Korean Air Eliminating First Class On Dozens Of Routes

Filed Under: Korean Air

Many people say that the concept of international first class is dead, given how good business class seats are getting nowadays. While there’s no denying that some airlines are introducing premium economy at the expense of first class, there are still plenty of airlines that continue to believe in (and invest in) first class.

Korean Air is one of those. Korean Air must have among the highest percentage of planes with first class of any airline. Off the top of my head, the only airline I can think of that has more planes with first class is Emirates.

Korean Air’s odd approach to first class

While Korean Air does historically embrace the first class concept, there is something that makes them unique in this department.

For example, here’s Korean Air’s 787 first class:

And here’s Korean Air’s 787 business class:

Meanwhile here’s Korean Air’s A330 first class:

And here’s Korean Air’s A330 business class:

As you can see, in many cases Korean Air uses the same seats for first and business class, and just differentiates the food and service.

This isn’t the case on all planes, though, as 777s, 747s, and A380s all feature different cabins in first class than business class.

Well, it looks like the airline is now taking a significant step to change up their first class.

Korean Air eliminating first class on 27 routes

The Korean Herald reports that Korean Air will be removing first class seats from 27 international routes starting June 1, 2019. With this change, the airline will only have economy and business class on 76 of their 111 routes, meaning that only 35 routes will still have first class.

Korean Air says that they’re making this change to increase efficiency and maximize profitability.

It seems like most of the first class cuts are coming on shorter flights, though the airline will maintain first class on routes to Beijing, Osaka, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, and Hanoi, in addition to many long haul routes.

According to a Korean Air spokesperson:

“We decided to apply two class seat options for flights to tourism destinations where there was low demand for first class. We will do our best to minimize the inconvenience of first-class passengers and maintain quality service for prestige-class passengers.”

My guess is that Korean Air’s A330s will be among the first to be reconfigured without first class.

What’s interesting is that Korean Air won’t be increasing the seat count here (since it’s the same seat in first class as business class), so it seems this move is mostly driven just by minimizing the soft product costs associated with first class.

By eliminating first class they can improve staffing in business class, reduce catering costs, and hopefully maximize yields by better selling business class.

What do you make of Korean Air eliminating first class on many of their routes?

(Tip of the hat to Szymon)

  1. My guess is that they won’t bother reconfiguring, they’ll just call it business class and provide business class service and amenities. Since the seats are the same anyway what’s the diff? The A330 I am scheduled on so far is still showing the same configuration of seats, but I’ve just been downgraded from F to C. Since it’s only a couple of hours from ICN to TPE it’s not a big deal. My flight is booked as part of an F award with a stopover. IAD-ICN-TPE. The Skypass desk finally called me back and said that since the long leg is still in F that there’s no adjustment to the amount of miles I spent.

  2. Flew BOM-ICN “first class” couple of years ago. Very average hard product. Was only reasonably fun because I was the only one in the cabin (1 row 2-2-2), and was able to make separate bed. Had over the top service to the point of being a little uncomfortable.

    747-8 first class ICN-ATL on the other hand was amazing. Nose of 747 never gets old and only 6 seats total.

  3. One other thing… When I was booking this award since it was an F award the search engine would only show me routings with all F availability rather than mixed classes. I wonder if that has anything to do with the change since it would eliminate F class award options connecting from ICN to other places in the region?

  4. Would be really ticked at this if Chase hadn’t already abandoned Korean Air… not having a transfer partner or easy way to book these awards anymore makes it …. meh.

  5. I think LX is the only significant airline left which features First Class on all of their long-haul planes. EK has a few two-class long-haul planes, so do SQ, CX, LH, AF, BA…

  6. I agree that they won’t bother changing the seat configuration. However, apart from “soft product cost” (e.g. catering), they also hope to increase the load factor. As far as I could tell, they “protected” empty seats in First pretty much until last minute, just in case someone was making a booking. On those routes without First, they will be able selling the former First seats at Business fares (which some other airlines would have done anyway through overbooking, but to my knowledge Korean rather not).

  7. ‘meh

    Even the best first class airplane food is ‘just okay.’ If i’m booking anything above premium economy my goal is to get a good night sleep, having a relaxing pre-flight experience and arrive at my destination well rested and ready to go.

    How many people really want to shell out the extra $7-8k for a slightly nicer meal and a slightly more polished service. I’d think if i had that much disposable cash I’d just fly private?

