Where are all the first class seats going?

Where are all the first class seats going?

A growing number of premium carriers are choosing to eliminate their first class cabins as their business class seating approaches a level of luxury only seen in the top-tier section in years past, reports the New York Times.

In the past several years, major carriers like Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand and Air Canada have eschewed first class in lieu of an expanded business class cabin. Similarly, airlines like Qantas, Air France and British Airways have opted to remove first class seating from some - but not all - of their planes.

"There's been a clear trend for long-haul international flights to reduce or eliminate first-class cabins in all but the most lucrative and competitive routes," said Bryan Saltzburg, general manager of TripAdvisor Flights.

Much of the reasoning behind the elimination of these seats comes from the balance between first-class fares and the rising cost of fuel, as some people who might otherwise choose first class downgrade to business class to help them save money in the face of rising gas surcharges.

"To carry around a first-class product on a wide-body airplane for the few people who buy it is a huge cost," said Vern Alg, an airline consultant who specializes in cabin interiors. "Nobody buys those seats, but business-class seats are sold to businessmen."

Some carriers, however, are upgrading their first class amenities just as they cut the number of seats they offer. Lufthansa, for example, recently took delivery of an Airbus A380 superjumbo jet with space for 526 people - but only enough seating for eight in the first class cabin. These premium travelers, though, enjoy unparalleled service, including caviar served on bone china.

Other major international carriers continue to unveil new innovations in onboard luxury as well. Emirates, the flag carrier of Dubai, offers showers to its first class passengers, while top-tier travelers on Singapore Airlines can rest easy in sleeper suites.

"These are financially successful airlines, and that's a good indicator of sound business practice," said airline consultant Jay Sorensen, suggesting that these carriers invest in first class to help bolster what he calls their "rarefied sense of style."

Ultimately, American travelers who want to fly first class don't have to worry. Although many carriers are cutting back on their premium offerings, most will continue to offer first class.

"For the foreseeable future, we see a market for U.S. long-haul first class cabins," said Gus Whitcomb, communications manager for Cathay Pacific Americas.

By Jason Faulkner

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