There’s not much good news coming out of the airline industry these days. Many carriers have grounded large portions of their fleets, slashed flight schedules in response to travel restrictions and border closures, and even put up their frequent-flier programs as collateral for loans and bailouts. But at least one bright spot landed at London Heathrow Airport earlier this week in the form of a gleaming new first-class suite with closing doors aboard British Airways’ most recently delivered Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Last year, the airline began a much-needed update of its business-class cabins, starting with the Airbus A350-1000s joining its fleet, and followed by a refurbishment of some Boeing 777s, then the delivery of its first Boeing 787-10s earlier this year. Taking a cue from newer suite-style layouts with closing doors that can be found aboard competitors like Qatar Airways and Delta, British Airways’ new business-class seats have sliding doors for privacy, and updated tech touches like 18.5-inch HD entertainment systems. That created an issue for frequent fliers since business-class seats on these jets had closing doors…while first-class ones did not. Until now.
Back in September, the airline revealed that it would be installing a new first-class product aboard new Boeing 777-300ERs, and the first of those jets arrived at the airline’s hub of London Heathrow on October 2. It is expected to begin operating flights between Heathrow and New York JFK this week, operating flights BA 113 westbound, and BA 114 on the return.
According to pictures already circulating thanks to @Planenews_777 on Twitter, the seat itself looks a lot like the ones already flying aboard British Airways’ Boeing 787-9s and 787-10s. The dimensions should be around 22 inches wide and 73 inches long in bed mode. The main difference seems to be privacy doors that can be shut to create a more cocoon-like space for first-class passengers. There appear to be just eight of these suites in the first-class cabin.
With the introduction of business-class Club Suites, British Airways had a bit of a conundrum on its hands – its business-class seats were more advanced and more private than its first-class product. With the addition of doors to first class, though, its service classes regain their proper alignment. However, we should only expect to see these new suites on a handful of planes for the time being. Also given how much uncertainty remains about any potential travel recovery as the world struggles to get COVID-19 under control, aircraft with these suites might not be flying very many routes, or available to very many passengers for some time to come.
For the moment, British Airways also has an outstanding order of 18 Boeing 777-9s that should start arriving in the coming years. However, there’s no indication whether British Airways plans to put a version of these first-class suites on those planes, or if it will debut a totally new product. Let’s hope it’s the latter since, with just the addition of a door, there’s not much incentive to book these suites over one of British Airways’ already excellent Club Suites in business class other than some slightly roomier dimensions. The airline is still currently serving pared-back meals and amenities in all classes, so the luxury touches that would otherwise set first-class apart might not be available for some time to come. That makes a truly exceptional hard product, and one that differs in obvious and desirable ways from business class, all the more significant in order to entice high-end fliers to book a much higher-priced fare.