I just finished a “vintage” trip report looking back on a first class trip I took about a decade ago on several airlines. What has changed over the last decade in terms of international first class travel?
First, first class has become rarer. Some airlines, like United, Malyasia, Turkish, and Asiana have eliminated it. United may not have ever really tried to compete, but carriers like Asiana and Turkish simply found that people were not buying it. Others, like Korean, Lufthansa, Air France have cut cut it back. Air France’s latest first class product on the 777-300ER is only four seats while Lufthansa has removed first class on many longhaul aircraft and cut the size of the cabin to a standard of eight seats. Across the board, we see traditional “first class” airlines taking delivery of new aircraft without first class seats. British Airways, for example, which has a long tradition of first class, skipped first class on its new A350-1000, which features Club Suites in business class that actually feel roomier than first class on the British Airways 777 and 747.
But while first class has become rarer, I’d argue it has become better. Check out the pictures below on Lufthansa, Thai, and SWISS…comfortable seats to be sure, but not nearly as comfortable as today. Today, on average, you’ll find better seats, better bedding, better inflight entertainment, and better connectivity than you would have 10 years ago. Based upon my own experience, I’d also argue that food today is just as good as it was 10 years ago, when we were already outside the “golden age” of lobster and carved Châteaubriand. Singapore Airlines not only offers roomy suites onboard, but the ability to order meals in advance…a trend that is catching on.
Thai Airways Then:
Thai Airways Now:
SWISS First Then:
SWISS First Now:
And let’s not forget Gulf Carriers like Emirates and Etihad, which have embraced first class with swanky first class cabins and even a larger “Residence” onboard the Etihad A380 (through Qatar Airways is cutting first class).
Emirates 777 First:
Etihad A30 First Class “Apartments”:
Qatar Airways A380 First Class:
Etihad Airways “The Residence”:
There’s a tendency to be nostalgic about the past, but at least for me…who first flew first class in 2008…I’d say first class is better today than it was a decade ago.
And Of Course More Expensive…
Finally, we mustn’t forget that the reduction and elimination of first class cabins has made first class mileage redemptions more elusive than ever before when using miles. There are still sweet spots to secure Lufthansa First with Asiana or ANA First with Virgin Atlantic, but generally speaking it is a lot harder to secure first class seats than a decade ago using your miles. It is also dramatically more expensive. Back “in the day” you are could book eight Lufthansa First Class seats or four SWISS First Class seats months in advance. Singapore First was much more reachable (you could even use Delta miles) and American, Qantas, and United were not so difficult to secure.
Now you can only book SWISS First if you have Senator or HON status and a boatload of Lufthansa miles. You can only book Air France First Class with Gold status in Flying Blue (and an even larger cache of miles). Garuda, Korean, and Lufthansa are also restricted and American no longer releases saver award space. First Class may be better than ever, but it is more difficult today to secure than it was a decade ago using miles.
In short, first class has become more exclusive, more limited, and better than ever. It’s also more difficult to reach with miles than it was in the past and perhaps on its way out. Still, expect three-cabin first on airlines like Air France, ANA, British Airways, Emirates, JAL, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Singapore for many years to come.
Other than the ease of redeeming miles for first class, is there anything you miss about the “old” first class from a decade ago versus first class today?