There are many stories out over the past couple years describing how profitable and valuable a premium economy cabin is to airlines. Turkish Airlines gave it a go, adding Comfort Class to their 777-300ER planes, the aircraft they use on their longest flights where such an offering would likely be in the greatest demand. The net result for them: It didn’t work. Company executives have confirmed that they are going to be removing the Comfort Class product in the coming months; rumors of these cuts first surfaced last October.
The Comfort Class cabin was larger than comparable offerings by most competitors, featuring 63 seats across 9 rows. The reviews I’ve read were mixed, for the most part, with some complaining that it isn’t sufficiently close to business class to justify the premium charge. My only experience was quite pleasant, with a mostly empty cabin (thought that’s not good for the company, obviously) and only a modest surcharge for the upgrade (~$275 for IST-JFK).
The company blames the products failings on the limited deployment and inability to make a similar product work on their narrow-body planes. Indeed, they only have it on the 77W fleet so a very, very small portion of their aircraft. But it is hard to believe that they couldn’t come up with a hybrid option for the shorter flights. Why not just a blocked middle seat like EuroBiz on most other carriers? Or maybe that’s too much of a benefit given that it is what business class is selling for in many cases. But Turkish actually has bigger seats for biz on their smaller planes; they could make it work.
Instead, however, it appears they’re going to try to simply improve (and expand) both the coach and business class offerings to make up for it. From a personal perspective it is a shame; I think they priced their Comfort Class at the right point to be a great value for the customer. Then again, that’s probably why it failed as a product.
With the news out yesterday that JetBlue is working to fit some of their A321 planes with private “mini-suites” in business class I’ve started pondering just how that would work in the cabin layout. Given that they’ve historically tried to only add benefits at the top rather than remove from the bottom when they make changes (sometimes more effectively than others) it seems to reason that they’ll try to keep their industry-leading economy class pitch even while adding in the premium offerings. Can it fit??
Given that American Airlines plans to add 5 rows of single-seat F seats in the forward cabin of their A321s it shouldn’t be too hard for JetBlue to offer up a similar number of rows with a rather comfortable product. And, conveniently enough, 5 is the number of rows necessary to get the 12 “regular” business class seats and 4 mini-suites that the FAA filing calls for in that cabin.
For economy the spec’s call for 143 seats. That’s one seat short of 24 full rows of 3-3 seating. In the space to the rear of the 2nd door (2L/R) US Airways currently has 26 rows with 32″ pitch. Remove two rows from that layout and you get a full cabin of 34″ seats without too much trouble.
Of course, this layout also would mean no more Even More Legroom seats. With the addition of the premium cabin offerings that isn’t impossible but I’d be a bit surprised if that were the path chosen. It is a solid incremental revenue offering versus a full premium fare up-charge and the competition on those transcon routes all have something comparable. It is also not clear just how much galley space JetBlue will require given their current catering setup. If you move the lavatory at 3L to the back of the plane there is a bit more room to play with in the cabin. Another option is that they will revert to 32″ pitch for most seats. This matches the default in their E190 cabins and it is still quite reasonable for passengers, though not nearly as generous as the 34″ on the A320s (yes, the 2″ is noticeable). Putting 13 rows in the rear-most cabin lets the forward section of economy become a bit more spacious, up in the 35-36″ range by my math. If they cannot get the EML up to 36″ at a minimum I’d say it isn’t worth doing. But there’s also probably a reason I don’t work for an airline.
Odds are that none of these maps are accurate and that JetBlue will come up with something different for the planes. But I had a bit of fun speculating on the topic. Plus, I wasn’t all that far off when guessing about the UA 787 config a while back.
The good folks at RouteHappy seem to have been quite busy lately trying to make it easier for passengers to find the best flight option. That’s not necessarily the cheapest, despite what many customers think and it is an uphill battle to convince them otherwise but the good fight is being fought. The latest salvo from RouteHappy is a couple of updates to their search results interface, introducing two new features which make comparison shopping quite a bit easier.
We have side-by-side comparison for nearly every type of product out there, but not for air travel. Well, we used to not have it for air travel. Do a flight search on the RouteHappy site and choose up to four flights for comparison (tick the box at the top right of the search results first to be able to start the compare process); the results look something like this:
Not only are the prices and happiness score readily visible but now comparing the various amenities for the trip is an easy scan, as you scroll down the page:
Hover your mouse over any of the icons and you get more details as to why the flight is rated that way:
Happy & Cheap
Earlier today I found myself in the midst of a conversation on Twitter with John (works for RouteHappy) and Mary (brilliant in the world of in-flight passenger comfort) and we got to discussing how all too often passengers won’t pay even a trivial sum for significantly increased comfort during a trip. In that specific case the example was regular economy versus a very reasonable up-fare to a proper premium economy product. RouteHappy doesn’t tackle that problem quite yet, but they do have a new filter screen which lets you go for not just price but a combination of price and comfort. Here’s a random search I did, sorted by price, and the first few results returned:
Not a lot of happiness there though the round-trip fares are reasonable for the market. Clicking on the “Happy & cheap” filter option, however, changes things up a bit. Rather than 64 options to sift through there are only two:
It turns out that for less than $20 difference in price the happiness factor can be significantly increased (not to mention that JetBlue offers 1 free checked bag, making that total trip cost actually cheaper than AA if you’re paying for bags). Also, the JetBlue flights are non-stop (that adds to the happiness score) and offer more legroom.
