Designing Singapore Airlines' new A380 business class seats

By David Flynn, November 22 2017
Designing Singapore Airlines' new A380 business class seats

Singapore Airlines' new business class seat will take wing in December 2018 on a factory-fresh Airbus A380, ahead of a rolling refit across the rest of the superjumbo fleet through to 2020.

JPA Design director John Tighe, who led the team behind the new seat, speaks with Australian Business Traveller about its evolution.

Designing for the future

Tighe describes the design of Singapore Airlines’s new Airbus A380 business class seat as “a labour of love” that’s been in the works since late 2013.

"We've been working on this project in total about four years (and) I think the real crux of that was more like three years.”

“The challenge (in seat design) is to predict the future. It's a constant thing we have to do, predicting passengers’ needs, and there's a long process before we even get anywhere near having the design to do your research.”

“We've got to create a seat that's relevant for many, many years. So a lot of that is about us constantly checking what the future scenarios are, making sure that we start with the right brief... otherwise you can be heading in the wrong direction and you just keep going for three years. Then it's going to be a long way off."

Space: the final frontier

One of the trends which JPA identified is an increasing demand for personal space in and around the seat – a desire which it sought to satisfy with Singapore Airlines’ new business class seat.

“A lot of our work was about space within this product. It was about giving the passengers as much space as possible, whilst ultimately getting a competitive product for the airline to run with."

"We’ve used this new composite structure to create quite a slimline construction and open up this extra space underneath the seat, to give the passenger more and more space."

"And from a design perspective, if you take a cross-section through this seat at any point, there's very, very little wastage – that isn't the case with most airline seats."

Keep your carry-on close at hand

Singapore Airlines’ new A380 business class seat includes room for a carry-on bag and a laptop bag or large handbag.

“You can get a standard size cabin bag in sideways here – you can put it in the other orientation, but sideways is nicest because it means it's not in your way. And then you've also got a space for a laptop bag."

"The A380 doesn't have the central overhead bins, which gives a really nice ambience to the cabin. So by doing this we can maintain this nice open cabin and not have those bins in the centre."

"Passengers can still use the side bins, because there's still plenty of space in those. But many passengers want to keep their stuff close to them so they can easily get to it."

Like Diamonds in the sky

JPA Design created Singapore Airlines’ original Airbus A380 business class seat (shown below), which it codenamed Diamond (which bears no relation to the Diamond family of business class seats from B/E Aerospace), and Tighe says this new seat “is definitely part” of that lineage.

“The Diamond seat that we created for the original A380 has been slowly evolved in different ways, and this is a new version of it."

"But the main difference is in the centre, where your toe boxes are away from each other, whereas on the older-type seats they're in the middle."

"There are a number of reasons behind that, but a lot of it was to do with allowing these privacy options which go all the way from full privacy..."

"... to what’s basically a double bed experience.”

“The bulkheads are the best example of it but for all of the seats, you've still got quite a nice experience where you're very much lying next to your partner.”

Codename: Monocoque

JPA Design dubbed the new business class design as “the monocoque seat” after its construction technique, which casts the seat shell in strong but lightweight carbon fibre composite.

"In its purest form, Monocoque is a one-body construction method, and we referred to that because this seat uses that technology in terms of the structure underneath."

"It doesn't have lots of substructures, lots of aluminium parts and bits connected and interacting. It's really one unified structure underneath there, which everything's attached to."

Sliding doors

Tighe says he also considered more private business suites with sliding doors – similar to what Qatar Airways (below) and Delta Air Lines have done with their own latest products – for Singapore Airlines, but didn’t feel they were a fit with this project.

“Doors are definitely a trend and something we very much considered, and sometimes they can work very well, but there's a time and place for them. I'd encourage travellers to try them out because while it’s easy to sell them as a PR item because they sound great, a lot of the seats actually feel really claustrophobic with them."

"And to have a tangible benefit, they have to be very tall – otherwise, if I'm walking down the aisle, I can still look over pretty much all of the doors."

"Now sometimes doors work – I’m not pretending it’s a bad thing just because we haven't done it on this seat. It's a pros-and-cons kind of situation. And on this product we felt like we'd achieved enough privacy with what we created to not need them."

"And if you don't need it, that's weight maintenance and the downsides of claustrophobic and all these things that you don't have to deal with."

Choosing colours

The new business class seat also includes splashes of colour which lift the design and the overall cabin – something Tighe says was inspired by the orange highlights in Singapore Airlines’ premium economy seating, but has been implemented in business class in a more measured and muted way, as have other tonal elements of the Singapore Airlines palette.

