The business of business class
Since the late 1990s, many airlines have discarded First Class for Business class, or a mix of the two (think Delta and Air New Zealand). Of late, full-business carriers have come and gone (like SilverJet and MaxJet respectively). Now legacy carriers like Singapore Airlines and British Airways are looking to introduce Business-only flights on their long haul routes (click here to see inside the cabins of these airlines). So, what is it that makes business class tick, and how can airlines differentiate their product, as the top tier gets crowded.
First the three functional requirements of a business traveler:
- Reliability + Frequency – on time performance and lots of options for timings
- Flexibility – business travelers often like to change their plans at the last minute
- Comfort – if the business traveler is able to have his own private space and get a week’s worth of work done on his laptop in-flight, he’ll not be too concerned with money
Premium Carriers rule the skies
Eos Airlines seems to have got it right, with their “uncrowded, uncompromising” strategy, and four flights between New York and London everyday. The cabin setup even allows passengers to face each other during meals – simulating a meeting setup. SilverJet’s “very sivilized”service is less expensive than Eos and half as frequent. But both airlines seem to be doing reasonably well and are looking to expand to other lucrative routes like London – Dubai.
They both have got the basics right. As for the differentiation, Eos suits the business traveler better, but costs more as well. But as I mentioned earlier, customers for this segment are not extremely price sensitive. Everything from short check-in times to wi-fi enabled plush lounges make a difference.
Announcing the arrival of legacy carriers
Singapore Airlines starts their Singapore to New York non-stop full-business class service in May. I’ve traveled on the Executive Economy class of this flight four times in the past few months – and surprisingly, the business class is always over-booked and economy is close to full. So it makes sense to convert this to a full-business flight, since most of these passengers are traveling on business anyway. For the economy traveler, there is always the SIN-Frankfurt-JFK option available as well. And Singapore Airlines is one carrier that has mastered the art of pleasing the business traveler – scoring high on all three factors mentioned above. This new service should do well.
The key differentiating factor remains exclusivity and superior service, be it a legacy carrier’s business class, or an all-business airline. The advantage legacy carriers have is that they can leverage on their existing brand image, and dig into profits from other routes until the all-business class route becomes profitable. Though it remains to be seen what competing with premium carriers like EOS will entail.
Ultimately, the business traveler has nothing to lose and all to gain. Let the games begin!