NBTA: Continental Goes Flat in BusinessFirst

Continental, Seats

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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16 comments on “NBTA: Continental Goes Flat in BusinessFirst

  1. AA must be triple pissed now, since UA, CO, DL(+NW eventually) all have flat bed products in business class and they spent years working on the sorry excuse that is their angled-lie flat product for their “Next Generation Business Class.”

    What they don’t know is that their next generation is already one generation behind even their U.S. peers.

  2. Agree with the AA statement. The Business Class seats on AA are terrible. Great to see that UA,CO & DL/NW are finally catching up with their European counterparts. Now they all need to start being more like Singapore.

  3. What would be nice, would be a website showing which flights of which airlines have real lie-flat beds NOW!

  4. Robin – Sadly that’s a lot easier said than done. The US airlines float their newly configured aircraft through the system, so you never really know until you get onboard.

  5. Cranky, here’s what I vote for: Everyone drop the airline nationalism, let CX and SQ fly trans-con, maybe add QF for more than their one segment, let BA do whatever they want, allow foreigners to own airlines, and raise premium fares. Stop giving away so many free lunches to US frequent fliers who probably lose airlines money anyway (have I said before that the US airline is an odd bird, in that they actually reward people for losing them money? Case in point: When I was a student I got by flying trans-con for $250USD per round-trip, and AA gave me status. My gut says AA did not make money on me, but they gave me status anyway. I think you could spend less than $10k USD per year, and still get 1k or Exec Plat on UA or AA, respectively, which is probably nearly breakeven for the airlines, in addition to probably tons of extra frequent flier miles).

    I say let Southwest and Jetblue – Southwest in particular, a great company – take care of the dirty work, and let the rest of the jokers figure it out themselves. The demand for quality is there…it’s not like American consumers aren’t discerning. The environment just forces US airlines to act like morons. The US airlines just don’t have the financing, competitive environment, experience, staff, or even backbone to offer pax an enjoyable experience at this point. Nearly 500k miles in the last 12 months on CX and UA, and I have gotten UA’s new product a total of ONCE. UA’s international F is still not even a truly flat flat bed, which is just embarrassing. Try UA’s ps F class JFK-SFO (or LAX), which is probably the best trans-con experience in the US (comparable to BA J, slightly wider with decent service), and compare it to CX’s JFK-YVR F class (massive bed and caviar service). Worse, even after the fuel surcharge CX F JFK-YVR was actually CHEAPER for me last month than the JFK-SFO F leg on UA. If the free market were ever allowed to actually work in America in the airline industry…

    So back to CO’s announcement. It is a good step, but how far behind the curve are these guys really? When it makes big news that they’re announcing a FLAT BED in business (or as they call it, BusinessFirst?). Um……welcome to the 21st century.

  6. QRC – I tend to agree with just about everything you say. I’m all for opening up competition, but there would need to be requirements on employing people in the US, etc. Still, if a foreign carrier wants to do a better job, please do.

    One thing I have to say though is that I don’t think you’re going to find champagne and caviar on any airline that tries this. Yes, JFK-LAX and possibly SFO can support that but not many other routes can. JFK-YVR? That only works because it’s a tag on an international route. Even that probably doesn’t work very well. If Cathay came into the US, I guarantee you that you wouldn’t see that sort of service on many routes.

  7. Actually CF, many foriegn carriers are opening their doors to US based employees. As a matter of fact Cathay Pacific now has two US cabin crew bases, and Openskies (BA) cabin crew are all Americans (it seems the majority of them are Ex-MAXjet).

    I’m with you on opening the doors to competition. The US airline industry spent years setting itself for the self-bestowed failure that now infests, and maybe a little competition would help them to clean up their act.

  8. QRC, United’s first was one of the first flat beds around.

    Euroflyer, many of the large European airlines have sloping flat in business: Lufthansa, Air France, SAS, KLM, TAP, Swiss, Brussels, etc. BA and Iberia have real flat. So the fact that UA is going completely flat is advanced compared to most European carriers.

  9. Any idea of what date/month these new seat configuration will take place on the Boeing 777 for Continental flights out of EWR? This info would be appreciated.

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