For so many, the writing has been on the wall for First Class. After all, the gulf between First and Business Class was bridged by a wave of suites, fully flat beds and all-aisle access in the larger more affordable J class cabin. This means for many now, the upgrade to First Class simply meant slightly better amenities, enhanced food and drink and more personalised service.
That is partly because airlines over the past decade have invested heavily into a halo product that’s not at the front of the plane, but the most sought after instead. For some airlines that’s meant the removal of First Class altogether, for others a new hybrid Premium Business Class has been developed, and then most recently, for the likes of Lufthansa, an entirely new Suite of products from an all-singing-all dancing First Class to no less than 6 types of Business Class product on their wide-bodied long haul aircraft.
But it seems, with the return of Etihad’s A380, Lufthansa and Swiss’s investment into First Class, and even Starlux bringing its own award-winning A350 First Class product to the skies, the future of this exclusive, highly valuable cabin class is anything but written off.
Actually, design studio Acumen, who were heavily involved in the Etihad A380 project with it’s famous Residence, and the world’s first First Class ‘flying bed’ to the skies in 1995 with British Airways, sees even greater potential in the First Class cabin, creating a brand new suite concept that might be gracing the skies in just a few years.
Pre COVID-19 the growth in size and features of the new breed of ‘Super Business Class seats’ forced many airlines to significantly reduce their First Class seat capacity. Some airlines responded by introducing Super First Class suites fitted to larger aircraft models. However, the Covid -19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on commercial aviation forcing some airlines to hastily reduce their capacity further or remove First Class totally. Some of which was driven by the early retirement of the A380, and the consequential moth balling of several leading premium products prematurely.
However, one of the biggest challenges for an airline is justifying opting for a First Class product above and beyond a Super Business Class product. Acumen set out to deliver on a series of challenges including a product that could ultimately be fitted across the full range of wide bodied aircraft types. “Our aim was to create a product that would set a new benchmark for the industry, but also offer a consistent product and experience across an airlines diverse fleet, with minimal impact on seat capacity. Above all a total re-think of how luxury can be delivered in a simpler, lighter, more elegant and space efficient manner,” states Acumen.
Acumen believes that the next generation of First Class seats needs to embrace the approach taken by Etihad and Singapore Airlines in providing a separate seat and bed, but designed in a more space efficient way to fit all wide-bodied aircraft rather than just the A380.
The First Class suite concept dubbed ‘The First Place’ consists of three private suites across the width of the aircraft – configurable in a three, six, or nine seat layout. It can also be designed to fit four suites abreast if higher seat densities are required, enabling a double suite option in the centre.
Each of The First Place suites contains a separate seat and an innovative chaise-longue that are both certified for taxi, take-off and landing. The separate leather armchair is styled to reflect high end residential furniture. It can rotate and recline to offer not only a suitable take-off position, but also a formal dining and comfortable work position, adjacent to the large one-piece desk/table.
The unique patented layout of the passenger environment creates a room-like cabin with a perfect balance between privacy and openness. The separate seat and chaise-longue creates an 80” bed length and 28” bed width on a B777 aircraft – offering an uncompromised passenger experience reminiscent of a VIP jet.
There’s a philosophy at play here that mimics how we interact with our homes, where technology is seamless and intuitive. The passenger would simply use a touch screen tablet to control all in-suite powered functionality, including climatic control, lighting, and even hotel style inflight service. The suite also has two monitors for viewing, a large 32 inch LED screen for lounging/ bed viewing from the chaise-longue, and also an 18 inch monitor for viewing whilst seated in the armchair.
The large one-piece table can also slide to any position within the suite, be it formal dining for two or a relaxed ‘Breakfast in Bed’ – and there is a sliding ottoman/buddy seat that allows dual dining and further relaxations options.
While this is currently just a concept, there’s reason to believe we might see it gracing the skies in the near future. There are multiple legacy carriers who are looking to return to a pre-COVID landscape, and Acumen’s ‘The First Place’ certainly ticks the boxes to deliver on a product that is far superior to a ‘Super Business’ product. Perhaps it’s winning formula is down to a product that can offer consistency across different aircraft types. We could see the likes of Singapore Airlines opting for such a product, as it certainly would create consistency with it’s flagship A380 First Class product. I guess we’ll have to watch this ‘Place’…