NEWS: As airlines reveal the “new norm” – is it worth paying for business or first class?

Some links on Turning Left for Less pay us an affiliate commission to support this blog

Firstly, for those bored enough to want some more reading material, here is my latest Forbes article.

Airlines Behaving Badly – Which Airlines Deserve Our Loyalty?

There is a saying that in times of crisis, you find out who your real friends are. The saying could now also be true of companies and how they behave towards loyal customers. The current pandemic has given businesses a chance to shine and engender loyalty or to push previously committed customers away.

 

 

I know that most of us are just counting the days until we can fly again, well after being able to see our own friends and family and go out for a drink anyway! At TLFL we normally only talk about business and first class travel. However, with the picture of what will actually be available in the premium classes beginning to emerge, will it actually be worth paying for until the pandemic is over? In this article I will have a look at some of the changes to premium classes currently. Obviously we hope that by the time it is safe for us to travel again things will have improved onboard and in the airports. I do think that quite a few of these measures are probably here to stay for a while though.

 

Airport experience

Qatar A380 business class review - Doha to London night flight

Qatar’s Al Mourjan lounge Doha

For your business or first class airport experience, two key parts of this are missing from pretty much every airline – the lounge and chauffeur services. Emirates has just announced that they will be suspending their chauffeur service for business and first class passengers until April 2021.

“Following a recent re-assessment of Chauffeur Drive Service, a decision has been made to extend the discontinuation of the complimentary Chauffeur Drive Service. Effective 20th May 2020, Chauffeur Drive Service will no longer be available to book on any EK routes, class of travel or customer profile until April 2021.”

Qantas have also stopped their service along and Virgin Atlantic had stopped Upper Class chauffeurs in February. 

Etihad is still offering their chauffeur service to and from Abu Dhabi Airport for guests flying in The Residence and First, as well as select Business guests. They have added a protective screen between you and the chauffeur, and drivers will wear face masks and disposable gloves. All of the vehicles will be deep-cleaned and sanitised after every trip.

Etihad cuts chauffeur service

In terms of lounges, all the lounges in the UK are shut as far as I can tell, however at some major transfer airports they are still operating. Qatar’s Al Safwa lounge for first class passengers is closed, but they are still operating the Al Mourjan lounge for both business and first class passengers. Emirates lounges are closed at the moment according to their website.  Singapore Airlines’ only lounge that is operating is the SilverKris Lounge (Business Class) at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 3. Etihad’s Business Class Lounge in Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi is their own available lounge at the moment.

As the situation improves we will see more lounges open, but I would not be surprised if companies such as BA leave them shut for longer as a money-saving measure. As I revealed last week, it is not the application of the social distancing measures in the lounges that is the issue. It is perfectly achievable but the reduced capacity means that it is not cost-efficient for many lounges to be open.

 

Seats

New BA Club Suite on the A350-1000

This is the one area where I think this alone would make me pay the difference for business class. Putting aside being able to sleep in a flatbed, having more distance between seats is definitely a huge advantage in the COVID era. Airlines seats that I would avoid are BA’s old Club World with the yin/yang arrangement where you are directly facing someone at the window seats, Emirates 2-3-2 business class on their B777s as well as layouts such as Emirates and Lufthansa with their 2-2-2 seats if I was solo. Hopefully airlines will use their newest aircraft and keep the older aircraft grounded. 

The perfect seats in the pandemic are the private suites in business and first class which have been introduced just in the nick of time. These include:

  • British Airways Club Suite
  • Qatar’s QSuite
  • Delta One
  • Virgin Atlantic A50 Upper Class Suite (only a half door)
  • Emirates New and old first class suites
  • Etihad’s The Apartment for First and the First class Suite
  • Singapore Airlines new First Suites

The fully enclosed suites like Emirates offer the best social distancing since you can even have meals served through a hatch if you want. Although the semi-enclosed suites like BA’s don’t offer full protection, they definitely add to the amount of space around you and hopefully would help stop the spread of sneezes and coughs with such physical barriers.

Emirates new B777 first suite

Emirates new B777 first class suite

Many people are predicting that companies will be even more strict with their travel policies in future and put even more employees in economy. I actually disagree and believe that will social distancing is still being enforced that companies will be much more cautious about business travel, sending less people but in business class as additional protection.

