The easiest way for always-struggling airlines to maximize revenue is to get people sitting in their premium seats. Without buying new planes or rethinking routes, business class means that precious plane real estate can sell for more per square foot. But what do the airlines really have to work with? Space is finite. Serve them food, a glass of wine, and what else? Design the space better.
So in the late 2000s, Lufthansa invited designers to reimagine their business class seats. "Basically since Lufthansa had designed the previous seat the business class market had moved on significantly. It was necessary to introduce a fully flat bed which up to now had not been Lufthansa’s offer," explains Luke Pearson of PearsonLloyd. But they had one big requirement: While other airlines had rotated chairs like Tetris pieces to make reclining possible, Lufthansa wanted all seats to face the direction of travel for optimal flyer comfort.
PearsonLloyd ended up winning the contract with a novel approach, by shaping the seats like a V. It sounds intimate at first, with two passengers facing in toward one another. But ultimately, this places passengers further apart. And when people actually lay down, their heads are partitioned off by their own consoles. Meanwhile, this hypotenuse-like approach buys precious leg room. The beds recline to almost 6.5 feet in length.
"This principle is not unique in aviation seating design," Pearson admits. "However, the way in which the layout we utilised within the aircraft and the specific functions of the seat are unique to this design and Lufthansa in this case." Indeed, it was the small details, details carved out over several years of mockups, user testing, then test flights, that didn’t just make their design as spacious as possible, but as comfortable as possible.
A perfect example are the integrated displays. PearsonLloyd had wanted to connect these in a center band to optimize their complexity of articulation. And while this didn’t affect roominess, the band blocked a view into the next row, cutting down on perceived space. So they abandoned the idea. The precise shape of the head/shoulder compartment was honed to accept users of multiple broadness. The lower lumbar adjustments were given massage functions (which sounds like a godsend for anyone who’s gone numb during a long flight). And even the seat textile is wholly custom, bringing in flecks of yellow to warm the otherwise silver sheen.
I asked Pearson why many of these pretty obvious improvements hadn’t been made before, why if V-shaped seating is so efficient, it wasn’t simply implemented in the first place?
"Simply because design and engineering knowledge evolves," he responded. "People never arrive immediately at the optimum solution." Which makes you wonder, with a few more great ideas, how wonderful could Lufthansa’s next new business class be?