Domestic first class (in the United States) and international first class are simply not in the same analytical category. One offers a little more room with marginally better recline and a potential hot meal. The other typically features a fully-lie flat bed, privacy screens, a wide range of entertainment, and an extensive menu of food or drinks. And while the decline of the domestic first class experience has been well-documented, it’s not the greatest loss in the world; after all, if you can’t sip champagne on that flight from Houston to St. Louis, you’ll still live to fly another day.
But anyone who has sat in both seats, or heck, even read extensively about how the products differ, can attest to the fact that international first class, especially on an airline that really cares about the customer experience, is a completely different animal.
So I was disappointed to open my hotel room door yesterday morning, find the obligatory copy of USA Today, and read Roger Yu’s article lumping the two products into the same basket. Normally, USA Today’s travel coverage is top notch. So while I take no pleasure in calling them out, it’s important to call ‘em like I see ‘em.
The article begins with a claim about the decline of the front of the plane:
A small but growing list of airlines are eliminating or reducing rows in the most expensive part of their aircraft as customers increasingly look for cheaper seats.
Eliminating! Who is cutting the “$15,000 seats” — the article’s terminology, not mine … ? The article’s first answer: AirTran. AirTran? This, assuming that the merger with Southwest will go through. But AirTran does not sell flat-beds. Their “business class” seats are fairly typical domestic-American first-class seats. Wider leather seats with slightly more recline than coach. 37 inches of seat pitch, vs. 30 in coach. (Whoo.)
I could compare that to a truly top-notch first-class product like, say, Emirates’ personal first class suites on the A380, each with a sliding door for privacy. But that might be construed as unfair. So how about, American Airlines’ international first class product on their 777s: Instead of 37″ of pitch, they’ve got 92″. 92 vs 37? No contest!
It is simply not sensible to discuss domestic and international first class in the same article. Especially when the only evidence of a decline in domestic first class is a potential merger of two discount carriers.
The remainder of the article focuses on the legitimate reduction of first class in 3- or 4-class configurations. (Economy/Business/First or Economy/Premium Economy/Business/First). And indeed, airlines are slowly but surely phasing out first class seats in favor of (improved) business class seats.
And this comes as no surprise. Airlines have sunk r&d money into improving business class, and we’ve seen the results. Ten years ago, cradle seats were the norm on international business class. Now, the norm is flat beds, which were once just the domain of first class.
Except, of course, on domestic flights. Someone alert USA Today.
It’s a good-news/bad-news scenario. American Airlines’ regional carrier American Eagle is upgrading the interiors of its Canadair CRJ-700 regional jets, to include 9 first-class seats. 25 existing planes will be converted; 22 new planes are on order. All are expected to be online by July 2.
Putting a first-class cabin on regional jets puts them more in line with the “exPlus” product United has been offering on its larger regional jets for a few years now. (No Economy Plus, though.)
It’s a good thing for upgraders. And the economy seats on the newly-delivered planes will eke out an additional inch of legroom, due to slimline seats.
That means new upgrade opportunities, yes, but… American is removing mainline aircraft — the ones with real first-class cabins — and replacing them with CRJs.
And some of those routes, especially from Chicago, are high-density:
American Eagle will offer First Class service from its Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) hubs. From Chicago, customers will experience First Class service on flights to Atlanta, Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., Newark, N.J., George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Salt Lake City. From DFW, customers can fly First Class to Cleveland, Milwaukee, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville/Springdale, Ark., and Little Rock, Ark.
Atlanta? DC? Newark? Yikes. It’s getting harder and harder to avoid regional jets.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s great that the CRJ product is being improved, and this sounds like a meaningful improvement. On the other hand, CRJs are inferior to mainline: more likely to be canceled, more prone to turbulence, smaller overhead bins, no ovens (for the first class peeps)… the list goes on.
At least there will be hot nuts!
Downgraded: The view on AirTran
While US Airways has long had ads on the tops of their tray tables, which you only see if you pull the tray down, AirTran is going a step further and pasting ads on the undersides — the side you see during takeoff and landing, when those traytables are in their “upright and locked position.” The Ryanairification of American air travel is nearly complete. Stay classy!
Downgraded: Premium seats on Qantas
Qantas is cutting the number of premium seats. No surprises there.
Upgraded: A380 first class seats
The Global Traveller has flown the A380 on Singapore, Qantas, and Emirates, and offers a comparison of all three products. Well played, sir. Well played.
Downgraded: Airbus A380, not so premium
In direct contrast to the previous item, how about an A380 equipped with 840 seats? Air Austral, which travels between La Réunion in the Indian Ocean and Paris, has ordered two single-class A380s, jam-packed with passengers.
