Factorydesign’s Innovative New Narrow Body Business Class Seat

Filed Under: Misc.

Here’s a truly innovative new business class seat, even if I’m a bit skeptical about how popular it will be.

There’s a big gap in narrow body business class

We’re seeing airlines fly narrow body aircraft on longer and longer routes, and that trend will continue when the Airbus A321XLR enters service in 2023. With these planes flying longer and more premium routes, we’re also seeing airlines install more impressive business class seats on these planes.

Airbus A321XLR

There’s unarguably a huge gap in the market, though. A lot of airlines have typical regional seats on these planes, in a 2-2 configuration. The exact products vary in terms of design, finishes, legroom, etc.

Delta’s A321 first class

Then on the other end of the spectrum you have fully flat business class seats, and those will only continue to improve over time. For example, STELIA’s new OPERA business class seat is a reverse herringbone concept specifically designed for the A321XLR.

STELIA’s OPERA business class seat

But there aren’t any seating options for an airline looking to offer direct aisle access without offering flat beds… until now.

Factorydesign’s new “Access” seat

As noted by The Design Air, UK-based Factorydesign is introducing a new business class seat concept intended for long haul, narrow body aircraft. What makes this product unique is that it offers direct aisle access without offering flat beds (and therefore more seats can be installed in the cabin).

Factorydesign’s Access cabin layout

As you can see below, the seats are staggered, and the intent is that the person in the aisle seat exits directly, and then the person in the window seat exits towards the rear, via a gap between the seats.

Factorydesign’s Access cabin layout

The aisle seats in particular are angled quite a bit, which is what allows this unique feature. The product is highly customizable, but would generally feature around 47″ of pitch. The idea is that the seat would recline quite a bit, but wouldn’t go anywhere close to flat (or even angled flat).

Factorydesign’s Access cabin layout

This product isn’t intended to compete in uber-premium markets where flat beds are a must. Rather this is more of a mid-market product, intended for:

  • Airlines like Icelandair, Hawaiian, etc.
  • Routes that are primarily operated as daytime flights, where there’s less need for a flat bed

Just for a sense of the economics, the same amount of space on a plane could hold:

  • 48 standard “domestic” premium seats with 38″ of pitch (similar to what you’d find on US airline domestic flights)
  • 40 of these Factorydesign Access seats with 47″ of pitch
  • 30 VantageSolo seats, which are fully flat and feature direct aisle access

Factorydesign’s Access seats

Factorydesign’s Access seats

As FactoryDesign describes this product:

“There is also growing interest in these aircraft in response to the impact of the pandemic due to the increased flexibility and route efficiency they can offer. So we believe the single aisle aircraft market will grow significantly in the coming years.

Currently there is a significant gap between the lie-flat, direct aisle seats such as Solo (and others) and the conventional 2-2 configuration. We believe there is market need for a high-density, less space hungry premium seat for single aisle that provides added features and enhanced passenger experience beyond a standard 2-2 configuration, with higher-density cabins than full lie-flat business class.”

I’m not sure there’s a market for this

Factorydesign’s product is innovative and something we haven’t seen before, so I love that. However, I’m also not convinced there’s a market for this. Why? Because passenger experience innovation often doesn’t pay off for airlines, beyond certain features that can be marketed:

  • I believe premium passengers absolutely value the concept of flat bed business class and would pay more and go out of their way to fly that
  • At the same time, I’m not sure that direct aisle access as such would cause someone to change their airline choice and/or pay extra, especially when the concept of direct aisle access isn’t marketed through many online travel agencies
  • Since this product is intended largely for routes where there are daytime flights, I’m not sure direct aisle access is that important

Presumably this product is mostly targeted at airlines that would otherwise install less spacious seats, rather than more spacious seats. Given that the footprint of this product is a third greater, pricing would need to compensate for that.

As far as my take on this product as such goes:

  • Is it just me, or does the actual “aisle access” for the person in the window seat look really narrow?
  • I’m generally not a huge fan of hard-shell cradle seats (like what Cathay Pacific has in regional business class), and this looks somewhat similar

Lastly, it’s interesting to note that Factorydesign is also behind Delta’s new first class seat, which I’d say are moderately innovative, but not a game-changer of any sorts.

Delta’s new first class seat concept (also from Factorydesign)

Bottom line

Factorydesign has introduced the first narrow body business class seat with direct aisle access but without flat beds. This is no doubt innovative, and in theory should have a market. However, true innovation unfortunately often doesn’t pay off, beyond meeting certain marketing bullets.

Only time will tell if any airline selects this seat. If so, I’ll be curious to see if we see an airline “upgrade” from a less spacious cabin in a 2-2 configuration, if we see a premium airline introduce this as a niche product for certain routes, or what.

What do you make of this new business class seat concept?

  1. Interesting, and looks actually quite comfortable. The only thing is that the seats would need to be rather narrow for this to work, about the size of regular economy seats on an A320.

  2. I actually like this but based on that last rendering, it looks like a very tight squeeze out for the window person. I’d think that would be quite bothersome for the person sitting in the aisle.

  3. Having all that narrow, empty floor space seems problematic. I can see things falling in those gaps and getting stepped on. There would also be temptation to see the space around your feet as ‘your space’, and place your belongings there, making it difficult for the person in front to step over and into the aisle, defeating the purpose of the design.

