What's next in first class? Here's what 12 top airlines are planning...

By David Flynn , August 10 2016
What's next in first class? Here's what 12 top airlines are planning...

Ever-improving business class seats are making many airlines rethink the need for first class.

Wide seats which convert to long fully-flat beds topped with mattresses and duvets – direct access to the aisle – large HD video screens paired with noise-cancelling headphones – plenty of room to work in flight, and ample stowage space around your seat: those traits used to be the exclusive domain of first class, and passengers would pay a premium for the experience.

But that list of luxury features applies equally to the best of today's business class seats, reducing the justification for the high ticket prices and expansive cabin space demanded by first class.

As a result, an increasing number of airlines are spurning costly but often empty first class suites for world-beating business class seats – while those airlines which remain committed to first class are taking it to the next level of luxe, especially on the Airbus A380.

Here's a rundown of how first class fits into their future of some of the world's leading airlines.

Qantas

Now: First class is limited to the Airbus A380, with the 12-strong fleet in turn limited to the flagship routes of London (via Dubai), Los Angeles and Dallas. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last week confirmed that the airline wouldn't be taking up the final eight superjumbos from its full order of 20.

Next: Qantas' Boeing 787-9s, due to begin flying from October 2017, will top out at business class unless the airline opts for a separate first-equipped long-range configuration to be used on touted routes such as Perth-London and Sydney-Chicago.

Qantas is eyeing the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350-900ULR as potential A380 replacements in the 2020s but there's no word on their configuration.

Read more: Qantas CEO promises "very luxurious" Boeing 787 configuration

Emirates

Now: Private first class suites adorn Emirates' massive Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER fleets, although the Gulf colossus has also introduced a superjumbo sans first on selected routes.

Next: Emirates plans to begin flying an all-new first class suite by the end of 2017, with both the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER in line for the luxe cribs.

"I hope we will be looking at the final product towards the end of this year and go into production for October of next year" says Emirates CEO Tim Clark, who has previously described the suite as being even more private than the current closed-door cabin.

"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 more: Emirates to launch new luxury first class A380 suites next year

Singapore Airlines

Now: Singapore Airlines has evolved first class into two distinct lines – the private suites of the Airbus A380, for which it was launch customer (and which kick-started the modern wave of first class suites)...

... and the more recent open design of the Boeing 777-300ER.

Next: The Star Alliance member has a new raft of A380s coming from 2017, and they'll be decked out with all-new first class suites.

But there'll be fewer of these plush private suites than the 12 on the current A380s, which indicates their successors will be larger; SQ has also ruled out showers on its new superjumbos.

Also read: Singapore Airlines: 'all-new' business class for ultra long-range A350

Etihad Airways

Now: Etihad wowed the world with the debut of its spacious and stunningly-appointed A380 first class Apartments, with an almost-4m² footprint – this is what Emirates and Singapore Airlines are trying to catch up to with their next-gen supersuites.

Next: As the owner of the newest A380 first class suites, and ones which we expect will still be looking great many years from now, Etihad has quite some time before it unveils a replacement.

But nobody expects the Abu Dhabi airline to cede leadership in this arena, in the same way that nobody knows what Etihad is planning next.

Cathay Pacific

Now: Cathay Pacific's current first class seat, introduced in 2007, received a 'mid-life refresh' in 2013 and is still regarded as among the world's better first class seats – but it could be the airline's last first class product.

Next: Cathay Pacific says it won't install first class on its Airbus A350-1000 jets, opting instead for a larger premium cabin featuring its new A350 business class seats.

However, a CX executive told Australian Business Traveller that the airline is currently "assessing" the prospects for a new first class suite, which may not appear until 2021 when its Boeing 777-9X jets will take to the skies.

Read more: Cathay Pacific confirms "no first class" for Airbus A350-1000

Qatar Airways

Now: The Gulf airline and Oneworld member flies first class only on its Airbus A380s, with eight open suites nestled into the nose of the upper deck.

