Aviation

Are first class suites replacing seats?

There’s a war waging, and it’s up in the pointy end of the plane, as First Class slowly transitions into the suite life.

According to a report from the Independent UK, the airline battle to recruit big spenders in First Class has left the likes of Emirates gifting passengers with up to 40 square feet “suites”.

While passengers up the back of the plane get stuck with 10 people across, First Class is roomy as all hell with Emirates, who offer just six seats – sorry, suites – configured to run three across, with privacy from floor to ceiling thanks to sliding doors and walls.

Per Independent, Emirates has promised passengers each having window views, while middle suites get “virtual windows which project the view from outside the aircraft”.

Passengers with an actual window also score a pair of Steiner safari binoculars to study the scenery outside. This approach, Emirates claims, is “inspired by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class”.

“This is the first time an Emirates product has been so influenced by another luxury brand, but it is a natural fit as both Emirates and Mercedes-Benz have the same unwavering commitment to fine detail, uncompromising quality, and a drive to push the boundaries,” Emirates’ President, Sir Tim Clark, said, per the Independent.

Passengers use video link to order food and beverages, which arrives via a little hatch, and get to check in as much as 70kg of luggage, more than three times the industry standard for those stuck back in Economy.

The First Class fares on Emirates start at £7,220, or AU$12,388. Meanwhile 10 economy passengers fly Australia to London via Dubai – return – for less than the cheapest First Class fare.

 

It’s an interesting time for First Class, with other airlines making the decision to ditch First Class altogether, upping their game in Business Class with lie-flat seats and premium service, basically rendering First Class unnecessary.

Qatar Airways in March this year unveiled their fresh Business Class offering, with CEO Akbar Al Baker declaring it gives passengers “a First Class experience in Business Class”.

It was to become the first airline to offer couples seated in Business a double bed on its Boeing 777s and A350s as well.

While some carriers have cut first class completely, Skift reports others have only given it the chop on poorly performing routes. Several have even cut the size of cabins to less than six seats.

Speaking to Skift, president of passenger airlines for Air Canada, Ben Smith, said, “With these suites that you see on some luxury carriers, the demand for that is pretty limited.

“There’s a very small market that sits between business class and a private jet that wants to fly in first class. From the biggest financial centres, perhaps.”

“In the context of business class becoming so good, the incremental reason for most travellers to travel first class rather than business is not as compelling as it perhaps used to be before full lie-flat beds, before very, very wide seats, before the privacy and all of the other attributes that now come with our business class,” Campbell Wilson, Singapore’s Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing, told Skift.

But not everyone is opting for Business only, as the Independent writes, with Singapore Airlines recently unveiling the upgraded First Class cabin aboard its Airbus A380 “Superjumbo” jets.

It described its suites as “a personal oasis complete with lavish furnishing and finishes”, and offers couples travelling together the option of a double bed.

Meanwhile, just six First Class passengers share two toilets, with one of them boasting a “sit-down vanity counter”.

And as the British Airways Chief Executive, Alex Cruz, vowed, “First Class is here to stay.”

But, per the Independent, he did indicate that First Class will be reserved for high-performing routes so as to not waste the opportunity for profit.

“There are a number of markets that do not need 14 seats in First Class every single day,” Cruz said, per The Independent.

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