Is the First Class future to take premium flying ‘to the next level’ or a way to project an image of the airline brand excellence?
The airline industry has traditionally lagged behind other tourism sectors when it comes to creating customer profiles to anticipate their needs, but in the recent past the airlines have increasingly benchmark against trends in the hotel sector in order to meet customer expectations. They learn to tailor their offerings to take account of passenger preferences and tastes much like the hotel industry does efficiently since a decade. Soon a text message will tell you what gate you’re departing from, and another one later will tell you when that gate is open, allowing you more time for some last-minute shopping, reflection in the think pod or a few extra exercises in the gym, depending on your mood. During your flight, you’ll stream movies on your tablet and use the same device to do some online supermarket shopping so that when you arrive home from your two-week holiday you’ll have a bag of fresh groceries waiting for you. What looks unlikely to change is airline policy on the use of mobile phones. It’s been proven they’re perfectly safe, but the ban will be maintained on them on privacy and comfort grounds. We may not be on our phones but we’ll spend a lot of our time online. Superfast broadband connectivity will be standard on all airlines, allowing passengers to download content directly on their mobile devices. Those screens on the back of the seats will disappear as airlines work to create lighter seats, which will significantly reduce the weight of the plane and the fuel burn that accounts for 40 per cent of an airline’s total costs.
Even there’s a lot of competition in the back of the airplane, the fares are so dramatically higher in the front of the plane that they have incredible margins for carriage. The carriers make a lot of money on people who pay premium fares and the biggest changes will definitely take place in the front-end seats as the world’s airlines scramble for position in the intensifying race for loyalty. In recent years, the airlines have become wiser in adjusting their cabin mix depending on the route they fly. The top operators worldwide are all offering an experience comparable to that available in First for almost two decades and more generally raising the question related to the need for First-Class cabins as flat-bed seats becoming the norm including finer dining, high-end toiletries; amenity kits; free pyjamas and fancier limousine to the airport, cradle corporate customers in once-unimaginable comfort, making the premium on front-row seats harder to justify. The upgrading of the Business Class isn’t presenting a fairly faithful mirror of what’s happening in the larger economy: the disappearance of the middle class?
If the line between business and first class is fading, also the gap between that new ‘front-row seats’ flying which appears to be absolutely stunning and flying private is starting to close. Private jets are more and more competitively priced. What’s more, business travelers, the main clientele for ‘Upper’ Class’, might opt for the private jet route because of the time savings as you don’t have the hassle of checking in, you decide when you want to fly, and when you land you literally walk right out of the airport. For sure and it is not a surprise, the ‘Middle East Big Three’ Award winning airlines are leading the battle to design the most appealing, most comfortable Business- and First-class seating arrangements to take premium flying ‘to the next level’. You never see airlines featuring the last row of seats in their ads and that opulence may be as much about projecting an image of their home state (a gateway that helps visitors form an impression about the country before they land), as selling seats to passengers willing to spend $20,000 on a one-way ticket vs. say, $40,000 to fly private with the schedule flexibility and related privacy of a business jet. It’s a select group of people who are willing to pay for the luxury, the ultimate attention, for the total privacy and business jet operators are competing on that segment too and MEBA the ideal event to feel the pulse of that booming sector…