Just Business Class (Part 1)

1 Nov 2008 by intern11

Margie T Logarta surveys the latest Business Class products found on a number of long-haul carriers flying into Asia. In this update, most of the airlines featured carry the  slew of enhancements or are planning to do so in the near future 

By now, the effects of the “financial tsunami” are making themselves evident, eating up hard-earned profits harvested from handsome growth in travel in recent years. The fiasco couldn’t have come at a worse time for airlines, many of whom have just introduced  – or are planning to launch this year and next – cutting-edge products, particularly in the premium sector.

With “survival” as the latest buzzword, is there still any point to this first of two Business Class updates (planned way before the Wall Street crisis)? Yes, because business people know full well that inaction only spells certain doom, and not to get out into the market and create opportunities for growth would only mean more devastating effects to long built-up interests. Airlines have their work cut out for them, marketing their high-end products creatively to an ailing clientele to keep up demand. It will be interesting to how these strategies play out in the weeks.

Air Canada

Lie-flat seats – all with aisle access – were introduced in the North American airline’s Executive First Business Class starting in 2005, when a major upgrading drive went full blast. It is available on the Vancouver-Hongkong route which uses a Boeing B777-200LR and the Toronto-Hongkong route which employs a Boeing B777-300ER.

An intrinsic feature of the new seating is the cutting-edge inflight entertainment system (IFE), which will replace multiple systems  now in use. This offers up to 100 hours of video programming on personal TV screens, up to 50 choices of music CDs and the XM Satellite Radio for premium music and talk shows. Customers in this section enjoy access to the Maple Leaf Lounge in all major Canadian airports and key international locations.

British Airways

Could the airline that revolutionised the look and feel of premium products in 2000 top that act? It did in 2006 when its revamped Club World flat-bed received a wider seat space, thanks to the new “Z” bed position, great privacy, more storage and added choices in the audio and video-on-demand system.

The “Z” position supports the knees and back in a seated recline, while the bed has increased from 183cm to 198cm when in the “Z” setting, which is a similar shape the body assumes in zero gravity. The deep recline angle is perfect for snoozing, lounging, reading or watching the inflight entertainment.

To mould the seat to each person’s shape, both the headrest and lumbar area are now adjustable, with the headrest featuring a layer of memory foam.

Continental Airlines

Come 2009, the Houston-based airline will take delivery of its Boeing B777 aircraft that will be outfitted with the new BusinessFirst product and used on Asian routes.

The privacy-shell, lie-flat design features electronic one-touch controls which enable passengers to easily move the seats to pre-set upright, cradle and fully extended sleep positions, while additional controls allow them to adjust the seat back, lumbar support and leg and foot rests to the custom position most comfortable for them. Other seat functions include laptop power, headset and USB plugs tucked above the customer’s shoulder, iPod and iPhone connectivity and 15.4-inch video monitor among others.

Emirates Airline

It recently took delivery of its first Airbus A380-800. the first of over 50 superjumbos ordered, representing 30 percent of total orders received by Airbus for the aircraft.

The A380 Business Class seat is housed in a shell with built-in amenities such as a minibar, privacy panel (centre seats only), large personal table, separate foot-rest extension, stowage for laptops, literature and shoes, adjustable headrests and noise cancellation headsets.

Emirates’ inflight entertainment system,  “ice” and the seat are operated by a touch-screen Wireless Integrated Passenger Seat Controller. Business and First Class have access to the bar/lounge at the rear of the Business Class cabin.

Etihad Airways

The Abu Dhabi-based carrier, whose name in Arabic stands for “united”, flies to Bangkok, Beijing, Chennai, Jakarta, Calicut, Manila, Pakistan and Sydney using all types of aircraft (see the chart below), depending on the season. Its premium products have especially found favour on the Abu Dhabi-Bangkok and Sydney sectors.

In the Pearl Business Class, all 28 fully lie-flat seats enjoy direct aisle access and feature an IFE with over 350 hours of world-class entertainment made possible by an advanced audio-video-on-demand system. With a 15-inch personal screen, Etihad has one of the larger the video monitors around.

Another extra is the in-seat massage function for added comfort and the mood lighting which helps lull passengers into relaxation.

Gulf Air

The Sleeper Seats in Business Class are made more comfortable with cotton-back blankets, pillows and hot drinks before sweet dreaming.

Still to make an appearance in the Asia-Pacific, the product is found on the Airbus A330 between Bahrain/Muscat and European destinations such as Frankfurt, London and Paris.

Finished in stylish timber, each seat has its own privacy screen, adjustable in three ways, while an advanced swivel type tray table and adjustable armrests give up to two extra inches of personal space. The TV monitor is 10.4 inches.

Mood lighting, calming colour schemes and plush carpeting help create a cocoon in the sky.

Lufthansa German Airlines

Business Class seats are not quite fully lie-flat, but when extended to the max are comfortable enough. Features include a helpful massage function, PC power connection, swivel and fold-away tables, reading lamps and seat covers made out of natural fibre that is kind to the skin. The IFE has a menu with selections totaling up to eight languages.

The inflight cuisine, courtesy of top chefs from five-star Asian hotels such as China World Hotel in Beijing and Grand Hyatt Tokyo, enables clients to enjoy gourmet meals on routes from various regional hubs to Germany.

Qatar Airways

While not found yet on any service into Asia, Qatar Airways’ new Boeing B777-300ER with all its leading-edge premium products is already operating on the Doha-New York route daily. Using this state-of-the-art aircraft has shaved three hours off the current 17-hour flying time between Doha and New York.
QF currently operates to Newark Liberty International Airport stopping in Geneva. 

Business Class offers 42 fully lie-flat seats with the next-generation IFE – the Panasonic eX2 that carries more than 700 individual audio and video entertainment options.


The new Swiss Business Seat will start showing up on board aircraft such as the Airbus A330-300 from spring of 2009, and by year-end, one third of Swiss’ long-haul inventory will have it. Fleet renewal will be completed by 2011. The Asian routes, which will feature the enhancement, still have to be determined.
Seats will go fully horizontal and measure 2m.

These will feature an innovative air-cushion, which offers support in all positions as well being 4kg lighter than conventional types, saving over 650 tonnes of kerosene annually as massage function; more personal space; larger TV screens; and USB and iPod plugs.

United Airlines

New premium offerings are found three days a week on the carrier’s daily non-stop services between San Francisco and Hongkong as well as the daily Hongkong and Singapore shuttle, both of which utilise a Boeing B747. Currently, more B747 aircraft are undergoing reconfiguration to be able to accommodate the First Class suites and Business Class seats, enabling flights between Chicago and Hongkong and Hongkong and Ho Chi Minh City to soon carry them.

Besides 180º full-flat beds, there is iPod connectivity and a 15.4-inch personal flat-screen TV displaying more than 150 hours of on-demand entertainment. Celebrity chef Charlie Trotter designs the meals.

Editor’s note: Space constraints prevented us from featuring more long-haul carriers and those based in the Asia-Pacific. We will be carrying news about their Business Class enhancements in the December issue of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific. Watch out for it.

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