Change is in the air

Rebecca Haddad

It was author and intrepid traveller, Ernest Hemingway, who came to the realisation that “It’s nice to have an end to journey towards, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” While cross-continental travel is significantly faster now than in Hemingway’s days, his wisdom is as apt today as ever.

Luxury travel is enjoying a steady increase in consumer demand on terra firma, but there’s also change in the air, literally. The airborne experience has reached levels of decadence that extend far beyond simply turning left on planes. Now, it’s all about business-class aircraft and private jet charters, and it seems that we’re just getting started.

Middle East-based airlines in particular are known for award-winning premium cabins and services. Emirates’ first-class suites are less like passenger seats and more like self-contained hotel rooms; the A380 service even boasts shower facilities. Just recently, Qatar Airways debuted its new first-class cabin on its upcoming A380 London Heathrow service. Expect intimate dining for two, a premium onboard lounge and the biggest and widest seats around when the Airbus takes to the skies this summer.

But, while the premium travel experience is a wonderful thing, rising fuel costs mean higher fare prices, which, in some cases, puts a business-class ticket almost on par with the cost of a seat in a private jet. The spread of charter firms, jet-share schemes and empty leg booking websites like BlackJet have made it easier and more affordable than ever to fly private.

Commercial airlines are rising to the challenge and attempting to counter this trend with a number of innovative ideas:

Business- and first-class-only flights

In May, Qatar Airways will launch a business-class-only service from Doha to London Heathrow, accommodating just 40 passengers. While the concept isn’t new (British Airways began a business-class service from London to JFK in 2009; a year earlier, Singapore Airlines started a business-class service to NYC and LA), the fact that the idea is once again on the radar suggests that airlines are responding to increased demand for an exclusive flight experience. (Not all airlines have found the formula to be successful – UK-based Silverjet operated an all-business class service from London’s Luton Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport in the US and Dubai International Airport in the UAE until it went bust in 2008.)

Launching private charter services

Last August, Emirates launched a private jet service, Emirates Executive, allowing passengers to book one of its 19-seat Airbus 319 jets. Similarly, Qatar Executive (an arm of Qatar Airways) has a fleet of Bombardier Challenger 605 and Global aircraft at the ready. Each airline can offer the comforts of a private jet experience to its affluent customers and expand their reach far beyond their commercial networks.

Teaming up with a private jet company

Etihad’s partnership with Royal Jet and Falcon Aviation Services allows the Abu Dhabi-based airline to offer jet charter without having to inject the funds into building its own service from scratch. Similarly, German-based carrier, Lufthansa has partnered with NetJets to offer its customers exclusive travel. It’s a cost effective and mutually beneficial for companies to share customers, rather than fight for them exclusively.

So, what’s next? Will we eventually see the end of ‘multi-class’ services? Will private jet companies continue to grow and eventually negate the need for first and business class on commercial airlines altogether? Whatever the answer, it’s a win for discerning guests, who can sit back and enjoy the ride.

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