With the first flight of the Boeing 777X family now done, the countdown clock continues to tick towards delivery of the jet to the first tranche of carriers and, in many cases, the rollout of all-new first class suites and business class seats.
Singapore Airlines is a case in point, with the globe-striding Star Alliance member readying a new generation of premium pews almost a decade after the launch of its current Boeing 777 first class and business class.
Those seats won't take wing until 2022, when Singapore Airlines picks up the keys to the first of 20 long-range Boeing 777-9 jets, but CEO Goh Choon Phong has already promised a "quantum leap" is in store.
Speaking to Executive Traveller ahead of the delivery flight of the airline's first Boeing 787-10 in 2018, 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."
Singapore Airlines has built a solid reputation for first class, although more so on the Airbus A380, which launched in 2007 with cosy private suites which were upsized into more spacious rooms in 2017.
Its latest 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 almost a decade old by the time Singapore Airlines begins flying the 777-9.
But Goh wants to raise the bar, saying "It will be a first class that we believe when we launch (it) will again set industry standards."
The business class seats of the Boeing 777 have since been revised and refined for the Star Alliance member's long-range Airbus A350 fleet, and it remains to be seen what direction Singapore Airlines moves in for the 777-9 – and if some form of privacy doors might be part of the design.
Singapore Airlines' Boeing 777-9 fleet will primarily serve as replacements for the 777-300ERs.
Cathay Pacific also plans new Boeing 777X suites and seats
Cathay Pacific will likewise use the arrival of the Boeing 777-9 – the first delivery is now slated for 2021 – to roll out new first class and business class. When Executive Traveller last reported on Cathay's plans for its new flagship, then-CEO Rupert Hogg confirmed that high-walled cribs and the more open design of the current Boeing 777 first class suites were both under consideration.
“That’s the debate right now," Hogg said. “We’re building models and testing different concepts... we spend a lot of time on product design and testing.”
The size of the first class cabin was also being considered. Cathay's Boeing 777-300ERs have just six suites, but the changing travel market could see this stay the same, reduced to four or expanded to as many as eight – decisions which rest on projected demand for the primo cabin through until the end of the decade, and then some.
Cathay Pacific's current Boeing 777-300ER first class debuted 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.
Similarly, the Boeing 777-9 affords Cathay Pacific the opportunity to roll out a completely new business class seat or further evolve its latest seat, which arrived in 2011 and has since been refined for the Airbus A350-900 and A350-1000 – although the airline may think twice about abandoning the familiar angled layout which has become so popular with its travellers.
Lufthansa's new Boeing 777X business class
Lufthansa is perhaps most eager for the delivery of its Boeing 777-9s, as the delay has pushed back the launch of a long-awaited business class which will finally provide direct aisle access for every passenger: no more awkwardly stepping over your sleeping seatmate – or having them clamber across you, if you're next to the aisle.
The layout alternates between rows of 1-2-1 and 1-1-1, so that every second row provides a centre 'throne' seat.
For Lufthansa, however, the 777-9 is about more than just new seats – it will also represent a new way to sell those seats, adopting what the German carrier terms "tailored needs-based airfare bundles" and a bespoke 'Business Class Plus' offering.
“It's not just one business class anymore," Lufthansa exec Harry Hohmeister told Executive Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM in Seoul in mid-2019.
“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.”
This approach would see an extra charge levied on seats that have more favourable aspects such as added privacy, longer beds – being up to 220cm (7’ 3”) at some prized locations – or extra working and bench space, such as those ‘throne’ seats.
Emirates' Boeing 777X first, business class
But not all airlines which will fly the Boeing 777X have all-new seats in their sights.
Launch customer Emirates will standardise its new Boeing 777-9 and 777-8 business class around that of its flagship Airbus A380s,
That seat adopts a now-standard 1-2-1 layout to ensure that every passenger has direct access to the aisle, compared to the 2-2-2 and often 2-3-2 configuration in Emirates' current Boeing 777 business class fleet.
As expected, the pointy end of Emirates' Boeing 777-9s will have six "fully-enclosed" first class suites, using the same design as on the latest Boeing 777-300ERs – including two suites in the middle of the floor boasting 'virtual windows' with signals fed by video cameras showing an external view from the aircraft.
There'll also be a social zone – albeit not an A380-style cocktail bar – "for people to stand and have a chat,” Emirates President Sir Tim Clark tells Executive Traveller. "There will be sort of convivial areas where people can go and gather, and pick up whatever they want to eat or drink."
“Social areas have now become a bit of a signature for us. We're trying to continue what we've always done (on the A380), albeit with smaller real estate to work with. But there'll be something.”