NEW YORK: When it comes to courting the premium class traveller, airlines compete with each other by offering cushy extras like lie-flat seats, extensive inflight entertainment and gourmet meals – sometimes even cooked by onboard chefs. Dubai-based Emirates touts a shower for its first class passengers on the Airbus A380 superjumbo.
Turkish recently brought reporters to Istanbul to show off its enormous and lavish business class lounge complete with restaurant, staff masseuse and pool table. Germany’s Lufthansa participates in this competition, especially at its Frankfurt hub where first class customers get a personal assistant and are driven to the airplane by private car. But in a recent shift, the German flag carrier is turning its attention to a very different market; the economy class traveller.
Recent studies by the airline revealed an unexpected public perception, said Erik Mosch, director of product management. Lufthansa’s reputation as “high quality, a business class airline,” was leading some travellers to feel left out. “People told us they are not sure they are welcome,” Mosch said. This was an alarming discovery. Even with its large number of premium class seats, 60% of capacity is in economy class, said Dorethea von Boxberg, director of the airline’s passenger experience. With more than 100 widebody aircraft, that’s a lot of seats to fill.
Mosch and von Boxberg were in New York yesterday, giving travel executives and aviation reporters a peek at the airline’s new slogan, “Nonstop You” and an update on all the newest programmes expected to help them achieve the promise inherent in those two words.
It is always intriguing to see how the latest technology is being applied across a carriers’ operation from baggage handling to flight interruption management. And von Boxberg caused my jaw to drop when she explained the lengths to which Lufthansa has gone to achieve a quieter first class cabin on its new A380. The airline worked with Airbus to install a sound insulating layer between the cabin walls and a section of the aircraft fuselage during assembly at the factory. After a tweak like that, thicker carpeting to deaden footsteps and sound insulating curtains that muffle galley noise seem pretty ho hum.
Still, watching airlines stumble over themselves and each other trying to appeal to the well-heeled traveller is nothing new. Creating check-in kiosks for children, as Lufthansa has done, and dedicating a section of the airline website to family travel, is unusual, and a sign of just how the airline wants to present itself to all classes of customer in the future.
“If we want to grow, we have to tap the untapped areas of the market and one is the leisure traveller. And if you want to attract the leisure traveller you have to focus on families,” Mosch told me. “That is the reason we developed these products and services,” he said of the tot-friendly accommodations that include special boarding passes for children, strollers at the gate and a commitment from Lufthansa that families will be seated together on the plane. Mosch called these features, “unique selling points” for Lufthansa.
Not all of what the airline is offering is new. “We had a lot of separate elements before,” said von Boxberg. Now a new family experience manager has been assigned to come up with ideas, consider customers suggestions and coordinate an ever-evolving package with their needs in mind.
Even with a mammoth hold on the market Lufthansa faces competition, especially from low cost carriers. Some families are willing to sacrifice niceties onboard for a lower fare while others may pay to experience the extras Lufthansa has been doling out for years.
Of course, economy got a minor share of the airline’s attention and the heavy charm was reserved for business and first class. The return on that investment was clear, in the cheap seats, not so much, nor is it entirely clear today.
“We’re only starting,” von Boxberg told me of the airline’s pursuit of the coach class market. It is a work in progress that executives can only hope will mature and strengthen right along with those pint-sized passengers.
Note to readers: An earlier version of this story reported that Lufthansa worked with Boeing on the quieter cabin by adding a sound buffering wall inside a section of the fuselage. The modification was on Lufthansa’s A380s and not the Boeing 747. The reporter regrets the error.