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."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law