Next: Don't expect to see first class appear anywhere else on Qatar's fleet.

“Our premium travel is business travel, mostly, so we will keep a very limited number of first class seats, only in the A380, and all the other airplanes will only have a business class product" airline CEO Akbar Al Baker tells Australian Business Traveller.

Instead, get set for what Al Baker touts as "super business class" slated to launch in November this year, ahead of an ambitious fleet-wide refit starting with the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A350 jets.

Sliding doors will convert each seat into a suite-like cabin or a "business class bedroom" – similar to a prototype design proposed by British firm DCA Design International for Singapore Airlines (below).

The paired middle seats are tipped to convert to a double bed.

"When you introduce that product into the airplane there is really not need for first class" Al Baker says.

Read more: Qatar Airways to reveal 'Super Business Class' seat in November

British Airways

Now: BA has recently refined its first class offering on the airline's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

With quilted seats, automotive-inspired chrome finishes and contrast stitching, the look is quintessentially British: elegant high-touch style with detailing that's less bling and more Bentley.

Next: There's little doubt that British Airways will continue to evolve its first class cabin, even as the airline moves ahead on an updated Club World business class for its Airbus A350-1000 fleet due in 2017.

Malaysia Airlines

Now: First class on Malaysia Airlines is found only on the Oneworld member's six Airbus A380s, all of which will be sold off by 2018.

Next: The airline's forthcoming A350s, which will appear on routes across Asia from October 2017 and take over the KL-London run the following year, are expected to sport a small cabin of four new-design first class seats along with the new A330 lie-flat business class seats (below).

As the A350 first class seats are being supplied by Ireland's Thompson Aero (along with their business class cousins), some pundits are tipping that Malaysia Airlines will be adopting Thompson's new Vantage First suite (below).

This nestles immediately in front of business class, with Vantage First's "integrated cabin divider" providing "no loss of cabin space or the need for additional monuments between cabins."

However, first class flyers will gain more personal space, more room for stowing their personal kit and a greater focus on privacy, with a movable screen between the middle seats plus an option for suite doors.

Read: Up close with Malaysia Airlines' new business class

United Airlines

Now: United Global First is relegated to a series of older jets including the Boeing 777-200 and 747 jumbo, and its days are numbered.

Next: The new Polaris business class will slowly take over as United's top-shelf cabin class, beginning with the new Boeing 777-300ER and eventually sweeping through the entire international fleet including the Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

"As we update our fleet over the next several years to incorporate our signature United Polaris seating, we will be phasing out the first class cabin and moving toward a two-cabin experience for international travel" United says.

It's not hard to see why: Polaris offers a fully lie-flat bed, direct aisle access and plenty of personal space around the seat itself.

New Polaris lounges will also replace United's current first class lounges.

Read more: United Airlines launches new 'Polaris' business class seat, lounges

Lufthansa

Now: Lufthansa's Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8 boast the airline's latest first class cabin.

However, the German carrier is removing the first class "seat and bed" concept (below) introduced on its Boeing 747-400s just five years ago and replacing them with business class.

Next: "If there's any airline in the world which will still have first class, Lufthansa will be among them" affirms Lufthansa Chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr (below).

But Lufthansa's new Airbus A350-900s, due to take wing from the end of 2016, won't include a first class cabin and Spohr isn't certain that Lufthansa's next big bird – the Boeing 777-9X, due in 2020 – will have first class either, 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.

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

Thai Airways

Now: Thai's got a new first class on its Airbus A380s...

... and refreshed Royal First Class Suites on its revamped Boeing 747s.

Next: In common with several other airlines, Thai appears to be reigning in first class and shifting to a better grade of business class, beginning with the airline’s latest Royal Silk business class seats on its Airbus A350s.

This is a lie-flat design with direct aisle access for each passenger, with the cabin dressed in ‘Thai Contemporary’ style.

