Boeing 777-9 delays gives airlines chance to revisit business class
With the next-gen Boeing 777X way behind schedule, some airlines are now taking a second look at their business class designs.
Described by Boeing as “the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet” and in development since 2013, the 777X is a next-generation jet that’s flown into here-and-now challenges.
The first 777-9 was originally scheduled to begin flying in June 2020, but a series of setbacks has pushed its handover to airlines into 2025 at the earliest.
Executive Traveller understand that at least two airlines are now revisiting their planned 777-9 business class with an eye towards updating those designs.
The airlines’ concern? Premium 777-9 seats due to take wing two years ago could have lost their ‘leading edge’ by 2025 – at best they might just be one of the crowd, at worst they could be behind the pace of business class evolution.
Here’s a rundown of the latest business class developments from six airlines waiting for the Boeing 777-9.
Emirates Boeing 777X business class
With a massive order for over one hunded Boeing 777X jets – split across the debutant 777-9 and the longer-range but even longer-delayed 777-8 – Emirates is the prestigious launch customer for the 777X.
And while Emirates president Sir Tim Clark has previously maintained the Boeing 777-9s would have a business class seat "which is basically the same as we have on the A380,” in 2021 – as the ongoing delivery drama stretched further out – Clark revealed "we are also considering a brand new business class product.”
The airline has already described its next-generation Emirates 777 business class as offering "customised seats in a 1-2-1 layout", compared to the 2-2-2 and often 2-3-2 configuration in Emirates' current Boeing 777 fleet.
And with more airlines – among them Gulf rivals Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways – already boasting sliding privacy doors on their latest business class seats, Emirates might decide now’s the time to add doors – until now reserved for its first class cabins – to its 777-9 business class.
There’ll also be a small but upscale social area, which Clark told Executive Traveller would become a standard feature across Emirates’ twin-jet fleets.
Clark described the new social zone as being “fairly glamorous and attractive for people to stand and have a chat.”
“We're trying to continue what we’ve always done, albeit with smaller real estate to work with (compared to the A380).”
“(So) it won't be as big as the A380 of course, but there will be sort of convivial areas where people can go and gather, and pick up whatever they want to eat or drink,” he added, saying that the success of the Airbus A380's cocktail bar meant "social areas have now become a bit of a signature for us.”
Lufthansa Boeing 777X business class
Lufthansa has been more forthcoming with its plans for the Boeing 777-9 but also faced greater frustration, as the 777X was intended to be the launchpad for a radically new and long-overdue business class.
First revealed in 2018, when the German flag-carrier expected to collect the keys to its first 777-9 in 2020, there’s not just direct aisle access for every passenger – replacing the dated 2-2-2 of Lufthansa’s current but aged business class – but a series of ‘throne' seats in the middle of the cabin: the ultimate for solo flyers seeking more personal space and privacy.
(Lufthansa has also spoken of charging extra for those desirable throne seats, and bulkhead row seats that convert into an extra-long bed, as part of its ‘business plus’ push.)
With so much work already done on the seat, the Star Alliance member is expected to launch it on its first Airbus A350s in early 2023, along with a fresh take on first class for ten of the jets to be based at Munich.
But could the design have since been modified by seatmaker Thompson Aero to include privacy doors, or does Lufthansa feel the original product – with its angled seating and extended privacy ‘wings’ – will suffice?
Qatar Airways Boeing 777X business class
With Boeing 777X jets primed to replace its workhorse Boeing 777-300ERs and long-legged Boeing 777-200LRs, Qatar Airways intends to raise the bar for business class with a second-gen version of its Qsuite.
“We will have a new Qsuite that will go on the 777X,” airline CEO Akbar Al Baker has previously confirmed to Executive Traveller.
"It is a huge enhancement of the current Qsuite, because people now are all booking on QR because of the Qsuite, it's a brand that is now really known to everybody," adding that the drive to continue refining the product has to be done "because we are in a very competitive industry.”
The ‘Qsuite 2.0’ evolution is said to weigh substantially less – at least 20% lighter, and when it comes to fuel efficiency, every kilo saved and shaved helps – and Executive Traveller understands the height of the suites and their sliding privacy doors has also been slightly reduced from the current 135cm (53 inches) based on feedback from passengers.
But the biggest change will take place at the point end of the plane, where some 777-9s may sport a new first class cabin.
Al Baker described the 777-9’s proposed first class as a “very niche product” aimed at well-heeled Qatari travellers, which could be as small as “just four seats.”
“We have huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777X business class
While Singapore Airlines remains “in discussions” with Boeing over the 777-9’s delivery timetable, Executive Vice President Commercial, Lee Lik Hsin, says “we are very excited and waiting to unveil those brand new products to the world.”
In 2018 the carrier had “already begun to conceptualise on what product we should introduce in the 777-9, what they should be like,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong told Executive Traveller on the delivery flight of the airline's first Boeing 787-10, adding that for business class, a "quantum leap" was in store.
