trial run

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 12:00am

What is it? The Qantas business-class seat, the Skybed, one of that generation of bigger-, better- and flashier-than-ever airline pews being trumpeted into service with discerning fleets around the world.

Where can you find it? On Qantas flights from Hong Kong to London, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. When boarding your Airbus A330 or Boeing 747, turn left, or take the flight of stairs to your right. Your Skybed will be front end and/or top deck.

What's so good about it? A fully reclined length of 1.99 metres for a start, meaning only Yao Ming and a few other walking skyscrapers might have difficulty stretching out. The adjustment-control panel in the seat arm looks like an acupuncturist's chart: a line drawing of a human body is the target of 12 arrows, each one a button suggesting a positional change affecting rump, knees, back, feet or head. The cushioned back massager-cum-lumbar support does what it promises without forcing the Skybed occupant into an Ashtanga yoga position; a generous helping of legroom and all-round personal space makes it impossible (for those of normal proportions) to kick the throne in front while sitting; and a seat width of 60cm allows for excess at mealtimes. The seat is cocoon shaped, which makes it look like an upturned coracle, to provide maximum privacy and shut out cabin noise. Concealed within the surrounding hood are a mirror, LED reading light, night light, privacy screen and additional seat-control switch; cleverly thought-out storage spaces for shoes, spectacles and water bottles help keep personal zones clutter free. For that fashionable office-in-the-air effect, a PC power point allows computers to be plugged in without need of adaptors or cables. The seat-back entertainment, meanwhile, comes via an attention-arresting 10.4-inch touch-control television screen.

And the downside? The magazine rack, a vertical slot at shoulder height on the outside edge of the seat (rather than in the back of the seat ahead) is too close to the passenger for him to reach into without turning awkwardly; the only way to pick a magazine from it, and at the same time see which magazine it is, is to stand up and turn to face the seat: a no-no when taking off or preparing to land. And depending where you are sitting in the cabin, the hooded shape of the Skybed's top half, and its height, mean much head twitching and peeping between seat backs if you are to glimpse the crew member giving the safety demonstration.

Anything else? The Skybed is already a fixture at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, where it forms part of an excellence-in-design display. Then again, it was the brainchild of Australian Marc Newson, one of the world's leading industrial designers, so plaudits should be the rule rather than the exception.