There’s no doubt travel is back … and in bigger and better ways than even pre-pandemic. As travelers release pent-up demand and people vow to travel even more, airlines around the world heed the call and work to update and refresh premium cabins to ensure travelers can foray around the globe in supreme comfort. Here’s a look at what’s new and what’s to come in the world of first- and business-class travel.
As of press time, Air France was set to debut its updated business class cabin on 12 Boeing 777-300ERs in September 2022. Available on the Paris (CDG)–New York ( JFK) route, one of the main highlights is the new cabin’s sliding doors for privacy. For those in the center of the 1-2-1 configuration, a center panel between the seats can be raised or lowered for additional privacy, as well.
Laid out in a reverse herringbone pattern, the 48 seats meet today’s two musts: fully flat, becoming a 2-meter-long bed, and with direct and full aisle access from every seat.
Modern touches include padded wool, brushed aluminum and full-grain French leather, complemented by a 17.3-inch, 4K, anti-glare, HDTV in-flight entertainment screen. A new feature sure to please tech- savvy travelers, the screen’s functionality allows passengers to pair their own Bluetooth headphones with the system. Noise-cancelling head- phones are also on offer, and the seats offer ample storage space, outlets, a reading light and coat hook. A back-lit winged seahorse design nods to Air France’s history and founding myth.
The airline plans to introduce updates to its La Première first-class cabin, offering three configurations: seat, sofa and fully flat bed.
Changes are definitely coming to premium cabins around the world as travel continues to gain even more momentum than it had pre- pandemic. Air New Zealand is one such airline announcing exciting changes ahead, recently unveiling new cabin designs for its fleet of eight Boeing 787-9 aircraft coming in 2024.
One big change: the introduction of the Business Premier Luxe seat, in addition to an upgraded Business Premier seat. The new planes will feature eight of the Luxe option and 42 Business Premier seats, more than are currently on offer. Dubbed suites, the Business Premier Luxe seats feature an exterior door that can be closed for additional privacy and a wraparound bench to allow passengers traveling together to share a meal. Business Premier seats don’t fully close but do feature a smaller privacy wall and a footrest. Each seat is lie-flat with enhanced seat position options. In the middle of the row, passengers have a sliding door between seats. Premium passengers can also expect wireless charging, 24-inch screens that connect to Bluetooth and more.
Additionally, ANZ looks to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to become the first airline to allow business-class passengers to remain in the reclined position for takeoff and landing.
In the summer of 2019 All Nippon Airways announced and quickly debuted its The Suite first-class product and its The Room business- class offering on its Boeing 777s. Of course, we all know what transpired post-2019, so ANA’s state-of-the-art enhancements might have been a bit lost in the shuffle for premium travelers. About 60 percent of the airline’s 777s are currently outfitted with the new products, and New York, London, Frankfurt, San Francisco and Los Angeles seem to be key cities for these new cabins.
Both cabins boast privacy doors. The Suite offers eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration with 43-inch entertainment screens. At 64 seats, the large business class separates into a forward cabin with eight seats, a main cabin with 40 and the rear cabin with 16, all in a staggered, forward- and backward-facing configuration.
In July 2019 British Airways debuted its evolved Club Suite, the first update to its business-class product since the Club Suite launched in 2006. Today the airline works to implement the new cabin across all of its Boeing 777s by the end of 2022; these will be offered on all flights between London and New York. Most importantly, BA aims to solve all of the previous problems passengers had with the cabin in this redesign.
Step one: Change the layout from 2-4-2 to 1-2-1, bringing direct aisle access to every traveler. Reconfiguring the cabin also opened up 40 percent more storage space per seat. The airline modified the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond business-class seat in the new design. Between the two middle seats, passengers find a window that can close or open based on preference. Passengers also enjoy enhanced amenities like an 18.5-inch, high-definition in-flight screen, a vanity unit, mirror and power outlets.
In order to accommodate the new Club World configuration, British Airways went from 14 seats in first class to two rows with eight seats total. In the process, the airline made another important update to the cabin by adding doors to the suites, an added privacy touch to match the cabin’s already high walls between the suite and the aisle.
Noting it had been decades since domestic airlines introduced an innovative new first-class cabin redesign, Delta heeded the call, unveiling a new first-class product on its new Airbus A321neos. The first aircraft with the new cabin took off in May of this year. Delta took delivery of two aircraft earlier this year, with 26 more expected by the end of the year. The total order of 155 aircraft should be fulfilled by 2027.
Delta solicited feedback for the cabin overhaul from both advisors and travelers, with a focus on the corporate traveler. The 20 seats boast memory-foam cushions, at 21 inches wide with 5 inches of recline and 37 inches of pitch. And the storage and personal space eclipses previous products with these superlatives: 25 percent more workspace across the tray table and three times the overall storage space. Wings on the side of a fixed headrest offer additional privacy. Larger overhead bins meet in-arm water bottle storage and a 10-inch in-flight entertainment screen. The power outlet now lies flush with the seat rather than in front of the passenger, so passengers don’t need to worry about maneuvering over any cords when getting out into the aisle. Viasat Satellite WiFi costs $5 per device, with free messaging on offer. Passengers also enjoy the Someone Somewhere sustainability- focused amenity kits.
