Why First Class isn't what it used to be [service]

Rohit Khare (khare@mci.net)
Thu, 24 Jul 1997 19:20:12 -0400

[RK: Oh, I wish I could have flown during regulation. Every once in a while
I see snapshots of the *original* first class: 747 buffets overflowing with
lobster claws, real silver instead of weight-shaved crystal, jacketed
stewards, sit down bar lounges, upperdeck movie theatres, absurdly sexist
stewardess hiring policies (oops! did I say that?) ...]

Class Wars

Source: Business Traveler International, January 96

The lines between Economy, Business and First are blurring in a move to
provide passengers with more comfort.=20

By Mary Hunt

For a long time, the traditional aircraft configuration was two classes,
First and Economy. Then came Business class. But these days the number of
classes on any given airline is less easy to predict. It can be as few as
one, or as many as four.

The last two years in particular have seen significant experimentation in
the number of classes airlines offer, as well as what those classes are.
Carriers have found that travelers are not keen on single-class service =AD
or at least not keen enough to keep an airline afloat. All-premium airlines
like MGM Grand and Ultrair went under, but so did Continental Lite, an
all-Economy class lower-priced service. Single-class only seems to work on
shuttles or where money is the only object, like sardine-can charters.

[Re: MGM Grand: sniff, sniff :-( ]

Particularly on international routes, multiple classes with a two-tier
Economy configuration have been substantially more successful. This sets
aside a section of the aircraft for people who pay the full Economy fare,
on the assumption that they appreciate being segregated from discount
flyers. Virgin Atlantic=B9s Premium Economy seats =AD more leg room, more
recline, plus separate check-in =AD have proven popular.

Air India launched its =B3=B3Comfort Zone=B2=B2 in 1995, providing more=
space (nine
abreast instead of ten, plus more leg room) for full-fare-paying passengers
on long-haul routes between New York and Bombay or Delhi.

The first real attempt to establish a distinct fourth class was by EVA,
which in addition to First, Business and Economy, offers Evergreen Deluxe
Class, which is priced higher (by about $300 one-way) than full-fare
Economy but considerably lower than Business. Deluxe Class passengers get
more space plus priority seat selection, special check-in, additional
baggage allowance, upgraded meal service and bonus mileage in EVA=B9s
frequent flyer program.

The class of service that has captured most of the marketing focus in the
last decade has been Business class. Although it never gained much of a
foothold domestically, it has not only become a fixture internationally but
in many cases has supplanted First as the premium class, bringing the
number of classes back to two; but this time, Business and Economy. Driven
by the reluctance of corporations to underwrite First class fares for
business travelers, airlines began expanding their Business classes on
long-haul flights. Innovators such as Virgin Atlantic developed Business
class seating and service that rivaled much of their First class
competition. Among other carriers currently offering two classes of service
=AD premium/Business and Economy =AD on their long-haul routes are Aer Lingu=
(Premier class), AeroMexico (Clase Premier), Air Canada (Executive First),
Continental (BusinessFirst), SAS (EuroClass), Finnair (Business) and KLM
(World Business). One of the newest entrants in the category is TWA=B9s Tran=
World One, available on transatlantic and on other selected long-haul=

[RK -- Business First is dead now]

USAir=B9s BusinessFirst, which has replaced First class on some short-haul
domestic routes, does not fall into the same category. The airline replaced
First class on many of its domestic flights of less than two hours with
adjustable-width seats a la premium Economy, to reward its full-fare-paying
Economy passengers. Cabins can be configured according to demand to provide
greater seat width and more leg room. The airline retains First class on
its longer-haul domestic route. On its international flights to Paris and
Frankfurt, the airline offers two-class service, Business and Economy, with
a Business class configuration similar to that offered in the Business
cabin of airlines still offering three-class service.

This flies in the face of the latest trend =AD enhanced First class travel t=
cater to what one industry pundit described as =B3=B3the revolution of risin=
expectations.=B2=B2 Domestically, this is reflected in the addition or
expansion of First class service. For example, America West recently
announced plans to expand the availability of First class to its entire
route network by the end of 1996. Northwest has begun increasing First
class capacity on domestic routes, responding in particular to the
popularity of its =B3=B3Connect First=B2=B2 fares, which allow passengers ta=
Northwest connecting flights via the airline=B9s hubs in Detroit, Minneapoli=
or Memphis to upgrade to First class. American is adding from two to ten
seats in its First class cabins (depending upon the aircraft) domestically,
citing greater passenger willingness to pay for premium seating; and
Continental has reinstated First on its former Continental Lite routes to
domestic destinations, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Overseas, two European carriers =AD Air France and British Airways =AD are
competing with premium Business classes that mimic existing First class
comfort by introducing First-class super-premium cabins.

Air France introduced its L=B9Espace 180 program with seats that turn into a=
entirely flat bed, complete with sheets, full-size pillows and pajamas,
accompanied by the latest in audio and video equipment and upscaled food
and wine. More ambitious is a three-year plan by BA that features
compartmentalized seating with privacy partitions that not only turn into
flat beds, but can also convert into an armchair plus guest chair. The
First cabins will be phased in on 747s as of January 1996.

[A little birdie from MS points out that AF First includes valet pressing
and shining overnight after you change into the PJs]

The bottom line of the class wars is a generally better deal for the
traveler within his or her chosen price category, if shopped wisely.
Whatever class of service you decide to buy, there=B9s likely several
airlines vying to provide the most for your money.

Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) /// khare@mci.net
Voice+Pager: (617) 960-5131  VNet: 370-5131   Fax: (617) 960-1009