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.
I’m beginning to think the airline industry is like fashion: If you wait around enough, old ideas will come back into style.
Today, the example is premium economy. We published a ranking from Bloomberg of the world’s eight best products this week, and it strikes me that most look like business class from the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, most long-haul airlines had three classes: first class, business class, and economy class.
We again have three. They’re just labeled differently, with business class replacing first, and premium economy replacing business. The cabin is genius, because customers may pay double the coach price for a seat that doesn’t take up twice as much room as an economy class chair.
It’s little surprise a cabin that’s both so popular and profitable is making a comeback. What’s more interesting, I think, is its name. Rather than give it a fancy moniker that makes it seem more impressive than it is — remember United Airlines’ old Connoisseur Class? — many airlines seem to want to put “economy” in the name.
Perhaps this is because airlines want to encourage passengers to buy up from economy, rather than down from business. Presumably, they have calculated few business travelers accustomed to flat beds will rough it in any version of economy, even if it’s roughly equivalent to the business class of 1995. Eventually, though, I wonder if more airlines will drop “economy” from the name, as United (Premium Plus) and Delta (Premium Select) have already done.
What do you think? Let me know via twitter or email.
Best of Skift
This Startup Is Selling Fly-by-the-Hour Airline Gift Cards: When consumers think about airplane travel, they almost aways consider how much it will cost, not how many hours it will take. But a startup called Flyhour is selling gift cards good for a certain number of flight hours on just about any major airline. Will this idea work? Or will people who want to give the gift of travel stay with regular airline-branded gift cards?
EasyJet Soars Above Brexit Black Clouds: EasyJet is making money despite uncertainty over Brexit, and its CEO does not expect that will change, no matter what the UK government does, he said this week on the carrier’s earnings call. But as Skift’s Patrick Whyte, our Europe editor, reports, the company is keeping watch on its ownership structure. In a worst-case scenario, the airline might need to be more than half-owned by EU nationals. It’s now about 47 percent owned by EU nationals.
Corporate Hotel and Air Business Remains Strong, But for How Long? My colleague Andrew Sheivachman, who covers business travel for Skift, followed earnings calls for major travel companies, including airlines, and found a theme. Most companies are reporting strong corporate travel demand, but not everyone is sure it will last forever.
JetSetGo’s New SkyShuttle Takes Off Ahead of Uber in India’s Competitive Air Taxi Market: Skift’s new Asia editor, Raini Hamdi, introduces us to an Indian company offering scheduled business jet and helicopter flights between and within cities in India. The company, which has been around for four years, is often called the “Uber of Indian skies,” she writes.
JetBlue CEO Defends Bag Fee Hike as Cost of Doing Business: Yes, the headline is baggage fees. But Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Tech Ventures, also had interesting things to say last week about blockchain. “We’ve met lots of startups but haven’t found the right one that is building a true application use of blockchain that will be viable and useful for us, whether it’s customer-facing or behind the scenes,” she said. Skift’s Hannah Sampson covered the talk by Simi and JetBlue’s CEO, Robin Hayes.
Sabre to Buy Farelogix for $360 Million to Help Airlines Sell Better: Sabre allegedly tried to kill smaller rival Farelogix years ago, Skift Travel Tech Editor Sean O’Neill writes in his Skift Take. But that didn’t work, so now Sabre has tried something else: It bought out the pesky competitor. O’Neill explains what it means.
Brexit Dampens UK Airline Jet2’s Optimism: Businesses like Jet2 will continue to face uncertainty until both sides formally rubber stamp an exit deal, Skift’s Whyte writes from London. Jet2 is worried about flights and the potential for disruption, and there is also general concern about how a Brexit-inspired economic downturn might impact consumer spending on items such as holidays, Whyte tells us.
Best of The Rest
These Are the 8 Best Premium Economy Airline Products in the World: A bunch of airlines avoided adding premium economy for as long as they could, but it’s probably safe to say the trend is here to stay. Bloomberg contributor Eric Rosen calls Singapore Airlines’ new premium economy the world’s best. That may be true, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend 18 hours on it. What about you?
Alaska Airlines Mimics Larger U.S. Rivals by Adding No-Frills Fare Class: Alaska Airlines doesn’t always follow the pack, but this decision was probably inevitable. Almost all of its competitors have basic economy fares, and Alaska needed its own to compete. But as this Bloomberg story makes clear, not all basic economy products are the same. Alaska’s is still more generous than what many other carriers offer.
Airport VIP Services Cater to the Rich and Famous: Do you need more than fast-tracking through security and an invitation to a crowded airport lounge? Perhaps you can try one of several services that whisk wealthy passengers through major airports, such as The Private Suite at Los Angeles International. “Flyers willing to pay up for access can also take advantage of luxuries like private TSA screening, on-site customs and immigration processing, and a ride to their aircraft in a BMW 7-series sedan,” Bloomberg reports.
Travel Tips From Your Newsletter Author
How to Survive Holiday Travel With the Kids: Travelogue Podcast: Did you know your newsletter author has a 19-month-old daughter? And that she’s been on more than 15 flights in her young life? I take travel with the little one seriously — I’m always looking to make it more efficient and pleasant — and I shared some secrets recently on this Conde Nast Traveler podcast. Let’s hope they work this week, as we embark on two six-hour flights!
Skift Senior Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [firstname.lastname@example.org] 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.