 

Onboard amenities

Emirates First class shower

Emirates First class shower on the A380

Emirates have announced that they will not be allowing passengers to use their first class showers any longer although they can still use the bathroom itself. (you can read my review of the experience here).

All airlines appear to be closing their onboard bars including Emirates and Qatar. I do understand this as it means people moving about the aircraft, although on most airlines, the bar is usually the quietest area on board!

Qatar A380 business class review - Doha to London night flight

Qayat A380 on board bar

You most likely won’t be allowed to bring cabin baggage on board except for a handbag or laptop case on most airlines. All the reading materials have also been removed but inflight entertainment still seems to be generally available despite the touchscreens. 

On Emirates even in first class you will be expected to hang your own jackets and will not be escorted to your seat anymore. Also the bed making service has been removed.

On the plus side, your airline amenity kit may include a few lovely extras though such as a facemask and gloves! Delta just announced that they will be introducing special amenity kits with wipes and a face mask. Emirates kits are very comprehensive and contain several masks, gloves, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser. 

 

Food and drink

British Airways B747 First class review to New York main courses

Don’t expect to see anything like this in British Airways First at the moment!

British Airways definitely top the list of the worst offering which they put down to COVID. Passengers in First and Club get a sandwich based cold meal in a plastic bag and no alcohol. BA blame the lack of alcohol on worrying about people not observing safety precautions. This is pretty much nonsense. Simply provide a simple one or two miniature bottles of wine/champagne or beer per person. Then no one is drunk, there is little risk in terms of the service but passengers are getting something that is probably worse than you could buy on a low cost airline. You might expect that at least they would make an effort with the sandwiches – perhaps a nice lobster club or a rare roast beef ciabatta? No, it’s pretty much a very basic sandwich. 

Qatar until recently were giving an almost completely normal service on board (read our reader review here). Last week they announced some changes including full PPE for the poor cabin crew over the uniforms. Fortunately the actual food has not really changed. The only difference js that it will be served on a tray to stop cabin crew having to do multiple trips and lean over you to set up a table.

Emirates will still be offering dine on demand but the service will now be done on trays like Qatar. On Emirates the starter and main course will be on one tray, with the dessert, cheese and fruit selection on another. Rather than cabin crew plating up meals individually, try will come ready plated to be heated. Things like the bread or crackers for cheese will be wrapped as will cutlery. The number of different wines carried on the flights will be reduced, although I am not totally sure how this helps prevent coronavirus. Perhaps it is to do with the number of trips from the galley for top ups?

Personally I would still pay for first or business class on safety grounds. I will be basing my decisions on seat design rather than onboard service. Given that shops are due to reopen shortly, a picnic and some fizz from Fortnums would do me fine! However, I do think BA need to up their game in the premium cabins. COVID does not prevent you for giving a premium meal, even if it is cold and in a bag. Apparently they are working with DO & CO to design a better meal while still minimising interactions between passengers and crew. How long this will take is another matter.

What do you think about paying to travel in business or first class once you start travelling again? Would you still pay for it given all the cuts to the service? Let us know in the comments below or on social media. 

HT: Australia’s Executive Traveller for the Emirates information

 

 

 

30 Comments on "NEWS: As airlines reveal the “new norm” – is it worth paying for business or first class?"

  1. Michele, I’m actually sick with worry about this and haven’t really been able to discuss it with anyone for fear of the whole “people are dying and you’re moaning about a hot towel” response. Basically, for the only time in my life, I paid for 4 x F with BA to do LHR-LAX-JFK-LHR to take my parents away for their anniversary: they’ve never flown F and it was all about the experience, NOT just getting from A-B. I actually couldn’t care less where we went, it was just for the experience. We’re meant to fly August 4th. So too far away to expect BA to cancel and too soon to get any benefit such as lounges open or restoring of FULL soft product. I think my only option is to call BA and try to move the whole thing forward by a year ?

  2. We have always considered that the extra cost for flying business or first is for the additional space so this has not changed. However if the on board service is of such a low standard then perhaps we would reconsider, especially if the premium economy cabin has fewer passengers with blocked seats. Mind you I much prefer a flat bed at any time.

    • As frequent flyers (weekly) we use Business all the time. When away on a trip to a “hub” such as Bangkok, we then do daily flights back and to hub for about 10 days. Economy is a non-starter. I had to do a straight there and back to Havana once in Premium Economy (emergency drop)…never again…my back went.