As international travel rebounded in a big way, Delta Air Lines acquired Airbus A350s from LATAM after the Latin American carrier retired the aircraft. In an effort to get the planes into service as soon as possible, Delta kept LATAM’s legacy cabins for now, with plans to retrofit the aircraft in the future. Those on routes to Santiago, Dublin and Seattle from Atlanta might come across these planes. Heads up for those anticipating the Delta One suites, as these are equipped with business-class seats in a 2-2-2 layout.
With most details still TBD, Emirates recently announced a plan to retrofit 120 aircraft with new interiors, representing a $2 billion investment from November 2022 to April 2025. These Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s amount to about one-half of the Dubai- based carrier’s fleet. This investment largely serves to introduce Emirates’ new premium economy class on more aircraft, but the airline intends to change the other cabins as well. Additionally, all carpets and stairs will be upgraded and cabin interior panels refreshed.
On the majority of its 777s, Emirates still flies its outdated, angled, 2-3-2 business- class seat. When the airline announced the upcoming investment, it noted first-class suites would be refurbished on the 777 while the business class would receive an upgrade to a new style and design. We can guess it might mimic the business class found on A380s, with a 1-2-1 layout, full-flat seats and direct aisle access for all.
Originally debuted in 2017, Emirates’ first class on only nine select 777s across limited routes still feels new. These six seats, in a 1-1-1 configuration, are enclosed floor to ceiling and boast 32-inch, high-definition TVs; a minibar on either side of the screen; a vanity that pops up in front of the TV with a mirror and writing kit; a tablet to control the suite’s functions, including temperature; pajamas; and more. The center first-class suites also feature innovative “virtual windows.”
We’re eager to see what changes Emirates brings to its premium cabins over the next several years.
With a total investment of €200 million, Finnair completely revamped its Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft, introducing an innovative new business-class seat, adding a premium economy cabin for the first time and tweaking its economy offering.
What I am about to reveal might sound shocking, but the airline’s new business-class seat does not recline. You may be thinking, “What?”, but the seat also ranked among the 2022 Crystal Cabin Awards finalists in design. A padded shell surrounds a wide seat; the high walls of the shell provide that much-desired privacy aspect. The seat within, while it doesn’t recline in the traditional sense, does offer a wide variety of seating options, including a bed. An infill panel fits the area where a passenger’s legs rest and into a deep footwell, creating the lie-flat bed. A comfy mattress, duvet and pillows complete the sleep experience, and the whole seat design creates a “nest-like” atmosphere.
Designed by Collins Aerospace and termed the AirLounge concept, travelers can also sit at different angles, rest their feet on an ottoman and more. Lounge furniture served as the design’s inspiration.
Customizable lighting options, as well as mood lighting designed to combat jetlag, help passengers create the nest ambience they desire. There’s even a Do Not Disturb light, a flexible table, power outlets, USB ports, wireless mobile charging and an 18-inch in-flight entertainment screen.
Another recent announcement teases premium passengers but also provides little in the way of details. Premium passengers will have to wait to see exactly which seat KLM will choose for its new business class cabin on its Boeing 777s when it debuts in 2023, but here are some other important details: Each seat will be equipped with privacy doors, offer direct aisle access, lie flat, be wider than the current offering and will likely be in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration.
Lufthansa began teasing its hotly anticipated new business-class seat design in 2017. It was slated to debut on its also all-new Boeing 777-9s in 2020, but we all know how that story went. With that aircraft delayed until the mid-2020s and Lufthansa in need of a business cabin overhaul, the German carrier recently announced its redesign will launch on new Airbus A350s and 787s in summer 2023.
While details remain light, we do know the rows will likely alternate in 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 configuration. In the 1-1-1 row, the middle seat is a “throne seat.” All will lie flat, and the seats should feature amenities like wireless charging and a removable tablet for control of all the seat fixtures and functions. There is also talk Lufthansa’s first class will become more of a “front row” experience, boasting four extra-spacious seats in the first row with sliding privacy doors. We’ll certainly stay tuned.
But that’s not all. Before summer 2023, passengers may experience an interim business class cabin on select Lufthansa routings. The airline purchased some A350s and 787s originally intended for other airlines, such as Philippine Airlines. As a result, these will come to the airline with a different business-class layout before next summer, however, with a 1-2-1 layout, considered a vast improvement over Lufthansa’s current 2-2-2 cabin configuration.
Earlier this year Qantas announced the return of its Airbus A380 aircraft to service, and with it came some reconfigurations, including 70 new business-class suites that finally replace the Skybed II seats for the more popular Qantas Business Suite. Also in the mix will be an extended premium economy cabin and 14 first-class suites. Premium travelers will also appreciate the addition of two Upper Deck premium lounges on the A380, including an area with deep-green leather couches at the front.
