Business class suites, premium economy drive A350 upgrades

Airlines are fighting for premium travellers as they push for greater comfort above the clouds.

By David Flynn, May 10 2024
Business class suites, premium economy drive A350 upgrades

Airbus is expecting a wave of A350 refits over the coming years as airlines seek to remain competitive in the battle for premium travellers.

Business class suites with private doors are leading the push, alongside new premium economy seats.

Those sliding doors were the exclusive domain of first class – and even then, only on a handful of airlines – until 2017 saw the debut of the Delta Air Lines’ Delta One business class and Qatar Airways’ Qsuites.

Since then, almost every new business class to launch has included privacy doors, either at every seat or in front row ‘business plus’ iterations such as Air New Zealand’s Business Premier Luxe and Lufthansa’s Allegris.

Premium economy is also on the upswing, with some airlines rolling out improved next-gen recliners while others launch a better-than-economy product for the first time.

Airbus notes that commercial jetliners typically undergo a cabin retrofit having reached eight years of service – a benchmark which airlines, design firms and seat manufacturers broadly agreed is the life cycle for introducing new premium seats.

According to CAPA, the Centre for Aviation Fleet Database, “more than 60 passenger A350s will reach this age by the end of 2024” while “by the end of the decade, over 460 A350s would have reached the eight-year suggested retrofit timeframe.”

New A350 business class suites

While less than ten A350s sported business class suites with private doors at the start of 2018, CAPA reports, that number has since soared to around 120.

The most popular doored suites on those A350s are Thomson Aero’s Vantage XL series and Collins Aerospace’ Elevation and Elements family, with custom or bespoke creations such as the Qsuites at an impressive third place.

“Less than 5% of A350s in service featuring sliding privacy doors in 2017,” CAPA says.

“This number has now more than quadrupled, with clear accelerated growth post-COVID-19. The number of airlines offering the feature has also grown from one to 12. Equally impressive is the ever-growing variety of doored seat products, with new entrants every year.”

This year’s entrants – although certainly not exclusive to the A350 – will include American Airlines’ Flagship Suites, Cathay Pacific’s Aria Suites, Korean Airlines’ 787-10 Prestige Class suitesMalaysia Airlines’ A330neo business class, Turkish Airlines’ all-new Crystal business class and Qatar Airways’ highly-anticipated ‘Qsuite 2.0’.

They’ll join Hawaiian Airlines’ 787 Leihoku suites and Japan Airlines’ A350 business class, both of which are already flying.

It also remains to be seen if the under-wraps Emirates A350 and Emirates 777 business class will add doors to the new 1-2-1 seats.

As for premium economy, and specifically on the A350, CAPA says “it is still fascinating to note the pace that the product has been growing, and how there is still more room for it to grow.”

The share of Airbus A350s delivered with premium economy seats has risen from slightly above 50% in 2016 to almost 75%, or three out of every four new A350s, at the end of 2023.

“Overall (premium economy) coverage is expected to grow not only from line-fitted aircraft (seats installed at the factory on new-delivery aircraft) but also from retrofit activities.”

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