For those travellers lucky enough to fly business class on long-haul routes, it’s a fascinating game to compare and contrast the range of seats on offer. There are forward-facing seats that recline fully flat. There is the forward/backward facing “yin-yang” configuration of British Airways. Then there are the various forms of “herringbone” which takes its name from the appearance of the seating when viewed on a plan from above. Virgin Atlantic still has this, and other carriers have adopted versions of it. There has arguably never been such a wide choice as there is today.
What all these forms of seating are trying to achieve is a fully-flat bed in the smallest amount of space. The fully-flat bed is deemed essential by corporate travellers able to afford business class. They want to maximise their productivity by sleeping on night flights so they can hit the ground running at their destination.
Meanwhile, airlines recognise that the “real estate” on an aircraft is extremely expensive, and the more room each seat – and passenger – occupies, the more they will have to charge for the ticket. And everyone shops on price to some extent.
Of course, there are other factors involved, but in terms of the seating, airlines want to offer a fully-flat product with direct aisle access, so you don’t have to climb over the aisle passenger next to you when they are reclined. They also want to strip out as much weight as possible from the design, since every extra kilogram adds to the fuel bill of flying these aircraft around the world.
Not every airline follows this – Emirates, for example, has introduced a new business class seat in a 2-3-2 configuration, meaning the person in the middle has to climb over an aisle seat. Still, by and large, most carriers are looking to seat designers to come up with something that is lightweight, fully-flat and with direct aisle access.
Installing a new cabin is an expensive exercise, not only because airlines have to ground the aircraft to fit the new product, but also because the number of seats is usually reduced as a result. Air France, for instance, has seen the number of seats it can fit between the first two exits on a B777 reduced from 35 (in a 2-3-2 configuration) to 28 in its new 1-2-1 layout. It’s good for travellers in terms of comfort, but the airline will invariably try to pass on the extra cost and charge more per seat, since it has seven fewer business tickets to sell.
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