Executive Traveller exclusive
Lufthansa’s all-new business class seat will take wing in the second half of this year, appearing first on a Boeing 787-9 before spreading its wings to the Airbus A350 fleet which will also include a fresh take on Lufthansa first class.
As the largest premium play in the ‘Allegris’ product family, Lufthansa’s 2023 business class delivers most of what travellers have come to expect – beginning with direct aisle access, long lie-flat beds and a high degree of privacy – plus some unique touches such as central ‘solo’ seats and a row of larger ‘business class plus’ suites with sliding doors.
With these seats first conceived in 2016, it’s been a long journey for Lufthansa – not to mention its passengers, who’ve been making do with what is now a decidedly out-dated business class on the German flag carrier since 2012.
Lufthansa invited Executive Traveller to visit the Lufthansa Aviation Centre in Frankfurt for an exclusive preview of its new Allegris premium portfolio.
A business class made for the Boeing 777-9
Lufthansa initially teased its next-generation business class in late 2017, prior to an intended debut on the Boeing 777-9 in 2020.
But with delivery of the long-delayed jet continually pushed back – “they now say beginning of 2025” says Paul Estoppey, Head of Product Management Cabin for the Lufthansa Group – while other airlines forged ahead with their own fresh takes on business class, it was clear that Lufthansa couldn’t keep waiting.
Estoppey tells Executive Traveller the Allegris business class “will launch on the Boeing 787” in the second half of 2023 “and then later on with the A350.”
Lufthansa explored six new business class concepts
In starting from scratch to create a bespoke business class seat for Lufthansa, the airline embarked on its first program of what Estoppey calls “co-creation with the (seat) industry.”
“We knew what the industry is doing, what the competition is doing, and we wanted to go ahead of that, so we started to do co-creation with almost the entire industry.”
This spanned several months and involved “workshops with all the big seat suppliers, where we came together and developed what we have today.”
The initial shortlist for Lufthansa’s new business class proved to be a long list: “at the very beginning there were probably seven ideas or eight ideas, but we really started with six – we had six different business classes for the time being – and then we narrowed it down.”
Everyone from Lufthansa executives and product specialists to the airline’s most frequent flyers played a vital part in that process, testing mockups at a dedicated workshop facility nestled in a small village some ten minutes from Lufthansa HQ.
“Obviously even if you have good ideas, you want to test it against your best customers, and that’s what we do,” Estoppey explains.
“We had about 250 of our top customers – first class and business class flyers – if I remember right, who had made about 10 flights in long-haul business class over the last 12 months.”
“We needed to make sure we had really experienced people in those tests, because most of those guys know us as well the competition.”
“And that’s an important point: you want to find out what do they like about your concept (and) what do they probably dislike about the other concepts in this world, so we make sure that we don’t do something they dislike on other (airlines).”
Those top-tier frequent flyers spent hours sitting in and combing over “physical mockups done by a carpenter” for all six concepts, Estoppey recalls.
The field was then narrowed to three potential new Lufthansa business class seats, the mockups for which “were getting more professional” as things progressed: “there’s already paint on it, foam and a seat cover, so it feels a little bit better.”
Yes to privacy, no to doors
Along the way, some common themes were emerging, such as the value of privacy.
“We wanted to increase privacy but you always need to watch out that you don't box them in too much, that was the feedback.”
This led Lufthansa to a design featuring 1.1m-high wrap-around seat walls rather than sliding doors for all but the first row of the business class cabin, where those doors became the key element in a differentiated proposition.
It’s a move at odds with the global trend towards doored business suites, and “we had a big discussion about it, a big debate,” Estoppey shares.
“The feedback from customers was really differentiated: it’s not that every customer wants doors, not at all.”
“It’s nice to close your area off, to say, ‘that’s mine here’ - but other than that, it’s really questionable.”
“So we changed the aisle side seat, we changed the wall a little bit so that we have a bit more privacy and more shield towards the aisle.”
“That was the compromise, if you like… but other than that, we wanted to give as much space as we could to the passenger.”
At the same time, it seemed that privacy trumped expansive space and a larger footprint for each seat, which reduces what Estoppey refers to as the “efficiency” of the cabin – how many seats, and paying passengers, it can accommodate.
“We were surprised that the one concept which was eating up the most space, which was the most inefficient one, the passenger didn't like it as well… because you might think the passenger votes in a direction which is more space-consuming and this was not the case.”
How Lufthansa plans to customise your business class experience
That winning “sweet spot” delivered something else Lufthansa wanted: choice for the passenger, with the prospect that some of those choices will come with an additional price tag.
The airline touts its new Allegris business class as featuring six seating options, from those single ‘throne’ seats in the middle of every second row to the more private suites in the first row of the business class cabin.
