Leading airlines reveal what’s new and next in first class

Business class continues to get better, but first class isn’t quite done for yet: here is what’s waiting in the wings...

By David Flynn, October 10 2023
Leading airlines reveal what’s new and next in first class

Business class continues to soar to new heights, with sliding doors becoming the norm and spacious ‘business plus’ suites ruling row 1, but this doesn’t mean the end of first class – not by a long shot.

It’s true that first class is being squeezed like never before as business class closes the gap.

That’s been the inevitable trajectory of business class since it debuted in the late 1970s (Qantas itself claims to have invented business class in 1979), moved to lie-flat beds in 2000 and over the next two decades saw direct-aisle access and sliding doors become the norm.

With another exciting generation of business class on the way, some airlines are opting out of first class altogether, among them American Airlines and Qatar Airways, while newcomer Riyadh Air says it’s forthcoming fleet will top out at business class.

Yet many other airlines are doubling down on the first class proposition with plush spacious suites designed to appeal to C-level executives and nigh net worth individuals who want the utmost in privacy and pampering on commercial flights.

Here’s a look at the next wave of first class suites on the horizon.

Japan Airlines A350 first class

Late November 2023 will see the new JAL Airbus A350-1000 take wing on the premium Tokyo-New York route, crowned by six first class havens – each of which contains two seats side by side, with one almost twice as wide as the other.

JAL's new A350 first class suite.
JAL's new A350 first class suite.

Japan Airlines says this provides “a choice of three seating modes: Sofa, Seat & Single Bed, or Double Bed,” depending on how each seat is deployed.

A concealed wardrobe lurks behind the door panel; there’s also under-seat bag stowage, as the first class cabin has no overhead luggage bins in order to “create a more open individual atmosphere.”

One unique touch are stereo noise-cancelling speakers built into the headrest, “allowing customers to enjoy the inflight entertainment system without using headphones.”

Air France first class

Up next will be Air France’s revision of its Boeing 777 La Premiere suite.

These next-gen La Premiere suites will be larger than their 777 counterparts but lean into the same residential “living space” feel, with what the SkyTeam member describes as “three modular configurations… a seat, a sofa and a fully flat bed.”

This concept sketch from an Air France presentation shows an airborne chaise lounge facing an armchair with a swing-up legrest: we expect the gaps between these two pieces of furniture will be closed to create one long wide bed, although the layout will also allow two first class flyers to share some time together over a meal.

Air France’s forthcoming A350 La Premiere first class suite.
Air France’s forthcoming A350 La Premiere first class suite.

It’s an organic evolution from Air France’s current 777 La Premiere suite (shown below) but with some surprises such as a larger footprint (stretching to five windows) and two video screens, one at either end of the suite.

Air France’s current 777 La Premiere first class suite.
Air France’s current 777 La Premiere first class suite.

Air France says the elegant curtains on the 777 La Premiere suite will be replaced by an actual sliding door or partition. 

Lufthansa A350 first class

Early 2024 will see the debut of Lufthansa’s A350 first class suites, which sit at the top end of the ‘Allegris’ product family, which also includes a next-gen business class line.

(A modified version of these suites will later make their way onto the Boeing 747-8 jumbo jets and potentially the Airbus A380 as these older jets head into the hangar for a multi-million Euro make-over.)

Lufthansa's new A350 Allegris first class.
Lufthansa's new A350 Allegris first class.

The Lufthansa A350s will sport three fully private first class suites, with the middle one being a twin-berth ‘Suite Plus’ which converts into a 1.4m-wide double bed so paired-up travellers can create an in-flight experience closer to a private room above the clouds.

The middle suite in Lufthansa's new A350 Allegris first class.
The middle suite in Lufthansa's new A350 Allegris first class.

Another innovation is in-seat heating and cooling, while a personal wardrobe will allow travellers to “remain in their suite as they prepare for sleep and change into Lufthansa First Class pajamas,” the airline says.

Read more: Take a detailed tour of Lufthansa’s new A350 first class suites

Air India first class

Air India is setting out on an ambitious transformation which will include the launch of doored business class suites from early 2024, with private first class suites to follow in the second half of the year.

