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Singapore Airlines (SIA) has revealed the latest generation of seats they will be fitting in all new aircraft from September. Passengers on certain flights on the London-Singapore route will be the first to experience them.
Although the new seats are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, and initially will be fitted to only eight new Boeing 777s, they are significant in some respects.
They reflect the changing demands of passengers, particularly in the way they can use their own electronic devices in conjunction with those of the aircraft, and provide further evidence of the ferocity of competition in the airline business.
Their development also represents the antithesis to the degrading factory farming attitude to passenger wellbeing of Ryanair and its ilk. The seats have been specifically designed to allow greater attention from cabin crew.
SIA is investing nearly US$150 million (£101m) to introduce the seats – ‘cabin products’ in the jargon – on eight Boeing 777-300ER aircraft due for delivery in September.
“It demonstrates our confidence in the future for premium full-service air travel,” said SIA’s Executive Vice President Commercial, Mr Mak Swee Wah.
The new seats will also be installed in the Airbus A350s that SIA expects to be operating from the end of 2015. While the seats could be retro-fitted to existing aircraft in SIA’s fleet there are so far no plans to do so.
The main changes are: in economy, softer, more comfortable chairs, an extra inch of legroom, power sockets and handy USB ports; in business class, more stowage space and better lighting, along with a flat bed 28 inches wide – the industry’s widest, claim SIA. In first class the bed is even bigger – 35 inches wide and 82 inches long. The first class seats, of which there are only eight on the 777 – all upholstered in dark brown leather – offer greater privacy, more cubby holes for stowing personal possessions and more sophisticated lighting.
The Panasonic in-flight entertainment system, controlled with touch-screen handsets, is the same in all three classes, except for the size of the LCD screens. All are bigger. Those in first have been increased to 24 inches, in business to 18 inches and in economy to 11 inches. With some 230 movies, 340 TV programmes, 80 games, 790 CDs, as well as radio, audio books and Berlitz language lessons, there are more than a thousand options available on demand. Passengers in first and business classes have noise-cancellation headphones.
In-flight connectivity will allow internet surfing, emailing and text-messaging, services that SIA have already introduced to a number of their existing aircraft. All the new seats will have USB ports; in first and business there will also be HDMI ports to allow passengers to view their own video or photos through their seat screens.
One novel feature is that you can send messages to passengers in other parts of the plane, which will be useful for groups. But if Charlize Theron in seat 1A wants to block any billets doux from her admirer in 47D, she can.
Some personal observations from today’s launch – I was interested when James Park, managing director of London-based James Park Associates, who were involved in designing the business class cabin, told me that part of his brief was for all seats to be forward facing. SIA customer research has shown that people don’t like flying backwards.
They have also retained the elaborate bed arrangement in first and business classes which involves a cabin attendant folding down the seat backrest to form the bed platform. Apparently that ‘enhances the interface’ between passenger and crew. Who wouldn’t like to have their bed made for them by a Singapore flight attendant?
The dedicated bed also means you sleep on fresh linen, not on a leather seat. “Who wants to sit on a bed or sleep on a sofa?” as one designer put it to me.
Was it significant that the launch took place within days of BA introducing its A380? If you haven’t got a new aircraft to announce, you might as well invite 100 or so members of the international media to see you unveil a seat.
The new economy chair did seem very comfortable and for me, at 5ft 10ins, legroom would not be a problem. But upper body room would. It will be difficult either to eat or work at the small tray table when the seat in front is fully reclined.
The business class seat is a whopping 28 inches wide, almost 50 per cent wider than those in rival airlines. Some people don’t like it, but who in their right mind ever complained of too much room in an airliner?