Goodbye To United International First Class; Which Airline Will Be The Next To Axe First Class?

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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.

Mimi and I flew it to Rome last year and enjoyed it for the most part.

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…

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23 Comments On "Goodbye To United International First Class; Which Airline Will Be The Next To Axe First Class?"

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sam

dan where you by the kinus today?

rebecca

can you explain what you meant that united does not have what it take to make it on a corporate level? thanks i was having a hard time understanding what you wanted to say, also the old first class turned intopolaris why would they be better then the current polaris, that you recommended elites to pick those?

Klein

I currently have booked FRA – EWR on united 777-200, it has an old first class and is marketed as buisness, I was able to reserve the first class seat while paying for buisness award.

While booking it looked a bit confusing and did a google search but nothing came up @dan thanx for writing about this, it’s the first time I see this on united.

baccarat_guy

I believe that British Airways and American Airways have a market, though different. American has invested heavily in Flagship First Dining and improved Flagship First lounges. BA does differentiate with regard to soft-product (quite a bit). BA has also invested heavily in lounge product, though this also impacts those with OneWorld Status and Club. BA does differentiate with First Class preflight dining in a number of cities, including Boston. BA offers a lot of First Class seats, but they also price it accordingly. Often, not much more expensive than Club and/or offering upgrades to those who purchase Club. It’s nowhere near the first product offered by other airlines, but I believe it continues because there is a market. Especially with the huge (nonstop) reach of British Airways ex-LHR.

Ed

El Al’s seats remind me of hospital chairs all its missing is wheels

Born in NJ

I think premium economy is more like old coach and economy now is coach minus…

M

Recently flew premium economy to tlv and coach back. In premium economy u get a full small cup when they serve soda. In economy they only fill it halfway. And the way back you cannot bring any drinks with u on the plane even if you bought it in airport past security. Make sure to drink a lot in tlv airport…

Ez

Although I’m fully on board with you with child safety and car seats. It’s a shame that a child in the car seat has the same seat comfort regardless if he’s if the “Rolls Royce” of first class comfort or if he’s in a basic economy seat.

chaim

it;s interesting that businessweek had a article last week about the comeback of luxurious first class in airplanes

Yanky

Elal is officially completely retiring First class as well anyways as the 747/777 retire

So what is the point of your prediction and warning to them?

ELI

+100
Just flew UA 84 and UA 85 in J and it was Very very disappointing. First of all the plane was so old and dirty it was disgusting. Still trying to figure out what the hype of Polaris is al about. True there new EWR Polaris lounge is state of the art but that’s about it. Secondly I agree that the service is horrible. On both flights I wasn’t treated with extra care as I would expect in fact they had terrible attitude. Food was skimpy and no kosher wine.

I Flew with ELAL a few times in business with there old 747 and there service was much better. Much better food and good kosher wine. The treat you with white gloves the moment you come aboard till you leave. There new Dreamliner is also much nicer then uniteds old beat up station wagon.

@ Dan I know your a big United fan but I have to tell you I was terribly disappointed. Maybe you can clarify something to explain this.

Isaac

I just flew United from Israel to Newark, business class, and I thought it was pretty awful. I found the food adequate and minimal , at best, and the flight attendants have no clue as to how to treat a business class customer. They bordered on rude! I only flew with them because I had not choice.

Harry

You are wrong to say that El Al looks worse than business class on most airlines: it is a lot worse. Whoever heard of faux leather seats without direct aisle access in First Class. Oh, I know it is all to do with security, but we are the safest airline in the world, so fly with us. And did I forget to mention that our glatt kosher food sucks and we are more expensive than other airlines? Oh, and our cabin crew are belligerent and have an attitude. Aside from all that we are the best airline in the world!

menachem

Is there a way to get 2 seats on saver award to Singapore from London ?

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