The headrest of dreams: Why my neck thanked me for this economy seat

Jan 1, 2020

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I’ve flown a lot of economy flights in my life, and I struggle to sleep sitting up in those seats for longer than about 15 minutes at a time — and it’s the headrest that seems to be the reason.

Those thin little pillows you receive in economy even on good airlines don’t really provide much cushioning or support for your head, so I try other ways to sleep. For instance, while those U-shaped neck pillows cushion my neck, they don’t seem to support my actual head, meaning I still wake up with a sore neck — if I sleep at all.

No matter which way you twist and turn, unless you’re one of those lucky people who can nod off anywhere, trying to sleep in an upright position isn’t fun.

As airlines reduce both pitch and width of economy seats to squeeze as many passengers into an aircraft as they can, there isn’t much to look forward to in terms of economy seat design innovation. At the massive ITB Berlin Travel Show earlier this year, Qatar Airways unveiled its brand-new economy seat. Given the amazing advancements the airline has made in business class with its Qsuite product I was excited to see how it would innovate in the economy space.

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Qatar economy. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

I sat in the new seat at the expo stand, and sure, it was soft and comfortable, but it didn’t feel noticeably different to many other economy seats I’ve sat in. So not really sleep-inducing.

But on a recent flight I realised where there is some great innovation in economy seat design — the headrest.

I’ve seen all sorts of different headrest design in economy seats. Some are slightly raised either side, some have foldable, customisable sides (or wings), some like Etihad have a one-sided static support feature. An issue I’ve had with the folding side headrests is that they just don’t stay up.

On a flight in Virgin Atlantic’s Premium cabin earlier this year I discovered as the headrest did not stay up, it meant the pillow fell through the gap between the seats into the seat behind me so I awoke confused with a sore neck and a missing pillow. Again, not ideal.

But now I’ve found a seat that does the trick.

The Recaro CL3710 seat used on British Airways’ newest aircraft, the Airbus A350, as well as on Kuwait Airways’ 777 and other airlines, and it’s got the headrest all economy passengers have been waiting for.

Read more: What are the best and worst seats British Airways operate between London and New York

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

At first glance, the seat doesn’t look much different to other economy seats. Width, legroom and recline are all standard. But once I started playing around with the headrest I realised how good this seat was.

It can be moved up or down several inches for taller or shorter passengers, which is nothing unusual, but the foldable sides were the real star of this seat. Not only could they be curved far upwards but they actually stayed that way.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

I gave the headrest on this seat design a good workout on several flights over the past month and despite twisting and turning throughout my sleep the sides stayed in exactly the same place as I had put them for the entire flight. No vanishing pillows, no sore neck.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

If you sleep sitting with your knees to the side (for example if the seat next to you is free), you can nestle your head into this space, leaning on it hard and it feels cozy, supportive and comfortable while keeping your neck fairly straight.

It wasn’t a flatbed but there was no sore neck when I landed!

Read more: What special meals can you order on airplanes and are they worth it?

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

Most airlines will choose some sort of customisation of an aircraft seat when they order it (such as whether the tray table will be bi-fold or not). Recaro has confirmed to TPG that this headrest can be found in the economy cabins of the newest long-haul-configured aircraft of the following major airlines:

  • ANA – B777-300; B787-10
  • British Airways – B777-200
  • Cathay Pacific – B777-300
  • China Southern Airlines – A330-300
  • Delta Air Lines – A350-900
  • El Al – B787-9
  • Iberia – A330-200; A350-900
  • Japan Airlines – A350-900; B787-8
  • KLM – A330-200; B777-200; B777-300
  • Qatar Airways – A350-900; A350-1000; B777-200; B777-300
  • Singapore Airlines – A350-900; A380-800; B787-10
  • TAP – A330-900

Bottom line

As new seats on new aircraft, these work great. And I appreciate plenty of other seat manufacturers have similar products on the market that do a similar job.

But for my neck, this was the best economy seat I have ever tried to sleep in and I’ll be very happy to see this particular seat on my next flight.

Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy

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