When I was at ITB Berlin earlier this month, I had a chance to speak with many airline and hotel industry experts, but among my favorite visits were those with a chance to try out the product in person, including the new Emirates business class seat.
Many people write about the flashier first class suites on the Airbus A380, which also includes the option to take an in-flight shower. But I’m not likely to fly that anytime soon. Let me take a moment to explain why these new business class seats are big news for Seattle travelers.
Emirates now operates twice-daily service to Seattle, where I live, using a Boeing 777-300ER and 777-200LR. The A380 is simply too big to navigate the narrow taxiways without shutting down ground traffic, and if you want the street cred of taking a shower in the air you won’t get that satisfaction on a Boeing. Ugh. It also takes a lot more miles when booking a first class award through Alaska Airlines. So business class makes sense — except that the current business class on these planes reclines at an angle. Double ugh.
These new lie-flat business class seats will be a significant improvement when they’re rolled out to the entire Boeing 777-300ER fleet (other Boeing 777 models won’t get them), and that’s why it matters here in Seattle, where it may be the best option compromise of comfort, convenience, and cost.
However, Emirates will arrange their new business class in a 2-3-2 configuration that some bloggers think is unacceptable. And they have a point: many carriers today provide business class in a 1-2-1 configuration with all-aisle access for business travelers or maybe 2-2-2 with some window seats that work well for couples.
No one wants a middle seat in business class. So just how bad is it?
Here’s a shot from my perspective while sitting in the middle seat of this demonstration unit. I could see the televisions of the passengers next to me, but I couldn’t see the other passengers at all. The seats have very high partitions between seats that can be raised even further for added privacy. Unless you’re claustrophobic you should be just fine. I thought this seat was much more private than the Lufthansa A380 business class that I took on the way to Berlin (no divider between my seatmate and me), or the American Airlines 787 I took from Los Angeles to Tokyo (I was facing another passenger for the entire journey).
The seat also has tons of amenities to go along with all that walnut paneling and chrome. Not just power outlets, but your own personal minibar.
This arm rest has seven different seat controls and flips up to reveal one of the sturdiest tray tables I’ve ever used. How they get this thing in the air amazes me. Nothing about the seat is flimsy or cheap.
The seat (by this time I switched back to the aisle) had a blanket and headphones waiting on an ottoman. I appreciated that there was no annoying cubby for your feet. When fully reclined I felt that I could probably lie on my back and sleep well.
But if you can’t rest, the coolest feature may be the detachable tablet. Each seat has a 23-inch television, a handheld remove/video screen, and this larger table that rests in a dock to your right. Hopefully they have a content selection to match. With all the international travel I did in the last two months I was seriously running low on interesting material.
Ultimately I’m very pleased. I’ll still do everything I can to avoid sitting in this middle seat when I fly on Emirates, but I am no longer as concerned about getting a raw deal when I use my Alaska miles to fly business class on Emirates. Either my wife will let us connect and try the A380, or we’ll take this direct from Seattle. Either way I think we’ll have a good trip.