This blog has consistently tried to remind readers that First Class is alive and well on many airlines – contrary to the views of many journalists who keep trying to kill it off.
An article in The Times last week suggested that British Airways is close to a radical move to remove First Class on many routes.
The logic of this is apparently the recession causing reduced demand and the fact that BA, and other western airlines, cannot compete with the level of service offered by the Gulf airlines. The only actual evidence they have is that some new 777′s ordered by BA will not have a First Class cabin but these aircraft were ordered long before the current recession and were for the leisure services from Gatwick where First Class is not needed.
It is true that BA, and most other airlines, are withdrawing First Class from some minor routes where there is no regular demand. In the past, they have found it easier to operate one fleet, all with First Class cabins, but now they are dividing their aircraft into those that have First and those that just have Business. The Gulf airlines have done this since the beginning so, if they are to be regarded as the future of First Class, the fact that BA and Lufthansa are following the same strategy is hardly evidence!
The second issue is bling. It is true that western airlines are not trying to compete with the lavish amenities on some aircraft operated by the Gulf airlines. There is little chance of BA or Lufthansa offering in-flight showers or the huge number of video channels and electronic gadgetry that some of the Gulf airlines have but that is missing the point entirely.
Many years ago, Gulf astonished the world by fitting gold-plated taps in its First Class washrooms. BOAC, as it was then, never tried to compete with such ostentation but carried on as normal and did very well from its routes to the Middle East. Even today, BA operates some 777′s to the Gulf which are fitted with extra First Class seats because of passenger demand.
If it is simple bling they want, then Arabs would stay at home. As it is, they seem to enjoy some of Europe’s oldest and least hi-tech luxury hotels.
All the goodies and gadgets that the Gulf airlines offer might be interesting for airline anoraks or journalists but are not necessarily interesting for passengers who actually buy First Class tickets on a regular basis. Many of these people prefer the calm of the First Class cabin on a western airline and like the professional but laid-back service. Quite a few regular First Class passengers hardly eat or drink anything on their flight (but when they want some grapes with sparkling water, they expect to get it without question) and they are more likely to doze or sleep than enjoy the latest blockbuster on their video. If you want all the gadgets and six-course meals served at a snail’s pace, then fly Emirates, but if you want calm and exclusivity, the western airlines are more likely to suit you.
The fact that Emirates and Etihad offer more video channels than BA, Lufthansa or Swiss does not mean that First Class has no future.