Is this seat the next generation in business class for single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series?
It's the Vantage Solo, from Thompson Aero Seating, and will bring lie-flat beds and direct aisle access – traits typically associated with the best business class of large long-range jets – into the world of smaller single-aisle aircraft which often make up the domestic and short-range backbone of many airline fleets.
Thompson's Vantage Solo is breaking cover as several airlines begin to plan ahead for a game-changing business class experience on the likes of the Boeing 737-800 and 737 MAX families, and the Airbus A320neo and A321neo.
That includes Virgin Australia and Malaysia Airlines, although only Malaysia Airlines is confirmed as a Thompson Aero customer and could end up rolling out yet another Vantage-branded design on its forthcoming Boeing 737 MAX 10 fleet.
For its part, Virgin plans an all-new business class seat for transcontinental Boeing 737s flying Australia's east-west routes, which CEO John Borghetti says will represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class”.
Airbus customer preparing to fly Solo
Thompson is understood to have an Airbus A320-based launch customer lined up for the Solo, although company spokesman Andy Morris tells Australian Business Traveller "as usual, I cannot comment on any specific customer details."
The Solo adopts an angled herringbone-style layout...
... with each seat converting into a fully flat bed.
Each passenger also gets a small side console table and storage cubby (the door of which contains a small vanity mirror) and an inbuilt flat-screen monitor.
With the seats raked side by side, a privacy divider prevents peek-a-boo from the neighbours – although this can be retracted for sociability if you're travelling with a partner or colleague.
Other creature comforts include handy AC and USB power sockets and a stowage hook for headphones.
The seats themselves start as 21 inches (53.3cm) wide with a 33 inch (83.8cm) pitch.
There's obvious design DNA shared with other members of the Vantage family, although its siblings – including the Vantage XL, upon which Qantas based its Boeing 787 business class (below) – have a forward-facing orientation.
In some ways the Solo could remind travellers of Cathay Pacific's earlier high-walled business class seats (below), which Cathay codenamed FB1 or Hercules – although less-kind travellers referred to them as 'cubicle class' or even 'coffin class'.
Thompson's cred stretches back to the innovative Vantage chosen by US airline JetBlue for its transcontinental Airbus A321 Mint class, which sees each pair of business class seats followed by a single seat with sliding suite-like privacy doors...
... and more recently, the Vantage XL Suite used for Delta Air Line's new Airbus A350 Delta One business class suites.
Boeing is also spruiking Mint-style business class seating in promotional material for its 737 MAX jets, shown below.
While many airlines will continue to play it safe by installing conventional reclining business class seats in their single-aisle jets, it's clear that some are gearing up for a new dogfight for the hearts, bums and wallets of business travellers.