It almost feels like an act of sabotage that Lufthansa would include revamped first-class suites in its newly-launched Lufthansa Allegris, a catalogue of products crafted specially for its long-haul flights. After all, the general opinion is that first-class cabins on commercial flights are on the decline due to the rise of private jet travel and the fact that business and premium business cabins have all the bells and whistles of first class without the cost.
In reality, commercial airlines are nowhere near retiring their most premium cabin even though most are now choosing to focus on other classes that are guaranteed to bring in profits without sacrificing their premium passengers. Which is precisely what the Lufthansa Allegris is about and its products offer some insight into the future of first-class and premium cabins in commercial flights.
But first, a history of the first-class cabin
Although commercial flights took off in 1914, the first class concept did not take root until well after WWII, and even then, it was not so much about the seats as it was about flying uninterrupted (which is what was regarded as first class) or having frequent stops along the way (coach flights).
At this point in the history of aviation, space was regarded more as a necessity than a luxury, since the costs of tickets were high and only the really could afford them. It was only after 1955 when standardised fares were abolished and the first aircraft with separate coaches launched that first class began to be associated with more space, better service and exclusive amenities.
And this is how it has been ever since. Although first-class cabins industry-wide are not as spacious as they used to be back in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the amenities, level of service and other perks they come with make them more sophisticated than their predecessors.
However, in spite of the many benefits they offer, it appears as though more premium passengers would rather fly private, or go with other cheaper – but just as impressive – superior cabins.
Lufthansa Allegris and the revamped first class
Back in February, the German airline announced new changes to its long-distance aircraft dubbed the Lufthansa Allegris. While this product includes modifications to all its cabins – like increased flexibility in its business class that would allow passengers enjoy more space with the possibility of combining two suites; and, seats with fold-out leg rests that can recline in premium economy without disturbing passengers behind – it is the changes in its first class that seem to have garnered the most attention.
From promotional videos, the new first-class cabin aboard Lufthansa’s long-haul aircraft is a single row in a 1-1-1 layout. Amenities include temperature-controlled seats, spacious wardrobes and entertainment screens that span the width of the suites. Guests in this cabin would also have access to a specially put-together gourmet menu that they can order from at any time.
Impressive changes, but nothing compared to the introduction of ‘Suite Plus,’ a double suite in the middle aisle. Decked out with all the features in the neighbouring ‘rooms’, Suite Plus has, in addition, high-ceiling walls and a door that can close completely, as well as two seats that can be combined to form a large bed for two, almost like what can be found in a hotel room.
The future of first-class and premium cabins
Every time a global event negatively affects the economies of rich countries, the aviation industry suffers, and almost every time – in recent years at least – first-class is always almost the first to be scrapped or modified for less-pricey seats and cabins.
The 2008 financial crisis saw the rise of business class and a steady decline of first class, while the global coronavirus pandemic that restricted travel between 2020 and 2021 almost killed the premium cabin for good.
But, as Lufthansa and other airlines are showing, first class is going nowhere. For now at least. It is true that the Coronavirus increased demand for private jets, aided in no small part by new initiatives that make this uber-luxe method of flying more accessible. However, with concerns about carbon emissions and making our planet more sustainable, it would be quite a reach to say that first-class travel is dead.
As long as commercial flights are still in operation, airlines will always have to create a space for premium passengers willing to spend more for their comfort. The only changes the immediate future seems to be ready to offer in this regard are reduced seats as in Lufthansa’s single row of 3 first-class suites, reduced suite sizes like Emirates’ A380 first-class suites or making first-class cabins available only on select long-haul flights, as most airlines are doing currently.