First Class flop? Even though airlines don't make money from First Class, they remain doggedly committed

With prices reaching five figures or more, does First Class make economic sense?

Travel Correspondent

It is the only ticket that will gain access to the inner sanctums of British Airways – the Concorde Rooms at London Heathrow and New York JFK, which boast “full waiter service, private cabanas and a state-of-the-art business suite”.

Still on the ground, the ticket entitles you to a 15-minute massage, before you step aboard the aircraft and into “your own private, spacious suite", complete with 6ft 6in bed with a proper mattress and duvet. Vintage champagne and fine a la carte dining complete the alluring proposition. But a BA flight to New York in First Class tomorrow costs almost £11,000 return – enough to buy 23 economy tickets on the same route.

More pertinently, the First Class fare of £10,970 is almost exactly twice the price in Club World, the airline’s long-haul business class - which also offers fully flat beds, executive lounge access and a pre-flight massage. Yet British Airways has insisted it has no intention of scrapping First Class, despite the boss of a close rival conceding the cabin is loss making.

Alexandre de Juniac, chief executive of Air France-KLM, told The Times that "No one makes money” from the priciest seats in the sky. But a spokesman for BA said: “We remain absolutely committed to having First Class.”

British Airways provides First Class on around three-quarters of its long-haul planes, though its new Boeing 787 does not have the cabin. The “Dreamliner,” which flies to destinations such as New York’s Newark airport and Toronto, follows the configuration that has become common even among top-tier airlines: economy, premium economy and business class.

Virgin Atlantic, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in June, has never had a First Class – claiming that its business proposition, Upper Class, is as good as other airlines’ premier cabins.

During the economic downturn, many companies changed their travel policies to obliged top executives to trade down to business class. Douglas McNeill, analyst for Charles Stanley Securities, said: “Airlines have spent five years of recession and dear oil re-evaluating all aspects of their business models, but few have chosen to ditch First Class altogether. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.”

The airline consultant, Jamie Bowden, said that some travellers will always insist on the status of First Class:

“It’s all about differentiation. Even if First and business class are effectively identical, some wealthy individuals will insist on First. What worries some European airlines is that if they remove First Class, they’ll lose key customers to the Gulf-based airlines.”

BA recently introduced long-haul aircraft with First Class on its Heathrow-Moscow route – where it competes with easyJet’s no-frills services.

Richard Quest, presenter of Quest Means Business on CNN, said: “The death of First Class has been predicted for years. But it won't happen because there are a few key routes such as London-New York and Los Angeles-Sydney which can support First Class. Some business people are still entitled to fly it and a lot of wealthy people can afford it. Where the passenger mix meets these criteria, First Class will remain. And passengers love to be upgraded to it.”

Among UK airports, First Class is almost exclusively the preserve of Heathrow. From Gatwick, British Airways offers First Class only to Barbados, Bermuda and St Lucia. Emirates has First Class on its daily Airbus A380 from Manchester to Dubai.

The aviation consultant John Strickland said: “Airlines like Emirates can successfully fill First Class cabins by drawing customers from multiple route permutations via their Dubai hub.”

On the water, the trend could be downwards; Brittany Ferries has just announced a new no-frills ferry link from Portsmouth to France and Spain.

News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003