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Joined: Wed Aug 18, 1999 5:49 am

Product Evolution And Airlines.

Thu Oct 23, 2003 1:59 am

Looking, today, at the EK post about its new A340-500s and SIA's - about the same aircraft a few days back, it just occurred to me how much things have changed since I first became interested in aviation back in the early '80s.

One of my first flights with with KU, from LHR-KWI and as my father was a visiting professor, we flew F class. F class in the early 80s was 24 seats, six rows - the standard configuration which many airlines had until the mid 80s, including Aer Lingus, Sabena and many others. Until the late '70s, it was an FY affair, then QF launched its own business class, the first such product (although I think AA had a short lived experiment with it on DC10s).

Down through the years, there have been many major developments:
- "Sleeperettes", now so passe, where introduced by leading airlines in the early 80s - anyone know who was first? SQ?
- Business Class evolved from a full fare economy to a separate class on its own, ranging from 8 abreast on some airlines (Aer Lingus's first Business Class had nine abreast!), to TWA's six abreast. Many airlines still have seven abreast on 747s, 777s and even Airbuses (EK!)
- Toys! I can't remember whether it was SQ, EK or VS who began the IFE revolution. Now it's phones, PTVs (now in Y class on most respectable airlines), computer ports, spacious lounge with internet connections and quiet little corners.
- Full length beds in F; BA was first, then SQ, then the rest of the posse - EK's impressive new product is well down the list, chronologically.
- Now, beds in Y class, again BA heading the list.
- Small, long haul jets in all F class layout; Lufty leading the pack here, via PrivatAir, but AF will follow soon with its newly ordered aircraft . . .

All of which brings me back to that F class seat in 1981. Just a big armchair with lots of legroom. But there was still the upper deck lounge on the 747s then!

Where is this trend going? It occurs to me (and seems to have occurred to Lufthansa - great minds think alike, ja?) that if you have a full length bed in J with all the trimmings, what can you possibly do with F that would differentiate it? I think it will be interesting to see BA's experience with this, having full flat beds in F and J . . . will they go for all J/F class 319s?

And will history come full circle; if J class goes all flat bed and high tech, will airlines be under pressure to develop a full fare Y, which ultimately develops like Business Class developed before. I think there will be a need for this; many companies now are very cost conscious and want to cut costs while keeping the flexibility. You could end up with a situation in 20 years' time, where J class is like F class today and full fare Y develops into a business class on its own.

But poor old steerage will always be poor old steerage. Put PTVs, phones or whatever, but 32" on a 13 hour flight is still 32"!