It was a typical November day in Singapore, sticky and on-and-off rainy. Inside the Suntec Singapore Convention center, hundreds of us in the world’s aviation press corps were queuing up alphabetically to receive our credentials. As more attendees poured in and journalist colleagues from around the globe greeted one another, the speculation – and the noise levels – rose.
We were all standing in line awaiting admission to what promised to be Singapore Airline’s big show – the unveiling of their newest product line aboard the latest delivery of the carrier’s flagship A380s. At the appointed time we were ushered into the main hall where a small stage stood in front of a massive backdrop. The giant screen came to life with an impressive video extolling the virtues of the airline, the aircraft and the new cabin interiors under the headline “Space Made Personal, Experience the Difference.”
Following some brief remarks by Singapore Airlines’ executive leadership, including CEO Goh Choon Phong, and an extensive Q&A exchange between the executives and the press, the moment had arrived. A chorus of Singapore Airlines employees took the stage with a Broadway-style musical number that heralded the curtain rising on the carefully arranged cabin interiors displayed beyond.
The Suite Life
Clearly the star of the Singapore Airlines show was its new A380 first class Suites. The layout cuts the number of these exclusive private enclaves from 12 to six, and they’ve been relocated to the front of the plane on the upper deck. The move was inspired in part by a desire to make more living space for passengers, adding a leather swivel chair that’s separate from the bed, so both options can peacefully coexist simultaneously.
The six Suites are configured in three rows either side of the aisle. Sliding doors enclose the space and there’s a sizeable compartment next to the door for carry-on luggage and hanging bags. The swivel chair is controlled by a touch panel that also operates the blinds and the 32-inch HD screen. Two sets of adjacent Suites – the ones that are not on the bulkhead – have a sliding divider that can be lowered making the individual suites into one room with a double bed.
The redesigned business class seats retain the off-center bed layout found in the current business class cabin. That means most seats have an alcove to the side where passengers can stretch out when the bed is laid out. The 1-2-1 seating arrangement gives every passenger access to an aisle.
At 25 inches the seats are narrower than some of SIA’s other business class products with a pitch of 50 inches when the seat is upright. However the new space below the seat in front can stow both a laptop bag and a standard-sized carry-on bag. In addition to being more convenient, it also puts the overhead bins to the sides, keeping the center of the cabin open to create a more spacious feel similar to business class aboard the airline’s new A350s.
At the front of the main deck, the premium economy class is laid out 2-4-2 while behind it, economy class is still ten-across. These seats are 18.5 inches wide and recline six inches, and are thinner than their predecessors, allowing additional legroom.
Throughout the aircraft passengers in all classes will see innovations to inflight technology. These include allowing Suites customers to save their in-seat lighting preferences across different flights. Members of the airline’s frequent-flyer program Krisflyer will also be able to curate playlists and continue watching a movie from where they left off on their next flight via the Singapore Airlines Companion app.
The first of the Airbus superjumbos sporting the new cabins made its debut on the Singapore Airlines’ Singapore-Sydney route starting Dec. 18. The airline currently has four more of the newly-fitted A380s set for delivery. The remaining 14 will be retrofitted with these seat products by 2020.
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All in all, Singapore Airlines’ new product introduction was an impressive show. But lest you think all the pomp and circumstance was over the top, remember – practically every major carrier in the world is doing something more or less like it as they roll out their own versions of ‘the best and the brightest’ in new cabin products.
As the airline industry worldwide has enjoyed a string of profitable years, much of that prosperity has been plowed back into the product; newer, more fuel-efficient fleets, new and remodeled terminals complete with gee-whiz passenger handling technology and hip lounges. And at the pointy end of the airplane, we’re finding some of the most advanced seat designs and service innovations in aviation history.
The Singapore story is just one of the many changes taking off in the airline world. From United Airlines’ Polaris initiative – which includes the premium inflight experience and new lounge designs – to Delta One’s flat-bed transcontinental and international service, airlines the world over are going toe-to-toe in the front of their planes to woo the most profitable, and discriminating, segment of the flying public, the business traveler.
Here’s a roundup of just a handful of the latest offerings.
