Meet the Near Future of Business Class in Airplanes

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Flying in style in the year 2025 may not be too far off at this point, but after a two-year pandemic that has ravaged the international travel industry and brought whole new categories of hassle to commercial airline flights, it can seem almost imaginary.

The airline industry has however responded with gusto to the challenges created by regulations and social distancing changes that still linger in the public mindset. Its designs for business class flight accommodation in the next 4 years have already begun to reflect this.

A look at the business class designs for seating on near-future passenger planes reveals both exciting innovations and interesting questions about flight for the general public.

The normal turn-around time for the creation of a completely new business class airline seat is about 2 or 3 years, from conception to when it’s first literally sat in by a paying commercial customer.

As Anthony Harcup, senior director at airline/aircraft industrial design firm Teague explains, “Generally speaking, a business class seat can be designed from scratch and brought to market in around 24-36 months,”

Questions that often have to be resolved during this design process include whether the new seating concept closely mirrors something already tried or if it’s entirely new in most ways.

Designers also have to take into consideration the question of whether new seat designs to be resized for different types and sizes of airplanes. This of course also means considering how many varieties of aircraft will end up using the new seats and thus how many different sizes of seat arrangements will be needed for each plane type.

Designers then need to coordinate with aircraft makers about whether their seats will be installed right in the factory when a new plane is made or whether they will be placed inside refurbished older planes that previously had different seats.

This brings forward the even bigger question of how many planes in a given airline or aircraft maker’s fleet will indeed be refurbished vs. simply being retired from regular service.

The bottom line with all of these questions is that seating designs play an enormously important role in how passengers are expected to perceive the comfort and safety of flight. Furthermore, enormous attention is placed on a number of fluid external factors, such as social distancing worries, when a seat is being created.

The kinds of seats being presented by airlines such as United Airlines, Qatar Airways, Delta, JetBlue, and others are still in the process of being rolled out and have been in the works since at least 2016.

Even these seats already reflect numerous current travel preference considerations, tech developments, and even geopolitical shifts. The seats of 2025 will reflect still more of these factors.

One major consideration that has been going into the development of business class and first-class seats since well before the COVID-19 pandemic was an emphasis on increased passenger privacy and space per person.

Qatar Airways, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, and even Delta have all incorporated this since several years ago with seating that creates a distinct bubble of space for each individual passenger.

In the case of Qatar Airways and some others, first-class and even business class seats have even been designed to more closely resemble miniature suites, with their own doors and room-like designs.

A factor that has complicated these seating efforts is a growing demand for more fuel-efficient long-range narrow-body planes in favor of wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747. Because airlines always have to keep seating capacity in mind for the sake of increased revenues per flight, the combination of demand for narrower planes and emphasis on larger individual seats per passenger creates a notable conflict of priorities.

Despite this, as Harcup further elaborates, “airlines have begun to equip their single-aisle aircraft with premium lay-flat seats so that they can service mid- and long=haul routes with similar levels of comfort to wide-body and this trend is on the up,”

This trend will mean a near-future market in which business class travel means an increase in single-aisle designs in aircraft.

This will even apply to new, smaller long-haul airplanes like the narrow-body Airbus A321XLR-XLR, which can stay aloft up to 10 hours. Despite its narrower size, it is expected to incorporate single-aisle arrangements with larger business class seat spaces that shift dramatically from what was previously common with business class seating.

Then there is the still less resolved question of changes for economy class seating. This hasn’t been addressed publically to nearly the same extent as the above trends in high-end passenger accommodation have been.

While airlines and aircraft designers are working on better, roomier seat management for even the most economical spaces on passenger aircraft, questions of preference for individual space still take a metaphorical backseat to questions of giving passengers who can’t pay several thousand dollars per seat more legroom.

For discerning passengers who want their personal or business flights to completely sidestep issues of sharing space with strangers on a flight, corporate air charters are another option that’s available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Services such as FlexAir Charters offer corporate charter flights for maximum privacy and comfort to any domestic or international destination.

Photo Credit: Teague