(CNN) — As the aviation industry looks to a future with more video conferencing and fewer business travelers occupying business class seats, it is courting premium leisure passengers to fill the void.
Airlines hope more business travelers will bring their partners for “mixed” or business-leisure – “bleisure” – trips. Still, most business class cabins were designed with privacy in mind rather than being able to snuggle up next to Pat from accounting.
Enter a new generation of design that converts two business class seats into a double bed better suited for couples.
“Covid was an epic reset button,” says Daniel Baron, cabin designer and managing director of airline design house LIFT Aero Design in Tokyo. “It has changed the priorities of many travellers. More and more people are now yearning for things that might have seemed less important before the world turned upside down.
“They want a slightly slower pace, with creature comforts along the way and meaningful experiences on the other side. Same for business travelers. Yes, career is still important, but time with beings should not be sacrificed. The trend of mixing business with pleasure lends itself to increased demand in the premium leisure category.”
In ultra-chic International First Class, double beds have been the norm since the mid-2000s, perhaps the most famous being Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380 First Class, and later Etihad Residence one-bedroom suite in the middle. 2010s, with a small double bed in its own bedroom.
“Traditionally,” says Baron, “in business class, one expected wide, fixed armrests on both sides of the passenger, with multiple storage spaces. Large movable dividers were also associated with first class, not business.
“Ultimately, it’s about providing an experience that drives customer retention and positive word of mouth. The industry has gone from ‘give me complete privacy’ in business class to ‘give me options”. the ability to get closer can be a competitive advantage.”
There’s something truly delightful about snuggling up with your arms around your loved one as the gentle hum of the plane lulls you to sleep.
The magic that converts a fully walled suite into a double bed revolves around two centers: first, the center section of seats between the two jumbo jet aisles, and second, the center divider between the two premium seats in that center section ( whether it is just in one row, in all other rows or in the whole cabin).
In practice, the stewardesses retract the wall below bed level, add a mattress topper and sheets, and you have a first-class double bed.
And now the double bed is coming to business, even if the design and logistics get trickier because passengers have less room than first — although, of course, still a ton more than in economy class.
On the plus side, however, very few airlines charge couples extra for choosing the double bed over regular business class seats, so keep an eye out for those seating plans! As an indication, business class today costs four to six times the price of economy class.
The modern type of business class seating cleverly overlaps with the passenger in front to provide direct aisle access for every passenger without the need for the amount of space of first class.
They usually do this via the trick of a passenger’s side table also being the footwell where the passenger’s feet behind go in bed mode, either via a staggered configuration or with the seats reclined in a herringbone layout.
Here’s how some of the airlines that offer double beds in business class do it.
Singapore Airlines is offering a double bed option on seats on its completely redesigned Airbus A380 fleet. All center pairs in this layout have the option of lowering the splitter to waist height, but the front row seats in each section are the best: these (seats 11D+F, 91D+F and 96D+F) don’t have the center divider so you aren’t limited to hugging above the waist.
Qatar Airways offers double beds as part of its QSuite product, which appears on some of its Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 aircraft, where in the center sections the seats stagger from being side-by-side in the middle of a row to being right next to the driveway in another. Airlines and business class regulars call this the “honeymoon/divorce” arrangement.
However, if you look at the seating plan, you quickly realize that these “honeymoon” seats may only be about a quarter of all the seats in the cabin. That’s often not enough for an airline looking to boost its high-end leisure market.
Qatar Airways’ business suites on its Boeing 787 are an entirely different type of seat, where the center sections are angled towards the aisle. This means that the passengers of these are side by side between the central divider. So when the center divider retracts, there’s a rather appropriate heart-shaped section where you can kiss your lover goodnight.
Think of them as a fairly modest class of hugs above the waistline, if you will.
More and more airlines and seat manufacturers are focusing on this type of business class double bed when selecting and manufacturing new seats.
And there’s more to come, says Daniel Baron of LIFT Aero Design: “Of course, the next chapter is honeymoon suites on long-haul narrowbody aircraft.”
Top image: Business class on a Singapore Airlines A380R offers a double bed option. (Singapore Airlines)
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