This year has seen a wave of new business class cabins that resemble first class more than ever before.
While the vast majority of airlines are tightening the purse strings – squeezing in more economy seats and reducing or downright doing away with first class – it would seem we are witnessing the dawn of a new golden age of business class travel.
As recently as a decade ago, passengers who wanted a flat-bed usually had only one option – international first class. In business class, most airlines were more likely to have a cradle-style seat or an angled flat-seat at best. Both have their merits, but neither can compare in terms of comfort to a fully-flat bed.
Now, the majority of business cabins you see on international flights feature a fully-flat bed. No, they’re not as long or wide or luxurious as in first class, but they’re certainly not a world away from the more expensive seats at the very front of the plane.
2017 has seen further developments in the business class cabin, with two airlines – United and Qatar – unveiling private suites for its business class passengers, while other airlines are noticing the trend and investing heavily in new products.
For an idea of what the best of business class looks like right now, let’s take a look at the latest innovations and what’s in the pipeline for the future.
Qatar Airways – Qsuite
For years, Akbar Al Baker, the charismatic CEO of Qatar Airways, promised the travel world that he would introduce a business class seat so revolutionary that it would make most first class products obsolete.
And when Qatar unveiled its Qsuite business class product early this year to much fanfare, it did not disappoint. The revolutionary suite, which launched in June onboard Qatar Airways’ Doha-London Heathrow B777 service, features a number of firsts for business class, including sliding ‘privacy doors’ and the industry’s first-ever double bed in Business Class. Previously, only the most opulent first class seats, such as Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380 suites class, offered a double bed.
The game-changing business class product also doesn’t skimp on food and beverage options, with an onboard menu comparable to first class on other airlines, as well as a dine-on-demand service that is usually reserved for first class. For the new QSuites, the airline has also introduced new sharing snack platters.
Qatar Airways is the second airline to introduce a business class product with a door, following Delta Air Lines, which announced its Delta One Suite last April.
Delta – Delta One Suites
In 2016, Delta announced it would be creating the first all-suites business class cabin. And although it has not yet debuted – it’s due to debut on the airline’s transpacific routes before the end of the year – what we have seen so far is impressive.
The seats have been designed with an emphasis on comfort and privacy, with each Delta One suite featuring a full-height sliding door for ultimate privacy, an advanced in-flight entertainment system, and sleek and stylish finishes to create a comfortable, residential feel.
A flight in a Delta One suite will also see you supplied with heavenly bedding from Westin, Tumi amenity kits and Kiehl’s products, as well as sleepsuits on some transpacific flights. Additionally, five-course dinners will come with wine pairings from Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.
The Delta One suites will debut on Delta’s first Airbus A350, due to enter service to Tokyo Narita as of October 30. Beijing and Incheon will get the product in the following months. Each aircraft will feature 32 suites.
United Airlines – Polaris
Launched in December 2016, United Airlines’ new business class product, called Polaris – named after the North Star – is the airline’s most significant product development in more than a decade.
With a focus on sleep enhancement, Polaris’ custom-designed suite-like pods feature a 23 inch wide seat that reclines to a fully-flat bed of 6 foot 6 inches, a “Do Not Disturb” sign, mood lighting, surfaces for working and dining, a 16-inch HD screen and, for seats in the centre of the cabin, electronic privacy dividers.
At bedtime on long-hauls, the flight attendants will dress the bed in custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue and distribute behind matching pyjamas.
Singapore Airlines is counting down to the November 2nd and the launch of its next-generation Airbus A380 first class suites and business class seats. While little is known about the new A380 business class cabin, word is that it will epitomise the Asian luxury and hospitality the Singaporean airline is famous for.
Singapore Airlines’ current ‘Next Generation’ business class seats (above), which launched in 2013, may offer some idea to as the direction the airline will go. Handcrafted from Scottish leather and diamond-stitched, the 28-inch seat transforms into a 78-inch fully-flat bed with a cushioned headboard and comes complete with linen, duvet and pillows.
BusinessClass will be reporting from the unveiling event in November, so keep an eye out for that.
The airline is also set to revamp its outdated business class cabins on a number of A380 superjumbos, as well as on a new ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350 due for delivery in 2018, while a brand new toned-down business class seat will be introduced on shorter ‘regional’ routes in 2018.
The new regional business seat will be a fully lie-flat design, unlike the airline’s current and dated regional business class seat (above).
British Airways, the airline that first brought seats that convert into beds to the business class cabin more than 15 years ago, has said it will introduce a new business class seat soon.
Air France recently announced it is planning a retrofit of its A380s, which feature outdated business class cabins with angled seats, in 2020. The majority of its fleet already offers the new global business standard (fully flat and direct aisle-access).
Korean Air and Japan Airlines have also announced plans to roll out new seats for their business class cabins in the near future.
As these advancements continue to blur the lines between first and business, the future is looking very bright for travellers in the business class cabin.