Inside the airline's refurbished Boeing 777-330ER First Class cabin.
Inside the airline's refurbished Boeing 777-330ER First Class cabin.

Initially slated as an upgrade on its long-range Boeing 777 jets, the suites could also appear on a batch of factory-fresh Airbus A350s.

First class features a lie-flat bed, large touchscreen TV and wireless charging.
First class features a lie-flat bed, large touchscreen TV and wireless charging.

These first and business class suites spearhead Air India’ Project Vihaan – named for the Sanskrit word for dawn – with airline CEO Campbell Wilson going all-out with the “ambition to make Air India a world class airline serving guests from around the globe.”

Swiss A350 first class

Lufthansa’s Allegris first class suites will make their way across to the Airbus A350s of sibling Swiss in 2025, as five of the modern jetliners replace the ageing Airbus A340-300s.

Swiss' new first class.
Swiss' new first class.

However, Swiss will redress these suites to reflect its own brand identity using muted tones such as claret and anthracite plus touches of light wood.

Swiss' new first class.
Swiss' new first class.

Like Lufthansa’s new first class, the Swiss A350s will have a three-across layout with an extra-wide middle suite (117cm wide, compared to 77cm) intended for two travellers to share.

Emirates 777-9 first class

While Boeing and Emirates have yet to name the date, current thinking is that sometime in 2025, Emirates President Tim Clark will be handed the keys to the Gulf carrier’s first Boeing 777-9 out of a staggering order for 115 jets (which will in turn enable the retirement of Emirates’ A380s to begin in early 2032).

However, it’s expected Emirates will stick with its current and highly-regarded 777 first class suite for the -9s, although nobody can rule out a few finesses in the finished product.

Expect to see Emirates' 777-300ER first class carried over to the 777-9.
Expect to see Emirates' 777-300ER first class carried over to the 777-9.

Qantas A350 first class

Late 2025 will mark a milestone for Qantas and arguably international travel with the delivery of the first ‘ultra long range’ A350-1000 jets for non-stop ‘Project Sunrise’ flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.

And during those 18-21 marathons, the highest of high flyers will be cocooned in one of six private suites with a warm residential room-like vibe.

Inside Qantas' A350 first class suite.
Inside Qantas' A350 first class suite.

These top-tier sanctuaries boast a separate armchair and bed, rather than a seat which converts into a bed – a situation which designer David Caon says demands compromises in both modes – with a personal wardrobe built into the wall panelling and a 32” HD video screen.

A personal wardrobe and shared dining feature in Qantas' A350 first class.
A personal wardrobe and shared dining feature in Qantas' A350 first class.

A padded ottoman facing the armchair enables companion dining across an extraordinary large bi-fold table.

Caon tells Executive Traveller that in the interest of making these suites feel even more spacious, the A350 first class cabin won’t have any overhead luggage bins: instead, there’s space beneath the ottoman for two standard-sized cabin bags placed side by side.

Inside Qantas' A350 first class suite.
Inside Qantas' A350 first class suite.

Read more: Take a detailed tour of Qantas’ A350 Project Sunrise first class 

Cathay Pacific 777-9 first class

The tail end of 2025 should also see the arrival of Cathay Pacific’s first Boeing 777-9, the long-delayed latest member of the 777 family.

And it’ll include a bold new Cathay first class suite – reportedly marketed as the Halo suite – to complement the already-revealed ‘Aria’ business class suites.

“Our new first class, which we expect to be a world-leading one, will be coming on our 777-9 fleet (and) the first one will be delivered in 2025,” confirmed Chief Customer & Commercial Officer Lavinia Lau at an analyst briefing following the release of Cathay’s 2023 financial results earlier this month.

Cathay exec Lavinia Lau promises a world-leading first class for the 777-9.
Cathay exec Lavinia Lau promises a world-leading first class for the 777-9.

But beyond that, Cathay is playing its cards very close to its chest.

Given the doored Aria business class suites, there’s no doubt Cathay’s 777X first class suites will not only come with doors but higher walls, probably to the extent of being as ‘fully private’ as Hong Kong’s airline safety regulations permit.

Executive Traveller expects Cathay will retain the six-berth layout of its current 777 first class cabin, with two rows of three spacious suites.

