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To help you make good travel choices both coming and going, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at the carriers fielding rear-facing seats and what you can expect from them.

As many airlines cut back on first class and aim to cram more seats into their business-class cabins, one trend you might have noticed is the prevalence of both front- and rear-facing seats on a handful of airlines. To give you a sense of this new backward landscape, here are the airlines currently featuring rear-facing seats on their aircraft, including cabin layouts and seat dimensions:

Configuration and Dimensions

American Airlines British Airways Etihad United
Configuration 1 x 2 x 1 2 x 4 x 2 2 x 4 x 2 2 x 4 x 2
Dimensions 60-61 x 21-26 72 x 20 73 x 20 (business) 76 x 20
Notice that armrest on the aisle? It doesn't move, so rear-facing seats feel a bit narrower.
American Airlines’ 787s and retrofitted 777-200s have forward and rear-facing seats in business class.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

The latest carrier to deploy rear-facing seats, American Airlines began putting them on certain 777-200s that it was retrofitting, as well as on its order of new 787-8 Dreamliners. However, after a recent dispute with seat manufacturer Zodiac, which wasn’t meeting delivery deadlines, the airline announced that it would be canceling its order and looking for another seat type to put on these aircraft.

Looking across the cabin from my seat.
Looking across the business-class cabin on American’s 777-200.

However, you’ll still see the forward-rear seat combo on certain routes, including New York JFK-Rio, for the foreseeable future.

Aircraft and Cabin Configuration

The seats on American’s planes are in a reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 configuration. The seats on the sides of the plane face out (or in, if you’re looking toward the rear). The seats in the middle angle toward one another if facing front, and away from one another if facing backward. Here are the individual aircraft and layouts:

  • Retrofitted Boeing 777-200 — 45 seats in the business-class cabin, 24 of which face backward
  • Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner — 28 seats in the business-class cabin, 14 of which face backward

Seat Dimensions and Amenities

On both planes, each seat has just 60 inches of pitch and is 21 inches wide with the side armrest raised, or 26 with it lowered. However, you can’t lower the armrest in the rear-facing seats, so you’re stuck with the narrower dimensions. They recline to a full 77 inches in lie-flat mode.

The seats recline to a full 77 inches in lie-flat mode.
The seats recline to a full 77 inches in lie-flat mode.

Each seat has its own 16-inch IFE monitor, as well as a universal adapter and USB ports. Storage space is rather limited, though, with no cubbies or room for a laptop for stowage during takeoff or landing.

A shot of American's 777-200 cabins.
A shot of American’s 777-200 cabins.

Comparison

Let’s compare the newer seats to those aboard American Airlines’ flagship aircraft, the 777-300ER. Like the 777-200 and 787-8, the 777-300ER’s business-class cabin is laid out in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone configuration — however, all of its seats face forward.

For a comparison, let's look at American's flagship 777-300ER's business-class cabin.
For a comparison, let’s look at American’s flagship 777-300ER’s business-class cabin.

The 777-300ER’s seat dimensions are 26 inches wide (no matter which seat you have) and most recline to 75-78 inches, beating out the forward-backward seats on the 777-200 and 787 by about an inch. The IFE monitors are also an inch wider.

The seats on the 777-300ER have a bit more room and stowage.
The seats on the 777-300ER have a bit more room and stowage.

So the real differences here are the larger width of the 777-300ER’s seats, and thanks to privacy walls and a staggered seat configuration, you’re not looking across the aisle directly at someone else.

BA's entire long-haul fleet has rear-facing business-class seats.
BA’s entire long-haul fleet has rear-facing business-class seats.

BRITISH AIRWAYS

With front- and rear-facing business-class Club World seats on its entire long-haul fleet, BA is the largest carrier with the most extensive deployment of this kind of seating.

An overhead shot of what BA's seats look like. Photo courtesy of British Airways.
An overhead shot of what BA’s seats look like. Image courtesy of British Airways.

Aircraft and Cabin Configuration

British Airways has rear-facing seats in the business-class cabins on the following planes:

  • 747-400 — 2-2 on the upper deck (five rows, with window seats facing rear and aisle seats facing forward)
  • 767-300 (international) — 2-2-2 (on the left side, window seats face front while aisle seats face back, and vice versa on the right side)
  • 777-200 — 2-4-2
  • 777-300 — 2-4-2
  • 787-8 — 2-3-2 (window seats face backward, and the middle seat in each center threesome faces backward, as well)
  • A380 — 2-4-2 on the main deck; 2-3-2 on the upper deck, where there are eight additional rows of business class
BA's 787 Dreamliner business-class cabin.
BA’s 787 Dreamliner business-class cabin. Image courtesy of British Airways.

British Airways’ business-class cabins on its international long-haul fleet tend to be laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration on the main deck of aircraft (if there is more than one). In those two-seat sections on the sides of the plane, the seat next to the window faces backward. In the middle section of four seats, it is the middle two seats that face backward.

So half the seats face the rear — and if you were writing it out, it would look like this: Rear, forward, aisle, forward, rear, rear, forward, aisle, forward, rear.

It could be awkward if you're not traveling with someone you know. Photo courtesy of British Airways.
The BA rear-forward combo could be awkward if you’re not traveling with someone you know. Image courtesy of British Airways.

Seat Dimensions and Amenities

The seat dimensions are pretty much the same across the board:

  • 747-400 — 70 lie-flat seats on both levels with 72 inches of pitch when reclined, and 20 inches of width
  • 767-300 (international) — 24 lie-flat seats with 72 inches of pitch when reclined, and 20 inches of width
  • 777-200 — 48 lie-flat seats with 72 inches of pitch when reclined, and 20 inches of width
  • 777-300 — 56 lie-flat seats with 72 inches of pitch when reclined, and 20 inches of width
  • 787-8 — 35 lie-flat seats with 72 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width
  • A380 — 97 lie-flat seats on both levels with 72 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width

These seats all lag in IFE screen size – just 12.1 inches!

