American Airlines compares an airline seat to a hotel room. But are the two similar?

Is it just a seat? Or is it part of a luxury brand. Photo: American.

Is this American Airlines seat just a seat? Or is it part of a luxury brand. Photo: American.

Is a premium cabin airline seat a commodity? Or is it a luxury item similar to a five-star hotel or fancy car.

US Airways A330 business class seat.

US Airways A330 business class seat.

This is a question U.S. airlines have been confronting. On one side is US Airways. I’m told US Airways has a comfortable business class seat on its A330 airplanes. They’re flat, private and have plenty of room. But you never hear US Airways bragging about its seat. The airline doesn’t blog about its in-flight menus. And you don’t see the product advertised in high-end magazines or on the internet.

American is introducing walk-up bars to its 777 fleet.

American is introducing walk-up bars to its 777 fleet.

Contrast that with merger partner American Airlines, which makes luxury branding a priority. American is in the process of adding industry-leading seats to many of its airplanes, but it has actually just started the project. Many of its planes have an out-dated business class product. No matter. The carrier has been advertising its new seats — and its onboard bar — just about everywhere. And American is not just selling a seat. It is selling an experience.

It appears the new, combined American Airlines will being going with the American approach of luxury branding. But is this a good idea? Skift has an interesting story this week called “American Airlines Has Designs on Becoming Your Hotel in Sky,” detailing American’s approach.

American believes its airplanes can be a like a luxury hotel,  Steven Moo-Young, American’s director of onboard product planning and design, told Skift.

“We’re in the hospitality industry and these are our guests. We want to make them feel as though they’re at home,” Moo-Young said. “Our DNA is hospitality.”

Skift’s Marisa Garcia noted that American’s executives used hotel-like words to describe their product. The seats, for example, were not seats. They were “suites” that could turn into “beds.” Those seats — err, beds — even have  “do not disturb” buttons.

Garcia writes of American’s approach.

They’ve carefully studied the preferences of their guest, their life-style choices, their technology needs, their food preferences, even what they like best about their cars. Then they’ve blended all of it into a unique brand experience.

I’m intrigued by American’s approach. But I think it’s possible that American will over-promise and under deliver. I also think the airline might be overestimating what the customer wants. Are we sure the business class customer wants a hotel-like experience? Or does the premium customer simply want the US Airways experience — a comfortable seat that goes flat, in a clean quiet cabin. Maybe with some decent food thrown in. It’s just a plane ride, after all.

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Can you guess which airline interior is pictured here? Win a prize!

UPDATE: We have a winner. The answer is, indeed, Finnair. And user JC has been randomly selected (by my editor, in a drawing) as our winner. Congratulations! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stump my readers.

It’s time for another installment of name that interior. Can you name the airline pictured here? If you can, you can win a prize.

Can you name the airline pictured here? Photo credit:  Gwydion M. Williams (Creative Commons.)

Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams (Creative Commons.)

Please leave your guesses in the comments section. This is sort of an easy one, so instead of awarding the prize to our first correct guess, like usual, I’m going to raffle it off. Everyone who guesses right by 12 p.m. PDT PST on Saturday will have a chance to win. (One caveat: I can only ship within the United States.)

I got this week’s prize at a United Airlines Olympics-themed party last week. It’s more an Olympics prize than an airline one, but I understand these pins are popular. Here it is:

Prize!

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Should Jetblue start overselling flights? And other airline news of the past week.

Jetblue doesn't oversell its flights, generally. But should it?  (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)

Jetblue doesn’t oversell its flights, generally. But should it? Bloomberg Businessweek asked in an article.  (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)

Here are some of the stories I’ve enjoyed in the past week.

Jetblue boasts that it rarely oversells flights. This sounds good, but it means the airline probably flies a bunch of segments with empty seats — since not every passenger shows up for each flight. This Bloomberg BusinessWeek story — “JetBlue Never Bumps Passengers. Maybe It Should” — asks whether Jetblue should change policy to chase more revenue and fill more seats.

Locally, Burbank Bob Hope Airport reported that it handled about 3.88 million passengers in 2013, down about 5 percent from the previous year, according to the Burbank Leader. As we’ve noted many times here, it is not a good time to be a midsize airport. For now, airlines prefer big-city hubs, like LAX.

The New York Times says that on-time data is flawed because the on-time ratings of major airlines do not include flights operated by their commuter partners. Thus an airline like United might report decent on-time numbers for January, even though its United Express partners — who are technically independent airlines — fair far worse.

Virgin Atlantic will cease flying from London to Australia through Hong Kong on May 5, according to Business Traveller magazine. The route used an Airbus A340-600 airplane with four engines — a plane that is notoriously inefficient compared to more modern twin-engine jetliners.

Korean Air is making Houston its 11th U.S. gateway, Today in the Sky reported this week. The service starts in May. Korean will use a Boeing 777-200.

And finally, want to learn more about me, Brian Sumers, your blogger? I answered some questions recently on my travel habits for JohnnyJet,  the indefatigable travel blogger. You can find the Q&A here. 

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Airlines trade group reports carriers are getting stronger, more profitable

Airlines 4 America, the industry lobbying group, released some interesting data on Thursday. I’ll summarize some of it here, but it is worth remembering that this data is generated by people who are paid by airlines.

In this slide, we learn that airlines — even though they have had a very profitable year by their standards — lag far behind other American industries. 

Airlines 4 America 1

Airports, including LAX, have far more secure balance sheets than airlines.

Airlines 4 America 2

As I mentioned in a story last month, airlines are investing more money in their product than they have in a decade. It’ll be interesting to see how long this trend lasts.

Airlines 4 America 4

For several years, airlines have been practicing “capacity discipline,” or reducing the number of seats in each market so they could make a great profit. But slowly, according to Airlines 4 America, seats are beginning to re-enter the marketplace.

Airlines 4 America 5

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Average Domestic Airfare: Relatively unchanged from this time last year

Here’s another example of why you probably shouldn’t complain about high airfares. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics released its 2013 first quarter airfare data on Wednesday, and it shows fares are considerably lower than they were 15 years ago.

I suppose you could be upset that fares have risen slightly since 2007. But it should have been expected that fares would climb slightly once the economy improved.

Below is the data:

Table 1. 1st Quarter Average Fare 1995-2013, Adjusted for Inflation 

Average Fare in 2013 dollars ($) Year-to-Year Percent Change in Average Fare (1Q to 1Q) (%) Cumulative Percent Change in Average Fare (1Q 1995 to 1Q of each year) (%)
1995 444 - -
1996 409 -7.9 -7.9
1997 415 1.5 -6.5
1998 440 6.0 -0.9
1999 450 2.3 1.4
2000 456 1.3 2.7
2001 420 -7.9 -5.4
2002 402 -4.3 -9.5
2003 397 -1.2 -10.6
2004 375 -5.5 -15.5
2005 365 -2.7 -17.8
2006 378 3.6 -14.9
2007 364 -3.7 -18.0
2008 373 2.5 -16.0
2009 335 -10.2 -24.5
2010 357 6.6 -19.6
2011 375 5.0 -15.5
2012 378 0.9 -14.8
2013(1Q) 379 0.1 -14.7

              

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Note: Percent change based on unrounded numbers 

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