When British Airways brings its Airbus A380 to Los Angeles International Airport for the first time on Tuesday, it will have something slightly unusual for a new airplane: 14 first class seats. (To compare, Korean Airlines has 12 first class seats on its A380, while Lufthansa has only eight.)
The 14 first class seats are in addition to 97 seats in the airline’s Club World — or business class — cabin. In Club World, every seat converts to a fully flat and private bed.
Many airline industry analysts have suggested that the continued improvement of business class essentially makes first class obsolete. Sure, you get more privacy, a better seat, better food and better lounges if you fly a true first class product. But first class is also extraordinarily expensive. For a three-day trip from Los Angeles to London in February, British Airways wants more than $16,000 for a first class seat. The price is around $5,000 for the airline’s more than adequate business class cabin. You’ll probably sleep great in both cabins.
Yes, most corporations have deals with airlines and don’t pay nearly that much. And both cabins occasionally go on sale. But the ratios remain the same. Business class is far cheaper than first class and still offers plenty of amenities and a comfortable bed.
I asked Simon Brooks, head of sales for North America for British Airways, why the airline believes the LAX-LHR route is so ripe for 14 first class seats.
“Certainly with destinations like Los Angeles, New York and others, with that healthy balance of corporate business and the entertainment sector, first class is a really powerful offering for us,” Brooks said.
Part of what is important to remember is that British Airways is not just competing on point-to-point service. It can fill first class seats with wealthy travelers making onward connections to cities in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
And Brooks said there are enough passengers who will pay for the true first class experience — above what is offered in business class.
“Customers are prepared to pay appropriately for a private, premium type service,” Brooks said. “When you have 14 seats on a spacious front of the airplane cabin, it’s a really compelling environment.”