United quietly killed off their international first class cabin last week.
Planes that still have the old first class seats are being converted to have the new Polaris business class seats. Elite members should be able to select those seats when flying business class on a plane with the old first class seating.
I’ve flown United international first class a few times.
The United first class seat was dated, but far more spacious and less claustrophobic than the new Polaris business class seat:
I’ve also flown to Hawaii in United’s international first class seat.
Back in 2014 we flew from Houston to Honolulu and United’s video on demand for first class consisted of movies that were on cassette disks that you borrowed and plugged into your seat:
Rafi sure enjoyed the abundant legroom:
United’s problem was that don’t have the corporate culture to make a first class cabin succeed in the 21st century. The best first class service experiences can be found on Asian carriers like ANA, JAL, and Singapore where you are made to feel truly special. European airlines like Lufthansa and Swiss are not quite up to that level, but they typically do a solid job as well in first class. United’s service is a mixed bag at best, even in first class. With other airlines ramping up their first class offerings, United was stagnant.
One of my favorite first class experiences was when I booked out the entire TAM first class cabin to Brazil for my then family of 4 in 2014 using 500K USAirways miles round-trip.
TAM first class:
Alas, TAM eliminated international first class a few years ago.
International first class in general is in trouble. As business class gets better, there is less of a reason to splurge for first class. Business class has become the old first class and premium economy has become the old business class.
American has been shifting away from international first class and it’s only a matter of time before they ditch it as well. Their 77W flagship international first class seat isn’t noticeably better than their 77W business class seat. American hardly has the service to justify a first class premium.
And then there is El Al with faux leather seats that lack direct aisle access and look worse than business class on most airlines:
First class is going to continue to be eliminated from airlines and airlines that keep it will only operate it on a shrinking subset of their fleet. The ones that are able to keep it going will be the airlines that can properly differentiate it.
That can be done with the Emirates or Etihad method of a shower onboard and a private suite:
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Or via the Cathay Pacific method of having an incredibly comfortable and spacious bed and seat:
Or via the ANA, JAL, and Singapore method of over-the-top service onboard and great seats:
Airlines that fail to innovate and differentiate in first class will find out as United did, that people won’t pay a premium for a subpar product. I’m looking at you American, British Airways, and El Al…