British Airways’ Club Suite: Here’s My Concern

Filed Under: British Airways

A couple of days ago British Airways revealed their new business class product to much fanfare. This will debut on the A350-1000. British Airways has had roughly the same business class product for the past 20 years, and at this point it’s quite outdated.

Many of us were pleasantly surprised to find what a good business class product British Airways is introducing, with their new Club Suite. Essentially British Airways is introducing reverse herringbone seats with doors.

The product looks beautiful, and the feedback has been almost universally positive.

I don’t necessarily want to play devil’s advocate here, but I do think it’s interesting to stop for a moment and consider the progression of business class seats over the years, and share one concern I have about British Airways’ new business class seat.

The economical way airlines are introducing better business class seats

When you look at the progression of business class seats, years ago the industry standard was angled flat seats, which I find incredibly uncomfortable.

Singapore Airlines’ A330 business class

Then we saw fully flat seats introduced, though largely airlines created space savings by adding “footwells” for seats, where you essentially place your feet between the seats in front of you. A flat bed is nice, but only having a small area for your feet isn’t ideal.

Air Tahiti Nui’s 787 business class

Then direct aisle access became the trend, with products like reverse herringbone seats. The downsides to these seats is that they efficiently use space by creating a footwell that’s next to the seat in front.

American’s 787-9 business class

Now the latest trend is that we’re seeing privacy be the latest focus, with airlines increasingly adding doors to seats.

Delta’s A350 business class

All of these things are no doubt examples of airlines listening to customers (unlike when they make loyalty program changes), but the reality is that airlines aren’t actually allocating more space per seat, they’re just using space more efficiently.

Customers say they want flat beds, direct aisle access, and doors, though I guess the feedback isn’t that they just want more space.

The reality is that all of these products have roughly the same footprint.

Air Tahiti Nui’s 787-9, featuring flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration, has 30 seats between doors one and two.

American’s 787-9, featuring reverse herringbone seats, has 30 seats between doors one and two.

Shanghai Airlines’ 787-9, featuring staggered seats with doors at every seat, has 30 seats between doors one and two.

Airlines aren’t actually giving us more space, they’re just using space differently.

What does this mean for British Airways’ Club Suite?

British Airways’ new Club Suite looks stunning and private. At the same time, over time my preferences when it comes to airline seats have been evolving. Last November I wrote a post titled “Have I Been Wrong About Business Class Seats All Along?”

The premise was that I’m really starting to prefer airline seats where your feet don’t have to go in a small footwell. I find it so much more comfortable to sleep when I can choose how I position my feet, which is something that so many airlines don’t allow nowadays in the quest to add privacy.

That brings me to my concern about British Airways’ Club Suite. It’s not intended to be a criticism, and it’s not intended to even be negative. However, I feel like all the positive coverage has to be balanced with something. There is one massive downside to this seat compared to British Airways’ old seat.

Personally I find B/E Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats to feel really tight around the feet.

American’s 787 reverse herringbone seat

The footwell where you place your feet is quite small, but typically when I lay down in it, I feel quite restricted in terms of movement.

American’s 787 reverse herringbone seat

In that sense I’m not sure if the door makes things better or worse. I already feel restricted in this seat, so I feel like with the door closed I’ll outright feel like I’m in a coffin.

Now, of course the great thing about the door is that you have the choice not to use it, so there’s no downside to having it. But personally I feel like if I were flying this product, I might just not use the door due to how tight it all feels.

At least that’s my initial impression about the seat. I certainly could be wrong, but I just feel like this has the potential to feel pretty claustrophobic.

Now, in fairness there are other seats with doors, so what’s the difference? Well, with the seats of Delta and Qatar, seats are staggered, so you can choose to sit in a seat where the door is quite far away from you.

Qatar Airways’ 777 business class

Given that reverse herringbone seats are positioned in the same way in every row, you’re going to be pretty close to the door no matter what.

Bottom line

I’m really excited about British Airways’ new business class, and I think it will represent a significant improvement. However, I do think it’s worth acknowledging that as airlines keep “improving” business class, they’re not actually allocating more space per seat, but rather are just using space more efficiently.

That’s understandable, because the most costly thing an airline could do is greatly reduce the number of seats.

It’s at least worth acknowledging that most of the advances with business class seats come at the expense of space for your feet when sleeping.

