Air France is revamping its business class — excuse me, la classe affaires — with some new seats. But strangely, the flat beds aren’t horizontal. They’re “near-horizontal.” That’s so … 2005.
Rollout will take three years, so you’ll be seeing old and new seats across the fleet.
But seriously, isn’t 180-degree flat bed seating the standard today? Why would Air France opt for something that’s less than the standard?
I’ve got nothing.
In an age of nickel-and-diming and fee-grubbing, it’s nice to see an airline take a stand for customer service: British Airways’ all-premium class subsidiary OpenSkies is launching a limited-time offer of a money-back guarantee for passengers on their flights. It may be a gimmick, but it’s also a statement of brazen confidence in their inflight product.
So if you buy an OpenSkies ticket between September 8 and November 30, 2010, and fly by November 30, 2010, you can request a refund if your inflight experience wasn’t to your satisfaction. Notably, you can’t request a refund if your flight was delayed or your baggage was damaged. It’s a guarantee of their inflight service.
To get your money back, you need to send a letter, postmarked within 30 days of the return travel date, explaining your dissatisfaction. If approved, you’ll get base fare and fuel charges refunded. Taxes, airport and security fees, and any other fees (like excess baggage or unaccompanied minors). The full fine print is on their site.
OpenSkies flies from Washington-Dulles or Newark to Paris-Orly. (For now, that’s it.) Their planes have flat beds in the front, cradle seats in the back. No coach seats.
LAN Airlines has an interesting special for those looking to travel in comfort from the US to South America, especially to Argentina, Chile, Peru, or Ecuador:
They’re running a strong sale for business class, and throwing in a free (economy) domestic roundtrip ticket. The domestic roundtrip isn’t a connection: it’s a separate ticket that’s valid as long as the dates are embedded between the dates of the international flights.
These business class fares are pretty strong. (The flights to Chile are the least interesting, but still below the norm.) Consider:
- $899 (plus tax) roundtrip to Ecuador. Then for your domestic ticket, think Galapagos…
- $999 (plus tax) roundtrip to Peru. Connect to Cuzco for a trip to Machu Picchu?
- $1799 (plus tax) roundtrip to Brazil. No free domestic ticket this time. Bummer.
- $2199 (plus tax) roundtrip to Argentina. Side trip to Bariloche or Mendoza, perhaps?
- $2599 (plus tax) roundtrip to Chile. Domestic freebie options: Calama, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas
Some of these flights require 30 days advance purchase (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru), while others require 50 days advance purchase (Argentina, Chile).
Here’s the fine print on the free domestic ticket:
Complimentary domestic roundtrip ticket available with purchase of new Premium Business Class Sale ticket by September 29, 2010 from the United States to Argentina, Chile, Peru or Ecuador.** Complimentary ticket must be booked at the same time as the Premium Business Class Sale ticket and used within the travel period applicable to the Premium Business Class Sale ticket purchased. Complimentary domestic ticket is for economy class travel to the following destinations: Mendoza, Iguazu or Bariloche in Argentina; Calama, Puerto Montt or Punta Arenas in Chile; Galapagos Island in Ecuador; Cuzco, Arequipa or Iquitos in Peru. Complimentary ticket not available in Brazil. MINIMUM STAY: To PUERTO MONTT, PUNTA ARENAS/CALAMA/IGUAZU, BARILOCHE/MENDOZA: 4 days. No minimum stay for CUZCO/AREQUIPA/IQUITOS/GALAPAGOS ISLANDS. Passenger responsible for any applicable taxes or airport fees. Seats are limited and might not be available on all flights/dates. Complimentary domestic round trip tickets do not have a cash value and/or cannot be substituted or transferred
UPDATE: I followed up with the company regarding the actual process of booking this deal, which isn’t brazenly apparent on the website. Here are the instructions:
…customers should select their final, domestic destination when booking flights. They will be ticketed through the hub in the corresponding Latin American country (example, final destination is Cuzco, ticketed through Lima and given complimentary domestic flight to Cuzco).
Presumably, booking it as a multi-city itinerary would be the way to go if you are embedding the domestic flights in the middle of the itinerary.
Business class fare sales are like clockwork, at least in the northern hemisphere: You’ll see one fare sale for mid-summer travel, and one for December. In both cases, business travel slows significantly as people take time off and spend it with family. In both cases, airlines respond (often proactively) by slashing business class fares.
Take Continental’s latest fare sale to Europe, for example. It’s notable for being early. Summer isn’t over yet, and we’re seeing late summer and early winter biz sales.
The fares are solid, such as $1272 from Newark to London roundtrip, $1370 to Paris, or $1420 to Frankfurt.
- Depart November 21 through 27, 2010, returning November 25 through December 1, 2010.