However, Executive Traveller understands that Singapore Airlines is taking advantage of the delay to see if there’s room for further improvement and refinement, based on still-emerging trends and technologies.
“We have signed off the basic design (of the seats),” Betty Wong, Singapore Airlines’ Divisional Vice President of Inflight Services and Design, told Executive Traveller in November 2021.
But she added the ongoing delay meant “we bought some time to review some designs, re-look at and double-check some things like technologies (and) to look at different materials before the final selection.”
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777X business class
Cathay Pacific faces one of the longest waits for the Boeing 777-9, albeit by its own choice.
Due to the economic impact of Covid-19 and Hong Kong’s extended border closure, Cathay Pacific Group Chairman Patrick Healy announced in October 2020 “the delivery of the 777-9 fleet has been postponed beyond 2025.”
With the Oneworld member’s 21 777-9s previously slated to arrive from 2021, the airline was “building (seat) models and testing different concepts, but we haven’t finalised it yet,” Cathay’s then-CEO Rupert Hogg told Executive Traveller in June 2018, adding “we spend a lot of time on product design and testing.”
At least one of those concepts swapped the familiar angled layout of its current Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 business class seat – based on a long-standing design from 2011 – for a forward-facing orientation.
And while the post-2025 delivery doesn’t mean that Cathay Pacific has gone back to the drawing board, Executive Traveller understands its 777-9 business class plans are getting a second look to ensure they’re “best in class.”
That’s no doubt helped by the involvement of London-based JPA Design, whose relationship with Cathay Pacific stretches back to the carrier’s 2011 business class and was also behind Cathay’s latest Airbus A321neo regional business class.
A page on JPA’s website lists one of the firm’s current and “Confidential” projects as “Cathay Pacific – Future aircraft cabins.”
Under the heading of “Creating the future of Cathay Pacific’s inflight experience” the page confirms “We have partnered with Cathay Pacific to design and develop their next generation of aircraft cabin interiors.”
British Airways Boeing 777X business class
In a quarterly results update last month, British Airways owner IAG revealed delivery of the carrier’s 18 firm orders for the 777-9 was now slated to begin in 2026.
BA has previously stated its 777-9s will be decked out with 325 seats across four cabins.
Although the airline’s Club Suites business class is a relatively recent arrival, having launched in 2019 and based on Collins Aerospace’ Elevation platform, British Airways could upgrade this to Elements, the successor to Elevation, which increases personal space and privacy.
A revised seat mechanism allows the seat to be positioned “closer to the back of the shell”, Collins Aerospace’ Alistair Mashford tells Executive Traveller.
“The bed now goes lower, we’ve raised the food tray so it’s more out of the way when you enter bed mode, everything lets us use the space more efficiently.”
The process of carving out more ‘living space’ also let Collins open up more room for your feet under the monitor, while airlines can specify that screen to a massive 21 inches.
A small lip wrapped over the top of the suite – a feature which Collins terms a ‘halo’ – adds a surprising degree of privacy for such a relatively minor finesse.
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Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards
24 Jan 2018
Total posts 605
23 Aug 2011
Total posts 67
Interesting article, but I am not quite sure what the big deal is about doors on the J class seats. We just flew back from Rome on QF and the J class seats were great. In fact the flight to and from Rome was superb.
24 Aug 2011
Total posts 1188
Yeah, I sort of don't get it myself. I assume it is purely a differentiating thing so the product is different. Whether the seat is objectively better or worse probably doesn't matter.
08 Oct 2011
Total posts 53
True. I flew MH A350-900 Business Suite seats back in 2019. I didn't close the door at all. Never found a need to even if all 4 seats in the cabin are full. However, I was the only passenger in Business Suite then.
Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards
06 Sep 2012
Total posts 225
Hope SIA and indeed all of the airlines introduce privacy sliding doors, or at least design the layout of the seats to be private so as to elevate the solo business class experience. Whilst not as spacious as the A380, the B777X cabin should be wide enough to allow such elements in the design.
03 May 2013
Total posts 663
The 777x is as real as 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs'. Judging by its current situation it's destined to remain but a fantasy of Boeing. I think the notion of an Airbus A380 Neo is more real than this dud.
Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club
01 Oct 2021
Total posts 13
Cathay if they are still around will not have First Class and they certainly will be flying a lot less slots than before. Cant see them ever getting close to what they were. GBA has been set up to grab a fleet of planes going cheap and at best CX will be a regional airline with everything else being run out of Shenzhen including cargo.
22 May 2020
Total posts 7
10 Dec 2018
Total posts 40
I've always found Emirates persistence in providing a "full immersion" experience of the aesthetic qualities of faux (plastic) wood in their Business Class to be rather less than "upmarket". With their move into PremEcon, it's good to see that the ocular pain is to be shared by a price point market that may be less ungrateful ... perhaps even "wowed".