British Airways A380 first class

British Airways has already confirmed its Airbus A380s will receive an all-new first class cabin at the same time as the superjumbos are upgraded with the airline’s current Club Suites business class.

Approached by Executive Traveller, British Airways declined to comment but noted the airline is always looking towards the next iteration of any seat or suite.

BA's latest first class added a door to the Boeing 787 First suite.
BA's latest first class added a door to the Boeing 787 First suite.

However, the latest round of rumours suggest BA will relocate first class from the main deck to the upper deck, with the rest of that deck being given over to business class.

It’s also suggested this upstairs first class cabin would be reduced to six suites in a 1-1-1 configuration – similar to the latest layouts adopted by JAL, Lufthansa and Qantas – and with a Qantas-like combo of a separate armchair and bed, with potentially an over-sized suite for two in the middle.

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 74

Currently, its hard to go past Singapore Air's Suite Class. Everything about Singair is wonderful although, I have noticed even they have eased back on a few small things since Covid. There some new options that look like they might be ok but only one or two we'd get to see from Australia so, its still Singapore for me.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 967

If I was a designer I would be making sure there is an option for twin berth in first class and also business class.

Which is what Lufthansa has done, the middle suite in Allegris First is a twin-berth and also selected middles in the new Alegris Business are twin-berths or as close as you can get without going the full Qsuite route. But designers also have to be realistic when it comes to space and revenue.

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 74

I'm not a big fan of the twin berth, tried that one on the old singair and it just didn't cut it for us. The new version wasn't to bad but would still rather be seperate.

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 6

I'd rather see ground services improved for first class. The in-flight portions are by and large wonderful in all of them. Funny EK was missing from this list, they're the only ones offering a shower and large bathroom suite - something I rather cherish. What really would set an airline's first class apart is if they offered private security screening and boarding at all serviced airports. Lufthansa does that in Frankfurt. And at some other airports you can buy that service from "VIP" agents.  But nobody seems to offer that on their entire network (or at all large destinations).

23 Sep 2023

Total posts 7

Just looked up VIP agents.  Hadn't occurred to me that such a service existed.

Thanks so much!

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 6

Just before COVID locked us down I was contemplating joining one of those services for my US travel - they're about US$4k pa to join - can't remember their name though. They have a private terminal at LAX with private security and drive you to the airplane. Not much US travel for me now so have given this a miss. Nobody seems to offer this on a truly global scale unless you travel by PJ everywhere. Alas, Netjets asked $250k for SYD-GVA in a GLEX, one way.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2539

Hi Doktor – Emirates was left out of the original article because the airline isn't planning a new first class for the 777-9s, it will instead rely on the current 777-300ER design (although business class may well change in ways small or large). However, for the sake of completeness we've added Emirates into the article now.

QFF

31 Mar 2015

Total posts 9

It's nice to see that there will still be aspirational travel. Getting there is half the journey and it's always better to do it in style.

20 Jan 2017

Total posts 6

Agree with Truie re SQ . Suite is great but 2 problems for me. Seat is rocky and privacy a bit of an issue at meal times as you look directly into opposite suite unless door closed which isnt always the case during meals. Also no prospect of dual dining if you have 1A and 2 A despite them opening up to a double bed

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jul 2017

Total posts 30

I agree with Doktor, no mention of EK. As he mentions their Suites are excellent, service great and much room to move around on the A380 and rear bar for socialising if necessary. And of course the shower after a lengthy flight to Aus. The discussion provided by ET went to great lengths to show details of Q proposed first class but little details on offering from other airlines. After all the issues we travellers have experienced with Q who wants to fly with them again.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2539

Hi DAREng – Emirates was left out of the original article because the airline isn't planning a new first class for the 777-9s, it will instead rely on the current 777-300ER design (although business class may well change in ways small or large), so this really didn't fit the 'new first class' approach. However, for the sake of completeness we've added Emirates into the article now. As for showing details of new first class designs, we show as much info as we can, but at the timer of writing  only Qantas and Lufthansa have fully revealed their new first class suites and we've attended the launch of both, and the article has links to both those detailed reports. 


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