Is This the Future for Business Class Seats?

Adding to its already prestigious collection, PaperClip Design won another award, placing first in the recent International Airline Transport Association innovative awards for their seating design.

First, the good news. PaperClip created a very clever seat that converts premium economy seats into a business class lie-flat seat. Called “Butterfly,” their design is built around a 2-4-2 economy seating arrangement for long-haul flights. They suggest it is ideal for a Boeing 777 cabin or an Airbus equivalent. This award comes on the heels of their previous award-winning design for an armrest.

PaperClip Butterfly Design

By using staggered seating, the cabin can be transformed into 1-2-1 all aisle access seats, ideal for business class. The seats are approximately 21″ wide, about the same as most domestic first class seats. By flipping down the aisle seats, the passenger has a comfortable seat width plus a side couch or if sleeping, a total width that is wide enough for diagonal sleeping. The seat pitch is a maximum 44″ (47″ A330/340) with a sleeping accommodation up to 77″ end to end.

PaperClip Butterfly

Sounds like a great feature for airlines to offer but there are no orders yet. Why?

  • The first reason is need. Some airlines don’t offer long-haul premium economy class so there is no need for a conversion seat. Indeed, many airlines are moving to only a two-cabin international option with economy and business class only. That means no first class and no premium economy.
  • Second, there may be a concern about cannibalization. Some carriers are concerned that if they offer a premium economy service, passengers who previously would purchase business class tickets may opt for this instead.
  • The third reason is capacity. Airlines are pretty good at determining how many passengers will purchase business class seats. If they need to adjust the size of their business class cabin, all they do now is remove a row and add in a couple more economy class rows. Making these adjustments for virtually every flight would be difficult. It means not only adjusting the seating but also galleys, closets, flight attendant seating, and lavatories, not to mention also having to work around windows and exit doors. This is quite labor-intensive for individual flights.
  • The fourth reason could be cost. I have no idea what PaperClip is charging for their seats but there may be a premium because of the conversion feature. It may be less expensive to simply purchase business class seats as needed, even if some of them sit in storage during capacity adjustments.
  • Neat as the design is, the fifth reason is probably controls. To form a bed, the Butterfly requires a passenger to flip down both seats. Virtually all business class seats have far more power controls for seat adjustments, in addition to turning the seat into a lie-flat with simply the push of a button.
  • The sixth reason may be quality and comfort. I have not had an opportunity to try out PaperClip’s Butterfly seats but while the design is brilliant, it’s possible the quality when used for business class does not compete well against existing seating.

If the quality is a bit less, what about international low cost carriers? A few months ago, Ryanair expressed interest in expanding internationally, maybe with a base in Cyprus while easyJet already flies outside the EU. Another possibility is flydubai. The problem here is none of them have any interest in offering essentially three-cabin service. They are low cost for a reason so if they ever offer anything upscale, it might be a premium economy one day but doubtful it would include true business c lass.

And the airlines could face another dilemma… What if a passenger who purchases one of these premium economy fare seats with no one sitting next to them wants to adjust the other seat into a couch or convert to a lie-flat? What’s a flight attendant going to do, kick them off the plane?

Bottom line for PaperClip, they have a very slick product but no market for it as of yet. If the Hong Kong-based company can get over this hump, Butterfly could have an interesting future.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this seat design.


  1. It’s a new product and I think there is a market for it. Several airlines in Asia have completely different plane configurations for different destinations, for example PAL flies high-density premium economy/economy configurations to the Middle East (mostly for overseas foreign workers) and a regular business class/economy configuration to Europe and the US. Cathay and Singapore Airlines have different Business Class products for regional and long-haul flights.
    All of them would be able to swap planes across different destinations or adjust for seasonal demand – neither of which they can do now.
    From needing to selecting to rolling out a new seat takes years, so even if they sell this seat, it will be a while for it to show up on a plane…

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