The Race to Build a Better Business Class – Interesting NYT Article

For some Saturday morning reading, check out the New York Times piece on the race to have the best business class cabin…

Billions are being spent on research and development, architects, industrial designers and even yacht designers to pack seats with engineering innovations and fancy features. Just fabricating a single business-class seat can cost up to $80,000; custom-made first-class models run $250,000 to $500,000. Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline and the world’s fourth largest in terms of passengers, is investing $4 billion to improve its cabins, offer satellite-based Internet and upgrade its onboard entertainment system. But the new business-class seat, which first appeared last year on the company’s new Boeing 747-8 planes, is perhaps the boldest attempt to lure the high-value passenger. The seat research, design, manufacture and installation accounts for roughly a third of that $4 billion investment, more than a billion dollars. Eleven planes are now outfitted with the new seats, and Lufthansa is expected to install about 7,000 of them on 100 wide-body airplanes by 2015.

Comments

  1. And with all that R&D they can’t manage to make any of the seats in first class wheelchair accessible, with retractable armrests or in any other way wheelchair friendly.

  2. What exactly is bold about LH’s new biz seat? The lack of direct aisle access? The awkward “footsie” problem? Or the rollout schedule that doesn’t have this product in place across the entire fleet until the middle of the decade, by which time competitors will be rolling out their third gen flat beds??

  3. Did you read the article? LH placed a requirement that C capacity not be diminished by more than 10%. I think their previous C had 46″ pitch, and they specified minimum of 72″ bed length, with preference to 78″. Not sure what they achieved in bed length. Their customer surveys showed 72-78 length and fully lie flat were more important than aisle access.

    At the end of the day, the economics do come into play. If direct aisle access loses substantially more capacity, but you don’t earn revenue for it because you can’t charge a premium, then maybe that’s a poor economic decision.

    I tend to agree with LH’s decision. I’m over 6′ tall, as are many men, which are still the majority of C-class pax. Being able to sleep lying flat is the top requirement. While climbing across your neighbor isn’t desirable, if you only have to do it once or twice a flight, it’s do-able, and I’ve been on both sides.

    I suspect the future of C-class will be full lie flat with sufficient seat density.

  4. Carl: Their previous business class (well, still current business class on most of the fleet!) has 57-60 inch pitch, not 46. Even the old generation that was replaced in 2003-2007 had about 48.

    You’re also mixing up pitch with bed length. Pitch is no longer the same as bed length, now that airlines find many different ways to stagger the seats. The LH new business class is indeed just over six feet long, but due to the staggering the pitch (defined as distance between one point on the seat and the same point on the seat in the next row) is probably just over 60″.

    Anyway, of course the passengers surveyed prioritized flat bed seats over direct aisle access. I do, too. But the point is that the world’s top-rank airlines increasingly are giving business class passengers both. And LH is behind the curve in S-L-O-W-L-Y rolling out a product that is barely competitive today – before it’s even available on the majority of flights. All three subsidiaries (Austrian, Brussels, and Swiss) have a better product (with direct aisle access for 80% of business seats on the 777, 90% on the A330/340, and 100% on the 767, compared to 67% or lower on LH).

    Of course LH didn’t want to lose too much density in the reconfig – no airline does. But the marketplace has shifted, and LH isn’t doing what it takes to compete. At the end of the day, maintaining density with an inferior product that doens’t attract passengers and fill up the cabin is a losing proposition, compared to matching product and quantity with demand.

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