Airlines have long used the A380 and 747 to showcase their flagship first class offerings. The large cabins allow airlines to get creative and make iconic products, such as the Singapore Airlines Suites or Etihad Residence. However, with the A380 and 747 now headed for retirement, what will airlines do with first class? Let’s find out.
Why the A380 and 747?
Both the A380 and 747 have come to represent the epitome of airline luxury, featuring suites, showers, and more. The main reason for this is simple: space. The massive cabins of these planes allow airlines to add a lot of features and still have enough room for plenty of seats. This is also the reason most airlines offer first class on their larger planes, but not all their smaller ones.
Both the A380 and 747 are also generally deployed on high-demand routes which are very profitable for airlines. These routes also attract high-paying customers who book first class flights, making it economical for airlines to add the cabin to these planes.
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An example of this would be the New York to London route, where British Airways made over $1bn in revenue in 2018. BA generally uses aircraft which offer first class on these routes (747s and 777s), due to the demand between the financial hubs.
The 747 served as the airline flagship until the early 2000s. Once the A380 was introduced, airlines quickly flocked to the newer plane, which was larger and more efficient than the Queen of the Skies. The A380 has now become the home for first class products.
What will happen now?
As we now know, airlines are looking to ditch their larger planes for more efficient, twin-engine jets. Air France has retired its entire fleet of A380s, while Emirates, the largest operator of the type, is reconsidering the plane’s future. Meanwhile, the 747 isn’t faring much better. Virgin Atlantic recently scrapped all of its 747s, while British Airways is reportedly mulling doing the same soon.
With airlines now looking to get rid of their A380s and 747s, the future of first class could be in jeopardy. In a lot of cases, airlines only introduced first class on their A380s and never expanded it to the rest of their fleet. Both Qantas and Qatar Airways did this, and both have now grounded their A380s.
However, there are some airlines that are still invested heavily in their first class products. Both Emirates and British Airways both feature first class cabins on their A380s and 747s, respectively. Considering the number of aircraft they own, it will be a long time before first class disappears from the sky. The larger fear is that airlines could stop innovating in first class, focusing on the profitable business class instead.
The future of first class
All hope is not lost for the super-rich! Qatar recently announced that it is mulling a new first class cabin on its new 777X fleet, although it is not confirmed that the airline will install the cabin, especially considering the success of its QSuite business class. Airlines could also see demand for first class slowly return as travel demand rises, making a case to keep the cabins around.
A very likely possibility is that more airlines will opt to ditch first class altogether. The US airlines were the first to do this, removing first class along with their 747s. British Airways recently opted not to install this cabin on its A350s, choosing a new business class instead.
The future of first class will be led by the demand in the coming years. Although considering the market right now, we might be seeing the end of the superjumbos and first class.