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First-class air travel is in decline (economist.com)
180 points by hvo 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 252 comments

Regarding the first class floor in Dubai, it's not that empty, it's just designed to seem spacious and quiet in order to differentiate from the crowded business floor. But you need to keep in mind that the vast majority of passengers there are just platinum card holders like myself, not actually flying first class. Indeed first class is slowly dying out, I think one thing they miss is that business class has become more and more comfortable across nearly all airlines (especially Emirates on the 380).

One thing they don't mention is the proliferation of private terminals/lounges for commercial flights. There's a lot of these in LHR. They have their own security checkpoints, and you're ferried by limo straight to the plane, to board first. So you get some of the advantages of flying private, but at a much lower cost (still upwards of 10k a year to get a membership I believe)

Yep - we're living in the golden age of business class travel. Business class on every major international airline has some variation of a reverse herringbone lie-flat seat, which is the killer feature for paying for a premium seat in the first place (e.g. some privacy + lie flat seat).

Yet you have to resort to hacks like this [0] to find cheap business airfares. None of the flight search sites can find cheapest biz flights from continent to continent. Script below opens 40 tabs and with a bit of clicking I found 1900usd return flight aussie to europe...

There's also some weird bugs where economy class Malaysia Airlines leg would be inserted when searching for biz. Kiwi.com straight up renders 0 biz flights when using their continent-to-continent search.


I recently saved ~$4000 on a round trip business class ticket from the US to South America. Instead of departing from Denver, I departed from Newark. This was very strange as I was on United which is a hub in both cities. I guess United really wants people to check out their new Polaris lounges?

It seems like they should be able to pack more people into economy for long-haul flights, and make them more comfortable, by simply eliminating seats and replacing them with bed-pods. They'd be like little tubes you could crawl into and lie down in. They could have a monitor on the ceiling if you want to watch a movie, and otherwise you can just curl up and go to sleep (something that's usually very uncomfortable in an economy airline seat).

Sometimes I think the end-game for transportation is personal transportation pods that get docked into a self-driving-car/subway/train/ferry/airplane system. You'd load up your family pods with your favorite bedding/pillows/devices/books/toys before your trip, wheel them out to the curb, hop inside, and hail a Waymo. The car would arrive, dock with the pods, ferry you to the airport, scan you & your luggage for dangerous items on the way, and then drive straight out to the tarmac to load you into a plane. Plane takes off, gets to its destination, and then a small shuttle-tug drags your pods to the subway. They eventually offramp (without stopping) to another self-driving car, which pops the pods into an elevator and take you straight up to your hotel room. If you're asleep in the pod you could keep sleeping the whole way, otherwise you can unpack and have a real bed there, then hop into a seated family pod for sightseeing the next day.

It's like intermodal containers for people. For short-haul flights it could cut door-to-door travel time by 2/3, since so much of it is taken up by ground transportation, waiting, ticketing, waiting, security, waiting, rental car counters, and more waiting.

>Sometimes I think the end-game for transportation is personal transportation pods that get docked into a self-driving-car/subway/train/ferry/airplane system. You'd load up your family pods with your favorite bedding/pillows/devices/books/toys before your trip, wheel them out to the curb, hop inside, and hail a Waymo.

No. You seem to be ignoring basic physics: this pod would be huge, compared to the space currently occupied in a modern plane by your bodies and your luggage. Your idea would work if you're willing to pay 1st-class prices for airfare, maybe.

I was also thinking some advanced economy origami seats that fold out into 3 level bunk beds.

Apparently it's all about "safety" - all passengers are supposed to evacuate in 2 minutes or something. Apparently it's quite hard when you are in a pod or something.

I don't care about all the fancy stuff you get in biz, just wanna straighten my body (especially with 20 hour flights becoming a norm). Half of my femur doesn't even fit in economy seat. Heck I could even sleep on that cold as floor, but of course they won't let you.

Exiting the aircraft is more about the other people in the way, than getting out of your seat/pod. But, I can imagine the authorities not caring about that.

Some busses can blow out the windows, so you can exit the bus directly from your seat.

So just pop all the pod passengers out their window portals like torpedos.

Nearly half of the space in the aircraft is unused for 99% of the flight: the space between the top of the seat and the luggage bins.

I’ve seen some designs over the years that would take advantage of this space, but think it’s unlikely.

The cost of developing an alternate design would be incredibly high (especially when you consider the safety and regulatory requirements), and the the net result is more comfortable seating that would cause a portion of highly- profitable business class travelers to move to these cheaper seats.

Maybe such an opportunity will be exploited by an upstart looking to grab market share.

I’ve developed such a seating concept! I’m presenting it to airlines at the largest aircraft interiors show next month. PM me please. I like your thoughts on the topic.

Seat designs are tightly regulated to allow quick evacuation.

And what's the purpose of that? If anything happens in-flight, most likely you're all going to be dead anyway. It's very, very rare that passengers are actually able to escape a plane that's crashed; the "Sully" incident is one of the few that come to mind at the moment.

Evacuations on the ground, after a bad landing, during taxi, even at the gate, are a thing.

I’ve invented a “bunk bed” seating concept designed for long haul flights. High density sleeping pods with basic lie flat beds at Premium Economy Class pricing. God pitch for YC? If you know any open minded investors please let me know:)

The first class lounge is the same size as the business class lounge below it, and I ran the numbers at some point. If I recall, based on the number of daily departures and seat distributions the business section caters to 1000 business class seats at any given time, where the first floor caters to 100. Yeah, it’s as designed.

The math doesn't check out. Emirates offers first on their whole fleet. They have ~240 daily departures (best I can work out).We can assume they have 4+ pax per departure (their planes have 8-14 first seats and are have decent load factors, so my estimates is likely way lower than reality to be safe). This adds up to 1,000+ first class departures daily, and that's without counting people who have access based on status.

Sorry if I wasn't clear, I meant "up to, at any given time".

Yep, 240 daily departures is about right, 8-14F is easy too because of their consistent fleet. They've also got load factors around 77% [1].

The first class terminal is inside Concourse A (and IIRC, it's a long way to any other concourses). There's 12 gates at Concourse A IIRC (each with direct boarding from the lounge). Assuming each is an A380 with 12F, that's a peak of 144 people, or right around 110 assuming F load factors are consistent with their fleet average (although I seriously doubt it).

It's napkin math obviously, without access to internal data. It's also not so easy as averaging because Emirates operates a partially banked hub at Dubai so there's a whole bunch of arrivals and departures clustered together (check their early morning departures).

The "not having to see/deal with other people while you're waited on" is the value proposition of the DXB F lounge. Each of the top-tier global airlines has a different service philosophy for catering to high-value pax. For instance, Singapore waits on you hand and foot hoping to anticipate anything you could want. Cathay Pacific on the other hand FAs tend to leave you alone assuming you value your privacy, and you're supposed to use the call button (which is basically a starters pistol -- seriously, they'll be there in 7 seconds flat).

[1] https://www.emirates.com/media-centre/emirates-group-announc...

Those are daily numbers, the parent said “at any given time”, so both of your numbers seem to match.

That's incorrect. Emirates operates some aircraft with a two-class configuration.

Not yet. They will be when they take delivery of new planes and reconfigure their 772LR, but as of right now they only fly 777s and 380s in 3-class configuration. Perhaps you're thinking of Etihad or Qatar or EK's partner flydubai.


Can I ask what you do and how to get into your line of work?

Nothing special, just manager in a software dev shop that works with a lot of airlines/airports.

As soon as your customers are abroad there is a lot of international travel involved for the management levels of any company. Although more and more companies are cutting back and making people fly coach :/

If you have to fly more than a few long hauls a year, business class is necessary to preserve your sanity.

I agree with this and, previously, rsync.net has always paid for me to fly in business class when I need to work in our international locations.

But lately, I have gotten very picky about which legs I will pay the premium for business class.

I follow the (very effective) jetlag avoidance rule of staying awake all the way through to the next local nighttime, and then going to bed tired after being awake 24-36 hours (even if my body clock thinks it's 10am or whatever).

In order to do this, however, I sometimes need to stay awake for the entire flight - and that is hard to do in a nice big comfortable seat. I also need to spend a few hours standing and reading in order to stay awake.

