As said in the title: where do the names "First", "Business" and "Economy" class originate from? Why they didn't use the names "First", "Second" and "Third". After all it can be hard for someone not that familiar with English to find out that "Business" is ranked higher than "Economy".

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    $\begingroup$ It's a mere guess so only a comment: "Second/Third" class do not sound too nice, do they? It sounds better when you link it to something positively connoted like: "business". It's not "first", but it still sounds appropriate for those people who think of themselves as important businesspeople. What's the image you have when hearing "business"? The same for economy: It does not sound good to fly "third class" (like third class, when people were still separated in social classes). But to travel in an "economic" way sounds good, doesn't it? It's mere PR gags, nought more. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ I think what @PatricHartmann is trying to say is that they come from the Marketing Department. They still mean 2nd and 3rd class, they just sound nicer. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ why did all airline companies used the same ones. They don't. "Business" is often called "club". "Economy" is often called "coach". American airlines often call "business", "first" on two class configurations and so on. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @PatricHartmann FWIW trains in the UK have "Standard" class rather than "Second" - a change which was made in the 80s for precisely the reason you suggest. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ You might try asking this on English.SE as well $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


They used to use those ordinal class names (first, second, third), borrowed originally from train and ocean liner class designations. British railway classes were first, second and third classes, while ocean liners typically had first, second and steerage (which itself became a derogatory term that was changed to "third class", especially as steerage evolved from a converted section of cargo space to purpose-built passenger accomodations).

The change to the modern airline classes is an example of the euphemism cycle, and occurred through the 1960s and 1970s as travel in general increased dramatically while the average income of the travelers nose-dived. In the U.S., the primary driver was the stigma of people in those sections being called "second class" or "third class" as "political correctness" started becoming a big thing with the civil rights disputes. This led to a rebranding of lower numbered classes by airlines; second class, being a popular choice for frequent flyers on corporate business seeking a compromise between the low cost of the economy section and the amenities of first class, was renamed "business class", while the main passenger cabin holding the bulk of passengers with the lowest-cost tickets (average Joes going on vacation, visiting family or just needing to get somewhere on a short travel schedule) was called "coach", "economy" or simply "standard". All of these terms have survived at least informally, but "economy" is the one most often used by the airlines to denote this service level.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not saying you're wrong about anything, but some references would be a great addition to this answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ Here's a blog post talking about the dysphemistic nature of the term "third class" in the context of Britain's rail system and some plans to privatize and extend service options: blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/10/… $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't really strike me as much of a reference, but if you do find something, just edit your answer to include it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithS Interesting article perhaps but it doesn't really relate to the use of these class names in aviation. $\endgroup$
    – Calchas
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 21:10

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