bluefltspecial From United States of America, joined Sep 2013, 30 posts, RR: 0 Posted (2 months 2 weeks 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 2573 times:
Fixing First Class in the US
The past few months I’ve been in Biz Elite on Delta on a few international flights and in First Class on a number of US domestic flights. Recently, I had a guy sitting next to me who mentioned that his company would pay for him to sit in biz/first class but since he knows he’s most times he’s going to get upgraded complimentary for his status he doesn’t bother paying for it. This struck me as I’ve paid for upgrades and used miles but I don’t have enough status on Delta or any other carrier for that matter where I get complimentary upgrades.
It did make me realize tho that perhaps Delta along with others are missing the mark, maybe others too. My last trip on United, to no where exciting SMF from ORD had 32 people on the upgrade list for 2 available seats. My recent trip to SFO on Delta from JFK had 50 some people on the upgrade list! With no seats available! I know the policy of upgrading free for high level status is done to keep competitive but it would seem that if there are that many people with status that fly that often these would be people who would be willing to pay for an upgrade, some companys might pay for it others might allow their employees to charge it to a company card where they can write it off later.
After doing my homework it seems that Delta (who I fly most) will upgrade their top elite status 5 days out then the next level down and 3 days and 1 day and then same day. It would seem that it would make more sense to do all upgrades same day but allow customers to pay for an upgrade (discounted for elite status) earlier that same day. Perhaps someone who is Silver status would be willing to pay for a discounted upgrade where a platinum medalion wouldn’t be willing to pay. Two weeks ago I sat in economy comfort on the way back from Chicago with a guy who wanted to purchase a First Class seat on the flight I was on however all the upgrades resulted in him being unable to purchase a seat. He even asked at the gate and the agent clearly told him that they had all been awarded to upgraders the previous days. Didn’t seem to make much sense to me. I understand rewarding your loyal fliers but it may be shooting yourself in the foot missing out on last minute full fares, especially on busy business flights like ORD-LGA.
Thinking about the ridiculous fares I’ve seen for First Class on US domestic flights it made me realize that few are going to pay that much for a bigger seat and free drinks. So, what does the airline industry need to do to upgrade their First Class to make people actually pay for it? Meals on every flight? Tonight I’m flying from DFW-LGA we left at 4:30pm and arrive at 9pm. There is no meal service in First Class. Why? Well it’s a 1400 mile flight during a meal time but because of how Delta’s wording is and flights departing between 1pm and 4pm do not receive meals. I had the same thing happen coming back from Houston last year. Not thinking I just assumed that on a 3.5 hour flight there would be a meal service in First but, no. Then you have flights like MSP-DFW which I took a few days ago, during a meal time but since the flight was 850 miles it missed the meal requirement of 900 miles. All we had was a snack basket which minus the bananas was carb city. Sadly, I also flew US between MSP and PHX at 11am and there was no meal on the 1200 miles 3.5 hour flight and beverages served in plastic cups! One would think they would at least offer something like a fruit and cheese plate on flights over 700 miles and less that 900. I’ve flown other airlines outside the US and on a shorter flight received the “works” in First as far as meals and drinks go even on a one hour flight!
The other thing I find odd in First in the US at least is that both United (on my one UA PS flight, in F no less!) and Delta both use plastic cups on the ground for predeparture beverages. I would think in an effort to “class it up” they would at least use glass on the ground.
At one point in time it seemed that there was a “race to the bottom” across the board for US carriers cutting everything they could after 9/11. Now there seems to be a resurgence on the focus of the passenger and to some degree First Class. Delta has free snacks in economy on all flights and is offering widebody service with layflat seats from JFK to LAX on select flights. United has revamped it PS product with lieflat seats and gone to a complete 2 class cabin from a 3 class. Jetblue has announced that it will be offering lieflat seats in the first ever 2 class aircraft on the JFK-LAX route. AA is bringing their new A321s that look amazing with a huge first and business class section for just the JFK-LAX route...
So, what is the fix for First Class domestically in the US? I don’t think there is any one thing but a combination of many. I’ve almost never flown first on other airlines outside the US minus LH once. I generally won’t bother even thinking about it unless the flight is over two hours. Would lowering the fares in first on short hauls make an impact enough to make it work, to me it would. Should it be adding Champagne before departure? I’d think it would certainly step the “feel” of it up. Adding an amenity kit? I love them on international flights. Using glass on the ground, adding meals, better IFE (or any for that matter). What would push people to start paying for First in the US?
