No First Class Seats? No Problem: Look out for These Instead

You would have heard that the pandemic brought about changes that would have normally taken place ten years from now, and one good place to test the veracity of this would be the airline industry, where first-class seats are on the decline.

Where are the first-class seats going to?

Giving way to premium economy and business class.

Ever since British Airways successfully introduced lie-flat seats in business class, almost all long-haul airlines have followed suit without any decline in revenue and customer base, and with both passengers and airlines fully satisfied.

British airways business class seats
Airlines have remodelled their business suites over the years to match seats in the first-class cabin, like this British Airways business class. Image courtesy of British Airways

Why, you may ask? Don’t passengers want to be comfortable anymore?

Let’s start with all the reasons you may want to fly first-class. This premium cabin gives passengers an opportunity to sleep on long flights without having to break their trips and take a much-needed rest in hotels. You can also not deny the privacy you enjoy in first-class. Lie-flat seats in business class changed the game, however, and employees going on business trips are finding it increasingly difficult to justify purchasing a first-class seat to their bosses.

In addition, airlines are changing the design of business-class seats to include more privacy for their customers in addition to making other perks like private lounges open to travellers on business-class, all at a cost cheaper than first-class. Who pays more for more when you can get more for less?

Lastly, airlines are phasing out double-decker jumbo jets that consume more fuel for smaller aircraft. With less space to work with, it only makes economic sense to maximise the little one available.

How has the pandemic accelerated the decline of first-class?

For months, no one travelled, except it was highly essential and linked to stemming the Coronavirus tide. Businesses however had to go on, and that was how we all took up residence online.

Emirates' first-class suite
First-class suites, like Emirates’ here, were already on the decline pre-COVID. Image courtesy of The Verge

And then, everyone had a light bulb moment. All those thousands of annual business trips we took pre-COVID were in fact quite unnecessary. A decline in business trips automatically meant a decline in the use of the first-class cabin, since it was mostly occupied by business persons, politicians, HNIs and celebrities.

But we travel for purposes other than business, right? And reports show that if anything, the pandemic increased our travel lust. So why are we still shunning first-class?

We may want to travel now more than ever, but we want to do it in relative safety and the utmost comfort. Which is why private jet travel is on the rise, made even more accessible by subscription services, charter open market places, traditional charter services, fly-sharing and fractional ownership. As more people explore private travel via these options, the need for ultra-private spaces on commercial planes is on the decline.

Instead of wasting space with first-class seats that are no longer as popular as they used to be, it only makes sense to offer people what they want: economy seats that the masses can afford, and business class seats or premium economy seats that deliver the first-class experience sans the cost.

What if you’re flying commercial but still want first-class?

Simply because the rest of the world is pivoting away from first-class does not mean you have to follow suit. If you still want to fly first-class, this tip from CNN just might get you what you want.

Premium business class seat
Airlines are beginning to repurpose the business class seats at the front to resemble their first class counterparts. Image courtesy of CNN

Business-class seats are usually staggered so that they can recline without disturbing the next passenger. But the front row seats will almost always have a bigger space with only the wall to contend with.

CNN dubs them the ‘front-row business-plus’ seats, and some airlines are beginning to repurpose them into pseudo-first class seats, complete with bigger seats, bigger screens and in some cases, an extra seat. Other design options include “mini-wardrobes so that you can slip out of your suit and into your airline-offered pyjamas, leaving your clothes clean and uncrumpled for when you arrive,” or a romantic spot with a table between seats complete with “low lighting options, flowers and even an electronic candle.”

If you want to know if your preferred carrier is offering this service, there are two ways to find out. One, look out for words like ‘business plus’ or ‘business suite’ while booking. Or just go snooping onboard: if the front or even back row seats look a bit different from the others in the business class cabin, and come with extra pillows and blankets that look extra plush, then the airline is most likely offering this service and you could ask for that seat on your next travel.

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