All of this makes the business class premium not worth paying. I don't want to be comfortable. I don't want the lie-flat bed.

So if my flight leaves Zurich at 15:00 and I am scheduled to land at SFO at 21:00, it would be silly for me to sleep on the flight for ~3 hours and then be wide awake at night when I land. In this example I fly coach and stay awake (and save $3k).

But if my flight leaves SFO at 22:00 and lands in Hong Kong at 12:00, I will pay for business class and actually sleep (and wake up about 3 hours pre-landing at 09:00 local time).

It really is a function of how often you fly and perhaps your age/health and what condition you need to be when you get to where you are going (e.g. can you take a day off to recover).

If you are doing three international flights a year for work, economy class is fine (I can catch up on movies). If you are doing them once a month, economy all the time can easily become rage inducing. Business class at that point becomes a matter of whether you retain that employee (who you need to travel a lot) or not.

We just hired a guy who worked the last few years at HP, and they had him traveling internationally once a week (out and back) on flights routinely 10 hours or more. And they would only pay for coach. He has a crazy number of frequent flier miles, but damn, I wouldn't have lasted nearly that long before finding another place to work. Even premium economy, while much better than plain coach, is cramped and terrible when you're stuck in it for more than half a day.

What did this guy do for HP that he needed to travel so far and frequently for?

If he flies that often, he is likely getting upgraded most of the time. Upgrade to business is usually free, then you can use points to further upgrade to first.

Not on international routes.


I used to fly twice per week (round trip, basically every ~3 days, just over 2h each way) for years, mostly coach. Not nearly long haul but I still wonder if that's responsible for the current state of my sanity :). Also I got to witness the shrink of leg room, as a person at 1.95m/6'4". My legs fared a lot worse than my mind.

> as a person at 1.95m/6'4". My legs fared a lot worse than my mind.

As a fellow tall person, I've idly wondered (but no more than that) if there could be cause to petition for people above some height (6'2" maybe? hard to say since it's really hip height and femur length that matter) to be considered a protected class, requiring a free upgrade if a certain minimum leg room was not available in a standard seat. I've had to do trans-Atlantic flights with my knees smashed, surviving only by frequent standeeism and my wife's good graces letting me take up part of her seat space.

I've seen some people use devices to block the person in front of them from reclining, but I'd rather not be that level of asshole. On the other hand often on domestic flights my knees are that device.

I go through the same every time. But being tall (intrinsically by birth, with no "fix") is always considered a blessing. It will never be seen as a protected class. You will never even get much sympathy because of this.

Don't expect it to ever trigger the same reaction as obesity does, which is treated as a curse and an illness (regardless of the underlying cause and whether it can be fixed or not), and is much more likely to fall into a protected class via the "physical impairment that significantly limits your ability in one or more major areas of life" legal definition. There is no fear of public backlash, bad PR, etc. pushing companies into giving you any (positive) special treatment so you'll just have to deal with it.

To be honest I'll more than gladly live with the disadvantages of being tall (mostly related to seating situations) given the advantages. :)

> To be honest I'll more than gladly live with the disadvantages of being tall (mostly related to seating situations) given the advantages. :)

I used to think this way, now my back has convinced me that it truly is a curse.

since it's really hip height and femur length that matter

That probably sounds strange to some people, but I think this is an issue that is often ignored. I'm 5'9", which is by no means tall and is considered "average" height, yet all the men in my family have long femurs and high hips, but short torsos (the opposite of the typical Asian body ratio). Even at my moderate height, coach is extremely uncomfortable for me because I just can't get enough leg room to be able to relax and not contort myself.

Fortunately, I've noticed that when flying coach in SE Asia, the flight crew will put me (and the other Anglo-Saxon passengers if there are only a few) in the exit row to offset some of that.

In my limited experience so far, both my (public) employers were happy to pay for emergency exit seats due to my height.

Sometimes you don't have the option. Usually you can't book those seats with online checkin. And the people at the checkin counter will be allowed to give you the emergency exit or not based on what category of ticket you bought. If you bought the ticket with a very low price, a special offer, etc. you have low chances of ever receiving any upgrades. If you paid a full price within the same class you may get something.

Most of the times when I showed up with a full price company bought ticket (coach) they would offer an emergency exit seat even without me asking. Almost never when I traveled privately with the same airline but bought the cheapest coach tickets I could get.

Sometimes I fly low cost because I know I can get the extra leg room with minimal hassle.

Sure, but that's besides the point (and not applicable for personal trips). Should I (or my employer) have to pay more money to get reasonable accommodations on a flight due to my physical nature? Surely there would be an uproar if an airline started charging extra for accommodating people with disabilities?

My company makes me fly coach. However, when booking business trips I tried to stick to one airline, and made sure to use my personal frequent flyer number I just kept raking up points until I hit platinum membership, then I can use the points to upgrade to business.

I fly coach for work. One time I got upgraded (by one of the C-Level people with a ton of frequent flyer points card) be to business class. Oh my god! So much room. I kind of wish it had not happened. Now coach feels worse than before. Lol. need to find a better company.

It’s a bit crazy if you are asked to fly pretty much every month.

The least they can do is make it comfortable.

Definitely. I fly once or twice a month, often for very short periods (2-3 days). I wouldn't be of any use whatsoever if I ahd just spent 9 hours in an economy cabin... I used to organise my trips to stay the weekend and do a bit of tourism, but since I've had children I feel too guilty :)

Yeah, the older I get, the more I realize the need to be comfortable on a flight, especially if you want to be productive after you arrive.

"if you want to be productive after you arrive" Many people who don't travel for work do not seem to understand this. Unlike leisure travelers, there is no time to rejuvenate. If you fly coach, which in my experience is not all that terrible on international flights, you do end up weary and jet lagged. The one time I flew business, the difference post landing was quite noticable. So yeah, while I don't really crave for the business class comforts during the flight, the reward post landing is worth the premium.

I wonder how much evidence there is for this effect. How much is “wow, my employer spent money on me, i must be important and valued” vs actual physical function improvement.

A cheque (or flexible per firm) could do the job of the former.

For the latter, if I’m going somewhere nice, i’d Rather they book me a hotel room for a couple nights instead of a lie flat seat.

Business is a lot less stress (they take care of everything for you the entire way; you get what you want, when you want it.)

Being bunched up in an uncomfortable position for that long in coach vs being able to lie down is a huge difference.

For an overnight flight, it's the difference between just sleeping through it and (however many) hours of hell staring blearly forward in a pained stupor, losing consciousness for a few minutes before waking up to shrieking pains from your neck and shoulder, trying unsuccessfully to sleep in a more ergonomic position before you are so tired you cradle against the window again for that precious ten minutes before the strain and impingement shake you awake..

I've tried a couple different neck pillows and they don't work for me. My head has got to be tilted downward or to the side, no matter how sleep deprived I am.

Oh, and if I go a night w/out sleep, I'm going to be 100% useless the next day and have a major impact for the next couple days while I recover.

I'm tall and employ myself. The actual physical function improvement between coach and business is just incredible, especially for long haul flights.

If you ever get to fly first class (I have only twice), the entire flight experience is starkly different. I am 6'4", even with an economy plus upgrade the experience is horrible. I don't want to be catered to, I just want leg room. I shouldn't be in constant leg pain you know?

I was traveling cross-country with a friend a few weeks back. Between being able to go through TSA Pre with me, my club membership, and an upgrade to Polaris she was somewhat in awe of how the experience didn’t suck like it usually did.

At what point will people be able to sue airlines in the US for causing health issues with how cramped seats are?

Do you think that the situation in most of Europe, especially with budget airlines, is much different?

It’s fine when flying just an hour. It’s different if you fly to the other side of the world.

Exit row seats should meet your needs.

Check on seatguru before booking any flights.

Exit row seats are now premium seats that have a surcharge.

And far cheaper (last I saw was $50 for an overnight transatlantic flight) than an upgrade to the premium economy/business/first class seats (double fare or more).

Still only half of my femur fits on that economy seat. On 17-20 hour flight it's still major pain.

So I can pay several thousand more for business class, or I can arrive a day early and pay <1k for an additional night + expenses.

