The World’s Best Airline Passenger Seat: Introducing The Butterfly

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Premium economy has become the new go-to product for airlines looking to add flexibility to their fare tiers. While plenty of investment has gone into improving this cabin, there’s a new product on the horizon that could change the game in the future. The Butterfly seat concept would allow airlines to offer both an international business class product and a typical premium economy standard, all in the very same seat. Here’s what you need to know.

Butterfly seat
The Butterfly could provide some fantastic flexibility in narrowbody aircraft. Photo: Paperclip Design

The beauty of premium economy

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Joe Leader, CEO of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) for our podcast. During the conversation, our attention turned to the newest cabin in the skies – premium economy. Both Joe and I agreed that this is a crucial part of the future cabin matrix, with Joe adding,

“The gap between economy seats and business class seats… there’s too much of a price gap there. There need to be different levels passengers can afford that are in the middle, and what I like about premium economy. It’s pretty much what business class was flying internationally ten or twenty years ago.”

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Premium economy has allowed airlines to offer more than just a bit more legroom. Increasingly, this product is becoming more of a standalone fare tier, with its own cabin, improved seat hardware, and even upgraded inflight services.

United Airlines' Premium economy
Premium economy has become a popular choice for airlines. Photo: United Airlines

Historically, Virgin Atlantic was the first to coin the term ‘premium economy,’ when it renamed its mid-class fare some two decades ago. Taiwan’s EVA Air followed swiftly behind, but it’s only really in the last decade that the concept has really taken off. Now we’re seeing the product in most mainline carrier’s cabins, with long haul giants like Emirates set to introduce the product in the future.

Premium economy made better

While some carriers have opted for a bit of extra legroom and some other perks, others have fully embraced the concept with new seats and services. Now, there’s a product set to come to market that could really change the game for the premium economy flier.

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The Butterfly seat is a concept developed by Paperclip Design. The concept has already won the prestigious Crystal Cabin Award, IATA’s Passenger Innovation Award and has garnered a lot of attention both from frequent fliers and from airlines.

Butterfly airplane seat
The concept features a staggered layout for flexibility. Photo: Paperclip Design

is a conventional aircraft seat that can be converted between two regional business class seats and a single business class flatbed suite. The two seats are offset to give people privacy, with a comfortable 20 inches of width, and up to 24 inches with the armrest clicked down. The seat also features a privacy panel that can be raised or lowered to allow easier conversations.

Butterfly airline passenger seat
Passengers can choose privacy or to be social. Photo: Paperclip Design

The seat comes with all the mod cons, such as big storage areas and hidden charging ports for a slick finish. But the cool thing about the Butterfly is that it can be converted into a full flatbed suite. This could allow airlines to tailor the cabin configuration based on the mission profile of the flight. In full flatbed mode, the seat gives one of the largest and flattest seats in the industry, up to 36″ at the hip, so plenty of room to really get comfy.

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Butterfly aircraft seat
In suite mode, the pair of seats becomes a huge, private suite. Photo: Paperclip Design

You can see a demonstration of the Butterfly and how it works in the clip below:

Joe described the Butterfly seat and its benefits to me, saying,

“I think it’s a great in-the-middle solution, and I hope that some of the innovations are done in this space, that I believe premium economy could become a flexible space. For example, the new Butterfly seats, which allow the passenger in premium economy to go into more of a bed-mode very much like business class, by using the seat beside you.

“So, if you’re traveling with your significant other, then you can have the comfort of being able to go into bed-mode. If you are traveling next to a business traveler, you simply leave it in normal recline. “

It’s an interesting concept and could give airlines more flexibility to operate both regional and longer-haul routes with a single cabin configuration. It’s particularly exciting for narrowbody aircraft, something we’re likely to see come to the fore with the advent of the A321XLR and other long-haul narrowbody services.

When will we see the Butterfly in cabins?

There are a few issues to overcome before we see the Butterfly in the air. The seat is not certified yet, although this is already underway, and the company is in discussions with seat manufacturers.

When interviewed by APEX, Butterfly’s co-founder and commercial director of Butterfly Flexible Seating Solutions, Lars Rinne, suggested that the seat could be commercially available in as little as 12 months from now. He said he felt confident there would be plenty of customers for this flexible seating solution, and we have to agree.

What do you think of the Butterfly? Let us know in the comments.

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