Will Starlux' Airbus A350 first class be more like 'business plus'?

Taiwan's chic new carrier plans to outstrip its rivals by adding first class to its forthcoming Airbus A350 fleet.

By David Flynn, December 15 2020
Will Starlux' Airbus A350 first class be more like 'business plus'?

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.

Starlux promises to be Asia's 'detail-oriented' luxury airline.
Starlux promises to be Asia's 'detail-oriented' luxury airline.

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.

Starlux has a new fleet of A350-900 and A350-1000 jets on the way.
Starlux has a new fleet of A350-900 and A350-1000 jets on the way.

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.

Big screens, big space: China Eastern's Airbus A350 'Air Living Room'.
Big screens, big space: China Eastern's Airbus A350 'Air Living Room'.

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.

Dinner for two, or four, in China Eastern's Airbus A350 'Air Living Room'.
Dinner for two, or four, in China Eastern's Airbus A350 'Air Living Room'.

Review: China Eastern Airbus A350 business class

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.

How Thompson Aero's VantageFirst slots into a VantageXL business class cabin.
How Thompson Aero's VantageFirst slots into a VantageXL business class cabin.

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

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.

I like this 'business first' approach, a nice way of offering something above business class without going the whole hog on a separate cabin, fancy first class suites etc.

Four classes is a lot to fit into an A350-900 while allowing a decent size in business, premium economy and economy. I think Starlux will just go for four first class seats and probably with this Front Row treatment, be very interested to see which seat supplier they get given that Thompson would be off-limits due to EVA using the Vantage.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Nov 2019

Total posts 71

What a class act this airline is, I have my successful status match into their program and will be the first to fly anywhere with them

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Feb 2021

Total posts 9

Whilst working in China and flying often between SYD and China on CZ, MF and MU in J cabins, I note that  MU has a F class on 773(with partition)  but never sold these seats  on any travel sites but you could upgrade "once on board" and not even check, in for a fee , if they had loaded  food etc but I found often that staff sat there anyway and you could not purchase the seat and depended on the Chief Cabin Supervisor. Same with MF and usually 3k RMB to Xiamen but oftren  business class food  but always empty and rarely sell these seats out of SYD. CZ always upgrades elte Sky Pearl out of SYD at check in if available from Prem Y to J at no cost. On CZ F class to Europe on 333s and 380s to SYD , rarely pax but always a skymarshall and staff (incl  senior cabin crew) took up the seats after meal service. But sometimes their F fares to Europe were the same as J and maybe an error but I bought these 4 times. Their F catering out of CDG was Prem Y standard , if that.


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