This could be the future of first class airplane travel

(CNN) – First class is on the rise with many airlines as business class seats and mini-suites get bigger, more private, and more luxurious – and fewer budgets mean the price of first class is an additional zero.

But it doesn’t go away entirely.

Yes, the luxury international airline you are thinking of is likely to keep it going. Likewise the other with the famous flight attendant uniform and the large global hub or the celebrity spokesman, the football sponsorship and the huge route network that connects you to the most remote corners of the world.

It probably won’t look the same though. Since smaller premium aircraft are replacing the A380 and 747 giants of the skies, designers want to radically rethink the appearance of first class.

Why will first class still be a thing? Part of it is what Anthony Harcup, Senior Director of the Teague design house, which designed jet cabins up to the 707 in collaboration with Boeing, calls the “halo effect”.

“A first-class cabin has a strong halo effect and presents the airline’s passenger offer at its best,” says Harcup. “That was the big challenge in designing Etihad’s First Apartments on their A380.”

Harcup knows what he’s talking about. In a previous role, he was the Design Director and named inventor of the First Apartments and The Residence First Class Plus Suites on the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airbus A380.

Ultra exclusive

Etihad's The Residence is a complete one bedroom suite.

Etihad’s The Residence is a complete one bedroom suite.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

The Residence is a complete suite with one bedroom and a large bed for up to two passengers, which fits into the so-called “forehead” space in the front upper deck of the Airbus A380 – which Emirates as First Class uses shower rooms and most other airlines leave behind as somewhat unpopular sofa surface for business class – and a two-seater sofa as a “seat”.

First Apartment’s design took the radical step of turning the suite on its side – in the truest sense of the word, with the bed 90 degrees to the direction of travel of the aircraft, with a separate armchair to sit on.

The beds in Etihad's First Apartments are at a 90-degree angle to the direction of travel.

The beds in Etihad’s First Apartments are at a 90-degree angle to the direction of travel.

KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images

“The new and transformative experience of First Apartments was the first choice,” explains Harcup. “For the first time, passengers no longer had to sleep in the same place where they ate.”

It was an idea that was soon adopted elsewhere.

“A few years later,” says Harcup, “Singapore also released a special seat and bed” room “product – again on the A380 upper deck … a unique cabin in a unique location that is good for you Single is suitable for gait design. “

Similarly, the Boeing 747 enabled airlines to create world-class cabins in the ultra-quiet and ultra-exclusive bow cabins of the iconic jetliner.

But with the end of production of the 747 and A380 and many airlines in this age of uncertain demand for Covid-19 choosing to retire their Jumbos and Superjumbos rather than converting them, there are less unique locations for the First Class on the current and future flagships: Airbus’ A350 and Boeings 777, which are twin-engine, twin-aisle jets whose cabins are essentially a large, long rectangle.

Challenges in space

First Class in Singapore also offers beds at a 90-degree angle.

First Class in Singapore also offers beds at a 90-degree angle.

TOH TING WEI / AFP via Getty Images

This makes it especially difficult to create a space that feels unique and of high quality, especially since in many cases airlines decide to reduce the number of seats in first class.

“In light of the trend to offer a small number of ultra-premium seats in the first class, we have developed the ultimate cabin concept for the first class,” says Harcup. “Teague’s new cabin, the Four Seasons, offers uncompromising luxury, choice and privacy without walls – through a simple, lightweight solid-state design.”

The Four Seasons, no connection to the hotel brand of the same name, is generous with the most coveted resource on board: space.

Where other layouts have eight seats that can be converted into beds – four window seats and four center seats – Teague suggests two pairs of seats in the center and four full-time beds by the windows.

The personal space of each passenger is therefore distributed across the aisle, with his seat in the middle and his bed by the window.

In order to increase privacy, the first row is facing the front and the second row is facing the rear, so that the passengers cannot see each other even before the floor-to-ceiling privacy curtains are attached over the high-backed partition walls.

An electrically powered partition between the seats in the same row means passengers traveling together can eat and relax together, but there’s no option for a convertible double bed like there are in some of the current first-class cabins.

As for pricing, you’ll want to add a few zeros to the price of a trip in economy class. A sample flight in economy class for about 14 hours could cost $ 900 in economy class, $ 3,500 in business class, but over $ 10,000 in first class – and that’s before you achieve these new, more spacious and ultra-luxurious spaces.

And the passengers will buy it – at least some of them, explains Addison Schonland of the aviation research group AirInsight.

“There will be airlines that will continue to offer first class and suppliers that will continue to build those seats so passengers will be willing to pay the big bucks to fly,” he says.

Jewel in the crown

Four Seasons cabin concept by Teague

Teague’s Four Seasons design has fixed beds.


Teagues Four Seasons is just an option for airlines that need to think about what their cabins will look like at least two to three years before delivery so that the spaces can be designed, specified, safety certified and installed in the Airbus or Boeing aircraft -Works in Toulouse and Seattle.

For designers, there will also be options around the cabin, as there is usually a small galley at the front behind the flight deck, while Business Class sits directly behind First Class.

Adding a bar or other common space in the cabin can also shake things up for an airline that wants to add even more luxury to their flying to potential passengers.

“The complete abolition of First Class and the loss of the jewel in the crown of the airline’s seat portfolio is a challenge to convey,” Harcup told CNN.

Instead, “it makes much more sense to downsize the first-class cabin and restrict it to a few aircraft. In this way, the airline keeps the financial risk and maintains the brand value of the first-class billboard moment. ”Harcup explains.

But with increasingly spacious and luxurious business-class seats and mini-suites with their own doors, making the first-class experience really luxurious will be critical to making the airlines’ Halo products shine.

Top photo credit: Teague


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