Japan Airlines’ business class JAL Sky Suite III // © 2016 Japan Airlines
Feature image (above): EVA Air will introduce new seating and entertainment on upcoming aircraft. // © 2016 EVA Air
Airlines may be benefiting from reduced competition and more travelers fees, but passengers — and the people who sell to them — can find some bright spots, too, as improvements in service and technology are making some aspects of air travel more efficient and enjoyable.
Head of the Class
True first-class product is disappearing on many routes, but numerous airlines have replaced it with improved business-class service as well as so-called “premium economy” seating.
United Airlines hopes to attract travelers with its new Polaris Business Class, which kicks off Dec. 1 onboard the carrier’s Boeing 777-300ER, with 180-degree reclining seats, 16-inch entertainment screens, in-flight bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue and a new lounge in Chicago. Boeing 787, 767-300, 767-200 and Airbus A350 aircraft are next in line for the upgrade, and plans call for the Polaris lounge to launch in a total of nine airports.
American Airlines, meanwhile, is improving its on-the-ground experience for front-of-cabin travelers. Next year, the carrier will begin offering access to its Flagship Lounges to all passengers flying in first or business class on trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic and long-distance South America flights, as well as to those booking the service on transcontinental Airbus 321T flights. American is also renovating its existing Flagship Lounge facilities and opening new locations.
Delta One, the front-cabin service offered by Delta Air Lines on long-haul international and cross-country flights, is due for a refresher next year as well, when the carrier unveils the Delta One Suite. Billed as “the first business-class cabin to feature a sliding door,” the suite will debut on the company’s Airbus A350 aircraft next fall.
Even some carriers that have traditionally been known for single-class service have continued to increase their options. This year, JetBlue expanded its Mint service — which includes flat-bed seats and 15-inch entertainment screens — to multiple Caribbean destinations, and in 2017, the airline will add the service on additional flights between the West Coast and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., New York City and Boston.
On the international front, service changes are in place or in the works at a variety of carriers, including Japan Airlines, which in June launched a new business-class seat called the JAL Sky Suite III and unveiled a dedicated cabin for JAL Premium Economy Class. Taiwan-based EVA Air wrapped up improvements in October to its Elite Class premium economy seating onboard its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, and in 2017, it will offer new lie-flat seats and 18-inch entertainment screens in its Premium Laurel business class on new A330-300 planes. And LATAM Airlines — the recent result of the merger between LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines — has debuted a new Premium Business Class cabin with 180-degree full lie-flat seats.
Passengers today use technology in more ways than ever before when they fly. They can, for instance, buy in-flight food and drinks on JetBlue using Apple Pay, order onboard meals on demand using the seat-back entertainment system on Virgin America and stream free in-flight entertainment on mobile devices when flying Delta.
To stay competitive, airlines need to get even more innovative, according to a report on commercial aviation industry trends by Strategy&, a corporate strategy firm affiliated with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Imagine a preflight experience in which an airline’s mobile app alerts the passenger to traffic conditions and TSA wait times, recommending an ideal departure time from home and mode of travel to the airport,” the report stated. “Or consider a scenario in which frequent fliers find their preferred refreshments and reading materials waiting for them in their seat as soon as they board.”
Overall, passengers are reacting well to changes in the airline industry, according to J.D. Power’s “2016 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.” Customers are more satisfied with in-flight service now than they were a year ago, thanks in part to more on-demand entertainment, in-seat power plugs and in-flight Wi-Fi access. Lower airfares, better on-time arrivals and reduced numbers of lost luggage have also played a part in positive ratings, according to the study. And travelers are even getting more tolerant of pesky things like “unbundling,” which forces them to pay extra for everything from food to seat selection.