While spending nearly a week of my life in various business class seats during my Qatar Airways Mileage Run I’ve gotten a fairly good understanding of what makes an average business class seat and a great business class seat. During that time I also spent a lot of time thinking about what the “best” business class seat would look like.
Today I thought it’d be fun to share what I would like to see in the future of business class. I thought this was especially relevant considering airlines like Lufthansa are already previewing what their new business class offerings will look like in 3 or more years! So without further ado, here’s a short list of must-haves I’d like to see from business class seats of the future.
1. Lie-Flat Seats
It’s hard to believe just how far business class has come in just 20 years. I still remember flying American Airlines Business Class from St. Louis to London in the early 2000’s. I specifically remember how awesome the large extra reclining seats with pop-out leg rests where. Those old business class seats were essential what we call Premium Economy today.
Around that same time British Airways became the first airline to offer completely lie-flat seats in their business class cabins. Over the years we’ve seen a number of business class cabins move from angled lie-flat to fully lie-flat. As we move forward and airlines continue to favor smaller widebody jets like the 787 and A350 I expect we’ll see nearly every airline offer lie-flat business class seats. This is especially true as more and more airlines eliminate First Class.
2. Direct Aisle Access
As airlines move to a fully lie-flat business class product offering I also hope to see all of those seats offer direct aisle access. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying thousands of dollars to sit trapped against a window while your seat-mate sleeps. Likewise, how frustrating is it when your seat-mate wakes you up so that they can escape to the lavatory. Even worse, imagine getting stuck in a middle-seat in Emirates’ 2-3-2 business class! Funny how Emirates tries to cover up the middle seat in their marketing materials.
Again, I think we can all but expect this from most carriers. Aircraft like the A350 and 787 fit a 1-2-1 layout nicely. That means most of us can expect to get a fully lie-flat seat and direct aisle access when flying in the front. Also, most carriers are working on staggered business class seating arrangements in the larger widebody aircraft like the 777 and A380. New dense products like Qatar Airways QSuites offer direct aisle access even with a 2-2-2 layout.
3. In Seat Storage
One of the smallest things that differentiates a good business class seat from a great seat is storage. While most business class cabins offer plenty of overhead bin space, many don’t offer enough in-seat storage. Small compartments to store items like headphones, tables, shoes, and personal belongings are a must.
When traveling I often have my iPad or computer with me at my seat along with my headphones and case, travel documents, and often a notepad. If a seat doesn’t offer in-seat storage you must put the laptop in your overhead bin for takeoff and landing. I usually put my headphone case up there as well which also contains my various charging cables and airplane headphone jack adapter. Lastly, I end up putting my travel documents on whatever flat surface I find. Often my documents end up dropping behind the seat into the open space between the seat-back which I then have to fish out.
Overall, travel is just easier when seats offer in-seat storage. For example, Qatar’s A350 business class seat offers a few different storage compartments. There is a small compartment under the seat in front of you for your shoes and another compartment next to your legs which fits a tablet, headphones case, and the amenity kit. Lastly there is a final compartment in the armrest which stores a bottle of water and the Qatar branded headphones. It gave me a taste of what I’d like to see from future business class seats.
4. Chilled Water Storage Compartments
Ok, as we progress my wish-list is going to get a little more extreme. First off, I think every business class seat should offer passengers a bottle of water. Staying hydrated during a long-haul flight all but eliminates “jet lag” for me when flying. If I don’t drink enough water on board (or too much alcohol) I get to my destination feeling terrible. With that, I think it’s a good idea for airlines to have bottles of water waiting in each seat for passengers to drink throughout the flight.
While that was the case in Qatar Airways business class, the bottles of water are room temperature. I realize this really isn’t that bad, but I couldn’t help thinking it could be better. I couldn’t help but think how cool it would if the arm rest could chill my bottled water. Considering you can buy refrigerated cup holders for your car I can’t imagine this being all that difficult to add to a business class seat. Just think how nice it’d be to open your armrest and find a chilled bottle of water on demand!
5. Bluetooth Connectivity
As more and more mobile phones ditch the headphone jack more consumers are purchasing bluetooth headphones. I use the Bose QC35 which utilize bluetooth to connect to my phone. The headphones also come with a cord which plus into a headphone jack and an airplane adapter. While it’s not all that difficult to plug in the cord I did end up breaking my airplane adapter when trying to grab something near the seat-back in front of me. I also found the cord often getting stuck in between the seat and the seat housing while adjusting the seat into and out of the lie-flat position.
