British Airways has unveiled its first radical redesign of its long-haul Club World business class cabin in nearly 20 years.
It was in 1999 that details first emerged of BA’s plan to unveil its first fully flat bed in business class, with a “yin-yang” rear and forward facing configuration.
Whilst the seat has been progressively modified over time, the fundamental layout of the cabin has remained the same. It is a layout that has served the airline well financially due to its space efficiency. However, it has by BA’s own admission and in the view of many frequent flyers, fallen behind its competitors which all offer direct aisle access to all passengers. Please see here for a history of Club World over the past 40 years or so.
BA has now jettisoned the yin-yang layout with an entirely new seat and cabin layout.
This will debut on the Airbus A350-1000 which will operate select flights from London Heathrow to Madrid this summer and selected long-haul flights to Toronto from 1 October 2019 and Dubai from 8 October 2019. BA will confirm the exact start date for short-haul test flights in June. There will be 56 Club World seats on the Airbus A350-1000.
The New Club World Suite
Here are details of the new seat:
– All seats have direct access to the aisle
– All seats are forward facing, albeit at a slight angle
– The seat is 79″ long when fully flat
– All seats benefit from greater privacy with a partial door to the seat
– Personal storage is improved significantly, with 40% more storage than the existing Club World seat. Storage facilities include a personal storage drawer and vanity unit
– There is a much larger 17″ – 18.5″ TV screen. It is now possible to watch the in-flight entertainment “gate to gate” as it does not have to be stowed for take-off and landing.
The Cabin Environment
As is to be expected from BA, it has adopted its relatively understated style to the cabin interior.
There are details hitherto seen in First Class such as the stitching to the seat fabric and arm rest.
The Roll Out Of The New Seat
The new seat will be fitted on new deliveries of 18 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, the first four of which will be delivered this year.
It will also be fitted to 12 Boeing 787-10 aircraft which will be delivered from 2020 to 2023, and 18 Boeing 777-9 aircraft which will be delivered from 2022 to 2025. Although BA has not yet said so, it’s plausible there may be variances between aircraft.
BA will also be retrofitting the new seat to most of its long-haul fleet, beginning with 2 four class Boeing 777-200 aircraft this year. As part of this refit BA will also reduce the size of the First Class cabin from 14 to 8 seats.
BA has said it will be until 2023 until the new seat is retrofitted to all aircraft in the scope of the programme. This is due to manufacturing capacity of the seat supplier and it may be accelerated if capacity becomes available. There is an obvious element of expectations management at play given that rival airlines have experienced significant delays to delivery of new seats.
The one upside from a relatively slow roll out is that any issues emerging when the seat enters service can be addressed.
The new seat is, by any measure, a huge improvement on the existing Club World layout.
Whilst it is certainly not a step above the rest of the market like the original Club World flat bed, it is a welcome move.
For an airline like BA with the large premium market, there was always going to be a tension between passenger preferences and seat density. As BA is also committed to retaining First Class, it is inevitable that a differential would be maintained between Club World and First Class. There was also going to be a challenge in addressing criticisms of the existing seat, namely direct aisle access, whilst retaining some aspects of the existing seat such as the privacy of window seats. From first impressions, the seat does that.
It’s also worth recalling that there is more to flying business class than the seat. There is still plenty of scope to continually review and improve ground services, food and dining, and cabin crew service – which on a good day BA can excel at.
If you do fly on the new seat later this year, do make your views known in post-flight surveys as these will be monitored very carefully to gauge passenger feedback.