US Airlines Are Scrapping First Class Cabins

It seems that the writing is on the wall for first class cabins, but the reason why is guaranteed to come as something of a surprise.

US Airlines Are Scrapping First Class Cabins


American Airlines was the first US carrier to scrap first-class seats but it seems the trend is set to take hold across the country, and the reason why is guaranteed to come as something of a surprise.

For as long as air travel has been around, first class has been synonymous with the epitome of luxury that carriers can offer their customers. Usually perched at the very front of the aircraft, these exclusive (and expensive…) seats offer passengers ample space, enhanced customer service, and heightened privacy.

Especially prevalent on long-haul routes where airlines once embraced the opportunity to provide amenities rivalling those of a five-star hotel, first class also boasts expansive reclining seats, personal workstations, and top-end entertainment systems, all ensconced by private dividers or, in some cases, within totally separate rooms or ‘suites’.

WATCH: Emirates Launches Limited-Edition Onboard Whiskey Exclusively For First & Business Class

However, we find ourselves in the midst of a landmark shift, with many airlines opting to phase out first-class cabins in favour of revamped business class and ever-fancier premium economy seats. With modern business class seats flexing convertible lie-flat beds that were once the exclusive domain of first-class — Qatar Airways’ QSuites, for instance, presents a business class experience that closely mirrors the luxuries of first class — many feel that first class is becoming somewhat ‘pointless’…

But that’s not the only reason that first class is disappearing: the post-Covid era has seen an ongoing surge in the price of airfares, leading to a more price-conscious traveller who increasingly opts for the slightly more affordable indulgence of business class or the ever-more enhanced comforts of premium economy.

Bucking this trend, SIA has just introduced a wicked new first-class offer. Image: SIA

However, the real reason that first-class seats are being scrapped is one that might surprise you, given the exceptionally high cost of first-class seats, especially for long-haul routes: they barely make the airline any money. This was confirmed by Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker last year, who referred to first-class seats as “very expensive real estate” that doesn’t yield particularly attractive returns for airline shareholders.

This trend isn’t confined to American Airlines, with Air Canada, United Airlines, and Delta all discontinuing first-class services on non-domestic flights. When you consider that Qatar is rolling out a similar reconfiguration, we can expect this to be a global phenomenon in pretty short order.

‘Pointless’ First Class

Interestingly, it was also Akbar Al Baker who first declared that declared first class to be “pointless”. In contrast with other airlines like LufthansaQantas and Air France, who have all doubled down on their high-end offer in recent years, Al Baker’s rationale stems from his belief that the investment in opulent first-class seating fails to yield sufficient returns compared to the much-cheaper-but-still-immense perks offered in business class:

“Why [wouldn’t] you invest in a subclass of an airplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you? I don’t see the necessity.”

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO

For Al Baker, the future lies in business class, specifically the airline’s Q-suite product. His high-stakes vision has led the airline to exclude first-class cabins from its next-generation Boeing 777X aircraft, which will become the largest in the airline’s fleet once all ten of its Airbus A380s (which still feature eight first-class seats) are eventually retired.

So, if you consider yourself a frequent first-class flyer — a moniker for which I envy you dearly — it might be time to reconsider your options. Fear not, as there are plenty of world-beating business-class options out there, but the days of first-class seats are numbered…