- Depart December 20, 2010 through January 7, 2011, returning December 24, 2010 through January 13, 2011.
The fine print has both good news and bad news. Bad news: fuel surcharges. Good news: You can fly airlines other than Continental, such as Lufthansa. (Continental is rolling out upgraded flat seats in their “BusinessFirst” class, but the rollout is far from complete as of this writing.)
Fares listed do not include fuel surcharge. Round-trip travel required. Advance purchase of at least 21 days required and must be ticketed within 72 hours of booking. A minimum three-night stay is required. Fares are nonrefundable and require a $400 change fee. Not combinable with any other fares. Other restrictions apply. Offers are only valid for flights on Continental, Air Canada, Lufthansa and United. December travel period excludes flights to Bristol, Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv.
Continental may be early on this, but other airlines are bound to follow suit. And there’s always the all-premium class OpenSkies connection from Newark or DC to Paris, which is currently running $1530 roundtrip fares, but that’s likely to go lower as we enter fall…
The economy isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, but premium cabin traffic has been making a comeback. (No thanks to companies like Energizer…) IATA recently reported global traffic numbers for April 2010, and despite the drama of a big drop (volcano, anyone?), the number of people in the big-money seats is remarkably high. See the chart for yourself:
Some explanation of the steep drop:
The impact on flight segment markets from the ash plume in April is clear from the chart above. All markets connected with Europe slumped sharply, while other major markets continued to grow strongly. Data from the AEA shows that European airlines experienced a sharp rebound in traffic in May on within-Europe, transatlantic and Europe-Asia markets. So it appears as though the impact of the ash plume, substantial though it was in April, has only been a temporary interruption in the air travel upturn.
The volcano is indeed a quirk, so it’ll be interesting to see if the trendline is restored in the next month’s report.
And note that these data are passengers numbers, not paid passenger numbers. Upgraders are indeed included in the figures.
So, with traffic higher, it’s perhaps not a surprise when I read British Airways’ all-premium-seating subsidiary OpenSkies is talking about expansion, with 20 new routes reportedly in consideration. (Their website still predicts that they “plan to operate non-stop flights from New York to additional Continental European cities including Brussels, Milan and Frankfurt.”)
I just find it ironic that an all-premium airline is able to gain 29% share of the Paris-New York market in 2010, while the other coterie of all-business class airlines (Eos, Maxjet, Silverjet…) couldn’t make it happen in happier economic times.
Hypothetical situation: Let’s assume you work for a company that pays for business class travel on long haul flights. If your company’s travel manager offered you $2000 cash for flying in economy on a trip where they would otherwise pay for your seat in business class, would you take the money — and the downgrade?
That’s the bargain that employees at Energizer and other firms are being offered, according to this article in the NY Times.
[Energizer's] solution [to increasing travel costs] was an incentive program: it pays employees to fly coach, instead of business class, when traveling overseas.
“What we do for all locations except for Asia is we share the difference in the ticket price for up to $2,000,” said Doris Lee Middleton, the human resources and travel services manager at Energizer. “For Asia, it’s $3,000.”
Taxable, but still. That’s real money.
The plan isn’t without its downsides: On the one hand, as the article argues, it potentially creates divisions within the employee base. Those who travel get extra cash. Those whose job descriptions don’t include travel aren’t getting anything extra, and can be resentful of a backdoor raise.
Further, the kickback scheme perverts incentives to travel. If you know you’re going to get paid extra cash to fly, you’ll find reasons to take a longer trip than might be necessary.
From where I sit, the Energizer plan seems like a decent deal for the employee, since the offer retains a choice. From a manager’s perspective, I’m surprised they don’t move to this model:
There are other variations on incentives, too, that feel less rewarding to employees but nevertheless reduce companies’ travel costs. One is allowing employees to fly business class if they book a flight on a less expensive route, but requiring them to fly coach on a more expensive itinerary.
And then there’s this option:
A few companies do another variation on travel incentives — reimbursing employees who use their own points to take a trip. “As an employee, it allows you to monetize your frequent-flier miles,” Mr. Steiner of Ovation Corporate Travel said.
This seems like a bad idea. If I’m running a business, I don’t want to depend on the vagaries of award availability. And if I’m the employee getting paid for the miles (a taxable event), I might be concerned that the airline would nix my account if they ever got wind of the sale of miles. And will the cents-per-mile rate at which the company compensates the employee be sufficiently generous?
I’m still stuck on the idea being bought off — getting paid cash to fly coach, essentially splitting the difference between coach and business class with the company. Is this a great option or a further step in making business travel miserable? Would you take the deal? Vote in the poll, hit the comments, and speak your mind.
(Can’t see the poll? Reading this via the feed? Click here to visit the site to vote in the poll or leave a comment.)