The math here is simple.

> Only if you don't value your employee's time.

I don't understand this logic. Time == money. Unless your presence is crucial and you must minimize your time away from your home office this approach seems the most logical and cost effective.

I'm already 100% remote, so I can contribute effectively whether I'm at home or in a hotel recuperating from a 12 hour APAC flight in coach.

This works perfectly fine, but I’d honestly want to minimize random time spent away from my wife and child.

It’s ok if you only fly once in a blue moon, but if you have to travel multiple times a month, you cannot just keep padding every trip with 2 days extra.

Flying business I can reasonably work during the flight, and for overnight flights I can sleep. Which reduces the productivity loss due to lack of sleep (I arrive with a few hours of sleep) and jetlag (adjustment happens quicker than when I didn't sleep for 30h and my schedule is entirely shot to hell). Whether you arrive early or not seems like a separate angle from whether it's worth having people fly business.

Yeah. I like flying business but with the exception of the rare tight schedule I’m almost always going to travel on a long trip a day or two early to adjust to time zones and otherwise acclimate anyway.

Simple only for folks whose value of one day will be small fraction of business class ticket cost.

Only if you don't value your employee's time.

If they cut me in on the savings, I’d be willing to deal with a lot. +$100/hr to sit with reduced leg room on any non-overnight flight? Sign me up.

The same for flights requiring a connection. Want me to sit in an airport reading HN for +$20/hr? Ok.

You might want to look into Rocketrip (https://www.rocketrip.com). Their product is pretty much what you just described - you don't get straight cash, but you can get prepaid visa cards that get close.

Cool product. My flights are generally personally booked, and I basically compare as I described.

What I would like is an engine where I can punch in the various kinds of pain per hour I can tolerate and book that.

Keep in mind that a day of work is charged between 1300 and 1500 USD to the client. So if you add an extra day of rest on each side there's not much difference

There are lots of sales jobs that are going to be this way.

Getting platinum on Emirates is not terribly difficult. We don't as a policy fly business or first class but we do frequently enough that we get the status and access to the lounge which is great. You can even bring along a fellow passenger with you.

More than that actually. You can nominate someone to be gold once a year, so they get access + a guest to the business lounge. And you yourself can invite on adult and two children as guests to the first lounge ... it's quite generous

Wait, why Board first? Then everyone stares you down. Stay in the lounge and board last!

Probably to make the whole process speedier and cheaper for the airline.

You'd have to completely finish boarding for lower classes and then give a decent grace period for first class passengers to just show up at their leisure.

Also first class (and often business) are kinda separated so no one stares you down.

I fly premium economy sometimes and you're the first to board and sit upfront and then you have to watch everybody walking by!

It's a world of difference between premium economy and business, sigh.

Norwegian Air Shuttle had a pretty cool idea with their premium cabin. It's not crazy expensive but the seats are so much better!

First class boarding first is absolutely the wrong way to speed up boarding. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAHbLRjF0vo

The few times I flew business it wasn't separated. I felt really awkward while economy passengers were boarding and staring at me in my seat while walking down the aisle.

When I'm flying economy (most of the time) I always avoid staring at business passengers so they don't feel awkward as well.

Keep in mind that on most big planes, first is either to the left of the entrance, or on a different tunnel/floor

I wonder if those aircraft timesharing services are eating away at first class. Maybe there are even "uber for planes"? (or would that be airbnb for air?)

Even Exxon only pays business class. I don't think I have heard of any companies giving first class tickets.

Fog Creek?

"When developers go to a conference, do they fly first class? (I don’t care if that seems like a waste of money. Stars go first class. Get used to it.) "


I think he was talking about domestic first class. Tech was even more americentric back then.

What I learned from that article is that he helped kill a visual programming language project at Microsoft that could have revolutionized the way non-programmers interact with computers (the rest is interesting, of course).

Visual programming is an oxymoron

Programmers often get this idea that programming has to be "hard" to be "programming". Perl vs. C++, Visual Basic vs C++, Ruby vs. Java, etc.

Check out these:

- Pure Data (http://puredata.info/)

- Max (https://cycling74.com/products/max-features)

- My own (discontinued): http://www.nitrogenlogic.com/docs/palace/

My MO with technology is that easy things should be automated, and hard things should be made easier. Visual programming is one tool in the toolbox for leveling up technology and people's access to it.

It doesn’t but it is hard to do it right, see my comment here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19350721

https://scratch.mit.edu/ is visual programming (dragging puzzle pieces) and it really opens up programming to all kinds of young kids, girls who want to make animations, and so forth. I programmed a prototype of my first Android app with a version of this called MIT App Inventor.

GoAnywhere is mostly-visual programming that puts light ETL within reach of business analysts. https://i.imgur.com/ypH6IZC.png

Visual programming isn’t scallable or transferrable. Giving such powers to people to use in production is super risky. Ok to prototype, but letting people design enterprise systems with 0 knowledge about system design or source control is extremely risky.

Yes empowering people is great, but we live in age where software developement is about to get regulated, people routinely die from seemingly innocent systems.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Indeed. Although of course for a company like Exxon the top mgmt are probably flying private jets...

The rare times I fly first it's just upgrades due to frequent flyer status

I know people with global services who have never got a first class upgrade. Any secret on how to get first class? Any airline to pick?

I am Executive Platinum on American. I fly business class a lot, and have been able to get first class upgrades pretty easily. The first class product is very similar to business class - just slightly "fancier" food. I actually prefer the business class seat on AA's long haul flights (way more storage space for ipad, headphones, etc. - at the cost of a slightly narrower seat).

The trick to getting most upgrades from business to first is to request the upgrade as soon as you book the biz class flight. You're not likely to get it if you try to do it at the airport.

The real secret is to pick the right flight! There are certain flights that are always jam-packed in business, this gives you two opportunities. The first step is to check-in last minute at the desk. The next step depends on your situation:

1) You don't have any holidays coming up: Go to the dedicated desk for first/platinum, about 2h before departure. Just check in and if business is full your status will get you pushed up

2) You do plan on taking holidays: Same, but the first question you ask is "do you need volunteers for downgrade?". Trust me, on Emirates they make it worth your while :)

Edit: the protip is the weekday Emirates India-Dubai flights that leave in the small hours of the morning (e.g. 2am). I guarantee the business section will always be overbooked

It’s common in the entertainment business, like it’ll be in the contract for movie stars, top producers, people like that.

Are there companies that give first class for normal employees? I know a lot of companies have a private jet for their C suite.

Didn't SAG's contract renegotiation a few years back end that? I thought now it was business class only. That was the impetus for United killing first class on their LAX-NYC service.

It's also rumored that United lost a lot of entertainment business when they killed their LAX-JFK service and moved everything to Newark. AA still flies a 3-class plane on LAX/SFO-JFK with lie-flat seats in business and first.

This isn't news.

Premium airlines (eg Qatar) have long since realized that there simply isn't sufficient demand for first-class so their newer planes don't even have a first class cabin. A big factor is the business class is the new first class. To compare to flying 20+ years ago on international long haul:

- You'd be flying on a 747

- Economy would be slightly larger probably

- What was then "business" is probably more akin to premium economy now with better food

- Business now is better than first class then but first class then probably has more hand-holding. I mean look at a Qatar Qsuite if you want to see how far business has come.

I heard a story when Concorde was shelved that the decision to retire the product was:

- Planes would need to be brought up to modern standards, which was going to be expensive for 13 (originally 14) planes for a relatively small market. Seriously, the interior of those planes are small; and

- Retiring Concorde would bring passengers who would otherwise fly Concorde to flying first-class, which at the time was much more profitable.

Not sure how close to the truth this is but I can believe it. Obviously it's sad that we lost a capability we once had (crossing the Atlantic in <4 hours) but I wonder if BA/AF looked at this too short term. I mean sure first-class is (was) more profitable but then you're competing with every other airline when supersonic was a duopoly with a barrier to entry that was practically infinite.

Was flying Business class 20 years ago. It was somewhere between premium economy and business today. Better food, better seats than current premium economy. No lie flats iirc. Upgrades were easier though.

A friend compared first class today to having a handler for the duration of the trip.

