Lie-flat beds and direct aisle access are the established norms for business class on the longest international flights, with sliding privacy doors are quickly becoming the feature de jour.
Now there's a business class seat which promises to delivery that premium travel triple-play to smaller jets such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, which are more often seen on routes up to six hours – although longer-range versions of these jets, such as the Airbus A321LR and A321XLR, will push that envelope towards the nine-hour mark.
Irish seatmaker Thompson Aero's Vantage Solo is lined up on the runway for a 2020 debut with an as-yet-unrevealed airline, although other carriers are certain to sign on the dotted line for their own factory-fresh jets.
The Vantage Solo "has been developed and designed specifically in response to the rapidly emerging medium to long range market now being serviced by a new generation of narrow-body aircraft," Thompson says.
In addition to a fully flat bed and direct aisle access for every seat, there's plenty of personal space where passengers can spread out their work or simply spread out – especially if you're in the front row.
As with its popular Vantage and Vantage XL siblings, the Solo was designed, shaped and styled by London's Factorydesign in close collaboration with Thompson Aero, and the results of this ongoing partnership speak for themselves.
Airlines can order the Solo seat with either an open-aisle end, a fixed privacy screen or even a sliding suite door, says Andy Morris, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Thompson Aero Seating.
While Morris won't name the Solo's launch customer, he confirms to Executive Traveller that the airline has opted for sliding doors in order to provide "an exclusive business class seating experience."
"JetBlue started the trend with its Airbus A321," Morris says of the US airline's Mint premium cabin, which popularised the original Vantage, "and for our launch customer they've also selected it. But it's not going to suit everyone," he adds, acknowledging that some airlines and their passengers prefer a more open cabin environment.
That launch customer will have a short exclusivity edge to the Solo for a short period, although Morris explains this is mainly due to the necessary process of certifying the seat for safety.
"There's a natural break because we weren't going to take on any second or third customers until we had gone through the certification phase, so there was always going to be a 12-16 month time lag between customer one and customer two."
The Airbus A321LR and A321XLR are fuelling the appetite for a better business class experience on single-aisle jets, Morris says.
"The range of those aircraft now is incredible, its seven to eight hours and up, it's getting up there with wide bodied aircraft. That's great for airlines wanting to introduce new routes that don't warrant a wide-body to start with, or even to increase frequency."
"Flying across the pond from Europe to the east coast of the US is now possible," Morris adds, citing TAP Air Portugal's A321LR, which sports the Vantage in business class and is flying trans-Atlantic routes from Lisbon to Boston, Montreal and Brazil.
Lie flat for the long haul
JetBlue is tipped to have the Vantage Solo at the pointy end of its own A321LR fleet, which will take wing from 2021 from New York and Boston to London and which the airline says it "is developing a reimagined transatlantic version of its premium Mint product."
The US challenger will begin flying the even longer-legged A321XLR in 2023 "to implement further expansion to additional European destinations from Boston and New York."
“The incredible extended range of the A321XLR allows us to evaluate even more overseas destinations as we think about JetBlue’s expansion into European markets plagued by high premium fares and subpar service,” says JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes.
The Solo's efficient staggered design should mean that airlines won't take too much of a hit on how many premium passengers they can carry. "The typical cabin size we are looking at in a two-class configuration is 14, 16 or even 18 seats, depending what the airline thinks demand is for that premium seat."
As previously reported by Executive Traveller, Singapore Airlines' regional arm SilkAir will begin adding the classic Vantage to its Boeing 737 fleet later this year, ahead of the airline being folded into the superbrand of its parent, 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.