Why we'll still pay for luxury in the air and on the ground

Business-class airline Eos went bankrupt last weekend. But there's still plenty of appetite for premium services. Kate Simon reports
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

When business-class airline Eos filed for bankruptcy last weekend, it came as little surprise to industry-watchers. The standalone business-class-only model has been a spectacular casualty of soaring fuel prices and the economic slowdown, with only two now remaining – Silverjet, flying Luton to New York and Dubai, and L'Avion, connecting Paris to New York – both of which commentators expect to follow suit.

The small scale of Eos's operation made it ultimately vulnerable, but the rest of the industry is under pressure, too: five airlines have been forced to shut up shop in just the past few weeks. Recent comments by Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, about a presaging "perfect storm" point up a growing belief that we may be about to see a radical reshaping of the airline industry.

Yet there is an appetite for premium services, where the big airlines make their profits. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) notes that while consumer confidence may be weaker, premium traffic continues to grow.

Adam Daniels, UK head of leisure sales at British Airways, says BA has seen "double-digit growth in the past 12 months in the premium leisure market – and we are still seeing that growth". But Mr Daniels believes airlines cannot be complacent about this. "We'll continue to have to develop and improve the project. Premium leisure customers are looking at what they get for their money." The airline also remains committed to launching its business-only New York route out of London City.

BA is not alone in its pursuit of premium customers. Virgin recently opened its Upper Class Wing at Heathrow Terminal 3 – a dedicated entrance with fast-track security – aiming to offer 10-minute limo-to-lounge access. And Singapore Airlines is benefiting from the luxurious spec of its new A380s and a new terminal at its Changi hub. Even American carriers, whose premium services were sharply criticised, are spending millions revamping their top products.

So what do you get for your money? The airlines opposite offer some of the best premium experiences on long-haul flights, here's a breakdown of what they have at business-class and premium hybrid level. One tip: if you're tempted to shell out, check out sales, packages with airlines' preferred partners, or see what any loyalty cards might buy you.

AIR NEW ZEALAND
Class: Business Premier.
Check in: Free limo transfers and valet parking at Heathrow for certain fares. Dedicated check-in channels. Priority baggage handling. Security fast track.
Lounge: Access to signature or other airlines' lounges.
Seat: 6ft 7.5in-long flat bed. Cotton bed linen. Amenity kit.
Food and drink: Gourmet menus and fine wines. Pre-flight dining at some locations.
Entertainment and technology: Video and audio on-demand system. In-seat power.
Other services: Loyalty programmes. In-flight concierge to be introduced this year.
Return fares: London to Auckland costs from £3,355 (airnewzealand.com).

BRITISH AIRWAYS
Class: Club World.
Check in: Online check-in. Dedicated check-in channels. Security fast track.
Lounge: Signature lounges, some with spa facilities, or access to other airlines' lounges.
Seat: 6ft-long flat-bed. Cotton bed linen.
Food and drink: Gourmet menus and fine wines. Snack bar. Pre-flight dining at some locations.
Entertainment and technology: Video and audio on-demand system. In-seat power and communications.
Other services: Priority baggage handling. Loyalty programmes.
Return fares: London-New York from £1,099 between 1 July and 5 December 2008, book by 24 June (ba.com/clubholiday).

EMIRATES
Class: Business Class.
Check in: Free chauffeur transfers. Online check-in. Dedicated check-in channels. Security fast track.
Lounge: Signature lounges or access to other airlines' lounges. Seat: 6ft 6in lie-flat bed or sleeperette seats. Seats with massage features currently rolling out. Down pillows and woollen blankets. Amenity kits.
Food and drink: Gourmet menus and cellar of fine wines.
Entertainment and technology: New video and audio on-demand system being introduced. In-seat power and communication.
Other services: Priority baggage handling. Loyalty programmes.
Return fares: London-Dubai from £1,389 (emirates.com/uk).

VIRGIN ATLANTIC
Class: Upper Class.
Check in: Free chauffeur transfers. Online check-in. Dedicated check-in channels and exclusive wing at Heathrow T3.
Lounge: Signature lounges, with spa facilities, or access to other airlines' lounges.
Seat: 6ft 7.5in-long flat beds. Cotton bed linen and sleep suits. Amenity kits.
Food and drink: Gourmet menus and fine wines. On-board bar.
Entertainment and technology: Video and audio on-demand system. In-seat power and communication.
Other services: Priority baggage handling. Loyalty programmes. On-board beauty therapists.
Return fares: London-New York from £1,399 (virginatlantic.com).

Comments