Korean Air will soon be making changes on its seat configuration as it begins to remove first class from many its fleet and we do predict that this will extend throughout in the future. They now join other Asian carriers like Philippine Airlines, Asiana, and Malaysia Airlines in removing the most premium seat in their aircraft. However, many airlines including US carriers flying to Asia have added Premium Economy seats.
While first class seats are beginning to be a thing of the past due to their very high fares and costs, premium economy has proven to be a trend among Asian airlines and global airlines flying to Asia.
With the high fuel prices and competition from low-cost airlines, full service airlines have resorted to streamlining their operations and products for better efficiency. Having first class is very expensive. Most airlines who have first class usually makes use of dedicated cabin crew just for those few seats on board. Costs of seats, amenities, and everything to maintain first class seats are high in a time where more people are sensitive on ticket pricing. Business class seats on the other hand have greatly improved and offers almost the same amount of comfort with half the price of first class.
On the other hand, Premium Economy have bridged the gap between economy and business class. Yes they do not recline full flat, they are not as wide, and they are not as enclosed as business class but they recline to a angle, they are wide enough, they are equipped with comfort amenities like USB ports, wide screen IFEs, a reading lamp, and a great amount of legroom. They are not as expensive as business class but the comfort level is almost there.
First class doesn't get filled, in fact, less and less take first class especially on medium haul flights as they would rather fly business or premium economy.
Scrapping first class but adding premium economy seats have began to be one of those solutions to make better profits. Perhaps, one single first class seat can equate to 3-4 premium economy seats where load factor is higher in favor of the latter.
In a time where the market has became more price sensitive, it is but right for airlines to look more into profitability than prestige. It would not be a surprise that if one day, first class seats will all be a thing of the past, even for airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines where they have first class seats which are already like a private room.