With the current emphasis on lie-flat beds, it is easy to overlook the extent to which the transition from “seats” to “suites” in long-distance First and Business Class seating has actually been accompanied by a drastic reduction in space afforded to passengers.
Having flown more than a million miles over the last ten years, with perhaps six to ten flights in Business Class in each of those years, I have first-hand experience with the seating changes made by two airlines in particular over that time—United and Continental, which merged in 2009 but, as with all such mergers, still have planes in circulation with a variety of interior configurations and seating styles. It was not until a trip to and from Hawaii this past week, however, that I had the opportunity to compare the current state-of-the-art seating for United, the kind installed in its recently acquired 787 Dreamliners, with what was standard Business Class seating when I first started flying.
|The Old BusinessFirst Seats|
|The Latest Version of the BusinessFirst Suite|
|The Prior Version of the BusinessFirst Suite|
To be sure, my experience in this regard is particular to United, because United (since the merger) is the only carrier with which I have the miles and credits to travel in upgraded seats on international flights. As far as United goes, however, most of my international flights at this point are taken in BusinessFirst—that is what they call their Business Class seating, a carryover from Continental—and, while I have generally good things to say about the experience, including very good food and exceptional service, the progression of seating over the last decade strikes me as an overall reduction in passenger comfort.
What lies ahead? The suites do get redesigned periodically, and I expect that it will only be a few years before the worst aspects of the current design get changed. The trick is that actually replacing seats takes a long time (as evidenced by my flying just today on a plane still configured with the leather armchairs for a decade ago).
Once a misstep makes its way into circulation, it stays for a long time.