What's the latest business-class must-have for airlines looking to shine? The Ferragamo amenities kits aboard EVA Air? Emirates' 43cm video screens? Or perhaps the 89cm of bottom space on ANA's The Room seats? All special in their own way, but the winner is a sliding door that seals your seat from the corridor, creating a cosy little enclave all your own.
Delta Airlines was the trailblazer when it installed sliding doors on its Delta One business class suites in 2016. Qatar Airways followed with sliding doors for its QSuites in 2017, and other airlines sat up and took notice when Qatar won the Skytrax Airline of the Year award for 2017. Etihad jumped on the bandwagon and so did British Airways with their Club World Suites, and that's a relief.
A business class cabin with doors means every seat has direct aisle access, most likely in a 1-2-1 configuration. Some BA aircraft still have a 2-4-2 arrangement in business class with alternate seats backward-facing, the so-called yin-yang formation. That avoids clambering over a neighbour to get to the aisle, but it's sub-par in every other way.
Air France has become the latest to introduce business class seats with sliding doors on some of its long-haul flights. Starting from September, Air France will offer business-class travellers a sliding door on its handsome new cabin aboard its B777-300s, initially on its Paris-New York service, to be followed by the rest of its B777-300 fleet.
Qantas, however, has gone door-free with the Qantas Business Suite, now standard aboard the airline's Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the recently refurbished Airbu A380s flying between Sydney and Los Angeles, and soon to be operating between Sydney and London via Singapore. Nor do Emirates and Singapore Airlines offer doors in business class, and that's a surprise for these class-leading airlines, especially since they offer middle seats which can be converted to a double bed for couples. Who wants to snuggle in with their bestie without some sort of sidewall?
The sliding door is another example of the incremental changes that trickle down from first class to business. It was in 2007 that Singapore Airlines became the first to install sliding doors on its first-class suites. Emirates, Etihad and Asiana followed. Most of these doors are floor-to-ceiling, creating luxurious private enclaves for the airlines' pampered first-class travellers. For the airlines, it's a great way to offer an enhanced product, without doing too much at all. A door takes up no more real estate, which is an airline's most valuable commodity, yet it gives the perception of a superior product – win, and win again.
Why a door?
A door is all about privacy. If you're hammering away on a laptop, the closed door means fewer distractions. If a neighbour wants to rock along with Machine Gun Kelly, make mirthful snorting noises while watching The Hangover or go gamer on their screen like a caffeinated woodpecker, a door is a good thing.
If there are kids in the cabin who are not enjoying the flight and letting the world know about it, the door provides a small buffer, or possibly lets you stew in isolation.
A door means another layer of protection in these virus-phobic times, and when my butter-poached salmon comes along, I can eat like a wolf without worry. Time to sleep? Close the door and you've got a cocoon-like nest. Women travelling solo especially appreciate the extra layer of privacy a sliding door provides.
And why not?
Everyone likes a little more privacy, right? Well not quite it seems. Some passengers have complained of feeling claustrophobic with the door closed, while other critics question what passengers might get up to when the doors are closed (probably not too much since the door only comes up to about chest high so hanky-panky of any stripe is going to attract attention).
End of the day, it's optional. If you don't like a door that closes, fine, keep it open. Once the novelty wears off, several readers report they leave the door open except when sleeping. It's more sociable, more convivial – but they still prefer to fly with a carrier that offers a business class seat with a door. Several comments suggest once you've tried it, flying without a door feels like a downgrade.