Qantas axes first-class service to US
By CHRIS DANIELS aviation writer
The days of quaffing Krug at 30,000 feet look to be numbered for New Zealanders wanting to fly to the United States.
Qantas, which flies from Auckland to Los Angeles seven times a week, is axing its first-class service next month, with Air New Zealand widely expected to follow its lead next year.
Qantas is upgrading all its business-class seats on the Auckland-Los Angeles route, hoping that the new reclining seats will keep happy those used to the space of first class.
One first-class patron unhappy at the axing is Aucklander Stuart Clumpas, who recently immigrated from Britain.
He said he did not fly first class for the food and champagne, but for the decent seats that allowed him to sleep properly.
The prospect of having to one day first fly to Sydney to go first class to the US was not a good one.
"Why should I go backwards to go forwards?" he asked. He was concerned at the possibility of the proposed alliance of Air New Zealand and Qantas, and the parlous financial state of United would lead to an across-the-board downgrading of services to the US.
If Qantas and Air New Zealand stopped offering first class service, it would leave only United flying such a class non-stop to the US.
While a new, low-cost rival could set up in competition to Qantas and Air New Zealand domestically, or on transtasman routes, such a rival would find it more difficult and expensive to compete on the long transpacific routes.
Air New Zealand flies twice daily to Los Angeles and has first, business and economy classes on all these flights. It will soon, however, study its long-haul routes, to see if they can be reorganised.
Cutting first class and expanding business class has been a way of keeping costs lower and increasing revenue for airlines around the world.
Many first class passengers had upgraded using frequent-flyer points, meaning airlines were not actually earning any extra money from providing the more expensive service.
The president of the Travel Agents Association, James Langton, said the volume of traffic out of New Zealand was not high enough for the airlines to justify a first-class service.
Those wanting to travel first class to the US from New Zealand would probably soon have to fly to Sydney before heading across the Pacific.
On busy routes, such as Sydney to London and Sydney to Hong Kong, first class seats would be offered, because of the volume of travel.
Langton said that in his experience there were three types of first class travellers. One would be chief executive of a large company - of which there would be only a few in New Zealand. The next would be frequent flyers who had upgraded from a business class seat with their airpoints. Filling the remaining seats would often be retired people. Of these three groups, those who have upgraded with frequent-flyer points or other loyalty points would be the largest.
Qantas would not be axing its first-class service if it was making any money from it, said Langton.
"They're not stupid - they wouldn't be pulling first class if there was any demand.
"People like first class because they are able to go to sleep, that's the advantage ... "
Langton said that two people he knew who flew first class were happy to be paying less for business, just so long as they got a decent business-class seat that they could sleep on.
For an Auckland to Los Angeles flight, most people had dinner, watched a movie then went to sleep, said Langton.
"For the difference in price you just can't justify it."
- I wonder if this is a sign for the future??