Features

Business class: Hitting the suite spot

1 Dec 2023 by BusinessTraveller
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It’s boom time for business class innovation, with product launches continuing into 2024 and beyond. We round up some of the best seats (and suites) due to debut this year.

 Are you sitting comfortably? Once upon a time, this summed up airline expectations around premium air travel; a more generously proportioned seat and, if you were lucky, a spot of lunch and a glass of fizz. Fast forward a few decades and, thanks to a combination of innovation and competition, today’s carriers are reimagining the concept of flying business class.

Several sky-high perks – once the exclusive preserve of first-class passengers – are filtering into the business class cabin. This blurring of boundaries has led many operators to scrap first class altogether, while others have scaled back their top-tier offering to select routes and certain aircraft types.

This trend shows no sign of slowing down. Over the following 12 months there are due to be more than a dozen new business class products entering service with carriers around the world. Such is the comfort afforded by many of these next-generation options, it can leave the term ‘business class seat’ feeling slightly outdated. From Auckland to Abu Dhabi and countless cities in between, 2024 will be the year when the business class suite truly goes global.

Lufthansa Allegris business class

Lufthansa

The German flag carrier is using the Allegris brand to market its new long-haul offering. Spanning all four cabins, Lufthansa is billing the changes as a “completely new travel experience” and for business class passengers, the most eye-catching (and potentially puzzling) feature is the enormous range of seating options.

In recent years standardisation has been a prized commodity, with this egalitarian approach ensuring that no seat is significantly better than others. Lufthansa is tearing up this rulebook with a total of seven different business class seats on offer within the same cabin, each tailored to different passenger preferences.

The litany includes front-row ‘double suites’, others with extra-long (86-inch) beds, and some with additional work surfaces for mid-flight meeting preparations. A double seat, in which the central console transforms into a reclining surface for two, is also available. All options are equipped with sliding doors and 4K HD monitors of up to 27 inches.

Other highlights of this product include a personal heating and cooling system, wireless charging modules, and an individual minibar.

Allegris forms part of the largest product and service overhaul in the history of the Lufthansa Group, comprising a total investment of €2.5 billion. More than 80 new jets, including Boeing 787-9s, Airbus A350s, and the yet-to-launch 777-9s, will feature the new standard. Existing aircraft such as the Boeing 747-8 jumbo will also be retrofitted, with the entire project seeing 27,000 seats replaced. lufthansa.com

Cathay Pacific

After a particularly prickly pandemic, Cathay Pacific is bouncing back in style. In August, the Hong Kong carrier sparked a frenzy of speculation with a promotional video hinting at a new business class proposition. Due to launch in the second quarter of 2024, the Boeing 777-300ER will be the first to see the reimagined cabins, which Cathay is branding the Aria Suite.

While specific details are yet to be confirmed, the teaser clip invites guests to “savour the quiet luxury” of the all-new spaces, which include a privacy door and wireless charging. Regular readers may notice that Aria is breaking from Cathay convention, with the carrier’s traditional dark green interiors replaced with a more natural palette of earthy brown and wood tones.

The Aria exterior appears to have gently curved wings, which could be popular for those wanting increased privacy without closing the sliding door. Enhanced personal storage options in and around the seat are also in the pipeline, meaning essential items can be kept secure while still within easy reach. cathaypacific.com

American Airlines Flagship Suite B787

American Airlines

Billed as the Flagship Suite, American Airlines promises a “truly private, premium experience”, complete with the all-important privacy door, for its new business class product. This is due to be installed on new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and Airbus A321XLR deliveries from 2024. Chaise longue-style seating and more personal storage space are among the notable features.

American’s new 787-9s will boast a business-heavy configuration with 51 of the new seats – 21 more than the existing setup. On the Dreamliner, these will be complemented by 32 premium economy options. Meanwhile, the A321XLR will be equipped with 20 suites and 12 premium economy seats.

The good news is that it isn’t just the 787 and new Airbus narrowbodies receiving the new look. Starting in late 2024, the 777-300ER – a mainstay of transatlantic operations – will also be overhauled. American has 20 of the Boeing jets in service, with all of these due to be retrofitted to bring them up to the new standard. aa.com

Flydubai

Often overlooked by its all-widebody big brother Emirates, flydubai is proving that single-aisle aircraft can still be big on comfort. The UAE carrier, whose fleet comprises exclusively of Boeing 737-800s and MAX jets, is preparing to shake up the sector with the launch of The Business Suite.

Flydubai is the launch customer for the new format, which offers direct-aisle access and claims to rival the experience found on widebody aircraft. The development is the latest in the evolution of the Dubai-based budget firm, which entered the business class market in 2013 and introduced its first lie-flat bed in 2017.

Flydubai is also breaking from traditional narrowbody offerings, with The Business Suite boasting a high-backed shell incorporating a closeable sliding door. While not the widest seat in the sky, the lie-flat bed extends to a relatively generous 75 inches (190cm).

