This new seat puts a fresh slant on single-aisle business class

Factorydesign’s unique Access concept delivers direct aisle access for Boeing 737, Airbus A320 business class.

By David Flynn, January 18 2022
This new seat puts a fresh slant on single-aisle business class

Single-aisle jets like the Airbus A320neo family and Boeing 737 MAX are carving out a larger piece of the sky, especially for medium-range flights to a range of destinations where the economics are more favourable than larger twin-aisle jets like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

But airlines are facing a challenge at the pointy end of the plane. On the one hand, those high-paying passengers expect a comfortable and suitably premium travel experience.

While the benchmark has become a lie-flat bed with direct aisle access – such as seen in JetBlue’s Airbus A321LR Mint business class below – that’s certainly not needed by every airline or on every route.

JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint business class.
JetBlue's new Airbus A321LR Mint business class.

And with just one seat either side of the aisle, it also limits the number of business class seats, and in turn caps the number of high-revenue generating passengers.

The only way to increase the number of lie-flat seats is to remove direct aisle access for some passengers – an approach followed by Singapore Airlines, among others, with its new Boeing 737 MAX business class.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.

Passengers in only six of the ten business class seats enjoy direct access to the aisle...

Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.

... and even then, four of those face the hassle of having the passenger in the adjacent window seat squeezing past and stepping over them to get in or out of their own seat.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.

Not all airlines go down the flatbed path: Cathay Pacific has long favoured recliners ranked in rows of 2-2 for the business class of its regional Airbus fleet, which also means foregoing direct aisle access so as to fit more passengers up front.

Cathay Pacific's new A321neo regional business class seats.
Cathay Pacific's new A321neo regional business class seats.

Given that not all single-aisle jets will be making overnight flights – for many airlines, it’s six hours at a stretch – is there a way to deliver the convenience of direct aisle access for every passenger while using business class recliners to boost the seat count rather than sacrificing precious premium real estate?

According to London-based Factorydesign, the answer is Access – its new aptly-named business class concept, which adopts a unique ‘fan’ layout for its two-abreast seating to provide direct aisle access for every passenger.

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

Factorydesign – which drove the creation of Thompson Aero’s popular Vantage seat family (featured in the earlier JetBlue and Singapore Airlines photos) as well as developing business class cabins for airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Delta and SAS – says its work on Access was “prompted by the potential commercial benefits of long-range narrow-body aircraft.”

“There is a strong opinion in the industry that long-haul single aisle aircraft will be a significant growth area,” the company explains.

“There is also increasing interest in these aircraft in response to the impact of the pandemic, due to the increased flexibility and route efficiency they can offer. So we believe the single aisle aircraft market will grow significantly in the coming years.”

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

In an Access business class cabin, the seats on either side of the centre aisle fan out into something of a wedge shape, and are not only staggered but physically separated so that passengers in the window seat can sidle into the space between the paired seats and then step straight into the aisle.

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

Access seats recline into what’s called a “lazy-Z” – a relaxed shape somewhat closer to a beach chair – rather than a flat bed.

In this way, Factorydesign says Access “bridges the gap between a standard 2-2 configuration and lie-flat bed products.”

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

Importantly, these fixed-back seats also recline into their own space or shell, so there’s no intrusion on the passenger behind.

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

Seats located directly next to the aisle have the added benefit of a privacy screen.

Factorydesign's Access business class concept.
Factorydesign's Access business class concept.

For added flexibility, Factorydesign says the space between the Access seats “could be closed off to provide additional console space for couples travelling together.”

Factorydesign reasons that Access can help airlines maximise “the potential commercial benefits of long-range narrow-body aircraft” with an estimated 25% boost in seating capacity over lie-flat 1-1 seating.

As previously reported, Factorydesign is also championing the concept of turning the front row of business class into a ‘business plus’ experience boasting more room, greater personal and working space and even a chilled mini-bar.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1087

That looks interesting and seems to attempt to chart a midpoint between the classic recliner and a lie-flat.  

