Some Airlines Jettisoning First Class Seats

Global austerity has lead some airlines to chuck first class seats out the air lock.

* AirTran will get rid of first class seats entirely after it merges with Southwest, which has never had a first class section.
* United is “evaluating” its options, though some speculate they will switch to merger-buddy Continental’s system of just economy and business class
* Qantas is getting rid of first class seating except on a few flagship routes

Does this portend a new, egalitarian, classless airborne society? No, such lofty ambitions are but castles in the sky. The new hot market is “premium economy,” which is just economy with a little more legroom.

More airlines ditch first-class seats as fliers get stingy [USA Today] (Thanks to MercuryPDX!)

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  1. Sockatume says:

    “Air lock”? Perhaps Mr. Popken can do his bit for austerity and stop flying Virgin Galactic. ;)

    • Rommel says:

      Don’t plane doors need airlocks? Like they need to “air lock” their windows so you A) don’t die of severe decrease in pressure, and B) you all don’t get the life sucked out of you because you can’t breathe?

      • carsinamerica says:

        Aeroplanes have pressure doors, space vehicles have airlocks. Airlocks are antechambers, which lock on either side, so that all air is pumped out of the airlock and back into the spacecraft. This prevents you from taking all the air with you when you open the door. Aeroplanes don’t need this level of sophistication, since there is (almost) never a need to open a door midflight.

  2. Sockatume says:

    “Air lock”? Perhaps Mr. Popken can do his bit for austerity and stop flying Virgin Galactic. ;)

  3. Fjord says:

    I wonder which cabin is more profitable, first/business of coach? Coach seats are taken more often than a business seat by a paying passenger.

    • ARP says:

      I’m sure that’s what they’re trying to cruch, but there are lot of factors and not all of them are hard costs that are easy to predict.

      1) 1.X to 2 coach seats fit in every F-C seat.
      2) Ticket prices (full and discounted) for each class of seating.
      3) Percentage of time at capacity (e.g. % of time the seats are occupied)
      4) “Soft” value of upgrading frequent fliers
      5) How often FC is purchased/upgraded with points.

  4. keeper1616 says:

    How is this new? Air New Zealand, Delta, US Airways, TAP have been running for years without First Class, just to name a few. Personally, the only airlines with a decent First Class product are Singapore and Emirates, although Lufthansa may rate up there too, I just haven’t tried them.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I think airlines who fly internationally would keep first class on the planes that only fly international routes. It isn’t surprising that JetBlue would eliminate first class, given that most of its routes are domestic and the “international” ones are short trips to the Caribbean.

      I hope Lufthansa never gets rid of first class – I’m still hoping to fly first class to Paris at some point. Coach on a Lufthansa plane is actually really nice, though.

      • Dustbunny says:

        Lufthansa Business Class is really really nice too. Cheaper than first class but with most of the perks.

    • George4478 says:

      Delta doesn’t have First Class? They did one all three domestic flights I took last month.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      US has first class too. Are you writing this from the future?

      • sleze69 says:

        I think he is referring to domestic flights (A319, 320, 321, etc). What is in front of a US Airways domestic cabin is not first class. It is business class from the 1980s.

        Fly international US Air to see what real first class is.

    • s25843 says:

      This is news to me. I am a platinum on Delta,, and usually get free upgrades to,, Oh, First Class…..

    • javert says:

      My upgrade today says that Delta has first class.

  5. Blueskylaw says:

    The Proletariat Revolution is well under way. We will no longer be exploited by the bourgeoisie and we will displace the capitalist system with the dictatorship of the proletariat, abolishing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a communist society in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”.

    • ARP says:

      I know it’s partially snark, but the data says the opposite. Wealth has been (more) rapidly concentrating at the very top the past 30 years (around the time that Reagan came in) so that the top 10% own about 73% of the wealth and generally coincides with the large tax cuts for the rich and the smallish tax cuts for the middle class and poor. It’s actually more a symptom of a shrinking middle and middle upper class, so that you have the very wealthy, a small middle class, and then a large number of lower middle class and working poor. So, the rich have gotten so greedy, that their plans may eventually backfire and they may actually cause a populist revolt. They may force us to go back to the communist policies of Nixon, Reagan, Ford, and Eisenhower. So beyond the current recession (which is a factor) I’d theorize that the overall number of people that can actually afford FC shrank and/or moved to private jets.

      /meandering rant

      • Blueskylaw says:

        May the power of the people be with you my card carrying friend. One day you will be a hero of the working class.

      • Talmonis says:

        Lets start with Monsanto, before they can eliminate the world’s food supply and fortify their corporate headquarters with their recently purchased blackwater army.

