Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hallelujah! A post for those who fly in cattle (economy) class

In the spirit of awards season, I would like to nominate Air New Zealand as the airline of the year! What have they done, you ask? It is revolutionary. It will change the airline industry forever. It is such a fresh idea, I don't know why others didn't try it before.

They have decided to introduce seats that let passengers lie down in the economy cabin.

(OMG what will the first class passengers who are slumming it in their suites at the front of the airplane think?)

Called Skycouch seats, the seats will recline into an almost-flat bed for customers willing to pay extra (approx. $70 per seat). Each of the seats is equipped with a footrest that can be lifted for a reclining position. Legroom also increases by an inch, to 33 inches. Air New Zealand will offer them on new aircraft being delivered later this year which are to be used on the airline's longest routes, including LA-Auckland.

According to the USA Today article, "Air New Zealand's move is the first by an airline to give economy passengers an option to sleep more comfortably. The economy cabin has been ignored by airlines for years as they spent to upgrade first- or business-class seats that provide higher profit margins."

Business or first class sections of aircraft make the most money for an airline and it generally operates on the 80:20 rule. That means 80% of the revenue on a particular flight comes from 20% of the seats. Ever wonder why airlines try so hard to woo passengers to the front of airplane with promises of not just travel but an 'experience?' It starts with the lounge in the air terminal that is tucked away behind a locked door. [No riff raff allowed.] All the free food and booze you can handle. In the air, the fancy seats and free drinks and showers and unlimited luggage provisions make travel more civilized. People are willing to pay for this so airlines covet them to build brand loyalty...and to pay the bills.

This move by Air New Zealand is refreshing because it signals to me that this airline is serious about building brand loyalty with ALL its customers. Yes, the people at the front will always be important but so too are the people at the back who are spending their hard earned dollars to travel.

Giving travellers on a long trans-Pacific flight another option to increase their comfort at a reasonable cost - especially given the hassle of just getting on the airplane - is just good business. When will other airlines follow suit?

Check out the link to the USA Today article:

Airline travel 2010

Happy new year and welcome back for more from Double D Travels. The recent gap in postings (for which I do apologize) can be attributed to the holidays as well as an incredibly successful work placement at - wait for it! - Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. I'll share more about that experience in the weeks to come.

Since my last post the world of airline travel has changed once again. The attempted terrorist bombing on Christmas day shocked the world and brought terrorism much too close to home for North Americans. It also ushered in stringent new security regulations meant to make the skies safer but ended up creating confusion at airports around the world.

First there was to be no carry on luggage and no standing up during the last hour of the flight, even if your bladder was about to burst. Then came full body scanners at airports, currently only for flights heading to the US, which the media refered to as "naked body scanners."

Although some of the regulations have been relaxed, talk has recently turned to having to register your travel plans with the US government if you are flying to the US. But you better do it before heading to the airport (because if you don't forget about getting on the airplane). Or security officials trained to look for behaviours that indicate you might be up to no good. (What happens to you if you are simply a nervous flyer but need to travel by airplane?)

Throughout all this, the travelling public has shuffled along in long lines, grumbling under their breath and hoping that their aircraft would still be there when they made it to the gate.

Welcome to airline travel, circa 2010.

My parents always tell me stories about when they first started travelling internationally in the 1960s and into the 1970s. (This was of course, long before terrorists realized that plane loads of people could be used to further their own agendas.) They would arrive at the airport and walk almost directly to the airplane. No hassle, no long lines. Virtually no restrictions on carry on luggage. Maybe even a bit of glamour.

One day when I am a parent and I discover my offspring have inherited this crazy travel bug, maybe I will share stories with them about how in the 1980s and 1990s I used to be able to get on an airplane by ONLY clearing security and presenting a passport. They will think I am crazy.

And then I will tell them about the new millennium and what that brought: removing shoes and belts for security checks. Having my laptop swabbed for explosives. No liquids. Limited to no carry on luggage. Full body scans. Confusion over highly secretive no fly lists. Registration with the US government. The excitement of arriving at your destination tempered by the bladder busting stay in your seat until you are told unless you want an armed air marshall pointing a gun at you arrivals.

I get that we need security and I don't envy the job of governments trying to find the right balance between securing the airplane and taking whatever is left of a passenger's dignity. It just leaves me thinking one thing:

Will it get worse before it gets better?