I thought business just became first and premium economy became business class so airlines could get around blind booking restrictions against first class.

The apartment/suite class is a relatively new marketing gimmick that has nothing to do with traditional first class.

That's pretty much accurate. Except that they've really devalued domestic economy in a lot of cases, with crammed together seats and so on.

Premium economy isn’t really business class. The seats are the same width as economy and you don’t get the extra level of service you get in business. Just some extra legroom which I appreciate.

You do sometimes get meals but they’re the old standard inedible coach meals I mostly pass on.

Added: Wasn’t aware of mostly recent premium economy additions on some airlines. I was taking it as a synonym for Economy Plus.

There's a few hard/soft products that are grouped as premium economy.

On domestic flights there's "Comfort" seats, which give you more legroom (and free snacks and drinks on US domestic flights). On international flights "Comfort" seats still exist, but on some flights there's true premium economy, which does have wider seats (e.g. the A350 on Delta's fleet is 2-4-2 seating in premium economy vs 3-3-3 in coach).

You get better meal service (my experience on Delta is it's plated and brought out in a similar fashion to domestic first class) and domestic parts of the journey will sometimes book into first class.

Comfort pricing is usually $50-150 more per leg vs coach. Premium economy is usually somewhere in between coach and business, leaning a bit more towards the coach side.

That’s not really Premium Economy, that’s more like Economy Plus. Long haul PE seats are similar to domestic US first class seats.

BA premium economy has wider seats with more leg room as far as I can tell, the same food as club (ie. upgraded from economy), your own arm rests and better in flight entertainment (a larger screen).

This is also true of Virgin Atlantic. I generally fly long haul with them whenever I can and when I do I always fly Premium Economy. It's well worth the upgrade.

Ok. I usually fly United. There Economy Plus is mostly just more legroom.

That’s United’s extra leg room product which is distinct from their premium economy product. That product is only available on long haul flights.

Has anyone told these airlines that these new class names are confusing branding nightmares. Premium Economy? Economy Plus? Economy Comfort? Which one’s better? Who knows?

Reminds me of the ol’ USB High Speed vs. USB Full Speed. I still don’t remember which one is faster.

I had to name the speed settings on an old 802.11 radio link. Started with 1-10MBit with names like standard speed, full speed, high speed. Added mega speed, hyper speed, ultra speed, mondo speed, maxi-speed, ludicrous speed to get to 200MBit.

I am pretty sure it's their intention. Making products difficult to compare is marketing 101.

Don’t forget steerage, excuse me, basic economy.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a premium economy product on United and I fly 75K miles on them per year. There’s economy, economy plus, and either old-style business or, increasingly, Polaris even on domestic flights.

Added: Ah, haven’t seen it because it’s just starting to roll out on United.

United is still introducing “Premium Plus”, very few planes have the new seats.


Interesting. Didn’t know that. I know they’ve really been promoting Polaris. Didn’t know they were introducing something below it.

It's a really new addition to United's offerings. I flew LAX-SYD in November on a United 787 and that plane only had Economy Plus/slightly more legroom.

That depends. For example, I fly Air New Zealand to and from Australia fairly frequently. AirNZ PE has more legroom, yes, but also fewer seats per row, wider seats and better meals. For a time they had the Spaceseats, which were 1-2-1 layout. That was great though the attendants told me they hated it since people had trouble with the tilt controls.

I've flown PEs more like yours but this seems to be a factor more of US domestic airlines and is certainly not universal.

Air NZ international PE is fantastic. Comfortable spacious seats and the same food as Business Premier. You basically only miss out on the lie flat bed and the fancy drinks.

For the most part you're correct. With Cathray Pacific long haul, PE is a domestic first class seat and service.

That's only true of some airlines on some planes.

The thing is that modern lie flat business class seats like United/Polaris are already way more comfortable than first class was in the “old days.” There’s a big win to flying business. The incremental win of flying first given that you still need to deal with much of the same airport/commercial airline stuff is fairly limited.

If it's really First Class, I'd expect private terminal (or at least entrance), straight into lounge while someone checks you in/deals with baggage etc, personalized security at your convenience, then collect from the lounge and private car to the plane at your convienience (between boarding and doors close).

For Business class I'd expect the normal 'dedicated' security and checking, lounge, and 'fast' boarding, and a flat bed but that's about it.

That was mostly never part of the package if you flew first class in the 70s or so though.

There are very few airports where this is the case. FRA is one of the only airports with the setup you’re describing.

Off-topic: That site's design could use some refinement. Took me a while to even figure out how to get to the actual content (scrolling didn't work in Firefox or Chrome, I had to click the little white arrow).

LHR, LAX and a few others. Like I said, very few.

LHR has that service (for BA at least). It was great when the kids were small, less useful now.

Virgin Atlantic too, although you still have to walk from security to the lounge

Would highly recommend the YouTube video below [0] from Wendover, which went pretty in-depth on the economics of airline classes a while ago, and how first-class was the least profitable for the airlines. :)

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzB5xtGGsTc

Interesting. I saw a video that explained exactly the opposite.

First class pays for the flight and the rest is filled up so no space goes to waste.

The video states that business class is the most profitable per square foot, and economy is only there to fill up the plane. First was in between

Ah, yes okay, that's right. Then I had it wrong, sorry!

Can you please link that video? This video made a compelling point on why first class does not pay and I would love to hear the contrarian perspective.

I'll be honest, although the environmental impact of first class is higher than economy, I'm not sure it's really as bad as people claim.

First of all, fuel use goes down with less weight. One first class passenger reduces weight substantially vs. a claimed 3-9 economy passengers. Secondly, airlines don't like to fly with a lot of unused capacity, be that passenger seats or weight capacity. Many planes carry extra cargo if there's consistently extra weight available.

Now, then you get into economic effects: the presence of the lighter first class passengers allows more cargo to be brought, which reduces demand, which reduces the cargo price, which encourages more polluting air freight. But that, of course, is far more complex to calculate.

Ultimately I'm just not satisfied with any estimate of CO2 emitted by flying in general. Every estimate I've seen has critical flaws in it and neglects at least one major component of flying. I completely believe that flying is responsible for a large amount of CO2 emissions, but exactly how much I don't think anyone knows for sure.

Has anyone here seen a decent model of CO2 output caused by flying?

> Ultimately I'm just not satisfied with any estimate of CO2 emitted by flying in general. > Has anyone here seen a decent model of CO2 output caused by flying?

The CO2 impact of flying, and of flying first-class, is understood incredibly well and quite simple to follow for first-order effects.

First, to calculate the emissions associated with the sector as a whole, you don't need any modeling. If you know how much of what fuel the sector as a whole consumes, you can determine co2 emissions directly from that fact. That's how those broader statistics are determined.

Second, losing one passenger impacts the fuel economy per person in a very negative way. Consider an Airbus A321, which is one of the more efficient commercial airplanes. Wikipedia states that its max takeoff weight is 93,000kg. Suppose it's configured to seat 220 people. That means 422kg of weight being transported per person. A typical airline seat weighs 11kg and an average adult is over 70kg. If you assume an average of 50kg per person for luggage, each person's marginal contribution to the weight being transported is 131kg. The rest is coming from moving the plane itself. So, if you replace two small seats with one big one, that one seat now goes from having a share of 422kg to (422 * 2 - 131) = 713kg. That's an increase of 69%.

Edit: I realized I'm looking at max capacity for total weight but not max weights per passenger, which means my guess of the plane weight is overstated. But I also didn't account for the fact that first class also requires more flight attendants on the flight. These two things counter each other. The net increase is likely something other than 69%, but that's not too far off.

Yes, there are other market impacts from using first class, but there's no basis for thinking those are anywhere close to the impact described above. (E.g., you can do the calculations for offsetting 50kg of cargo from another plane.)

What's a little less certain is the impact of radiative forcing. CO2 emissions are a dangerously _understated_ way to think about climate impacts of flying. CO2e (co2 equivalent) is more relevant. When you release water vapor, NOx, etc. into the atmosphere at higher elevations, there are all sorts of other impacts that occur at different timescales. The IPCC recommends multiplying by a factor of 2.7x to account for that. Other studies are a bit lower, maybe 1.9x, but there's general agreement that it's very bad. The specifics still need to be understood a bit better.

