Boeing's 777X is a next-generation jet that will fly into here-and-now challenges.
Combining the best attributes of the familiar and long-running Boeing 777-200 and -300 family with the high-tech advantages of the 787 Dreamliner's clean-sheet design, the big twin-engine plane might prove too big for airlines to fill in the immediate wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indeed, many airlines that have signed on the dotted line for the 777X are now in discussions with Boeing to delay delivery of the jets and in some cases to reduce the size of their order.
All the same, when Boeing begins handing over the first member of the 777X series to airlines in 2021 – dubbed the 777-9 – it'll usher in a new wave of business class from some of the world's leading airlines. Here's what we can look forward to.
Boeing's 777X concept business class
Let's kick off with one thing that many business travellers hope they won't see: a Boeing-created concept which brings back the middle seat.
This mock-up takes full advantage of the cabin space inside the 777X – marginally wider than the original 777 family, in which airlines like Emirates were already squeezing an extra seat into the centre of the business class cabin.
However, this middle seat still has direct access to the aisle: passengers just need to weave around in front of an adjacent seat, but without stepping over their neighbour.
Boeing's sales pitch is that this highlights how the 777X can "offer a 7-abreast business class cabin while still meeting modern day expectations of privacy and a full lie-flat seat."
And it's not unheard of: Collins Aerospace already offers its Apex Suite in a 2-3-2 version, as seen on Japan Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER jets (shown below).
Emirates Boeing 777-9 business class
What we'll see: "There will be a new business class seat, which is basically the same as we have on the A380," Emirates President Sir Tim Clark has previously said, designed in a 1-2-1 layout and with the airline's signature at-seat minibar.
Clark has previously confirmed that the upgraded Boeing 777X business class seat would “resemble what we have on the Airbus A380s upstairs."
However, the look will be closer to that of the latest business class seats of the Boeing 777, with Clark previously telling Executive Traveller that those seats will serve as a “test for the new interior design of Emirates”, and that “the same colour scheme will be on the 777X."
There'll also be a small but upscale social area, which Clark told Executive Traveller would become a standard feature across Emirates' Boeing 777X, Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 fleets.
Clark described the new social zone as being “fairly glamorous and attractive for people to stand and have a chat."
“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."
It will also be an evolution of the social space on the airline’s refitted Boeing 777-200LR fleet, which places self-serve snack and drink counters in the centre of the cabin.
Clark says the space will be an “embellishment” of the Boeing 777-200LR treatment, and be "slightly better located" – hinting that it could be positioned at the very end of the business class cabin rather somewhere in the middle of the cabin, which proves disruptive for passengers seated nearby.
What else we'll see: An Emirates spokeswoman has confirmed to Executive Traveller that the pointy end of the 777X will see a small first class cabin using the same fully-enclosed design as the latest Boeing 777-300ERs. This will include suites in the middle which boast 'virtual windows' with signals fed by video cameras showing an external view from the aircraft.
Further back, behind business class and sitting in its own cabin, will be Emirates' all-new premium economy 'sleeperette' seat, the launch of which has been pushed back from late 2020.
Clark has previously told Executive Traveller that the seat chosen by the airline will fully cradle the legs and feet, coupled with a 10-inch recline and around 38 inches of pitch (up to 6 inches more than economy), with a seat count "more likely around the high 20s, 26-28 seats."
Lufthansa Boeing 777-9 business class
What we'll see: Lufthansa's Boeing 777-9 business class will finally provide direct aisle access for every passenger – something that's long been lacking while competitors leap-frogged the German flag-carrier.
There'll be no more awkwardly stepping over your sleeping seatmate – or having them clamber across you, if you're next to the aisle.
Lufthansa has also opted for a unique seating layout which alternates between rows of 1-2-1 and 1-1-1, so that every second row provides a centre 'throne' seat – the ultimate for solo flyers seeking more space and more privacy.
But you can expect to pay more for that privilege, as Lufthansa moves towards a 'tailored' model where passengers will pay a base fare for the core business class experience – lounge access, seat and meals – with an extra charge levied on the throne, or those seats which convert into the longest bed (up to 2.2m at some prized locations).
“It's not just one business class anymore," Lufthansa exec Harry Hohmeister tells Executive Traveller. "Within the (Boeing 777X) business class cabin, you can upgrade yourself to an even better product than just standard business class… it’s a real jump forward in terms of convenience, and in terms of product selection... it's not unbundling, it's upgrading.”
Most of Lufthansa's Boeing 777X seats will also be staggered rather than all forward-facing. The window seats alternate between being located at the aisle – with a bench between the passenger and the window – and having passengers directly next to the window, with a bench between their seat and the aisle. You can see both treatments in the mockup below.
What's not immediately clear from this image is that the window-adjacent seats are angled towards the window so you can enjoy the view while enjoying more privacy; the aisle-adjacent seats are a little bit more more open, and face into the cabin.
