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Qantas to dump first class seats

SYDNEY, Feb 1 – Australia\’s flag carrier Qantas is planning to dump two-thirds of its first-class airline seats as part of a radical 350 million US dollar overhaul of its long-haul fleet, a report said Monday.

The changes, which could increase economy seating areas on planes by up to 20 percent, comes after the world financial crisis sparked a dramatic slump in demand for expensive premium seating on long-distance flights.

Under the scheme that could be announced within weeks, Qantas would retain first class seats only on its London and Los Angeles flights, slashing the number of its first-class planes to 12 from 30, the Australian Financial Review said.

The paper, quoting a leaked reconfiguration plan, said the changes would mean that sumptuous first class bed-seats would be stripped out of all the airline\’s Boeing 747-400s, leaving 14 first class seats in just 12 Airbus A380 super jumbos.

Qantas confirmed it was in talks with suppliers and manufacturers about implementing changes to its fleet, but declined to offer further details or to confirm the Review story.

"We are considering a number of changes to our fleet including the 747-400 and we are still in early discussions with suppliers and manufacturers," a Qantas spokeswoman told AFP.

"We have flagged previously that Qantas is considering a number of options for our fleet, but it\’s too premature to provide further details on changes that Qantas may make in the future," she said.

The airline\’s Chief Executive Alan Joyce said Qantas would continue to offer first class seats after it completes a new seat configuration, the details of which he said were expected to be announced in a few weeks.

"There is a role for first class but it\’s not as extensive it was in the past," Joyce told CNBC television.

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The airline\’s international business is continuing to suffer, he conceded, adding however that demand for air travel in the domestic market was recovering.

Qantas said last month that its international patronage was down 22.6 percent in the 12 months to November compared with a year earlier.

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