The newest business class cabin for British Airways launches this summer on the A350, including direct aisle access and mini doors for the “suites” on board. The first plane to feature the new seat is expected to fly between London and Madrid for crew familiarization starting in July before entering long-haul service to Toronto on 1 October 2019.
The new “suites” will fly on the A350-1000 aircraft being delivered this year – BA expects to have four in the fleet relatively quickly – and will be retrofit on to a pair of 777 aircraft. Starting in 2020 the retrofit program will expand, though specifics from the company on which types and when remain vague. CEO Alex Cruz notes in the release that the retrofit process “will take some time” so figure years, not months. Also, given the impending retirement of the 747 fleet and uncertainty around the future of the A380 fleet, those types seem unlikely to see the new seat flying.
The A350-1000 will be fitted with 56 of the “Club Suite” seats and also 56 World Traveler Plus premium economy seats. That latter number matches the British Airways A380 layout making the A350-1000 a relatively premium-heavy layout, particularly for a plane with no first class cabin on board. Indeed, with the significant upgrade coming to the business class offering the future of the first class cabin on British Airways becomes a topic for debate. The new business class seat comes across as a better option than the old first class by some metrics. BA had already begun converting some of its 777s to a layout without first class seats so expect that to continue with the new retrofits as part of this project.
The new seats also boost the personal storage (BA claims 40% more; hard to believe it is not a higher number given the total lack of space on the legacy Club World layout), an 18.5″ IFE screen (down to 17″ on the 777s) and high definition gate-to-gate programming. Not being forced to stow the screen for take off and landing is another nice win for passengers in the new business class product.
Indeed, there is little about the new cabin layout that comes across as a negative for passengers. The 1-2-1 layout is somewhat limiting for groups traveling together but that is a small drawback against the much larger improvements the cabin will see with these updates. The long and undefined retrofit process is likely the biggest negative for the program. And for the handful of travelers who prefer the first class cabin this “suite” takes away their ultra premium option, though that market remains a small one.
It also remains to be seen if British Airways adjusts its revenue management tactics with the introduction of the new product. The new seat is likely to attract stronger demand than the old layout on routes where both are available. But both are sold as business class. Getting the pricing right to maximize yield could prove challenging while the retrofit process is underway.
The seat is based on the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond platform, with the door added for additional privacy.