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OPINION


WORDS SCOTT DAVIES


UPGRADING ECONOMY


Business and premium economy are vastly improved, but when will economy class get a makeover?


How far we have come in terms of what passengers can expect for the thousands of pounds a trip like this can cost? Many of us will remember the advent of the flat bed in business class. It was the year 2000 and it was a revelation. The airline in question had to use an innovative, patented floor design in order to accommodate the dimensions of the beds, while still fitting in enough seats for it to be economically successful. The difference between its predecessor and competitors of the time was simple – sleep, real sleep. Unless you’re one of those


I


extraordinarily lucky people who can sleep at will (including upright in a chair), the flat beds gave you back two things you couldn’t buy – time and energy. The road warriors who were expected to bounce off an overnight, long-haul flight and deliver a killer sales pitch could now do so having actually slept. So almost 20 years later, as I tucked into the onboard meal and watched a documentary about that funny fella Maradona on a TV screen the size of the ITM office, I was struck by how competition has continued


114 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019


WAS RECENTLY INVITED to try out a global airline’s brand new, long-haul business class product and the experience got me thinking.


All well and good then for those fortunate enough to travel at or near the front. Premium economy is now fully established as the win-win product that it is for both passenger and airline. These products closely resemble what business class used to look like, albeit with updated sleek materials and design. With the added benefit, from an airline point of view, of generally being the most profitable when measured by floorspace.


to improve the passenger experience. All carriers operating transatlantically from the UK now offer horizontal beds in this cabin and there are other must-have innovations.


SLIDING DOORS


The new factors tend to include all-aisle access, duvets and mattress toppers, wifi, noise cancelling headsets, the aforementioned colossal TV screens, and now the new toy – a sliding privacy door! So we’re replacing the nine-hour-long, up-down dance of the dividing screen with the inevitable “can I close it yet?” hide-and-seek game with the crew.


AT LEAST ONE AIRLINE


HAS MOCKED UP DEPLOYMENT OF BUNK BEDS FOR ECONOMY PASSENGERS


THE BACK OF THE BUS But have we seen comparable steps forward for the economy passenger? Apart from a notable improvement in food, in many cases I’m not sure that we have. Given the density of seating in this part of the plane, it’s understandable that there hasn’t yet been a revolution with one operator changing the game completely. I happen to know that at least one airline has mocked up the deployment of bunk beds for economy passengers to use, potentially on a timed basis (presumably with an ancillary price), which I think could be a winner; and others are looking at sleep pods, possibly in part of the existing cargo holds. History tells us that it takes


a brave and well thought-out move by one carrier to stir the others into a response, so who knows what might be around the corner? Short haul or long haul, I might be prepared to pay more for a device that purifies and deodorises the air around me. Regular back-of-the-bus flyers know what I’m talking about…


Scott Davies is chief executive of the Institute of Travel Management (itm.org.uk) buyingbusinesstravel.com


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