Protecting Hearing in Aviation

Dr Sanjay Bhargava MD

01 May 2023


The main function of the human ear is in the ability to recognize sound. Hearing is next only to vision as a physiological sensory mechanism to obtain precarious information. The sense of hearing makes it possible to recognize, process, and identify among the innumerable sounds from the close environment.

Hearing has a much greater impact on performance in aviation than most people realize. Modern aircraft designs put high demands on vision as the primary sense for information gathering, but such designs can lead to increased attentional demands that have the potential to decrease situational awareness. To compensate, sound has become more important for delivering information or diverting a pilot’s attention to an area that needs monitoring (Skybrary).



The Auditory System




The auditory system consists of the external ear, ear canal, eardrum, auditory ossicles, cochlea (a snail shell-like organ and filled with fluid), and the auditory nerve. 

Ambient sound waves are gathered by the external ear, and transmitted through the ear canal, resulting in the eardrum vibrating. This vibration causes a pressure wave in the fluid located inside the cochlea, moving numerous hair-like sensory receptors lining the inner walls of the cochlea. The stimulation of these sensors creates an electrical signal that is conveyed to the brain by the auditory nerve. This signal is then managed by the brain and recognized as a particular type of sound.



Sound defines the mechanical radiant energy spread by longitudinal pressure waves in a medium (solid, liquid, or gas). The sound is simply a series of compressions (where molecules are dense) and rarefactions (where molecules are sparse). Sounds have two characteristic variables: frequency and amplitude, whereas the Intensity and Duration of exposure impact Human hearing.








Frequency is typically expressed in Hertz (Hz), a measure of how many vibrations occur in one second, and directly corresponds to the pitch of a sound. Sounds that are perceptible to the human ear fall in the frequency range of about 20-20,000 Hz, and the highest sensitivity is between 500 and 4,000 Hz. The average exchange occurs in the frequency range from 500 to 3,000 Hz.




It is the correlation between sound intensity and loudness. The range of normal hearing sensitivity of the human ear is between -10 to +25 dB. A person who cannot perceive a sound unless its strength is higher than 25 dB already suffers from hearing loss.





The hostile consequences of a short-duration exposure to a loud sound can be as bad as a long-duration contact with a less intense sound. Therefore, the imminent reason for causing hearing damage is determined by the intensity of a sound and its duration.




The term noise refers to a sound that lacks a delightful musical class, is strikingly disagreeable, or is too loud. Classifying a sound as noise can be very individualistic. For example, loud rock music can be described as a pleasing sound by some (usually teenagers), and at the same time, described as clatter by others.




Sources of Noise in Aviation 


The aviation atmosphere is characterized by many sources of noise, both on the surface and in the flight. Noise is shaped by aircraft gear like power plants, transmission systems, jet efflux, propellers, rotors, hydraulic and electrical actuators, cabin conditioning and pressurization systems, cockpit advisory and vigilant systems, communications equipment, etc. Noise can also be produced by the aerodynamic interaction between ambient air (boundary layer) and the exterior of the aircraft fuselage, wings, control surfaces, and landing gear. This auditory feedbacks allow pilots to evaluate and observe the working status of their aircraft. On the other hand, unexpected sounds or their absence may alert pilots to possible faults, failures, or dangers. 




Whispered Voice


Urban Home, Average Office


Average Male Conversation


Noisy Office, Low Traffic Street


Jet Transports (Cabin)


Small Single Plane (Cockpit)


Public Address (PA) Systems


Busy City Street


Single Rotor Helicopter (Cockpit)


Power Lawn Mower, Chain Saw


Snowmobile, Thunder


Rock Concert


Jet Engine (Proximity)





Physiologic & Psychologic Effects of 

Noise Exposure



Noise can act as a nonspecific physiologic stressor and can alter endocrine, cardiovascular, and neurologic functions. These altered functions can cause biochemical changes that may have negative health effects.

Exposure to noise may induce pathological effects, mainly cardiovascular disease. This is due to the generation of high levels of adrenaline that narrow blood vessel diameter resulting in increased blood pressure. Other common pathological problems related to noise are cholesterol issues, gastric ulcers, sleep disturbances, and mental stress.

Most notably, noise can cause an increase in heart rate, vasoconstriction, digestive activity, and muscular tension. Also, a 75 dB noise may change the diameter of the eye’s pupil, which can significantly impact visual acuity.


Ear discomfort may occur during contact with a 120 dB noise.

Ear pain may occur during contact with a 130 dB noise.

Eardrum rupture may occur during contact with a 140 dB noise.



Provisional Hearing Impairment 


Defenseless exposure to loud, steady noise over 90 dB for a short time, even numerous hours, may cause hearing damage. This effect is usually momentary, and hearing returns to normal within some hours following the termination of the noise contact.