While just about everything about British Airways’ new business class will be better than the old, the one major downside is that you’ll suddenly have a lot more limited room for your feet. But of course there are tradeoffs with all seats.

British Airways’ 747 business class

Does anyone have similar concerns with the evolution of business class seats? Is there anyone who actually views the seat as a “downgrade” over the old product, given the footwell?

  1. You’ve hit a nail on the head here. I’m very surprised that BA didn’t go with a staggered configuration, especially since it would have been so easy to simply copy the seats that fellow IAG carriers EI and IB have…

  2. This design is why I left Delta/Virgin. It’s very restricting. I would rather fly Premium Economy.

  3. I’m a quite small guy, but I’ve got fairly large feet… and yeah, this is a concern for me, especially as someone who moves a TON when trying to sleep.

    Getting my feet stuck trying to turn over could very well mean no sleep at all.

    Maybe I should put my head there instead? XD

  4. When flying on a business class configuration with small foot wells, always take the bulkhead seats because they offer the most legroom. Then the whole issue with small foot wells isn’t there anymore.

  5. I like the old wide Qatar business seats still found on the Qatar A340 and 777.
    But too often now business is asocial containers. One of the reasons I like the Lufthansa business product is that it is better if travelling together.

  6. Serious question – so does this mean in the rear view mirror, the existing business seat on Qantas A380 is looking better and better after all? My understanding is that fully reclined, aisle access is not that big a deal even for the window…

  7. I will be very happy not to jump over a stranger trying to sleep. And will happily exchange a small footwell for that (but I’m not very tall)

    Curious though, is BA not cutting density on this? I looked at their 787-9 and it’s hard to compare since it has First Class. They are essentially 5 across now, right?

  8. This is a problem I find most seats to have especially on narrower frames like the 787 or A330.
    What I hate with the superdiamond is how low the table is and how I keep on bumping my knees on it.

    One of the best herringbone seats for me has to be the AF one of the 777. They made the foot cubby so wide that you can sleep in basically any position. Hopefully Club Suite will be the same.

  9. That’s why I’m going to find it really interesting what Virgins new upper class seat will be. What a lot of their customers like about the current herringbone seat is that you don’t have to place your feet in a small cubby. The seats gets a lot of criticism online i find, but customers who use it on a weekly basis really like it. I suppose for most people you only write a review if its a bad experience.

  10. “The downsides to these seats is that they efficiently use space by creating a footwell that’s next to the seat in front.”

    The UPSIDE you mean.

  11. @Lucky – off topic, but looks like AA completely updated their mileage booking platform – now showing premium economy but no filters or calendar view (for now – says “coming soon”).

  12. I’ve flown Singapores newest A350 and their 787-10. I have to say their seats on the A350 are doubly bad. The same restricted footwell (unless you get bulkhead) but they’re also configured in a way you almost have to sleep on your side. At least for met a 6′ 1″. Their new 787 is better from the perspective of the footwell, but then the sides feel a little claustrophobic.

  13. How many seats is Lufthansa going to have on their new J class on the 777-9? Given their configuration i’m interested to see how they’ll manage to cram the same number seats (if not more given that they aren’t installing First) that they have on the B747-400 in their current 2-2-2 config.

  14. Great points and exactly how I feel as well. Not a big fan of reverse herringbone. The Vantage XL works better for me as the footwell stays wider towards the end, and a door there like on Delta actually makes sense, because it reduces the feeling of being too exposed for the seats that are closer to the aisle. For the seats away from the aisle it’s not really needed in my opinion.

  15. I don’t mind the “small” foot wells of QR and AF and etc. Though to be honest I’m shorter than 6′ and my shoe size is only 9. The only thing I find annoying is that you can’t curl up or bend your knees when sleeping sideways, but even that doesn’t really bother me. I still will always try to get seats with direct aisle access for I love window seats and I also like to walk around

  16. I am a little bit curious about how BA shall introduce their new first class, as essentially the current first class is equivalent to a reverse-herringbone business class seat with meagerly better spaces, which makes no difference between it and the new club suites.

    BTW, first class seats don’t even have a door, which makes the current club suites better.

