Herringbone Business Class Seats: All You Need to Know

Over the last couple of decades, business class seats on airplanes – especially those used on long-haul flights – have evolved from simple recliners all the way to private suites equipped with doors.

Among the different evolutions of business class seats, herringbone and reverse herringbone seats are some of the most popular. While the former is getting increasingly rarer to see, the latter is one of the most common business class seat types nowadays. Continue reading to learn more about these two seat types.

Herringbone Business Class Seats: All You Need to Know
Over time, reverse herringbone seats overtaken traditional herrinbone seats in popularity.

Herringbone Business Class Seats

In herringbone seating, full-flat business class seats are angled away from the aircraft wall (window seats) or the center of the aircraft (middle section seats) toward the aisle. On widebody aircraft, herringbone seats are typically in a three- or four-abreast 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 layout; on narrowbody aircraft, they are in a two-abreast 1-1 layout.

When looked at from the top, the arrangement looks like a fish skeleton – hence the name.

In 2003, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to introduce this type of seat into service. While the seats grew in popularity over time, more recently they were to a large extent replaced by reverse herringbone and staggered business class seats.

Virgin Atlantic Herringbone Seats
Virgin Atlantic A340 herringbone seats.

Pros and Cons of Herringbone Seats

Back when herringbone seats were first introduced, the biggest advantage they had over other types of business class seats was direct aisle access for all seats. In other words, because of the 1-2-1 layout, window seats also provided access to the aisle and there were no middle seats.

While that benefit is nowadays offered by other seat types too, there are two more pros of herringbone seats worth mentioning:

  • Full-length unrestricted sleeping surface: Other seat types nowadays often sacrifice foot space by having a seat overlap with the seat in front and thus passengers have to squeeze their feet into often fairly tight foot cubbies. That is not the case with traditional herringbone seating where the seats do not overlap.
  • Head away from the aisle when sleeping: Because herringbone seat ottomans are next to the aisle, your head is fairly far away from the aisle when sleeping. While this plays into a disadvantage I will talk about below it also provides good privacy when in full-flat mode.

As for disadvantages, because there is no breathing room around the seat itself – they are packed closely one next to another – and the seat is surrounded by fairly high walls, a herringbone seat can feel claustrophobic. The lack of breathing room around the seat also means there are very limited storage options. Most notably, unlike on many more modern business class seats, there is no console table on the side of the seat.

In addition to the above, if you like watching the scenery outside from 35,000 feet, you might be disappointed. Because the window seats are angled away from the window and toward the aisle, it can be challenging to see the outside world even if you secure yourself a window seat. The fact that the seats are angled toward the aisle also means that in the upright mode, the seat lack privacy.

Cathay Pacific Herrinbone Seat
Cathay Pacific is one of the airlines that used herringbone seats in the past.

Airlines Using Herringbone Seats

Traditional herringbone seats can still be found on Virgin Atlantic’s A330-300s and 787s. They can also be found on Air New Zealand’s 777-300ERs and 787-9s. Interestingly, while on its newer A330neos, Virgin Atlantic opted for staggered seats, Air New Zealand plans to keep the current herringbone layout on its 787s, albeit with an improved seat that fixes some of the disadvantages mentioned above.

Improved herringbone seats have relatively recently also popped up as an option to equip narrowbodies with full-flat seats offering direct aisle access rather than the standard 2-2 layout. As an example, JetBlue uses modernized herringbone seats with a console table and a door for its A321LR Mint class.

Reverse Herringbone Business Class Seats

As the name suggests, reverse herringbone seats are full-flat seats that are angled relative to the direction of the flight with one difference compared to traditional herringbone seats – they are angled away from the aisle. This means that window seats are angled toward the window and middle section seats are angled toward each other.

Unlike traditional herringbone seats, reverse herringbone seats overlap with the seat in front of them in a way that the foot cubby of one seat is under the console table of the seat in front of it.

Reverse herringbone seats were first used by the now-defunct US Airways on their A330-200s almost 15 years ago. Since then, they have grown in popularity considerably, and now they are one of the most popular business class seat types for long-haul aircraft.

Cathay Pacific Reverse Herrinbone Seats
Nowadays, Cathay Pacific uses reverse herringbone seats.

Pros and Cons of Reverse Herringbone Seats

Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of reverse herringbone seats – just as with their older counterpart – is that each seat offers direct aisle access.

On top of that, because the seats are angled away from the aisle, they offer a good deal of privacy when seated. They are also equipped with a console table which provides a good space to put your laptop or other belongings. While the position of reverse herringbone window seats puts you a bit far from the window, because the seat is angled toward the window, you can still enjoy window views fairly easily.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of standard reverse herringbone business class seats is that when sleeping, your head is near the aisle. In most cases that downside is slightly mitigated by privacy shields and in some cases even doors.

Depending on the type of reverse herringbone seat, your space might feel a bit claustrophobic too – for example, while the in-flight entertainment screen on Finnair’s A350 can be folded away, there are also seats with the screen fixed and taking up quite some space at all times.

Lastly, because the middle section pair of seats is far from each other, the reverse herringbone layout lacks any seats that are truly next to each other. This can make it difficult to chat if you are traveling with someone. In fact, you will be better off booking a window seat and a middle section seat next to it if you are traveling with a companion than the pair of middle section seats.

Qatar Airways Reverse Herringbone Seat
Qatar Airways uses reverse herringbone seats on some of its 787s and A350s.

Airlines Using Reverse Herringbone Seats

As mentioned earlier, reverse herringbone seats are one of the most popular business class seat types nowadays. Because of this, the list of airlines using it is very long. Among others, the below airlines use reverse herringbone seats on some or all of its long-haul aircraft:

Finnair A350 Reverse Herringbone
Finnair’s A350 reverse herringbone seat.

Hybrid Herringbone Business Class Seats

More recently than either of the above types of seats, some airlines started using hybrid herringbone seating where window seats are angled away from the aisle and toward the window like in reverse herringbone seating but middle section seats are angled toward the aisle like in traditional herringbone seating.

Personally, I flew in such seats on a Qatar Airways’ 787-9 but they can also be found on Virgin Atlantic’s A350-1000s among other aircraft.

I liked the layout as the seat pair in the middle section was laid out in a way that allowed my wife and I to chat easily during the flight. At the same time, for those traveling alone, preferring window views, or traveling with a colleague, there were the window seats.

The one downside was that there were foot cubbies even in the middle section since the rows of seats overlapped. On the flip side that meant there was a decently sized console table.

Qatar Airways 787-9 Hybrid Herringbone
Qatar Airways 787-9 business class has window seats in reverse herringbone layout…
Qatar Airways 787-9 Hybrid Herringbone
…and middle section seats in the traditional herringbone orientation.

Summary

Back when they were first introduced, traditional herringbone seats were revolutionary – after all, they offered direct aisle access to everyone including those seated in window seats.

Since then, traditional herringbone seats have lost popularity, and reverse herringbone seats filled many airlines’ aircraft. While reverse herringbone seats have some of their own disadvantages, they also mitigate many of the disadvantages that traditional herringbone seats came with.

Some airlines started also using hybrid herringbone seating recently where the middle section seats face toward the aisle and window seats face away from the aisle.

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