CONTEXT FOR MY OBSESSION: for 30 years my job required a massive amount of international flying, in paid Business Class: 150k to 200k actual miles flown annually. ZERO complaints, I loved it! Then I bought an apartment 4,500 miles from my home in NYC.
I was fairly limited on airline selection due to company contacts. But some loopholes had allowed for freedom to hop around and try a new airline. Over 3 decades I would roughly guess I lived through about 4 eras of seat design trends, and innovation on 4 & 5 Star airlines.
As a designer, branding professional and aviation enthusiast: often those passions converged in Premium seat design. Aside from the pure aesthetics, I am extremely curious regarding things like: trend setters the making of a final decision and signing a P.O for a staggering amount of money! When an airline selects an off the shelf solution and when (and which) airlines have a totally custom design seat unique to them. The brand implications a seat design, the costs associated and the size of a seat (larger equaling less capacity, but drives demand ...but mostly which airlines changed the game and innovated first, forcing competition to upgrade their seat.
There were basically 3 airlines I was forced to fly by my employer: NYC/LHR was either BA or VS, and NYC (both domestic and international) was UA, however I was free to select BA on some other international flights via LHR connections. I worked for a UK company with an enormous US presence. On the EXTREMELY busy NYC/LHR route I was pretty locked into BA/VS, my primary client was in BA’s top 3 contacts. Sometimes I could fly UA/LHR, but it was tricky!
But outside of that, on routes such as nonstop South America to Europe or within AsiaPac (SYD/HKG/SIN/NRT etc) so long the USA was not on the itinerary, I was free to fly anyone I wanted.
And those routes got me onto Singapore, Cathay, ANA, VARIG, TAP, TAM, Air France, Swiss, SAA, Thai, QANTAS, and many more. Also once I made UA 1k by around June, I would really try very hard to to experience a different airline - (until the advent of “UA Global Services” which kept one on UA metal if you really wanted to achieve GS status! Brilliant move)
However over 30 years of consistent huge amounts of UA/LH and BA, those airlines went through multiple hard product design changes, especially UA/LH: In the very beginning J & F both cabins had just recliners (sure, bigger better recliners in F, however the service difference was astonishing) Then lie flats in First but not J, then angled lie flats in J, then lie flats in J, but a FAR superior lie flats in First then the trend move to a 2 class “blended” J & F.
Which brings me to TODAY! Only a handful of airlines with TRUE GLOBAL FIRST (some even surpassing First with apartments) and many with a great blended F&J seat, some just ok.
Are almost all blended F&J seats a basic off the self seat with enough ability to customize them to appear unique? If so which airlines have done the best job at customizing those seats? Who has designed unique and bespoke sears NOT based off the footprint of a predestined and engineered footprint?
Who has been a game changer and what seat must I try before I die m? Which seats have gained notoriety for its design and comfort?
In closing: have airlines really seen a big ROI due to new Premium hard products?
And aside from PriestmanGoode, what other industrial design agencies have done wonderful work?