NBTA: Continental Goes Flat in BusinessFirst

It was an action-packed day at NBTA today. I think I talked to enough people and sat in enough seats to really have a couple weeks of posts here. Unfortunately, as you might expect, the focus is almost entirely on the premium cabin experience. So, much of this won’t be useful for many of you (including me), but it’s still fun to see what’s going on. Let’s just forget about how crazy it seems that airlines spend a ton of money on their NBTA booths while they bleed and instead just talk about the news.

The big news from yesterday was Continental’s announcement that it was installing a lie-flat seat in BusinessFirst . . . unless you’re flying on a 767. The 777s will get the new seats first starting in fall of next year. Then they’ll move on to the 757s. And of course, when the 787s show up, they’ll get the new seats as well.

So why not the 767s? It’s a matter of space. Continental BusinessFirst SeatOn the 777s, they’ll keep 50 seats up front and lose only one row of coach. The 757s won’t lose any seats at all, but the 767s are a different story. CEO Larry Kellner was clearly very proud of the fact that their seats are wide. (This seat is 25″ wide with the armrests down in the fully flat position.) They are currently set up with 2-1-2 abreast on the 767s and they don’t want to go 2-2-2 and reduce space. So, these seats don’t work for them in that configuration. When I asked Larry about it, he said they plan to keep looking, and they expect they’ll find a lie-flat solution soon.

Let’s forget about all the boring stuff and let’s talk about the seat itself. It’s nice. After sitting in United’s seat yesterday as well, I realize that the seats seem similar with a couple differences. United Business Class SeatFirst, Continental gives you a little less privacy, but you have a LOT more storage. You can see the Continental seat above left and the United seat at right. Continental also seems to have a bigger screen in the seatback. Oh yes, and half United’s seats face backwards while Continental’s all go the same way.

But back to that storage thing. Behind the headrest, Continental has put a ton of stuff. Besides being a storage area, there is a universal power outlet, a USB port, and the headphone jack. They’re calling it the Tower of Power (at left), and I think it’s a smart place to put everything, because it’s not in your way. Continental Tower of PowerUnfortunately, they’re not sure if the storage area will be usable during takeoff and landing yet, but they’re trying to make that happen. I’d say it needs to happen for it to really be useful. At the very least, there is storage underneath the seat in front of you that can be used at all times.

Oh, and about that area in front of you . . . there isn’t much room for your legs (at right). Continental New BusinessFirst FootrestWith shoes on, my feet barely fit and I have small size 9 feet, but without them, it should be ok if not a bit cramped. They say that it will accommodate a 6′ 6″ tall person, and apparently CEO Larry Kellner was the model used to make sure it worked.

Larry is not a small man.

They also ran this by a bunch of frequent fliers in Houston and Newark to make sure they liked it. Apparently they did, but I still have one concern. Continental BusinessFirst Seat in UseIf you see the picture at left, you can see that getting out from the window to the aisle is not easy. You’re going to have to climb over someone, and you better be limber.

The response to that? Mark Bergsrud, SVP of Marketing Programs and Distribution for the airline, said that they weren’t willing to reduce the number of seats, and this was the best solution available considering the constraints. Their customers wanted a lie-flat seat and while it isn’t the easiest thing to climb over, it’s actually easier to get out of than it is to get out of their current BusinessFirst seat. So they’re pretty happy with it despite its drawbacks. It will be interesting to see if that causes a lot of problems in production.

Other than that, the seat was impressive, comfortable, and quite wide. They’ve done a very good job here, considering the constraints.

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