a glass of wine on a table in an airplane

Lufthansa, like all airlines around the globe, is in crisis. Despite government support from the German state, losses continue to mount and new recent restrictions on travel within Europe and the world at large mean it’ll be quite a while before any prospects improve.

The great pause is giving airlines time to reconsider how they do business, and like many others, Lufthansa is moving in a business class direction, with the elimination of first class on most routes and aircraft. They’re far from alone.

Airlines Ditching First Class

It’s impossible to talk about international first class – the real first class with beds and caviar – in the modern era without talking about the Airbus A380, or the Boeing 747. It’s also impossible to talk about the present and future of flying without discussing the Airbus A350, or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Unfortunately for fans of the cabin at the pointiest and bubbliest end of the plane, both the 747 and A380 aircraft are facing existential threats, as airlines look to reduce fuel costs and mitigate losses with smaller planes like the A350 and 787. Pretty much no one is flying, so why fly a plane capable of putting more than 600 passengers on it?

The 787 and A350 are loved by passengers for their improved air pressure, noise reduction and cabin comforts, but the majority don’t feature first class cabins. There’s just not as much space to play with.

a glass of wine on a tray in a plane

Still, a great hope in the future for first class was on track for a big debut before covid-19. The new Boeing 777X was slated to become the flagship new aircraft for top global airlines including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Japan Airlines and Lufthansa. Flagship tends to mean first class, too.

With airlines hemorrhaging cash at unprecedented levels, those multi-hundred million dollar planes are the last thing on executives minds, and accordingly many airlines are in the process of delaying or reducing their orders. Cathay Pacific has notably pushed back any deliveries from an expected 2022 at the latest, to 2025 at the earliest.

Cathay has also opted to move the fuel efficient Airbus A350 sans first class onto many flagship routes, including New York, which previously operated with a Boeing 777-300. Many Boeing 777-300ER’s which featured as Cathay flagships have been sold, put into storage or reduced in service.

Lufthansa, while also seeking to delay and reduce orders has now confirmed to top tier fliers that none of their Boeing 777X deliveries will feature first class. In other words, a plane flagged as the new flagship for the airline won’t feature a new first class cabin.

Early 777X deliveries were never expected to feature first class cabins, with Lufthansa insisting their yet to be delivered business class was more than enough, despite much skepticism. But now even later deliveries are said to skip out on Lufthansa’s top offer.

Making matters all the worse up front, Lufthansa will also limit flying with the Boeing 747-8, according to Lufthansa HON Circle Frequent Flyers briefed on the matter. After Lufthansa put its 11 Airbus A380’s out to pasture, the Boeing 747-8 was one of the few planes in the fleet still offering first class. The majority of remaining routes will feature the Airbus A350 which operates without first class.

So how bad is it for first class?

Let’s take Qatar Airways, which only offered first class aboard its A380 fleet. All of those aircraft are now retired, at least for the foreseeable future. The same goes for Qantas, which also exclusively ran first class on the A380. Piling on, Air France, Etihad, Emirates and others have all reduced or entirely removed A380’s with first class from service.

Singapore Airlines announced plans today to retire seven Airbus A380’s, representing just under 40% of the A380 fleet. A variety of Boeing 777 aircraft will also retire. The Singapore A380 has been the benchmark in first class luxury over the last decade.

British Airways was a stalwart in the first class market, never more so than aboard the iconic Boeing 747. But with the last of the 747’s retired, British Airways overall seat count for first class has been reduced dramatically too. Partner American Airlines has continued to reduce airlines operating with first class in recent years.

The better question is: who’s left? Swiss Airlines continues to fly a variety of aircraft including the Airbus A340, A330 and Boeing 777, all with first class. Orders for new planes won’t be as timely as others, particularly now, so that’s one leading option.

Emirates has first class on both the A380 and many of its Boeing 777’s, so expect first to feature there for a while too. Neighbor, Etihad, also has first class on a variety of Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft, which lends a life line to the luxury cabin. In Asia, ANA and JAL continue to use first class on flagship routes, but ANA’s move to start a new long haul low cost airline only further illustrate the news that the writing is on the wall.

First class will always have a place between key banking cities and certain luxury markets, but that place is shrinking. Even if airlines want to keep first class, economics of flying larger and less fuel efficient planes in a time when every cent matters may get in the way. Unless there’s an unexpectedly rapid recovery in travel, expect for first class to escape beyond the horizon.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Current BA First is a joke, as it has been for some time, even prior CORVID. Qatar too is not special, although their business class is really a leader. In Europe Swiss is in my opinion the leader, followed by LH. QF was never my favorite and now they are not flying international can be discounted. Airlines that want to fight back during the current turbulence need to not cut costs but offer superior service in all classes but especially in First and Business./ I am not frightened of the Virus even tough I am 70, but I am frightened of being ripped off by the likes of BA for instance who charge the same yet offer an inferior service. Plastic cups and mini Champagne bottles and a box of food… Up the service. Where the hell do airlines find these inferior CEO’s of today? Givuzz a job?

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