It was the first airline to offer a first class suite in the sky. But a decade later, poor demand has prompted Jet Airways to plan a reconfiguration of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
Jet Airways may remove the eight first-class seats and instead add economy and business class seats in its wide-body Boeing planes. The objective seems to be to improve revenue and reduce unit costs. Unit costs refer to cost incurred in transporting a passenger per kilometre.
Jet Airways has 10 Boeing 777 planes, which it inducted during 2007-08, and it flies them to Amsterdam, Hong Kong and London. The aircraft has 346 seats in a three-class configuration (eight first class, 30 business class and 308 economy class).
Plans for reconfiguration are being evaluated as the airline is due to pay off aircraft loan next year. The move is expected to bring down the ownership costs.
“The idea is to make the aircraft more dense but there is no decision yet on how many seats to add and whether those should be in economy or business,” said an airline source familiar with the matter.
“As a policy, Jet Airways does not comment on speculation or on matters internal to its business,” an airline spokesperson said.
This is not the first time a change is being proposed in the cabin lay out.
In 2012, Jet reconfigured the economy class of the Boeing 777s, increasing the number of seats to 346. The configuration was changed from 3-3-3 to 3-4-3 with a view to maximise revenue.
“Jet has an excellent first class product but in the Indian market there is not much demand for the first class except on the London route. Removing the first class would be a sensible move,” said Devesh Agarwal, editor of Bangalore Aviation, an aviation blog. There are other concerns too.
"The first class seats have also added to the weight of the Boeing 777 aircraft and restricted the ability to start a non stop service between India and the US,” Agarwal said.
The increased aircraft weight also results in higher fuel uplift and fuel burn per flight. Replacing the existing first class could mean lower operating costs too.
Also, the first class is not a money spinner for the airline. In fact, barring the London route, loads in the section are poor.
However, reconfiguration is an expensive exercise as it requires removal of existing seats and galleys. "The airline will have to have a business case on how it wishes to use the Boeing 777 planes. It can consider retaining first class on five of its planes to ensure product continuity on its London service," said an industry expert.
Globally, there are instances of airlines reducing number of first class seats or doing away with the product completely. Indeed, airlines are investing more in business class products which have better demand among customers. For instance, earlier this year, Qatar Airways unveiled its new business class product called Q Suite with fully flat beds, mood lighting and generous stowage space. Qatar however offers first class on its Airbus A380s.
Among others, Air Canada no longer offers first class on in its international routes. Even United Airlines has said it would gradually phase out first class seats.