While the paired middle seats are angled away from one another, a privacy screen between the seats can be lowered for some travelling tête-à-tête, although you'll still need to swivel towards your companion.
Each passenger should see at least 10% more space than in Lufthansa's current business class seat, along with "significantly more storage compartments and shelves".
The console next to each seat will include an inbuilt wireless charging pad for the latest smartphones, smartwatches and other accessories, while a removable tablet docked into the wall of each seat will provide control over everything from the inflight entertainment and seating position to lighting and ventilation.
Lufthansa began work on its next-generation seat over five years ago, shortly after the current business class seat debuted. A very long list was whittled down to a shortlist of five candidates which went through the gamut of everything from 3D visualisations to wooden mockups before Lufthansa settled on the new design.
Invitation-only workshops made of Lufthansa's Miles & More frequent flyer members "that reflected the full spectrum of passengers in terms of weight, physique and demand" tested the seat at a nondescript warehouse near Frankfurt Airport, while airline CEO Carsten Spohr has also bunked down in the business class bed for several nights.
This seat won't be limited to Lufthansa's Boeing 777-9 jets – it will also take pride of place in the premium cabins of sister airlines Swiss and Austrian, although slightly customised to suit each airline's unique branding.
What else we'll see: Expect a second generation of Lufthansa's premium economy seat, which popped up during an airline presentation to investors to show a more streamlined concept for a cabin which Lufthansa rates as its most productive on a 'revenue per square metre' base (sitting at 6% higher than the more spacious business class cabin).
First indications are that Lufthansa's Boeing 777X premium economy seat will come with a larger video screen and a larger storage nook below that upsized display, and more privacy between the aisle passenger and the aisle itself.
There's also speculation that some Lufthansa Boeing 777X jets could have a more spacious front row at the bulkhead to create a premium 'business plus' or 'business first' seating category, rather than a dedicated first class cabin.
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-9 business class
What we'll see: Of all the airlines in the first wave of Boeing 777X deliveries, Cathay Pacific is perhaps attracting the greatest interest.
The Oneworld member's current business class seat is based on a design from 2011 – so, one decade on, is it time for another evolution or more of a revolution of Cathay's flagship business class experience?
While the airline is known to have been in 'deep evaluation' of several concepts – including at least one which swapped the classic and popular angled layout for a staggered forward-facing seat orientation – nothing of substance has surfaced.
What else we'll see: Cathay's Boeing 777-9 jets will be crowned by an all-new first class cabin. As with business class, the airline's current first class is a survivor: it debuted on the Boeing 777-300ER in 2007 and has since undergone two updates of the physical or 'hard' product – once in 2013, another in 2017 – with a 'soft product' refresh from late 2019.
In shaping a new first class for a new decade, Cathay Pacific has worked through mock-ups of high-walled private cribs as well as the more open design of the current first class suites – but again, the airline has managed to keep its hand well-guarded.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-9 business class
What we'll see: Singapore Airlines is taking a next-generation approach to its Boeing 777-9 business class, with a number of top-tier frequent flyers having already examined the proposed seat after signing non-disclosure agreements.
Speaking to Executive Traveller ahead of the delivery flight of the airline's first Boeing 787-10 in 2018, airline CEO Goh Choon Phong would say only that a "quantum leap" is in store.
Goh said the airline's "product innovation team has already begun to conceptualise on what product we should introduce in the 777-9, what they should be like. We will of course be going out to our customers to get better ideas about what they really want in the next quantum leap of our product."
What else we'll see: New first class suite concepts have also been workshopped, and Executive Traveller understands that sliding privacy doors are on the menu.
Again, airline CEO Goh has promised "it will be a first class that we believe when we launch (it) will again set industry standards."
Singapore Airlines' most recent Boeing 777 first class suites, designed in conjunction with BMW Group DesignWorksUSA and built around a fixed-back shell with curved side panels, will be a decade old by the time Singapore Airlines begins flying the 777-9.
Qatar Airways Boeing 777-9 business class
What we'll see: Qatar Airways' Qsuite business class has won plenty of praise, and the airline's Boeing 777-9s won't change that winning formula. However, they're expected to feature the 'Qsuite 2.0' evolution which was also slated for the Gulf carrier's Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners.
That sweeter suite was due to be revealed on opening day of the ITB Berlin travel trade show on March 4, 2020, before the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic saw the travel expo cancelled.
At first glance the new Qsuite appears little different to its predecessor, although it weighs substantially less: it's believed to be at least 20% lighter, and when it comes to fuel efficiency, every kilo saved and shaved helps.
Executive Traveller understands that 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.
What else we'll see: Some of Qatar's Boeing 777-9s may also sport a first class cabin, although airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker has told Executive Traveller this could be as small as "just four seats" and appear on “just a handful” of the jets, which in turn would feature on only a few premium-heavy European routes such as London and Paris.