Malaysia Airlines will launch a radical upgrade to its Boeing 737 business class, adopting lie-flat suites with direct aisle access for all passengers.
The airline will debut the seats on its new Boeing 737 MAX 10 fleet, due for delivery from 2021, with CEO Peter Bellew indicating to Australian Business Traveller they could use an all-new staggered design from Thompson Aero Seating.
The Irish company also developed the revolutionary Vantage design chosen by US airline JetBlue for its transcontinental Airbus A321 Mint class, which sees each pair of business class seats followed by a single seat with sliding suite-like privacy doors...
... a version of which has also featured in Boeing's promotional material for its 737 MAX jets, shown below.
“I’m shamelessly copying what JetBlue have done with Mint, which is a fantastically innovative transcontinental product in the US,” Bellew tells Australian Business Traveller with an ebullient laugh. “I’m shamelessly ripping off their ideas!”
That could include Mint’s suite-like approach, which sees some seats sport “a privacy panel you can pull across so it’s like a private cabin,” Bellew hints.
However, whereas only three out of every five Mint passengers have direct access to the aisle, Bellew aims to see all travellers at the pointy end of Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 10 fleet just one ginger step away from the aisle.
“That’s what we’re going to try and do. We may have to use a bit more real estate on the aircraft,” he admits, adding that the new seat will likely adopt a “staggered” design similar to that of the Thompson Vantage XL seats used by Qantas for its Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 Business Suites (below).
“Thompson are working on the final design at the moment, but we’ll have 16 business class seats in the Boeing 737 MAX 10s... we have the space to do that (although) we’ll probably have to go a bit further back in the aircraft.”
The seat manufacturer has already revealed an angled herringbone-style Vantage Solo lie-flat seat for single-aisle jets (below), with a launch airline flying an Airbus A320-series jet expected to be announced later this year.
Paying a premium for sleep
Very few airlines are currently flying lie-flat business class seats on single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series, but Bellew believes there’s pent-up and profitable demand for sleep even on Malaysia Airlines’ regional flights of four to five hours “to secondary cities in China, maybe to Perth overnight.”
“If you ask business travellers what’s the number one thing they want from their flying, it’s sleep. (Above) food and inflight entertainment, this, that and the other, the most important thing for them is to get some sleep, even on a short flight, and people will pay a good premium for that.”
“There’s a lot of wealthy people in Asia, a lot of people who lead extraordinarily busy lives, and to be able to get three to four hours’ sleep on a flight is worth a lot of money to a lot of those people.”
Bellew will aim the Boeing 737 MAX 10 aircraft at "secondary and tertiary markets in China", which he sees as premium regional routes primed for growth due to the explosion of a moneyed middle-class with an appetite for travel.
As previously reported, Virgin Australia is also planning to fit an all-new business class seat to Boeing 737s flying east-west routes – referred to as "the Perth product" and which CEO John Borghetti says will represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class” – and it's been speculated that this seat could also come from Thompson Aero.