World's greatest economy class?

World's greatest economy class?

Singapore Airlines' next generation cabin proves not all airlines are resigned to taking away economy passenger comforts
Singapore Airlines' new economy-class seats are impressive. But could they really make flying with kids fun? Doubtful.

Whether it be snacks or headsets, today's travelers are no longer surprised when yet another airline announces it's taking away some petty privilege to cut costs.  

But when it comes to long-haul travel, fortunately there are still a few airlines fighting the good battle for bookings by trying to impress fliers with comfort.   

Leading the race as of this week is Singapore Airlines (SIA), which is getting a lot of attention for its next generation of seats and revamped in-flight entertainment systems. 

The products will be fitted in all new aircraft, starting with eight Boeing 777-300 ER planes due to start flying in September, at a cost of US$150 million. 

While cabin redesigns are common in the industry, what’s notable is that SIA is making an effort to significantly improve its economy class experience. 

Fliers in SIA's new economy cabins will get increased personal space -- including an extra inch of legroom –- and more comfortable seats with backrest cushions and side bolsters for better back support.

There’s also an ergonomically sculpted headrest cushion that can be adjusted according to height. 

The KrisWorld Panasonic next-generation eX3 systems include a wider 11.1 inch monitor –- they used to be 10.6 inches -- with a GUI touch screen interface and handset and more than 1,000 options.  Each seat also comes with an "eXport" port, AC outlet and USB ports. 

That should take some of the sting out of a 10-hour flight.

“The significant investment in our next generation of cabin products reaffirms our commitment to product innovation and leadership, and demonstrates our confidence in the future for premium full-service air travel,” said SIA’s executive vice president commercial, Mak Swee Wah. 

“Special attention has been given to ergonomics, comfort, convenience and design, as well as to our customers’ interests and lifestyles.” 

First class cabins designed by BMW

Singapore Airlines brought in BMW to design its newest generation of first-class seats. SIA's first-class and business seats are pretty darn impressive, too.

Designed by BMW, which says it used aspects of automotive design to improve comfort and functionality, SIA's new generation of first-class seats are 35 inches wide. Bed length has been increased from 80 to 82 inches.

First-class fliers get a 24-inch LCD screen with video touch-screen handsets. The eXport and USB ports are located in a stowage compartment on the side of the seat, while HDMI ports allow passengers to use SIA’s inflight system as their own personal media player.

The new business-class seats, meanwhile, recline to 132 degrees, an increase from the previous 128 degrees.

When converted, the seat is 78 inches in length, says SIA. 

The LCD inflight entertainment system screen is 18 inches.

The new cabins will be introduced in September on SIA's Singapore-London route, then progressively rolled out to other routes as additional new aircraft enter service, including future Airbus A350 deliveries. 

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'Heaven' in the skies

Though few other airlines have put such an emphasis on design -- especially in economy class -- there are a few encouraging signs that airlines haven't completely given up on upping the comfort factor. 

In the United States, which is famous for its low-cost approach to aviation, Delta recently teamed up with Westin Hotels & Resorts to offer business-class passengers “Heavenly Bedding” (a well-known signature of the hotel chain) while in flight. 

Since last month, the hotel brand's comfy pillows and duvets have been available on all "Business Elite" international flights, as well as flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, and Atlanta and Honolulu.

Earlier this year, Delta began offering full flat-bed seats in the Business Elite cabin of its transcontinental flights operating between New York and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. 

The airline promises all Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft serving these transcontinental routes will offer the flatbed seats over the next two years. 

"By the end of 2013, 70% of all Delta aircraft will have flat beds and, in early 2014, Delta's entire widebody fleet is scheduled to be complete," said the airline in a statement. 

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