  4. What are they smoking? It’s way too narrow. I’d rather get up than have the windower’s gut in my face as they grab my seatback and try to squeeze by. Definitely wouldn’t work for Texas flights.

  5. Hi Ben, thanks for the link back. Actually Factorydesign also created the Thompson Aero Vantage Solo seat, so they’ve come up with a variety of narrow body concepts.

  6. I’d rather have this than angled flat, I think. On the angled flat I keep it elevated anyway because it’s easier to sleep. This would be great for the types of destinations/flights you mentioned.

  7. You are wrong, Ben

    It was actually Priestmangoode who did the first business class seat with direct aisle access without flat bed. It was in the Embraer E2

  8. E2 is a lovely job, but still requires the window passenger to step over the legs of the aisle passenger, so it’s not direct aisle access…

  9. If their target market is leisure airlines like Hawaiian and Icelandair they’re doing themselves a disservice by going with a layout that is not conducive to couples traveling together. F/J on those airlines is disproportionately older couples who generally want to sit together.

  10. No privacy and someone crossing in front of you half the time.
    Only BA high density business class is worse.

  11. It’s not direct access if you aren’t sat on the aisle!

    If someone in the window seat wants to get up they are going to to instinctivly move forward and step over someones legs rather than go backwards.

    And if they do leave as the arrows suggest they are also likely to grab the other seat disturbing that passenger.

  12. I like the idea of an in between product. Historically, there was a huge gap because of corporate travel policies. Transcon or flights over 5ish hours gets business class, others get coach was common. So you had a competition on premium product.

    Now there are some changes. More personal vs work travel. More mid-con travel with lots of companies with new offices in Texas and Florida and travel from NY-Florida, and NY-Texas or California to Texas.

    A better than domestic first but more affordable than intercontinental lie flat makes a lot of sense. Post covid, there will be an increased benefit of personal space.

    I like the approach, but I think a better execution would be BA like forward /backward Ying yang.

  13. I would definitely pay a premium for this cabin over a standard domestic-style 2-2 first class on a longer flight – I think it’s a neat concept. As long as it’s marketed and priced somewhere between that and a fully amenitized lie-flat product, I can see the demand being out there.

    As an aside, I’m not sure what remote connection exists between this post and the comment “I wish more airlines would do a configuration like AA a321T with the 1 1 confirmation [sic] flat beds.” Bit of a non sequitur there.

  14. I’d rather have the traditional 2-2 layout. This seat looks like it’s not that comfortable and pretty much the same width as economy.

    But hey at least if you are in the aisle seat you can watch what others are watching for rows ahead. More free entertainment options 😉

  15. if their lay-flat turns into a zero gravity chair position like on Emirates first 777 or a cheap zero gravity lawn chair, that would be remarkable, imo. most people can sleep very well in that position… its been proven.

  16. interesting for sure. I’m just wondering how this would work from a service viewpoint. Window seated passengers would have to be approached from behind. That seems awkward, doesn’t it?

  17. This is a total abomination!

    @Deepeegrumps: yes immediately put me in mind of BA “let’s squeeze as many seats in as we can and persuade the airline their revenue will boost.

    How in the name of ***** are the flight attendants going to deliver anything.

    Makes 2-2 forward facing look simply amazing.

    Keep taking the tablets, Factorydesign (or change your name to just Factory)

  18. Looks great! I have flown Japan-Europe and Europe-US some times as daytime flights. Yeah, its often nice to “try” the lie flat seat, but I really don’t need it. I agree, “direct aisle” is maybe not the correct term, but these “go to the aisle without climbing over your neighbour” seats is for me perfect (assuming ≈20% lower cost passed on the passenger than for an airline offering lie-flat).

  19. I do think some of the flying public values different seats although I am not always sure folks are in the know. I do also think this presents a nice medium as I think flat beds are over rated a lot of the time unless you’re on a true overnight flight. With that said, airlines like VX tried to have a premium domestic F experience before and it didn’t exactly work out, so I’m not holding my breathe here.

  20. @Eric

    Not the disastrous BA, please! Step over the aisle passenger, if in window and having food passed over your table to the window, if in aisle, which is totally exposed anyway.

    Benefit: 2-4-2. For BA

    Never again, please!

  21. I think it could work on US and Asian full service carriers who operate 4-5 hour legs on narrow body aircrafts. Barring the transcontinental market, it isn’t viable to lie flat seats on a narrow body aircraft. With the current conditions, something like this could be ideal where passengers can have a superior product to the standard 2×2 recliners with 38 inch pitch.
    Then again, I do think there are more innovative products out there. Check out the butterfly convertible seat- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SM-ZW8Zzq38

    By forsaking a small amount of density (depending on the premium cabin size), airlines can have the flexibility to configure cabins in recliner or lie-flat seats as per demand and routes. On a 5 hour day westbound flight, a recliner seat would be more then sufficient while on an eat-bound red eye, flat beds are needed. I see this seating concept having far more value for airlines and passengers.

  22. If budget wasn’t a factor, I would look over this product. Go for the full flatbed seat. Direct aisle access not always important because of the time, you’d be hopping over your travelling companion anyway.

    Nice for daytime flights. Does that mean the plane will remain parked overnight?

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