While some airlines are cutting back on first class, Lufthansa's CEO remains confident in the power of the pointy end to attract high-paying travellers.
"If there's any airline in the world which will still have first class, Lufthansa and Swiss will be among them" affirms Lufthansa Chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr (below).
And should first class one day disappear, "the very last first class seat would be flown either by Swiss or Lufthansa" Spohr says. "But I don’t see those years coming!".
That's not to say that Lufthansa is immune to the trend to downsize its flagship first class fleet – a trend which has most recently seen Emirates remove its luxe Airbus A380 first class suites from some superjumbos.
The German colossus is phasing out its highly-regarded first class "seat and bed" concept (below) introduced on ten of its Boeing 747-400s just four years ago as the jumbos head into the hangar for a final refurbishment.
They're being replaced by the airline's latest business class seats, which will themselves be superseded by an all-new business class design for the Boeing 777-9X (below) in 2020.
"We are reconfiguring some of our aircraft from first class to business class" Spohr tells Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of a Star Alliance airline conference in Chicago last week.
"We have done so with one-third of our fleet in Lufthansa – out of 106 airplanes, 32 are without first class – but by far the majority have first class."
Spohr isn't certain that the Boeing 777-9X will be part of the first class set, despite the advanced jet's standing as the largest twin-engine airliner ever built.
"That's not decided yet, it is one of the decision for the years to come" he admits.
First class fading..?
Airlines such as United and Qatar are spurning the expensive but too often empty first class cabins for upgraded business class seats.
United last week revealed that while its new Boeing 777-300ER jets would debut a next-gen business class they'll be without first class
"We are heavily focussed on creating an amazing international business class" says Mark Krolick, managing director of UA's Marketing & Product Development arm.
"We continue to reduce the amount of long-haul first class (although) right now there are no immediate plans to retire it. But there's not a plan to put first class on any more new deliveries."
Krolick adds that the airline's new BusinessFirst "is likely to be the prime cabin in the future."
For its part, Qatar Airways will retain a first class cabin only on its Airbus A380s (shown below) and roll out a 'super business class bedroom' in 2016 which the airline says will be comparable to today’s first class.
"We are developing a new seat to which we will have proprietary rights, and one which will be unrivalled... and when you introduce that product into the airplane there is really not need for first class" Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker told Australian Business Traveller at the launch of its Airbus A350 in January this year.
Other airlines luxe it up
Qatar's Gulf neighbours see things differently, and have ramped up their investment in five-star cabins.
The stunning debut of Etihad's A380 first class – which boasts a separate seat and bed in a four square metre 'apartment' (below) has seen both Emirates and Singapore Airlines planning even sweeter suites.
Emirates is expected to reveal a new private bedroom first class suite for its Airbus A380s by mid-2016, with the Boeing 777 fleet to follow, with an Emirates exec revealing the design will be "more like a private railway cabin."
"Our new bedroom concept will take [privacy] to the next level," promises Tim Clark, President and CEO of Emirates.
"We’re talking fully enclosed rooms, with all the touches and amenities that you’d expect in hotel or a private bedroom on a luxury yacht, room service and so on."
Singapore Airlines will unveil all-new first class suites and business class seats in 2017 with its next raft of superjumbo deliveries; it's also possible we'll see a handful of first class suites on the ultra-long range Airbus A350 which SQ is due to begin flying non-stop to Los Angeles and New York from 2018.
David Flynn travelled to Chicago as a guest of Star Alliance
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