Lufthansa will maintain first class on a subset of its incoming fleet, though the design and density of the next-generation first class seat is still under consideration.
At the recent IATA conference in Seoul, Harry Hohmeister, Lufthansa Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Network Airlines (which includes Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian) sat down with the Australian Business Traveller.
First, he clearly stated that first class would remain.
When we talk to our really top premium customers, our HON Circle members, most of them really prefer to travel in first class on long-haul flights. So, for us as an airline, it’s simply not an option to have no first class.
HON Circle members are the top-tier members in the Lufthansa Group’s Miles & More program. HON status requires 600,000 status miles in two years and only business class and first class tickets count toward reaching this goal.
One issue for Lufthansa is that demand can vary tremendously based upon route.
There are destinations where you have nearly no first class demand, and then there are destinations where you have a quite high demand and therefore we have to find a way to adopt our fleet in a way that it is fitting to this kind of diverse demand structure.
But Hohmesiter added that overall demand for first class remains “static” while demand for economy, premium economy, and business class grows. The implication is that Lufthansa is considering reducing first class to a single row, as Singapore Airlines has done on its 777s.
Suite Or Seat?
Back when I worked for Star Alliance, the current-generation Lufthansa premium economy and business class seats were under development. I remember how seriously I was warned not to sneak any pictures or even write about the new product when I was introduced to them during a customer trial. Lufthansa is similarly carefully guarding its next generation of first class seat, which has actually been under development for years.
Just a few years ago, Lufthansa dismissed the idea of closed-door suites in first class, calling them unnecessary.
But this is really changing. Now, it’s more than 50% of [first class] passengers who like to be in their own privacy. But we are also thinking about how we can combine the other competing interest of having an open atmosphere, because it’s still, in a way, a Club Class.
Club class? Does anyone really like to chat up other passengers in first class? Hohmesiter does.
I still feel that is where you meet people, but on the other hand, there’s a need for privacy, so we are working on that. I think [our new first class] will lean more on the privacy side than they do today.
Lufthansa actually had a more innovative first class product in the past onboard its 747-400s, pictured above. Rather than a seat that transforms into a bed, Lufthansa had a bed adjacent to the seat for each passenger on the upper deck. Those aircraft have since been retried or first class transitioned to business class, but might provide insight on where Lufthansa is headed next.
Hohmesiter hinted at the possibility of two types of first class products:
You don’t need all the tool set like having a bed and a separate seat on all the routes: if you have a quick flight from Europe to Boston you might not need that, but if you have a long flight to the Far East, then of course there’s a purpose to present something like that. This is exactly what we have to work on.
Lufthansa plans to introduce its next-generation first class seat on later orders of its Boeing 777-9. While the seat or suite itself remains under development, Hohmesiter and Lufthansa seems to understand the importance of first class beyond the seat itself:
First class is also more than just selling a seat, it’s about brand positioning, about product positioning, and it also has a pull effect in terms of customers and reputation. We are presenting ourselves as a flight carrier on the premium side, and I think in the premium segment, you have to either do it right or you don’t do it at all!
A true statement which gives me hope for Lufthansa’s next-generation first class product.
(H/T: View from the Wing)
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