Full-service airlines make the bulk of their profits from their business class cabin, whether that’s called business class or something a little more opaque — remember Clipper and Ambassador Classes, and all the names since? At this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo, more business class seats broke cover than ever before, whether that was out on the stand or behind the closed doors of seatmakers’ secret rooms.
There’s incredible engineering going on to balance comfort, density and of course safety, but what struck me most this show was the amount of texture, tactility and soft surfaces that seatmakers are introducing to change the look — and especially the feel — of these seats.
Much of what I was seeing, both in public and behind closed doors, explores how to bring a real liveable tangibility to the seat, and particularly to the increasingly important shrouding and sidewalls.
Stelia’s Rendez-Vous staggered seat is one of the best examples of this trend, emerging from last year’s secret rooms to the main stand. Rendez-Vous feels as if you’re wrapped in a luxurious European suit, with premium fabric extending from the seats to the sidewalls and beyond. The retro mid-century aesthetic and the way the seatback disappears into the sidewall — notably in the centre honeymoon pairs — are both big gamechangers.
Stelia’s Rendez-Vous photo by Frank Socha
Collins Aerospace photo by John Walton
Safran’s Vue, meanwhile, in the same market but an outward-facing herringbone, offers a different aesthetic, leaning towards a moody palette of greys with the seat fabric extending to the armrest, high-touch metallic elements in a warm almond-rose gold, and different fabric featuring on sidewalls and shrouding.
It’s especially notable that, with the exception of the aircraft sidewalls, there’s an absolute minimum of white, beige, light grey or greige thermoplastics visible in these (and most) of the seats we’re talking about.
Safran Vu photo by John Walton
Starlux A350 first class suites photo by John Walton
Beyond the staggered-or-herringbone question, Optimares’ SoFab concept — a minimal-mechanism sofa-style seat — extends the fabric in really human curves around the surfaces, with wonderfully tactile leather and fun accents like the small set of jacket sleeve buttons near the light.
Optimares photo by John Walton
Recaro photo by John Walton
Formia photo by John Walton