  17. There is another huge downside potentially.

    BA fail to keep their current seats clean, the new ones with far more nooks and crannies and more spaces to access and a footwell will require more time to clean them than the current ones. I bet BA will not be increasing time accordingly so these seats will be fine for a few flights and then pretty disgusting.

    I’ll continue to avoid BA.

  18. But nearly every flight reviewer or business class blogger goes on in every review about privacy and many sites now mark down a business class seat for not having a door. Now they’re complaining about claustrophobia.

    I mean, doesn’t the phrase “you can’t have everything” not spring to mind?

  19. @ Lucky

    “However, I do think it’s worth acknowledging that as airlines keep “improving” business class, they’re not actually allocating more space per seat, ”

    So you either didn’t read the Alex Cruz interview in Business Traveller, or you didn’t believe him? He specifically references the fact that BA is going for a “less dense” layout, but that they didn’t want to significantly cut the number of J seats – so they’re reducing both F and Y cabins in size.

    In other words, there is *more* space allocated for each new CW seat than for the existing ying-yang seat. So basically your entire article as it relates to BA is, er, wrong. Unless you know something we don’t?

  20. @ The nice Paul — My comment wasn’t about British Airways specifically, it was about the industry on the whole. British Airways currently has one of the densest configurations in the world, and they’re going to have to reduce the seat count no matter what product they go with. My point was that B/E Aerospace Diamond, B/E Aerospace Super Diamond, and Vantage XL with doors all have roughly the same footprint.

  21. @ JDS — I think I sufficiently clarified this wasn’t a complaint but just an observation, and even acknowledged what you’re saying?

  22. @ Lucky

    And that point makes sense with many airlines. But you headlined this post as being about your worries about BA, and then you made a generic comment that seems by any reading to apply to every airline, but now you admit that the opposite is the case with BA?

    That’s a very confusing way to write an article…

    I’d be more concerned about the fact that BA doesn’t have individual air nozzles on any of its long-haul planes (or, at least, none I’ve travelled on over the past few years). With more cellularisation of the cabin, will ventilation suffer?

  23. I enjoy the aged broad Qatar business chairs still located around the Qatar A340 and 777.
    But too frequently today company is asocial containers. One reason I enjoy the Lufthansa company product is that it’s much better if travelling togethe

  24. I can fly American 789 or Aeromexico 789 or AirCanada 789 in business class and sleep ok. I can even sleep better in American 77W or Cathay 77W business class. So I think I would not care about BA new C seat. I prefer these than the Singapore ones, to be honest.
    But I really feel cramped in Swiss 77W throne seat.

  25. Ben,
    This is becoming more of a universal problem. At 6’3” with a size 14 shoe I try to avoid these seats. Turkish and JAL sky suite are great seats. Staggering as you mentioned helps but at the end of the day it’s just not comfortable to fully recline and sleep in these seats. You hit the nail on the head. Foot space does matter. Keep the stupid door, give me a decent footwell!!

  26. I really like the current BA seat for the reasons you imply in your article. Direct aisle access and privacy are not the things I value; good sleeping surface is. I am 188cm tall, have big feet and I most cases I’m lucky I’m a side sleeper as that allows me to keep my feet out of the foot well.

    In terms of the quality of sleep I’ve had on aircraft I’d out he apex suite first, BA’s existing club world second and China Eastern’s forward facing flat bed third (qantas an Qatar’s older seats slotting in somewhere next). MU might rate even higher but I’ve only flown it over mnight once, longest continuous sleep I’ve ever had on a plane but I was so tired i would have slept 8 hours in economy.

  27. @Lucky, what size are your feet?..since you seem to mention this as a negative all the time. I’m a size 10 and do not have an issues with any of the J seats. I will say with this particular seat, I do find it to be on the high side so when sleeping on my side I tend to make contact with the table at times.

  28. I agree about limited foot room being a problem. I love having both a window and direct aisle access. My business class experience has been mostly on Delta. While I like lie-flat seats, a big problem for me is how narrow they are. When I actually try to lie flat, the seat just isn’t wide enough to be comfortable. I think that’s far more constricting than a door.

  29. I’ll take the small footwell any day over the current BA Club World layout or the 2-2-2 layouts. My top priorities are lie flat bed, privacy, direct aisle access, and plenty of space separating me from the guy snoring in the next seat (in other words less density in J). Air nozzles are also high on my list.

