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“ There is an increasing trend for airlines to go to Super Business
Class and High Density Business Class [HDBC] cabins over that
of flying with a First Class service. First Class installation is now
very low and we expect it to stay so,” says CMI in its 2018 Aircraft
Interiors report. In 2017, for example, no First Class seats were
delivered by original equipment manufacturers for new A350s and
British Airways was the only airline to have First Class delivered
on a new 787.
In 2017, airlines in the Asia-Pacific region accounted for the major-
ity of those still flying international widebody First Class and include
Air China, Air India, ANA, Asiana, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Chi-
na Southern, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Qantas, Singapore Airlines
and Thai Airways. “In our opinion, early generation First Class cabins
will reduce and disappear as the bar is raised by carriers flying Super
First Class and as Super Business Class and High Density Business
Class lie-flat seats take hold in the market,” the report says.
Counterpoint expects this number of First Class diehards to have
dropped further in 2018 as it starts the research for its latest report,
“In our opinion, for the most part, three-class airlines will still exist,
however with a more austere layout and with costs associated with
First Class service removed. Super Business Class or High Density
Business Class will take the place of First Class and there will be
more Premium Economy class seats offered to full fare economy
passengers,” says CMI. “ The cost benefits of a more austere regime
can be illustrated by considering the cost of provisioning of galleys
to provide a First Class service with food, china, special cutlery,
amenities and drinks, internal staffing dedicated to supporting
First Class, kitchens and provisions, weight of carts and galleys
and above all the cost of the senior long service flight attendants
on legacy contracts,” says CMI. It adds: “An airline can reduce costs
in many ways by dropping first and downsizing to providing high
quality Business Class service levels.”
When it comes to Super First Class, the standard has become
extremely high. SIA’s Suites, for example, are described by the airline
as a “personal oasis complete with lavish furnishing and finishes”
behind an artistically-designed sliding door. Each Suite features a
separate full-flat bed with adjustable recline and plush leather chair.
Each seat is upholstered in fine leather and is fully adjustable using
an electronic control side panel which can accommodate a variety
of sitting and lounging positions, while the swivel capability of the
chair with recline up to 45 degrees provides added flexibility for
dining and relaxation, says the airline. Each Suite also has a 32-inch
full HD monitor that can swivel for the different viewing angles in
seat and bed modes, a full-sized personal wardrobe, customised
handbag stowage compartment, amenity box lined with soft leather,
specially designed carpet and a feature wall with mood lighting —
“all exquisitely crafted to give a touch of luxury and intimacy”.
Then of course there are the Middle Eastern carriers with their
luxury offerings. Emirates’ First Class private suites, for example,
have floor to ceiling sliding doors; soft leather seating; high-tech
control panels; mood lighting; zero-gravity seating positions; a
personal video-call service; virtual windows for suites positioned in
the middle, with real-time fibre-optic camera technology present the
view from outside; and design details inspired by luxury automotive
brand Mercedes Benz.
“ The standards on Super First Class are pretty much at the point
where further enhancements will be minor as the suites’ interiors
are already matching the interiors of VIP and some VVIP aircraft
interior standards,” according to Bettell.
Premium Economy is the cabin growing at the fastest rate. “Premi-
um Economy is a seating class that is further maturing as First Class
seating for certain airlines and routes come under pressure,” says
CMI. “ This downward trend of First Class growth is further impact-
ed as Super Business Class and High Density Business Class seat
features push into and past those of the early adopters of First Class
lie-flat beds. Premium Economy for airlines allows the opportunity
to attain a high yield revenue opportunity for a minimal increase in
real estate consumption and service costs,” says CMI.
CMI refers to Premium Economy as a seat pan width greater
than 18 inches and a seat pitch greater than 36 inches, with Bettell
noting that numerous airlines are offering extended pitch standard
Economy Class seats as Premium Economy. “In our opinion, these
are not Premium Economy seats,” he says. CMI says there are more
than 36 airlines currently flying Premium Economy, based on its
definition, with the class experiencing considerable growth since it
was first launched in 1991.
Bettell also predicts the Economy Class cabin “fragmenting into
different offerings as the newer generation ‘value minded’ flying
public emerge. They need more comfort and are willing to pay extra
as it is a value experience requirement, but not as much as trading
up to Premium Economy or Business Class,” he says.
Fragmentation of the Economy Class cabin brings with it risks,
however, suggests Bettell. “ The elephant in the room for the airline
is policing a multiple seat offer in a common cabin under on title
of Economy Class. If there is an empty seat in a better living space
free, a canny person that has paid for the lowest ticket price could
change their place in the aircraft and enjoy the travel experience
they have not paid for. It can cause a difficult situation for the flight
crew to manage,” he explains.
Fragmentation at the back of the aircraft could also be accel-
erated by the new ultra-long-haul routes. “As flights get longer
16 hours plus flying — there has to be a change in passenger
density acceptance. I believe this will manifest in Economy cabin
fragmentation,” he says.
SIA opted for two-class configuration for the world’s existing
longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York. SIA’s
A350-900 Ultra-Long Range aircraft operating the route is equipped
with 67 Business Class and 94 Premium Economy seats.
◀ SIA’s Suites are described by the airline as a “personal oasis
complete with lavish furnishing and finishes”.
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