The world’s leading airlines are considering whether there is a need for first-class cabins any longer, when flat-bed seats cradle their corporate customers in, once unthought of comfort, making it harder to justify the premium for first-class.
Ever since the introduction of the fully reclining business berths by Air France-KLM Group, the corporate cabins of the top airlines in Europe, Asia and the Middle East now all offer and experience to the one that has been offered in first for almost two decades.
A couple of the carriers that are seeing limited demand for luxury seats are American Airlines, which is removing them from almost 50 jets and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, who is spending $1.3 billion to upgrade business class as the space in first class is cut 30 percent. Other carriers are doing just the opposite, namely, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways PJSC who added private suites called “The Residence” with a double bed, living area and shower for $20,000 one-way to London.
“The post-recession economy is keenly aware of the cost of travel and airlines will only put first on aircraft where it’s economically justified,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel advisory firm.
According to an August 20th announcement, American Airlines will drop first class from 47 Boeing 777-200s, limiting the top-end offering to its largest 777-300ER jets, of which there are only 14 in the fleet, and few of Airbus A321T narrow-bodies which are used on routes from California to New York.
While first-class offers a more exclusive travel experience, the benefits that come with a fare which is double that of business class can be marginal.
“There’s not a market for first class on every route, it only works for certain destinations,” Air France-KLM Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said in an interview.