    My BF is 6’4”, weighs 215 with a size 13 shoe and he sleeps fine in J on AA TADL flights. He sleeps on his side, so maybe that’s the difference?

  30. I agree about limited foot room being a problem. I love having both a window and direct aisle access. My business class experience has been mostly on Delta. While I like lie-flat seats, a big problem for me is how narrow they are. When I actually try to lie flat, the seat just isn’t wide enough to be comfortable. I think that’s far more constricting than a door, which O would consider a secondary concern.

  31. Ben, great article but I have a much larger concern. I have a feeling that BA will take ages to refurbish the existing fleet with this seat. Like the laughable United Polaris approach. Great product introduced, marketed as the official business class product of the airline, but it will take way too many years for the seat to appear on the rest of the fleet (besides the small number of A350s)

  32. I’d be just as happy if they got rid of the suite doors and go for a open club feel, along with doing away with entertainment monitors.

  33. @ Greg

    Here’s what Alex Cruz said about speed of rollout:

    “We had a choice between a 100 per cent bespoke seat, an evolution of the existing Club World seat, and what we have selected … probably the criterion that over-ruled everything was speed to market …

    “… we are committed to introducing the product on all long-haul aircraft, except those that we are retiring like some older B777s and the B747s.

    “[the roll-out ] … on a route like New York with so many flights … will take three years. We want to go as fast as we can. It is not BA slowing down the process. If we have more seats, we will actually stop an aircraft to install them. We will do whatever it takes, but it’s the manufacturing of the seats. …

    “No airline of the size of BA has been able to do a programme roll-out like this in less than three or four years.

    “… we have to be consistent … if you’re flying in Club … – it’s a consistency of service.“

    Whatever else you criticise BA for, for decades now it has had one of the most consistent J hard products of any airline. I would expect them to do this transformation as fast as any other airline has managed it.

  34. I prefer the direct aisle access over foot space.

    What I do find interesting is that BA led the pack in introducing flat beds (particularly to be on all ‘planes, which Emirates STILL do not have!)
    But the challenge now is to provide seats that work for both individuals and couples, and it seems to be only Qsuites which does that – would they not licence the concept to BA?

  35. Some people are never satisfied!!!!
    That was supposed to be in jest.
    My concern was if high density Club on 2-4-2, how could they recoup costs going down to 1-2-1. However it would appear Y is going to have less seats as Cruz has now said 8 in F, but they are only loosing 1 J seat.
    The other factor is BA brought air fuel when price was low. VS can’t do this. Also, if your Partner travels with flight crew that’s 4 Club Suites (for 4 Pursers) and 4 paying pax get denied boarding.

  36. I totally agree the foot area is small and u can get stuck in it!! I’m not tall but it is still not comfy to get my get right in these small columns

  37. Lucky you make a good point, the open footwell on the existing seat, but except for 62A/K on their 744 their existing seats are too short for me (at 6’3)…. the new 79-inch length makes up for the footwell, and I’ve had no trouble sleeping on the AA model.

  38. It has been nice seeing the evolution of Lucky!

    There has been this unrelenting commentary on travel blogs about PRIVACY!!!
    I’ve long commented on my confusion about why this is so important
    What exactly are people doing in these planes, and why do they think that anyone else is interested in what they are doing?

    Well, the carriers are listening, so that’s what we’ll get.
    Some stupid door to prevent another person from looking at you (even though they have no interest in looking at you)

    Well, the space for the door has to come from somewhere… so less room for our bodies

    I travel with another person, and couldn’t care less if a stranger looks at my socks, or the movie I’m watching.

    But introverted shut-ins have screamed the loudest so there it is

    I will admit that the BA solution of having you 69 with a stranger is odd, but nobody else except maybe UA? did that dumb idea so…

    Sad that more carriers don’t just stagger the rows
    Gives feeling of privacy without taking up space

  39. This is nothing. Footwell hell is constantly refreshing the seat map for J on a SQ A350 to try and score the bulkhead seats with the huge ottomans.

