Air France chooses Cathay-style seat for new business class

By John Walton, January 15 2013
Air France chooses Cathay-style seat for new business class

Air France will upgrade its aging business class to adopt Cathay Pacific's award-winning business class seats (based on the Zodiac Sicma Cirrus design) giving passengers a fully flat sleeping experience plus direct aisle access on its flights.

The French flag-carrier will customise the seats to to its own specifications and is promising a significant improvement for business travellers compared to  its flimsy and cramped angled lie-flat seating.

Air France will be the first European airline to select the Zodiac Sicma Cirrus seats, which Australian Business Traveller voted the best in the sky last year.

The French airline will join a select group of airlines using the seat, which is arranged in a reverse herringbone layout.

Reports in the financial journal La Tribune (FrenchGoogle Translate) mention only Air France's Boeing 777 aircraft as being in line for the refit, but the airline's Airbus A380 superjumbos are also tipped for the upgrade.

Australians will be familiar with it as Cathay Pacific's new business seat, which will also be installed on American Airlines' jets, while US Airways' Envoy business class and Delta's Boeing 747s also use a slightly less advanced version of the same seat.

Read more: Seven things you didn't know about Cathay Pacific's business class

Using the new seat will "reposition Air France among the best airlines worldwide in terms of service quality, seat comfort, ground services and food quality", explained Air France CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

Qantas' partnership with Air France will end in March in advance of the Red Roo joining up with Emirates in April.

Emirates, meanwhile, has added a second daily Airbus A380 flight to Paris, enabling more all-superjumbo connections to France — meaning better seats, more space and the stand-up business class bar all the way to Europe.

Read more: How the Qantas-Emirates alliance will work for flights to France and Germany

For the very latest in business class news from around the world, follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 43

Having experienced this seat a far bit on Cathay, I'm glad more carriers are going with it. Definitely a marked improvement on the herringbone pattern, which, if you are on the upper deck of a CX 747, is decidedly claustrophobic!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

We're pretty keen on it as well, sq421 — the Cathay version is just about the best business clas seat in the sky!

20 Feb 2012

Total posts 128

while this is great, all these airlines seem to be going with the basics and not altering their design like cathay did

Cathay has the winged backs-none of the others do, they have the bed extension , mirror etc

not to mention cathay is th only airline that has no blue/grey colours which makes the cabin more welcoming.

Anyways this is going to make lufthansa's new business class well behind the other major world carriers.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Air France hasn't announced whether it'll be taking the Cathay/James Park Associates (better) version that American also chose, or the basic model that US Airways introduced and Delta later picked for its 747s, kash.

Though since Air France's colour scheme is the French tricolor, you're likely to see some blue inside. Allez les bleus!

20 Feb 2012

Total posts 128

actually I think there is a third version by JPA

American does not have the bead extension or the winged-back or mirror either

and the current business class has no red or blue!

I was basing it on the picture

anyways they should have improved on cathay's design which is 2 years old now

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 48

Cathay should have gone exclusive with the design, especially now their competitors (possible even on the same routes) will have the same advantage.

22 Jul 2011

Total posts 98

True, but all carriers / companies copy. I felt that CX's new business ripped off the Qantas First design. Their window seats are essentially a shrunken down QF first. Plus there's the beige base colour and wrap-around privacy shield. Only real innovation is that they've used a herringbone layout for the middle seats.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 123

The original Cathay design was based on what US airways had chosen anyways. Misleadingly, the article basically gives credit the seat design to Cathay, however they modified rather than invented the design

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

tmsmile, that's absolutely the kind of detail I love to get into! Of course, our readers know Cirrus as Cathay-style, since it's the only airline that flies to Australia using the seat, so that's how we refer to it.

As the "read more" article I linked to highlights, US Airways was indeed first to market with it, but the Cathay/JPA modified version is more spacious and adds a number of useful extra features.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

Phil, Cathay couldn't go exclusive with it, as I understand — when I talked to Cathay's then-head of Product Alex McGowan last year, I recall that Cathay came to the table after US Air, and then took time to update the seat to their own requirements. I think they got a better seat out of it, though.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 177

What I don't understand is why do Air France and Lufthansa groups have different products for all the different airlines they own?

