Voy­ager

Frequent Flyer Destinations - - CONTENTS - BY ARAM GE­SAR

Is First Class on its way out and be­ing re­placed by lux­u­ri­ous Busi­ness Class ? Air Canada is one of the first global car­ri­ers to re­move first class from pas­sen­ger air­lines. Speak­ing at a global fo­rum, Air Canada’s pres­i­dent said re­cently that flight at­ten­dants serv­ing caviar or writ­ing down notes by hand for pas­sen­gers will prob­a­bly be no longer re­quired ex­cept for a cou­ple of global routes such as New York, Lon­don and Tokyo.

Pas­sen­gers de­part­ing from Abu Dhabi to Syd­ney now get to ex­pe­ri­ence Vir­gin Aus­tralia’s award-win­ning in­ter­na­tional busi­ness class up­grade, cur­rently fly­ing on the car­rier’s wide-body fleets of

Air­bus A330-200 and Boe­ing 777-300ER air­craft. It also fea­tures the largest in-flight en­ter­tain­ment screen fly­ing be­tween Aus­tralia and North Amer­ica.

The in­ter­na­tional ser­vice, which launched at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port in July 2016, aims to es­ca­late Vir­gin’s brand image abroad and lure in­ter­na­tional busi­ness travelers away from its ri­vals.

Vir­gin al­ready had a lie-flat on its

Boe­ing 777s and a bar, so why change?

Its be­cause the air­line felt it wasn’t meet­ing cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions any­more.

The trans­for­ma­tion, or­ches­trated in con­junc­tion with Lon­don de­sign agency tan­ger­ine, in­cludes sev­eral up­grades. Re­ar­ranged from a 2-3-2 lay­out to a re­verse her­ring­bone 1-2-1 seat­ing ar­range­ment, the re­con­fig­ured floor plan pro­vides all busi­ness-class pas­sen­gers with di­rect-aisle ac­cess with­out com­pro­mis­ing on ca­pac­ity.

In line with re­cent front-of-cabin pro­grams such as United’s Po­laris ser­vice, Vir­gin’s re­design en­hances its busi­ness-class prod­uct with first-class ac­cou­trements. It seems the fu­ture of pre­mium travel is more of an evo­lu­tion than a rev­o­lu­tion.

First class in­no­va­tions are com­ing down to busi­ness class, just like many of pre­mium econ­omy class in­tro­duced on in­ter­na­tional routes is based on the old busi­ness class from the 1990s.

Amer­i­can Air­lines soon will be­come the only air­line with in­ter­na­tional first class in North Amer­ica. Small por­tion of its fleet, 20 Boe­ing 777-300ERs, will be the most pos­si­ble flights as­signed for the long­est routes.

United’s Po­laris long-haul busi­ness-class flat bed seats are the norm in busi­ness class, and it’s re­ally eroded the first-class mar­ket. United is re­tir­ing its first class within the next few years in fa­vor of its new Po­laris busi­ness class, while Delta long ago aban­doned its first class cabin.

Delta Air Lines claims that Delta One is “the first busi­ness-class cabin to fea­ture a slid­ing door at each suite.” Sched­uled to de­but in the third or fourth quar­ter of 2017 on Delta’s first Air­bus A350, which will be equipped with 32 suites, the new prod­uct is de­signed to serve routes be­tween the US and Asia.

First class is fad­ing away across the sec­tor, borne out by the fact that air­lines have been tak­ing de­liv­ery of new long-haul air­craft, which con­spic­u­ously omit first-class cab­ins. Savvy pas­sen­gers are now not see­ing the ben­e­fit of spend­ing a large pre­mium on a first­class ticket, when they can get a flat bed and a good night’s sleep in a busi­ness-class cabin.

Lufthansa, Swiss, Bri­tish Air­ways, Air France, Asiana, ANA, and Ja­pan Air­lines still sus­tain first class. How­ever, with the shrink­ing sizes of the cab­ins, many are re­mov­ing it from some air­craft.

But why would pas­sen­gers pay more for first class? Amer­i­can notes that, “what’s in­ter­est­ing is how much more can you dif­fer­en­ti­ate first and busi­ness with all the things we’ve done in that [busi­ness] cabin. That will be the key dis­tinc­tion - it comes down to the level of ser­vice and per­son­al­iza­tion.” So, the dif­fer­ence be­tween first and busi­ness class may come down to the per­son­al­ized ser­vice of­fered to a seem­ingly di­min­ish­ing first-class mar­ket. Al­though air­lines haven’t pub­licly de­clared the demise of first class, it’s ef­fec­tively dis­ap­pear­ing through the process of fleet re­place­ment.

Vir­gin Aus­tralia’s Busi­ness cabin in re­verse her­ring­bone lay­out.

In lie-flat po­si­tion, the tai­lored B/E Aerospace Su­per Di­a­mond seats ex­tend to 80 inches in length, the equiv­a­lent of a queen-size bed, and the long­est seats on of­fer over the east coast of Aus­tralia. Vir­gin Aus­tralia also boasts the widest seat on US...

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