New York Times checks in on premium airline travel

British Airways is one of many airlines investing in its premium cabins. Photo: British Airways.

British Airways is one of many airlines investing in premium cabins. Photo: British Airways.

My editor has banned me from writing any more stories about the bells and whistles that airlines are using to attract first and business class customers. He says most of our newspaper’s readers fly in coach and don’t care all that much about what happens in front of the curtain. The man does have a point.

But luckily, the New York Times has no such limits.

Hence, this week, we get to digest yet another story on the arms race of premium class travel — “Piling On the Luxury” by Jad Mouawad. “Flat beds and fluffy pillows, fancy wines and four-course meals, designer-brand pajamas and luxurious vanity kits — these options have become the staple of business-class travel these days,” he writes.

Air France has been one of the last airlines to adopt flat bed seats in business class and super luxurious seats in first class. But Alexandre de Juniac, Air France’s chairman and chief executive, told the Times he felt like he had no choice. Air France, he said, had to compete with Asian and Middle Eastern carriers.

“Our only weapons, since we can’t lower our costs to the same level as theirs, is to fight back with our own quality services,” he told the Times.

This is probably not new news for readers here, but the Times article has a pretty good roundup on the latest premium class travel trends on a bunch of major airlines, from British Airways, to Delta, to Emirates to Lufthansa.

But just remember, whatever seat is the best of the pack now probably will be obsolete pretty soon.

“It’s a catch-up game,” TAM’s CEO told the Times. “You can have the best seat ever for two years. But guess what? Someone else will come up with a better seat.”

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A website devoted to airline meals? Yes, it exists.

On this holiday, I want to share a website that has rocked my world. Yes, I have discovered airlinemeals.net.

This site is truly amazing. According to the home page, it is a catalog of nearly 30,000 pictures of food on more than 650 airlines.

What possesses someone to start a website like this? Apparently this is the question the website proprietor gets a lot, as he answers it on the site in an amusing FAQ section.

Want to see some of the food photos? Continue reading…

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British Airways, which will bring A380 to Los Angeles, believes there’s plenty of demand for First Class

British Airways is bullish on first class demand between Los Angeles and London. Cabin photograph courtesy of airline.

British Airways is bullish on first class demand between Los Angeles and London. Cabin photograph courtesy of airline.

When British Airways brings its Airbus A380 to Los Angeles International Airport for the first time on Tuesday, it will have something slightly unusual for a new airplane: 14 first class seats. (To compare, Korean Airlines has 12 first class seats on its A380, while Lufthansa has only eight.)

The 14 first class seats are in addition to 97 seats in the airline’s Club World — or business class — cabin. In Club World, every seat converts to a fully flat and private bed.

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Want to fly first class without sticker shock? JetBlue may have the seat for you

JetBlue Airways will soon introduce a premium cabin on flights between Los Angeles and New York.

JetBlue Airways will soon introduce a premium cabin on flights between Los Angeles and New York. Photo courtesy of JetBlue.

JetBlue Airways is introducing new flat bed premium seats on its flights between New York and Los Angeles, but the airline’s target market is not the passengers you might expect.

With some of the best seats in the industry, JetBlue wants to attract travelers who aren’t always accustomed to flying business and first class on domestic routes. As JetBlue Vice President of Network Planning Scott Laurence told me, the airline wants to “stimulate demand” by offering considerably cheaper premium cabin prices than competitors American, Delta, United and Virgin America. Currently, JetBlue has an all coach configuration.

“It’s the concept of taking the best possible product and offering it at the lowest possible price,” Laurence said. “We saw a great opportunity here to bring a great product to this market and target it at people who are paying with their own money. If you look at the incumbent pricing, it is incredibly high. It’s in the $2,000 or $2,500 range.”

JetBlue has not released its pricing, so it’s not clear exactly how low the fares will be. But earlier this week, the airline showed off its new seats, which will be installed on 11 soon-to-be delivered A321s. The seats are somewhat standard flat business class seats, though the configuration is a bit unusual. Some rows will have only one seat on either side of the aisle, while some rows will have 2 seats on each side. In all, there will be 16 seats, and the service is expected to start in 2014.

It would seem likely that the rows with only two seats would be priced higher than the rows with four seats across. But Laurence said it was too early to know for sure whether the products will be priced differently.

What’s interesting about this approach is that it is entirely different from what other airlines usually try. As Laurence explained, JetBlue likes to increase supply when it senses increased demand on a route. That usually means adding flights or using a larger plane. Other airlines, he said, usually respond to increased demand by simply raising prices. They usually don’t increase the number of available seats.

Laurence said he is optimistic there is a real demand for JetBlue’s new seats – so long as they’re sold at a fair price.

“If you do the math, at $700 or $1,000 what’s premium demand in these markets?” he said. “Demand really explodes.”

Want to see the new seats? Fast forward to the one minute mark in the video below.

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