CL6710 as an intelligent seat option that can be digitally monitored and controlled. With a seat app, the passenger can adjust their seating position as well as other functions, such as seat heating, to their own needs using their smartphone or tablet, and even save the information for future flights,” says Hiller.

    “With a maintenance app, the cabin crew can, for example, automatically check the TTL status during take-off and landing (seat in TTL, belt closed, and so on). Maintenance personnel can remotely monitor the status of each seat and ensure that needed spare parts are available when the aircraft lands at the gate.

    “This data can also be incorporated into product development since long term evaluation of this seat performance data generates detailed and valuable information on component reliability and on passenger behaviour. These can be used to enhance passenger comfort, increase component reliability and reduce seat weight.”

    KLM Business Class seats have 15-18in touch screens which will be based on the Android operating system. “This will allow us to do develop the inflight entertainment system much faster in the future. Furthermore, passengers have a dual-screen option that allows them to watch a movie and simultaneously play a game,” notes KLM.

    Business class seats, personal electronic devices

    In the new Business Class of Lufthansa, thanks to digital interfaces, all the functions of the seat as well as the inflight entertainment system can be controlled using the passenger’s personal device.

    “Smartphones and tablets can be recharged at the seat using wireless technology. And in the future, anyone who wants to watch one of the movies from the extensive entertainment program will experience the blockbusters on much larger screens, in full HD,” notes Lufthansa.

    “When a customer sits in our business class seats, they are immersed in comfort, privacy and access to technology. Our goal is to make the passenger experience as comfortable and accommodating to mirror their daily habits as if they were not on a plane. From the seat materials to customisable lighting to inflight entertainment, storage and seat positions, each passenger chooses their experience,” says Vaughan.

    Continuing with differentiation

    Considering that lie-flat business class seats have become mainstream, they are no longer a differentiation tool for airlines, meaning they must become increasingly creative at marketing premium lie-flat seats.

    “The smarter staggered and herring-bone layouts are preferred, and aisle access is a must. A robust and healthy business class offer in lieu of the more space consuming, lower demand, and far more expensive first class, can be a very lucrative differentiator tool for the airline on long haul routes. The other good revenue providing differentiator can also be a generously optioned and comfortably spaced Premium Economy,” says De Chiara.

    “In combination with their on board soft product, it provides their customers with comfort and service enhancements and provides a joined-up brand experience at all stages of the passenger experience with that airline,” says Vaughan.

    All-aisle access is also asserting itself strongly and it will most certainly become the new standard in the not too distant future.

    “The business class is now becoming the focus of airlines as a signature product. A high degree of customisation in interior design is therefore decisive for airlines. With its modular product design, our CL6710 business class seat offers flexible and diverse customer-specific options as well as various upgrade options, such as the intelligent seat with the app and the wellbeing package,” says Hiller.

    Compared to its predecessors, the Boeing 777-9 has a considerably wider cabin and in the new Business Class of Lufthansa, this space is used to increase the comfort level of passengers who will have direct access to the aisle.

    Business class seats

    This is made possible by a 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 seat configuration. The new seats also provide customers with a significantly increased amount of personal space, more privacy, as well as generous storage compartments and flat surfaces. Depending on their personal needs, passengers can choose between a number of spatial configurations.

    “For instance, they can choose to have an extended length bed or a seat with twice as much desk space. Lufthansa’s new high-end Business Class offers business and leisure travellers an incomparably luxurious, healthy and relaxing flight experience,” notes Lufthansa.

    In addition to differentiating on the seating product, KLM is increasingly differentiating on business class service. “It is all about offering more choice and control for the customer and a more personal and flexible product and service. Last year we introduced our ‘Anytime for You’ service concept.

    “This service ensures that World Business Class passengers get more choice and control, allowing them to decide what and when they want to eat on board,” notes KLM. “In addition to the usual three-course dinner and lunch options, the menu also includes an ‘Anytime For You’ selection of eight dishes.

    “This includes cold and warm dishes, savoury and sweet, healthy dishes and tasty treats. After the regular meal service, passengers can order from this extra menu during the remainder of the flight. The selected dish is prepared and served restaurant-style whenever it best suits the passenger. The service concept will be phased in on various flights.”

    “For most mid to long haul routes, it is expected that an airline just has to have a business class with lie-flat seats. Instead, airlines now have to work closely with their designers to customise the product and the cabin to create something that has a real impact on passengers’ user experience. People remember how an experience made them feel and an amazing cabin design can be the most memorable realisation of the airline brand,” concludes Tighe.

    “Another big differentiator is a more connected journey from booking to arriving at the destination, looking at the whole user experience and designing coherently through each touch point. Removing the bad parts and making great, memorable moments throughout.”