The 2014 Guide to Lie-Flat Seats in First and Business Class
With apologies to George Orwell, some lie-flat seats are more equal than others. Indeed, is one airline’s reverse herringbone lie-flat seat more comfortable than another’s backwards-facing lie-flat?
The move to fully lie-flat seats began in 1995 and 1996 when Air France and British Airways introduced seats that converted to fully-flat beds in their respective first-class cabins. The beds were truly horizontal and parallel to the deck, in stark contrast to the recliners used in most planes.
Within a few years, numerous airlines, including American, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, Singapore, and United, installed seats in their first-class cabins that opened up to a fully lie-flat position, making them feel like real beds.
But the real bed race had yet to begin.
In 1999, Virgin Atlantic Airways fired the first volley by introducing a business-class seat that extended to a bed. This was the first such seat in business but it was an angled lie-flat seat, and presumably surprised passengers would find themselves sliding downward when the seat was in the bed position.
Compare this with a state-of-the-art business-class seat of 2001. It was largely mechanical, with levers to adjust the seat back, the footrest, and the headrest, among other functions. United Airlines dedicated two pages of its in-flight magazine to explain “adjusting your seat” to passengers.
The following year, British Airways struck back at Virgin and introduced a fully horizontal, lie-flat business-class seat although 50% of passengers faced rearward when seated.
Today there is a wide variety of first- and business-class lie-flat seats and many passengers choose airlines and flights based solely on the seat, given how a good night’s sleep can make or break a flight.