Cathay Pacific Join The Army Of Airlines Ditching First Class Cabins Forever

It's barely been a week since we last reported on airlines ditching first-class cabins, but now it seems Cathay Pacific is following suit.

Cathay Pacific Join The Army Of Airlines Ditching First Class Cabins Forever

Image: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is phasing out First Class and replacing it with high-privacy business class pods as an industry-wide trend sweeps airlines around the world.

It’s barely been a week since we last reported on airlines ditching first-class cabins, but now it seems that after germinating aboard Middle Eastern characters before spreading to the US, Hong Kong’s leading carrier, Cathay Pacific, is following suit.

Announcing a pivotal shift in cabin class strategy, Cathay Pacific is waving goodbye to First Class on its 777-300ER fleet. This move marks a new dawn for an airline going all-in on the burgeoning demand for high-privacy business class pods — embodied by its industry-leading Aria Suites — which will see first-class relegated to a niche offering only available on its forthcoming Boeing 777-9 jets.

RELATED: Cathay Pacific Has Just Unveiled The World’s Best Business Class Seats

Revealed by Vivian Lo — Cathay Pacific’s General Manager of Customer Experience and Design — during a recent interview, the strategy is part of a wider transition towards a ‘three-cabin configuration’: Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. Aiming to address the changing needs of the contemporary traveller, this move is all about offering privacy and bespoke service over traditional class-based distinctions.

The decision to phase out First Class on the 777-300ERs aligns with a much broader industry trend as airlines reassess the viability of their most luxurious offerings. Cathay Pacific’s First Class cabins, although revered among the industry — have faced the inevitable: the advancement of business class offerings that now rival the first-class experience of yesteryear and a premium economy class that comes to fill the void that the overhaul of old-style business class leaves behind.

The retrofitting process — beginning later this year and stretching to mid-2027 — signifies Cathay’s commitment to enhancing passenger experience across the board. While their total number of business class seats is expected to remain pretty consistent, the expansion of the premium economy section from 32 to 48 seats indicates a very solid strategic bet on the growth of the segment.

‘Pointless’ First Class

What lies behind all of this, as you might expect from a sector looking to secure future profits in an increasingly precarious post-COVID world, is profit margins. The real reason that first-class seats are being scrapped is one that might surprise you, given the exceptionally high cost of first-class seats, especially for long-haul routes: they barely make the airline any money. This was confirmed by Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker last year, who referred to first-class seats as “very expensive real estate” that doesn’t yield particularly attractive returns for airline shareholders.

This can be proven by the widespread nature of change; the trend isn’t confined to Cathay Pacific, with American Airlines, Air Canada, United Airlines, and Delta all discontinuing first-class services on non-domestic flights. When you consider that Qatar is rolling out a similar reconfiguration, we can expect this to be a global phenomenon in pretty short order.

Emirates’ first class was pioneering… but it’s destined for the chopping block all the same. Image: Emirates

Interestingly, it was also Akbar Al Baker who first declared that declared first class to be “pointless”. In contrast with other airlines like LufthansaQantas and Air France, who have all doubled down on their high-end offer in recent years, Al Baker’s rationale stems from his belief that the investment in opulent first-class seating fails to yield sufficient returns compared to the much-cheaper-but-still-immense perks offered in business class:

“Why [wouldn’t] you invest in a subclass of an airplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you? I don’t see the necessity.”

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways CEO

For Al Baker, the future lies in business class, specifically the airline’s Q-suite product. His high-stakes vision has led the airline to exclude first-class cabins from its next-generation Boeing 777X aircraft, which will become the largest in the airline’s fleet once all ten of its Airbus A380s (which still feature eight first-class seats) are eventually retired.

Are you gutted about the gutting of first-class cabins? Or do you consider this to be a long overdue democratisation of air travel? Let us know.