Doors. This is where it all starts. Over the past few years, the differences between First Class and Business Class hard-products have become fewer and farther between. We’re now in an era where British Airways new Business Class product offers equal space and more privacy than its older First Class product. Airlines such as Qatar Airways have opted to focus on their QSuite product, which offers fully-enclosed suites.
In the past decade the business-class cabin product landscape has completely shifted across the globe, where only a handful of carriers still opt for angle-flat beds, and a handful more that don’t offer all-aisle-access.
So it today’s competitive environment, how can carrier’s lure passengers to spend a premium for a similar product, now seen as a luxury by most, rather than a necessity in order to be able to arrive rested and pampered. While some carriers are still rolling out caviar services, fine vintage champagnes and exclusive lounges and chauffeur drive, others are taking a relatively unique approach of downgrading their service product to match Business Class, and offering the larger suites as an optional upgraded Business Class extra.
Dubbed ‘Business Suites’ that new product has a multitude of benefits for an airline. Firstly, the simplification of the service offering. Asiana has now rebranded their entire First Class cabin as ‘Business Suites’ which means not having to stock a different menu, alternate amenities and vintage Champagnes. Instead passengers benefit from larger seats, added privacy and the benefits of a premium on-the-ground product.
Other airlines, such as Malaysia Airlines, opted to rebrand their First-Class product (which is just an altered Thompson Vantage seat) ‘Business Suites’ in order to appeal to Corporate and Government entities who no longer allow for their workers to travel in ‘First Class’. Malaysia Airlines instead still offers different amenities, but not the additional hard-product luxury often afforded by the additional spend.
On the other hand, the likes of Delta and United are simplifying their cabin classes, and reflecting the international monickers for the cabin classes. Polaris now replaces United Business and United First, and Delta’s Business and regional First Class cabins are dubbed Delta One. The airlines, including American all now investing in Premium Economy which is the rising cabin class across the globe, with Asia only slowly picking up on the concept.
But where does that leave this recent, but emerging trend? There are logical benefits from First Class, first and foremost, privacy, which can be implemented in a variety of ways, which include chauffeur drive, butler-style assistance through the on-the-ground product and private lounges which include an added benefit, such as spa services or Fine Dining (or both).
With most seats now available on the market, there’s a wide range of customisable elements, including doors, different LOPA configurations and TV screen sizes making it easy to turn a traditional business class seat into a ‘Business Suite’ with little added customisation, but with the benefit of a more efficient LOPA across the cabin, such as can be sound in China Eastern and Malaysia Airlines.
Will we see the decline of the First Class cabin? While the airline industry is around, there will always be a desire for a first class ticket. It has an aspirational halo affect across the rest of an airline’s in-flight product which benefits the airlines positioning in an already crowded market. However, the routes they fly will become more niche and specific, and over the years, become adaptations of the business class product.
Alternatively, could we end up with a 5-class carrier, which will offer First Class, Business Class Suite, Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy. Sounds like a flight of fancy? Perhaps not, Look at Singapore Airlines which offers all of these options, with Business Class suites just not being flagged, but on A380s, 4 rows of business class pairs that turn into double beds, an additional benefit to other business class seats.
Alternatively, there is Etihad, Which offers a Residence, First Class, Business Class, Economy space and economy seats. While complicated, there is obviously a desire for each of these cabin class options, which means the future of the airline industry is entering a fluid period of change, as it adapts once again to the ever-changing demands of its most lucrative asset, its passenger.