BA ready to jettison a global first-class service

28.12.2009   (Times)
by David Robertson

British Airways is on the verge of abandoning a first-class service on a number
of its routes in the face of ever-rising standards of luxury offered by rivals.

Several Middle Eastern and Asian market carriers, including Singapore, Emirates,
Etihad and Jet, are lifting the first-class standard to feature individual cabins
with sliding doors for privacy, double beds, giant flat-screen TVs and expensive
leather upholstery.

But BA has decided that the new Boeing 777 aircraft, of which it will take delivery
next year, will have no first-class service. Although Britain’s flag carrier plans
to maintain the service on its Airbus A380s, due to arrive in 2012, analysts expect
that it will drop the first-class cabin from its new fleet of Boeing 787s when
they are delivered in two or three years.

Industry insiders said that some carriers had given up the first-class fight,
fearing that they could no longer compete with Asian and Middle Eastern rivals
in the battle for the wealthiest passengers.
However, they added that if BA was serious about competing on routes such as
London to Dubai or London to Singapore, it would probably have to include Middle
Eastern and Asian levels of luxury.

Tom Otley, editor in chief of Business Traveller magazine, said: "The Middle Eastern and Asian carriers will keep first because
there is the money available to justify it, but for everyone else, first will
be available on fewer and fewer routes."

Air France has 25% fewer first-class seats on its A380s than Singapore Airlines
or Emirates, and Lufthansa is eliminating first class on some of its routes.  
Even Qatar Airways has decided to do away with first on its new fleet of 777s
because many will serve ultra long-haul destinations and the economics do not
stack up.

Smaller carriers such as bmi and Virgin Atlantic have already done away with
first and have no intention of revisiting the concept.

Etihad, the national carrier of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, has won the World Travel
Award for best first class, having spent $70 million ( £44 million) developing
its product.

Peter Baumgartner, chief commercial officer of Etihad, said: "When you look at
a destination like Abu Dhabi it would be crazy not to have a first class. We have
to have the right product for our passengers and that means a certain level of
service. What is becoming standard is privacy on demand — that is what an airline
needs to deliver to compete in this sector now."

Etihad’s suites have sliding doors, which passengers can close and press a "do
not disturb" sign when they wish to sleep.

None of this comes cheap: first class with Etihad from London to Abu Dhabi costs
£2,767 one way. First class with Singapore Airlines from London to Singapore costs
£4,000 one way.

Will that be all, sir?

Minimum requirements individual cabins; flat beds 80 inches long; minimum 23 inch TV screen; video
on demand; personal fridge

Optional extras Branded leather upholstery (Etihad); showers (Emirates); largest first class
seat (Singapore); five-course meal and single malt whisky library (Jet)