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Flexible cabin options are hugely popular, especially in Europe, where business class cabins can be reduced or extended multiple times a day on the same aircraft depending on route, time and demand, although the Euro Business seat is simply a standard economy seat with the middle seats blocked in each row.
Some airlines like Air New Zealand have developed a concept where multiple standard economy seats can be converted to create a larger flat space.
But for proper premium seats, there’s really no practical way to have a flexible cabin, changing the seat count and type depending on the route and the demand. This means airlines can be stuck with a seating configuration that is not optimal for certain routes, or even times of day.
Making its global debut at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg this week, a unique design by Hong Kong-based seat manufacturer Butterfly immediately caught my eye.
At first glance, the Butterfly 2.0 looked like one row was a pair of generously-sized premium economy seats while the second row was an unusual, but comfortable-looking, business class seat. It wasn’t until I spoke with Butterfly Creative Director James Lee that I understood how the two rows worked together.
By flipping over both the premium economy seats to reveal the built-in mattress pads behind the seats, together they created a large flat space which became a flat bed.
The bed length is 190 cm, or 6 ft 2 in, which is pretty standard for a traditional business class fully flat bed. The design of the seat did mean the passenger would sleep on an angle, Singapore Airlines-style, which some passengers aren’t fans of.
As a pair of premium economy seats, they have excellent privacy thanks to their staggered design and privacy around the head.
I tried out the seat in premium economy mode and would have been very happy with this product, compared to other premium-economy seats flying today. It comes with a 38″ recommended pitch which is standard for premium economy products on other carriers.
The seat can be flipped over by the passenger with a simple, easy-to-find lever, and converted in a matter of seconds.
In business class mode the passenger also has the option of keeping one seat upright and creating a couch-type space next to them in the other seat.
I imagine an adult traveling with a child would find this flexibility and space to move around enormously beneficial.
So how would an airline benefit from such an ultra-flexible cabin?
While in premium economy mode I suspect passengers would be very happy to pay for a second empty seat next to them in order to upgrade instantly to what would be a business class equivalent, Butterfly explains that even on a single route on a single day, demand for different cabins can differ hugely.
For example, on the popular London to New York route, all flights west to New York are during the day, and with a flight time of under eight hours, the airline may be able to sell two premium economy seats more regularly than one business class seat. But on the return leg from New York to London, most flights are overnight and passengers want to maximize sleep. In this instance passengers may happily pay for a proper business class seat.
So the one aircraft, on the same day, can fly one route with a higher proportion of premium economy seats, and the return route with a different configuration with more business class seats.
That type of flexibility is hugely valuable to airlines.
The new seat is not without its downsides, which you might expect from something that is two different seats at once. Aside from the diagonal sleeping position, which is not optimal, I noted there isn’t much storage space in business class mode, and the seat doesn’t recline much, either.
Featured image by author
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