More commercial airlines introducing beds

NEW YORK - In some ways, Andy Abramson's morning routine is typical: He shaves, brushes his teeth and combs his hair before slipping on some nice slacks and a shirt for a meeting with a client.

But what's not typical about Abramson's routine is that he isn't doing any of this in his Del Mar, Calif., home. He's preparing for a day of meetings aboard one of several commercial airlines that promises to provide all the comforts of home, including a good night's sleep.

Call it the evolution of first class, or a return to the days when flying was glamourous, but an increasing number of airlines are offering flat-bed seats to business and/or first-class international passengers.

Unlike lie-flat seats, which are angled, flat-bed seats recline to a full 180 degrees. The bed dimensions vary depending on the airline: Virgin Atlantic's seat length is 79.5 inches; British Airways is 72 inches in business class and 78 inches in first class.

'I'm 6-foot-tall, and I feel comfortable in it,' said Abramson, who is CEO of an international marketing company. 'I'm able to sleep flat out without having to curl my toes or bend my knees. Whenever I take a West Coast London flight, I usually spend half to two-thirds of the flight asleep, more than I get at home. It sure makes it easier if you have to get off the plane and you want to be functional.'

Of course, a bed on an airplane is not a new idea. In the 1930s, Pan Am's Clippers, which took off from the water, had berths that folded down into beds. Post-World War II, the airline's Boeing 377 Stratocruisers offered sleeper seats. In the '80s, Japan Airlines and Philippine Airlines had spiral staircases leading to an upper deck of curtained-off beds aboard their 747s. Eventually the beds were eliminated.

But because of deregulation and increased competition, the ecomonics of the airline industry changed, said Dan Petree, dean of the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It became much more difficult to allocate space to beds over seats, he said.

British Airways was the first in 1996 to put in flat-bed seats for first class passengers, and in 2000 for British Airways' business class, called Club World. Other airlines followed, including South African Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. (Several other airlines have the angled lie-flat seats).

U.S. carriers, set back because of financial troubles, are trying to catch up.

United Airlines became the first U.S. carrier last month to offer flat-bed seats in international business cabins. Delta is planning to begin introducing flat-bed seats in business class starting next year. And American is continuing to replace some of its business-class seats with angled lie-flat seats.

'The challenge for the airline is that when you are completely flat, you are taking up more space on the plane and can't fit as many of these on the plane,' said Matt Daimler, founder of SeatGuru.com. 'Lie-flat (angled) seats allow them to get a good number of seats on the plane and still offer more comfort.'

A good night's sleep on an overnight flight can make the difference in how well business executives function the next day, said Buckman. But he said vacationers are taking advantage of the beds as well. While there is no hanky-panky allowed, 'that honeymoon to Hong Kong is definitely more enjoyable and less stressful for the happy couple if they can get there and back a little easier and more comfortably,' Buckman said.

For coach passengers who may complain of fitful sleep, German airline Lufthansa is considering an all sleeper-seat economy cabin with triple bunk beds.