Even as many people around the world are cutting back on luxuries and just trying to get by, a number of airlines are determined to bring back glamour to air travel, at least for those sitting in the front of the plane, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Flat beds and fluffy pillows, fancy wines and 4-course meals, designer-brand pajamas and luxurious vanity kits—these options have become the staple of business-class travel these days, the article reports.
After a couple of sluggish years, business travel spending in the United States is forecast to grow by 7.1% to $293 billion in 2014, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Spending on international travel is expected to increase almost twice as fast, at 13%, to reach $37 billion. With this pickup in corporate travel, airlines are taking extra steps to offer ever more personal services and benefits to compete for high-value business passengers, even as they squeeze more economy-class travelers in the back.
“Corporate passengers are definitely being fought over by all the airlines,” Claudia Sender, chief executive of the Brazilian carrier TAM Airlines, told The Times. “They have never been so important because of their willingness to pay more.”
The front of the plane is where the profit is
Airlines have always treated their business-class passengers a little better than the rest. But in today’s era of mass travel, the extra attention to the front of the cabin has increased disparities in the air as never before.
Airlines typically charge six to eight times as much for business class as for coach on long-haul, international flights, and two to three times as much for first class as for business class. Those flying in the premium cabins or paying full fare for economy tickets account for roughly two-thirds of an airline’s revenue, so it’s no surprise that airlines are redoubling their efforts to please these passengers, at a time when economy travelers are trying to stretch their travel dollars.
Inside the plane, the most visible sign of this attention is the latest generation of business-class seats. The standard today is comfortable seats that can be turned into flat beds, rather than angled ones.
Helping passengers sleep is the new competitive commodity
Airlines now realize that offering a real opportunity for a good night’s sleep while aboard has become a competitive tool, particularly with the advent of new jets that can fly longer distances without stopping for fuel. Improving a guest’s sleep experience, therefore, is what it’s all about. Japan Airlines, for example, is offering a selection of different pillows, and is working with a mattress company to develop extra padding for its seats to make the beds more comfortable.
Since the whole point of providing flatbeds is better and longer sleep, airlines are rethinking their approach to in-flight service, particularly during night flights, to allow passengers more uninterrupted time to sleep. Virgin Atlantic, for instance, offers business passengers the option to have their dinner in the terminal before boarding. Those who pick that option are then assigned seats in the “snooze” or quiet section of the cabin, where flight attendants will not bother them.
Etihad Airways, based in the United Arab Emirates, recently outlined a sleep initiative that it described as a result of a two-year partnership with sleep experts from the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology, an Abu Dhabi-based clinical center. Passengers get noise-canceling headphones, as well as beverages that help encourage sleep, like hot chocolate and herbal teas.
The have’s and have-not’s
Yet while the front of the plane has been significantly upgraded, traditional economy class has become even more cramped, as coach passengers pay the price to make more room for premium passengers. The average seat pitch has been reduced by about 10% over the last decade. Airlines are also using slimmer economy seats that allow them to add more rows and passengers on their planes. Some are also trying to increase the number of seats they can fit into each row.
“Coach is pretty much the seat and the seatbelt these days,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco and founder of Atmosphere Research Group.
Airlines argue that ticket prices remain historically low, once they are adjusted for inflation, and that passengers for that reason are generally better off today than when the industry was deregulated. But some executives see risk in that strategy, according to The Times article. Economy passengers, the executives warn, may not be willing to accept increasingly bad traveling conditions. It might also hurt the brand with premium passengers, since business travelers often fly coach, too.
Cabeau offers premium comfort, no matter where you’re sitting
At Cabeau, we believe every traveler deserves a comfortable, restful flying experience, regardless of how much they paid for their ticket. That’s exactly the thinking that went into the development of our line of comfort travel products: Our Memory Foam Evolution Pillow® with raised sides for 360° head and chin support puts an end to stiff necks, bobbing heads, and cramped, uncomfortable sleeping positions. Our silky-soft Midnight Magic™ Sleep Mask has an adjustable nose bridge so you can contour it to your unique facial features, guaranteeing a perfect fit for 100% blackout so you can get hours of deep, quality sleep. Our Bamboo Compression Socks™ promote blood circulation, offer spider and varicose vein relief, and reduce leg and foot fatigue and swelling, particularly on long flights. And to keep you warm and cozy even on the chilliest flights, we offer our soft fleece Fold ‘N Go™ Blanket and plush Ultra Soft, Extra Thick Fluffy Socks™.
“Our company is constantly striving to help travelers feel like they’re flying First-Class despite the many comfort challenges associated with travel today,” states David Sternlight, Cabeau’s Founder and CEO.
From all of us at Cabeau, we wish you safe and comfortable summer travels, no matter what row you’re sitting in!