The steady evolution of business class has made lie-flat beds and direct aisle access a must-have when you're flying on long range twin-aisle jets such as the Boeing 777 and 787 or the Airbus A350 and A380.
But most flights take place on smaller single-aisle jets, where airlines have generally settled for a more modest business class offering.
Forecasts by both Airbus and Boeing indicate that three out of four new jets sold over the coming two decades will be short-to medium-range single-aisle jets, such as the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX families – with the Asia-Pacific region driving much of the market's growth.
This also means there's plenty of room for competition, which is always good news for business travellers. Here are what four airlines are planning for the next generation of single-aisle business class this year.
Starlux: the challenger
Taiwanese start-up Starlux Airlines intends to carve out a slice of the market dominated by China Airlines and EVA Air when it begins flights from Taipei to Macau, Penang and Da Nang from January 23, 2020, with a dozen more routes around Asia to follow.
Starlux describes itself as a "detail-oriented luxury airline", and its premium cabins confidently play the part of an airline looking to not only survive but thrive.
Each of Starlux's ten Airbus A321neo jets sports eight fully lie-flat business class seats, compared to the more conventional seats of China Airlines' Boeing 737s and EVA Air's Airbus A321s.
The seats – which measure 20.2 inches (51.3cm) wide and convert into an 82 inch (208cm) bed – are a highly-stylised version of the Collins Diamond model from BMW Designworks, in an elegant palette of with dark gray and touches of rose gold, while the seat shells are adorned with BMW’s exclusive 'A72 Cashmere Silver' colour for a high-tech touch.
Premium passengers are treated to a 15.6-inch HD video screen and free unlimited 'basic' WiFi, with the option to purchase a faster connection if needed.
Other top-end touches extend from sharp designer uniforms to an exclusive brand fragrance "with notes of various woods and leather as well as the aromas of iris and violets" which will be encountered in the cabin, in washrooms, in hot towels handed out to business class passengers and at the airline’s ticketing counters and lounges.
(If all goes according to plan, Starlux will take delivery of 17 Airbus A350s from late 2021 to open routes to North America and Europe.)
Qatar Airways: privacy is paramount
Qatar Airways will launch a new business class seat on its forthcoming Airbus A321neo jets, with the first of 40 slated for delivery in the coming months, and the ten longer-range Airbus A321LRs fleet to follow from late 2020.
"There will be lots of privacy," Qatar Airways CEO, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, says of the top-secret seat, although it's not expected to be as bespoke a product as the highly-regarded Qsuite.
Al Baker's qualification that the A321s will launch with "a seat model that’s not in (the) Qatar Airways fleet" hints at existing yet sure-to-be-highly-customised design, although one which will certainly be picked from the most premium single-aisle product offered by any seat manufacturer.
True to Qatar Airways' form, travellers should expect to see a heavily customised seat with high quality fittings and finish plus plenty of small yet thoughtful touches when it comes to personal space, comfort and convenience.
Cathay Pacific: evolution, not revolution
The first half of 2020 will also see the debut of Cathay Pacific's Airbus A321neo – to be flown by its regional sibling Cathay Dragon – and a new regional business class seat.
However, the Oneworld member airline is not expected to radically depart from the same 'premium economy-like' design as its current regional business class, which began flying in January 2013 and borrowed some elements from an angled lie-flat or ‘sloping sleeper’ seat to weave them into the more conventional form of a recliner.
“I think it will be most likely reclinable because it is a narrow-body aircraft,” tips Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Customer Experience & Design. “Basically we're still seeing the majority of the flights are below two hours, stretched to four and at most six" – flight durations which Lo suggests do not require the lie-flat luxury of a business class bed.
The A321neo fleet will see Cathay Dragon retire its ageing A320 jets, with both a larger passenger capacity to cater for popular destinations such as Beijing and Shanghai, and a longer range to extend the network's reach.
Singapore Airlines: going flat-out
The back half of 2020 should see Singapore Airlines' regional arm SilkAir begin flying an upgraded Boeing 737 business class, relying on lie-flat seats in Thompson Aero's popular Vantage design. While the staggered cabin layout will lack direct aisle access for every passenger, it will offer a handful of 'throne' seats certain to prove popular with solo flyers.
The seats were set to debut on SilkAir's Boeing 737 MAX fleet, but could first appear as a retrofit to its Boeing 737-800 jets given the issues associated with the still-grounded MAX aircraft.
At some stage during this rollout SilkAir will be folded into the superbrand of parent Singapore Airlines, adopting SQ's iconic colours and Kris logo and complementing the Star Alliance member's push to offer business class flat-beds on every route, from the shortest hop to the long-haul.
Combined with the arrival of more Airbus A350s and Boeing 787-10s for Singapore Airlines' medium- and long-range fleet, and the retirement of older Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets with 'sloping sleepers' in business class, “we’ll have lie-fiat business class even on the shortest flights, even on the narrow-bodies” declares Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong.