First Class is on the way out at both Asiana and Korean Air. What happened to make first class so unattractive?
The answer is simple, of course. People did not pay for it. It became a haven for mileage redemptions and on many routes, even high-spending business consumers were not willing to fork out the extra for first class. Cabins went out with open seats and the extra soft product (not to mention the real estate) became increasingly difficult to justify.
As both Korean Air and especially Asiana have experienced financial hardships, both have chosen to turn away from first class.
Asiana is discontinuing first class altogether effective September 01, 2019, with its former first class cabin on the A380 becoming “Business Suites”. Asiana has previously had eliminated first class aboard its 747 and 777 jets, but maintained first class on the A380, serving New York, Los Angeles, and Frankfurt from its Seoul Incheon hub.
Unlike Malaysia Airlines, which also rebranded first class to business suites on the A350 and A380 but kept the first class soft product intact, food and service in Asiana’s business suites will be identical to business class. In exchange, fares will be 30-40% cheaper than current first class fares. Asiana hopes that its rebranding of the cabin and reduced fares will increase business bookings in this cabin.
Meanwhile, Korean is slashing first class from the majority of its fleet. First class will remain—for now—onboard the A380 and 747-8s, but even that may be on the chopping block. Since June 1st, 27 routes that used to offer first class no longer do. Interestingly, on the 787 and A330, Korean Air offers the same seats in first class as in business class…just a better soft product.
The news from Korean Air came shortly after Asiana announced its cutbacks. I suspect Asiana’s move gave Korean Air the cover necessary to justify its own first class reduction.
The End Of First Class?
Lufthansa, British Airways, Emirates, Singapore, and Qantas have all maintained that there is a still a place for first class. But actions do speak louder than words. With the exception of Emirates, all have taken delivery of new planes that lack first class.
First Class may well stick around for decades to come, but it will become an even more niche product. For Korean Air and Asiana, first class simply did no longer make sense, especially in a world in which business class seating continues to improve.