Read more: Thai wants to fly double-daily Airbus A350s to Melbourne

Asiana Airlines

Now: Asiana Airlines has already moved to axe first class from all but its four Airbus A380s.

Next: To help reduce ongoing losses, the Star Alliance member last year began ripping out first class on its Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 777-200ER fleet and replacing them with business class.

Also read:

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David

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.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Besides Emirates, which other first class offerings have a shower in First?

Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

Only Etihad, which has one shower for First and one the The Residence (compared to Emirates' two showers for all of first class).

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

If I was a First flyer that alone would be the decider.

19 Nov 2012

Total posts 42

EK is 2 showers for 14, so 1 for 7. EY is 9 First so 1 in 9. I'm sure they would let you shower in the residence if it's unoccupied for that flight. 

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

So, that's the ratio, interesting. If The Residence was unoccupied, I'm sure the queue of First's scantily cloaked in their towels could be directed into the other shower as well, I wonder if that bathroom is even more luxurious or the same standard.

PK
PK

03 May 2012

Total posts 114

Unfortunately, on the 15-20 flights I have taken in the Etihad First Apartments, the Residence shower has been off limits and the Residence has been unoccupied every time. I am not saying it is an impossibility, but when First has been full, I have heard the attendants knock back other passengers on two occasions who asked for a shower just before landing when the slots had already been booked for the First shower. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1227

QFcrew - Nope, even if The Residence is unoccupied on the flight the crew won't even let you view it, let alone shower in it.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Not even to a F gawker...

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 127

When I flew on EY's A380 from SYD to AUH in F, I asked if I could see inside The Residence.  No luck.  The FA said it is strictly off-limits to all passengers and crew (including the captain) unless there's an emergency requiring access.  When James Hogan flies, even he is not allowed inside!

That being said, if you're tall enough you can peek over the top of the wall when no crew members are in the cabin.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

IMHO it no more than gimmick – get proper one in arrival lounge if you really need it. For me it would not be decision factor.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

But it's real and it works and is available, why wait for hours until at hotel for one.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

I like to have proper shower with proper waterflow – I ditched all those silly super-savers shower head from home! Plus after hot shower I like to chill out and relax a bit. Instead of enjoyment and refreshment on board it will be look like quick washing chlorine off in public shower in swimming pool with incredibly limited water. Are you really that desperately dirty even after 14 hr flight in First considering that you already had shower in lounge before boarding? I guess good stuff to have to be in alternative 10 miles club if you cannot do real one.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1227

Haven't read of any complaints in shower pressure from the dozens and dozens of EK and EY F trip reports online. Regardless, I think the option to have a shower onboard a flight, particularly a long-haul or ultra long-haul one, is a nice one to have for F and certainly distinguishes it from J.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

“nice to have” – agree

“deciding factor” – disagree

YMMV

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

All reports I've heard the water is hot and good pressure, all be it from a small shower rose.

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 127

Where the shower really makes a difference is before landing.  If you're arriving in the early morning and want to head directly from the airport to the office or a meeting, being able to shower and dress on board is a big plus (just like the Swiss flag).

Of course, if airlines would offer a proper arrivals lounge, this would not be an issue.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Oct 2013

Total posts 30

The new Air France first class offering is simple but refined and excellent. No showers though.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

I'm sure First is refined in all Airlines, but that shower feature from Australia to Middle east and beyond must be magic.

05 May 2016

Total posts 583

I hope QANTAS keeps first class on its flagship routes and keeps its first class lounges in MEL, SYD and LAX

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

I wish Qantas would install bathing facilities on their A380's in F.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

QF F- certainly is limited.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

@ sgb:

"QF F- certainly is limited."

As far as inflight shower facilities are concerned, so are all other carriers(Even sacred SQ is in the same shoe) worldwide bar EK and EY.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

“to be used on touted routes such as Perth-London” – did I missed something and Qantas going to bless forgotten Perth with direct fly to LHR?

