Q. tymczasowo zawiesza sprzedaż biletów pierwszej klasy na trasach: Sydney-Buenos Aires, Sydney-San Francisco i Melbourne-Hong Kong-Londyn.

QANTAS is axing first-class travel on some of its international Boeing 747 services over the winter because the global financial crisis has cruelled demand.

The unusual move affects three long-haul routes – Sydney-Buenos Aires, Sydney-San Francisco and Melbourne-Hong Kong-London between July 6 and October 31, reports The Australian

Demand has slipped for first-class flights as businesses have found it more difficult to justify the cost. A June departure on Melbourne-London return was yesterday listed on FlightCentre.com.au at more than $17,000.

A Qantas spokeswoman confirmed the airline had targeted the three routes because there was no demand for its first-class product. She said the airline would review the situation in October and hoped it would be able to reinstate the service in November.

It will mean some customers will get a first-class seat at business-class prices.

"We'll sell it as a business-class service so they'll get business-class product and service but some people will be sitting in a first-class seat," the spokeswoman said.

Qantas generally does not reveal traffic figures on particular routes, but chief executive Alan Joyce said first- and business-class traffic was down by 20 to 30 per cent.

The lack of enthusiasm for business travel comes despite a bonanza for corporate travellers that has seen business-class fares fall more steeply than their economy-class equivalents as passenger loads have dropped. Recently advertised examples include $6655 on Sydney-London return business-class fare, $6619 Sydney-Paris and $7762 Melbourne-Los Angeles.

The lower fares have proven a disaster for airline bottom lines, as revenues have fallen at a significantly faster pace than passenger numbers.

There was little hope the situation might turn around soon, with the airline umbrella group warning there was no indication the decline in passenger travel has reached a bottom.

Despite the bleak business-class outlook, some sectors of the travel industry are seeing increases in the number of customers.

Online booking agency Webjet says demand on its site is higher than last year, driven by low fares and bargain-hunting travellers. And Virgin Blue figures released last week showed domestic passenger numbers in April were up 3.1 per cent on a year ago.
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