For all of those passengers that are lucky enough to sit in the business class or first class section of an airplane, you may well imagine how important you are to that airline.
Airlines are trying to sign you up for their frequent flyer cards, give you their Silver and Gold cards, and adorn you in incentives because you happen to be sitting in the part of the plane that makes money and they want you back. They are using all of their tricks to sway you in the decision to upgrade or not to upgrade. Those airline seats that you occupy have been well thought out and optimized for your comfort, convenience, and their dollars.
Not to say that if you are in the back of the plane, it’s all misery.
There is a trickledown effect due to the fact that the airlines are smarting up the front of the plane. After all, you do not want class warfare at 35,000 feet in the sky.
Well never mind because in the front they want your business and they are prepared to pamper you. But it is going to cost you money. A round-trip transatlantic fare in first class on British Airways costs between $16,000-$22,000, business class around $7,000, premium economy around $2,200, and lowly old economy about $1,500. So you can imagine how much money these guys are making on that tiny piece of space given the fact that you are sitting in the same cylindrical tube as everyone else.
When you look at that value proposition, you have to say that economy is a pretty good deal. I mean seriously, who is paying $20,000 for a first class seat when you can find a deal out there for $1,000 in economy. If you fly between London and Boston, you are on a 5 hour and 50 minute flight. I do not care how good the service is, I can always find a sandwich, a couple glasses of wine, and a decent movie or two to wind my way across the Atlantic while I think of how I saved $19,000 on a bit of extra leg room, a very average meal, and a wash bag that you wouldn’t even re-gift. Incidentally, in business class, the wash bag on most flights is something that amazes me even more. It’s like how could they design a bag with so much space and so little in it? Where do you find toothpaste that small? Why the socks? I have my own socks and if I go to the bathroom truly I am going to wear my shoes. Guys are messy!
So differentiating the front of the plane is critical to these guys.
There are three kinds of configurations at the front of the plane. There is the yin-yang design that BA employs, the staggered herringbone that Virgin employs, or the “stacked-V’ of other airlines. Have you ever wondered why if you are sitting in business class on a plane, such as BA, that you are facing a person that you do not know and awkwardly trying to figure out how to put the screen up between the two of you without looking to offend? Ever wondered why when on a Virgin plane that the shape of the seats is in a fishbone? It’s feast or famine here. You are either lying flat down or sitting straight up. There is no in between. Then there is the Delta setup where everyone mysteriously is fitted in a certain way so that you never actually see too much of the person next to you…thank God. The reason they do all of this of course is because they can give you more room, your own space, and more importantly they can fit more of you in that huge expanding revenue-generating area.
Designing airline seats for business and first class is an art within itself; creating a space that feels like your own space with a flat bed and video screen with endless options for watching TV and movies. Not long ago in 1995, British Airways introduced the first flat-bed seat in first class, and in 1999 introduced it to business class as well. Up until then, business class passengers had no advantage other than a slightly better meal. Nowadays the game is played around bed, board, and beyond! At the higher end, airlines compete for your business with lavish meals including caviar in first class. They entice you with a goody bag that contains scents, oils, and perfumes from boutique distributors. New 32-inch video screens (bigger than some we have in our kitchens) are being introduced into a private cabin. On real long hauls in first class you now get a shower (of course!) plus a potential for a double bed. Just when you thought you got your marriage around twin beds you can now bring it back again!
Image courtesy of DesignBoom.com: http://www.designboom.com/design/singapore-airlines-first-class-interior-design-by-bmw-designworks/