Korean Air Could Be Planning to Ditch First Class Entirely

The trend of airlines ditching first class continues to accelerate. Korean Air is set to become the latest big name in the industry to announce the immediate reduction and potential demise of its first-class seats.

Korean Air Lines Airbus A380
Korean Air Lines Airbus A380 Takes Off. Photo: byeangel via Flickr

The change represents a shift in product strategy under new CEO Walter Cho, and will initially affect 27 routes from the beginning of June 2019.

Eliminating first class seats is a trend that started in 2018, and most of the airlines that said goodbye to premium seats are from Asia. They include Malaysia Airlines and Asiana, another South Korean airline.


Why has Korean Air halted the sale of first class?

Korean Air CEO Walter Cho said that the move is a result of a modernization project for the company’s fleet. It will also involve new configurations and services, such as offering WiFi onboard.


Mr Cho added that the result of eliminating first class seats would be a simplified and more efficient service. Before the move, Korean Air’s first class service included dedicated flight attendants, who can now focus on providing an improved business class service.

Aircraft and routes affected

Korean intends to remove all first-class seats on its medium-sized aircraft (A330s, older variant 777s, and 787s) on routes that often only had a few first-class passengers anyway.


The carrier already operates business and economy classes only on 47 routes, and will now extend this arrangement on international routes including Vancouver, Toronto, Barcelona, Madrid, Zagreb, Istanbul, Auckland, Brisbane, and St Petersburg, among others.

Korean B777-300 Aircraft
Korean B777-300 Aircraft. Photo Maarten Visser via Wikimedia

All routes to Japan except for Osaka Kansai and Seoul Gimpo to Tokyo Haneda are also expected to operate in a dual-class arrangement.

At the moment, first-class seats will remain in place on routes operated by A380s, 747-8s, and 777-300ERs. However, the carrier is considering removing these as well in a complete overhaul of its fleet across its international routes.

Is first class disappearing altogether?

Scrapping first class makes sense for airlines who see their other services more profitable. Flying first class is likely to become a thing of the past, even though some airlines go against the current and increase the number of premium seats on offer.

Emirates, for example, almost doubled the number of first-class seats available in 2019, offering 600,000 seats as opposed to only 310,000 in 2018, but that is an exception. Across the board, airlines are determined to phase out first class, with most big names reducing the number of seats on offer.

Korean Air First Class
Korean Air First Class Sleeper Seats. Photo: TravelingOtter via Flickr

Some of the airlines that halved the number of first-class seats over the last decade include United, Delta, British Airways, and Singapore.


First class offers better perks today than it did in the past, with some airlines such as Emirates even offering in-flight showers on their A380 jumbos. Despite that, analysts predict that first class is soon to be a thing of the past. Korean Air seems to be reconfiguring its business model by jumping on the bandwagon sooner than later.


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I like the Delta One concept.