Emirates had previously unveiled details of its new 777 business class products in March, featuring a fairly unpopular 2-3-2 layout. But the airline’s unveiling of its new fully enclosed first class suites provides rather more to write home about.
Each of the 1-1-1 configured suites has floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, providing an enclosed space of about 40 square feet. Among the most notable features of the new suites are a video-call system for communicating with cabin crew, and virtual windows in the center suites that project the view from the outside of the plane using cameras.
Less a new seat product and more a cosmetic overhaul, Finnair’s new business class cabins will begin sporting a refreshed “Nordic” design with new seat textiles, seat covers, pillows, blankets and tableware.
Set to roll out this month, the white, gray and navy blue business class palette has been designed to mimic the interiors of Nordic homes as well as the Finnish landscape.
The carrier recently unveiled its new business class cabin for its newest aircraft, the single-aisle 737 Max. The cabins have 10 business class seats, but while the first and last rows are configured 2-2, the middle row has just two throne seats on either side of the aisle.
All of the ten seats will, however, be fully flat and these throne seats will no doubt be in high demand. The airline has taken delivery of six Max 8 aircraft and begun service with a handful of destinations as far-flung as Bangkok and Prague. The airline has a total of 76 737 Max aircraft set to be received by 2023.
The Chinese carrier introduced its 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft featuring new fully-flat Super Diamond business class seats in June last year. The Dreamliner features free WiFi and Panasonic’s eX3 entertainment system. Business class passengers receive Bulgari amenity kits and Bose noise-canceling headphones.
The Super Diamond seat pitch on the 787-9 is 73-80 inches, while the IFE touchscreen is 16 inches.
Hong Kong Airlines
The carrier launched a new B/E Aerospace Super Diamond business class seat on its A350-900 aircraft, the first of which has begun operations between the airline’s HKG hub and Los Angeles.
The seats recline fully flat, offer direct aisle access and feature three storage compartments. It has a generous 44-inch pitch while the “seat orientation paired with unique shell shape provides aisle privacy,” the airline says.
German carrier Lufthansa’s newest business class seat product is still a way’s away from entering service, namely because it will be reserved for use on the yet-to-launch Boeing 777-9 aircraft, which it expects to receive in 2020.
The layout of the cabin is particularly intriguing, with an alternating 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 configuration, meaning LH is another carrier offering throne seats. There is a trade-off here though – while all will be fully flat, only some will have the confirmed 78-inch bed length. Due to the additional desk space of the throne seats, these will have a shorter bed length, though Lufthansa has yet to announce just what that will be.
Malaysia’s flag carrier took delivery of its first Airbus A350 late last year – its first of six that it will be leasing from Air Lease Corporation – and the only Airbus of its ilk to feature a first class cabin.
The seat design itself is not entirely new – they have been based heavily on Thompson Aero Seating’s Vantage XL award-winning design with a few modifications – however it is the first of its kind used by Malaysian Airlines. The aircraft features four of the suites in total.
Qantas has launched Dreamliner service on its long-haul routes including Los Angeles and soon to come, London. Business class features the next-generation of Qantas’ fully-flat Business Suite such as those on the carrier’s A330 aircraft, and include an adjustable divider between each seat. The cabin is configured 1-2-1 with a total of 42 seats.
Premium economy boasts 20.5-inch seat width and 38-inch pitch with 9 inches of recline and an “ergonomically designed” pillow for dozing on those long-hauls.
Meanwhile the all-new economy seat offers an extra inch of seat pitch compared to Qantas’ A380 aircraft, as well as an updated version of the footnet which features on the A380s, and an HD screen which is five percent larger than previously.
Last year, Qatar Airways introduced its new business class seat dubbed the Q Suite. The airline says it is the first business class seat that can be made into a double bed. Thanks to a privacy door that “completely encloses you,” along with adjustable panels and movable TV monitors on the center four seats, passengers traveling together are able to create a private suite.
According to the carrier, the current fleet will be retrofitted with the new seats, but with exceptions. The new seat design will not fit in Dreamliners and A380s, so a similar seat will be developed to create a “uniform” product across the fleet.
The airline’s Oryx One IFE platform has been redesigned to make it easier to surf content. Passengers can choose from 3,000 entertainment options, offering movies, music, news and games.