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Despite many airlines around the world moving to axe first class in favour of a bigger focus on business class, Lufthansa is poised to keep first class flying for years, and potentially even decades to come.
With its primary hub being in Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank as well as serving as the connecting point for many international transit passengers, Lufthansa is now planning for the future of first class on its upcoming fleet of Boeing 777X, Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM in Seoul, Harry Hohmeister, Lufthansa Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Network Airlines (Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian), dives into first class.
“When we talk to our really top premium customers, our HON Circle members, most of them really prefer to travel in first class on long-haul flights. So, for us as an airline, it's simply not an option to have no first class,” he explains.
However, the demand in first class remains “static, while the rest of the market is growing. It’s not that the volume of first class passengers is dropping (for Lufthansa Group), it’s that the relative capacity is dropping: so we have to learn to have a more selective approach to that.”
As such, Hohmeister confirms that Lufthansa is currently considering the possibility of maintaining a single row of first class aboard many of its incoming jets, as opposed to a larger cabin: but the trick will be balancing the number of first class seats with the demand for those seats, given that aircraft typically fly on a variety of routes.
“There are destinations where you have nearly no first class demand, and then there are destinations where you have a quite high demand,” he explains, “and therefore we have to find a way to adopt our fleet in a way that it is fitting to this kind of diverse demand structure.”
So then, what will Lufthansa’s future first class look like?
Hohmeister shares that Lufthansa currently has some new “innovative products” under development which are getting close to a sign-off, but these are still awaiting a final decision before the airline can talk about them in detail.
That said, Lufthansa is at least considering the option of privacy doors in first class: a concept that Lufthansa Group dismissed just five years ago when installing new first class seats on SWISS’ Boeing 777s, citing passenger feedback that doors were unnecessary.
“But this is really changing,” Hohmeister continues. “Now, it's more than 50% of (first class) passengers who like to be in their own privacy. But we are also thinking about how we can combine the other competing interest of having an open atmosphere, because it’s still, in a way, a Club Class.”
“I still feel that (first class) is where you meet people, but on the other hand, there’s a need for privacy, so we are working on that. I think (our new seats) will lean more on the privacy side than they do today.”
The needs of first class passengers vary, based on the length of the flight
Lufthansa currently offers a variety of flights with first class, ranging from quick seven-hour hops from the US east coast to Frankfurt through to journeys almost twice as long, such as between Frankfurt and places like Buenos Aires.
As you’d expect, the longer the flight, the greater the need for comfort and space – whereas on shorter routes, space remains important but is less of an issue in first class, Hohmeister explains.
“You don't need all the tool set like having a bed and a separate seat on all the routes: if you have a quick flight from Europe to Boston you might not need that, but if you have a long flight to the Far East, then of course there's a purpose to present something like that. This is exactly what we have to work on.”
“First class is also more than just selling a seat, it's about brand positioning, about product positioning, and it also has a pull effect in terms of customers and reputation.”
“We are presenting ourselves as a flight carrier on the premium side, and I think in the premium segment, you have to either do it right or you don't do it at all!” Hohmeister wraps up.
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.