Comparison

British Airways operates a flight from London City-LCY to New York-JFK via Shannon, Ireland (SNN) aboard an all-business-class A318. That aircraft has just 32 front-facing seats in a 2-2 configuration.

Seats aboard the airline's all-business-class A318 all face forward.
Seats aboard the airline’s all-business-class A318 all face forward.

Like the forward-rear-facing combos, though, these seats are 20 inches wide and have between 72-73 inches in pitch.

Etihad's 787 Dreamliners and A380s feature rear-facing seats in first and business class.
Etihad’s 787 Dreamliners and A380s feature rear-facing seats in first and business class.

EITHAD

Etihad operates rear-facing seats in both its business and first-class cabins aboard the following aircraft:

Aircraft and Cabin Configuration

Boeing 787-9 — In first class, there are just eight enclosed suites in two rows a 1-2-1 configuration. The side seats in row one face backward, and the middle seats in row two face backward, while the rest of the seats face forward.

The seat map of Etihad's A380 - half those first-class Apartments face backwards.
The seat map of Etihad’s A380 – half those first-class Apartments face backward.

Airbus A380 — This aircraft has eight of Etihad’s flagship first-class Apartments, half of which are rear-facing, in a 2-2 configuration — though it’s really more like 1-1.

The A380's business-class cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The A380’s business-class cabin is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration with half the seats facing front and half facing rear.

In business class, the A380 fields 70 lie-flat seats in that same staggered 2-4-2 configuration — that really feels more like a 1-2-1.

Seat Dimensions and Amenities

On the 787-9, the first-class suites are 80 inches long and 29.5 inches wide. Business-class seats are 73 inches long and 20 inches wide. Those rear-facing seats in the middle section are quite close, so they’re better for travel companions than complete strangers.

Sarah in Apartment 4A. The partition between 3A was already lowered when we arrived.
First-class Apartments on the A380 alternate between forward- and rear-facing.

On the A380, the first-class Apartments are 29.5 inches wide (though based on the way they’re laid out, this really should be called more the depth of the seat), and have 80 inches of length when the sofa is reclined to a bed. The business-class seats on this aircraft are the same dimensions as the 787-9: 73 inches long and 20 inches wide. IFE monitors are 24 inches in first class and 18 inches in business class on these aircraft.

The seats on Etihad's 777-300ERs all face front in first class.
The seats on Etihad’s 777-300ERs all face front in first class.

Comparison

For comparison, let’s take the airline’s 777-300ER. Its eight first-class suites are all forward-facing and have 80 inches of pitch and 29.5 inches in width. Its business-class cabin has 40 lie-flat seats, which are 20 inches wide and 73 inches long in a 1-2-1 configuration. While some of those middle seats are close to one another (like in the rear-facing configuration), some are also very private with plenty of room and a divider between them.

United's first- and business-class products may not be cutting-edge, but they'll save you some miles over booking premium-class award tickets on partners!
United’s long-haul widebodies have business-class seats facing both front and back.

UNITED

It might surprise you, but much of United’s long-haul international fleet fly with rear-facing seats in business class.

The main deck of United's 747.
The main deck of United’s 747-400.

Aircraft, Cabin Configuration and Seat Dimensions

Boeing 747-400 — The main deck has five rows of business class, three of which are laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration and two of which are 2-2 (on either side of the staircase that leads to the upper deck). The upper deck has a further 20 seats, 12 of which face the rear. The 52 total seats are 20 inches wide and recline to 76 inches long.

You might end up making eye contact with strangers on United's planes.
You might end up making eye contact with strangers on United’s planes.

Boeing 767-300 (international/three-class) — Flown on some European routes, seats on these aircraft are laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration with some aisle two-fers facing front and some back, and then the middle section of seats in each row facing the opposite direction as the side seat sections. The 26 lie-flat seats are 76 inches long and 20 inches wide.

The last row of the 777-200 has rear-facing seats - say hi to the folks in economy!
The last row of the 777-200 has rear-facing seats – say hi to the folks in economy!

Boeing 777-200 — Seats are squeezed in eight across the cabin in a 2-4-2 configuration, and half of them face backward. The 40 seats (or 72, depending on your aircraft) have 20 inches of width (no wonder there are so many crammed in!) and 76 inches of pitch.

United's Dreamliners offer all front-facing BusinessFirst seats.
United’s Dreamliners offer all front-facing BusinessFirst seats.

Comparison

Let’s look at the business-class seats on one of United’s newer planes, the 787-9. On that aircraft, all 48 lie-flat seats are forward-facing and laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration. They recline to a full 78 inches and are 22 inches wide. So you’re getting a little extra space here, but not a ton.

United's 787 Premium cabin.
United’s 787 BusinessFirst cabin.

OVERALL

For the most part, rear-facing seats tend to have the same dimensions and amenities as their forward-facing counterparts. The one big exception seems to be those on American Airlines’ retrofitted 777-200s and 787s, which can be somewhat narrower than the forward-facing seats both on those aircraft and on the airline’s 777-300s, as well as have less storage space. The other main difference is that they end up making you face your neighbors — even though they’re meant to provide a little extra privacy. This isn’t a big deal if you’re traveling with someone, but it can be awkward if you’re surrounded by strangers.

Have you flown in a rear-facing seat? How was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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