The glamor of luxury air travel is making a comeback, as today’s upscale travelers put a premium on memorable experiences, not just a way to get from A to B. Airlines are getting creative to attract first- and business-class travelers with inspired features and advantages.
What do travelers want from luxury air experiences?
Each luxury air traveler seeks a unique mix of perks, entertainment and options, says Lufthansa’s Florian Mueller.
“Luxury air travel should be bespoke, tailored to meet a traveler’s personal needs – whether it is to be wined, dined and entertained, to be able to work and stay connected, or to have an excellent night’s sleep,” he adds.
Kristy Adler, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Sherman Oaks, California, says her luxury air clients want exclusivity and privacy. For example, a client was flying his eight-member family from the West Coast to Japan. He wanted them to have their own section of the plane, so he bought all 14 first-class seats.
Peter Herff, a Virtuoso travel advisor in San Antonio, Texas, says first- and business- class passengers have high expectations that rise with the price. They’re seeking everything from a short check-in line and a positive experience in British Airways’ elite Concorde Lounge at Heathrow to a flat bed with duvet and fluffy pillows on an international flight.
Herff believes the real difference for luxury air passengers is excellent service. “They want all that, but it comes down to the people working the flight,” he says. “The experience is made by the crew.”
What’s trending in luxury air: private suites
- On Singapore Airlines, individual cabins offer sliding doors and blinds for privacy. Inside, passengers enjoy a bed that can accommodate two people, with fine linens, pillows and turndown service.
- Suites on Emirates Airline are closed off from the rest of first class. They include a mini-bar, vanity table, mirror and wardrobe, as well as turndown service. Passengers also enjoy access to a shower spa, with a state-of-the-art shower system, fine linens and signature shower kits made from natural ingredients.
- Etihad Airways is launching Residence Class, a three-room apartment with a bedroom, living room, shower and minibar.
- Air France’s La Premiere mini-suites feature lie-flat seats that adapt to each passenger’s shape, mattress and quality linens, 24-inch HD screen, reclining ottoman, wardrobe and privacy curtain.
What’s trending in luxury air: gourmet food and drink
- Emirates offers first-class passengers two onboard lounges where they can mix, mingle and sip. There they can also munch on gourmet hors d’oeuvres. When it’s mealtime, they’ll enjoy regional delicacies prepared by some of the world’s leading chefs – perhaps caviar or stir-fried lobster in black bean sauce.
- Qantas Airways features menus by renowned Australian chef and TV personality Neil Perry. Diners can order individual dishes or an eight-course tasting menu. Sommeliers recommend wine and champagne pairings.
- Menus on Cathay Pacific Airways are inspired by gourmet food from Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental hotels. Even on land, at its airport lounges just for first-class passengers, like The Wing in Hong Kong, the airline delights with its champagne and noodle bars.
- Air France has partnered with Michelin-starred chefs for the menu its La Premiere passengers enjoy. Expect creations from culinary luminaries such as Joël Robuchon and Anne-Sophie Pic.
- Singapore lets passengers pre-order one of more than 60 dishes, including a traditional Japanese tasting menu and wagyu sirloin. Singapore also offers wines to please discriminating oenophiles such as an extensive selection of champagne and grand cru burgundy.
What’s trending in luxury air: first-class perks
- Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways all offer door-to-door chauffeur service
- Lufthansa also provides the services of a personal concierge as well as private jets
- Etihad’s top passengers get not only chauffeur service but their own butler trained by London’s Savoy Hotel, as well as a concierge and private chef
- Cathay Pacific features upscale products such as sleep suits from Hong Kong designer PYE and amenity kits with Jurlique toiletries, packed in a pouch designed by agnès b
What’s on the horizon?
Herff predicts luxury air travel experiences will be more personalized. Similar to how hotels treat frequent travelers, airlines will track a passenger’s preferences and know in advance what types of food and drink, entertainment, amenities and services individual travelers want.
“There will be customization by passenger and seat down to what kinds of magazines they read and what they want to drink,” Herff says.
Julie Jarratt with Cathay Pacific believes that exceptional customer service will continue to be important. From the time a luxury air traveler checks in to the time he disembarks at the gate, his needs should be met without having to make special requests. “Understated service is about looking after customers and giving them things before they know they need them,” Jarratt says.
Mueller says no detail should be overlooked in providing a customized luxury air experience that creates a long-lasting memory. He gives the example of a couple getting married in Marrakesh who wanted to surprise 18 friends with a trip to the wedding: “We made sure every colleague kept the destination a surprise, and flew them first class from the U.S. to Frankfurt, then boarded Lufthansa private jets to Marrakesh. We also made up special menus on the jets.”
“Optimizing the overall travel experience is the key,” he adds.