Lufthansa will reduce the proportion of long-haul planes with first-class seats to 75 per cent, responding to waning demand for airfare tickets that can command the price of a small car.
Lufthansa now has top-end cabins in more than 90 per cent of its wide-body fleet, Chief Executive Officer Christoph Franz said in an interview. Some will disappear from the Airbus A340-300 this year and Boeing 747-400s in 2014. Destinations set to lose the first-class option include Vancouver, for which a return ticket next week costs 10,020 euros ($A13,210).
"They'll serve routes where there is simply no more demand for first class," Franz said in Berlin. "We're a little bit exotic here -- we had first class seats on 94 of our 100 long- haul planes. Others thought we were mad."
Lufthansa's retreat will leave it with a lower proportion of first class-equipped planes than British Airways, which says the service is available in 80 per cent of its long-haul fleet. The Cologne, Germany-based carrier said separately this week that it plans to purchase 108 new aircraft worth 9 billion euros, including eight wide-body jets.
The healthiest first-class routes include Frankfurt to Kuwait, Johannesburg, Riyadh and Miami, Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty said. Carsten Spohr, who heads the passenger airline business, told employees in a letter last year that the company planned to scrap its first-class product to some cities.
Lufthansa is half way through a 300 million-euro overhaul of its first-class product. The plan covers installing the seats in new Boeing 747-8s and Airbus A380 models, upgrading first- class cabins in planes such as newer 747-400s, and fitting them in some A340s and A330s that don't yet offer first.
The carrier is also looking at ordering the latest Boeing 787 or Airbus A350 aircraft, Spohr said last month.
British Airways operates 112 long-haul planes, 90 of them featuring a first-class setup, according to spokesman Michael Johnson. The London-based unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA has added six Boeing 777-300s in the past two years, all with first class, slightly increasing the proportion.
Air France offers the luxury berths in only 40 percent of its 100 or so wide-bodies following a decision in 2010 to drop them from some Boeing 777 twin-jets and boost economy seating.
Franz said that Lufthansa will also limit the number of economy-class rows removed to make way for flat-bed business berths, avoiding the loss of too much space in coach.
While boasting the largest business-class offering in the industry, according to the CEO, the carrier is relatively late in introducing the seats, which debuted June 1 on a 747-8. BA installed the world's first flat business seats in 2000.
"A flat bed needs more space than older seats, so it's a question of optimization," Franz said. "We need to be extremely careful. We must make sure our seat design takes up a lot less extra space compared to rivals as our business class is so much larger. You need to save some space for economy."
Lufthansa generated 50.4 per cent of its long-haul revenue from first- and business-class passengers in 2011. That figure slipped to 49.3 per cent in the first nine months of 2012.
The airline is also adding its first premium-economy seats across the long-haul fleet in a move announced in December.