As private jet charter operators find creative ways of making their services more affordable and attractive to premium commercial passengers, the pressure is on for major carriers to retain their most important clientele. That’s one of the reasons why American Airlines and Delta Air Lines’ recently announced plans to offer full-flat premium seating on high-trafficked transcontinental routes makes sense.
By offering full-flat first and business class seats – as well as an economy class cabin – on its new Airbus A321 aircraft, American believes it will be able to provide passengers with an “industry-leading premium experience” on transcontinental routes. Delta, on the other hand, will offer full-flat seats in the BusinessElite cabin of all transcontinental flights operating between New York and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle beginning in March 2013; the 757s and 767s serving these routes will also feature Delta’s Economy Comfort product and an economy-class cabin. Inflight entertainment will be offered from nose to tail on these transcon aircraft operated by the two carriers.
Working with American, aircraft interiors design firm James Park Associates (JPA) will assist in the overall design, trim and finish of the A321s, which will complement the airline’s highly anticipated Boeing 777-300 and redesigned 777-200ERs. “We are working as a very tight team with American Airlines and they have a very professional, very effective group managing the Airbus A321 programme. They have a clear vision, clear aims and it is a pleasure working with them,” says James Park.
Speaking to the APEX editor’s blog about whether elite travellers have shifted from flying commercial to flying private, Park says: “I think that post-9/11 there has been a shift; we’ve seen a number of first-class passengers move to private jets and private jet services, which has meant that the business-class sector – having recovered from a downturn due to the banking crisis – is beginning to expand into the first-class area. So, for airlines, the business-class offering is perhaps the more important offering.
“At the same time, however, there has been an awful lot of investment in business- and first-class. Airlines like American Airlines – who will soon offer … three-class transcontinental flights, with lie-flat beds in business and first – are investing more effort and resources into that category now, and so they’re able to retain some of the customers who might have previously switched to business jets.”
Furthermore, he adds: “There are still a fair few airlines that have launched brand new first-class products – some have individual cabins with doors, some have extra amenities and some have additional services such as inflight chefs. They retain a very exclusive feel and meet the requirements of a highly discerning clientele, so I think these products are retaining the customer.
“We’re really excited about the American Airlines first class when they launch the Boeing 777-300ER, because we have significantly enhanced the flagship suite and I am sure it will have strong appeal for the premium traveller.”
Separately, Park sees continued momentum behind premium economy and ‘economy plus’ offerings. “It can be a step up from economy for people who want a little more space or a step down from business for those who want to pay less but retain some additional comfort,” he says.
“In fact, we are seeing a shift with regards to people moving to premium seating categories with the growth of premium economy especially. Previously there were only a few airlines with premium economy and now many airlines are buying into that. Customers appear to appreciate the increased choice of cabin and we recently did a premium economy seat for Cathay Pacific on the carrier’s Boeing 777-300ERs and Boeing 747s.”
See American’s plans for first, business and economy class on its A321s in the video below.