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.
Despite a series of unprecedented challenges – a worldwide pandemic, the end of the big-four engined A380 and Boeing 747, ongoing delays to the Boeing 777-9 – many airlines have their next-generation first suites waiting in the wings.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-9 first class
The Singapore flag-carrier is among several airlines intending to use the forthcoming Boeing 777-9 jetliner, of which it has 20 on order, as the launchpad for new first class cabins.
That launch has been pushed back by a series of delays to the 777-9 – Boeing says the already-late 777X is now planned to make its way to airlines from 2025, which could mean a 2026 debut for SQ.
The airline remains “in discussions” with Boeing over the latest timetable, but its range of all-new suites and seats for the 777-9 is ready to go, says Executive Vice President Commercial, Lee Lik Hsin.
“We have to wait to see what happens with Boeing, but we are very excited and waiting to unveil those brand new products to the world,” Lee told Executive Traveller earlier this year.
However, Executive Traveller understands that Singapore Airlines is now taking advantage of the delay to revisit its designs for its next-gen suites and seats and see if there’s room for further improvement and refinement, based on still-emerging trends and technologies.
The Boeing 777-9 is significant for Singapore Airlines as the big twin-jet will become the eventual flagship of the Star Alliance member’s post-A380 fleet.
Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong has told Executive Traveller first class flyers should expect a “quantum leap” from today's Boeing 777 premium cabins, with “a first class that we believe when we launch it will again set industry standards.”
Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-9 first class
Cathay Pacific is also relying on the delivery of its 21 Boeing 777-9s to roll out its next-generation first class (and business class), although the airline revealed in October 2020 “the delivery of the 777-9 fleet has been postponed beyond 2025” to help the beleaguered airline realise short- to medium-term cash savings.
The 777-9 will see an all-new first class replace the airline’s current Boeing 777-300 first class cabin, which debuted in 2007 (albeit with revamps in 2013 and 2017).
Cathay Pacific has worked through a range of mock-ups, from high-walled private havens with sliding doors to something embracing the more open design of the current first class suites.
The suites are now said to be taking shape under the hand of feted London-based firm JPA Design, whose relationship with Cathay stretches back to the carrier’s 2011 Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 business class.
A page on JPA’s website lists one of the firm’s current and “Confidential” projects as “Cathay Pacific – Future aircraft cabins.”
Under the heading of “Creating the future of Cathay Pacific’s inflight experience” the page confirms “We have partnered with Cathay Pacific to design and develop their next generation of aircraft cabin interiors.”
Lufthansa Airbus A350 first class
While Lufthansa sits near the top of the list for Boeing 777-9 deliveries, the German flag-carrier will roll out a new first class on ten Airbus A350 jets from mid-2023.
The airline has previous stated these “will join the fleet and take off from Munich... in late summer 2023.”
“Munich Airport is Europe's only 5-star hub for years and is popular among Lufthansa passengers... as a leading, premium airport offering an inspiring travel journey.”
The new first class suites are said to be limited to the first row of the A350's cabin, in which case there would be just four suites ahead of the Star Alliance member’s innovative new business class – which alternates rows of a conventional 1-2-1 layout with 1-1-1 rows featuring a middle 'throne' seat.
Qantas Airbus A350 first class
The first ‘ultra long range’ A350-1000 jets for Qantas’ ambitious non-stop ‘Project Sunrise’ flights to London and New York won’t arrive until late 2025, but the airline has already revealed where the highest of high flyers will be cocooned during those 18-20 marathons.
These top-tier sanctuaries boast a separate armchair and bed, rather than a seat which converts into a bed – a situation demanding compromises in both modes – and will be enclosed by a high wall with a sliding privacy door, compared to the ‘open suite’ design of the Qantas A380s.
Creature comforts include a personal wardrobe built into the wall panelling and a 32” HD video screen.
Qatar Airways Boeing 777-9 first class
Qatar Airways is considering a first class cabin for some of its Boeing 777-9 jets, to fill a gap in the high-end travel market once its Airbus A380s are retired.
However, the luxury cocoons would appear on “just a handful” of the Gulf carrier’s Boeing 777-9 aircraft, Qatar Airways Group CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker has told Executive Traveller.
In turn, that first class sub-fleet would feature on only a few premium-heavy European routes.
“We are studying the possibility of having a very exclusive first class cabin of just four seats, for example,” Al Baker says, describing it as a deliberately “very niche product” aimed at well-heeled Qatari travellers.
“We have huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris, Al Baker explains, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”