  8. I flew their icon to sfo before. I thought the hard product with door is nice. The food was meh. Service was good. But since there is no more Chase transfers, I don’t really care about if they have F or not. Good luck to that airline…..

  9. I flu Korean to Hanoi last week in an 777-200 and there was no one in First class meanwhile Business was full…so this seams logical

  10. I mean I’m not surprised. Looking at random dates and certain routes with the 330, F is sometimes 3 times the price of J! Never in hell would I pay 3 times the price for the same seat, and slightly better food.

  11. @Aaron, F would mostly be filled under corporate contracts for which the regular price doesn’t matter. Especially in East Asia, it’s important that certain levels of the hierarchy are given corporate travel in certain classes, whatever the seat. The note about tourist destinations is the hint that these are routes that lack enough corporate contracts to make it worth it.

  12. Doesn’t matter a lick to me since without Chase UR, I won’t be flying them anymore

  13. Pictures for Korean Air’s A330 first class and business class are switched. Note longer legroom and different table tray pull out. Otherwise same seat.

  14. well, first it seems pictures are switched but no I was wrong, it seems they are 100% identical but picture for business class was showing bulkhead seat with extra long center divider housing entertainment screens.

  15. I think Swiss and BA also offer First Class on a very high percentage of their fleet (i think Swiss still 100%)

  16. Flying KE F From ICN-BKK on 3rd of June. How i can I see which were the routes that were affected by this? Thanks!

  17. I hope Korea improve the very dates a380 business class soon?

    Anybody know what is happening?

    Hope it isn’t another AF/Lufthansa decision to withdraw many of them rather than refurbish them.

  18. Any idea if LAX-ICN is on the list to be cut?

    IIRC, the last time I flew that route, I thought it was on an A380, but I could be wrong.

    In my experience, it is much easier to find award availability in first than in business on KE.

  19. Yesterday’s experience: using 95,000 KE miles, I had booked KE first from BOS-ICN-MAN in December 2019. Got an email yesterday saying there was a class change and I needed to call. Upon calling was told that there was no longer first class on either leg (BOS-ICN is 787 and ICN-MAN is A330). Was credited 20,000 miles and re-booked in business. Kept the same seats though – 1A and 1D. So BOS-ICN won’t have a first class going forward, and looks like ICN-MAN won’t either.

  20. @flyingrohit – KE will contact you (email and/or text message) if your particular flight was downgraded

  21. my connecting flight to Japan is affected with this , I have JFK-ICN-NRT on F (RT) my ICN-NRT are now saying Prestige. B777-300 . =(

  22. No more F class on (regardless of survived routes): B787-9(789E), A330-300(333Q,333E), A330-200(333Q,333E), A330-200(332Q), B777-300(773Q), * However, if 773Q is scheduled on GMP-HND/HND-GMP, F class is offered.

    No more F class on (permanently): YYZ, YVR, BCN, ZAG (Zagreb, Croatia), MAD, IST, BNE, AUK, NAN (Nadi, Fiji), ICN-(NRT)-HNL (ICN-HNL direct flights survived.), LED (St.Petersburg, Russia), VVO (Vladivostok, Russia), IKT (Irkutsk, Russia), TAS (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

    Southeast Asia – all routes except, BKK, SIN, MNL, CGK, KUL, SGN, HAN
    Japan – all routes except, GMP-HND, ICN-NRT, GMP,ICN-KIX, ICN-NGO (Nagoya)
    Greater China- all routes except, GMP, ICN-BEK, GMP-SHA, ICN-PVG, ICN-HKG, ICN-TPE

    it makes sense to cutting F class on these routes. No money to KE.

  23. I called about our AKL-ICN-DFW tix and they said that the same seat and lounge access will be used on AKL-ICN but that the TV screen will be smaller and meal would be different. Obviously we know that means service and drinks also affected, but it’s hard for me to believe that they are going to leave Kosmo 2.0 suites as business and just put in a smaller TV. I specifically asked about Kosmo 2.0 on the 77W.

  24. DFW-ICN swapped from 773 to 789. I returned their phone call and was told my A class is now J class. I requested miles refund (80K – 62.5K). Was told no refund as the soft product (allegedly) the same. Other option was to cancel this April travel. No doubt, I will escalate. Is anyone award of a solid contact phone number or email address for this purpose? Thanks.

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