Does herringbone seating suck as much as I think it would?

While there are a number of business class products I’d be really excited to try, I’m not all that picky about business class seats in general. For the most part, they’ll get you where you’re going in a less crowded cabin, give you tons of legroom, and most likely provide a flat bed or something that approximates one pretty closely. Even something like United’s execrable 8-across business class configuration doesn’t seem so horrible if you’re flying with a companion and can snag two of the seats next to the window. Obviously if I were planning a trip and had multiple options, I’d probably pay a little more to fly something better than United, but I wouldn’t reconfigure my whole trip or add three layovers just to get a reverse herringbone seat instead.

There are two types of seats I will avoid altogether, though: seats that face backwards, and seats that face away from the window. I’ve never tried it, but flying in a backwards-facing seat just seems like the absolute worst. However, those seats are pretty easy to avoid – even in forward/backward products like United or American, you can just verify that there are forward-facing seats available at the time of booking and make sure you select a seat before the cabin fills up. (If you get bumped from your seat later, you can always play the “unending and violently emissive motion sickness” card.) British Airways is tougher, since all the window seats face backwards – and that’s not necessarily a knock on BA (which I have knocked plenty of times in the past). It’s mostly just an admission that my personal priorities when selecting flights disqualify me from them (not the other way around).

However, unlike forward/backward configurations where some seats are perfectly fine, standard herringbone seats all face away from the window, so there’s no way to avoid spending the flight looking at the middle of the cabin. Unless you’re Linda Blair from The Exorcist, you aren’t going to spend much time looking out the window in a herringbone seat (on the flipside, though, if you were Linda Blair, you’d have to deal with unending and violently emissive motion sickness).

Herringbone seats in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Even in cabins that otherwise look pretty fancy, such as this sparkly Virgin Atlantic 787, the configuration looks narrow and claustrophobic, and it erases one of the best features of the 787 – the huge windows. People say that herringbone seats are nice because of how private they are, since you can’t see the person sitting next to you at all… although how private is it if you’re splayed out in front of every person who walks down the aisle?

This came up recently when I was looking at transatlantic availability next summer on Delta. Burning my Delta miles is a priority right now, although SkyTeam awards were pretty scant (certainly a departure from this past summer, when most days had a couple seats on either Delta, Air France, or KLM). One option that did come up fairly often was Virgin Atlantic, and at least for now, Delta doesn’t tack on absurd fuel surcharges on the outbound leg. That got me thinking about whether I would relax my general self-prohibition on herringbone seats if this were my only option. I probably would, but I’d be anxious leading up to the flight about being stuck in a diagonal cocoon of shittiness the entire time.

Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy actually looks really nice, and I’d certainly prefer to book that with my Delta miles if it were possible. I don’t want to be like that guy on The Points Guy earlier this week who claimed that he’d rather fly Lufthansa economy than United Business (come on bro), but I can’t help but think a wide recliner seat with decent legroom would be nicer than facing away from the window, having no elbow room or storage space, and having to spend the entire flight at a weird angle. (It’s also not that many miles when booked through Virgin Atlantic, although the fuel surcharges are absolutely killer, to the point where you’d probably be better off just paying cash for premium economy on Norwegian.)


Virgin Atlantic isn’t the only airline that has this configuration, either. Air New Zealand has it on their 777s (although they almost never open up award seats), Air Serbia has it on their A330, and Delta and Air Canada both have it on 777s. I’m sure there are more – that’s just off the top of my head. And any time I read reviews of flights on these planes, no matter how positive the review, I can’t imagine that I would enjoy the flight.

Air New Zealand’s undeniably stylish but probably still crappy business class.

So, I’m putting it to people who have more experience here: am I missing something? Do you love herringbone seats? There are supposedly some really awful business class seats out there, but I’d rather be in some weird angle-flat dentist chair contraption than one of these. I’m happy to be set straight, though, since it would open up more booking options!

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