  40. I read that the seat length is 6ft 6 inch not excluding the foot well. How freaking tall are you?

    Anyway until actual passengers – including you – fly on it and provide actual reviews rather than just speculation I’ll safely ignore your ‘concerns’

  41. On the issue of seating density: I have looked, but have not been able to find, an analysis of area per business class seat on different airlines (measured in square feet or square meters). People often say that the soon to be old BA CW has 7-across on a 787 and is thus inferior to Qatar’s 4-across, but if I look at seat plans, I see BA has 21 seats and Qatar 20 between the first two doors (and galleys look about similar), so not a huge difference. The BA rows are farther apart than the QR rows, obviously. So, given this, are we certain (pace Alex Cruz) that the new configuration will actually provide substantially more room (measured in square feet) per seat?

    Chris in Village

  42. BA is far behind with their premium seating. Considering that BA introduced the best seating in 1997 and still has it. Unfortunately they are so far behind it’s ridiculous. First class product is not worthy of the name.

  43. 193 cm here
    I need length, not width. Any flat seat is OK to sleep, be it that I like the olde TK seats best and the SQ seats least. For the rest I don’t really care.

  44. LATAM 789 was my first business product (60k AA miles roundtrip to Peru FTW), and I slept better on that flight than on any other flight despite the lack of privacy. EVA 77W was my second business product, and I hated how cramp my feet felt, so I moved to the bulkhead seat which was just slightly better. This experience reminds me how subject these rankings are. People kept talking about how bad LATAM was, but the flight ended up being very good. Conversely, My EVA flight was good, but It wasn’t better than my LATAM flight, hard product wise.

    I think the Iberia staggered configuration has the best balance between privacy and comfort. The footwell is tall enough

  45. I can’t say I sleep *that* well on Qatar reverse herringbone, which is the same design without the door. It does feel a bit restrictive in both directions. I’ve always liked club world, assuming you can snag the right seat, like the 747 upstairs seat as pictured, or a bulkhead. But I think overall, the new seat has a lot more storage so i’ll spend less time rearranging everything and just be able to focus on sitting or sleeping or get out with ease. So i’m pro the new seat!
    But then I’m due to fly Q suites for the first time next month .. which I think will just set that bar too high to be bowled over with BA! But I’m genuinely excited to fly Club Suites when the time comes.

  46. With so much improvements and innovation with business class, it truly is valid when one can say the major difference between first and business would be the soft products offered such as amenities and food/drinks. Yes as well to the extra mileage, higher priority services such as checkin, luggage, boarding and deboarding and kudos to the better lounges. Yet, it makes you wonder if the extra cash or mileage will be that much worth it considering most prefer the seat the most.

    If you get a really good business class seat with already improved soft products, how much more would airlines truly care to invest in the hard products of first class. What would be next? Just one seat per row right in the middle, so you can have direct aisle access on both ends and both windows to view. Just curious as to what would be the next amazing first class hard product/cabin finishes.

  47. I wonder how it would work out if airlines started putting doors on their Apex aisle seats…not sure how much space they take up, relative to reverse herringbone/staggered/etc seats, but you’d get the best of all worlds then. Everyone gets a lie-flat bed, aisle access, and a “door” of sorts.

  48. Lucky

    I fly over 30 long-haul flights per year. 60 – 70% on BA. I agree with one of our contributors (above) that the BA
    premium economy seats (especially a bulkhead seat) is far more roomy than BA Business and typically half the money ( $1800- $2,000 USA East Coast to Middle East). BA First Class is quite good and it is what I use when I can get a good price (sometimes $6.5K) on a long-haul to the Middle East through London. Frankly, I don’t think Business on BA is worth it to me.

  49. @ Ben (Lucky)

    My post wasn’t a specific dig at you, more every other blogger who seems to demand more and more of a J seat. And sometimes these demands conflict with each other – how do you balance a high level of privacy (i.e., a door) with having a suite that doesn’t feel claustrophobic? So how do you keep these guys happy? I’m not sure it’s possible!

  50. @ JDS

    “how do you balance a high level of privacy (i.e., a door) with having a suite that doesn’t feel claustrophobic”

    So you’ve never tried a Qsuite, then?

  51. I don’t know why a door is all the rage. You can design a seat that is private without it feeling like a coffin. BA should have added the door to first, where density isn’t a problem and it would have made sense. My guess is that any upgrade to the current offerings, would have been praise worthy.

  52. Totally agree, this is my major concern with this seat. Hated the ‘throne’ seat with Swiss precisely due to this. Existing CW seat is fantastic in this regard. Really hope they provide a generous footwell.

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