  6. formergc says:

    I flew “premium economy” on British Airways from Chicago to London last month. For a price mid-way between coach and business, I got a seat and legroom equivalent to what used to be coach. Aggravating to those of us who remember, but worth every penny.

  7. MrEvil says:

    So other airlines are becoming more like Southwest now? Then again, Southwest has pretty nice seats on all their aircraft. I must say the last time I flew Southwest I was quite comfortable.

    • daveinva says:

      God, how I wish I was as small as you.

      All domestic airlines suck hard in the coach seating department, they’re all awful.

      I wish an airline out there would take the opportunity to breakout from the pack and offer one airplane’s worth of larger seats (5 seats across vs. 6). Yes, fine, charge more… but we’re not talking THAT much more per ticket (you only have to make up the loss of 1/6th the seats = a $180 ticket now sells for $210 but you can actually enjoy yourself during the flight).

      Alas, they’ll never do it, in spite of all the pent-up demand there is out there for a better domestic flying experience in coach.

    • anduin says:

      you must be pretty small then, as someone who is 6’4 and whose legs make up about 60% of that height, I literally cannot sit with my knees straight. I have to have the lazy open leg position for hours. Anything beyond 3 hours on a flight becomes a test of patience and physical endurance for me.

  8. FatLynn says:

    I’d be surprised if United got rid of the fully-reclining beds in first class on some of its most popular routes. They’ve been using that as a selling point recently.

    • randomman says:

      Their Business Class on those planes is almost identical to First in the “hard product” (i.e. seats, entertainment, etc). Business is fully flat too.

  9. Foot_Note says:

    when will they include both steerage class, and or those “Sex” seats?

  10. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    How does relabeling big seats from First Class to Business Class change things? What’s the difference?

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Well, it does eliminate true first class, which is better on most international carriers than business. Clearly, the step up between coach and business is massive, while the step to first is comparatively small, though.

      For business travellers, very few companies will now pay for first, so the ability to sell that cabin at a significant premium to business has shrunk.

      Doesn’t surprise me we’re seeing more business/coach combinations. Virgin Atlantic has been doing it for years, quite comfy.

  11. jamar0303 says:

    Uh, “premium economy” is definitely more than just a little more legroom. At least, on most of the airlines I’ve seen with it. Paying extra on pre-merger United for Economy Plus just doesn’t “go” with me. Hope post-merger UA makes it more distinctive, otherwise it’s not worth that much, especially on international routes where other countries’ carriers have whole new seats and nicer service in premium economy.

    • Putaro says:

      I fly JapanUS fairly regularly. We tried JAL’s Premium Economy a while back and it was very nice. Better seats (for those who hate recliners in front of them, the JAL Premium Economy seats are in a shell so when you recline your seat it doesn’t forward, not backwards and doesn’t eat into the space of the person behind you). It was also a lot more expensive than regular Economy. Last time I flew I used United’s Premium Economy. It is only a few extra inches of legroom but that was nice and it’s only an extra $100 on NaritaSFO.

      Unfortunately there is no standard designation for “Premium Economy” so it’s hard to tell what you’re getting without some research.

    • doctor.mike says:

      On EVA Airways (Taiwan) not only is the pitch larger, ~36-39 vs ~31-32, the seats are wider. On a 747, the deluxe economy is 8 across (2-4-2) compared with standard economy 10 across (3-4-3). Meals are upgraded, with service on real China (not a deal maker) not plastic or aluminum foil, and you get a menu. Alcohol is free in all classes, but the Chinese (Taiwan Chinese) rarely drink alcohol on the plane.

  12. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I always wanted to fly true first class at least once in my life. I guess now I won’t get to. That stinks.

  13. ShruggingGalt says:

    But where will the Air Marshals sit then????? Do don’t expect them to sit in coach do you? I’m sure OSHA will have a field day with that one since their “workplace” would be coach. Other people travel when they fly so it’s okay in OSHA’s eyes. They (the air marshals) would have to work in cramped quarters! The horror!

  14. humphrmi says:

    My guess is that most first class seats are upgrades, with few full paying passengers. Businesses used to fly their road warriors in first class, now they are lucky if they fly business class.

  15. dreamfish says:

    All First Class has ever been is a rich man’s plaything (or a rich board of directors, who can charge it to the company). I’d be interested to know what the stats are for first class occupancy on most flights, especially transatlantic ones.

    Just as a demonstration for London to Chicago (return, direct) on United:
    Economy: $620
    Business: $4465.60 (7.2x more than economy)
    First: $9985.60 (16x more than economy)

    I think even if I were ‘rich’ I couldn’t justify those prices.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Beyond a doubt. No rich person got rich by habitually paying sixteen times more for things than the next guy.

