With the introduction and greater availability of lie-flat seats over the past two decades, long-haul business class cabins have greatly improved. Competition to attract these high-revenue flyers is hot, and airlines tempt business customers with offers of greater privacy and more room to stretch out. As a result, the best of today’s business class cabins are far better than the best of yesterday’s first class cabins.

Recently, B/E Aerospace’s Apex Suite has earned airlines’ business because of its clever design. The Apex model is staggered, allowing forward-facing seats in a denser 2-2-2 cabin configuration, and gives all passengers aisle access with enough private space to earn the ‘suite’ label.

Korean Air has announced that it will introduce the Apex suite on its Business class cabins which it will market as ‘Prestige Suites.’

Oman Air introduced the Apex on its new Airbus A330-300 aircraft this past December.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has also adopted the seat with enough passenger enhancement features to rate the airline’s overall business class experience among the industry’s best. JAL stands out for its decision to reduce the total number of seats on its retrofitted 787 Dreamliners, giving passengers more room in all classes. The airline introduced B/E Apex suites in business class on the 787 giving 38 lucky passengers their own private, peaceful place to work, play and rest.

As Adam White, director at Factory Design, London, explains:

“There is a lot of work currently underway with seat makers and airlines to ‘up the game’ for the specification of a standard business class seat into something more like a mini-suite.”

White believes this is a new trend, akin to the previous introduction of lay-flat seats to business which are now available on most carriers. “The more that can be done the better, with regard to shutting out the outside world, and the smart money is on ever improved privacy in this trend. This should be seen in combination with trying to achieve aisle access from all seats without having to climb over anyone!”

This push by airlines to dramatically improve the business cabin forces some to think of new ways of keeping luxury travelers happy in first. When it announced the introduction of the B/E Aerospace Apex suite, Korean Air said that it will introduce a new first class concept which would complement the ‘Prestige Suites.’

To go beyond the experience of an Apex business class suite, airlines may be inspired by the full-sized VIP suite designs onboard select aircraft flown by Asiana Airlines, China Southern AirlinesEmirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines.

Either of these suite products, business and first, set standards so high that it’s difficult to imagine how airlines and their suppliers will come up with even better cabins tomorrow.

We don’t doubt the skill of the industry’s best designers and manufacturers, but see additional opportunities for differentiation in “zero-footprint” features, such as better overall travel technology implementations, state-of-the-art IFE systems with innovations like some we’ve featured from Panasonic and Thales, better and more readily available onboard connectivity, and a wider selection of tailored on-demand entertainment content on both embedded and wireless IFE systems.