From a tech perspective, built-in Bluetooth enables easy connectivity with personal devices, and a 17.3-inch 4K touchscreen is equipped with a comprehensive back catalogue of films and TV programmes.

The design team has also placed extra attention on the smaller details to make the most of the limited space, with ambient lighting built into the shell of the suite alongside extra lights inside personal stowage areas and under the ottoman.

Flydubai says the new suites will be deployed “on select longer flights” within the carrier’s network. Originally due to enter service in November 2023, they are now expected to be rolled out from early 2024. flydubai.com

he new business class seat on Etihad's Boeing 787 aircraft (Image: Supplied by Etihad)

Etihad Airways

Proving that there’s no room for complacency, Etihad is gearing up for an overhaul of its popular Boeing 787 business class cabin. The Gulf carrier is further enhancing an already competitive product, building on the well-received launch of the Business Studio on its flagship A350-1000 in June 2022. Described as a “second evolution”, the wall of each suite has been increased in height compared to the model debuted on the A350.

Each of the new 787 aircraft will have 32 business seats, all with direct aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats recline to 78 inches and feature a 17.3-inch 4K screen, Bluetooth pairing, and wireless charging as standard. Sky-high surfers can also look forward to improved wifi connectivity with live streaming capabilities. The first of the new-look jets is due to enter service early in 2024. etihad.com

Air India

The radical transformation of the Indian flag carrier is due to pick up pace in 2024, with a wholesale fleet upgrade in the works. A US$400 million programme to modernise the interiors of its existing 43 widebodies is already underway, with new business class seats, IFE systems, and enhanced wifi among the key elements. Air India says that by March, around a third of its long-haul aircraft will be retrofitted, with the full fleet “reborn” by the end of 2025.

In line with a slick new livery and corporate branding, the interiors of the business class jets are also being refreshed with a more modern look and feel. It’s farewell to the classic ‘ketchup and mustard’ furnishings, and hello to a metallic colour scheme of contemporary greys and brushed silver tones.

Frequent flyers keen to experience the very best that the airline has to offer should keep a special look out for Air India’s new A350, which at the time of writing, is due to enter revenue service in December 2023. airindia.com

Air New Zealand

With Air New Zealand’s longest routes boasting flight times of more than 15 hours, its business class product is a particularly important consideration. Yet in recent years, the airline’s long-haul cabins have started to show their age, especially compared to fresh-faced offerings from international rivals. To reaffirm its place in the market, the Kiwi carrier is gearing up for a rather rousing 2024 with the biggest change to its business class in well over a decade.

The most coveted spots in the new cabin are eight Business Premier Luxe suites. These have been cleverly designed to take advantage of traditionally underutilised space in the front row. Akin to The Retreat Suite on board Virgin Atlantic’s new A330 neo, each has a spot for a companion to join, with design chiefs even suggesting that two passengers could share a meal in the luxurious surroundings. Put all of this together and the carrier is promising “the best sleep in the sky”.

In total, there are 42 Business Premier seats in the new setup, all equipped with a sliding privacy panel, 24-inch entertainment screen, wireless charging, and a spacious storage unit. Note, however, that only the Luxe suites have a fully closing door.

Passengers on the airline’s flagship services linking Auckland with New York and Chicago are due to enjoy the new offering from September 2024. Air New Zealand will welcome a tranche of factory-fresh Boeing 787-9s equipped with the new product, while its existing Dreamliners will also be overhauled. Watch this space. airnewzealand.co.uk

Qantas A350 business class prototype

BEYOND 2024

SWISS

Switzerland’s flag carrier is eyeing a 2025 launch for its new business class cabin. The revamp coincides with the expected delivery of its first A350-900s, with five due to join the fleet before the end of 2026. As a Lufthansa Group airline, the multi-faceted Allegris platform is the basis for the upgrade but look out for distinctly Swiss twists when it comes to furnishings and the soft product. swiss.com

QANTAS

Antipodean aviators should also count 2025 as a year to watch. Qantas is due to unveil its new business class suites to mark the launch of nonstop flights linking Sydney with London and New York. A dozen of the carrier’s specially modified Project Sunrise A350-1000s will ply the ultra long-haul routes, which can carry up to 52 business class passengers as part of a four-class setup. Given the marathon journey times, expect a focus on wellbeing amenities and other premium lifestyle features. qantas.com

LOT POLISH AIRLINES

Poland’s flag carrier is making major improvements to its Boeing 787-8 workhorses. London creative agency Tangerine, known for its collaborations with British Airways and Finnair, is working on the project, which will see LOT’s business class switch to a 1-2-1 direct-aisle layout with sliding doors. The retrofit will also introduce a new design language, with the aim of incorporating “the spirit of Polish hospitality” while injecting greater modernity into the brand. The first Dreamliners with the new look are due to take to the skies in 2026. lot.com

Words: Gordon Smith

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