Skift Take

Many airlines sell premium amenities to customers in coach. But is it worth it? Yes, these are high-margin items, but airlines don't sell that many of them. Most coach customers want only the basics and don't want to pay extra for anything.

The Skift Airline Innovation Report is our weekly newsletter on the business of airline innovation. We look closely at the technological, financial, and design trends at airlines and airports.

Brian Sumers writes and curates the newsletter, and we send it on Wednesdays. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here.

With long-haul legacy airlines under attack from discounters, most established carriers can’t improve the experience for travelers paying a few hundred dollars to fly between Europe and New York without threatening their already meager margins.

They have a choice: They can retain the status quo — sad-looking food along with few amenities — or they can charge for what passengers may really want. Perhaps they can let customers buy-up to a premium meal. Or they can sell business class-style amenities, such as pillows, amenity kits, and even pajamas.

Some airlines are trying the a la carte strategy. One is Air France, which sells premium meals to roughly two to three percent of coach customers. Another is Etihad Airways, which hawks just about every amenity, including access to the airline’s ultra-exclusive lounge in Abu Dhabi (spa treatment not included) that its first class customers receive.

Not everyone is sure this is sound strategy. Yes, airlines can make incremental revenue from selling what they already give away in premium cabins. But it’s a logistical challenge to get everything to each aircraft, and not that many passengers want the amenities.

What do you think? Is selling premium amenities the right approach for airlines? Email me at [email protected] or tweet me at @briansumers.

— Brian Sumers, Airline Business Reporter

Stories of the Week

Coach Passengers Can Get Premium Amenities — For a Price: Travelers stuck in coach can buy premium class goodies, including a better meal, an amenity kit, and even pajamas on many carriers. But most airlines don’t sell that many premium extras, leading analyst Jay Sorensen to wonder if it’s worth it. “Adding all this little stuff just creates a distraction for staff, crew, and passengers,” Sorensen said.

Travel Megatrends 2018: Google’s Product-Led Vision Is Bearing Fruit: Google is taking over the travel space. And yes, that means flights, too. “Google will have a breakout year in its travel products in 2018 as it builds on its behind-the-scenes technology acumen and focuses anew on user experience,” Skift Executive Editor Dennis Schaal wrote.

Ryanair Signals Its Hotel Ambitions With New TV Ad Campaign: Ryanair wants to be known as the Amazon of travel. That could happen someday, but Ryanair, while ahead of other carriers, is still not that far along in its digital strategy. Skift’s UK editor, Patrick Whyte, shares some details about Ryanair’s plans.

Luxury Brands Invest in Airport Pop-Ups to Reach Coveted Customer Base: We often think of airports as places travelers go to catch planes, but marketers think of terminals differently. They like how passengers are a captive audience. “The activations we design are strategically positioned to disrupt traffic flow within the airport concourse,” Darin Held, co-founder of Bloommiami, told Skift’s Samantha Shankman. “Passengers literally need to walk around them to get to their gates.”

UK Probes Airlines Over Advance-Seat Selection Fees: Hotels charge more money for their better rooms than for their worse rooms. This is a rational economic decision, and few seem to take issue with it. But travelers — and even regulators — love to criticize airlines that charge for advance seat assignments. The UK’s regulator is looking into how airlines set their seat sales policies.

Curing Jet Lag Will Be the Secret to Successful 19-Hour Flights: Let’s be clear: It’s highly unlikely Boeing or Airbus will make a plane that completely eradicates jet lag. It’s not going to happen, no matter how impressive the lighting, or how much extra humidity is pumped into the cabin. You’re not going to cross 10 time zones and arrive feeling fresh. But at least scientists are trying to make it better, according to this Bloomberg story.

Mary Frances Fagan Dies at 63; Spokeswoman for American Airlines, 2 Governors: No one in the airline industry did more to welcome me to the beat than Mary Frances Fagan — we called her MOF — American’s long-time spokeswoman in Chicago. She took me seriously when few others did, and for that, as well as her wise counsel, I am grateful. Also, thanks to the Chicago Sun-Times for giving MOF the obituary she deserved.

United Should Have Thought Through Paid Basic Economy Seat Assignments Before Launching: Cranky Flier blogger Brett Snyder doesn’t like the way United has introduced basic economy. Snyder, who started his career at America West and United Airlines, generally defends rational airline decisions, even when they make passengers mad. But Snyder can’t get behind United’s basic economy rollout. “I continue to beat my head against the wall as I watch the legacy carriers find new ways to screw up implementing Basic Economy,” he wrote. Remember, Snyder’s not your traditional blogger: Airline insiders read him every morning and take him seriously.

Every Flight Has a Story

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about United’s new program called “Every Flight Has a Story,” in which the airline would give customers detailed information about the cause of their flight’s delay. United President Scott Kirby told employees many customers believed the airline was lying to them, and with this program, United wanted to alleviate passenger tension.

United officials did not respond to my requests for comment, making me fear the trial had been canceled. But we’re starting to see customers post their thoughts about the almost month-long test, which is only for flights departing Phoenix and Houston.

I found a tweet from United customer Asad Tahir, who wrote that his United flight from Houston to Sao Paulo was delayed, first for maintenance, and later because of crew availability. He was not particularly impressed with the extra information, writing, “as a platinum member of @united, if I didn’t live in @iah area I’d have never selected them as my first choice.”

What do you think of this approach? At least in this case, the extra information didn’t seem to make this customer any happier about his delay.


Skift Airline Business Reporter Brian Sumers [[email protected]] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send me an email or tweet me.

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Tags: air france, airline innovation report, airline passenger experience, united airlines

Photo credit: Air France is one of many airlines selling business class-style meals in economy class. Air France

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