Unum One seat in the upright position. The sea tis light grey with darker grey accents around it. The seatbelt is visible on the seat cushion and there is a table and storage area to the side of the seat.

Up close with Unum’s first seat, the 34” Unum One herringbone

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundLONDON — Startup seatmaker Unum is launching its Unum One seat for the Airbus A321neo platform, with a model that breaks the 34” pitch barrier — for a fully flat, herringbone seat with direct aisle access and a door. Runway Girl Network explored the seat over a couple of hours with senior executives. Our take: the product is impressive, with unique aspects that make a compelling argument.

Unum is clear that it is a follower in the herringbone space, but chief executive officer Chris Brady and vice president of business development Alan McInnes tell RGN they are confident that the seat’s selling points will make it stand out. While we spoke earlier this year to Brady about Unum’s strategy and supply chain plans, as well as the details behind its product and culture, this is the first time media have gone hands-on with the seat.

On the A321 narrowbody frame, the width of the space on either side of the aisle means that Unum is able to pitch the doored suite version of the seat at 34”, or even slightly less, Brady says. Competitor Thompson Aero Seating cites 33” for its Vantage Solo, an inward-facing herringbone product.

The seat is, by and large, very effective, and its unique scimitar-track recline allows for an almost infinite selection of zero-gravity positions, with the seat pan angle and legrest adjustable separately to the recline. This is truly in the “must be experienced to be believed” category of comfort.

Unum One seat in reclined position. The seat is light grey with darker grey fixtures around it.

When reclined, the seat is very comfortable, even with these temporary (and slightly bulging) foams. Image: John Walton

After nearly two hours poking around the seat, there seem to be no unfixable dealbreakers at this early stage in the A321neo version. (The widebody versions, which RGN viewed via VR goggles, are slightly different, particularly the centre sections, which are angled substantially closer to the centreline and offer multiple side consoles. We are commenting only on the narrowbody version here.)

When reclined flat, the space is almost unbelievable. Unum has done an excellent job with the footwell in particular, which is sculpted to the sidewall and also provides a gap for the tallest of passengers to poke their toes through — this journalist is 6’3” and did not need that space. 

Unum One seat footwell is pictured here. The seat pallet is various greys and there is a pillow sitting atop the foot rest.

The foot space is truly substantial. Image: John Walton

Particularly when seated, the walls seem somewhat higher than in some competing seats. This height makes for a very private feeling, but there are two tradeoffs beyond the “coffin class” question. First, there is an expanse of thermoplastic immediately to the inboard of the monitor. This will require careful materials and finish selection to manage.


Second, and more problematically, ingress and egress for the larger passenger is limited via the space where the door goes to approximately 16” — slightly less than half the pitch, since the door slides forwards from its housing.

That is quite the squeeze for even the moderately plump passenger, and while there is a DOT-mandated double-latching system to move the door out and backwards to allow for level transfer, this is neither intended — nor simple enough — to be used every time a larger business class passenger wants to pop up to the lav.

Some further thought here as the seat moves into further design and certification would be sensible.

looking at the Unum One Seat from outside in the aisle. The thermoplastics are white and the seat peaks through the opening. These seats are being displayed in an office setting and not on an aircraft.

The biggest question about the seat so far is the size of the door aperture. Image: John Walton

Other small questions include the triangular part of the seatbelt tongue buckle mechanism, which sticks up from the automotive-style vertical socket and prods the passenger directly in the buttock or, when reclined, in the lower back. Some other option will clearly be needed.

Unum One seat in reclined position. The seat is light grey with darker grey fixtures around it.

The seatbelt needs a rework — the large triangular three-point hook standing vertically is the issue. Image: John Walton

In terms of zones of customisation, everything from the side console surface upwards can be adjusted upwards. This is among the advantages of designing a seat during a pandemic, it seems: without a launch customer, Unum has had the ability to develop the product that it wants to show in its purest engineered form. 

A large IFE screen is sitting directly in front of a business class aircraft seat.

A sizeable, IFE monitor can be angled towards the sleeping passenger. Image: John Walton

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All images credited to the author, John Walton