In Search of a Better Business Class Lie-Flat Seat

By Jonathan Spira on 9 March 2012
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American, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, Qatar, Swiss, United and Virgin (among others) face off in the skies

In the past year, I’ve flown in international business class seats on six airlines, namely, Air France, American Airlines, Continental (now United), KLM, Lufthansa, and Swiss (pictured).    Out of the six, only two airlines offered truly lie-flat seating that was horizontal to the floor, Continental and Swiss.

The fully horizontal seat made a difference.  My Swiss flight was the only eastbound transatlantic flight on which I got a relatively full-night’s sleep in business class. My 14-hour transpacific flight to Tokyo on Continental was also restful and I slept well. (Almost all first-class cabins have large, horizontal lie-flat seats, so I have almost never had a problem sleeping on those seat/beds.)

In third place was American’s which, while angled slightly to the deck, was far more comfortable than those from Air France, KLM, and Lufthansa.  The problem with the latter three seats is that the forces of gravity take hold, even at 35,000 feet, and I found myself routinely sliding downwards.

I’ve flown Lufthansa’s business class more regularly than the others, and my experience with the PrivateBed (pictured below) over the years has been mixed (sometimes I slide, sometimes I don’t) and I have been able to sleep quite comfortably on some flights, while on others I couldn’t find a suitable position.

My comments here are solely related to the bed and the impact of the angle on sleeping.  In general, the flights on all of the airlines mentioned were quite enjoyable, and the service was excellent.

I should also mention that I am far from alone when it comes to thinking about this subject.  Indeed, the Internet is filled with tens of thousands of posts on travel-related forums such as FlyerTalk and Milepoint where the most frequent flyers routinely complain about the issue.

This week, two airlines, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways, introduced fully-flat business-class seats at the ITB Berlin travel show, and other airlines, including American and Virgin Atlantic, have also recently made announcements (more on that in a moment).  But it will take time until a majority of airlines retrofit their long-haul aircraft with new seats, so I decided that this was a good time to look back at the history of business-class seat/beds.  (I am writing this on a daytime Swiss flight, in a fully-flat business-class seat that of course isn’t fully flat at the moment.)

Click here to continue to Page 2The First Fully-Flat Seats

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