I’m still not entirely convinced that many passengers will pay the little bit extra it can sometimes cost to have a significantly better travel experience, but at least now they don’t have the excuse of not knowing that the option was available. RouteHappy is making sure that everyone can know their choices.
I went in to the grand opening party for Delta‘s expansion of T4 at JFK with high hopes. Part of that was based on the massive marketing hype they’ve poured into the project. Part of that was based on seeing some similar projects recently at other airports, both in the region and elsewhere in the country. And part of it was just my natural optimism and hope that companies can reasonably see the “good” way to get things done and follow that path. Alas, after spending roughly 6 hours in the terminal last Friday as part of the official opening of the space I walked away feeling that Delta missed a great opportunity.
To be fair, the new terminal is miles ahead of the T3 facility it is replacing. The part where that building is 50+ years old and hasn’t seen major maintenance in decades is more the reason that T4 looks so great, not that T4 is actually so great. I’d take hard stands and a bus station over T3 in terms of passenger comfort.
The Sky Priority check-in area is nice. And the regular check-in space doesn’t completely suck. But neither is particularly spectacular.
The new hallways are wide, bright and clean. But the terminal is also quite long, roughly 15 minutes start to end and the people-movers are not particularly swift at all. The concessions in the new part of the terminal might be great if you’ve got time to spare but the quick eats options are basically nil without walking back up into the old part of the space. And I didn’t see too many concessions spaces unoccupied. Shake Shack (mentioned in nearly every press release about the terminal) is great if you have 20 minutes to spare waiting in line for your food; it isn’t nearly as helpful if you’re between flights on a tight connection made even tighter by the notorious ATC delays at JFK. And Delta really is trying to build JFK as a connecting station, not just serving O/D traffic from NYC.
But enough of my ranting…back to the Sky Club. Because, seriously, it kicks ass.
OK, to be fair, it kicks ass compared to other business class lounges in US airports operated by US-based carriers. Still, there are several reasonably nice lounges out there today and this is one of the nicest in that category. I like that there are so many options for seating. Want waiter service for food & drinks? You can have that, with power outlets (110V and USB) at nearly every location. Or perhaps you’d prefer a work cube with a view of the apron? Or a higher chair with a bar-like counter? Or more private lounge-like seat? Or a quiet room with more space and ottomans to stretch out and relax? All of those are available, too.
If you really want to splurge (or if you’re actually special enough to get invited) just ask about the Ciroc room, a separate, private space within the lounge.
Yes, all the “real” food comes at a paid premium. And the prices for the meals are not particularly cheap. Still, we tried three different options while there and all were quite good (the cheese fondue was the big winner, with the turkey panini a close second amongst our group).
Similarly the premium drinks come with a premium price. But there are still some free options, too. And the ordering/delivery system is pretty slick. Make your selections on one of the iPads scattered around the lounge and a short while later the food arrives wherever you happen to be sitting. That’s pretty nice.
And then there is the Sky Deck. Yes, an outdoor area at an airport with great views and a relaxing atmosphere. I am a huge fan, though I worry about how much of the year it will be usable versus weather-inhibited. Still, I could easily spend hours out there if I had the time to spare.
It is still just a Sky Club and comes with all the necessary caveats and limitations associated there. But it is a darn nice Sky Club and, by far, the nicest part of the newly expanded T4 at JFK.
And at least no one has to suffer through T3 any more.
More photos from my visit to the terminal on opening day here.
Last November when Elite Airways announced their intentions to start service in 2013 I suggested that the choices they made in terms of their hub and initial destination were probably suspect. It seems that they agreed on those aspects, shifting a lot of the details around. But, somewhat surprisingly, they are actually still planning on launching service. The latest version of the story has them in business starting in mid-July, with Baton Rouge, LA as their hub.
This time around there are no destinations yet announced and no indication of when seats will go on sale. There is a suggestion that they’ll upgrade their fleet to include some 737s, in addition to the CRJ-200s they currently operate. That’s a potential win for passengers, though it isn’t clear if they’re going for new planes or picking some old ones up second hand. Either way, just about anything is better than flying on the CR2 so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.
Without a hint of destinations it is hard to guess at the chances for success of the operation. Reading the comments on the story (presumably from locals) it seems that Cancun; San Antonio; Washington, DC and Newark are being requested. I’m betting against all of those being included. Actually, Cancun might have the best chance of success.