What do the airlines need to do to get it back on par with their competition around the world?
readytotaxi From United Kingdom, joined Dec 2006, 2887 posts, RR: 3 Reply 1, posted (2 months 2 weeks 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 2458 times:
Let me offer you a point of view of Domestic First Class from this side of the pond, outdated and poor value.
I think the product needs a good kick up the behind.
Going back a good few years I would fly to Florida and California from LGW with either NorthWest or Continental with a connection because the service was better in my opinion than a direct flight with BA. I paid the going rate with no mileage upgrades and was happy with the service on the ground and in the air. My last domestic First was EWR-MCO just before CO merged, apart from the seat the service was bland and not fit for purpose.
Not a romantic about the golden days but airlines need a better class of service for a domestic 3hr + flight.
Airlines should want to win your First class travel purchase. I note that on East/West coast travel things are starting to look up, a lot more needs to improve, perhaps now is not the time for this investment from an airline POV?
you don't get a second chance to make a first impression!
roseflyer From United States of America, joined Feb 2004, 9151 posts, RR: 52 Reply 2, posted (2 months 2 weeks 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 2394 times:
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter):
Thinking about the ridiculous fares I’ve seen for First Class on US domestic flights it made me realize that few are going to pay that much for a bigger seat and free drinks
High first class air fares used to be a big problem, but they have been dropping. On most routes they are about 50-100% more expensive than discount economy (ignoring the super discount economy fares sold way out in advance).
It really depends on the route, but between major cities about 50% of the first class seats are going to revenue passengers who purchase the seat. They go to people who either buy a domestic first seat or are connecting to an international flight in business or first class. Obviously it is less for cities like FLL, PHX, MCO, LAS, etc.
One good thing about all the complimentary upgrades, is that more people are buying the seats because the chance of getting an upgrade is slim. Most airlines use to have paid upgrades for elites. That meant that for mid tier elites, upgrades were almost always available for a fee of about $50 per 500 miles. Now with complimentary upgrades, the chance of an upgrade is almost gone for all but top tier elites. That pushes mid and low tier elites to pay for F. There’s some data to say that complimentary upgrades, actually increased revenue. The number of first class seats sold went from 25% or so to about 40% when the upgrade lists expanded to include up to 50% of the plane on key business routes (numbers are anecdotal, not actuals).
If you have never designed an airplane part before, let the real designers do the work!
incitatus From Brazil, joined Feb 2005, 3929 posts, RR: 14 Reply 3, posted (2 months 2 weeks 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 2175 times:
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter): Tonight I’m flying from DFW-LGA we left at 4:30pm and arrive at 9pm. There is no meal service in First Class. Why? Well it’s a 1400 mile flight during a meal time but because of how Delta’s wording is and flights departing between 1pm and 4pm do not receive meals
Not quite sure you got your facts right. The site delta.com says the 4:30 pm DFW-LGA has dinner in F. But the 3:15 pm does not.
If all you need is food in F, you might be flying on the wrong airlines. AA has an F meal service on all DFW-LGA flights.
Kuja From Bermuda, joined Aug 2013, 45 posts, RR: 0 Reply 4, posted (2 months 2 weeks 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 2043 times:
It would appear that US domestic First/Business has the hard product (dedicated First seats, and flat beds on some) but lacks the service, whereas intra-European Business class flights often have that service but lack the hard product, often using normal economy seating with the centre seat blocked off. If you are lucky, they may put a tray across the centre seat to make it a table.
I've flown British Airways in Club Europe and been impressed with the service (they try to serve a meal on all their flights in CE) but not particularly thrilled by the seating, which was more cramped than an economy exit row. I have also tried Virgin America in First, and was most impressed - their cabin is indeed very good. Their service was also friendly and helpful, but not quite CE levels.
From what I have seen in Trip Reports, JAL and ANA do manage to combine a more exclusive hard product with great service, but I have not had the pleasure of trying either myself.
Viscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 23169 posts, RR: 23 Reply 5, posted (2 months 2 weeks 22 hours ago) and read 1871 times:
Quoting Kuja (Reply 4): It would appear that US domestic First/Business has the hard product (dedicated First seats, and flat beds on some) but lacks the service, whereas intra-European Business class flights often have that service but lack the hard product, often using normal economy seating with the centre seat blocked off.
The big difference is that in Europe, virtually all passengers in business class have paid the applicable business class fare. There's virtually no upgrading, regardless of frequent flyer status level. And there's no need for the U.S.-style F class seats on flights that are rarely more than 1 or 2 hours long. I much prefer being guaranteed an empty seat next to me.
BD338 From United States of America, joined Jul 2010, 654 posts, RR: 0 Reply 6, posted (2 months 1 week 10 hours ago) and read 1530 times:
The only way to fix it is for people to buy it. But if the airlines insist on giving it away then how are they going to pay for an improved product? There is a reason airlines are fighting to attract customers on NYC-LAX/SFO, with lie flat seats, better service etc. They are some of the very few routes in the country where most of the people sat up front have actually paid to be there rather than upgrade. Hence a reason for an airline to invest in F on those routes, I don't expect many other routes to get the same treatment.
Stitch From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 28492 posts, RR: 84 Reply 7, posted (2 months 1 week 10 hours ago) and read 1526 times:
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter): The other thing I find odd in First in the US at least is that both United (on my one UA PS flight, in F no less!) and Delta both use plastic cups on the ground for predeparture beverages. I would think in an effort to “class it up” they would at least use glass on the ground.
This is done because it's easier to collect before push-back, allowing passengers more time to consume the drink. It also is quicker for the FAs, who have other functions in support of preparing for push-back.
Longhornmaniac From United States of America, joined Jun 2005, 3199 posts, RR: 45 Reply 8, posted (2 months 1 week 7 hours ago) and read 1497 times:
Some interesting thoughts here. I'll add my :
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter): t did make me realize tho that perhaps Delta along with others are missing the mark, maybe others too. My last trip on United, to no where exciting SMF from ORD had 32 people on the upgrade list for 2 available seats. My recent trip to SFO on Delta from JFK had 50 some people on the upgrade list! With no seats available! I know the policy of upgrading free for high level status is done to keep competitive but it would seem that if there are that many people with status that fly that often these would be people who would be willing to pay for an upgrade, some companys might pay for it others might allow their employees to charge it to a company card where they can write it off later.
I think this is entirely indicative of your point that people ARE paying for the seats. If you have that many people competing for so few seats (obviously, there are many more people on the list than there are seats in the cabin, but the fact there were only two seats (or none in your second example) available at the airport is pretty indicative that the seats had been gobbled up ahead of time. I'm sure some were handed out to top tier flyers, but I'd bet a handful were paid for.
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter): Perhaps someone who is Silver status would be willing to pay for a discounted upgrade where a platinum medalion wouldn’t be willing to pay.
This is exactly what AA does, albeit in a slightly different way. Rather than giving complimentary domestic upgrades to all elites, only the Executive Platinums get them. Other tiers are required to use 500-mile "stickers" which cost $30-$35, depending on where you buy them. If your flight is 900 miles, you're required to use 2. This results in some degree of prioritization on which flights are important to list for the upgrade. Different people have different value sets. Some may decide they're going to list for all of them, regardless of the distance. I know I've decided it was worth it on occasion to list for the 30 minute, 183 mile AUS-DFW flight before. Other times, that seems ridiculous. But the end result is that instead of being almost certain that PM and DMs will take all the upgrades like is the case on Delta, it actually gives the lower tiers a fighting chance of hitting the upgrade.
Otherwise, I disagree here. As a (hopefully) soon-to-be top tier elite on AA, it would really ruffle my feathers to have a lower tier elite get a discounted upgrade over me. There are already channels by which they can get an upgrade ahead of me. They can pay for it using cash or miles. Barring that, it's very important for airlines to keep their most frequent flyers happy. One of the main perks is getting upgrades. You're already seeing dissension in the ranks among some Executive Platinum flyers because the fares have dropped so much it's making upgrades more and more difficult. As a Platinum, I've noticed this, too, but I'm pretty smart about picking flights that look good for upgrades. My travel schedule is frequently more flexible than others.
Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter): Thinking about the ridiculous fares I’ve seen for First Class on US domestic flights it made me realize that few are going to pay that much for a bigger seat and free drinks.