  3. I think on short haul, economy will be sensible (intra-Europe business class is a disappointment anyway). Long haul, it makes sense to pay for a bed! But I certainly won’t be paying an extra premium of miles or cash for First over Business on BA if it persists in its current state.

  4. Whether I would fly in such a reduced service really depends on the cost. I typically pay Emirates around £2000 for a business class return to Bangkok. No lounges or chauffeur and reduced onboard services means for me a very healthy discount will be required to tempt me back. Otherwise, my leisure travel will be short haul only for this year.

  5. This makes me lose all interest in aviation. I won’t fly as much, will ditch my loyalty to BA and spend my money differently.

  6. I have first class seats booked with BA Heathrow to Toronto in August. We are really hoping the flight is cancelled. With no Concorde room, no alcohol on board and a sandwich I can’t see any benefits for paying thousands of pounds to fly. Like the previous poster, our trip was mainly booked for the experience.
    Currently for those due to fly before July, a voucher has been offered. I really hope this is extended.

  7. Reading your article has made me so depressed. The simple answer to your question is no, flying under these conditions sounds like hell.

    • Sorry Colin. Hopefully as the situation improves worldwide, let’s hope the situation onboard improves as well.

  8. Most of my flights are around Europe. The First lounge in T5, the food and booze onboard and the extra space justify the cost. With two of those factors removed, what’s the point of paying sometimes double the fare? One assumes that Economy won’t be full due to having to maintain a distance between passengers, so I agree….buy a few bits on the ground prior to flight and wait till this whole stupidity is over.

  9. Hi Michele. I got back from SYD on Sunday with QR, having been protected by BA, where we were booked on Amex CV’s in F. The Hazmat suits were a shocker to be honest but necessary. The service was good and the food excellent. As it was the A350, no F of course but the Q seat was incredible. I slept for 9 hours straight and another 2 on the DOH LHR. You might remember, I’m a retired airline exec- no name! and I usually avoid QR as I don’t like the way they appear to treat their staff- VERY strict. Their Chief Exec is a “character” and indeed, on this flight, the crew were working the flight again after a 2 hour turn around with rest period on board which I didn’t even think was legal. That said, many of the crew had been with the airline for years and seem to love it. I then reflect on how Willie and Co are treating BA cabin crew at the moment and I can tell you he is a piece of work. He loathes the old contracts and instead of working them through over time, he’s using this pandemic to try to change them. Shareholders might feel as a cost saving measure, this is a good thing but just as BA are improving the hard product, his strategy towards those who ultimately deliver service on board, risks undermining everything and putting things back years. Our flights out to SIN in January en route to Oz on the A380 were some of our best ever and I’m spoiled enough to have travelled on most carriers up front. They now have food and drink sorted. The F seat was good and the service was superb. Rarely do I get anything other than great, attentive service from BA crew who can distinguish between formality and fun interaction. Willie is about to put BA back years again if he fails to recognise that people are is most important resource. Btw, I have pics from my QR flights if you want them- how do I upload them? Regards, Doc.

    • Hi Doc. That’s interesting to hear about your Qatar flights. We would love to see them and publish them. Could you email them to [email protected] please? As a shareholder I totally disagree with the strategy WW is taking, it is very short term and with needing to coax people back to flying, I think they would be far better concentrating on how to make the airline seem like the top choice through far more thorough cleaning, crew in masks for the entire flight and a much better food offering with alcohol. In normal times people may not have had much sympathy for crew but now that everyone is suffering financially and can see how hard it will be for crew to get other jobs, the bad publicity is not good for BA.

  10. David Jenkins | 26 May 2020 at 8:56 am | Reply

    Looks like BA will be losing my custom in favour of Qatar or Emirates.

  11. I very rarely fly Business on Short Haul, normally would book ‘exits’ as more room. With regard to Long Haul I honestly am more interested in the ‘Hard product’ than all the regalia of food and drink, so I would still opt for Business and above.

  12. Ralph Bagge | 26 May 2020 at 9:30 am | Reply

    We have had a long weekend in Helsinki in Club Europe cancelled by BA and a Qatar trip to Bangkok in August also cancelled (and waiting a refund). We justified the expense of business and first worth it for the use of lounges, the superior onboard service and the cumulative benefits of having BA Gold.