Forget Paris, New York, San Francisco, London, Chicago… Tokyo gets the nod for the city with the most top Michelin-starred restaurants.
Downgraded: Flying into de facto lava fields
Horrible event, but a great headline: “Plane Misses Runway, Lands in Lava“… The accident occurred in Goma, Congo, where the runway was cut in half by the lava flow from a 2002 volcanic eruption. Apparently, there were a few injuries, but thankfully no deaths.
Downgraded: Amex cards’ point/mile programs
Want to earn the miles or points from an affinity credit card purchase? Be sure to pay the bill on time. American Express is withholding the points if the cardholder doesn’t pay the bill by the due date. Customers forfeit the points, unless they pay a $29 reinstatement fee, in addition to late charges and interest. This isn’t just Amex: JPMorgan Chase has a similar policy with their United Visa. Expect this to be the norm. And try to pay that bill on time.
You know the financial crisis has gotten bad when investment bankers are forced to give up their paid business and first class seats.
Merrill Lynch & Co., UBS AG and JPMorgan & Chase Co. are telling senior bankers in Asia to fly coach on short-haul flights and reduce non-essential travel as they step up cost cuts, officials at the firms said.
UBS advised bankers this month to travel economy class for flights of up to five hours, two officials at the biggest Swiss bank said, asking not to be identified because it’s an internal policy. Merrill employees have been told to travel economy for flights of as much as three hours since mid-September, two executives at the firm said.
JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, has requested senior bankers fly economy on flights of less than three hours since late August, said an official who declined to be identified.
But before you throw that pity party, remember that business class is still fair game on long haul flights. Plus, they can always use their upgrades…
More seriously, you have to wonder what this will do for the airlines who have relied on paid business and first class to make real money. With all the real estate the premium offerings take up on board, and with a shrinking customer base, what’s the future of the front of the plane?…
Lufthansa doesn’t just have a lounge for their first-class passengers in Frankfurt. They have a separate terminal.
Many describe it as the best airport lounge in the world. Private baths. Sit-down dining. Dozens of complimentary single-malt scotches. Bellhop service for your bags. As a final luxury, you’re chauffeured to your flight in a Porsche Cayenne or Mercedes S-Class.
To get into the First Class Terminal, you have to be an “HON” member of Lufthansa’s Miles & More program (600,000 qualifying miles over two years) or flying on a Lufthansa first class ticket that day.
And remember: Award tickets count! Using your miles for an over-the-top experience like this is a good move, in my book. Sure, you could get from point A to point B in coach, too, with fewer miles, but for a few thousand more miles, you could be flying in real style.
I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but thanks to Gary Leff’s recent post on the subject, we now have a video tour as well. Watch it below.
Want more lounge porn? Have another video. For those who understand German, or who just want more visuals of the first-class terminal, here’s a news report:
Still can’t get enough? Browse the photo gallery here.
Next thing to worry about in flight: Ozone
Like “sick building syndrome,” you can now start worrying about the plane’s air. But not because of the germs. It’s the ozone. Not holes in the ozone layer, either, but ozone levels in the cabin. Most interestingly, narrow-body flights are more prone than wide-body planes to higher ozone levels. Yet another reason to love the jumbos.
Korean Air shows off its Airbus A380 interiors
Singapore Airlines may be the first airline to fly the A380 mega-uber-hyper-super-jumbo-jet (and tickets are finally on sale for Sydney-Singapore flights, which start October 25, by the way), but you can get a photo tour of Korean Air’s A380. Lavender??! Who’s their interior designer? Yuck! (Thanks, Jeff!)
First class fare sale… if you’re traveling tomorrow
I know that airlines like to put out the e-fares and net-savers for weekend travel, but this offer from United struck me as odd. First class fares are on sale for travel on Saturday, September 15 only. Fly there in first, fly back in coach, savor the difference? Fares are less than regular paid first, but the bulk of fares are for really short flights where paying cash money for first class is bonkers.
Business class fare sales to Europe
All-business class L’Avion is flying Newark to Paris for $1398 roundtrip, pre-tax. Maxjet is doing London to New York or DC for $998, also roundtrip, also pre-tax. Both are through the end of 2007, but not every date may be available. (Thanks, Michelle!)
More dangerous shirts
I don’t know what to make of this. “Your liver is evil. It must be punished.” Har har har. But Continental Airlines wasn’t laughing when they kept Edna and Frank Taylor from getting onboard, because of that shirt. What’s with this “What Not to Wear” airline trend?