I definitely disagree with this. As others have noted, fares have dropped considerably in F, as airlines try to actually fill the cabin with paying passengers. I, myself, have done it once or twice. $400 one way in F from AUS-SEA isn't too bad, actually.
I think you're comparing apples and oranges. The "business class" product intra-Europe is a joke. I can't think of one airline in Europe that has a true premium product up front. By comparison, domestic F in the US looks like a veritable Suite on Singapore. The regional J product in Asia is nicer by and large, but the stage lengths are frequently longer, and there is greater dependency on widebody aircraft. You have to consider as well that more people fly in the US than anywhere else, which creates an emphasis placed on frequency. More smaller planes rather than fewer larger planes. This results in a much larger frequent flyer base flying more, shorter flights. A decision needed to be made whether to put in fewer, more spacious seats in domestic F, or more, less spacious seats. In the end, when frequent flyers aren't getting their upgrades, they'll start to look to airlines where they would. This necessitated making sure there were plenty of premium seats available. Can you imagine if CX tried to install as many of their regional J seats onto an MD-80? There wouldn't be any coach left! There is only so much you can do with the narrowbodies that are prevalent in the US. As a result, we have more choices as far as schedules are concerned, but are saddled with smaller planes that have less room.
Viscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 23169 posts, RR: 23 Reply 9, posted (2 months 1 week 1 hour ago) and read 1463 times:
Quoting Longhornmaniac (Reply 8): Quoting bluefltspecial (Thread starter):
What do the airlines need to do to get it back on par with their competition around the world?
I think you're comparing apples and oranges. The "business class" product intra-Europe is a joke. I can't think of one airline in Europe that has a true premium product up front. By comparison, domestic F in the US looks like a veritable Suite on Singapore.
The European business class product is all that's needed on the typical short flights, few of which exceed 2 hours or so. It works very well in my experience. And it gives the airlines much more flexibility since demand for business fares varies so widely from route to route, day of week, and time of day. Being able to adjust the size of the business cabin from 2 rows (or none) to 7 or 8 rows is very useful and helps maximize revenue.
Personally, I prefer an empty seat next to me as now the rule on most European business classes. You also board and deplane first, get better inflight service, and lounge access which is rarely the the case for F class domestic fares in the U.S. unless you're at the required elite status level.
You can't compare U.S. domestic flights, many of which are 4 to 6 hours, with the shorthaul European market where 60 to 90 minutes is much more common.
The other difference is that virtually all passengers in business class in Europe have paid to be there. There's almost no upgrading based on elite frequent flyer status, unlike the situation in the U.S. where it's common that most passengers in F class haven't paid the applicable F fare.
I agree with all of what you said. My point was that the OP mentioned bringing US domestic F up to the standards of international airlines, and I argued that it far exceeds what is offered intra-Europe. That's not saying the intra-Europe needs to improve, because, as you pointed out, it's a very different market with very different needs. I was only offering that US domestic F was not behind the curve when it comes to short and medium-haul products; on the contrary, many airlines have embraced the European-style, which, while perfectly prudent for the markets it serves, is certainly behind the standard domestic F product (at least the hard product) in the US.
cloudboy From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 737 posts, RR: 0 Reply 11, posted (2 months 7 hours ago) and read 1115 times:
I think this is missing the point entirely.
The problem isn't how to fix first class to pay such a high premium over what most people pay for economy. The idea is to fix the price so that more people pay for first.
Lie flats and fancy meals are fine for long flights, but a 3 hour flight really does not justify those in most people's minds. Fancy meals again are not a selling point to most people - there is no realistic way an airline can provide restaurant level service in the air. Leave that to the ground restaurants. instead provide decent food with a decent selection.
I have to question roseflyers numbers. All the routes I have checked First is significantly more than double what I would have to pay in coach. This might not be true of premium time flights, where those cheap coach seats are not available. But the reality is that most people do not consider domestic first to give you twice as much room and twice as good service to justify more than twice the price.
Want more people paying for first? Offer it to them for a value, and make it available (none of these 8 seats total). Ditch the fancy plates, the fancy glasses. Airlines can't stand to think they might be giving up one huge fare paying customer. They never think about how many small paying customers they loose in such a case.
"Six becoming three doesn't create more Americans that want to fly." -Adam Pilarski