Written by By – Janine Berg, CNN
When an airline makes the decision to expand, it probably has something to do with connecting times, catering to a broader audience and product lines that appeal to a greater number of passengers.
Now, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, Jet Airways and Singapore Airlines have joined forces to put their customers in direct control of their flights. Their superbusiness class seat, known as The Business Select, allows customers to make single fares available for sale to the entire world.
Offering what it calls an “out-of-the-ordinary” airline experience with a new model of boarding and boarding a flight is not only unique, it’s an opportunity for airlines to make a product offering more personal and relevant. The “with your feet on the ground” motto for seats like this is part of this perceived personalization.
For Dominique Augoudis, associate professor in Aerospace Management at the University of British Columbia, airlines can offer more information to customers about their personal preferences and habits. Augoudis says an airline could offer incentives based on the customers’ average speed through their travel experience.
“This isn’t my way or the highway,” he says. “I would expect airlines to make modifications that would offer a unique and personalized travel experience.”
Business products designed for their unique selling points — matching an airline’s consumer lifestyle, providing customization and a personalized service — are in development across the industry. Currently, the airline has seven years of deferred payments on The Business Select, which is priced at about $1,200 round trip.
New York to London
Jet Airways, whose Business Select cabin is currently being deployed on six of its new aircraft, says passengers actually preferred to use the Sky Clubs over Economy seats.
“Our objective for The Business Select is to create a product that will reduce the hassle of finding a seat, and also to create a better travel experience for our flyers, especially during high-density flights,” says Jet Airways’ special projects director (miles and kilometres).
“Our demand analysis showed that customers want comfort, security and choice of items for bags.”
Julie Vander Schubert, Jet Airways’ vice president sales Americas, says that the new product not only serves the needs of passengers, but also the airline’s needs of “serving an increasingly global customer base.”
A new product offering that will not only meet its customers’ demands but those of its airlines will be greatly appealing to business travelers, who are also said to be getting older. There is also the appeal of the flight being purely business class.
While the Air New Zealand aircraft slated to offer The Business Select “A320 Neo” include the “dual-class or premium economy configuration which is three or four-abreast” says Mercer, business customers may be disappointed in the distance they get in this, their first “premium economy” cabin.
There was little demand for this type of cabin over the shorter flying time from New York to London or the longer Australian domestic flights to Asia.
“It is a very tough way to start, especially with such a long distance, eight-hour flight,” says Mercer. “We don’t see the industry rush to start this.”
Satisfying both business class travelers and airlines are the crucial factors in the launch of any new product offering. When asked if the success of the product would be the outcome of consultation between airlines and their customers and if it would aim to satisfy passengers’ and airlines’ needs, these airlines respond “No”.
“In my opinion, they have it already,” says Mercer. “In the language of airline industry, ‘going redo’ is a smart way to introduce new, new products that help improve the industry.”
Jet Airways has agreed to continue flying in the Business Select cabin on its latest Airbus A380, and offers them to premium customers at no additional cost.
“When we were done with this experience we wanted a product that meets all customer requirements, is ergonomically friendly, runs more reliably, is fuel efficient and continues to offer the most comfortable experience for passengers,” says Vander Schubert.