Permanent Hearing Impairment 


Unguarded exposure to loud noise (higher than 90dB) for eight or more hours per day for numerous years, may cause a permanent hearing loss. Permanent hearing damage occurs initially in the neighborhood of 4,000 Hz (outside the conversational range) and can go undetected by the individual for some time. It is also vital to remember that hearing sensitivity usually declines as a function of age at frequencies from 1,000 to 6,000 Hz, beginning around age 30.



Subjective effects 


Irritating high-intensity noise can cause distraction, fatigue, touchiness, surprise responses, sudden arousal, poor sleep quality, loss of appetite, headache, vertigo, nausea, and impaired concentration and memory.





Noise is an interruption and can increase the number of faults in any particular task. Tasks requiring vigilance, attentiveness, calculations, and making judgments about time can be deleteriously affected by loud noise higher than 90 dB.



Acceptable Hearing Standards

DGCA / ICAO policy


  • The applicant, when tested on a pure-tone audiometer, shall not have a hearing loss, in either ear separately, of more than 35 dB at any of the frequencies 500, 1000, or 2000 Hz, or more than 50 dB at 3 000 Hz.
  • An applicant with a hearing loss greater than the above may be declared fit, provided that the applicant has average hearing performance against a background noise that reproduces or simulates the masking properties of flight deck noise upon speech and beacon signals.
  • Alternatively, a practical hearing test conducted in flight in the cockpit of an aircraft of the type for which the applicant’s license and ratings are valid may be used.
  • The hearing standards are very liberal; however, hearing aids are prohibited during flight.




How to Protect Your Hearing?



Limiting Duration of Exposure to Noise


There is a recognized permissible noise exposure parameter for the workplace, including an aircraft's cockpit.


Use Hearing Protection Equipment


If the ambient noise level beats permissible noise exposure limits, you should use hearing guard devices like earplugs and earmuffs. These protection devices lessen noise waves before they reach the eardrum, and most of them are effective at dropping high-frequency noise levels above 1,000 Hz.  



Noise Reduction Headsets


Noise reduction headsets practice active noise reduction technology that permits the manipulation of sound and signal waves to reduce noise, improve signal-to-noise ratios, and enhance sound quality. Active noise reduction provides effective protection against low-frequency noise. 




Combinations of Protection Devices


The mixture of earplugs with earmuffs or communication headsets is suggested when ambient noise levels are directly above 115 dB. Earplugs and active noise reduction headsets provide the focused level of distinct hearing protection that can be attained with current technology.





Our hearing is considered one of the most valuable of all five senses. The sense of hearing allows us to obtain critical information about our surroundings. 

While some degree of hearing loss is shared among the general population, research suggests that aviation personnel are exposed to noise levels greater than 90dB, putting them at an increased risk of permanent hearing loss. This can often go unobserved because it occurs in the neighborhood of 4,000 Hz, which is outside the conversational range (Normal speech frequency ranges from 500 to 3,000 Hz). Exposure to loud noise during daily life (at home, while driving, at a party, etc.) is equally damaging.

Some of the common signs of hearing loss include listening to television or radio at high volume, an inability to hear high-pitched sounds, difficulty following conversations, or even a constant ringing or chirping in the ears.  

If you think you may be suffering from hearing loss, tell your doctor about your symptoms. Hearing loss gradually accumulates over a lifetime but is preventable and treatable. A hearing aid can often manage age or noise-related hearing loss. Finally, always remember to use some form of hearing protection while flying or working around aircraft.



This article was first published in the May 2023 edition of 100 Knots Magazine



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Adani Group's Proposed Acquisition of Air Works Passed its Long Stop Date

Radhika Bansal

10 Jun 2023

Adani Group's proposed acquisition of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company Air Works has passed its long stop date and there are no discussions between the two companies regarding extension of deal timelines, a media report said, citing ratings agency Crisil.

"Crisil Ratings is given to understand that there are no ongoing discussions between the concerned parties to extend the validity of the term sheet," the rating agency said in a June 7 note, which was seen by The Economic Times.

In October last year, Adani Defence Systems & Technologies Ltd (ADSTL) signed definitive agreements to acquire Air Works, a highly diversified independent MRO with the largest pan-India network presence across 27 cities. The major shareholders of Air Works are the Menon families, Punj Lloyd Aviation, GTI Capital and a company employees' welfare trust.

The acquisition was aimed at bolstering Adani's airport business. The group manages seven airports across the country. However, the Adani Group halted the INR 400-crore acquisition because a major shareholder in the target entity was forced into liquidation. Adani Group was unable to close the deal as the Punj Lloyd Group, which holds a 23% stake in the company, went under liquidation, causing inordinate legal delays in closing the deal, an ET report had said earlier. 

The shares and bonds of Adani Group tumbled after Hindenburg Research released a critical report in January that accused it of fraud. Due to the scathing report, the listed Adani firms lost over USD 100 billion in market value. However, the ports-to-power conglomerate has vehemently denied the short seller’s allegations.

About Air Works

Air Works is one of the oldest private MRO companies in the country. It was established in 1951 by P.S. Menon and B.G. It was done by two friends named Menon. It provides its service in 27 cities of the country. The group has recently completed 73 years of operations. The group aims to expand its business in two ways: by purchasing more airports and entering various segments of airport services, such as MRO, ground handling, and duty-free stores.

Air Works Group, with a pan-India presence across 27 cities, competes with 50 standalone Indian MRO players including Government-run AI Engineering Services Ltd and GMR Aero Technic. As of March 31, 2021, GTI Capital Group, an India-focused investment company, was the largest shareholder in Air Works Group with a 25.75% stake, followed by Punj Lloyd Aviation, a subsidiary of Punj Lloyd (23.24%), and the Menon family (15%), who founded the company in 1951.

Air Works has developed extensive operational capabilities for key defence and aerospace platforms within the country. From the first P-8I aircraft Phase 32 checks to Phase 48 checks and MRO on the landing gear of the Indian Air Force’s 737 VVIP aircraft, Air Works undertakes base maintenance for ATR 42/72, A320 and B737 fleet of aircraft from its EASA and DGCA-certified facilities at Mumbai, Delhi, Hosur and Kochi.

Have a look at Air Works' CEO and MD D Anand Bhaskar's talk about bringing the Indian MRO industry up to scale in the January edition of the 100 Knots magazine. 

(With Inputs from The Economic Times)

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IndiGo Expands its Connectivity to the US With Codeshare Flights to 4 Cities

Radhika Bansal

10 Jun 2023

No-frills carrier IndiGo will launch codeshare flights to four cities in the United States via Istanbul from June 15 onwards. The flights, which will be operated in partnership with Turkish Airlines, will connect the cities of New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington.

"By offering seamless travel experiences at affordable fares, we aim to create more opportunities for Indian travellers to discover and connect with these exceptional destinations," IndiGo's Head of Global Sales, Vinay Malhotra, said. The expansion of the agreement with Turkish Airlines to offer codeshare flights to the US "reinforces our vision to strengthen international reach", Malhotra added.

The codeshare agreement, which allows two or more aviation companies to use and market the same flight under their respective brands, was inked between IndiGo and Turkish Airlines in 2019. Codesharing allows an airline to book its passengers on its partner carriers and provide seamless travel to destinations where it has no presence.

IndiGo's International Presence

IndiGo had earlier launched codeshare connections to 33 destinations in Europe, including Scotland, Bulgaria, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. IndiGo had, last week, announced that it would also operate direct flights to five new international destinations in Africa and Central Asia, including the major cities of Tbilisi, Almaty, Nairobi, Tashkent and Baku, from July onwards.

In a departure from its single-aisle strategy, IndiGo earlier this year began international operations in Istanbul with a Boeing 777, its first wide-body aircraft, taken from codeshare partner Turkish Airlines, which provides the pilots.

While noting that it is taking a "massive step in its international expansion strategy," IndiGo said it will be adding an "impressive 174 new weekly international flights between June and September 2023, including new destinations, routes, and frequencies". The expansion also comes at a time when there is a rising demand for international travel from, to and via India, as well as the government's efforts to develop an international aviation hub in the country. The bullish outlook by IndiGo comes as the world's third-largest aviation market is seeing a strong rebound in travel post-COVID, with domestic and international passenger numbers surging despite high fares.

The expansion of overseas connectivity has been undertaken by IndiGo, India's largest carrier by fleet size and domestic market share, at a time when its rival Air India is also bolstering its fleet. The Tata Group-owned airline had, in February, placed one of the biggest aviation orders for 250 Airbus aircraft and 220 Boeing planes.

Possible New Aircraft Order

Airbus is closing towards a potentially record deal to sell 500 narrow-body A320-family jets to India's largest carrier IndiGo, Reuters reported recently citing sources. The European planemaker has emerged as the front-runner for an order eclipsing Air India's historic provisional purchase of 470 jets in February, the sources said on the sidelines of an airline industry meeting in Istanbul. IndiGo, the country's largest airline with a domestic market share of more than 57%, has a fleet of over 300 planes and operates more than 1,800 daily flights.

Such a deal would be worth some USD 50 billion at the most recently published Airbus list prices, but would typically be worth less than half this after widespread airline industry discounts for bulk deals, according to aircraft analysts. They said that Airbus and Boeing are also competing in separate talks to sell 25 A330neo or Boeing 787 wide-body jets to the same airline.

Airbus and Boeing have been racking up billions of dollars of new orders stretching beyond 2030 as airlines lock in supplies well ahead amid looming shortages. Indian carriers now have the second-largest order book, with over 6% share of the industry backlog, behind only the United States, according to a June 1 report by Barclays.

The bullish outlook by IndiGo comes as the world's third-largest aviation market is seeing a strong rebound in travel post-Covid, with domestic and international passenger numbers surging despite high fares. IndiGo aims to double its capacity by the end of the decade and expand its network, especially in international markets.

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Air India Makes Pre-Delivery Payment to Boeing for 220 Ordered Aircraft

Radhika Bansal

10 Jun 2023

Air India has made a pre-delivery payment to US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing for the 220 planes it has ordered, the carrier’s Chief Financial Officer Vinod Hejmadi said on Friday, June 9. Pre-delivery payments (PDPs) are instalments that an airline has to pay the manufacturer when the aircraft is being built. It can amount to about 30% of the price of the aircraft.

A year after being acquired by the Tata group, Air India had placed an order for 470 planes — 250 with European plane maker Airbus and 220 with Boeing — in the world’s largest single-tranche aircraft purchase order in February. The list price for 220 Boeing planes is approximately USD 34 billion. It was also the first time in more than 17 years that Air India placed orders for new planes.

In a message to employees, Hejmadi said, “Glad to inform you that yesterday Air India made the payment for PDP to Boeing for the aircraft deal. This was the largest deal in the history of Air India. The funds were arranged from multiple banks at a very competitive rate and converted to $ at the best rates.” He said the airline had a “very short period” to arrange the funds, and the entire deal was ably executed by its finance and commercial departments.

Air India Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Campbell Wilson also commended the airline’s executives who were involved in concluding the deal. “I want to commend the commercial, strategic procurement, finance, treasury and legal teams for successfully putting together a huge financing deal related to our new fleet in a remarkably quick time. I’ll not go into details, but it was another historic achievement for the new Air India. Well done to all involved,” Wilson noted.

New Aircraft & Aircraft Interiors in line

From Boeing, the Tata Group-run airline has ordered 10 wide-body B777X planes, 20 wide-body B787 planes, and 190 narrow-body B737MAX planes, with an option for an additional 20 B787s and 50 B737MAXs. A wide-body plane has a bigger fuel tank, allowing it to traverse directly on longer distances such as India-US routes.

The Boeing widebodies ordered can easily be integrated into the airline's fleet as it is already an operator of the 787s and the Boeing 777s. The incoming 787s and the 777X will replace some of the ageing aircraft and simultaneously enable the airline to expand its long-haul route network and compete with Middle Eastern carriers by enabling its passengers to reach more destinations across North America and Europe, using direct flights.

Wilson mentioned that Air India’s teams went to Hamburg, Germany, for the Aircraft Interiors Expo this week. These teams “checked out the latest and greatest seats, inflight entertainment and equipment options for our large fleet of new aircraft,” he noted. “Lead times for designing bespoke seats are long and measured in years, so it will be a stepwise journey to the end state, but having joined the team for a day, I am genuinely excited about what we’ll eventually be able to offer our customers!” he said.

Air India is reportedly in discussions to secure loans for financing the purchase and sale-and-leaseback (SLB) security of some of the 470 new aircraft. Additionally, the loan will be utilised for the refurbishment of existing aircraft. These loans will supplement the investment made by the Tata Group in the company. Air India is expected to receive 50 new aircraft over the next two years.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had last month praised the Tata Group for taking a “great step forward” by ordering 470 planes. “I urge his compatriots (other Indian airlines) to do the same because there is too much competition happening on the domestic side, where margins and revenues are slim. Airlines are very comfortable competing on the domestic side because the volatility is low,” Scindia noted.

On the international side, the revenues are much higher. “Your CASK (unit cost) is limited and your RASK (unit revenue) is higher on international routes. But the volatility is much greater,” he added. “Therefore, the time has come, and I plead with the Indian airlines to take risks and face volatility because India’s flag has to fly in international space,” Scindia had said.

Mention of the stranded flight

In the message, Wilson -- CEO and Managing Director -- also mentioned the diversion of the AI 173 Mumbai-San Francisco flight this week and about the handling of the situation. He said it was a "team Air India effort".

"From the affected crew and onboard staff helping stranded customers on the ground, to the engineering, flight ops, inflight services, insurance and other folk preparing and operating the relief flight. From our customer service and communications teams assisting customers and engaging media, to our government and regulatory teams keeping their counterparts informed, and everyone else who played a role," he said.

On June 6, AI 173 operating from Delhi to San Francisco carrying 216 passengers and 16 crew on board was diverted to the Magadan port city in far east Russia following a mid-air glitch in one of the Boeing 777-200LR aircraft engines. All were stranded in the port city for two days and the replacement aircraft ferried them to San Francisco on June 8.

(With Inputs from Business Standard)

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Disney to Offer Tour in a Boeing Private Jet Covering 12 Parks

Abhishek Nayar

10 Jun 2023

Imagine embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime journey that combines the magic of Disney with the opulence of luxury travel. Consider yourself soaring over the skies on a private jet, visiting not one, not two, but twelve Disney parks. Add to that the opportunity of touring three historically significant monuments. This extraordinary adventure is no longer just a fantasy; it has become a reality for a select group of fortunate individuals.

Travel in Style on Icelandair's VIP-configured Boeing 757

Even before visiting the first park, this incredible Disney journey begins with a touch of grandeur. Icelandair's VIP-configured Boeing 757, the pinnacle of luxury air travel, will carry 150 holidaymakers. This private jet will transport Disney fans from one destination to another, ensuring a smooth and pleasant flight for the duration of the 24-day adventure. This unique means of transportation sets the tone for an exceptional vacation like no other, with cutting-edge facilities, personalized service, and unrivalled luxury.

The Itinerary

The journey will begin in Los Angeles, California, with a welcome dinner at the Lincoln Theatre in Disneyland Park, followed by a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. Following a brief stop in Alaska, passengers will continue to Tokyo, Japan, to experience Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySea, China's Shanghai Disneyland. The 75 passengers will arrive in Agra, India, on day 14 and will have the opportunity to tour the Taj Mahal before travelling to Cairo, Egypt, to view the Pyramids of Giza.

Beginning on day 17, passengers will spend three days in Paris before travelling to Orlando, Florida, for an unforgettable fireworks viewing from Seven Seas Lagoon. Guests will have consumed 23 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners by the end of the journey. Unfortunately, Adventures by Disney has imposed a minimum age of 12 years old and recommends that young attendees be 14 or older to get the most out of the experience. The first vacation begins on June 16, 2024, and concludes on July 9, 2024, while the second adventure begins on July 28, 2024, and concludes on August 20, 2024.

Benefits of a Global Disney Experience

Vacationers may immerse themselves in a global Disney experience unlike any other by embarking on this epic Disney voyage. From the nostalgia of California's Disneyland Resort to the futuristic marvel of Shanghai Disney Resort, each park has its own ambiance, attractions, and cultural influences. This unforgettable voyage delivers a great understanding of Disney's vision and storytelling's global significance.

World-Class Accommodations for an Enchanting Stay

Opulent Hotels and Resorts

Participants will enjoy world-class accommodations that enhance the magic of the Disney experience during this incredible excursion. Each stay offers outstanding comfort and luxury, from magnificent hotels situated within the parks themselves to carefully selected resorts outside. Immerse yourself in the grandeur and opulence of these hotels, which will provide you with a lovely escape after a day full of Disney enchantment.

Themed Suites and Exclusive Services

Themed suites and unique services are offered for individuals looking for a more immersive and personalized experience. Consider vacationing in a Cinderella-themed suite, complete with enchanting features appropriate for a prince or princess. Concierge services and VIP treatment complement these luxurious lodgings, bringing the Disney trip to unprecedented levels of luxury and comfort.

The Price of an Unforgettable Journey

An Expensive yet Exciting Adventure

This Disney journey, like any remarkable event, comes at a high cost. A trip of a lifetime, lasting 24 days and including visits to 12 Disney parks as well as three historic sites, necessitates a significant financial commitment. The cost for an adult and a kid is set at $114,995 each for those who can afford it. While this may appear to be expensive, it encompasses all transportation, accommodations, park admissions, meals, and exclusive experiences, providing a seamless and spectacular vacation from beginning to end.

All-Inclusive Benefits and Inclusions

Despite the considerable cost, attendees could expect an all-inclusive excursion. Every detail, from private jet flights to hotels, park admissions, and even meals, has been meticulously planned to provide a wonderful and flawless experience. This complete strategy assures that holidaymakers may focus only on the delights of Disney and historic landmarks, leaving the difficulties of preparation and logistics behind.

In conclusion, those seeking a wonderful voyage filled with Disney enchantment, luxury travel, and awe-inspiring discovery will find the ultimate Disney adventure. This is an extraordinary trip that promises to create lifetime memories for 150 vacationers travelling by private aircraft, visiting 12 Disney parks across six countries, and exploring three great historic landmarks. Every aspect is thoughtfully created to deliver an amazing vacation, from the luxurious accommodations to the all-inclusive benefits. Prepare to be engulfed in a realm of enchantment and wonder if you have the means and the desire to embark on this magical escapade.

With Inputs from AeroTime

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Are We Nearing the End of First-Class Travel?

Abhishek Nayar

10 Jun 2023

In today's era of commercial aviation commoditization, airlines' efforts to regain profitability appear to translate more than ever into a concentration on economy class. Many new aircraft are purchased with high-density designs, and older aircraft are occasionally reconfigured to accommodate more economy seats, either by reducing the space occupied by those seats or by reducing the capacity of the other cabins. Is there still demand for first class, and how does it differ from the desire for business class? What is the definition of luxury in commercial aviation?

Nobody could have foreseen two years ago that a global epidemic would ruin the airline sector and lower its 2020 revenue to $328 billion. This is almost 40% of the previous year's total and roughly the same as in 2000. Economists and industry experts expect that the sector will shrink for years to come, with some estimating that aircraft traffic will not return to 2019 levels until 2024. Flying first class has long been associated with elegance, comfort, and exclusivity. However, the environment of air travel has changed dramatically in recent years. With the advent of new classes and shifting customer preferences, the question arises: Is first-class travel on its way out?

Air travel has always been associated with a certain amount of glamour and opulence, and first class has exemplified this. Flying first class has always been associated with luxury and privilege, from spacious seats and gourmet meals to personalized service and exclusive lounges. However, the landscape of air travel continues to shift, driven by reasons like economic concerns, expanding passenger preferences, and technological improvements. Even before the epidemic, first class was losing respect in aircraft cabins, but the forced shutdown has hastened its demise. For more than a decade, the majority of well-known long-haul airlines have been significantly lowering the number of first-class seats on board their aircraft. As an example, consider British Airways. The UK's national carrier supplied 560,000 first-class seats throughout its fleet in 2008, but by 2018, this had dropped by about 100,000, or roughly 18%.

The drop has been even more dramatic in the United States, with United decreasing its offering from 380,000 to 180,000 over the last decade and Delta cutting its first-class seats from 400,000 to 200,000 over the same time period. Other carriers have fully abandoned first class, and some, such as British Airways, have discontinued it when acquiring new aircraft. First and business class passengers account for 12% of passengers but generate 40% of revenue. So, why do travellers no longer desire the first-class experience? One thing is certain: it is not because standards are decreasing. In reality, both the facilities and the service provided to passengers have greatly improved during the previous decade. Similarly, the number of extremely affluent people is increasing, with the number of billionaires alone tripling in the previous decade. However, demand and capacity for first-class travel have declined significantly, and some analysts believe that it might become extinct within a decade.

Evolution of First-Class Travel

First-class travel has a long history dating back decades. It was initially developed to meet the requirements of high-paying customers seeking a more pleasant and exclusive flying experience. To attract discerning travellers, airlines began to invest in premium amenities and services over time. This resulted in the development of lie-flat mattresses, private apartments, onboard showers, and excellent dining experiences, which elevated the allure of first class further. Airlines carefully positioned first class as a symbol of status and exclusivity, appealing to wealthy travellers seeking utmost the comfort and privacy. However, with the emergence of business class, the premium air travel environment began to transform. Business class cabins evolved as a more inexpensive option, offering a variety of facilities and services comparable to first class. While first class remained the pinnacle of luxury, business class provided a compelling alternative for travellers looking for increased comfort and service without the astronomical price tag.

The Economics of First Class

Airlines would not abandon first class if there were a large number of individuals prepared to pay for it. In truth, first-class has always been a difficult commodity to market. Airlines seldom reveal revenue figures. Of course, some travellers may pay for first class, but it is often utilized as a marketing and aspirational tool in many circumstances. Upgrades can be granted to frequent flyers to preserve loyalty, to firms as part of corporate contracts, and for employee travel. They are also an element of an airline's brand and image; Emirates is one example. When first class, business class, and economy class became regular decades ago, the economics of flying were different. Since then, we have witnessed an upsurge in the number of people travelling, as well as a major increase in competitiveness and a drive to cram in even more passengers. Airlines strive to earn more per seat, and in many situations, first class just does not fit. When you add in the pandemic-related slowdowns and the ongoing fall in corporate travel, first class loses even more of its allure.

The Transition to Economy Class

Low-cost carriers have emerged as disruptive forces in the aviation industry, altering people's travel habits. These airlines have successfully attracted a large number of price-conscious passengers by offering reasonable rates and no-frills services. Their emergence into the market has pushed established full-service airlines to reconsider their strategy and seek new methods to meet shifting traveller preferences. Airlines have used a variety of techniques to suit the needs of budget-conscious passengers. These include unbundling services and charging for extras, instituting basic economy pricing, and optimizing aircraft layouts for increased seat density. Airlines can accommodate more people while lowering expenses per seat mile by expanding the number of economy seats on flights.

The Allure of the Business Class

Because of its ability to find a balance between elegance and price, business class has grown in popularity among travellers. This cabin class is designed for business travellers and people who appreciate comfort, convenience, and productivity when travelling. Business class cabins are frequently equipped with lie-flat seats, direct aisle access, more privacy, and personalized service. These services are designed to meet the demands of professionals who need to travel for work or pleasure. Airlines' realization of the rising desire for premium travel experiences beyond the limits of economy class has spurred the growth of business class. The availability of business class seats on both short- and long-haul flights has expanded the options for passengers looking for better comfort and service. The development of novel seating arrangements and powerful entertainment systems has increased the appeal of business class.

Factors Influencing the Decline of First-Class Travel

The fall of first-class travel has been attributed to a number of issues. The shifting demography of air travellers is one such cause. With the expansion of the middle class and the emergence of a new generation of travellers, priorities have shifted. Younger travellers, in particular, place a higher value on experiences over belongings and are more inclined to spend their travel money on immersive activities at their destination rather than fancy flights. The phaseout of international first class is most likely driven by two main factors. First, business-class seating, service, and facilities have improved to the point that many airlines no longer feel the need for a second forward cabin or would struggle to distinguish it from an expanded business class. Second, airlines are abandoning double-decker large aircraft like the 747 and A380 in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient planes. With less room aboard, the prestige of supplying first class is insufficient to pay the operational costs.

Another important element is technological improvement. Passengers may now stay connected and engaged during their trip thanks to the increased availability of in-flight Wi-Fi, personalized entertainment systems, and other technological developments, decreasing the necessity for certain classic first-class amenities. Sustainability and environmental concerns are also factors in the decline of first-class travel. With greater awareness of carbon footprints and initiatives towards more sustainable practices, the lavish use of resources connected with first-class cabins has come under fire. Airlines are under pressure to implement more environmentally friendly policies, which may conflict with the resource-intensive nature of first-class travel.

Space Restrictions

Another commercial aviation development that has happened independently of the improvements in business class seats is the transition from double-decker jumbo jets to smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft. With Airbus discontinuing A380 manufacturing and airlines retiring 747s, we are seeing more long-haul flights flown by next-generation aircraft like the 787 and A350. Many airlines that have kept first class on larger jets like the 777 are dropping it on smaller flights like the 787 and A350. Simply explained, there isn't enough additional space on these smaller planes to accommodate the huge seats that make first class so appealing. British Airways is one of the few carriers that has installed a first-class cabin on its 787s, and only on the bigger 787-9 type. There are eight first-class seats and 14 business-class seats between the plane's first two doors.

There are 30 business class seats in the same location on the same plane as American Airlines and Air Canada. While an extra eight seats may not seem like much, if more of them are filled, it may have a significant impact. There will always be more people and businesses ready to spend $5,000 for a business-class ticket than $10,000 or $15,000 for first class, and airlines are taking advantage of this. Empty first-class seats constitute a significant loss on any trip, and eliminating first class allows an airline to reduce catering expenses and send out planes with greater loads.

Contrasting First and Business Class

While both first class and business class cater to travellers seeking luxury travel experiences, the two have significant differences. The cost and accessibility of various cabin types are important differentiators. First-class tickets are often substantially more expensive than business class tickets. As a result, first class is largely available to wealthy individuals or those travelling on corporate accounts, but business class is more widely available to a wider spectrum of travellers. First class frequently has more spacious and private seating configurations in terms of cabin layouts and seating comfort. In their first-class portions, several airlines provide covered suites or private cabins, giving travellers unsurpassed seclusion. While not as luxurious as first class, business class offers a high degree of comfort and room with lie-flat seats and direct aisle access. Another point of differentiation is the amount of personalized service and attention given to passengers. First-class customers usually enjoy more personalized treatment, with specialist flight attendants attending to their every need. Business class customers, on the other hand, receive attentive attention as well, but it may be split among a greater number of people.

Commercial Aviation Luxury

Luxury in commercial aviation is described as providing extraordinary services, facilities, and experiences that exceed passengers' expectations. Luxury is defined differently by airlines and passengers, although it frequently includes elements like comfort, exclusivity, personalized service, exquisite food, and distinctive onboard facilities. To improve the travel experience of their premium clientele, airlines have developed a variety of opulent facilities and services. Private airport lounges, chauffeur services, gourmet meals crafted by famous chefs, dedicated check-in counters, priority boarding, and access to premium spa and shower facilities are among the amenities available. In addition, airlines have invested in forming alliances with premium businesses in order to provide customers with special items and experiences. Some airlines, for example, work with premium skincare or fashion firms to give amenity packs containing high-end items or designer pajamas for long-haul flights.

Numerous Airlines Still Offer First-Class Seats


Asia has a variety of airlines that still operate long-haul, first-class flights, such as Air China, Air India, ANA, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, China Southern, Garuda Indonesia, JAL, Korean Air, Thai Airways, and Singapore Airlines.

