Korean Air Removes First Class On 27 Routes

Korean Air have announced that they will scrap first class from 27 of their routes from the 1st June 2019. Passengers on 76 of their 111 routes will now only have the choice of either economy or business.

Korean Air
Korean Air are removing first class from many routes. Photo: Korean Air

With many airlines falling out of love with first class, we’re not entirely surprised to hear of another airline cutting back on its most luxurious of cabins. However, we are slightly surprised that it’s an Asian airline, as Asia is well known for being a hotbed of premium fliers.

Nevertheless, Korean Air have taken the decision to remove first class from no less than 27 of its international routes from June onwards. This will leave just economy and prestige as choices for their passengers on the majority of their routes. Just 30% will continue to offer a first class service.

Speaking to the Korea Herald, a Korean Air official said:

“We decided to apply two class seat options for flights to tourism destinations where there was low demand for first class. We will do our best to minimize the inconvenience of first-class passengers and maintain quality service for prestige-class passengers.”

The changes will come into effect from June 1st, although Korean Air say they’ll continue to offer first on some of the highest demand routes.

Korean Air’s first class

Out of all the carriers still offering first class, Korean Air had to be one of the ones with the most first class cabins, proportionally, in its fleet.

However, elimination of their first class facility might not be as much of a downgrade as you might think. On many of their planes, the first class cabin is actually identical to their business class cabin. Same seats, same tech… the only differentiation is their service.

Korean Air first class
Korean Air’s first class… and business class… seat. Photo: TravelingOtter via Flickr

For example, on their 787-9, Korean Air use the Apex Suite in both business and first. It’s lie flat, it has a 21” wide seat and a generous 23” monitor. On their A330s, again, they have the same seat in business and first.

The differences come in when you start to look at the soft product. Check in for business is at the first class counter, whereas business is at the ‘Prestige’ counter. Lounge access is the same,  and both board on a priority basis, although first get access to the KAL Premium Care Service.

On domestic flights, business passengers miss out on the ‘restaurant quality’ pre boarding meal, and also on the amenity kit by DAVI. They also don’t get the duvet service, whatever that is, and seem to miss out on the complementary PJs too.

Why are Korean Air giving up on first class?

The line from the carrier is that there isn’t enough demand to sustain first on the routes it was previously offered on. In total, from June 1st, there will be no first on 76 of the carrier’s 111 routes. However, it’s not too much of a loss as they already don’t offer first on the majority of their short routes.

Korean Air routes
First is already unavailable on many shorter routes. Photo: Korean Air

In a statement to The Investor, the airline said:

“The company has decided not to operate first class cabins on 27 additional routes starting June 1 due to low demand for the highest class cabins,”

However, here at Simple Flying we think perhaps the ‘low demand’ for the first class services is down to the fact they use the exact same hard product in first as they do in business. From what we can see, there’s not a whole lot of added value to purchasing a first class seat, when you’re going to be seated just as comfortably for less in business.

They have said they will continue to offer first on the highest demand routes. According to their statement, these include flights to Beijing, Osaka, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta and Hanoi. We’re not sure about those Boston flights yet though.