The race to make money at 37,000ft

The competition to pamper high-paying passengers begins even before the aircraft takes off. That's because a business-class flyer is worth 10 times as much as one in economy class.

That fleeting glimpse of the world of business-class as you look to the left on boarding an aircraft suggests a promised land where all is serene and soothing. And, to those passengers able to afford it or lucky enough to be upgraded, that is the case. But the aura created by fine wines, flat beds and cabin crew who actually seem pleased to serve you, masks one of the most vicious turf battles in the airline industry - the scramble for high-paying customers.

An indication of just how much the business-class airline market matters emerged recently when British Airways announced plans to spend £100m on updating the cabin - the airline's first big product investment for five years. The airline, which introduced the first flatbed in business class in 2000, recognises it has to compete in what Martin George, British Airways' commercial director, acknowledges as a "fiercely competitive" market.

With prescient timing, Virgin Atlantic - which launched its own £70m upper-class suite in 2003, offering in-flight beauty therapists and a bar - ran an advertising campaign in the national media directing a broadside at BA, which listed services that Virgin's equivalent cabin offered but BA did not.

Other airlines are also scrambling to pamper business-class travellers. Emirates said that 10 per cent of passengers on flights from the UK travel in business class, and the airline now offers a "sleeperette" seat with a pitch (the length from the front of one seat to the front of another) of 117cms-160cms.

The stampede to pamper passengers begins before the aircraft has taken off. Earlier this year, Virgin opened its Upper Class lounge at Heathrow, which features a spa pool, sauna and steam room. Virgin and Emirates offer business-class passengers a chauffeur-driven ride to and from the airport and operates a drive-through check-in, which bypasses the check-in desks in the terminal. Earlier this year, Singapore's Changi airport opened an upgraded £3.75m British Airways and Qantas business lounge fitted with dark wood and 20 shower suites, and serving free wines.

Most airlines are coy about divulging exactly how much the front end of the aircraft is worth. According to Hilary Cook of Barclays Stockbrokers, the typical business-class passenger is worth 10 times as much as one in economy class."The premium you pay in business class is huge," she said. "British Airways knows where to go for its profits, which is why it places such importance on business class.

"The competition is extremely stiff, so you do see these catfights over who offers what service - particularly on the transatlantic routes, which are so profitable."

According to Ms Cook, business-class fares are integral to the pricing structure of any flight. "You cover your costs by filling the back of the aircraft with headline fares and your profits come from business class," she said. "It doesn't cost much more to develop business class as opposed to the other parts of the cabin, but the returns are greater."

Joe Ferry, head of design for Virgin Atlantic, acknowledges that airlines put their heart and soul into capturing the business-class market.

"It's vitally important. It's the most profitable part of the aircraft," he said, adding that airlines now need to attract both the business and the leisure traveller. "It's partly about being maverick and partly about gut instinct. If you ask customers what they want, they will say a cup of tea, a good bed and nice toilets. They won't come up with ideas like Jacuzzis - we have to do that.

"The business traveller may just want to get on the plane and sleep or use their laptop. Others may want to enjoy the whole experience. We look to cater to both."

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there