SAA expected its award-winning business class lie-flat bed, judged the best in the world by independent consultants Skytrax, to give it an edge over competitors and is busy installing it in all long haul flights. But now British Airways, which captured market share from most other airlines by being the first to instal lie-flat beds in business class six years ago - beating Air France to it by one day - has come up with a new version which Willie Walsh, its chief executive, thinks will set the industry standard for the next five years at least.
I was among international aviation reporters invited to admire the new product in London last week and found it was almost a mini-cabin with a screen that can be raised and lowered electronically, made of an innovative material called Lumisty which is opaque to the passenger next to you but transparent to flight attendants standing in the aisle looking to see if you need anything. The lighting for reading is now shoulder height instead of overhead and there is a drawer for storing a laptop, handbag and shoes - a big improvement on the present situation where beds become a sort of nest with your book and handbag stuffed down by your side and your shoes on the floor.
The bed is now 13cm wider at 64cm. The extra 13cm have come from enabling the arms to be lowered to become level with the side of the bed, which is 1.8m long in its flat position but gains an extra 15cm by pressing a button to put it in a "z" position with support for the knees and back. Nasa scientists discovered this was the position the body naturally adopts in zero gravity.
The mattress is softer and blankets have been replaced by a duvet. The entertainment system has also been improved and so have the snacks to which business class passengers can help themselves between meals, to include salads and hot dishes.