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As I recently struggled through a sleepless night on an airplane – for the second time so far this year – I came to realise that, flat bed or not, some types of long-haul Business Class seating are simply better than others. (i.e. the “hard product”) I even started feeling nostalgic for British Airways Club World which, despite its flaws, usually had me sleeping like a baby after my second G&T.
After landing, I decided to do some research to avoid repeating the same mistake again; I found out that there are !SIX! main types of Business Class seat…
The name “herringbone” comes from the fact that the cabin layout can appear like the skeleton of a fish, with seats set at an angle to the front of the airplane. Seats are usually laid out in a 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 configuration, depending on how wide the airplane is.
Pros: Reasonably private; Direct aisle access; Plenty of legroom.
Cons: No way to sit next to a travelling companion; Seat faces away from windows; Seat often “flips over” into a bed, meaning that there is little recline for those who prefer a deep recline.
Airlines: Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand
2. Reverse Herringbone
Reverse Herringbone seats are broadly similar to Herringbone seats, except that the window seats sensibly face towards the windows. Again, Reverse Herringbone seats are usually laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Pros: No bad seats; Direct aisle access; Good legroom; Private
Cons: Close to none, although you can’t really sit close to a travelling companion
Airlines: American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France (YMMV), Cathay Pacific
3. Staggered Seats
Instead of having the outer pair of seats side-by-side, seating is staggered – one is moved forward towards the cockpit – so that even window seats can enjoy direct aisle access. The middle block of seats usually alternate between “honeymoon seats” close together and two more classically aisle seats with a wide separation between them, as shown here.
However, in order to avoid having a stranger’s smelly feet in the vicinity of your sleeping face, each seat has a table next to it. Besides the obvious convenience of a large table for your gadgets, drinks, etc., your neighbour’s legs and feet are hidden away underneath the table.
Which leads me to my main pet peeve of this configuration. Switching from 7 or 8-across to 4-across means that something must give. If there are fewer seats per row, then more rows must be squeezed in. Legroom is accordingly restricted, even more so by the need to provide a gap for accessing window or middle seats…
Pros: Direct aisle access; Private; Plenty of storage space
Cons: Poor legroom; Window seats can feel particularly claustrophobic
Airlines: Iberia, Etihad, Emirates (YMMV)
4. Staggered Seats (Vantage) a.k.a. the “Throne”
Instead of staggering on a “north-south” basis – i.e. staggered towards the cockpit – the so-called Vantage configuration staggers on an “east-west” basis – i.e. shifted closer to / away from the windows. This means that a handful of window seats become “thrones”, so called because tables on both sides of the seat provide the appearance of a throne.
This layout – alternating 1-2-1 and 2-2-1 – means that nobody need sit (or sleep) too close for comfort with a stranger. However it also means that your feet must fit into a tiny cubbyhole that is squeezed into a gap between the two seats in the row directly ahead. (or next to a “throne” seat)
Pros: Both couples and individuals have suitable seating options
Cons: Limited legroom; Some window seats lack direct aisle access
Airlines: Swiss, Aer Lingus, Austrian, ANA, Finnair (YMMV)
5. Fully-Flat Bed Seats
The original… which means they’ve never received a fancy name. (though… are they seats or are they beds? “Fully flat seat” defies the laws of physics and common sense) These seats recline into a flat bed that is parallel to the floor. The most common configurations are 2-2-2 or 2-3-2, with no staggering or guaranteed direct aisle access. (although some airlines offer a 1-2-1 configuration) British Airways manages to squeeze in a 2-4-2 layout with its “yin-yang” configuration that sees many seats face backwards.
No direct aisle access? The lack of those gap-creating inches means that taller people usually can stretch out…
For some truly mind-boggling reason, Lufthansa chose to angle its flat bed seats towards each other; I didn’t realise that Germans so enjoyed playing footsie with strangers…
Pros: Good legroom; Ideal for couples and families
Cons: Less privacy; The “step-over” problem
Airlines: British Airways, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Singapore, Qatar (YMMV)
6. Angled “Lie-Flat” or Recliner
The design team must have discussed this… “Do you think people will notice? Maybe if we add a footrest…” Errr.. yes we noticed, as we inevitably slid down the “flat bed”, despite airline claims that “but the plane flies at an angle”. One of the original “travel hacks” must have been determining how to find the sweet spot between fully upright and flat (but not…) to enable some sleep.
Luckily these seats are being relegated to the history books, but you might still find yourself on an airplane that hasn’t been updated.
Pros: None, unless you can only fall asleep by watching a boring movie in a reclined position (or have been upgraded for free from Premium Economy or Economy, in which case you’re thrilled…)
Cons: Too many to mention…
Airlines: Asiana, Ethiopian and too many rogue aircraft to mention.
Without a doubt, I have a strong preference for a herringbone or reverse herringbone seat. Failing that, I find that the standard fully-flat beds are much preferable to staggered configurations, especially if you can nab one of the handful of aisle seats that don’t entail a window seat companion climbing over you.
What do you think? Which are the best long-haul business class seats in the air?
And please jump in with comments, especially if I’ve left out your favourite airline…