Other changes in the business-class product will include a 1-2-1 layout, ensuring direct aisle access with more space; a rear shell that can extend forward for more privacy; easily accessed power outlets and USB ports; a tray table big enough for 17-inch laptops; and an in-flight entertainment screen that went from 12 to 16 inches. Space is always at a premium in flight, and this seat takes care of that by including a spacious flat bench with a large bin and space below and in front of the bench.
Qantas plans to launch direct flights from Australia to New York City when it receives 12 new Airbus A350-1000s. Here, the six first-class suites will feature a lounge chair and a separate lie-flat bed, an individual wardrobe, a 32-inch in-flight entertainment screen, a tablet to control the recline and other operations, plenty of personal storage, a lighted mirror and much more. All passengers on board this flight will enjoy dedicated wellness areas for the long flight.
With Virgin Atlantic’s new, environmentally friendlier Airbus A330- 900neo aircraft comes a redesigned Upper Class cabin and the introduction of two Retreat Suites at the front of the cabin. All passengers on board the aircraft enjoy the airline’s fastest-ever WiFi, wireless charging and Bluetooth compatibility.
The two Retreat Suites convert into fully flat beds measuring 6 feet, 7 inches and boast a 27-inch touchscreen entertainment system. Close the door for privacy or use the ottoman opposite the seat to host a fellow passenger for a meal or a chat.
The 30 Upper Class seats also feature the all-important privacy door (seriously, at this point we’re sensing a trend!), more storage space, a 17-inch touchscreen entertainment system, a Do Not Disturb option, controlled mood lighting, a mirror and more. The entire cabin is forward-facing.
The Loft serves as a social space for passengers, allowing eight travelers to sit comfortably and enjoy refreshments from the self-serve fridge and drinks dispenser.
The new A330-900neo should take off from London Heathrow to Boston Logan International Airport in October.
NEXT YEAR, premium travelers might have a few more options to consider with the addition of Northern Pacific Airways and Norse Airlines and the continued expansion of ITA Airways, which already flies between U.S. points and Italy.
Northern Pacific Airways aims to connect destinations in the United States with points in East Asia via Anchorage, Alaska. While firm details are as yet unavailable, the airline plans to operate Boeing 757s with business, premium economy and economy cabins. Renderings show the business class cabin could be a 2-2 layout with recliner-style seating.
While not offering a traditional business class, Air Premia soon launches service from Incheon to Los Angeles with a premium economy cabin and an economy offering. Norse Airlines will serve the other coast, offering trans-Atlantic flights between Europe and the United States on Boeing 787-9s with a premium cabin and an economy cabin.
Flying Airbus A330s from Miami, Boston and New York to Rome, ITA Airways offers a traditional long-haul business class cabin with leather seats that recline 180 degrees for a lie-flat sleep experience. There’s even a massage function to complement the 15.4-inch in-flight entertainment screens and menus honoring the best of Italian cuisine. ITA also boasts a medium-haul business-class product and a Superior class, available on domestic flights in Italy.
THIS ALL BEGS the question: What does the future hold for first and business class cabins? Some of the trends we’re already seeing in action, while some remain a far-off dream. But one fact not in dispute: There has been a marked surge in premium cabin bookings post-pandemic, surpassing economy-class bookings and spurring the new “premium leisure traveler.” The front-of-the-plane cabins are no longer just the territory of the business traveler.
CNN Travel espoused the concept of the “superbusiness minisuites,” a move to up the ante in business class, thus eliminating the need for first class cabins. Objective No. 1 in the new concept: privacy doors. That’s a trend we can absolutely confirm we’re seeing with greater frequency. Other important trends we can expect to see more of in premium cabins include direct aisle access, wireless charging, massive in-flight monitors, 4K video capacity, multiple storage options and enough space to work, play and sleep.
With privacy of ultimate importance, expect to see more airlines domestically adopt Delta’s first-class concept of winged headrest dividers or to expand upon it further with privacy dividers between seats. With more passengers also craving a place to stretch out and do work away from their seat, it’s likely we’ll find more social spaces modeled after Virgin Atlantic’s The Loft, which also includes seat belts on the furniture, showing airlines do not need to sacrifice safety in the name of comfort. And while cargo space observation decks might be a long way off, with concepts like Emirates’ “virtual windows” picking up steam, more of an open-concept layout and screens on cabin walls to mimic all-window aircraft might not be too far in the future. Cuisine also remains paramount, with more airlines serving chef-driven, innovative food. More pairings, like Swiss International Air Lines’ recent collaboration with Michelin-starred Pavillon restaurant at Baur au Lac, are likely.
Axios took a closer look at what a first class cabin might look like in the future, thanks to designer Teague and its Elevate concept. It creates a private suite with a larger fold-out bed, more floor space and enhanced storage capacity by mounting the furniture to the sidewall rather than the floor. And Airbus and Safran played around with the idea of convert- ing cargo space for passenger use, like a gym or yoga studio or added sleeping quarters.
While some of these ideas might be many years from implementation, the future for premium travelers shines brighter from 30,000 feet than it has for the last few years.
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