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Review: The Future of Long-Haul Business Class Seats

The future of Business Class travel looks promising with the introduction next-generation seats that offer a combination of spaciousness, comfort, beauty, and refinement

by John Walton

June 28, 2023

Photo: Unum One Business Class seat, courtesy of Unum.

There’s a new generation of more spacious, more comfortable, more beautiful—and more refined—Business Class seats on their way, each significantly improving what’s currently flying and what has come before.

We’re not just talking glossy concept seats here: these are at the point of either already being ordered for delivery onto the planes we’ll fly in the next couple of years or sufficiently advanced that they’re ready and could be on your flight within the usual Business Class seat order, customization, production and installation timescale of 18-24 months.

All offer the modern standard elements and are fully flat beds with direct aisle access, meaning none of the old-school “midnight clamber” where you have to climb over an aisle passenger if you’re in a window or (horrors!) middle seat.

Photo: Courtesy of Qantas Airways

Every seat also has a privacy door option, which most airlines take up nowadays, especially on the larger widebodies like the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 777.

But where they differ from the rest of the seats is how the manufacturers have refined one or more seat elements to make it stand out from the crowd. It might be a residential, designer-style structural aesthetic, a unique way that the seat reclines to flat, or an attention to the qualities that differentiate a luxury car from the rest of the market.

Here are four—or five, if you’re counting—of the top seats you’ll see in the next few years.

Safran Unity: The Big Stagger

If you prefer a large, roomy, staggered seat, Safran’s Unity is the perfect fit. Recently unveiled, Safran has already secured Qantas as a customer for their Project Sunrise Airbus A350-1000 planes, traveling over twenty hours from Sydney to London and New York.

Staggered Business Class seats have been around for about fifteen years, but crucial to Unity (and some of the other staggered seats you’ll be enjoying soon) is how a recent round of refinements has maximized the space available to you, the passenger, and how you can use it.

Photo: Business Class, Airbus A350-1000. Courtesy of Qantas

These revolve particularly around how the seat reclines, integrates with the aircraft’s cabin sidewall, and how new thinner doors maximize space.

Stelia has also responded to the thorny issue of constrained, boxy footwells in bed mode by changing the locations and functionality of the table and storage zones.

Photo: Business Class, Airbus A350-1000. Courtesy of Qantas

One of the particularly pleasing elements of Unity, though, is how the seat elements fit together. Safran has added attractive metallic trim to high-impact areas like the corner of the tray table. At the same time, the extensive use of premium-feel fabrics brings a very residential feeling to the space.

Stelia Opera WB: The Refined Herringbone

Another refinement is Stelia’s Opera WB (for wide body). The original Opera was created for the Airbus A321neo single-aisle, which has different challenges to the widebodies. It launched this June at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) with a big order from Air France for its new Airbus A350 to operate on many of its flagship routes.

Photo: Air France’s new Business Class Opera WB seat for its Airbus A350 aircraft. Courtesy of Franck Socha

Opera WB is a clean-sheet herringbone seat where every passenger faces away from the aisle, providing an intuitive feeling of privacy to the experience.

More than in many seats, even of this generation, the moving parts of this model feel very satisfying. The table swings out neatly, and the door slides forward smartly, all the way down to the very premium deep click that the side storage door makes, in the way that closing the door luxury car feels premium.

Also in that side storage door is a delightful piece of whimsy: the vintage Air France winged seahorse feature light is dimmable with your control tablet. It sounds like the silliest thing to bring joy, but it’s that little moment of ooh la la that this French seat maker and this French airline have made special.

Photo: Air France’s new Business Class Opera WB seat for its Airbus A350 aircraft. Courtesy of Franck Socha

Everything with the seat feels very considered, too. The overall aesthetic of the lighter silvers and whites in the top half of your space and the deep navy blues at the bottom are effective in breaking up your sightlines, while the materials used—especially the premium suede effect on the doors and behind your head when reclined—feel very pleasant to the touch.

Stelia Rendez-Vous: The Residential Stagger

Passengers say they want a residential aesthetic to their Business Class seats, and Stelia said, “Let’s have a Rendez-vous.”

This big, spacious stagger has a wonderfully elegant retro feel, with sleek mid-century modern influences like the rounded, lozenge headrests, the warm golden metallic accents, the lovely lamps, and the way the seatback integrates fully into the seat shell.

Photo: Stelia Rendez Vous Business Class seat. Courtesy of Airbus.

Particularly impressive is the honeymoon pair in the center of the cabin, where the divider disappears below the sleeping surface to feel like a real, genuine double bed.

It feels like a designer sofa that transforms into an upholstered bed, and the fabric surrounding you is luxurious, like a premium European suit.

Expect Rendez-vous to find a home among truly premium airlines that want to offer passengers a truly superior Business Class product.

Unum One and Two: The Hidden Comfort Secret

Yes, these are two seats—Unum One is a herringbone facing away from the aisle, and Unum Two is a staggered seat—but what they share makes them unique and so comfortable.

A patented scimitar-shaped cradle recline feature sits underneath the seats’ warm greys and modern pinks. Now, most Business Class flatbed seats work only in two directions: forward and back, up and down.

Photo: Unum One Business Class seat, courtesy of Unum.

Unum’s scimitar adds both a zero-gravity mode (think the way that the iconic Modernist Le Corbusier Chaise Longue LC4 continues to support you as you slide into recline) and the ability to adjust individual elements to support your body type.

Photo: Unum Two Business Class seat, courtesy of Unum.

It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about until parts of your anatomy start to go numb after a few hours of sitting in the same place without being able to change place enough.

A Promising Future

In conclusion, the future of long-haul Business Class travel looks promising with the introduction of these next-generation seats. These seats offer a combination of spaciousness, comfort, beauty, and refinement that surpasses anything seen before.

With fully flat beds and direct aisle access, passengers can bid farewell to the days of awkwardly climbing over others to reach their seats and enhancing their privacy with privacy doors.

These upcoming seats—some of which have already secured orders from major airlines—represent a significant step forward in Business Class travel. Passengers can anticipate a more luxurious, comfortable, and tailored journey on long-haul flights in the years to come.