      • Murph1908 says:

        In my fantasies about winning the lottery, I have done the math. If you take home 50 million after taxes on your win:

        At a simple 5% interest, which is low when you are talking about that kind of money, you will make 2.5 million a year in interest.

        After taxes (40%?), that will leave you with 1.5 million a year.

        Give yourself 300k per year for living expenses, and you can spend 1.2 million a year on whatever you want. That’s 100k per month, or about 3333 per DAY.

        So in just 3 days, you make enough in interest to pay for that first class flight to London.

        How long does it take you, working, to make the $620 (after taxes) to take that coach flight? For most of us, longer than 3 days.

        And the rich guy is making money that money 7 days a week. If he manages to spend just $3,333 the week he buys his tickets, he’s got enough left over for that week to pay for the round trip.

        So yeah. If I am rich, I am taking first class for an 8 hour flight every time.

      • barty says:

        Very true. Most individuals that are wealthy usually made their money from making wise spending and investment decisions.

        Truthfully, anyone who we would consider super wealthy would not go anywhere near a commercial carrier anyway. In my opinion, First Class service is more of a splurge of the upper middle class and frequent flyers than how anyone who is independently wealthy who flies on a regular basis. They either own their own jet, and/or charter a flight. Why put up with the headache of a big airport when you can go to your local GA airport, walk right up to the plane (sometimes even drive right up to it), be in the air in 10-15 minutes tops, and have a car waiting for you (again, maybe even right at the ramp)?

    • Jeffrito says:

      My sister used to work as an assistant to the top executives at Cargill. She said that there was one exec from their South American division that refused to fly anything but first class. Anything else was too great a blow to his ego.

  16. prizgrizbiz says:

    Egalitarianism FTW!

  17. pot_roast says:

    “AirTran will get rid of first class seats entirely after it merges with Southwest, which has never had a first class section.”

    Technically, it’s “business class” and I have always enjoyed it on AirTran. Too bad Southwest is going to eliminate that immediately.

    • MsFab says:

      Exactly. I loved AirTran’s business class.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      I love AirTran’s business class too. I hate flying now. Just the idea of getting on a plane for 3 or more hours makes my knees ache, and makes me love Amtrack more for trips up and down the east coast.

  18. OSAM says:

    Air Canada only has Coach/Business. Except maybe on their super-long-haul cross-pacific flights.

  19. AllanG54 says:

    The only time I’ve ever flown first class was when American bumped me and the family in there after coach was overbooked. I really didn’t need the hot towel and I ate the same meal everyone else did. I’ve flown coach to Hawaii twice and Europe twice and it’s not that bad. When the flight is that long there’s always free movies or tv and plenty of food. So, if they get rid of first it doesn’t matter to me.

    • Jevia says:

      Wow, if you ate the same meal as everyone else, American’s first class must have really sucked. Either that, or it was a very short flight, comparatively, and “first class” was merely a few rows up from the rest.

      I’ve only flow first class once and business once. Both times I got significantly better food and drink, especially in first class.

    • kmw2 says:

      American’s first class is kind of naff, but it’s not that bad. You didn’t get the same meal as coach.

    • Jeffrito says:

      Somehow I managed to fly single engine planes before ever flying on an airliner, and sailplanes shortly thereafter.

      My first airline trip was on Piedmont airlines, and when the flight attendant heard about it, they moved my brother in law and I up to first class. That was awfully nice of them. The seats were much more comfortable and the drinks were free. I don’t recall if the meal was any better than what they got in coach or not. I couldn’t imagine paying so much just to sit in a nicer seat for 2-1/2 hours though.

      If I were wealthy, I’d buy a Piaggio P180 Avanti II and never fly an airline again. And I love flying (or flying in) just about anything.

  20. KhaiJB says:

    coming soon

    Sit on the Wing Class (Oxygen and Heat Extra, surcharge for looking in the window for the inflight movie)

    Smoking Allowed…..

  21. Mr. Pottersquash says:

    this sucks. Im a big guy, aways have been, I used to buy Airtran Buisness class all the time to get extra room and not scrunch anyone.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      Even for not-so-big people, it’s getting nutty. Soon we’ll all have the option of discount Cattle Class, where there are no seats at all. They just cram you standing upright into the plane so tightly that no one can fall over or down for all the people packed in with them.

  22. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    First class has never been worth it. Considering it still costs 4x as much and you get what you USED to get in coach. Bleh.

  23. Mecharine says:

    Whats the difference between first class and business class? If there isn’t much of a difference, wouldn’t the business class become the new first class ?

  24. AnthonyC says:

    Well, that’ll show the Air Marshals