The continued evolution of business class sees it inheriting features previously the domain of first class, beginning with lie-flat beds and now including sliding privacy doors.
An increasing number of airlines – among them Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and JetBlue – have further raised the bar with spacious and better-appointed ‘business plus’ suites in the very front of the cabin.
But this doesn’t spell the end of first class – it just puts pressure on airlines to continue refining the first experience, even in the post-superjumbo world lacking the extravagance enabled by the floorspace of the double-decker Airbus 380.
That’s the thinking behind a new first class concept developed by London-based design agency Acumen.
Dubbed ‘First Place’, it re-imagines the first suite as “an interior space reminiscent of a private home, with a more residential design approach.”
The centrepiece of Acumen’s latest vision of first class is an innovative chaise lounge which passengers can remain in during the taxi, take-off and landing stages of a flight.
Cosseted passengers can relax on the 28” wide lounge for their meals, thanks to a sliding table, or touch a button to see it convert into an 80” stretch out on the 80” (2 metre) bed.
There’s also a sliding ottoman so you and a companion can share dinner for two.
The lounge is complemented by a leather armchair styled to reflect high-end residential furniture, which rotates and recline “to offer not only a suitable take-off position, but also a formal dining and comfortable work position,” Acumen notes.
With a separate armchair and bed, Acumen shares the philosophy which shaped the A380 first suites of Etihad and Singapore Airlines “but designed in a more space efficient way to fit all wide-bodied aircraft rather than just the A380.”
(This is notably also the same model adopted by Qantas for its forthcoming ‘Project Sunrise’ Airbus A350 first class.)
“Our experience across many interior programs had shown that first class seating had become more complex, heavy and expensive to produce,” Acumen reflects, saying the design of first class seats which must convert into a flat bed “is inherently compromised, as it has to serve too many functions.”
Acumen says primary focus on First Space “was to create a more exclusive and differentiated experience from the ‘super business class’ seats.”
Adjacent to the lounge are subtle ‘bedroom’ touches such as a leather-lined wardrobe and a bedside table with two storage drawers for assorted personal items, while carry-on luggage and airline bedding fits beneath the lounge.
High-tech flourishes include surround sound and noise-cancelling technology built into the wings of the armchair, “heating /cooling technology” built in to the lounge and wireless charging on the side table.
“The passenger would simply use a touch screen tablet to control all in-suite powered functionality , including climatic control, lighting, and even hotel style inflight service,” Acumen says.
There are even two video screens, with a 32” display facing the lounge and a smaller 18” panel facing the armchair.
The chair+bed space and optimised layout “creates a room-like cabin with a perfect balance between privacy and openness” – of course, a sliding door lets you close off the outside world, with the welcome exception of cabin crew to top up your Champagne.
Acumen – which developed British Airways’ original first class flat bed, Etihad’s superb A380 and other first class projects from Cathay Pacific and Thai Airways – envisions the First Place suite as a single row 1-1-1 layout which could be “configurable in a three, six, or nine seat layout,” although “it can also be designed to fit four suites abreast if higher seat densities are required, enabling a double suite option in the centre.”
Acumen believes its patented First Place concept “perfectly meets the heightened needs of the future first class passenger, as well as the airlines desire to offer a consistent product across their network.”
“Above all it brings back exclusivity and differentiation to First Class, creating a private space with greater flexibility to work, rest, and play, but also to enjoy time onboard without compromise.”