“This is definitely more muted. In premium economy, the brief was to reflect that it was a new class of travel for the airline – it was very much looking at a younger, a more aspirational market."

"In business class we've kept the same family of Singapore Airlines colours, which we already had on the Boeing 777 next-gen business class seat in a slightly more coppery tone."

"It’s actually a colour that Singapore Airlines have used a lot, but always in a slightly different way, and that’s a good thing because it shows the airline trusts the designers and gives them some flexibility."

"A lot of airlines use what we call ‘branding by numbers’. They says "Oh, you're using red. Okay, that has to be our Pantone red." Well no, that might not be the right colour for this particular situation. It's not about hammering your brand on top of people. It's about using these subtle versions of it and creating a brand ambience."


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Sep 2012

Total posts 233

Looks stunning, but I think the Q-Suites from Qatar just have the extra edge in privacy and innovation.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 464

Spot on re doors - they only work when the doors and the walls go all the way to the ceiling, otherwise they're pointless. With walls that people can look over, the passenger is really just in an enclosed playpen! Personally I don't like doors on suites in aircraft - I much prefer the open plan ambience of, say, QF First.

15 Sep 2012

Total posts 93

Storage area / side table needed either side of seat so left handers can use it!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Oct 2017

Total posts 35

Can’t help but feel looking at the images that those of us with long bones will be in trouble with leg and foot room/space once reclined.


25 Aug 2017

Total posts 20

I disagree, didn't like to put the TV on in Qatar first as I felt it would disturb the person opposite who was sleeping. The doors on Emirates did the job just nicely.


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

09 Jul 2017

Total posts 4

I flew a version of this seat to London and back recently at it has to be the most terrible lying position in the history of aviation. Several people complained on the flights as well. I am gold with Singapore but refuse to fly long haul in this seat. Serious mistake Singapore Airlines.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 233

I could not agree more with you lmz. That angle sleeping is the worst thing they could have done to the seat. They are terribly uncomfortable and this completely spoils the seat for me . I just can't believe that a designer does not listen to / read the copious amount of complaints about angling the bed and then goes ahead and does it!!! BIG BIG mistake SQ . You've lost me !! It's Qatar or Etihad for me from now on. Shame really as SQ service is by far the worlds best but this seat???????


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

09 Jul 2017

Total posts 4

I hear you Rod H! My neck and back still hurt from sitting at an angle and looking at the screen. Bizarre !!

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

17 Sep 2017

Total posts 17

Don’t fly Etihad. Trust me. I flew their flagship A380 on AUH-JFK and I had been looking forward to it for a while... unfortunately they disappointed me. The service felt like economy class, the food average, some flight attendants downright rude. The seat was ROCK hard, even with the cushion firmness at its lowest setting. Small, inadequate pillow provided and thin blanket, not nearly enough to sleep comfortably. No slippers provided. Cabin kept at a FREEZING temperature, window blinds automatically shut from takeoff till landing. Will never fly Etihad again. I was really disappointed even though I tried to enjoy it as much as possible. Qatar on the other hand seems to have done well with their Qsuite and already have a Great reputation in business class. I recommend Qatar Airways or even Emirates.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 388

Yes: did SQ's designer ask travellers whether they like sleeping on such an angle? Most of us are not politicians, so we lie straight in bed.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 233

That's very funny Traveller 14 . Love it and how ture it is !!!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 233

I find it incredible that such a great entity and Company like SQ obviously DO NOT listen to the complaints and comments about the angled bed and just how much it is disliked!!! To continue to do so will be at their peril and there is none one else to blame but themselves. What a backward step and I do hope some SQ people are reading these posts and maybe just maybe are actually listening to what we have to say. It's not too late to change.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

26 Nov 2017

Total posts 16

Very true about the lie flat angle. Fortunate that today we are blessed with a nice selection of carriers offering something for everyone.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

03 Nov 2017

Total posts 4

Agree with the angled position. But whats worse to me is that SQ has narrowed the seat compared to the previous Business Class seat - especially the new BC seats on 777. If you look at the first picture of the guy in the seat with a laptop he can't actually write as his elbows are "pushed" inwards and doesn't leave any space or freedom to type. And the guy in the photo is actually quite narrow over the shoulders. Big mistake SQ with this seat - you need to go back to the drawing board before you start loosing customers. No idea what it actually achieves other than more rows aka squeeze more passengers into the same space.

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