Is this sofa-style seat the future of business class air travel?

Francesca Street, CNNPublished 9th April 2019
Hamburg, Germany (CNN) — On a long-haul flight, passengers spend the time working, eating, sleeping, relaxing -- and all in the same seat.
Even in the swankiest business class situation cabin fever can set in.
That's where Airbus' new "Settee Corner" chair comes in, offering couch-style airplane seating, alongside all the usual business class features.
The new airplane seat premiered at the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2019 (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, attracting buzz from passengers and airlines alike.
On these new seats, fliers can recline, lounge-style, just like on a couch at home. They can be joined by a traveling partner for an aperitif and to enjoy the in-flight entertainment.
And when it's time to sleep, they just lie down on the seat, no mechanisms needed.
It's part of a wider trend visible at AIX -- aircraft and seat manufacturers looking to make radical changes to the airplane seat.

Transforming the traditional

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The idea is you relax as you would on your couch at home.
Courtesy Airbus
The "Settee Corner" concept was designed by Airbus in collaboration with seat manufacturer Geven.
The team based the concept on an economy class three-seater configuration -- transforming this recognizable, budget option into a lightweight and luxurious business class concept.
"Airbus is promoting the 321 long range -- now, the 321 is going to fly seven--to-eight hours, so we need to have the comfort in business class, a lie-flat surface, but with very competitive weight," Amalia Martinez Martin, business line leader for tailored equipment, tells CNN Travel at AIX.
Airbus Settee CornerIMG_1016
The concept was designed by Airbus in collaboration with Geven.
Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN
Martinez Martin says the seat is 30-50% lighter than a traditional business class seat. Plus, because it uses a configuration that's already familiar to airlines, it could go from concept to reality pretty speedily.
"We've got all features that you would find in a business class seat," she adds.
There's the TV screen, a spot to stow belongings, a roomy overhead locker and tray table for dining -- and, of course, the additional couch-like experience.
On one end of the "settee" there's a seat equipped with a safety belt to use during take-off and landing. Another safety belt will be installed further down the couch for use in the sleep position.

Testing out the seat

Airbus Settee CornerIMG_1019 (1)
CNN Travel tests out the seat at AIX 2019 in Hamburg, Germany.
Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN
CNN Travel tested out the seat at AIX. It uses the economy-style structure, so there's not a lot of leg-room in the take-off position.
But the roomy sofa-style space is very inviting. It's easy to imagine reclining with a book or tucking yourself under a blanket to watch a movie.
It'd also be super sociable if you were traveling with someone else.
As for sleeping, the mock-ups at AIX are the same overall length -- 185 centimeters -- as Airbus's traditional business class seat.
Martinez Martin says there's the potential to make it a bit longer, up to 195 centimeters. They're going to test drive both lengths.
Because the seat curves, it feels relatively private -- but there's also the option for airlines to add a curtain or screen.
There are other advantages.
"Each passenger has direct access to the aisle, each cabin crew has direct access to the passenger, easily, not like in some of the staggered configurations," explains Martinez Martin.
Airbus also thinks it'll be appealing to airlines who fly the same aircraft on both long-haul and short-haul flights:
"It could also be a possibility to certify the two positions for taxi, take-off and landing," explains Martinez Martin. That means they could use the seat for two people, as well as one person.

Passenger feedback

Airbus Settee CornerIMG_1019
Airlines and passengers alike have apparently shown interest.
Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN
So what's the feedback been like at AIX?
"Some of the airlines are crazy about it because, as I said, they are always looking for how to make a better business of their aircraft," says Martinez Martin.
"If you tell them you are going to carry on less weight, they [work out the] fuel consumption that they can save."
Meanwhile prospective passengers like the variety the seat offers.
"You feel like being at home in your own lounge," says Martinez Martin.
Airbus thinks the concept could really take flight.

Big trend

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Safran's Essential Business Class seat uses innovative cushion structures.
Courtesy Safran
Airbus aren't the only company exploring mechanism-free, lounge-style business class seating.
French company Safran has also designed a seat that doesn't use mechanisms. Instead, Safran Essential Business Class uses cushioning in innovative ways.
It's not quite a sofa, but it's a similar vibe.
Speaking at AIX, Quentin Munier, strategy and innovation director at Safran, tells CNN Travel that this couch-style trend is the natural next step, after business class seats progressed to full flat designs.
"The sofa principle is something that is interesting to explore," says Munier.
Munier echoes Martinez Martin's comments about this kind of seat being more sociable. He also explains that having the ability to move around is important to passengers' well-being on the flight.
Also on display at AIX is French company Style and Design Group's innovative approach to business class.
Style and Design's vice president of design, Romain Chareyre, shows CNN Travel the company's "Moments" model.
First off, it looks like a swanky armchair, not something you'd expect to see on an airline.

Provocative velvet

Kitted out in on-trend green velvet, with monochrome floral cushioning for the headrest, it's eye-catching.
Style&Design
Style and Design Group's on-trend Moments model.
Courtesy Style and Design Group
It also doesn't use any complicated mechanisms -- it's got a back rest that folds down and foot rest that folds up, turning into a full bed.
Sitting on the lightweight seat, it's easy to maneuver into different positions.
Chareyre claims the use of velvet was deliberately provocative. "We want to ask questions," he says.
It's worked.
"We have good feedback from airlines, from seat vendors," says Chareyre. "They like the geometry, the philosophy behind it, the simplicity."
Passengers, meanwhile, like the idea of space.
"You're not stuck between units, or constrained," says Chareyre. "The idea is to be very versatile and open a lot of opportunities for the passenger."
The Moments chair will also have the so-called "Honeymoon" configuration, where two seats could be positioned next to one another.
So will couch-style seats coexist or replace the traditional business class seat?
Both Safran and Style and Design's concepts were shortlisted for the Crystal Cabin Awards 2019, so the aviation industry's clearly taking notice.
"I think it's replacing it," says Martinez Martin. "I think it's more the future of the cabin."