Ever since the first new A330 aircraft delivery for AirAsia X came with the “non-reclining” black leather seats in November 2008, we knew this was going to be a big issue for us. Sure enough, the complaints started pouring in incessantly about these uncomfortable seats.
We’ve been tackling this for almost a year and a half, and now, finally, we believe we have a much better seat solution for our long-haul guests.
When we first ordered aircraft in 2007, the global aviation industry was very different. It was the boom time, and airlines were ordering new planes by the hundreds. Seat manufacturers were buzzing with more orders than they could fill. We were left with only one seat supplier who was willing to design seats for our aircraft, at a reasonable price, according to our required timeframe. We had no other choices.
They pitched to us a new design called ‘fixed-back shell’ seats. The idea was that the seat would not recline backwards, but would achieve the same recline-angle by the seat bottom gliding forward and the seat back moving along to get its ‘recline’ angle. The advantage was supposed to be better personal space management, so that you’re not bothered when the person in front leans back (especially when you’ve got the meal tray down trying to eat or work on your laptop, or when you need to get out to the aisle).
Lesson Learned. When the seats were manufactured, this design turned out to be very problematic, mainly because the cushion was too hard, the gliding mechanism too stiff, and edge of the seat bottom that was supposed to drop down to create ‘knee-space’ did not – which meant knees were banging on the seat in front. It was a disaster.
Our team tried to go back to all the seat suppliers to get a better design. As fate would have it, the industry turned upside down by llate 2008, and new aircraft orders almost screeched to a halt. Suddenly, seat manufacturers had extra capacity. We finally got a much better design proposal from the best supplier in the business. Took our joint team one year to detail out the designs, put the seats through safety certification (a very rigorous process), and get them manufactured for delivery.
New Economy Seat Back to Traditional Recline. 31″ pitch for A330, 32″ pitch for A340
We decided to move away from the traditional ‘black’ leather, and opted for a mix of red and grey, to brighten up and make the cabin less ‘optically constricted’.
We also made a bold decision to scrap our ‘premium economy’ 38” pitch seats and replace them with full lie-flat bed business class seats. We felt the economics were very similar between 28 premium economy seats and 12 lie-flat bed seats, and therefore we might as well opt for the latter and up the quality of our product. Our Air Canada business class seats (on the A340s flying to London) gave us confidence that we could create a new airline product category – full lie-flat bed seats, for the price similar to other legacy carriers’ economy seat and a fraction of business class seat. After all, we felt people wanted most was a comfortable seat. The free-flowing champagne, five-star cuisine and lounge does not justify the thousands of dollars more charged in a normal business class fare. Oh yes, we’ve also added power socket on these premium seats!
World’s First lie-Flat Bed Seats on a Low Cost Carrier!
The first plane with the new seats has now started operations. If you’ve been on this plane, do let me know what you think of the seats. Other existing aircraft will all go through the seat change, and by June 2010, we should be able to complete all of our AirAsia X retrofit aircraft. Hopefully, we wont face any logistics and supply issues.
In parallel, we’ve also decided to move away from in-seat in-flight entertainment systems (screens on every seat). Unfortunately, demand simply is not there to cover the massive cost of the system, the cost of Hollywood content, and the extra weight and complexity from the wiring. We think portable units are the way forward, and are now working on a new portable media solution that we hope to debut by mid-year.
One thing we’ve learned is that we’ve always got to be on our toes. Sometimes we don’t get things right the first time, but we’ve got to change and adapt. Standing still is not an option for us.
Thanks for all the constructive comments on our seats. We’ve listened. We’ve invested and revamped. Please bear with us during the transition period over the next few months.
Given the number of comments on seat locations with our new layouts, here is the detailed aircraft specification layout to help you decide on your seat assignments:
P/S ALL OUR AUSTRALIAN FLIGHTS ARE NOW SCHEDULED TO OPERATE WITH THESE NEW SEATS.
P/P/S I’ve posted pictures of the extra-legroom HOT SEATs in another blog post, as requested