PHOTOS: business class on Airbus' A350, the Boeing 787 rival

By John Walton, November 12 2012
PHOTOS: business class on Airbus' A350, the Boeing 787 rival

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has been getting plenty of press lately, but not far behind is Airbus' own next-generation jet, the A350.

Many airlines serving Australia have orders for the A350 XWB (which stands for extra-widebody), including the big three Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Qatar and Etihad), Air China, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United.

So it's a fair bet you'll have the chance to jet around on one before the decade is out, with first delivery to the first customers in 2014.

What the A350 means for you

Airbus plans for the twinjet A350 to join the mighty A380 superjumbo as its two long-range options for airlines.

Cleverly, the A350 slots in as a potential competitor against Boeing's popular 777  as well as the 787 Dreamliner. The A350 is also wider than the 787, which means more seats on board.

But the A350 still has that twin-engine efficiency, two decades of improvements over Airbus' older A330s, and the lightness of composite materials instead of metal.

That may sound a bit geeky, but the long and the short of it for the business traveller is this: more comfortable cabins with less dehydrating air, better lighting and bigger windows, on new direct routes that become cost-effective for airlines with more efficient aircraft. 

Many of those are the same reasons why business travellers will love the Boeing 787, of course.

Airbus has put together some mockups of what you'll find on board, and the trends that are shown in the planemaker's video are great news for business travellers.

Welcome aboard...

As you board your A350, the first thing you'll probably notice is the scuplted overhead lighting and spacious feel.

While lighting might seem to be a small thing, it's surprising how much more pleasant a modern aircraft with colour and dimmer switches is when compared with an older "off or on" interior lighting option.

The first business class outfit that Airbus is showing off bears a striking resemblance to the staggered business class cabin favoured by Gulf carriers, which you'll find upstairs on Emirates' A380 or on Etihad's A340.

The Middle Eastern airline esthetic is not entirely surprising given that launch customer Qatar has ordered 80 planes, Emirates has 70 on the books (plus 50 options) and Etihad is picking up 25.

Middle Eastern airlines pushed for the A350 to open up "long and thin" routes to their megahubs. These are routes that don't have enough passenger demand for a larger or less-efficient plane (like an Airbus A380 or even a Boeing 777) but can profitably be served by a smaller jet.   

We think seat layouts like these are among the best business class options in the sky: everyone has direct access to the aisle, a fully flat bed, useful side table space, heaps of elbow room and space to keep your work bag by your feet for easy access.

If you're thinking that the interior of the A350 looks rather like the upstairs business class cabin on an A380 (especially that staggered seating on Emirates' superjumbos), we'd agree.

Obviously, it's beneficial to airlines and Airbus if there are commonalities between the two types of plane that form Airbus' future long-distance package.

Interestingly, there's no first class shots of the A350, just like the 787 is likely to have business class as its top offering. Numerous airlines have declared their intentions -- if they're keeping first class at all -- to restrict it to their biggest planes on only the most demanding routes.

The second staggered business class cabin that Airbus brings us feels more like a Japanese or European airline: ANA, Swiss and Finnair all have cabins similar to this on current or planned planes.

Boeing's narrower 787 will take one fewer seat across, but the ANA long-haul 787 business class cabin still feels similar.

No matter where you're sitting, the larger windows will mean more natural light in the cabin on day flights, which is a real plus.

We think this is a great advantage for modern planes -- the A380 started the trend, and the 787 has continued it while adding electronic window tinting instead of windowshades.

Check out Airbus' whole video -- and catch a glimpse of the economy seats down the back:

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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