Some of the world's top airlines may be scrapping their first-class cabins to make more room for business-class seats, but a new airline is placing luxury front and centre.
Reservations are set to open this summer for Beond, a new all-premium-class airline, with the first flight scheduled to take off later this year connecting Maldivian capital Male and Dubai.
The airline says it will serve seven cities by the end of 2023.
Beond's first plane will be an Airbus A321 narrow-body jet, which will have just 68 seats instead of the standard 220. Seats, configured in rows of two and lying flat, will be equipped with iPad Pros and wireless headsets, replacing traditional aircraft entertainment systems.
Passengers will also have the option of home check-ins, limousine transfers to and from their home or hotel, and lounge access at the airport. Where available, Beond will fly in and out of private terminals, eliminating the need for long security queues.
Ticket prices are expected to start at $1,500 one way.
Chief executive Tero Taskila told Bloomberg Beond is not targeted at ultra-high-net-worth individuals, most of whom use private jets anyway. Instead, the airline is hoping to hook travellers “who haven’t been able to find space in first class on other airlines, or cannot afford it because they are a family of four”.
“We really want to make travel hassle-free,” he said.
Based in the Maldives, Taskila told Airways magazine in November that the country was the best fit for Beond's premium model.
“We always had the plan to be a global airline for all the luxury destinations around. We then approached many luxury islands; the Maldives was the best fit for us in terms of government support,” he said.
“The Maldives also allowed us to get national carrier status, which is very important to us. We are the only carrier that can fly to 80 destinations out of Male. So, we are in a monopolistic situation in the Maldives going forward.”
Beond's arrival comes at an interesting time for the airline industry.
Last week, Qatar Airways said it was phasing out first-class berths on its next-generation long-haul aircraft.
Chief executive Akbar Al Baker said that investment in the most luxurious seats doesn’t justify the returns, given that Qatar’s business-class offering provides many of the same perks.
“Why should you invest in a subclass of an plane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you. I don’t see the necessity,” he said.
The future, he added, lies in business class.
Air New Zealand, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and LATAM have also called time on first-class cabins, with American Airlines to follow suit on international flights next year.