Business class flyers will be hit with a hidden catch as airlines upgrade in 2020

As a new decade dawns many airlines are announcing changes to aircraft fleets that will herald a new era of luxury for premium flyers throughout the 2020s, but also come with a few caveats.

Spanning New Zealand, Australian, Southeast Asian and UAE airlines; deals with manufacturers are now being struck that will see the transition from older Boeing and Airbus fleets – which have serviced some airlines for literally decades - to more modern, high-tech aircraft.

The catch for business travellers is the new aircraft may result in fewer premium seating options.

Flying friendlier skies

Replacing many airlines' aging Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 fleets will be Boeing's new 787-9 and 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft, and Airbus' A350 XWB (eXtra Wide Body).

These new aircraft have seen recent deployment in a number of airlines around the globe - such as Qantas, Air France and United - and will really come into their own when deployed on longer routes to and from Australia and New Zealand.

The 787-9 and 787-10 are successors to Boeing's now-famous 787-8 Dreamliner, which arrived with much fanfare made about its superior comfort features – including more cabin space, improved air quality and an increase in cabin pressure to reduce the adverse effects of long periods spent in a low-pressure environment.

The newer variants are longer than the first Dreamliner and increase seating capacity from the 787-8's 248 passengers to 296 in the 787-9 and 336 in the 787-10, with premium cabin seating numbering between the 30s to 40s, depending on the configuration.

A 'clean-sheet' design response to the popularity of the Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 XWB is a spiritual successor to the now retiring A380; fitting up to 350 passengers in the standard aircraft (A350-900) or up to 410 in the stretched variant (A350-1000). Business seating options for these two aircraft are similar to the Dreamliner models mentioned above.

The new Airbus aircraft are, again, roomier than the manufacturer's previous models, with the potential to feature wider seats, depending on the airline, as well as LED mood-lighting to help regulate body clock and reduce fatigue.

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Tall orders

At the Dubai Airshow 2019, Emirates announced a new order for 30 Boeing 787-9 aircraft, totalling US$8.8 billion. Along with the airline's recent order of US$16 billion for 50 Airbus A350-900 aircraft, that's a lot of walking around money towards improving passenger experience. Expect these aircraft to enter service some time in 2023.

In a statement to the media, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Chairman and Chief Executive, declared the new aircraft "an important investment and addition to our future fleet and network requirements, providing us the agility, flexibility and spread of seat segments when it comes to overall capacity to serve a range of destinations as we develop and grow our global route network."

In a move to reaffirm its commitment to the company's international routes, Air New Zealand recently ordered eight Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft; a commitment of US$2.7 billion.

The new aircraft will add to the airline's existing fleet of 13 787-9 aircraft and begin service in 2022, operating along the airline's Pacific Rim routes.

"With the 787-10 offering almost 15 percent more space for customers and cargo than the 787-9, this investment creates the platform for our future strategic direction and opens up new opportunities to grow," said Christoper Luxon, Air New Zealand Chief Executive.

In recent news, Australian airline, Qantas, successfully completed the final Project Sunrise  research flight, with the airline also declaring the Airbus A350-1000 the preferred aircraft to operate the non-stop routes between Australia and New York and London. A final decision on the new routes is expected by March 2020.

Considering Qantas' long relationship with Airbus – a previous deal for 109 new Airbus A321 XLR and A321 NEO aircraft was inked in mid 2019 - if these new routes get the formal green light, we expect an order for the new A350-1000 is firmly on the company's dance card.

Hello, goodbye

With many airlines sunsetting their aging Airbus A380 fleets, we can sadly say goodbye to the era of privacy and exclusivity that came with the aircraft's upper deck. The successor aircraft will still sport private amenities and bars for premium flyers, but that feeling of escaping the herd to ascend to a private domain will soon be a thing of the past.

The newer aircraft for many airlines will adhere to a two-class layout, with the removal of First seating allowing more Premium Economy seating, all while retaining a standard complement of Business Class seats.

Further, when considering changes a number of airline's have recently announced to frequent flyer programs – particularly with regards to seat redemption and premium cabin allocations – and new aircraft offering reduced premium seating options, it may pay to book your travel further in advance to ensure you get the privacy, productivity and luxury you deserve.

On any given day, you'll find Mark Gambino exploring the worlds of luxury travel, technology and alcohol; putting his spin on the experiences that define life's most memorable moments. He finds no greater pleasure than being behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle or sequestered in a basement bar to indulge a bibulous vice.

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