I miss first class.
This is an unashamedly elitist post – because I think it is slightly sad.
Air New Zealand quietly ceased providing a First Class service on its long haul flights earlier this year. This is in line with the introduction of its new class structure. It keeps economy - I mean scum class – by providing new seats and a fully interactive entertainment system. It provides premier economy class, which is like business class 15 or so years ago, with 6 inches more legroom, double the recline and a slightly classier food and drink service for more money –and business class has seats that recline fully to a flat bed with pillow and duvet – very nice indeed, not the sloping flat seats of (summaries of the business class products on these links) Qantas, Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific - but not first class.
Now admittedly Air New Zealand’s First Class seats are not as good as the new business ones, and its first class service was not quite up to that of the likes of Singapore Airlines or British Airways, but there was something about providing 5 star service on a plane that made it special. Touches like having a soup course, as well as a choice of entrees, constant attentiveness and separate quieter cabin – more amenities for the bathroom, and more separate check in from business – it was something for those who wanted nothing spared for their comfort and enjoyment inflight – and now the top product is for the well heeled business traveller or tourist, not the CEO.
Other airlines have dropped first class – Qantas dropped it from Auckland-LA flights, KLM, Scandinavian, Alitalia, Austrian, Finnair all have dropped first. Virgin Atlantic never had it – calling its top Upper Class- first class service at business class prices, and they are right, to a point.
Maybe it’s because few New Zealanders can afford first class or few first class travellers fly to New Zealand, maybe business class is just so good, that the next step isn’t worth it, maybe it costs so much to upgrade plane cabins to the next level (some Emirates planes have almost separate cabins for first class) that they better be filled or there is no point having them.
I remember when business class (and first class initially with Ansett) came to New Zealand domestic flights – that all disappeared when Air NZ realised that almost all of those seats were either taken up by MPs, or international travellers connecting to flights – very few wanted to pay to fly Wellington to Dunedin business class. Even Trans Tasman flights used to have first class with Air NZ and Qantas, now it is a cheap business class.
Still the market provides what it can bear. I flew first class four times on Air NZ, always upgrades from paid business class seats- it felt special, although a bit antiquated most recently. It was like a mini 5 star restaurant – and I got offered a separate DVD player (as it was recognised that the current tape based in flight entertainment system used in business class is kind of crappy) or Video Walkman with a selection of films to choose from. I sat in the former first class a couple of months ago flying to London- seat 1A no less – with business class service. It’s not the same, the big elaborate fruit and cheese board is gone, instead of selecting those I wanted, I got a small plate, pre-selected, handed to me. The rest of the meal was a good, albeit small, business class meal – and the service was still good- but it wasn’t first class.
and if you are thinking "what a wanker, I only fly economy class" then tough - I find flying long distances economy class to be little better than being shipped like cargo. You queue up like sheep at airports, at gates, cram yourself into tiny spaces in small seats, and expected to sleep upright while periodically some other pleb asks you to wake up and get out of your seat so they can join the 15 minute queue to go to the toilet. You wait for half an hour to an hour for your luggage at the other end. I'm 35, I've done that a few times and I will avoid it for trips of more than 5 hours now. Premium economy class can be a good compromise, but real travelling is business or first class- and the only people who deny it are those who haven't done it!