    We are assuming that it will be next year before countries relax travel restrictions for non-essential travel. So the money we would have spent on our travel for the next 12 months is going into home improvements, because that’s where we will be spending most of our time. We are also rethinking where we live (convenient for both LHR and LGW) and may relocate when the housing market stabilises.

  13. Cavallinorampante | 26 May 2020 at 9:34 am | Reply

    I expect to continue to fly First or Business class for both business and pleasure on long-haul flights, just to have the physical comfort of a fully flat bed. I will not pay cash for premium cabins on BA with their curtailed lounge and on-board service levels, but will use my remaining Avios balance and 241 vouchers. Without reinstatement of premium service levels, I will cease to collect Avios points, and will move my allegiance to Qatar, Etihad, Emirates, Singapore and, possibly, Virgin if they are still in business.

  14. My worry is that this could spiral… First/ Business ‘trimmings’ cut for reasons of safety (and cost, no doubt) but without a price drop will likely see fewer people willing to pay the cost. Lack of demand leads to higher prices to balance the cost of provision and to further cuts in services to the point where they disappear completely.

  15. Just spoke with You First at BA.
    Same position as previous contributors.
    Flying in F to JFK at the end of August.
    Was told they could not offer me any of my solutions. Which were:
    1. Full refund
    2. Future gift Voucher
    3. Compensation for missing all the “bells and whistles” of what a F ticket should offer….

    Absolutely disgusted with BA!!

    • Oh no that’s terrible news. I was really hoping that we might be able to have a voucher (not ideal but better than nothing). How can they charge the same price for a first class ticket when everything is missing. I absolutely do not want to take my family flight in August in these circumstances. I feel like we have thrown away almost 10 thousand pounds.

  16. I think there will be demand for premium travel from those who traditionally use economy cabins to guarantee some personal space.

    Once borders reopen people will be desperate to visit family & friends, and as we get back to whatever the new normal looks like, many will also be wanting to travel again for business & leisure.

  17. BA seem to be following the old adage “never let a crisis go to waste”. If other airlines can more or less maintain their in-flight service, albeit modified, other than cost-cutting what is the excuse for a ham and cheese sandwich in First transatlantic? You just need to look at how they’ve treated their staff (redundancy & re-employment on far worse OTE contracts, some 40% of existing contracts) to see how they are exploiting the situation. Rewarding loyalty and looking after premium passengers has to at least create the illusion of caring about your customers, even if it is just good for the bottom line. Status on BA was good to have but not good for the planet. Time to re-examine priorities.

  18. for me no point to fly at all, the price will be the same or even more expensive..first class is all about the service..if we have to turn up 4 hrs before the flight, then no lounge access and then no food, drink and any kind of service during the flight – whats the point?

  19. I can actually see legal cases popping up because of these reduction in services due to ‘safety’. Say I paid full price for a ticket from LHR to LAX in a premium cabin, which I have. If the airlines are stopping lounges, on board service due to COVID, they are saving the money, thus this should be passed on to the passenger who at the time of booking was expecting and paying a premium to get a certain level of service as I can see no other reason for them not to offer a refund of sorts.

    Bit like booking a fancy restaurant and paying in advance. They are open but only serving the starters on plastic trays through your car windows. You wouldn’t accept that would you? no, so why should we accept this pathetic excuse from the airlines for no refund.

  20. Hi Michele

    Can I just say that however UTTERLY DEPRESSING the subject of this article undoubtedly is … thank you still for a quality read … and thanks also to everyone who has commented so far.

    Taken together, to me this is an excellent, realistic commentary on what the premium travel situation is likely to be for the foreseeable future.

    I say all this as a fully paid up OW Emerald and *A Gold! It is all so unsettling and frankly also makes me question many things. But articles like yours at least ‘lay it all out there’ as far as can be done right now … and also gets your experienced FF community involved. Good stuff.

    The only thing I might add under your list of ‘perfect pandemic seats’ could be Air France La Premiere on the 777 with 4 x F and ‘full curtains’ around each suite? (Although I also appreciate that AF F is maybe not your (or pretty much anyone’s!) target market 😉 )

    Thanks again for everything you do with this blog, especially during these truly crazy times.

