I was recently invited to try out a global airline’s brand new, long haul business class product and the experience got me thinking. How far we have come in terms of what onboard product passengers can expect for the £2-6k a trip like this can cost.
Many of us will remember the advent of the flat bed in Business Class. It was the year 2000 and it was a revelation. The airline in question had to use an innovative, patented floor design in order to accommodate the dimensions of the beds, whilst still fitting in enough seats for it to be economically successful. The difference between its predecessor and competitors of the time was simple – sleep. Real sleep.
Unless you’re one of those extraordinarily lucky people who can sleep at will, (including upright in a chair) the flat beds actually gave you back two things you couldn’t buy - time and energy. The road warriors who were expected to bounce off an overnight long haul flight and deliver the killer sales pitch could now do so having actually slept.
So almost 20 years later, as I tucked into the onboard meal and watched a documentary about that funny fella Maradona on a TV screen the size of the ITM office, I was struck by how competition has continued to improve the passenger experience. All carriers operating Trans-Atlantically from the UK now offer horizontal beds in this cabin and now there are other must-have innovations.
The new hygiene factors tend to include, all aisle-access, duvets and mattress toppers, wi-fi, noise cancelling headsets, the afore mentioned colossal TV screens, and now the new toy – a sliding privacy door! So we’re replacing the 9 hour long etiquette up / down dance of the dividing screen with the inevitable “can I close it yet?” hide and seek game with the crew.
All well and good then for those fortunate enough to travel at or near the front. Premium Economy is now fully established as the win / win product that it is for both passenger and airline. These products closely resemble what business class used to look like, albeit with updated sleek materials and design. With the added benefit from an airline point of view, of generally being the most profitable when measured by floorspace.
But have we seen comparable steps forward for the economy passenger? Apart from a notable improvement in food, in many cases I’m not sure that we have. Given the density of seating in this part of the plane it’s understandable that there hasn’t yet been a revolution with one operator changing the game completely. I happen to know that at least one airline has mocked up the deployment of bunk beds for economy passengers to use, potentially on a timed basis (presumably with an ancillary price), which I think could be a winner; and others are looking at sleep pods, possibly in part of the existing cargo holds.
History tells us that it takes a brave and well thought out move by one carrier to stir the others into a response, so who knows what might be around the corner? Short haul or long haul I might be prepared to pay more for a device that purifies and deodorises the air around me? Regular back of the bus fliers know exactly what I’m talking about….