“If you have a ticket, you’ll get a seat,” explains Dr. Björn Becker, Lufthansa Group’s Head of Project for the Future Intercontinental Experience.
“But you might want to reserve seats with certain characteristics. For example, I’m pretty tall, so for me a bit more space is good – maybe I want to reserve this ‘more space’ (seat) so I can sleep better on the night flight.”
Not that the seats will short-change sleepers: “we have pretty tall people in Germany and central Europe, so you have at least a two-metres long bed,” Estoppey adds.
Becker posits that not only do different passengers have “different desires or needs” but those can also change based on your flight.
“On a day flight I want to work, compared to a night flight where I want to sleep. We have different (seat) characteristics that cater to this and can accommodate these needs, so we want to give our passengers that choice and .”
And we wanted to make sure that we have several possibilities for the passenger to choose which seat that he or she's going to pick.
“And it will not only be on the seats, we are also talking about other topics where you can individualise your journey. If you’re flying on business, you might have a completely different behaviour than you’re flying for leisure.”
This harks back to Lufthansa’s drive towards "tailored airfare bundles”, detailed in June 2019 at the airline’s annual Capital Markets Day, with "static branded fares” replaced by “need-based bundles (and an) upselling structure.”
Those options, the airline noted, could include inflight WiFi and upgraded meals, alongside those seats which convert to a longer lie-flat bed or offer extra working and bench space.”
Lufthansa’s new front row business class suite
“We haven’t finalised the pricing concept, but there will be some additional costs for some seats for some customers,” Becker confirms.
But those extra tariffs won’t apply to all Lufthansa business class flyers, with Becker suggesting that “status customers” will enjoy some perks without the price tag.
And the most premium of all Lufthansa’s new Allegris business class seats will be found in the first row of the cabin, where a sliding door will turn the seat into a suite.
“In the standard business class we have an open concept with more privacy,” Becker elaborates, while “in the first row there are doors, so again give our customers the choice.”
The four business class suites which will crown each business class cabin also have more room, a personal wardrobe and a larger 27” monitor compared to their ‘open plan’ siblings.
“It’s a really improved product compared to the business class seating,” Becker says – and to underscore that differentiation the suites “will have a special name” in how they’re marketed, while also carrying a higher price tag than the rest of the cabin.
“It obviously has an additional value, so there will be some additional costs to it, definitely.”
Mod cons for high flyers
Passengers will control the features of Lufthansa’s Allegris business class seat, along with the 17-inch inflight entertainment system, through a tablet mounted next to the seat, although this won’t be a wireless tablet due to the need to keep it powered up.
“It’s tethered through a cord wheel and powered through that wheel,” Estoppey notes.
“You need to get power there somehow… if you look at an iPad, I think they advertise 10 hours of power, but if you really use it and it’s getting two pr three years old, it's probably down to six or five hours. So what would you do in the middle of a long-haul flight (if the battery died)?”
Travellers can also connect their own noise-canceling headphones via Bluetooth to the entertainment system, while AC/USB sockets and a wireless charging pad provide plenty of ways to keep your tech juiced up from A to B.
Lufthansa’s first routes for its new business class
Lufthansa’s Allegris business class will debut on a factory-fresh Boeing 787-9 in the later half of this year, followed by an A350, which will also launch Lufthansa’s new Allegris first class.
The airline is already mapping out the first routes for these jets, although no final decisions have yet been made.
“But what you usually do, and you can see that for all the new aircrafts coming in with the small fleets, is you use these aircrafts on routes where you can get a turnaround in one day,” Becker tells Executive Traveller.
“So you wouldn’t use it for example from central Europe to China because that's just too long. But if you just look at where our new 787 and A350 aircraft flew to, it will be a similar thing I would guess.”
After a long wait, Lufthansa’s long rollout
In addition to all newly-delivered Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and eventually Boeing 777-9 jets, an extensive retrofit program will also see the business class seats – but maybe not first class – make their way onto the Boeing 747-8 fleet, although Estoppey says Lufthansa has “not yet decided” if the A380 superjumbo will see the same upgrade.
“It has to do with the usage of the fleet… there is much movement in there, and we don’t really know what happens in the future and how the market is going to behave after this first (post-Covid) wave we see today.”
“So it all depends on the lifespan of the fleet first of all, and (if) it still makes sense to build something like that into a cabin. It doesn't make sense if you just fly for two, three years.”
But “I would say around ’26-’27 would be the big years where we have to do the most implementation,” Estoppey expects.
The Lufthansa Group’s long-held plan to standardise seating across airlines should also see the Allegris business class make its way to Swiss, beginning with five new Swiss Airbus A350s from 2025, along with Austrian and Brussels, albeit with appropriate on-brand finishes.