03/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Airlines Slashing First-Class Seats

Remember when first-class seats meant the best on the plane? That's not always the case anymore.

In the last decade, some airlines began eliminating first class, while keeping the amenities that make their highest-paying passengers feel like the most important people on board. They just call it by a different name. Delta Air Lines, for example, calls its prime seats BusinessElite class on international flights. Continental Airlines calls them BusinessFirst.

The airlines themselves were in part responsible for the declining number of first-class seats. Once they improved business class -- with bigger seats that open into fully flat beds, menus by celebrity chefs, individual entertainment systems and airport lounges where first- and business-class travelers rubbed elbows -- "it became more difficult for travelers to justify the additional exorbitant price of first class," said Peter P. Belobaba, manager of the M.I.T. Global Airline Industry Program. The recent rise of all-business-class airlines has just added to the pressure on first class.

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