Of course, the exact award rates may vary depending on the airline and destination, but flying first class from the United States to Asia on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines for 70,000-75,000 Alaska miles each way is one of the best offers available. If you can locate round-trip award space, you may fly ANA first class from the United States to Tokyo for 110,000-120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.

Middle East

Middle East Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar comprise the so-called Middle Eastern Three (ME3), and all still provide a first-class cabin on several of their aircraft. Emirates' 777-300ERs have an excellent cabin near the front of the plane, but it is normally only accessible for last-minute award tickets. Meanwhile, the carrier's huge A380 aircraft has the gold-studded first-class cabin that has become synonymous with award travel extravagance, as well as an on-board bathroom with closing doors. However, Emirates retrofitted older 777-200LRs with new business-class seats, removing first class in the process, indicating that even Emirates is not immune to the trend. Etihad and Qatar both have first-class cabins on certain flights. Etihad's Apartment is one of the most capacious first-class seats available and a terrific way to utilize American AAdvantage points; it is even bookable on First class is also available on Etihad's A330-300s, 777-300ERs, and 787-9s.

Qatar has the lowest first-class footprint of the ME3, with the top-tier product available only on its ten A380s. Given Qatar's opulent business class, the QSuite, this makes sense. According to Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways, which consistently earns the top award at the Skytrax World Airline Awards, would not have first-class berths on its next-generation long-haul aircraft. According to Al Baker, the investment in the most opulent seats does not justify the returns, considering that Qatar's business-class offering offers many of the same benefits. "Why should you invest in a subclass of an aeroplane that already provides you with all the amenities that first class provides?" questioned Al Baker in an exclusive hour-long interview in Istanbul on Saturday. "I don't see the necessity."


The tendency is not limited to Middle Eastern airlines. Most major US airlines have likewise discontinued first-class service on numerous domestic flights, instead emphasizing business class as their top product. Economic concerns and a shift in passenger preferences are driving this transition.


The scenario for Indian airlines is noticeably different. Historically, Indian airlines were the first to offer first-class seating, with Kingfisher Airlines leading the way. Under the charismatic leadership of Vijay Mallya, Kingfisher Airlines aspired to revolutionize air travel in India by delivering an exquisite experience comparable to international standards. Its first-class cabins rivalled the finest in the business, with spacious seats, sophisticated dining options, and personalized service. The first-class cabins of Kingfisher Airlines were a game changer in the Indian aviation industry. Passengers could enjoy elegance and comfort never before seen on domestic routes.

The airline's dedication to quality and attention to detail made it the preferred option for customers looking for an exquisite travel experience. Despite its early success, Kingfisher Airlines experienced numerous issues that eventually contributed to its demise, ceasing operations in 2012. This departure signaled the end of an era in the country's first-class travel. Several reasons contribute to Indian airlines' lack of first-class seats nowadays. Market demand and passenger preferences are important factors. The majority of Indian travelers opt for economy and value for money over lavish grandeur. Because of this preference, airlines have focused on delivering reasonable tickets and improving services in economy and business class, which cater to a larger consumer base.

First Class Travel's Future

While first-class travel appears to be on the decline, there are still possible niche areas where it might thrive. Certain routes with a large proportion of luxury travellers or routes frequented by wealthy individuals may continue to sustain first-class service. Furthermore, airlines may investigate new options for customization and personalization, such as providing tailored premium services to meet the specific demands of affluent travellers. Technology and innovation have the potential to alter the future of first-class travel. Airlines may be able to offer distinct experiences that distinguish first-class from other classes by using developments in cabin design, in-flight entertainment, and connectivity.

The combination of augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence has the potential to reshape the luxury travel experience and rekindle interest in first-class travel. However, the conventional form of first class may undergo a transition in the future. Some airlines have already begun to phase out first class on specific routes or replace it with an improved business class product. The requirement to maximize profitability while also responding to the changing dynamics of the premium travel industry is driving this transition.


To reestablish profitability in the age of commercial aviation commoditization, airlines are concentrating their efforts on the economy class market. However, demand for first class remains strong, although among a small percentage of affluent travellers. Pricing, accessibility, cabin layout, seat comfort, and personalized care are all aspects that distinguish first class from business class. Luxury in commercial aviation is defined by excellent services, facilities, and experiences that go above and beyond the expectations of passengers. Airlines attempt to create a luxurious flying experience through a variety of techniques, such as collaborations with premium goods, personalized services, and special onboard offers. While the future of first class may shift to accommodate market pressures, its allure as the pinnacle of luxury travel is likely to persist, albeit in a more polished and tailored form.

With Inputs from FlightWorxAviation Business NewsThe Points GuyFortune