With all that, I couldn’t help but think why can’t these entertainment systems offer bluetooth? Bluetooth connectivity is allowed while in-flight, but only after takeoff and not before landing. I can’t imagine it’d be that hard to build in a little bluetooth device into the huge entertainment screens offered in business class. I use bluetooth on rental cars all the time. It can’t be that hard to pair a device for the flight and then wipe the connected devices after. Again, bluetooth connectivity to the planes IFE would simply be a nice thing to have in future business class cabins.
6. Wireless Phone Charging
Sure, this one may be the most “out-there” idea yet, but it’s not all that ridiculous. Newer business class seats offer a lot of flat surfaces. Again, how hard would it be to add a strategically places wireless charging pad to a business class seat. I think wireless charging should be worth considering now as most flagship phones (iPhone 8 & X and Samsung Galaxy) offer wireless charging capabilities. Again, the idea here is to simply eliminate wires from business class.
Also, I find this particular idea exciting because I can’t tell you the number of times a USB or Charging Port is broken in my seat. How easy would it be instead to simply plop your phone down on a charging pad during flight. Airlines could work to make these pads extra grippy so the phones don’t slide around too much in-flight.
Honorable Mention: Dine on Demand Meal Service
Another thing I hope we see going forward is well executive dine on demand meal service. International passengers occasionally aren’t “on” the same time-zone as the flight. For example, when in Vietnam I stayed on Chicago CST time. My Qatar Airways flight left at 7:30PM local which was actually 7:30AM for me. Thanks to Qatar’s excellent dine on demand meal service, I had the option of ordering breakfast instead of dinner. Likewise I could order lunch when most passengers were considering breakfast. A great dine on demand meal service means passengers can order meals that fit their schedules rather than the airline forcing passengers to adhere to theirs.
Dine on Demand meal services also give passengers a ton of flexibility. I usually will try to sleep for take-off and continue sleeping for the first hour or more of a flight if I’m tired. With a fixed meal service I instead have to force myself to stay awake to eat. Even worse is when the cabin crew has to wake me up after I fall asleep in between meal courses. A dine on demand meal service means I don’t have to worry about when I can or can’t sleep. Instead I can sleep until I’m hungry and order when ready.
I put dine on demand meal service in the “honorable mention” category because it only works when it’s well executed. Not all airlines know how or have the correct staffing levels to make it work. It’s a lot of work to cook several different meals at various times. If everyone orders at the same time there may not be enough space to cook and serve everything in a timely manner. For that reason I don’t think dine on demand is a must have, bur rather something airlines should at least consider.
Honorable Mention: Enclosed Suites
Usually when I read reviews of business class cabins one of the biggest complains I read about is privacy. While I agree that it’s odd to sleep in an airplane when totally exposed it doesn’t really bother me. Also, I generally enjoy meeting other passengers for the few minutes on the ground before or after a flight. I always find it interesting to hear where people are heading and why.
For those reasons, I don’t really think enclosed suites like the Qatar Airways QSuites or new Delta One Suites are a must. Also, I haven’t flown in either of the previously mentioned cabins, but from the pictures the suites seem a bit claustrophobic. That being said, I do see the benefit of closing a door and sealing yourself off when sleeping. With the enclosed space I’m sure there is a sense of comfort that you’re somewhat protected from the outside world when sleeping in an enclosed suite. I know I enjoyed my Singapore Suites Class experience thoroughly. Again, I think enclosed suites are nice, but not a necessity which is why I’ve also included them as an “honorable mention” rather than a must-have.
I’m very excited to see the future of business class. It’s hard to believe how far business class seats have come over the past several years and I can only imagine what innovations we can expect to see in the future. I hope as airlines continue to preview new business class products that they’ll start to implement a few of my must-haves above.
One thing I’ve began to realize while writing this is that business class is essentially the old first class. Likewise, premium economy is basically the old business class. So on a 3 cabin widebody like the A350, you essentially have economy, old business class, and old first class. However, now the airlines call these cabins economy, premium economy, and business. Anyway, I digress.
What about you? Are there any must-haves you’d like to see from the business class seat of the future?