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

IMHO Business Class is so good nowadays that it makes no sense whatsoever to put First as “Business On Steroids” – it gotta be suite, period.

Agreed. And not just a suite. It needs to have substantially upgraded service both in the air and on the ground.

QF NZ

28 Jul 2013

Total posts 27

I did PE on BA16 / 15 (SYD / LHR) in June, it is nothing like business from 20 years ago, it still is economy with a small amount of extra room and no personal storage aprt from the seat pocket in front.  Never again.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

I am not sure what your comment to do to topic, but I personally always maintained POV that PE is ridiculously overpriced. I tried it when it was on descent sale and will not do it anymore unless it cost no more than 50% above economy where exactly it should be. Currently they ask about 50% or even 70% of business price – such money is plainly ridiculous for few extra inches comparing to economy and some unwanted perks that do not even include priority boarding and lounge access. I rather pay difference and be seated in business.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

I wonder if 'The Residence' shower has a longer time limit than the First Class Shower?

Or, Does it have a huge shower rose head for a complete drenching? 

It certainly would be a great way to pass time and refresh at the same time. I've never showered at Melbourne or Sydney lounge, always done at home before departure, so with the duration of a Middle East and beyond flight, it could be perfect timing for another one nearing the end of that long leg. Lounge shower facilities for J and F at say Abu Dhabi or Dubai can be stretched at times.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

@ sgb:

"I wonder if 'The Residence' shower has a longer time limit than the First Class Shower?"

Probably.....I suspect this is due to The Residence inflight product infrastructure is designed to cater for a pair of pax.

In any case, the underlying reason for the inflight shower time limits is not really how much time can be allocated to each F pax(i.e. @ most only a dozen pax spread across 8-12hrs cruise duration) but rather how much volume is available.  To the best of my knowledge re EK inflight shower room policy, each F pax is allocated 15mins or longer for each shower room session but the actual volume allocated per session is only good for the equivalent of about 5mins of continuous water flow @ maximum blast.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Jun 2014

Total posts 38

I don't think the showers are about getting clean - they are about getting refreshed. I remember when I first used a lounge shower at heathrow during a 3 hour layover before moving on to Europe. It made me feel alive for another 5 hours.  I can't wait to get showered in the air.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Surely QF would have to have done a comparison with A380 onboard lounges and found that theirs comes lucky last. That needs an immediate redesign, unimaginative and boring and dull. No incentive to even be parked there.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1227

Equilibrium is a hard place to get out of. Just look at BA's Club World product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Sep 2011

Total posts 85

I'd be interested to read a comparison on AusBT of PE now with Business Class from say 20 years ago. Reading the story on BA's PE cabin (sponsored, so I couldn't comment directly) my impression of pitch and width was "Hey, those are the business class seats of 1998"

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2405

It's often observed that today's best premium economy is rather like business class of two generations ago (a 'generation' in airline seat terms can be said to be ~7 years), and that today's best business class seats are often considered to be close to first class of two generations ago.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

@ David:

"...today's best premium economy is rather like business class of two generations ago..."

If we disregard the IFE +connectivity +plug-in capability aspects(i.e. today's PY is light years ahead of the J from 20yrs ago), it's true by most objective measures in terms of the hard product.

Luckily, I hv kept quite a few very old magazines /periodicals  about airlines /airline industry from 20-25yrs ago.  So I came across detailed J seat reviews of LH, SQ, JL, etc. of the late 80s/early 90s.  E.g., their seat pitch was generally around 40in with a recline similar to the best PY today.  Go back a bit earlier in the mid-80s shortly after JL launched its 1st ever J(Branded  as Executive Class back then) on 747, it was 8abreast....exactly the same config for PY on most 744s today.

