Is Business Class the new first?

Traditionally, airlines used to offer three classes on board of their planes; first, business and economy class. In the past decade, we’ve seen many major airlines removing that first class cabin from their planes and shifting attention to the business class cabins… but aren’t these business class cabins slowly turning into the “new” first class?

The new Qatar Airways Q-Suites Business Class product

Why would you fly First class anyway?

Reasons why people (or people’s companies) book first class? For the privacy! An intimate cabin, very well secluded processes and therefore a product that almost matches that of a private jet but then ten times cheaper. Royals, celebrities and people with too much money are usually the clients (and mileage hunters like me that scored a super deal).

A place to work

Business Class isn’t named like that for no reason; its purpose was initially to cater for the business people; good food, good seats to provide plenty of opportunities to rest (because not everybody has 4 days on their destination to recover from the flight) and most of all a good spot to do some work.

These days business class is hardly used to work in although it’s definitely a proper way to arrive well rested (if you don’t down 2 bottles of champagne of course). However, the business class is more of a cabin that people can afford book; and with good reason.

Bye bye first class!

In the last decade, since the late 90’s, more and more airlines have removed the first class cabin on their planes, focussing on business cabins. Reasons? Prices were huge (return fares between Europe and New York of over €6000 are not unheard from), and with the introduction of cheaper private jets the demand for this top-notch €€€ premium cabin was decreasing and decreasing.

Business Class as good as First Class

In the meantime, the airlines have invested heavily in their Business Class products that now are as good as the old first cabins; onboard lounges and bars, fully flat seats, chauffeur service, extensive meal services and more. Why would anyone still book first if the business class matches all needs (and is a lot cheaper).

Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Bakr has been promising a “Business Class that would be better than first class of many carriers“. And I’ve seen it; the Q-Suites trumps many existing first product in both hard and soft product. Amazing! No need to book first anymore!

Premium economy

Premium economy is the new business class, it offers a bit better seat, a bit more food and usually a few perks on the ground experience. Yet, prices are often much lower than a business class seat. Smart, because this drives the lower end of business class passengers, who are not always allowed to book business, to a more expensive cabin but still giving them the feeling they get special treatment. Talking about a smart way to improve yield airline marketing guys! 

Bottom line:

The future will see further improvements of the premium economy cabins, wider seats (maybe even fully flat), better meals and more amenities. Suddenly this premium economy turns in the new business class while the luxury cabin shrinks and shrinks in size till there are only 6 left per plane. Then its just a matter of time before a new financial crisis forces companies to cut on their corporate travel policies again…

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About Ingmar Bruinsma

Ingmar Bruinsma is an entrepreneur in the travel industry. He also provides consultancy services in the field of marketing, business development to clients in travel & aviation. He blogs about topics in tourism, travel, aviation, digital marketing.


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