People have incredible wishful thinking when it comes to flying because it's so convenient. It is impossible to act responsibly towards the environment and engage in air travel with any form of technology that exists today or that we know of. It's hard to imagine many things more hypocritical than first-class passengers who also claim environmental concern.

> The CO2 impact of flying, and of flying first-class, is understood incredibly well

No, it's not! If you look at NGOs and charities, you find massively different numbers, even for flights with the same characteristics.

I have yet to find a decent model that takes into account everything: cargo, class, seat layouts, personal weight, etc etc. For example, Googling tells me every extra kg of weight burns 0.2-0.7kg of fuel per flight (naturally highly dependent on flight time, aircraft type, current weight etc etc.) If you take 3.15 g CO2/g fuel, and a 2.7x CO2e factor, that's 8.5 kg CO2e/kg fuel. So someone weighing 136 kg (several million Americans weigh more than this [0]) will cause up to 511.7 kg CO2e more emissions than someone weighing 50 kg will! That's more than half a ton of CO2e, and that's just in a simple body weight difference! Throw in a checked bag and a heavier carryon and you're well on your way to a ton of extra CO2e per person for longer flights.

The case of first class also depends strongly on airline-dependent factors: how many economy passengers a first class seat displaces, as well as the weight of the first class seat/bed and other things taken along to improve the journey for first class (blankets? food? a large wine selection? additional attendants, as you mentioned?)

It's an equation with an insane number of variables, as well as economic effects. Example:

There's a weekly (short) flight from <island> to <mainland> that's barely profitable, kept alive by a few passengers flying in first class. In this case, the impact of the first class is huge! Airport fees and taxes ensure that the profits from each additional economy passenger are low, but every first class passenger has a very high impact on the viability of the route.

Furthermore, like you said, there's radiative forcing caused by aviation, of which CO2 only contributes perhaps half. Contrails can contribute far more to global warming than CO2 emissions can, for a flight, depending on the weather. There are NOx emissions which have a cooling effect, which is based on altitude. So a short flight in warm weather in South America will have a much different emissions profile than a long-haul from Canada to Iceland.

I'm going to make a bold claim: the CO2e per passenger kilometer can vary by at least one order of magnitude depending on the flight characteristics (airline, weather, route, direction, location, aircraft, etc) - before you take class into account!

> No, it's not! If you look at NGOs and charities, you find massively different numbers, even for flights with the same characteristics.

Aside from those two sentences, nothing you've written contradicts anything I'm saying, and it's mostly orthogonal to the point.

It is obviously true that a lot of factors can affect the weight of an airplane, and the CO2e impact of a flight will vary based on that weight. And weight is one of many factors, as you mention at the end. But just because something is complicated and may seem overwhelming does not mean that the academic community engaged in researching the topic doesn't understand it.

It isn't possible to know a priori what the impact of a specific flight will be, and it isn't practical to determine the exact ratio of impact of a first-class to economy passenger on one specific flight. But nobody is making that claim, since that isn't how people think about systems in any large-scale domain like this. Instead, we look at large data sets and examine statistical relationships.

Your comment seems to be imply that because the system is high-variance with many variables, it is impossible to understand it in useful ways. That is clearly not the case. If it were, we wouldn't be unable to make decisions about virtually anything in the world outside of extremely narrow domains, and rational policy-making would be impossible. The number of variables in this domain is nothing compared to public health, for example. We can talk about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing infection even though there are a million variables affecting it with numerous outlier cases. In the same way, we can talk about the impact of flying first-class. (In fact, we can do better re: flying because there we have better analytical modeling in addition to the datasets.)

You claim that one would find massively different numbers among researchers. That hasn't been my experience as I've sought ought out detailed information online. Here are just a few references as a starting point:

  * 2008 Union of Concerned Scientists: https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/greentravel_report.pdf -- Chapter 2 is on air travel and very high-level, but Appendix B provides more detailed numbers across various parameters. It only considers CO2, not CO2e.

  * 2009 academic study, Oxford prof: https://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/downloads/jardine09-carboninflights.pdf -- finds that on average, there's a 2x difference in per-passenger emissions between the most dense and least dense seating configurations.

  * 2013 World Bank study: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/141851468168853188/pdf/WPS6471.pdf -- outlines analytical models that include the different variables you're mentioning (and many more), and examines variance in the results as those parameters are adjusted.
The results from all of these studies are consistent across broad parameters (in particular the impact of seating configuration). In fact, it's clear that my back-of-the-envelope calculation of a 69% increase due to first-class is pretty much the lower bound.

[Note, I said in my original answer that the impact of radiative forcing is still being understood, so I'm not talking about that. I intentionally said that CO2 impact is well understood at the start and called out CO2e as a distinct notion for that reason.]

> I'm going to make a bold claim: the CO2e per passenger kilometer can vary by at least one order of magnitude depending on the flight characteristics (airline, weather, route, direction, location, aircraft, etc) - before you take class into account!

That's not a bold claim at all; it's just irrelevant. A cross-country flight on an old plane with a couple layovers in bad weather that has to refuel unexpectedly and is only half-full will have an order of magnitude worse impact on the climate than the best case non-stop scenario. But if one asks, "what is the impact of flying first-class vs economy?", one is not asking "what is the impact of flying first-class in the best possible case vs flying economy in the worst possible case?".

>We can talk about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing infection even though there are a million variables affecting it with numerous outlier cases.

Sure, but you're discussing something completely different from what I care about. Nobody is forced to not wear a condom for work, and you can't buy "condom credits" to offset not wearing a condom. The individual calculus of flying (and whether to fly based on emissions) is completely different from wearing or not wearing a condom.

Ultimately, I can only control my own flying and my own donations, and that's what I'm interested in here. I think I should've been more clear: what I'm looking for is something where I can, as a passenger, see the CO2e of my flight. If I fly DL 259 in economy, what will be the impact of this? If I have the option, does it make sense to replace this with (say) 3 round trip economy flights on KL 1385? (for example, one important conference vs 3 less important ones.) What will it cost to offset my flight?

I took a look at the 3 links you provided and I can't say I'm convinced. The UCS one has pretty pictures, but ignores CO2e which is inexcusable as that is where the bulk of the issue is. I don't see anything resembling an established model from those; it seems to be simply just people gathering (mostly) theoretical data and putting it into Excel. In particular, I am really not convinced that anyone has a good understanding of the factors involved in CO2e and from what I can tell the literature supports me on this.

Quoting one of your own links: different methodologies are responsible for a factor of 2 difference in CO2e and "there is as yet no internationally agreed and adopted methodology for the calculation of aviation emissions" (from Dr. Jardine's report)

>>> I'm going to make a bold claim: the CO2e per passenger kilometer can vary by at least one order of magnitude depending on the flight characteristics (airline, weather, route, direction, location, aircraft, etc) - before you take class into account!

>That's not a bold claim at all; it's just irrelevant.

It's absolutely a bold claim to 99% of people. Nearly everywhere, from large newspapers to "calculator" sites to social media, people do not realize that the emissions for a flight are very individual to that specific flight. If you asked random travelers, I bet nearly none would expect things like seating configuration or weather to strongly affect emissions. If you told some random people that by choosing a densely seated plane they could strongly reduce their emissions I bet they'd be interested!

It's not necessarily hypocritical. You need to look at net carbon output. Perhaps that first-class passenger is buying carbon credits, maybe they own clean-energy companies and are travelling to expand their market.

Carbon credits are the Indulgences of the modern era. Now it's worry about harming the planet instead of worry of going to hell. My ethics happen to align with Martin Luthor on this topic.

I have some experience with this topic. I _did_ start a clean energy company that has had notable and measurable impact over the past ten years or so. And I have flown cross-country for work more often than I would like. It's justifiable to the extent the travel leads to benefits generated from the work. But the truth is that an honest personal accounting of this is difficult. In some cases, the travel is really valuable and in other cases we just want to imagine it is for ego-centric or other reasons. Regardless, flying first-class vs economy is really never needed for work purposes; it's purely a matter of luxury.

