Singapore Airlines: new business class beats old first class

By David Flynn, October 20 2015

Singapore Airlines is relaxed about the loss of first class on its new Airbus A350 routes, based on market trends and the high standard of its latest business class.

The advanced A350 jet, which joins the SQ fleet in January, counts business class as its most premium cabin – but it will largely replace older Boeing 777 jets fitted with the airline's previous generation first class at the pointy end.

SQ's old Boeing 777 first class makes way for the A350 business class

This includes European routes such as Amsterdam, where the A350 will debut in April.

"But I don’t think passengers will miss the Boeing that much once the A350 flies to Amsterdam" suggests Tan Pee Teck, Singapore Airlines' Senior Vice President for Product & Services.

"The first class market is there but I think sales have been showing that it’s not a growing market, so first class product has to be targeted" on specific routes where there is demand, Tan told Australian Business Traveller.

"But business class is strong out of Europe in general, and with the margin of quality that’s being put into business class seats today – especially our seats – and the product getting better every year, it does put first class under threat."

SQ's A350 business class trumps the older Boeing 777 first class

"When we plan the aircraft configuration we look at the economics of the whole aeroplane" Tan explains.

"Sometimes you definitely have to keep first class if there’s a market for it, but I don’t think we’d keep first class just for the bragging rights at the end of the day (because) it’s a trade-off: if I have no first class, I have more business class."

"The bottom line is we’ve got to make money, and (most) customers are not willing to pay beyond a certain threshold."

However, Tan is quick to assure that Singapore Airlines has no intention of axing first class from its flagship jets such as the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380 – indeed, the superjumbo is in line for all-new first class suites come 2017.

What's behind the doors? All-new A380 first class suites are on the way

Read: Singapore Airlines A380 to get new first class suites, business class seats

"We have many aircraft without first class," so the A350 is simply another addition to that subset of the SQ fleet, he points out.

"I would say that you would still need to maintain first class if you want to call yourself a ‘full service’ carrier, but even Qantas has only left it on their Airbus A380s."

Tan added that Airbus is trying to convince Singapore Airlines to order the larger Airbus A350-1000 which could have room for a small first class cabin.

"I know they have been trying to market the A350-1000 to us" Tan said.

SQ flyers won't miss the Boeing 777 once they set foot on the A350

Singapore Airlines expects to have at least three A350 jets in its fleet by April and 11 by year's end, out of a total of 63 orders and a further 20 options up its sleeve.

The aircraft will "replace the 777-200s and 777-300s first – but not the 777-300ER, the ERs still have a bit of life in them" Tan says, with the A350s also opening up new routes as the fleet grows in size.

"We’ll have a minimum of three or four A350 destinations in our first year."

"It has the range to do Europe quite easily non-stop, so we do see it replacing some of the long-haul routes and introducing new ones in the years ahead.... certainly North Asia and South West Pacific are potentially all on the cards."

Also read: Singapore Airlines plots non-stop USA flights with long-range A350

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

David
David

David Flynn

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.

Michael Kao

Michael Kao

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 336

Give us amenity kit then I don't need first class. 

mushmush

mushmush

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

14 Nov 2013

Total posts 42

i agree. SQ is one of the few airlines that doesnt offer an amenity kit and PJ's when travelling business.

StudiodeKadent

StudiodeKadent

20 May 2015

Total posts 584

The First Class market is pretty interesting from an economic standpoint. In a world where flat beds (typically with direct aisle access) are effectively expected in Business Class, its becoming far harder to make a profitable and competitive First product.

You need a private suite or something along those lines to be competitive, for one. You also need ground service that's really good, and I think this is by far the most critical factor economically since it requires a substantial investment in a geographically-fixed product.

This spatial issue is the big one. It means the "proper" First Class experience for an airline can only really be delivered when departing from the airline's hub. Unless there's some way to make a First Class lounge also accessible for arrivals to the hub (is this even possible?), then the "full" First Class experience is basically reserved for those leaving from the hub (there are few exceptions but basically very few airlines operate dedicated First lounges at outstations).

