Asian startup Starlux Airlines will take delivery of the first of 18 Airbus A350-900 and A350-1000 jets from the end of 2021, with plans to spread its wings across Asia and North America.
The Taipei-based carrier has already declared that all its A350s will include first class as well as business class.
While first class is a rarity on the Airbus A350, the move is in keeping with Starlux' promise of being a luxury airline and its intention to out-gun rivals China Airlines and EVA Air.
Even on the large Airbus A350-1000, there's likely to be little room for the type of private suites which come to mind when travellers think of a modern first class experience.
Starlux could, instead, be aiming at more of a 'business plus' option with enhanced privacy and personal space than its standard A350 business class seats.
An application filed by Starlux with the US Department of Transport for proposed flights between Taipei and Los Angeles from 2022 indicates that its A350-900 will have 306 seats.
That's a relatively high headcount compared to other airlines flying the A350-900.
For example, Singapore Airlines’ A350-900s have 253 seats across business, premium economy and economy, while Qatar Airways’ A350-900s manage 283 seats across just two classes of business and economy.
Delta Air Lines' A350-900s have the same 306 seat count as Starlux and that's with business class, premium economy and economy.
Assuming that Starlux opts to include at least a handful of premium economy rows in the mix – again, to help compete against China Airlines and EVA Air – and settles on a standard 31-32" pitch in economy, it could be facing a bit of a squeeze for space at the pointy end of the A350.
'Front row first class'
One solution for this is a concept invariably dubbed as 'business plus' or 'front row first class'.
This transforms the normal attributes of the front row in a cabin – where business class seats facing the bulkhead wall already tend to have extra legroom – into a set of seats which are that much better than the rest of business class.
It's the approach adopted by China Eastern for the "Air Living Room" of its Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 fleet.
Not only is there more room than in the business class seats behind it, there's also a substantially larger video screen and a companion seat for shared inflight dining.
This particular treatment was developed by Thompson Aero and London-based Factorydesign as a spin-off of Thompson's Vantage XL business class seat and marketed to airline as VantageFirst.
As Thompson's website explains, "VantageFirst offers airlines the opportunity to provide a true first class product whilst maintaining the same density as a traditional ‘all business class’ cabin."
Starlux is unlikely to roll out this specific Vantage XL / First combo on its A350s, given that rival EVA Air chose Thompson's Vantage XL for its latest Boeing 787 business class.
However, the 'first row, first class' treatment can be delivered by other seat designers and manufacturers, and could deliver that little bit of X-factor for Starlux' A350 first class.
Also read: Taiwan's Starlux eyes flights to Australia