Causing harm for the purposes of luxury, attempting to buy your way out of it, and then claiming righteousness is, in my view, hypocritical.

I should mention that I am a fan of well-structured carbon offsets, but only when avoidance is really infeasible. But offsets do not justify waste in the same way that recycling does not justify greater consumption.

I'm not completely convinced. High-end purchasers often fund newer more efficient development, especially with cars and jets.

Old jets and old cars are much less efficient than their modern equivalents, and airlines need sufficient capital and demand in order to invest in new vehicles.


There's also the common misconception that buying a newer more efficient car is bad for the environment due to manufacturing. That is very rarely true:


We need to solve environmental issues by moving forward and innovating, rather than attempting to get 7.5 billion to agree to reduce their standard of living.

Indulgences did not actually offset the negative externalities, where as carbon-credits do, at least to a significant extent, so I'm not sure the two are directly comparable.

If there was only economy, the prices would be much much higher. First/business class and coach need each other: each is subsidizing the other through price discrimination.

Honestly you wouldn't believe how little environmental awareness there is in most businesses. I've seen people do return transatlantic flights for a single half day meeting...

Why should they care, when individual action has no measurable effect in the face of 7 billion other people and the tragedy of the commons problem?

What is needed is collective action, i.e. policy/regulation/laws/taxes, not individuals making sacrifices.

Try east coast US to APAC just to make a personnel change and fly back (24-48hr turnaround).

It's an American thing mostly. It's absurd. I think a lot of people at those levels just want to avoid their families. And the businesses are reckless on spending and allocation of time resources.

That's looking at seat footprint, not weight.

Depends, if you replace it with private jets like many climate change advocates (al gore, Leo di Caprio), it's gonna get worse.

This is a straw man. The price difference between a first class ticket and chartering a private flight is massive.

Semantics, but, I'm not sure either of the people you cited is advocating climate change.

Well, Leonardo DiCaprio has a long-standing grudge against icebergs.

What do you mean? Al Gore made an entire movie about climate change and Leo Di Caprio talked about climate change in his Oscar acceptance speech. GP is right about that.

Most people would say they're against climate change. Advocates of climate change would want to encourage climate change.

I need to get to Point A...I am also 6'5"

Ticket: $178 (the fare that shows up on initial search) Luggage fee: $40 Taxes and Fees: $35 Exit Row Seat which may or may not be crowded: $65 (each way)

Actual Cost: $400 (Numbers SWAG'd, but that's approx what it costs to round trip from Denver to Baltimore)

All I want to do is take a 2 hour flight in relative comfort and the whole thing's a bait n switch.

That doesn't include the TSA Grope, the 'no fluids pass security', $12 a day far out distant remote parking, nor leaving the extra time to handle all of the extra fallderal.

I can see people getting disenfranchised with the whole deal.

Taking the train is a much more pleasant experience. If only our train schedules (outside of the NE corridor) didn't suck.

Amtrak with kids is a dream come true on long trips. So much room, so much freedom. Our kids could literally just sit and play on the floor in front of our seats, then we could walk them to the dining car or someplace else when they wanted a change of scenery. We could play with them and entertain them in a way you can't in a car or plane.

But I will never ride it again because it is so poorly managed. I needed to be at work the next morning, but they canceled our train at the last minute because of icy weather in New York (how have we not figured out how to solve for coldness yet) and I had to take an extra vacation day and leave the next morning instead. Such absolute nonsense.

I can attest that airplanes also cancel flights because of icy weather. Even interstates sometimes close for winter weather, in Wisconsin.

Yes, I think underlying my criticism is the important fact that trains are not planes or cars. Trains do not slide on rubber tires the way the other two do and are, in fact, very capable of traveling from point A to point B in inclement weather.

Looking at you, LAX. Coming from SFO, I've spent more time in traffic getting to where I need to go in LA than the actual flight.

2 hour flight, gotta be at the airport 90 minutes early, airport's an hour away...pretty soon it's nearly the same amount of time to fly (not really, but it can be close sometimes)...when yo udrive you leave when you want, have no luggage restrictions, and the food's as good as you want to pay for.

No in-flight drinking, though.

Biggest reason I can think of is that airlines have so heavily invested in business class over last 10 years or so to the point where business is nearly as good as first class has been at a fraction of the price.

I've had the privilege of flying international first and business class flights several times over past few years using points (including Singapore Suites), and business class has gotten so good (lie flat reverse herringbone configuration) that there's hardly a difference between the two except a slightly bigger seat and marginally better food but 3x the price.

We are living in the golden age of business class travel.

>We are living in the golden age of business class travel.

I've had the privilege of flying 300k+ miles in Emirates over the last 2 years, mostly in business, and including a few first class segments through upgrades and I can also say that there is not much difference between business and first other than individualized service and better wine/spirits.

As another poster has mentioned Premium Economy is where business was about 15-20 years ago - and the PE segment is growing significantly in the airline business as they try to capture revenue in the "comfort gap" segment between economy and business.

As this segment grows, and becomes more attractive to accountants, during the next economic contraction I expect that there will be a lot of corporate travel policies that will push travelers down into PE, so let's enjoy it while we can.

Yes, by "golden age" I'm referring to the fact that "business class" has transitioned from angled lie-flat big economy seats to a mini first class.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head... how long do you think we’ve got left? I guess it’s time to scramble up the corporate ladder and get out of harm’s way before the cuts start...

Flying private has always been one of my bucket list items, but the fact that flying US coast-to-coast private has the same carbon footprint as 10k Americans(!) use per year is kind of appalling. There's a certain level of FU that's hard to rationalize.

There’s no way that number is correct. A 737 carries not quite 7,000 gallons of fuel, so that would imply the average American has a carbon footprint of 0.7 gallons of jet fuel per year, if you used the full capacity of a 737 to fly coast to coast. A 737 doesn’t fully drain its tanks on that trip, and smaller jets will use less.

Hmm, yes, obviously I must have misquoted the figure -- something's wrong. Even at one US person per year, it's pretty egregious and would be hard for me to rationalize.

He said private. So 1-4 people at 400 gallons per hour.

That makes even less sense. Even if it's one person flying for 6 hours, 2400 gallons of burned kerosene is several orders of magnitude less GHG emissions than 10,000 Americans in a year.

Edit: To put numbers on it, each American emits 16,500 kg of CO2 per year, 2400 gallons of jet fuel emits 21,360 kg of CO2. So it's more like one American's emissions in a year.

>So it's more like one American's emissions in a year.

That still seems horrible to me.

I mean... it's not great. But it's only a few hundred dollars worth of carbon offsets, which is considerably less than the existing tax on the jet fuel.

And that's only one way eh? Do 1 round-trip private trip a month and suddenly that's 24-people's worth of yearly emissions.

I misread this as comparing burning 2,400 gallons of kerosene versus burning 10,000 Americans and was becoming very concerned about where you are getting you data.

I assume the private flying crowd is doing multiple flights per year. Let's say 1 a month? That'd get to 2 orders of magnitude away.

Right, so considerably less fuel than a 737 carries. I used that as a worst case and it’s still orders of magnitude short.

1-4 people aren’t flying a plane that burns 400/hour. A Citation burns 160/hour and holds a heck of a lot more than 1-4. A Cirrus jet — perfect for 1-4 passengers burns 47 gallons per hour. Even a Gulfstream V burns 370 per hour and holds 12-16 passengers.

There are a few services that sell empty seats on private jet flights. It can be pretty economical, sometimes even less expensive than commercial.

IMO, the main advantage of flying private is the convenience of getting to bypass the whole airport experience. At least on the small business jet flights I've been on, the actual flight is less comfortable. The interior has nicer decor, but it's also cramped and noisy. And then, yeah, you have to eat nothing but rice and lentils for the next two months to try and offset the carbon.

> At least on the small business jet flights I've been on, the actual flight is less comfortable. The interior has nicer decor, but it's also cramped and noisy.

But in this case you have to compare U.S. domestic business class to private travel, where I would argue the in-flight experience is still better on a small private jet. (I guess unless you are sharing a jet like the services you mention)

If you're talking about first class, as this article is, then you're talking about long international flights. The cramped and noisy private jets won't take you non-stop from NYC to Tokyo, for example.

As others have said, this is incorrect. Quickly planning a flight in ForeFlight from LAX direct JFK for a Citation X (a midsize, 12-passenger business jet) at Mach 0.8/FL510 gives a fuel burn of 6700 lbs. The same flight in a 737-900ER (~180 seats in three class configuration) at Mach 0.8/FL390 gives 22500 lbs. Even assuming the Citation has only 6 souls aboard, that's ~1000 lbs/pax for the private jet and ~125 lbs/pax for the 739—"only" 8x worse.

Edit: I neglected to convert for the average American's carbon footprint (about 16500 kg CO2/yr as stated elsewhere in the thread). Each of the 6 Citation pax emits (21 lbs CO2/gal * 1000 lbs / 6.7 lbs/gal) = ~3.1k lbs CO2, or ~1400 kg CO2 during the flight—about 1/10 of the average yearly footprint.

This seems a little hard to believe. Do you have a source?

Just pay to go in one of those Instagram private jets then:


Wait, business class and first class aren't the same? Never seen a plane with three classes.

It's only really a thing in long haul, where these days there are usually at least 4 classes: economy, premium economy (same cabin, slightly more legroom, sometimes a larger entertainment screen), business and first (and sometimes tiers of first e.g. cabin class).

Premium economy IME is not just a little more legroom, its more akin to a domestic first class experience. Wider chairs, better meal, better booze selection, etc...

Note that "Premium Economy" is a newer term being thrown around and is different than Economy Plus, Comfort Plus and such that airlines throw around to denote the same economy seats with an extra 6 inches in front of you and maybe a free drink/snack.

British Airways flies four classes on long haul flights.

First is like business, except your coat gets its own closet next to your seat, and you get Johnnie Walker Blue instead of Red like the plebes in business class ;)

Nobody sees 3 classes because the entrance to Economy (or Business) is usually aft of First class (in some airports First has a dedicated bridge - or Business has a dedicated floor like in several 380/747s).

Moral for capitalism: obfuscation is the key to avoiding class resentment?

Not all planes have 3 classes. Some have 6. It's all pretty arbitrary, I don't think it's actually set in stone anywhere what "class" means.

Like I've been on flights with value economy, economy, economy plus, economy premium, business, first, first (premier? Or something). I've also been on flights that were "general," but if you paid 44$ extra you get a giant padded seat easily as big as or bigger than some first class seats I've seen.

Depends which airlines you fly internationally - A lot, if not all, of american airlines are increasingly moving towards removing first class from their international flights & having business class as their premium cabin offering - e.g. Delta with DeltaOne or United with Polaris. If you want to truly experience first class, it'd have to be one of the middle eastern airlines or British Airways, Singapore Airlines and the likes.

Correct, they aren't the same, but usually only larger airplanes (747-400, A380 etc.) have a first class and only for very long haul (> 12 hour?) flights.

See e.g. https://onemileatatime.com/emirates-a380-first-class-vs-busi...

There are quite a few non-US airlines that have a first class on much shorter flights, like Europe to the East coast or Europe to Gulf countries. Sometimes in single decker planes.

I know people who fly first class between say, Heathrow and JFK, mostly for the VIP hand-holding at both airports, that can save you a lot of time.

British Airways have first class on the LHR/SEA route, ten and a half hours.

They also used to have first class on a daily 747 between London and Moscow, around 4 hours. (I'm not sure if they still do, but they did in 2014 and 2015 because I flew it both years!). Not to mention the cash cow East Coast USA destinations or upmarket bucket and spade Caribbean flights, none of which are 12hrs.

Actually quite often on long intercontinental hauls, the front section has usually 2 subsections - you can see it on the seating arrangements (something about better bigger seats vs couch-style where you can properly lie horizontally) - at least those are differences as seen from peasant's perspective

International flights generally have 3 (or lately, 4 with basic economy and economy plus) classes.

As the article notes, US domestic and inter-europeans flights never have more than two classes and the "first" in the US is not much more than what you get in coach.

It's not true to say "never", at least as far as intra-Europe is concerned, due to a mixture of fifth-freedom flights and a handful of other anomalies. e.g. Emirates put a long-haul 777-300 in business class between Larnaca and Malta, LATAM fly their 787 between Madrid and Frankfurt. Furthermore, both BA and Iberia fly long-haul equipment between London and Madrid once a day (last time I checked; I've flown the A340 on this route).

It’s dead in the US but quite alive in other markets, especially Asia and the Middle East.

Some airlines even have four class planes with the rise of premium economy.

Most have 4 classes

Jesus christ, the downvotes here have gotten out of hand lately. Here someone is asking a genuine question and getting obliterated for it. How did anybody come to the conclusion that this comment needed to be buried?

That comment was posted only ~19 minutes before yours. That's not enough time to predict where it will end up on the voting spectrum. It only takes a handful of downvotes to start turning grey, and only a handful of upvotes to recover.

Totally agree! HN has become much more of a loose cannon recently (and rapidly) with downvotes, and you'll often see entire threads of conversation greyed out. I've recently started to just search for older threads and read through them, rather than trying to converse here. If you use that new 'past' button at the top and go back a few years... it's really disappointing to compare.

We're here to learn, not to downvote dissenting or uneducated opinions. HN should be about becoming more correct, not just promoting those who are already 'right.'

Threads on climate change are one of the best comparisons, where people could argue they didn't believe it and others would (mostly) debate rather than downvote: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10691804

As the article mentions, business class today often offers a comfort which was not long ago not even available in first class. Which also unfortuantely means that business class becomes less and less accessible for business travellers as companies are watching "costs" for most but upper management.

I fly first-class only when upgraded or flying on miles. It's priced itself out of the market.

I fly business-class only for long hauls, especially if the airfare is covered and if I am supposed to be wide-awake a cogent the day following the trip. I usually specify contractually that flights longer than four hours are to be business-class or better.

I usually prefer the premium-economy seating because it is, for me, much more comfortable than the business-class seats. A recent premium-economy transcontinental trip on an Air France A380 was, without question, the very best ever.

Recent business-class seats have, for me, much in common with the rack, a mid-evil torture instrument; the design is such that there is no way to get physically comfortable since lying on my back is not an option.

I find lie flat seats huge wins for overnight flights. I certainly don’t dislike them for travel during the day when I’m awake but I don’t find them a huge win over traditional domestic business class/premium economy either.

A new breed of supersonic executive jets will be even more polluting. The International Council on Clean Transportation, a think-tank, estimates that their emissions will be five to seven times greater than for standard jets. Boom, one of the startups hoping to produce these jets, has forecast that up to 2,000 such supersonic aircraft will be built by 2035.

They should make these guys go carbon neutral by installing CO2 scrubbers or similar for every plane they sell. There's no reason we all have to suffer the consequences of the super rich wasteful behaviour.

or just tax carbon.

There's a reason the super rich lobby for smaller government and fewer regulations.

Maybe we should make your car go carbon neutral?

The percent of CO2 emissions from private jets is <1% in the US. Democracy shouldn’t be two wolves and a sheep deciding whats for dinner.

Well, yes. We should make your (and my and our) cars go carbon neutral.

After all, and using you metaphor, these are the same wolves that said the sheep's car needed a catalytic converter ... and improved safety equipment.

The super rich are somehow the sheep in this metaphor?

My corp sends me out to conferences or remote offices several times a year, sometimes internationally. I can book business class if total in-air time is greater than six hours.

I know first class still exists but every time I fly biz class, that cabin is the ultimate premium cabin for the flight. There might be premium economy or whatever but biz class is functionally first class for the airlines and routes I typically fly (Delta, Air France)

As an aside, the new Delta One suites are _amazing_ and have totally ruined even "regular" business class lay-flat seats for me.

I think economic forces are party to blame for this. Business class has gotten so much cheaper and better these days that it's hard to justify paying for first. The amount of competition among airlines trying to outdo each other in the quality of business class has led to really high quality products and low fares.

As a result, airlines are struggling to sell first. First cabins are regularly half empty. I've had many flights where I'm the only passenger in the first cabin, or with every guest having a separate seat for lounging and sleeping given low load factors.

A decade ago, business class wasn't so good, with angle-flat or recliner seats. Even when the seats were lie-flat, they were seldom private and with direct aisle access. It wasn't a comfortable experience, so for those who could, going first made sense.

This has led many airlines to reduce first class, or ditch it entirely. Singapore's first class product went from 8 seats to 4. United killed its GlobalFirst product entirely. American hardly has any routes. Malaysian is ditching first. In the western hemisphere, the only airlines with a real first class product left are Swiss, Lufthansa, and Air France. British and American also offer first, though have a poor non-competitive product.

Asia and the middle east is the only place left where first class is alive and strong. (The lands of the nouveau riche)

Anyone who's flown business or even Premium Economy on long-haul flights knows that this isn't surprising.

Even Premium Economy on Lufthansa is basically what Business Class used to be - wider, bigger seats, no shared armrests, power ports, a large TV, unlimited drinks, food served on real plates with real knives and forks. You do need to share a lav with Economy, though. You even get a kit of an eye mask and other goodies.

I agree, Premium Economy on Lufthansa is very nice. There is enough room even for me at 6'5" 195cm. Any more than this would feel like a waste of money. If I want fancy food, I'll pay $100 in a restaurant, not $4000 extra for a flight.

PE on AirNZ is much better than on Lufthansa, but it’s also more expensive.

A data point on the luxury level of Business: I once saw the Dalai Lama while boarding a flight to India. He was seated in Business, not First.

But would you necessarily expect the Dalai Lama to fly the most luxurious product? Seems out of line with his image.

Well, he is a kind of king. On the other hand as image is pretty crucial to support fort the Tibetan cause, why doesn't he fly cattle car like the rest of us?

I’d expect first class only for security concerns.

I'd expect an airline is one of the safest place you could sit regardless of which section you're in.

First class is probably all nice and cool but given how comfortable business is, I couldn't care less about any fancier service. Just give me flat bed on 13h flight so I can sleep! Bigger screen? Don't care. Fancier food? Don't care.

That said, I'd love to one day fly the first class where they have a bar. Would be cool to sip cocktails and chat with fellow travelers!

Don’t need to fly first for that! Business on Emirates a380 will suffice :)

TBH I think the airlines kinda fucked themselves on this one.

The whole meme was to make people walk through first class so that they would see what they're missing. Problem is, most people are doing domestic hops and in most cases they just aren't missing that much (I regularly do a 2 hop 40 minute then 1 hour flight that doesn't even finish drink service by the time you're ready to land).

International sure and I'm sure the airlines make sure they make bank on those flights. But if I'm going to take maybe 1 international round trip every couple of years I'm probably not going to spring for first class if I can instead put that money into whatever I'm doing where I'm going.

First-class air travel in American is in decline because American corporations can deduct business class airfare more easily than first class airfare.

IIRC, the only domestic airline in America with first-class is American Airlines. The other legacy carriers have gotten rid of it, premium economy is one of the fastest growing classes of air fare.

It's still pretty rare to have a private jet which can do transpacific flights -- particularly since it's usually to/from specific gateway cities, too. CX, SQ, JL, QR, EK F is more comfortable than a fractional-ownership G650 and costs about 10% as much.

Not surprised to read this. Glad to see a post outlining why 1st class travel isn't as profitable as it seems, including how even Emirates, which sells the most 1st class seats notes that 1st and business-class constitute ~40% of its turnover - a significant but not majority portion. On a previous discussion, some were skeptical when I'd mentioned how the bulk of total airline sales and profit comes from economy, despite the higher average margin for business/1st class tickets[1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18358650

So if first class is empty, and economy class is packed, who is paying for the flight? If 1/3 of the aircraft is dedicated to first class, are they paying 1/3 of the total cost? If not, aren't economy-class passengers effectively subsidizing first class?

On individual flights this no doubt happens, one class being full the other empty[1]. But if first-class travel is down across the board, and prices are not adjusted accordingly, we might be in a situation where the poor are indeed subsidizing the rich.

[1] Let's not kid ourselves. Economy cabins are always packed.

By all accounts I've previously heard from people in the airline industy, you have the economics completely backwards. The bulk of the profits come from premium classes, while economy is totally unprofitable but serves to provide the economies of scale for a larger flight.

Premium economy seems to be the best compromise for this situation that the market has come up with. There's still economy to stay competitive against other airlines for passengers who want to pay bottom dollar, but provide a bit more comfort and amenities without being too exorbitantly expensive. Passenger gets treated a little better, and the airlines make a bit of margin.

I've heard that too, but in a couple different ways. I have heard that economy is low-margin because of the increased market competition. In a saturated market with limited potential for new customers, premium options are also a rare area for growth. That makes sense to me. But I have also heard that, per square-foot, economy cabins bring in more total money.

I think it depends on your perspective. On a daily basis any ticket above economy is a win, a more profitable ticket to be sold. On a larger scale, when airlines are determining how much space to allocate to various classes, economy does seem to be where the bulk of money comes from.

It doesn't really matter how much money economy brings in at the top line, if there's little to nothing to be made on the bottom line. An entire plane of economy only at market fares is not worthwhile for an airline to operate on a per flight basis. Possibly worthwhile to operate in some situations just to keep their fleet in use, but likely not.

If this weren't the case, more airlines would operate flights like that. There isn't any conspiracy between airlines to minimize plane space for economy seats. The reality is that currently, the premium classes subsidize economy and not the other way around like you originally suggested.

Typically the premium classes subsidize economy where people taking personal trips in particular tend to shop for the lowest price. Business class seating (many airplanes don’t have first) do tend to be full because if there’s available space passengers with status tend to be upgraded or they use miles/co-pay to upgrade.

The article opens talking about first class to Dubai, which is an entirely different animal.

If you look at a United 777 [1], they don't even have a first class and nowhere near a third of the aircraft is "Polaris business class". Most domestic flights are like this, business class (or premium class or whatever they call the upgrade from economy plus) is usually full too because they bump people, people use miles to upgrade, or they offer cheap last minute upgrades.

1. https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/United_Airlines/United_Air...

Look at other United 777s and you’ll see more Polaris seats: https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/United_Airlines/United_Air...

That's the high density config that they send on low-yield routes like Hawaii. There are only a few of those in their fleet.

Economy cabins aren't always packed - there's probably about to be a raft of replies disputing this. I say with ten confidence of someone that has seen many tens of economy class flights, domestic and international, so empty I could claim a whole row and lie down to sleep.

If it is a specific route and time, that flight is in danger of being cancelled. I have had it happen to a flight time I liked.

> Economy cabins are always packed.

They are not always packed. It depends on the route. I've been flying DXB-KUL too many times and I end up with two empty seats next to me. Free first class.

1st class is different from business class

One of the problems I see with first class is the overpricing. As a frequent domestic flyer (~once per month) it's almost impossible to get enough points/credit to make it affordable. I'd even personally pay for a first class upgrade on a business flight if it wasn't $300+. A delta flight from Seattle or Portland to NY is roughly $450 depending on when you book. To then charge $300 for first class seems wrong.

United always asks after I book a $200-$300 cross-country flight whether I want to upgrade to business class for another $800. While I admire their enthusiasm, somehow I always click "no."

Last time I flew with United was to Tokyo from North America on a ~$500 round-trip flight. Inquired about first-class, and it was going to be an additional $10k.

On the other hand, I'd be tempted by a $300 upfare for business on a transcontinental flight.

Different strokes, different markets.

If it were a redeye and I could get an upgrade to lie-flat seating? Yeah, I'd pay that out of my own pocket.

Because First class is just overpriced business class on most airlines. I fly Business and First all the time with churned miles. First tends to offer more privacy, but if I had to, I wouldn’t mind paying cash for Business. I’d never pay cash for First.

I spoke to a manager at a major airline - he told me that their research told them that many of their first class passengers are now renting private jets instead. Just another artifact of our "winner takes all" economic systems.

Highly recommend "Hard Landing" by Thomas Petzinger Jr. if you're interested in this sort of subject.

Unit economics for commercial aviation have changed substantially since the industry's inception.

People that would have done that decades ago have private jets now, and it's a terrible deal for the amenities offered in almost every other case.

If it keeps more availability open for award flights, that's fine with me!

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