Qantas A330 Business Suite divides opinion with seat dividers

When Qantas first revealed its all-new Business Suite business class seats, some travellers expressed concern that the middle seats were not 'companion friendly'.

While each pair of seats on the Qantas A380 has a moveable divider screen to alternate between chit-chat or privacy, the wall between the two middle seats on the A330 is fixed in place.

As more of the upgraded A330s take to the skies in coming months, both on east-west routes as well as flights to Asia, more people will have a chance to try the seat for themselves.

Pairing off

But right now, I'm surprised at how highly many travellers rate the ability to have some in-flight socialising with a partner or colleague.

"Plenty of people travel in pairs," one Qantas flyer told me. 

"An unmoveable screen between all business class seats is not only irritating, it also means that friends and co-workers will be speaking very loudly to each other around the screens, or standing up a lot, which is very distracting for other passengers."

The Qantas Business Suite's lack of a moveable privacy screen is an inherent and unavoidable part of the design of the Vantage XL platform on which the Business Suite was developed. There's no sliding middle seat divider because the storage nooks of each passenger's seat are back-to-back.

In other words, the console of the Business Suite passenger in one of the paired middle seats abuts the same storage nook of the passenger next door.

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A bit of a stretch

On a recent flight I had a better chance to assess how well the Business Suite caters for couples, and it's not as bad as the photos make it seem.

You do need to either sit bolt uprightt, or lean forward and swivel towards your seatmate, for casual conversation to take place. More intimate whisperings will have to wait, though.

Cathay Pacific's highly-regarded business class seat is designed along similar lines. Passengers in the middle seats sit back so far that they need to lean forward and crane their necks around in order to swap stories.

Pop-up purple Perspex panel

Virgin Australia's next-generation business class seat intended for the airline's A330 and Boeing 777 jets has a pop-up purple Perspex panel (try saying that quickly five times after a few drinks).

This will be one differentiator between the Qantas and Virgin products when Virgin's upgraded A330s are launched mid-year.

Passengers paired up in Etihad's new Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Business Studio can also raise or lower a long divider that runs between the seats.

How often do you travel next to your partner or a colleague in business class, and do sliding privacy screens make that much of a difference to your shared travel experience?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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