Qatar Airways has just unveiled a brand new Economy Class seat at the biggest annual aviation trade show and well, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, previously said his airline was looking to launch a “revolutionary” Economy Class seat, although several days ago he said he would be at ITB Berlin to unveil a “newly enhanced Economy Class product”.
Clearly, there’s a big difference between ‘revolutionary’ and ‘enhanced’ – not only that, notice how Baker spoke of a Economy Class “product” rather than just the seat. There’s not much of a market for innovation in the Economy Class seating market – aircraft seating manufacturers don’t want to spend the money on expensive R&D when there just won’t be much of a return on that investment.
That’s led in part by a lack of interest in “revolutionary” Economy Class seating products from the airlines. For all the innovation at the pointy end of the plane, Economy Class seating is a pretty conservative market with only small incremental changes in terms of IFE, headrest and recline.
As an example, during Etihad Airways’ ‘Flying Reimagined’ phase, the airline looked at a radical new Economy Class seating design – but when it came to actually making the decision, Etihad unveiled a standard seat with a new ‘wing’ style headrest. That’s the level of innovation one should expect in the Economy Class seating market.
And that’s exactly the route that Qatar Airways has seemingly gone down. For all the hype and showmanship of the grand unveiling, the seat only introduces small incremental changes. The full details are yet to be revealed but the features we can immediately tell include:
- A new slim-line seat which should improve seat pitch
- A much larger IFE screen – 13.3 inch 4K screen
- New seat covers
- An improved headrest
- A forward moving seat pan with a semi-fixed back shell design to reduce recline.
So nothing too revolutionary there. The product was launched on a mockup of a single-aisle Airbus A321 cabin featuring the Airspace interior with ceiling mood lights and Airspace XL luggage bins. Qatar Airways has 50 A321neo aircraft on order and recently 10 of that order into the A321 long-range model. The airline says the aircraft will add additional flexibility to its fleet, allowing it to open up new long-haul routes.
There are, however, other clues to how Qatar Airways will improve the Economy Class experience. From a short promotional film, it looks like a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) streaming service will be introduced in addition to embedded IFE. Qatar Airways also says the food and beverage service will be greatly enhanced.
There have been so many great ideas to really revolutionise Economy Class seating – one that seems to be gaining the most traction is the idea of a staggered seating configuration, while some seat manufacturers have thought of giving the middle seat just a tiny amount more space.
Sadly, neither of those ideas were unveiled today.