Korean Air is cutting back on its first class offering. The carrier delivers its first class product on 62 of its 111 routes today. As of June 1, 2019 that number will drop by 27, making the majority of its operations a two-cabin play, Prestige (business class) and economy.
We decided to apply two class seat options for flights to tourism destinations where there was low demand for first class. We will do our best to minimize the inconvenience of first-class passengers and maintain quality service for prestige-class passengers.– Korean Air statement
For the carrier the move is about controlling costs. The cuts target routes where premium demand is lower. And, in an interesting twist, it is not entirely clear that most affected passengers will even notice the difference. Aircraft affected by the change include the 787-9, 777-300ER and A330. In many cases the seats for First Class and Prestige class on the 787-9 and A330s are nearly identical.
For First Class passengers it is called the Sleeper seat while in Prestige (business) class it is called the Prestige Suite. In both cases the underlying hardware is the APEX Suite and the seat dimensions are identical. The main hard product difference is the larger screen for the first class inflight entertainment system (23″ v 17″). The soft product also differs slightly, but only slightly. The vast majority of the experience matches.
The Kosmo Suite and especially the Kosmo Suite 2.0 first class seats that will continue flying offer a significantly improved hard product versus the Prestige Class layout on the planes where both exist. But those are not the same planes that are seeing the first class cabins cut.
Because the on-board product is so similar it is an easy adjustment for the airline to make. It can kill off the first class product without needing to update the seating layouts. US Airways made a similar choice with its Envoy product when it retired the first class offering, though in that case the seat was different (and much nicer).
Ultimately Korean Air’s move appears a smart one as it comes with minimal costs to the airline and significant potential savings in not marketing a product that never sells.