With the aisle seats so angled so far from the midpoint, there will need to be a special seat belt arrangement.  You may remember VA had some issues with the higher angle they set their J seats on 77W  compared with the A332 requiring rework as to how the belts worked.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 686

While we have been used to lap-only safety belts, the use of lap-sash seat belts has begun appearing in certain carrier's Business / First cabins. This particular seat would be an ideal candidate for a lap-sash belt. It could even offer the ability to be installed as (right-to-left anchor) on one side of the aircraft and (left-to-right anchor) on the opposite.

As you suggest, it is a mid-point between a classic recliner and a lie-flat, which may be ideal for trans-continentals between Australia's east and west coast Ie: shorter than 6 hours. The answer would depend on the acceptance of a midpoint 'lazy Z' as opposed to a dedicated lie-flat. 

I could see a 'lazy Z' being ideal for routes such as [SYD/MEL/ADL] to CNS or TVS, but it is the more dependable [BNE/SYD/MEL] to PER / DRW (or possibly Broome) that will determine what J passenger require or prefer.

Now, on longer international ie: flights to Bali, Denpasar, Dili etc, it might be different again, depending on carrier.

22 May 2011

Total posts 73

Definitely interesting - but does that mean width of the seat becomes narrower?  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Aug 2011

Total posts 168

Not sure about this.  The aisle seats mean that TWO passengers (the one beside you and the one in front) squeeze past on both sides, so that's not so appealling, plus the window seat has clearly more side space than the aisle seat.  The window seat also has the aisle passenger curved round pointing a little towards you, which seems less private than being side by side. 

06 Feb 2021

Total posts 46

Agree, these seats do not appear to be anything like equal, the window seat looks far more spacious than the isle one.  Almost looks like a business class window seat and a " jump" seat beside it for the PA.   

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 686

Ian, in my opinion - I think that it is more of an optical illusion within the photograph. 

I'd agree that the aisle seats in the photograph initially do appear smaller, but if you look at the drafting geometrics drawing, both seats are basically equal. 

While the window seat 'looks' marginally wider on the right hand (window adjacent side), we don't get to see a clear view of the aisle seat left-hand side, which has the wider, multi-level shelf space / the higher thin shelf - because it is attached to the privacy wall. I had to look at it for quite a while to see any actual difference.

The difference I spotted was the tray area under the video screen for the aisle seat seems marginally larger for the aisle seat, although once again, this could be an optical illusion due to the fact that we can't see all of the space for that on the window seat.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 138

Great to see a fresh and interesting design. Though I think the privacy screen is on the wrong seat. Those aisle seats are angled so far toward the window that you can't possibly see into or out towards another seat. The privacy screen would have been better on the window seats as the aisle and window seats are angled toward each other.

23 Mar 2020

Total posts 2

The aisle seat passenger wont get kicked by the passenger behind but it may be annoyed by window seat passenger walking pass by holding aisle seat back.  

24 Apr 2018

Total posts 9

I like it a lot. Something different, and in the airline business something different can get you noticed. At least outside the Australian duopoly. 

If the choice is std 2x2 recliner or this on a 6 hour ride anywhere- it'd be this everytime. At least no one is stepping OVER you, and indeed if you are sat at the window, no need for leaping over the person next to you. In Europe the usual airlines would have a heart attack if they thought they needed to pay for this instead of a regular economy seat.

Overnight though? Not so much, though it would be a very good PE....

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 78

This would be ideal for AC's cross-Canada flights that aren't in the 787s or 777s that continue, or come from, Asia/Australia. There's a *huge* difference between the long-haul lie-flat beds and the crummy 2-2 seats in their 320/321s.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1437

Interesting to see what an A321XLR much longer flights has. I suspect a 2-1 lie flat arrangement or 2-2 lie flat staggered arrangement. Either way there will be some stepping over.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 117

OK for daylight flights, but no good for overnighters - which will become more and more common with the increased range of new narrowbodies. For these, full flat seats are required.

It looks to me with the angles that you are going to end up spending the whole flight staring at each other.  Having BA J class flashbacks...


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