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.
If you’re a frequent long-haul traveler, you’re probably familiar with the spectacle of an airplane breakfast. About 90 minutes from London, or Shanghai or Sydney, the lights go on, and flight attendants come through the aisles banging coffee kettles, often offering a limp omelet, chewy sausage, and a stale, but warmed, croissant.
Sometimes this happens in the morning. Often, it does not. Many airlines go with breakfast as the second meal on all overnight flights, whether they land at 7 a.m. or 4 p.m. Some even serve it on flights most passengers don’t consider redeyes. United Airlines often offers coffee and eggs on Asia-bound flights departing the United States at mid-day, arriving as late as 4 or 5 p.m. Technically, it’s one day later, but to passengers, it feels like the same day.
Passengers like it that way, Chris Birt, general manager of service delivery at Hong Kong Airlines, told me in the latest installment of my Airline Insiders series. Eating breakfast “feels right for your body,” even if it doesn’t help you acclimate to local time.
Interestingly, Hong Kong Airlines has an overnight flight that lands mid-day, and the airline tried to serve lunch. But passengers complained, and breakfast is now on the menu. “You will never get it right for 100 percent of your customers,” Birt said. “It depends on how much sleep they’ve had, and what time zone they’ve decided to stay in or change to.”
Do you think airlines mostly get it right? Let me know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @briansumers.
— Brian Sumers, Airline Business Reporter
Stories of the Week
Longer Flights Have Hong Kong Airlines Rethinking Customer Experience: Hong Kong Airlines is new to true long-haul flying, and just launched its second U.S. route, to San Francisco. I expected the airline might rethink service delivery, but it turns out the airline’s customers like the traditional airline experience. In many ways, though not at all, Hong Kong Airlines is merely copying existing competitors.
What It Means for United That CEO Munoz Doubles as Chief Apology Officer: United’s chief executive has been apologizing a lot. Does that make him doomed? Probably not. It is certainly possible Munoz could step down at some point, but it’s not going to be because of the airline’s recent dog-related drama.
Airlines Fear Tariffs Will Stoke a U.S.-China Trade War: The Trump Administration’s proposed tariffs on Chinese goods will affect many industries, and airlines are among them. “We are concerned,” Zhihang Chi, Air China’s vice president and general manager for North America, told me. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Southwest Quarrels With Competitors Over New Lost-Bag Math Rules: New lost bag rules will probably favor Southwest, so the discounter likes them. The rules should better measure which carriers lose more bags, and for the first time, they will include bags checked last-minute at the gate. Interestingly, Bloomberg’s Justin Bachman pointed out, United and American wonder why the DOT still tracks lost bags. “No party has convincingly demonstrated that the government has a legitimate role in a deregulated industry of requiring airlines to report this service metric,” the airlines wrote in a joint letter.
Qantas’ New Australia to UK Flights Will Test Its Ultra-Long-Haul Strategy: Finally some real talk about Qantas’ new Perth to London route. “The Perth-London service looks more like a PR stunt than a network-building tool,” a university professor told Bloomberg. Some day, Qantas probably will be able to fly nonstop from Sydney, and it will be a great day for aviation. But Perth is not Sydney. The vast majority of Qantas’ high revenue travelers still will have to make a stop en route to London. If you’re starting from Sydney, does it matter if you stop in Singapore, Dubai, or Perth?
Ontario International Airport Welcomes First China Airlines Flight: China Airlines began its new flights from Ontario, California — that’s near L.A. — to Taipei. It moved one of its daily flights from LAX. I live in L.A., so I understand the rationale, and I know lots of Chinese-Americans live near the airport. I still think it’s an insane route, because China Airlines basically gets no feed in Ontario. Will the airline prove me wrong?
Airlines Conquer Challenges of Long-Haul Flights. Now Can Passengers? There is undoubtedly a subset of high-value passengers for whom time is money. If their journey is 17 hours, rather than 20, they can be more productive. But for the rest of us, a three-hour difference isn’t that important. It begs the question: Do we need all these new ultra-long-haul routes? Robert Wall of The Wall Street Journal has the story.
JetBlue CEO: Why Not London? Robin Hayes, a Brit who leads JetBlue, clearly doesn’t want to catch anyone by surprise. He has been saying for years that he’d like JetBlue to fly to Europe, with London a priority. JetBlue would need to convert aircraft orders to the A321LR to make it happen, but it sounds like the airline will do it. “Ultimately for us to build out and be successful we have to serve this market,” he told employees. Blogger Seth Miller has the story.
New $24,000 Singapore Airlines First Class Suite: Need more confirmation old media no longer serve as gatekeepers? I’ll point you to a recent 10-minute video produced by BuzzFeedBlue detailing Singapore Air’s new A380 suites. It’s a super irreverent — and at times slightly inappropriate — look at what are probably the most luxurious compartments in the sky. As of this writing, more than 2.6 million people have watched what’s essentially an unpaid advertisement for Singapore Airlines. Few will ever buy the suites, but they might be more likely to book Singapore business class or economy class after watching the video.
Meet me in Hamburg
One final reminder: I’ll be attending the Aircraft Interiors Expo the week of April 9 in Hamburg. It’s my first show, and I’m looking forward to it. But all this work of setting up meetings is daunting, so let me know if you’ll be there and want to meet.
Skift Airline Business Reporter Brian Sumers [email@example.com] 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 him an email or tweet him.