PK
PK

03 May 2012

Total posts 114

I agree with a lot of the comments that QF First falls short in a lot of areas compared to the other cabins I have been in (esp Etihad Apartment).  However, and perhaps I appreciate this more at 6'5" and a considerable amount of kilograms, but nothing, absolutely nothing, on any other airline comes close to that sheepskin underlay they put down on the bed for comfort and relieving pressure. They all take up a lot of room in the overheads but it is the one thing that would make the Etihad Apartment perfect. 

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Hi, are the Sheepskins put on the First or Residence Bed? Do they go on top of a matress?

PK
PK

03 May 2012

Total posts 114

That's my point. Only Qantas has those nice, thick sheepskin underlays.  Etihad's underlay in First is very thin and the bed is, for me, quite hard.  In the Residence, it is a proper-ish bed with what I assume is a mattress. I have seen it briefly because a lovely attendant let me take a sneak peak, but the bed, which is a bit smaller than I thought, had the coverings on it so I could not tell what it was made of. 

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

I missunderstood, I thought you were saying Etihad put the sheepskins down. Nice touch for QF.

Why would Malaysia Airlines go for Vantage XL Suites for First Class?

MAS's Business Class is plain old Vantage, not Vantage XL. The Vantage XL Suites aren't compatible with Vantage.

Unless Thompson have a new design for suites compatible with Vantage, or MAS is going for Vantage XL on the A350s (which would run the risk of cannibalizing First Class demand), I am skeptical that we'll see the same Vantage XL suites being used. And if MAS have Vantage XL on their A350s, well... why would they go for the product heterogeneity?

In addition, the Vantage XL suites have the problem of product differentiation, since only the footwell area is any bigger than the Vantage XL seat generally. That + upgraded service and lounge. Is that really enough to make First worth the money?

Mal
Mal

14 Jun 2013

Total posts 360

I've heard that MAS is looking at the Vantage XL as line-fit for the A350 business class. Adding Vantage First would still have good appeal for those who want privacy plus whatever soft products MAS uses to differentiate first.

If this is correct, it makes me wonder why MAS would be willing to have fleet heterogeneity. I guess we could argue the A330s are medium-haul and Vantage XL will be used on long-haul craft (like the A350), but it still seems at least a bit of a waste of money since the Vantage XL works perfectly well on A330s too.

In addition, the issue of product differentiation still matters. Is the Vantage Suite enough to justify a premium? The only part of the seat that's wider is the footwell. Unless MAS is really going to provide some awesome ground service and/or caviar/foie gras/Cristal/etc. in the sky, the Vantage Suite seems rather unimpressive as a First product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

Since when was United considered a 'top' airline?

Considering how large it is, its certainly a significant airline.

But yes, its not particularly good. Still, words like "top" are very ambiguous and have that flexibility to them.

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Since they stopped serving chicken manicotti with rice cakes, yuck.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jun 2016

Total posts 9

Having just returned today flying Emirates from Zurich to Dubai and then on to Melbourne, I have to say we did not use the shower on the shorter flight and had a shower in Dubai as we had a  4hr layover.  However, on the long haul flight to Melbourne we did schedule one in and it was very refreshing.   Plenty of hot water and pressure to have a good shower.  Think they could do away with the Business/First Class lounge on the flight.  Nobody really uses it...

sgb
sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

'Do away with the Business/First Class lounge on the flight.  Nobody really uses it...' -  I've done multiple trips on EK A380's and that bar is very well patronised, I would think every Business and most First makes their way their, (despite first having their own bar) and everyone from underneath dreams of being there.

13 Nov 2015

Total posts 51

Also, LX's new 777-300ER F suite.  Wonder what the future holds for the remaining Int'l F carriers: AF, Korean, ANA, JAL, CA, Air China Eastern/Southern, Oman, Air India, AA, Saudia, Gulf, and Garuda.  Will we see F go the way of the Dodo bird?  It might come to less than 10 carriers with F int'l.


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