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Except for a few rare cases — like Singapore’s new 777 upgrades — the innovations are not trickling down to coach class.
In the early days of recreational travel, flying to some far-flung destination was a glamorous activity in itself.
For our generation of holidaymaker, so accustomed to travelling by plane and the delays and lengthy security-control procedures that go with it, that’s not quite the case anymore. But perhaps the tide is turning. With a number of premium travel companies introducing innovative in-flight experiences, frequent fliers could soon find the journey to their destination as memorable and special as the time they spend there.
Four Seasons takes off: In April, Four Seasons announced it was to launch the hotel industry’s first fully branded private jet services. Commencing flights in February 2015, the Four Seasons Jet is a retrofitted Boeing 757 featuring interiors by the hotel group’s designers. These aircraft typically seat up to 233 passengers, but only 52 will be accommodated.
The hotel group says that standards of service in the air will match those in its properties on the ground. Comforts will include fully reclining leather seats, handcrafted in Italy, a “globally inspired” menu developed by Four Seasons chefs, and the services of an in-flight concierge and photographer.
The plane can be chartered for exclusive use, but most passengers will experience it on one of a number of new package holidays being offered by the company.
Departing in February, a 24-day round-the-world trip will travel from Los Angeles to London with stops at Four Seasons properties in Bora Bora, Bali, Mumbai and elsewhere en route. It will cost $119,000 (£70,500) per person.
Private jet tours: Luxury tour operators are offering similar services to ensure that their valued customers enjoy the journey just as much as the destinations they’re being encouraged to visit.
Captain’s Choice offers a range of private-jet holiday packages, including a 16-day “Silk Road & Beyond” experience, departing from London in September. Up to 44 guests are flown “VIP class” in an Airbus A319, with champagne and haute cuisine served on board. The trip costs from £19,500 per person.
Abercrombie & Kent’s private-jet tours are similarly decadent. Departing in August, the “Australia’s Last Frontier” tour takes up to 30 guests on a voyage through the vast country’s most remote and serene landscapes. Flights are on a Fokker F70LR, and the 13-day trip costs from £15,925 per person, not including flights to and from Australia.
Journeys of Distinction, meanwhile, is offering a “Passage to India” tour with internal flights on an Embraer 135 private jet. Travelling from Calcutta to destinations including Madras, Mysore and Ooty, guests will stay in Taj Group hotels and will visit some of southern India’s most impressive sites. The 19-day experience departs in October and costs from £8,999 per person.
First class steps up: On commercial flights, first class represents the height of comfort but the experience on offer can vary greatly from one airline to another. The Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad is aiming to trounce its competitors in this regard with the launch of the Residence.
To be found on the airline’s forthcoming Airbus A380 services, this unique first-class product is a three-room suite with its own living room, bedroom and bathroom. Accommodating up to two passengers, it is packed with luxurious features: the living room features a Poltrona Frau leather sofa, dining table and drinks cabinet; the bedroom has a double bed with Egyptian cotton sheets and choice of pillows; the spacious, private bathroom has its own shower.
The select few who book the suite will also enjoy the services of a butler, and an in-flight chef will be on hand to prepare their favourite dishes.
“Beyond first class”: Dubai’s national airline, Emirates, has also introduced new products to cater to its wealthiest customers. Launched last year in response to increased demand from the Middle Eastern, Russian and Chinese markets, Emirates Executive is the company’s private jet service.
Accommodating up to 19 guests in a customised A319 aircraft, the service provides plenty of lavish touches. Passengers can rest in private suites with sliding doors, personal minibars and 32in entertainment systems; menus can be tailored to passengers’ personal tastes; and there’s a shower on board. The airline describes the experience as “beyond first class”.
Just the business: Frequent business-class fliers who are unable to tolerate the wait while passengers in economy prepare to board can instead book flights that cater to them exclusively. Launched in 2009, the British Airways Club World London City service flies between London and New York, accommodating a maximum of 32 customers. The benefits are numerous: passengers can check in at London City just 20 minutes before departure; free spa treatments are available before flying from New York; a complimentary concierge service is provided by Quintessentially Lifestyle.
Best of all, perhaps, is the option to clear US Customs and Immigration during a refuelling stop at Shannon, meaning those on board can land in the United States as if on a domestic flight and bypass the throngs at passport control. Travellers to Doha will be similarly indulged when Qatar Airways launches its all-business-class flights between the Qatari capital and London Heathrow on Thursday. Up to 40 passengers will be accommodated on each flight.