Monday, October 18, 2010

More airlines trim or dump first-class seats

The number of first-class cabins is shrinking.
A small but growing list of airlines is eliminating or reducing rows in the most expensive part of aircraft as customers increasingly look for cheaper seats.

The global slowdown has put a damper on first-class flying as fewer corporate travelers can afford $15,000 seats. Premium traffic on international flights, which includes business and first class, fell 16 percent in 2009, the International Air Transport Association says. While demand has improved this year, premium traffic in August was still 11 percent down from the pre-downturn size in early 2008, it says.

What's going on

• AirTran, which is being bought by Southwest Airlines, will drop first-class seating once the merger is completed next year. Southwest, which has never had first- or business-class seats on its planes, says it'll phase out AirTran's first-class service.

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• United Airlines has been revamping its long-haul aircraft since 2007 to reduce and improve first- and business-class seating while installing more coach seats. United's merger with Continental Airlines also has triggered speculation that United may abandon its first class after the merger and adopt Continental's simpler approach of flying only two cabins: business and economy.

United "is evaluating which configuration or configurations make the most sense based on customer demand," United spokes man Rahsaan Johnson says. "Continental has fewer 13- and 14-hour flights than United does."

• Australian carrier Qantas said earlier this year that it's eliminating first-class service on most of its long-haul flights, except for a few flagship routes to Los Angeles and London from Australia.

• British Airways received delivery on some Boeing 777s last year that didn't have first class for the first time but says it will invest $150 million to upgrade existing premium seats.

Most aircraft flying in the U.S. typically have just two cabins: economy and a premium offering labeled business or first class.

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