Lufthansa CEO remains bullish on first class

By David Flynn, December 14 2015
Lufthansa CEO remains bullish on first class

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They're being replaced by the airline's latest business class seats, which will themselves be superseded by an all-new business class design for the Boeing 777-9X (below) in 2020.

Read: Lufthansa plans next-generation business class for Boeing 777-9X

"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."

Read: United Airlines' new business class for Boeing 777-300ERs

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.

Read: Qatar promises 'business class bedroom' for 2016

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."

Read: Emirates' first class private bedroom for Airbus A380, Boeing 777

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 

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

30 Sep 2015

Total posts 12

Well, considering His Excellency Al Akbar's famous quote on a possible Premium Economy, should we be expecting that much out of "Super Business Class?" Here's the exact quote for reference

"I don't think there's room for Premium Economy in our region", Al Baker says, adding in that in the airline's Economy cabin,"We give you Premium Economy at a Economy Price,"

Qatar's 777 economy is going 10 abreast, so that's DEFINITELY not premium economy. The A330 is a bit better than average, whilst the A350 is great for an economy product. Premium Economy and Economy are different things.

If Qatar thinks that their economy is equal to premium economy, I really don't want to see what they will do to their excellent business class

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Jan 2013

Total posts 240

'The Power of the Pointy End'. Great headline David. :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 502

We are witnessing the demise of First Class, someone's gonna miss the 60s.

"We are witnessing the demise of First Class"

Really? Frankly the amenity of today's business class seats can often equal or exceed the First Class of the past.  This is a picture of Lufthansa's First Class in 1960. No fully flat bed with direct aisle access. Sure, you had luxury service but the seats were basically equivalent to today's Premium Economy seats (perhaps a little larger).

First Class and Business Class hard product have gotten better by immense leaps and bounds.

We are not seeing the demise of First Class. We're seeing a situation where Business Class is becoming so good that a true First Class needs to be at the "private suite" level, with enhanced ground service and extremely-top-shelf liquor, in order to actually be a First Class. Very few airlines can efficiently offer a First Class at this level, which is why we're seeing First Class being phased out on some carriers, but First Class is not dying.

In the case of Lufthansa, their current Business Class doesn't provide direct aisle access or a private suite. In addition, Lufthansa has the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Their First Class is indeed a substantial upgrade from their Business Class. I am sure they'll be able to continue providing it.

First Class won't die out.

What airlines are removing First Class? American ones, which are multi-hub by necessity. The cost of building First Class lounges at four to six airports is immense, and the American market is ruthlessly competitive and quite low in margin.

Plenty of airlines are upgrading their Business product to a "Business-First" product that's effectively a First Class with only non-vintage champagne and no caviar. First is not dying, it is simply getting so immensely good that only a few airlines can provide it efficiently (typically single-hub airlines in smaller nations with geographically-concentrated wealthy passengers), and sometimes only on particular routes (typically hub-to-hub routes to the hubs of allied airlines and/or airports extensively serviced by allied airlines).

Business on many airlines is a "First Lite." Premium Economy is effectively a "Business Lite." To do a proper First Class these days you need an exceptional lounge with restaurant-quality food, top-shelf booze, and private suites as pretty much a bare minimum. Airlines who can't do this are better off with a "First Lite" business class and a "Business Lite" Premium Economy.

First Class serves a niche but it won't go away.

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