Guest Editor Joel Chusid
Often political talk raises the topic of economic disparity, the gap between rich and poor. Nowhere is this more evident than in the airline business. The old 80/20 rule (80% of airline income is generated by 20% of the customers) applies, and in some cases the numbers are even more extreme. So it’s understandable how airlines focus on first and business class passengers. Everything from limo service to luxurious onboard accommodations is critical, while economy class passengers are finding seats and legroom tighter along with extra charges for things previously taken for granted like seat assignments, a boarding pass, water and overhead bins. Of course this varies by carrier, and in the middle, some airlines do offer a premium economy seat, sometimes in a separate cabin that might or might not come with added amenities. I’ll take a look at some of the more extremes in my column this month.
Apartment in the Air
Middle Eastern airlines are trying to outdo themselves since they tend to have a lot of ultra-long flights and widebody aircraft, attracting traffic in markets that can connect via their home airport. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has fired the latest volley, introducing “The Residence by ETIHAD™” on its Airbus A380s. These are what the airline describes as three-room “First Apartments” which, with 125 square feet of space, feature double or single occupancy bedrooms, a living room with minibar and 32 inch flat screen TV and even ensuite showers and bathrobes. Chefs prepare whatever you wish, whenever you wish. If that’s not enough, they also come with a personal butler and are accessed through a lobby complete with a bar. On the smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner, they are called the “First Suite”. Business travelers on both aircraft are accommodated in “Business Studios”. There are several videos online, and if you’d like a guided tour of the apartment, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLZ2iDLPcxw.
Premium economy class is offered on many international carriers, and in the U.S., just the allure of extra legroom, for a fee or as an elite status reward, is available on most network airlines like American, Delta, United and others. Even ultra-low cost carrier Spirit offers 18.5 wide “Big Front Seats™” with an extra 6 inches of legroom. Let’s not confuse this with the full length beds they were offering in the cargo compartment – that was an April Fool’s joke! Allegiant similarly introduced 25-inch wide “Giant Seats” on its aircraft featuring “Legroom +”. Those extra six inches feel pretty good relative to 28-30 inches of pitch in the other rows. Allegiant had to put the larger seats in a couple of rows to comply with an FAA rule for crew rest on long flights, but they are available for a fee on flights where they’re open. On JetBlue, a few non-consecutive rows of seats are designated “Even more Room” and come with preboarding. JetBlue Airways will introduce its “Mint™” product targeted at premium trans-continental flyers in June. This is a compartmentalized first class seat, unique to the domestic market, and it features gourmet New York style dining and even an amenity kit.
With all the brouhaha going on up front, it’s the folks in economy class that are finding smaller seats, less legroom and extra charges. Russian airline Transaero Airlines has announced it will cram 652 passengers (in three classes) on its new Airbus 380s. That’s better than Air Austral whose short-lived plans to install an all-economy 800 seat configuration won’t happen. Airbus and Boeing differ on how narrow a seat can get; Boeing says 17inches, Airbus 18. Budget carrier Frontier Airlines just announced new charges for carry-on bags, which Spirit has been doing for several years. And we won’t even talk about Ryanair and easyJet, which have set the standard for frugal travel in Europe for a while – minimum seat pitch and padding, no window shades or seat pocket – well, you get the idea. On short haul flights, this is not a surprise, but Norwegian has launched several long-haul flights between unexpected places like Bangkok, Oakland and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood, connecting via their hubs in Oslo and Copenhagen. The fares are cheap, based on demand, but be prepared for extras as on short haul flights.
For the Dogs
Our furry friends have not been forgotten, and www.petfriendlytravel.com offers a list of airport “relief areas” (doggie restrooms) at airports, some of which, generally in larger hubs, are within the secure terminal area. Often the terminal locations are restricted to service dogs and these are not just patches of grass – the facility in Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport just opened and cost $75,000. And then there’s Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport which has really gone to the dogs. Thanks to HALO (Human Animal Link of Oklahoma), trained therapy dogs are walked throughout the airport to help stressed out travelers. Their yellow jackets invite travelers to pet them. The project started last month. Travelers are cautioned not to pet dogs being walked by Homeland Security personnel since they are involved in law enforcement and might not take kindly to being approached!
Allergic or Not?
Two European airlines have taken some steps in their inflight service in somewhat opposite directions. Swiss International Air Lines, this month, announced a partnership with the European Center for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) to make their cabins more comfortable to those with sensitivities whether with food, odors or materials. Pillows will be stuffed with synthetic materials, while flowers and air fresheners will not be used in the cabin. (Some countries require cabin crew spray insect spray before landing – but that’s out of the airlines’ control.) Iberia Airlines is going a different route to make flying more comfortable, at least for some. They’re opting for the air freshener route, both onboard and in lounges, by introducing an “exclusive, fresh and lively scent”. “Mediterráneo de Iberia” has notes of fruit, flowers, wood and a touch of citrus. The Swiss are always so practical, but the Spanish are so romantic!
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