Is First Class Dead?

American Airlines just announced its intent to scrap its first class offering on long-haul fights...and it's not the first.

First class amenities on an aircraft

In January 1914, a single plane with room enough for just one pilot and one passenger, owned by the Benoist Aircraft Company, marked the launch of commercial air travel in America. Eventually the idea went transatlantic, and aircrafts began to grow in size.

Unsurprisingly — per a report from The Points Guy — coach was the first class to emerge. That was largely due to a set of rules implemented in 1940s by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which served to standardized fares on flights. That said, as a sort of workaround, the routes were instead split and long-haul flights became synonymous with a higher of standard of service. Consequently, when it was ruled that carriers could begin offering multiple fare options on the same flight in 1952, first class was born.

It’s no coincidence that the 1950s would also go down in history as the start the “Golden Age of Flying,” as it’s come to be known, either (Think, albeit problematic in hindsight, young, beautiful flight attendants; smoking lounges; caviar and all-you-can-drink champagne.) It was a season of air travel that spanned a good 20 years, into the 1970s, until increased safety regulations, as well as oil costs, began playing a role in the overall design of aircrafts. First class began to look a lot more like what it does in present day (i.e. smaller, upright seats)…and seemingly initiated its (slow) descent towards extinction.

Just last week, American Airlines (the world’s largest airline) announced that its intent to scrap its first class offering from long-haul flights in favor of expanding business class, on the grounds that passengers are not as interested as they once were.

“First class will not exist on the 777, or for that matter at American Airlines, for the simple reason that our customers aren’t buying it,” American Airlines’s chief commercial officer Vasu Raja said during an investor call, according to Insider.

American is hardly the first. In 2019, Korean Air will removed first-class seats on several shorter-haul international routes and, shortly thereafter, Asiana Airlines did the same. As far as U.S. carriers go, United has begun phasing out its first class cabins on international routes and Delta has eliminated it altogether. Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways have, too, limited their first class offering in recent years.

The most obvious answer for all of this is, of course, the rise of business class. For its part, first class can cost almost twice as much as business class and passengers, for theirs, apparently fail to see the value of the former over the latter. It makes sense that carriers should want to invest more in business class, “[which] is what our customers most want or are most willing to pay for,” Raja said. 


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