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.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine