Should US Airlines Greatly Expand First Class?

Should US Airlines Greatly Expand First Class?

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I’d like to throw an idea out there, and I think it’ll make for an interesting discussion. I’m curious to hear what y’all think. Long story short, I think one major US airline should differentiate itself by drastically increasing the size of its first class cabin on many domestic aircraft. I’m not just talking an extra row, but a lot more than that. Let me explain…

Airline executives say premium demand is strong

If you listen to the executives of the “big three” US carriers, they’ll all tell you how strong premium demand is. For example, a Delta executive recently explained that the airline is now selling an average of 74% of its first class seats, up from 11% in 2011.

Heck, Delta CEO Ed Bastian recently justified the negative SkyMiles changes by explaining that the carrier’s demand for premium products far exceeds the supply.

Yet despite demand for first class having gone up considerably, airlines aren’t actually increasing the size of first class cabins compared to a decade ago. I mean, sure, United claims it’s adding first class seats to some aircraft, but when you look at first class now compared to a decade ago, the ratio of first class seats at many airlines has decreased.

US airlines are taking delivery of a lot of new jets. Not only are they much more fuel efficient than before, but they’re also bigger. Just look at American, Delta, and United, all refreshing their narrow body fleets with A321neos, which are larger than most of the narrow body aircraft they’ve historically flown.

Making the decision to order planes like this is always a double edged sword. On the one hand, those working in revenue management would probably prefer smaller planes in terms of having the right number of seats for some markets. After all, having to sell too many seats can be a liability.

On the other hand, the incremental operating costs of an A321neo over an A320neo are very low, so why wouldn’t you want more revenue potential? But how do you use a larger plane without ruining your yields? Well, I think there’s a better strategy than what airlines are currently doing…

United has a lot of Airbus A321neos on order

My proposal for more first class seats

Let me explain what I’m thinking in the form of an example, and I’ll keep the math easy. With American, Delta, and United, A3321neos currently have 20 first class seats, spread across five rows. Let’s say they increased that cabin to 36 seats, spread across nine rows (I think 32 seats would generally make more sense, but I’m trying to do a fair comparison in terms of replacing rows based on seat pitch).

Those 16 extra first class seats (four rows) would come at the opportunity cost of a total of 30 “standard” economy seats (five rows), so you’d have a net loss of 14 seats. The question becomes whether you can generate more revenue from 30 economy seats or 16 first class seats.

Let’s look at the potential monetization opportunities here. For the 30 economy seats, here are some considerations:

  • First you have to consider that even if flights are generally quite full nowadays, most aren’t 100% full prior to standby passengers; airlines are able to monetize first class seats on non-full flights, while they struggle to monetize empty economy seats
  • The question becomes, on what percent of flights are those last 14 seats sold?
  • One of the challenges with airlines moving to bigger narrow body jets is that it’s increasingly harder to fill those extra seats with good yields; United CEO Scott Kirby has stated how the airline will have to be more aggressive with selling basic economy to fill planes, as the carrier adds capacity to many markets (in the form of bigger planes)
  • So from a revenue management perspective, the question is really how much revenue you’re getting from the last 14 seats on the plane, considering the cheapest fares sold

Meanwhile think of all the potential upside with having an extra 16 first class seats:

  • Nowadays there are many markets where first class simply sells out in advance, and more seats would sell as well
  • Airlines have gotten really good at monetizing upgrades, and if an airline actually went all-in on this concept, it could do an even better job, especially in conjunction with a credit card partner
  • One US airline could establish itself as the premium airline in the US, and have cabins that reflect that; that would increase loyalty to the carrier, and in turn increase monetization opportunities for the loyalty program

Just to use Delta as an example, while the airline already gives people a lot of ways to upgrade their tickets, I think a lot of opportunities are being left on the table. For example, think of how many people have the Amex Platinum and use the Delta Sky Club while flying in economy.

Imagine if on the day of departure, you’d get a prompt through the Amex app asking if you want to redeem X number of Amex points to upgrade your Delta flight. If it’s as easy as the click of a button, you can bet a lot more people will take advantage of it.

The revenue from Amex for those points could in many situations greatly exceed the revenue from the cheapest tickets on the plane. That’s just one example, though I have an endless number of other ideas…

Why doesn’t a US airline really go upmarket?

Bottom line

Airlines keep talking about strong premium demand. As the US carriers increasingly fly larger and more fuel efficient jets, the only struggle is filling those extra seats. Rather than being so focused on maximizing revenue by selling basic economy, I think there’s merit to at least one US airline going upmarket, and introducing a considerably larger first class cabin.

With a bit more creativity on the upsell front, I think the potential here is significant, with limited downside…

Anyone else see merit to airlines adding more first class seats?

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  1. Info Guest

    Unfortunately the airlines caved a few years back and decreased first class or tried to rebrand it. Due to it being "Racists" as Biden put it. Unfortunately that was someone who has never flown economy and probably never will.

  2. FlaStew Guest

    A few things as a FA. I have no problem with the increase of FC as long as staffing supports such. The problem is American carriers refuse to see the this as important. Expanding DOES make sense as long as the cost difference is cost even or better. If not, theres no way it will happen.

  3. Watson Diamond

    For people talking about Euro-style biz, what if US airlines introduced that in *addition* to the existing first class footprint. So you had a 3-cabin configuration with four to five rows of the traditional 2-2 domestic first, and a variable number of extra legroom rows with a blocked middle. The airlines could configure those based on demand, and sell the remaining rows as standard extra-legroom economy seats.

    These seats could be marketed as a real...

    For people talking about Euro-style biz, what if US airlines introduced that in *addition* to the existing first class footprint. So you had a 3-cabin configuration with four to five rows of the traditional 2-2 domestic first, and a variable number of extra legroom rows with a blocked middle. The airlines could configure those based on demand, and sell the remaining rows as standard extra-legroom economy seats.

    These seats could be marketed as a real premium economy and come with the following benefits:
    * one free checked bag
    * group 2 boarding
    * one free food item and alcoholic beverage from the economy menu per flight (maybe 2 on a transcon)

    They could be sold at approximately 50% more than the cost of an economy ticket, as that's the amount of extra space each passenger is taking. The cost of the food/drink/bag should be offset by the fuel savings of fewer people.

    1. Flastew Guest

      I didn't read the article as mirroring the Euro style system.

    2. Matthew Dowty Guest

      If it is in addition to First Class, yes. I’ve thought the extra leg room seats need more value added features like meals, blankets, pillows. Yes I know American and Delta include alcohol at those seats now. And the upcharge would be more, yes.

    3. Joe Guest

      Icelandair did something like that with their old premium economy called Economy Comfort (making it a eurobusiness style seat with the middle seat blocked off).

  4. Michael Feaselman Guest

    Certainly, maybe they can start strapping economy class to the wings or in cargo with the pets. Rich people deserve everything and the rest of us can eat cake.

    1. Matthew Dowty Guest

      If you aren’t interested in Domestic First or other value added products, it’s not going to effect you.

  5. Liza Segleau Guest

    I don't approve. No airline should expand until they figure out how to treat and accommodate those with disabilities, especially those using wheelchairs.
    Liza

  6. Exit Row Seat Guest

    TWA tried expanding 1st Class many years ago and ended up giving away seats because few wanted to actually pay out of pocket versus those on expense accounts.
    Much better to expand Business (J) or Economy Plus (W).
    Also, many companies frown on 1st Class unless you're at the very top of the food chain. At that point, private jets fall into favor.

    1. Exit Row Seat Guest

      Also, expanding 1st Class eats up Business and Economy Plus rows of seats which are filled with paying PAX, not upgraded customers. Results equal lost revenue.

    2. Matthew Dowty Guest

      It was Domestic First TWA expanded. The idea was to have ample inventory to give away to elite Aviators members and low cost same day upgrades for lower tier elite members ($50 per 500 miles, I did this several times). It was hoped this would be a competitive advantage over other airlines who weren’t and aren’t clearing many of their elites because their aren’t enough seats.

  7. KC Guest

    US domestic “first” is more like “a slightly bigger seat for a much higher price”. Let’s face it - if you buy a “first” ticket - no lounge access, sometimes no food, a pre-departure drink if you’re lucky. Is having more of these seats good for airlines? Yup, if they can sell them. But for pax, I’d rather they improve the experience to reflect it being called “first”. It’s not. Also, less of the Amex...

    US domestic “first” is more like “a slightly bigger seat for a much higher price”. Let’s face it - if you buy a “first” ticket - no lounge access, sometimes no food, a pre-departure drink if you’re lucky. Is having more of these seats good for airlines? Yup, if they can sell them. But for pax, I’d rather they improve the experience to reflect it being called “first”. It’s not. Also, less of the Amex stuff. Seats up the pointy end shouldn’t be about status or what card you have. It should be about paying for it, not someone’s credit score.

  8. RF Diamond

    I'm for more domestic F seats.

  9. Chris Guest

    You'd have to add the cost of 1-2 extra Flight Attendants as well as a "streamlined" in-flight product (ie. lesser service).

  10. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

    Yes. They should. Especially AA. Ten rows of it. Americans are fatter, taller, richer, & mote willing than ever before to pay up so they don't have to be subjected to the terrible seats in the back.

    Also, all AA Execs (past and present) should be federally mandated to travel 4 times a year on a Basic Economy ticket, in the smallest seat possible, on a "Oasis configured" plane, and made to use the lavatory...

    Yes. They should. Especially AA. Ten rows of it. Americans are fatter, taller, richer, & mote willing than ever before to pay up so they don't have to be subjected to the terrible seats in the back.

    Also, all AA Execs (past and present) should be federally mandated to travel 4 times a year on a Basic Economy ticket, in the smallest seat possible, on a "Oasis configured" plane, and made to use the lavatory on each flight.

    It's dehumanizing and awful. I'm 6 foot 8 inches and can barely fit into their new "First Class" in an Oasis plane, much less use the lavatory.

  11. Jerry Lee Lewis Guest

    Very Simple. Need to re-intorudce proper First Class on all flights (think Southwest in the 1970s), Business Class and Economy Class (including ADDED LEGROOM ECONOMY)

  12. ConnGator Guest

    This is brilliant and Delta should send you 100k free miles for the idea.

    I know frequent flyers who value space would pay points every flight to upgrade.

  13. Randy Diamond

    TWA and Eastern Airlines did this back in the 1980s on their DC9s. Added 4 more rows of 2-2 F replacing 2-3 seating. Continental got some of the old Eastern airplanes when Eastern when under - so I used to select those aircraft since upgrades were easy on them.

    But times are different now - lots of elites and more people are buying F. On some routes like DFW and ORD to PSP - First...

    TWA and Eastern Airlines did this back in the 1980s on their DC9s. Added 4 more rows of 2-2 F replacing 2-3 seating. Continental got some of the old Eastern airplanes when Eastern when under - so I used to select those aircraft since upgrades were easy on them.

    But times are different now - lots of elites and more people are buying F. On some routes like DFW and ORD to PSP - First sells out way in advance as well as MCE seats and back of coach is empty until a few months before flight time.

    The difficulty is having different configurations of the same aircraft type for aircraft swaps.

  14. Joe Guest

    As an Exec Platinum who rarely gets upgraded anymore, I’m all for this.

    I believe they’d have to reassign a FA to help serve the 1st class cabin. For the 1st half of the flight anyway. 32 pax on 1 FA would be quite a burden.

    1. Chris Guest

      More than a burden; it would not be possible. The in-flight product would have to be reduced to nearly Economy Class levels in order to be achievable.

  15. Rick Vanover Guest

    Yes... The Airbus A321 is the best example of how airlines could do this. I'm a lifelong Delta flyer and I really think most airlines missed the mark with the A321. The aircraft is capable of 2L boarding, and that would have been the perfect 'demark' for 2 more rows of FC in my estimation. The Delta A321 config has 3 rows of premium select at and forward of the 2L set of exits. They...

    Yes... The Airbus A321 is the best example of how airlines could do this. I'm a lifelong Delta flyer and I really think most airlines missed the mark with the A321. The aircraft is capable of 2L boarding, and that would have been the perfect 'demark' for 2 more rows of FC in my estimation. The Delta A321 config has 3 rows of premium select at and forward of the 2L set of exits. They are however full-height exit doors, though the cargo bins don't make them suitable for boarding and deplaning.

    This would go from 20 FC seats to 28 FC seats; this may also have other implications like more sets of catering carts and it would be a lot for one flight attendant to operate service; but I think this could be sorted out relatively easily (maybe even 26 seats with a half galley at the end of FC or something creative). I just feel the density demands make everyone less comfortable on the A321 config... From FAs to FC and everyone else.

  16. George Romey Guest

    It's a mute idea. Clearly the airlines are moving away from complimentary upgrades to some form of co pay. No way the airlines are going to put more first class seats in for upgraders.

  17. simmonad Guest

    There are cost as well as revenue implications to consider here. I don't know what the fuel savings would be for carrying 14 less pax but I expect they'll add up over the course of a year? There may also be small improvements in punctuality if there are less pax to board and deplane.

  18. Darren C Diamond

    Southwest's "economy only" pushes millions of us to airlines with First Class, lounges, and other perks. Dreamliners and lie flats exist because of demand.

  19. Brian Guest

    What you are missing is that while the seats maybe monetized better, you dont know the yield the airlines are getting. I have seen some great buy up offers, to fly J transcon for a couple hundred dollars. This will not cover the cost of the service. Airlines may have more success with premium economy.

  20. James S Guest

    A flip side to this argument is why don't American airlines switch to Euro style business if that's clearly a money maker over there

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Is it though? Or is it primarily a loss mitigation? There's really not enough hard evidence publicly available to say.

    2. simmonad Guest

      Euro style business class is an offensive and expensive joke! I'll only use it if the marginal cost over economy is pretty small, otherwise I'll try and stick to THY and RAM.

  21. ConcordeBoy Diamond

    Might work in the best of times, but I feel like any airline that did this on a particularly large scale would be EXTREMELY vulnerable to downturns... far more so than the rest already are.

  22. digital_notmad Diamond

    I have to say, the analysis offered by some ("what exists today is the optimal state of what can exist; innovation/product distinction is not possible") is a bizarre pathology and while I understand that some free market absolutists believe that, it also seems to be plainly incompatible with the idea that disruption is a phenomenon that exists and is desirable? Not worth spending too much time on, of course, but it is a fertile source...

    I have to say, the analysis offered by some ("what exists today is the optimal state of what can exist; innovation/product distinction is not possible") is a bizarre pathology and while I understand that some free market absolutists believe that, it also seems to be plainly incompatible with the idea that disruption is a phenomenon that exists and is desirable? Not worth spending too much time on, of course, but it is a fertile source of entertainment for those of us who follow such things.

  23. Bruce Bennett Guest

    Boomers are not getting any younger. Yes on more first class seats. My old body will only allow me to fly first class.

  24. John Guest

    The main driver of "premium" demand is from people who are spending their money to AVOID the main cabin experience.

    I've switched as a Diamond from Delta to United because as a last minute business traveler United has many more extra legroom seats.

  25. Mike L Guest

    Let’s face it. There are much better options for first class only seats across the Atlantic than across the USA. Why? Increasing cost effective first and business class in the US should be a no brainer.

  26. Phiz Guest

    You answered your own question. It's supply vs demand. If you have less F/J seats, you can raise the price of those limited F/J seats, people will pay more because they have the ability to... and you'll still get the economy customers.

  27. Bogan Guest

    I would love to see this, but I think there is a good reason we see the big 3 airlines if anything going in the opposite direction. Breeze tried the with their A220s making half the cabin their nicest seats. They have since abandoned the model. I was surprised when I flew them how few people chose to pay for the upgrade. Now that the planes have much few nicest seats, they sell out fast....

    I would love to see this, but I think there is a good reason we see the big 3 airlines if anything going in the opposite direction. Breeze tried the with their A220s making half the cabin their nicest seats. They have since abandoned the model. I was surprised when I flew them how few people chose to pay for the upgrade. Now that the planes have much few nicest seats, they sell out fast. That was not a true first class product and people choosing a low cost carrier may be less likely to pay for an upgrade than a customer of a major carrier. The other issue is I think the big 3 airlines have realized that the customer most able and willing to pay for an upgrade are also frequent flyers. If you add enough first class seats, frequent flyers will not choose to pay for an upgrade because they know they are likely to get a complementary upgrade.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Not sure anyone should ever use Breeze as an example of what to do in the passenger aviation business.

      Sure they abandoned that model..... just like they abandoned more than a third of their attempted routes (despite not being that old), abandoned not offering through-flights, etc.

      "Rudderless" doesn't even begin to describe that outfit.

  28. Zain Guest

    Delta did something this year which I found clever. They upgauged my flight to TPA from a 757 to a 767-300 with lie-flats where the seats were treated as Domestic First Class.
    Pretty much every elite on the list got an upgrade to that Delta One cabin.
    I recognize that was not the nicest Delta One product, and on such a short flight, it doesn't give you any of the amenities or experience...

    Delta did something this year which I found clever. They upgauged my flight to TPA from a 757 to a 767-300 with lie-flats where the seats were treated as Domestic First Class.
    Pretty much every elite on the list got an upgrade to that Delta One cabin.
    I recognize that was not the nicest Delta One product, and on such a short flight, it doesn't give you any of the amenities or experience of flying true widebody Delta One, but it was enough a taste to encourage people to buy up in the future. If they would do it on transcon routes they may very well have a winning premium strategy.

  29. Nb Guest

    Bottom line you want more first class seats so you guys can have more chances to be ugraded, lol

    1. NathanJ Diamond

      He said, without the slightest soupçon of irony, on a website almost entirely devoted to that very goal.

    2. Howard Miller Guest

      Some call that enlightened self-interest!

  30. Tennen Gold

    This is probably controversial, but would switching to a Euro Business style concept make sense for non-premium routes? Airlines wouldn't be stuck with a massive F cabin in an economic downturn but could sell the seats as E+, MCE, C+, etc.

    Perhaps install a modified economy seat with ~38" pitch; better seat cushions, padding, recline, and tray table; and adjustable seat width (like A3's A320ceo). The only other similarities to Euro Biz would be the...

    This is probably controversial, but would switching to a Euro Business style concept make sense for non-premium routes? Airlines wouldn't be stuck with a massive F cabin in an economic downturn but could sell the seats as E+, MCE, C+, etc.

    Perhaps install a modified economy seat with ~38" pitch; better seat cushions, padding, recline, and tray table; and adjustable seat width (like A3's A320ceo). The only other similarities to Euro Biz would be the removable side table and adjustable cabin size. Plus all the regular stuff like power, PTVs, etc.

    I've been perfectly fine on ~4-hour flights in Euro Biz and on transcons with an empty middle. If the seats were actually comfortable and spacious, I would've been happier. Surely someone's created or designed a better flexible seat than what's currently in use.

    1. Mike Guest

      OMG, that is a horrible idea. I just flew Euro Regional biz class on British Airways and it was the WORST FLIGHT EVER. They take economy seats and block out the middle with a tray. The can expand the cabin by moving the divider curtain back and gobbling up more economy seats. It was awful.

      I get what you are saying; upgrade that a bit by essentially offer Comfort+ seats with the middle seat blocked, I would boycott any domestic airline that did that.

    2. Tennen Gold

      @Mike, I'm imagining something better than just E+/MCE/C+ legroom added to Euro Biz. A whole new seat that's actually comfortable, so a slight downgrade from existing F but a massive improvement over both Euro Biz and extra legroom Y. So none of the slimline seat BS.

      I'm surprised that nobody's looked at creating something better to replace Euro Biz (or at least try to get that flexibility AND offer a decent seat).

      Still a bad idea? Probably. :-p

    3. NathanJ Diamond

      Oh good LORD NO.

    4. Donna Diamond

      The first US 3 to try your Euro suggestion would be seeing a huge exodus of premium passengers.

  31. Alonzo Diamond

    I think the idea would make sense on 2-3 routes only. NYC-LAX/SFO or MIA-LAX/SFO imo.

    Airlines are probably concerned with the amount of upgrades this would cause. No additional revenue for upgrades vs paid seats. Either of those could cause more lounge crowding. Minor point.

    I think adding an additional FA is necessary. That's a lot of hot meals on a transcon route and a whole lot of drinks and refills. Probably not enough...

    I think the idea would make sense on 2-3 routes only. NYC-LAX/SFO or MIA-LAX/SFO imo.

    Airlines are probably concerned with the amount of upgrades this would cause. No additional revenue for upgrades vs paid seats. Either of those could cause more lounge crowding. Minor point.

    I think adding an additional FA is necessary. That's a lot of hot meals on a transcon route and a whole lot of drinks and refills. Probably not enough ovens so service would have to be staggered. Airline execs are a smart bunch, I'm sure they've thought this out quite a bit. 20 seats is already a lot.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      and that is exactly where the premium configured A321NEOs will be deployed for each of the big 3 at least domestically.
      The airlines know where there is demand for PAID premium service and will add resources to meet that demand. They are not going to add seats for loyalty program upgrades or nominal paid upgrades.
      It is also worth noting that Delta is adding comfort plus (extra legroom economy) to its MAX 10...

      and that is exactly where the premium configured A321NEOs will be deployed for each of the big 3 at least domestically.
      The airlines know where there is demand for PAID premium service and will add resources to meet that demand. They are not going to add seats for loyalty program upgrades or nominal paid upgrades.
      It is also worth noting that Delta is adding comfort plus (extra legroom economy) to its MAX 10 aircraft but the first class cabin will not be larger. Delta is expected to announce its not-so-secret plan to increase the size of Delta One cabins on its A330NEOs and A350s so they are adding the most premium seats to its longhaul international aircraft but comfort plus but not first class seats to its domestic aircraft other than to its premium configured transcon aircraft w/ lie flat seats.

      that should tell you where they see the profit potential

  32. Ted Guest

    Beyond just more F seats, what about more lie-flats on domestic transcons or even premium-heavy midcons? It’s like a treasure hunt to find them.

    1. Dolphin Guest

      Yes! I'd love to see UA offer lie-flats consistently from the West Coast to IAD/IAH/ORD, especially on redeyes.

    2. 305 Guest

      I think that will come about when the A321 XLRs finally start flying. They'll run some hub-hub routes to fill in schedule gaps like they currently do with the 788s and some 777s.

    3. Timtamtrak Diamond

      So agree. I can’t survive the day after a ~3hr red eye LAX-DFW in even domestic first but with a spot to properly konk out I’d book it in a heartbeat.

  33. MoreSun Guest

    They should have it on their radar but it's not time to jump yet. They need to see if this post-Covid level of demand will survive in a recession. For now, middle and upper incomes are still full on playing keeping up with the Joneses as they haven't totally maxed their credit lines yet.

  34. EthaninSF Gold

    Haven't we seen this time and time again? Where an airline actually improves service to customers (eg, "more room throughout coach") and then is slightly undercut by competition and then it's right back to the race to the bottom. In other words: one airline sticks its neck out and tries something, the market cycle shifts, and they look foolish for innovating (unless it's reducing costs). I say this as someone who is often willing to...

    Haven't we seen this time and time again? Where an airline actually improves service to customers (eg, "more room throughout coach") and then is slightly undercut by competition and then it's right back to the race to the bottom. In other words: one airline sticks its neck out and tries something, the market cycle shifts, and they look foolish for innovating (unless it's reducing costs). I say this as someone who is often willing to pay for business/first class seats. Recently I have been on a few flights where it was sold out ahead of time despite being willing to pay for it.

    I do wish for longer transcontinental or international routes that there was a more premium option than just recliners for most routes (other than on LAX/SFO-JFK/EWR). A five hour redeye in a recliner is not very premium besides the price.

    Ultimately, the amount of premium space is averaged across a fleet and network (and dates of travel). Having dedicated planes with bigger/better premium cabins comes at a cost. For example, while SFO - DFW may support a larger amount of premium customers than what is provided, DFW - IND probably does not need more premium cabin space and the routes utilize similar airframes.

    1. AD Diamond

      The difference here is that you're going for a different value proposition. Some leisure travelers and corporate travel departments want the lowest cost. That's why the extra legroom on AA didn't work. But carriers have made coach so miserable -- between cramming in seats (as corporate travel depts and a segment of leisure travelers chased the lowest cost) and cramming planes full through yield management (bless all those industrial engineers who built algorithms for this)...

      The difference here is that you're going for a different value proposition. Some leisure travelers and corporate travel departments want the lowest cost. That's why the extra legroom on AA didn't work. But carriers have made coach so miserable -- between cramming in seats (as corporate travel depts and a segment of leisure travelers chased the lowest cost) and cramming planes full through yield management (bless all those industrial engineers who built algorithms for this) -- they've created a market of business upgraders and leisure travelers who will pay to escape economy for the right price. More F seats, priced right (both for initial purchase and upgrades), will likely increase yield and leave a few seats to let frequent flyers feel like it is worth it to chase status.

    2. Chris Guest

      Amen to your first point!

    3. AlexB Guest

      Who remembers Midwest Express Airlines? Essentially an all first class airline, with impeccable service and food. Its planes were rarely full, however, and ultimately they pared back service and shut down. The model may be unsustainable.

  35. jcil Guest

    I buy domestic first for the seat--I would be fine with the current FC seats coupled with the current economy service. For all those hung up on the first class nomenclature, take the remaining first class rows and call them premium economy instead, just like those installed on the wide bodies.

    This would also standardize the nomenclature across the entire fleet, as the difference between a narrow body FC seat and a wide body PE...

    I buy domestic first for the seat--I would be fine with the current FC seats coupled with the current economy service. For all those hung up on the first class nomenclature, take the remaining first class rows and call them premium economy instead, just like those installed on the wide bodies.

    This would also standardize the nomenclature across the entire fleet, as the difference between a narrow body FC seat and a wide body PE seat is pretty negligible. Domestic FC goes away, business class remains as is, and wide body first class is a truly first class product for those who want to pay for it.

  36. Brad B Guest

    A lot of flights do go out 100% full. In addition adding 16 F seats could increase revenue on some flights, however most flights I have been on have a couple of free elite upgrades. Also, don't discount standby passengers, yes many are employees, but many are revenue standby customers.

    The other thing to consider is scarcity, you get elites buying first class because they know they have very little chance of a free...

    A lot of flights do go out 100% full. In addition adding 16 F seats could increase revenue on some flights, however most flights I have been on have a couple of free elite upgrades. Also, don't discount standby passengers, yes many are employees, but many are revenue standby customers.

    The other thing to consider is scarcity, you get elites buying first class because they know they have very little chance of a free upgrade. If most planes get 10-15 elite upgrades you have fewer elites willing to pay to upgrade, which may provide less money to the airline.

    I think if an airline did this they should get rid of comp upgrades.

    1. jb17 Member

      Very valid point - as a delta DM normally 3-4 on an upgrade list for slc-atl or slc-dtw I often just buy first. But if there was reliably 3-4 or 2-3 empty seats I'd take my chances...

  37. Donna Diamond

    My observations of AA domestic F cabins this year across 20 flights, most Transcons, have shown upgrade space, usually 1 or 2 per flight in a 20 seat F cabin. I don’t see the unbridled demand that Ed Bastian is boasting. Not saying it doesn’t exist on some routes on some carriers but not ones I fly. I wouldn’t want a 36 seat domestic F experience from a service standpoint.

  38. Peter Guest

    Funny to think additional first class seats would make sense if credit card revenues dropped substantially in the next few years as users give up “earning” earning elite status due to lack of “enough” upgrades.

  39. seanp78 Gold

    The US FA Unions would never allow it.

    1. AD Diamond

      Well... DL FAs aren't unionized. AA FAs are going to go into a new contract soon. I don't think seat count is even on the radar for that contract is it? Or United? If they get a good contract, they won't open it for this.

    2. Mike Hunt Guest

      Why? It's not like carriers such as AA are providing any service beyond a single round of drinks on most domestic F flights these days. In fact, it's easier than serving coach.

  40. Parnel Member

    Interesting, Air Canada is cutting it's number of business class seats on its A321 so they are doing the exact opposite.
    AC also has a problem it's got a lot of old junk it's flying in NA, and they don't want to invest money on those planes.
    With UA and AA getting a lot of NEW narrow body planes it should not be that difficult to add more Business class seats quickly.

  41. Jeff Guest

    Internal dialogue at Delta has shown that this is the plan. They’re doubling down on higher paying customers, including increasing delta one cabins too.

  42. Jan Guest

    I think airlines adding more PE seats on long haul international flights should be a higher priority. The 21-28 seats that many airlines have is kind of pathetic, and the price delta between coach and lie-flats is too much.

  43. Eric Guest

    As expensive as fares are already from my home airport, I hope they don't cut ~10% of seats per plane.

  44. AdamH Guest

    To me the bigger question is are airlines properly rolling out the right FC product. I think we need more of the classic Barca loungers than lie flat seats or low pitch FC. There are so many routes where it makes no sense to pay such a huge premium in space for a bed you have no interest in fully sleeping in. This will be the biggest thing IMO to come out of the JetBlue Spirit merger if it goes through. Do we see BFS on B6?

    1. yoloswag420 Guest

      My opinion is that we want more direct aisle access and more privacy. I basically hate all transcon flying because it's 5 to 6 hours of sitting next to some rando in an uncomfortable seat.

  45. Jim Y Guest

    Last minute tickets often sell for fares well above the average fares paid for a given flight. The fares can be close to some first class fares. Airlines are banking on these last minute flyers who most likely will balk at the last minute first class fare and who probably not first class flyers anyway. Thus the need for more seats in economy.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Jim Y -- When capacity of aircraft is lower, airlines simply adjust how they sell seats. They don't sell those cheap tickets in advance, and instead wait to sell more expensive tickets close to departure.

      For example, look at how Southwest has chosen to order the 737 MAX 7, when the 737 MAX 8 is only marginally more expensive. The airline just doesn't want those extra seats, because it's hard to monetize them more...

      @ Jim Y -- When capacity of aircraft is lower, airlines simply adjust how they sell seats. They don't sell those cheap tickets in advance, and instead wait to sell more expensive tickets close to departure.

      For example, look at how Southwest has chosen to order the 737 MAX 7, when the 737 MAX 8 is only marginally more expensive. The airline just doesn't want those extra seats, because it's hard to monetize them more profitably.

      With good revenue management, a last minute ticket is available and expensive, regardless of aircraft type.

    2. DC not in DC Guest

      Southwest's and Spirit's "economy only" planes push millions of us to fly airlies thay have First Class, lounges, and other perks. Dreamlines and lie flats reflect demand.

  46. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Airlines are for-profit businesses. They will do what makes them the most sense.

    You should be asking why Detroit does not build more cars or why Chiquita doesn't import more bananas because the reasons the three things don't happen is the same.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Tim Dunn -- There's a difference between how airlines are supposed to do what makes them the most money, and them actually doing what makes them the most money, no? Or do you think American is a perfectly run airline, and every business decision the airline has made is correct?

      I'm not saying I'm right here. But I'm also saying that just because an airline hasn't done it, doesn't mean I'm wrong.

    2. digital_notmad Diamond

      To each their own of course but IMHO this does not seem to be the quality of analysis that merits a rebuttal. Time is finite. Though again, to each their own.

    3. Howard Miller Guest

      Yep, Braniff (I, II & III), Eastern, Pan Am (I & II), TWA, Midway (I & II), Frontier (I), New York Air, Trump Shuttle, Hooters Air, Tower Air, Muse Air, Legend (an all premium cabin configuration), Midwest Express (also all premium cabin configuration), Carnival Air, American Trans Air, Capitol, Aloha, aha!, Air Florida, Arrow Air, Atlantic Coast Airlines, Baltia (!), Continental Lite, Delta “Song”/Delta “Express”/Delta Private Jets, United “Ted”/Shuttle by United, ExpressJet, Global International, go!,...

      Yep, Braniff (I, II & III), Eastern, Pan Am (I & II), TWA, Midway (I & II), Frontier (I), New York Air, Trump Shuttle, Hooters Air, Tower Air, Muse Air, Legend (an all premium cabin configuration), Midwest Express (also all premium cabin configuration), Carnival Air, American Trans Air, Capitol, Aloha, aha!, Air Florida, Arrow Air, Atlantic Coast Airlines, Baltia (!), Continental Lite, Delta “Song”/Delta “Express”/Delta Private Jets, United “Ted”/Shuttle by United, ExpressJet, Global International, go!, Independence Air, Northeastern, Overseas National Airways, Pilgrim, Altair, Presidential Airways, MGM Grand Air (an all premium/all 1st class airline JFK-LAX transcons), Skybus,
      Trans International Airlines/TIA, USA3000, Wien Air Alaska, World Airways

      …and many more!

      Simply put, an array of airlines & business models has been tried & mostly failed over the decades since deregulation began (phased in beginning late 1970s/early 1980s), and especially during the heydays of Airline Deregulation that passed Congress in 1978, including a few attempts at upscale/premium/lower density/more legroom (Legend, Midway (I), Midwest Express) or even ultra luxe (MGM Grand Air) airlines.

      Granted, the startups/new entrants (or “Supplemental Carriers” [charter airlines] such as Capitol Airlines, Trans International or World Airways that initiated scheduled service on an handful of high traffic [trunk] routes in the earliest years of Airline Deregulation) never achieved the scale the Big 3 US legacy carriers now have, but still a great many attempts at “reinventing the wheel” have been undertaken, and yet, here we are where 3 of the largest 4 US airlines have the same 2-class (or “2.5 class” if including extra legroom economy class rows) domestic cabins now that they have had since the Dawn of the jet age.

      And although now the “ancillary fee-based” airlines like Allegiant, Frontier & Spirit are commonly referred to as Ultra Low Cost Carriers, high density, low fare (or even fee based, a la carte) airlines are hardly new - they were just called “No Frills Airlines” back in the day (think: Laker Airways’ SkyTrain [yes, that was a UK-based airline], Capitol Airlines, World Airways, ValuJet, PeopleExpress being the most notable.

      And yep, Delta, Continental, United & USAirways all tried - and failed - to launch their own, low fare, no frills “airline within an airline” operations to defend against the no frills upstarts.

    4. Howard Miller Guest

      Addendum:

      MetroJet was the low fare/“no frills” airline within an airline launched by USAirways.

      The low fare/“no frills” airline within an airline for Continental, Delta & United are included in the original list above.

      Tower Air was another low fare/no frills airline based at JFK Airport in NY.

      It operated a fleet of “2nd hand” Boeing 747s on the busiest routes from JFK (especially LAX, MIA), perhaps most notably to/from Tel Aviv.

      Finally, Delta...

      Addendum:

      MetroJet was the low fare/“no frills” airline within an airline launched by USAirways.

      The low fare/“no frills” airline within an airline for Continental, Delta & United are included in the original list above.

      Tower Air was another low fare/no frills airline based at JFK Airport in NY.

      It operated a fleet of “2nd hand” Boeing 747s on the busiest routes from JFK (especially LAX, MIA), perhaps most notably to/from Tel Aviv.

      Finally, Delta also made headlines when it launched $55 each way no frills flights at JFK to/from select major airports in Florida (especially FLL, but IIRC NOT MIA or PBI) in the economy - or “coach” as it was commonly called then - cabin using widebody Lockheed L1011 TriStars in the earliest years of airline deregulation.

    5. Onemiler Guest

      Tim this is not a good argument. There is demand for premium seats. In the last year I had to get 3 economy flights because 1st was sold out. This is a recent phenomenon yes. You can't change plane configurations overnight. You need to make plans and execute on that plan over time... what Ben is suggesting is with the recent change in the way people want to fly (more people want to fly premium)...

      Tim this is not a good argument. There is demand for premium seats. In the last year I had to get 3 economy flights because 1st was sold out. This is a recent phenomenon yes. You can't change plane configurations overnight. You need to make plans and execute on that plan over time... what Ben is suggesting is with the recent change in the way people want to fly (more people want to fly premium) is this an opportunity for an airline to increase its revenue by giving flyers what they want? I think for a lot of routes there is.

    6. Tim Dunn Diamond

      I don't know what airline, route and timeframe you were trying to book but airlines shouldn't be selling out their highest revenue seats until just a few hours before departure. There might have been an irregular operation that took the seats but if it was a "normal" day, then the problem is revenue management, not the lack of inventory.
      Airlines look at seating configurations all the time.
      UA has more economy plus seats...

      I don't know what airline, route and timeframe you were trying to book but airlines shouldn't be selling out their highest revenue seats until just a few hours before departure. There might have been an irregular operation that took the seats but if it was a "normal" day, then the problem is revenue management, not the lack of inventory.
      Airlines look at seating configurations all the time.
      UA has more economy plus seats and that is what DL is adding on domestic flights as part of the new MAX 10s.
      Not a single US airline has committed to a significant increase in domestic standard configuration aircraft. They are committing to more premium cabin seats on premium configured narrowbodies and widebodies.
      That should tell you all you need to know about how the airlines view their domestic premium cabin potential revenue streams.

    7. James S Guest

      This is a terrible argument. For-profit businesses frequently make terrible decisions and go out of business.

      "You should be asking why Sears does not run a successful website or why Blockbuster didn't buy Netflix because the reasons the three things don't happen is the same."

    8. Tim Dunn Diamond

      and yet we are talking about 3 airlines that are approaching 100 years of service with Delta the oldest. Generalities about "but they COULD make a mistake" are silly.
      Delta HAS made decisions about where they will add more seats on domestic-configured aircraft and it is in the extra legroom economy section (comfort plus).
      United has the largest extra legroom section on its domestic aircraft but Delta has larger premium economy cabins on...

      and yet we are talking about 3 airlines that are approaching 100 years of service with Delta the oldest. Generalities about "but they COULD make a mistake" are silly.
      Delta HAS made decisions about where they will add more seats on domestic-configured aircraft and it is in the extra legroom economy section (comfort plus).
      United has the largest extra legroom section on its domestic aircraft but Delta has larger premium economy cabins on its international aircraft but smaller business class cabins which they are reportedly increasing.
      It is not theoretical and it is not a mistake or a static decision for any of AA, DL or UA. They continually look at the size of their cabins and are revising them.
      None of them are adding to the size of their domestic first class cabins.

  47. digital_notmad Diamond

    This analysis makes a lot of sense. I think the reason it hasn't happened already is that airline execs increasingly think in quarters and not in years (notwithstanding how they pitch things). They can get costs down *right now* by gutting loyalty programs and then collect their head pats from investors; sure it'll generate a competitive problem years from now that makes those same investors angry, but that's the next guy's problem. Similarly, airlines very...

    This analysis makes a lot of sense. I think the reason it hasn't happened already is that airline execs increasingly think in quarters and not in years (notwithstanding how they pitch things). They can get costs down *right now* by gutting loyalty programs and then collect their head pats from investors; sure it'll generate a competitive problem years from now that makes those same investors angry, but that's the next guy's problem. Similarly, airlines very likely could increase revenue by retrofitting planes in this manner (or even changing the configuration for upcoming deliveries), but that is a "cost center" right now, even though it's a revenue generator later.

  48. 9volt Gold

    I'm not well versed in the capabilities of an A321 galley, but would an A321 galley have the capacity to take on an additional 16 plated meals?

    1. MaxPower Diamond

      I’m no expert either, but a321XLRs will be delivering significantly higher meal service than the NEO for overnight lie flat and PE pax. I’d assume a regular 321 can load some extra meals as well

    2. Klaus Guest

      I must assume yes: back in the days, everybody onboard an A321 received a full-size meal on a flight from Frankfurt to Egypt.

  49. Johnny A Guest

    Disagree. the service culture on US carriers will never be able to provide a true first-class experience (by global standards). So stick to a comfortable seat in business class, that’s the best we will ever get

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Johnny A -- I'm talking about domestic first class, not international first class. So we're just talking about a little more space and cafeteria food, not caviar and showers.

    2. Johnny A Guest

      Fair enough. But then it’s just word inflation, where “a little more space and cafeteria food” is enough to classify as a first class experience (even in US). Like a Michelin-star restaurant or 5-star hotel, there are some generally accepted standards on what this special designation means. I don’t think it’s possible to deliver on US carriers, especially domestic

    3. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Johnny A -- I hear you, but I'm not making a judgment call about domestic first class here. That's what it's called right now, and I'm asking the question of whether it should be expanded (and not improved).

    4. Jason Brandt Lewis Guest

      The problem is that there is no true first class on domestic flights anymore. Virgin America and Jet Blue Mint would qualify as a true First Class, but AS killed off VX and B6 doesn't fly Mint on enough routes. True, First on AA, DL and UA are a definite improvement over Economy, but I for one am quite comfortable in "Economy Plus" or in an Exit Row on a domestic transcon flight -- the...

      The problem is that there is no true first class on domestic flights anymore. Virgin America and Jet Blue Mint would qualify as a true First Class, but AS killed off VX and B6 doesn't fly Mint on enough routes. True, First on AA, DL and UA are a definite improvement over Economy, but I for one am quite comfortable in "Economy Plus" or in an Exit Row on a domestic transcon flight -- the only time I fly in F domestically is if/when I get upgraded...though I concede it would be worth it if I had to take a red-eye.

  50. Pete Guest

    Of you're going to expand it and still call it first class, you need to staff it to first class standards and provide a first class experience. If they're not doing it now, how do we think they'll do better with an extra three rows? And 38" pitch?

    Don't bother.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Pete -- I mean, I wouldn't expect service to be great, but if you remove 30 economy seats and add 16 first class seats, you can move one flight attendant from economy to first.

    2. Beachfan Guest

      Not with the horrible narrowbody F American puts out here.

      First put in decent seats.

    3. Brad B Guest

      How, how would you do this? On UA 739s there are 4 FAs. 2 in F and 2 in Y. Are you proposing that UA have 1FA for all of Y?

      If you add a 5th FA you massively decrease any expected revenue increases.

      FA staffing is the number 1 reason why you won't see more than 24 seats in F on a US carrier.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Mike Guest

OMG, that is a horrible idea. I just flew Euro Regional biz class on British Airways and it was the WORST FLIGHT EVER. They take economy seats and block out the middle with a tray. The can expand the cabin by moving the divider curtain back and gobbling up more economy seats. It was awful. I get what you are saying; upgrade that a bit by essentially offer Comfort+ seats with the middle seat blocked, I would boycott any domestic airline that did that.

2
Onemiler Guest

Tim this is not a good argument. There is demand for premium seats. In the last year I had to get 3 economy flights because 1st was sold out. This is a recent phenomenon yes. You can't change plane configurations overnight. You need to make plans and execute on that plan over time... what Ben is suggesting is with the recent change in the way people want to fly (more people want to fly premium) is this an opportunity for an airline to increase its revenue by giving flyers what they want? I think for a lot of routes there is.

2
Dolphin Guest

Yes! I'd love to see UA offer lie-flats consistently from the West Coast to IAD/IAH/ORD, especially on redeyes.

2
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