A new kind of business class is taking off.
The airline industry has undoubtedly had a turbulent last couple of years–from restricted travel, financial troubles, and new safety guidelines. Now we are finally returning to the open skies, but with some unexpected trends that rose out of the pandemic. Namely, a revamped business class.
The luxury leisure flier
Not too long ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a business class exclusively filled with–well, business travelers. Now, thanks to savings and credit card points racked up during the pandemic, it’s not surprising to see today’s business class passengers headed on a family trip.
Dubbed “luxury leisure” customers, these travelers are now paying top dollar to reach their vacation destinations. Especially in the United States, where the average price for a domestic business class ticket was $1,447 this year–a drop from 2019’s average of $1,708.
A new premium experience
Naturally, airlines are offering more high-end options in response to the growing number of luxury leisure travelers. Delta Airlines, where premium products outperformed main cabinet products earlier this year, recently updated their Delta Premium Select cabin. Now, passengers are treated to destination-inspired menu items, Someone Somewhere amenity kits, noise-cancellation headphones, and more.
American Airlines plans to unveil their new premium Flagship Suite in 2024. Customers can look forward to new posh amenities such as seats with privacy doors and more space for each passenger.
Virgin Airlines also announced a rehaul of their Upper Class cabin. The extravagant area added the Retreat Suites (that includes two front row seats that extend to 6 feet beds), more seating, and new touch screen televisions. Virgin isn’t the only airline investing in their customer’s sleep. This September, Air France rolled out their new “full flat” business seats equipped with sliding doors and aisle access.
In addition to new and revamped cabins, airlines like ANA and Singapore Airlines created new wellness-focused menus for their business class passengers while JetBlue and American Airlines have updated their amenity kits.
Is luxury leisure here to stay?
With a new type of passenger taking to the skies, the airline industry is clearly betting on the new (and renewed) interest in business class. While airlines traditionally keep their booking information close to the chest, all of the investments to improve business cabins show how important these tickets are to aviation companies.
But, can we realistically expect to see the business class boom maintain its stride? Some experts say no, especially as winter slows leisure travel. Additionally, business travel in general is down as companies continue their pandemic-era virtual meetings, as well as smaller travel budgets.
As we climb out of a trying period for both airlines and travelers, I certainly hope this prediction is wrong. After being worth an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2019, business travel is now worth around $933 billion. The industry is slowly moving towards normalcy and business class bookings are a major part of its ongoing recovery.
I’m hopeful that new offerings, new cabins, and a new kind of business-class customer point to friendlier skies.
Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.