Lufthansa First Class is far less fun when you aren't leaving from Frankfurt (that said, LH's First Class Terminal may be helpful for making arrivals into Frankfurt consistently good too). QF First Class is more fun departing from SYD or MEL than departing from LAX (the alliance with Emirates greatly helps though, since they can use the DXB First lounge). Etcetera.

This leads me to the following conclusions:

1. Airlines which offer single-hub operations (typically ones based in small nations) are better positioned to offer First Class than multi-hub airlines based in large nations. They don't need to invest as much to create a consistent-quality First Class experience.

2. Consistent-quality First is generally something which requires hub-to-hub routes. If Boeing are right, that the days of megahubs are very much in the further future, that works against the proliferation of First class. 

3. A geographic concentration of wealthy passengers is best for First.

4. As the value of comfort rises on long-haul flights, an airline that operates long-haul routes is going to have more First demand, primarily on those routes.

Now let's look at SQ. SQ satisfies all of the above conditions - there are lots of wealthy people in Singapore's small area. Singapore Airlines flies plenty of hub-to-hub routes (to allied airline's hubs which have First Class ground services available). SQ runs a single-hub operation (Changi) and therefore doesn't need to operate duplicated ground services at multiple places. SQ runs some of the longest-haul flights in the world. Every factor for SQ is in favor of a First Class product being offered.

Yet even SQ is saying that the First Class market is not growing (even though passenger numbers are).

This is why First Class is often described as "dying". Many airlines are getting rid of it and switching to a "really good business class/premium economy that's really like a diet business class/economy class" model (this is particularly true for big nations with geographically-distributed wealth, such as the US). Even Emirates only really offer their flagship First experience ex-DXB (since a lot of the fun is the lounge), although ex-SYD works too since you can use the QF First lounge.

First is a niche, and if even SQ are realizing that a proper and competitive First will never be a massive market segment, I think that says a lot.

I think Qantas will keep First from Syd/Mel but I don't expect them to ever expand the offering (if they do, they'll probably only do that from Perth and only if they decide to start direct flights to Europe... ULH routes). Perhaps if they ever did a Sydney/New York direct flight (should be possible with a 777X-8 in a less-dense, premium-heavy configuration) we would see First on that too.

Sorry, I just needed to get those thoughts out. But yeah, I'm not sure Akbar Al Baker (who argues First Class is obsolete) is entirely right... but First Class surely isn't going to grow for a very long time.

TomGoddardd

TomGoddardd

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Dec 2014

Total posts 286

How ong did it take you to write that? :)

 

On a more serious note though I totally agree with you, but the only real thing that would make people to fly First is a 1-1-1 config like QF has on their 380's. Take for example EK 1-2-1 config in both J and F, not that much difference between the two except for better meals, amenities lounges etc. This is the case with many airlines too.

Serg

Serg

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

"I would say that you would still need to maintain first class if you want to call yourself a ‘full service’ carrier, but even Qantas has only left it on their Airbus A380s."

LOL! I rate (and I am sure that I am not alone) SQ above QF and here is "even"! IMHO if Qantas like to survive in today zoo they have to look what Air New Zealand did.

RaptorNation158

RaptorNation158

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

Lol you mean Qantas making Australian taxpayers pay up like ANZ?

sharrkey

sharrkey

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 70

Just flew the new business class SQ long Haul on a new 777 , must admit that it is the best business class seat, it beats the new Eihad A 380 business studio , I found that seat to be much narrower, I know that that seat should be wide enough, but when you get a substantially wider Seat , you can roll over and sleep on your side more comfortably(even if you are not obese)!

now , if only Sq could send a limo and give pyjamas and Emenity kits like Etihad does.....


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Singapore Airlines: new business class beats old first class