    Best wishes
    Guy

    • Hi Guy. Glad you found it useful. I hadn’t seen much mentioned about it so I thought it was worth trying to show what you may or may not get. I think it will get better over time even before a vaccine or treatment as testing gets better. Good point about AF F had forgotten about the curtains.

  21. I’d be willing to fly as soon as it’s possible, but I must say, I wouldn’t fly long haul in J till some of the service returns. OH and I were meant to be on holiday in Cambodia in May, flying J with Vietnam Airlines. Part of the point for us of paying the extra, is for the niceties to make such a long flight fun ie champagne, a good meal, lounge beforehand (and if connecting, a good lounge on the way). As far as leisure goes, I wouldn’t choose to rebook until they return. As far as short haul goes, I’m willing to ‘suck up’ whatever I get as I normally just fly economy….and bring my own food on board anyway.

    For me, I need to work out which airlines are reducing/changing the service JUST because of Covid (understandable) and those which are using it as an opportunity to cut costs (BA!!!).

  22. Lesley Cant | 27 May 2020 at 2:30 pm | Reply

    Our family (3 generations) always like to fly BA business class. I’ve travelled a lot in economy when younger but now like to enjoy all the trimmings of business class. However, I’m afraid I would be so annoyed if BA could not see fit to serve up decent snacks. I agree bottles of bubbly, spirits and mixers could be given out with a plastic glass. So easy and we open ourselves. And I think lounges could open with tables spaced apart. We’ve had ad 2 holidays cancelled so far but have another booked for end of October fingers crossed.
    If BA are going to scrimp on business and first class then if shops open I will take my own refreshments and bubbles. But I would not be happy and may think twice about flying with them again.

  23. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in thinking my relationship with aviation and travel will be completely changed by this situation and whatever it results in.

    WIth the safety measures in place, I certainly won’t be flying long haul in the premium classes as, for me, the soft product is essential to the experience.
    I think the above is a good view of what’s happening in the immediate-short term to try to adjust, but still only working within the framework of how airlines have operated for years.
    I don’t believe that this will be the long term outcome – airlines may have to change the business models completely. With space and seats reduced, economy prices will be pushed up and will there even be premium cabins in the future? Maybe every plane will only have a well spaced out economy cabin, at business class prices.
    The days of ‘pile ’em high and sell em cheap’ air travel seats are gone. Air transport and travel may become a commodity for a lucky few.

    I think it’s naive to assume there won’t be fundamental changes to the the travel industry, and think that there will be an immediate rush to get out the gates when borders reopen.
    For a start, given the high numbers of infection and mortality in the UK – we may remain excluded from entering certain countries for some time (when Denmark reopens their borders, travel to and from the UK is not allowed)
    What will also be the point in travelling abroad if accommodation or facilities like bars, restaurants and attractions stay closed or have opening or entry limits?
    You mention business travel for companies adapting, but research I’ve seen predicts that will actually see a significant reduction over the coming years. Not only have a lot of organisations proved that business can be conducted online or remotely just as effectively, but travel budgets will be slashed for most, as organisations scramble to make savings to reflect the significant negative economic impact.
    My own company has suspended all travel until 2021 and even then, I can see that it will be majorly reduced in the future. I used to travel extensively, as my own team are spread through England, Scotland and NI (I’m London-based) I would visit customers in Europe or the Middle East every month and HQ in the US at least 3 times a year. I know that level of travel will never be restored, when a lot of the work can be done online.

    Most surprisingly – I’m not that upset if I never get to fly luxury again. I have the memories and photos of fun times spent lounge hopping, airport exploring, wine sampling, meeting amazing cabin crew etc. so if I never get to do it again, I’m not going to complain. I’m grateful for all that I have experienced already 🙂

  24. Coming to this rather late. Very useful, thank you, Michele. As premium leisure travellers with Oneworld for the past 7 years (a lot) I echo all the comments re paying for a worse service. Seems from the above that BA will not retain many premium leisure travellers where the total experience is what counts. So why pay premium prices for a much reduced service? We won’t….except that even an Avios flight will be much less fun and we have 600,000 to use!

  25. I’ve 4xF tickets booked to Vancouver in August, like others it was as much about the experience as the destination, and a mask, sandwich and bottle of water really won’t cut it. Is there any pressure we can exert on BA (perhaps via the regulator) to provide a refund for a service which is obvioulsy not being given?

Have your say

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.