I would have thought that it a huge cost saving to standardize the products in your group rather than so many mutliple products. Isn't synergies one of the things that these airlines came out with for cost savings.

ie. Air France/KLM or Lufthansa/Swiss/Austrian/Brussels

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 673

It's a good question, DGP, and I think it speaks to the Groups' brand strategies and market segmentation for their various airlines.

Lufthansa Group seems to be aiming Swiss (and seems to be aiming Austrian and Brussels) at a higher price point and experience level than its own LH-operated services. That's from the surprisingly poor lounges at Frankfurt (excepting the First Class Terminal and the new A+ pier lounges, which I hear are much better) to the LH business class.

Swiss, Brussels and now Austrian all use the same staggered, fully flat, 90% direct aisle access seat in business, and operate from small airports with lightning-fast connections — a great benefit in Europe.

Air France and KLM are similarly aimed at different market segments, and indeed regions. That goes back to KLM having removed its first class quite some time ago — was it around the time that they originally hooked up with Northwest?

I think there's a real tension within any airline offering a first class cabin, like Lufthansa and Air France, to avoid cannibalising its first class segment with a really good business class. KLM, meanwhile, has no first to cannibalise. (Swiss is, obviously, the exception, but it has one of the world's best first classes.)

It seems to me that there's a lot of room for synergies in economy, but that airline groups can very sensibly offer different premium cabins to different customers.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 177

Totally agree with you.

Take a look at the differences between the Air France and KLM Business offerings.  The KLM hard product is very dated and worse than the current Air France product.  And now Air France are updating their hard product with the Cathay style seating.  With KLM not having a First Class cabin, you would think there be savings and synergys for the products to be the same.  Especially with the number of codeshares they do these days.


20 Feb 2012

Total posts 128

I do not mind them copying-but if you release your new business class 3 years after cathay unveiled theirs-at least make it an improvement over cathay's rather than worse-no shoe locker etc!-see above comment

at least cathay modified theirs from US Airways which kind of made it new

and now cathay did not copy Qantas first class-as this design has been available much before that was unveiled-and even if it did-it is a good thing thay copied a first class cabin!! 

also only CX and US Airways have this-with CX being available on more international routes

AA-very few aircraft will receive it and low retrofit-they do not compete with cathay on any route

AF-I expect their retrofit to take ages!-they must be hurting on Paris-HKG considering cathay is double daily with new cabins

Delta-they just copied US Airways which is worse than CX version


05 Jun 2012

Total posts 127

Interesting.  From the picture, a few observations:

AF seem to have less storage at the knee-side triangular compartment, but it looks as though they may have additional storage under the aisle-side arm (where CX have an extra pad for those who like to bend their knees while sleeping on their side).  They also seem to have the shoe locker in front of the passenger (ie in the shell of the seat in front) instead of in the shell of the passenger's own seat, which seems quite sensible (I keep forgetting about the shoe locker on CX, because you can't see it when you are seated).

AF don't seem to have the door to the headphone locker set up so as to work as a divider (and presumably don't have vanity mirror either)

It's hard to tell if there is a power socket on the AF seat side panel (where CX has a multi-socket and a USB charging port, as well as sockets to allow you to connect your own media to the onboard AVOD system)

The AF headphone locker seems to be illuminated, which is sensible - I can't remember definitively if CX have that but I think not

The AF seat's armrest on the non-aisle side seems to continue forward under the cocktail table - better than the CX arrangement where the armrest slopes up to meet the cocktail table, meaning that if your seat is forward your elbows naturally come to rest at different heights!

Overall, interesting to compare.  Not that I am likely to do so in practice as a dedicated oneworld passenger!!

Has anyone else noticed anything particular about the new AF seat?

Incidentally, I am posting this commentary on the Business Traveller magazine site as well

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