Anyways, I suppose I’ll have to find my way to Baton Rouge at some point later this summer to give Elite Airways a try. Assuming they actually do get off the ground, of course.
A few months ago American Airlines quietly (or so they thought; turns out JohnnyJet was on a test flight so news spread quickly) started testing a new boarding process for their flights. The key change was that passengers with only small carry-on bags (i.e. underseat sized) would be allowed to board following Group 2. The theory is that these passengers are being rewarded for not putting bags in the overhead bins and they aren’t slowing the boarding process so they can board whenever they want (after the elite status passengers). But does it really matter?
One report on the process suggests that the total average time savings is 2-3 minutes per flight. Sure, multiply that out by thousands of daily departures and it sounds like a ton of time “saved” daily, but it really only counts if they change the flight times to account for that supposed savings. At 2-3 minutes on average per flight I’m betting against them adjusting block turn times for the flights.
Beyond that, however, I also cannot help but wonder which passengers are actually happily taking advantage of this benefit. Most of the race to board early is – at least from what I’ve seen – people trying to make sure they have space to stow their bags. If you don’t need overhead space it doesn’t make sense that there would be a great rush to get on the plane and cram yourself into a space just over 17″ wide and ~31-34″ deep, a small space that you’re going to be stuck in for the next many hours.
In other words, unless you absolutely need to be on board, why would you subject yourself to more time on the plane??
Don’t get me wrong – I love flying on a plane. And that means spending a lot of time on planes. But I also don’t go out of my way to be the first person on board. And when I’m traveling very light (which is most of the time these days) I happily board towards the end of the process, tuck my bag wherever it fits (including under my seat sometimes) and get going. Yes, I prefer to have the bag overhead, but that’s not the type of passenger this program is supposed to appeal to. This is for passengers who don’t have much in the way of a bag, for whom the need to get on board to store their stuff is key.
Maybe I’m missing out and there is a huge group of passengers who really, really, really like sitting in coach seats and want to do more of it. I suppose it is fantastic for that group. But it seems unlikely to me that anyone really benefits from this move.
More than that, however, there is also a reasonable concern that this will actually make things worse. Here’s one view which isn’t completely off-base:
If all the small things are put in the overheads because those passengers get on first that means more gate-checked bags, not fewer. Whoopsie.
I’m not completely convinced that it will be a problem, but I’m also not convinced this is a change which makes things better for many passengers. Certainly not enough to justify potentially pissing off a lot of other passengers for it.
What am I missing??
When United Airlines announced last August that they’d be changing the seats on their Airbus A319 and A320 planes there was a bit of concern among their customers. The Recaro Slimline seat is a VERY basic product. It has been widely deployed in Europe (the Lufthansa Group of airlines has made it their default for narrow-body planes) and it is not particularly comfortable for flights of more than an hour or two. That can work in Europe where the hubs are more central and the flights are generally shorter. For the US market, however, it would have been a potentially unpleasant ride. A United official announced today that the carrier will be including the "comfort package" in their version of the seats. That should have many passengers quite relieved.
The new seats are manufactured by RECARO, and you may recognize the specific model from several European carriers, who feature it on many of their mainline narrow-body aircraft. However, because we fly our Airbuses over longer stage lengths than the typical intra-Europe segment, our version of the seat will have several upgraded comfort features over the base model. These include multi-directional headrests, added lumbar support, and a different seat bottom cushion with more padding and multiple layers of soft memory foam. The literature seat pocket has been moved higher, which facilitates the above increase in knee space, and there’s a new amenity pocket specifically for personal items.
The Recaro Slimline seat in service on a Lufthansa narrow-body plane; the middle seat is blocked for 'business class' service.
As part of the same announcement a scant few details on the streaming media offering were made public:
Along with Wi-Fi, the addition of on-demand streaming video will become the standard for our Airbus fleet. As a result, when these aircraft go in to have the new seats installed, the traditional audio/video system with dropdown monitors will be removed. However, these aircraft won’t “go dark”—Wi-Fi will be available on all aircraft that have the new seats. In any case, like Wi-Fi the streaming product will eventually have pricing attached to it, although we do plan to offer a limited range of complimentary content until we finalize these plans.
The 747s are also getting the streaming media option and it was previously stated that the content would be free on those planes; it is interesting to see the slightly different tack being taken with the short-haul fleet.
Finally, for the Channel 9 lovers, the IFE retrofit means that offering will disappear. That’s definitely a bummer.
Competition does strange things, like making the airlines offer better products to attract customers. Hard to say that’s a bad thing, right?? Delta is adding some new benefits for passengers in their Economy Comfort seats on flights on their main transcon routes. For flights between New York City‘s JFK and either Los Angeles or San Francisco customers in the Economy Comfort (extra legroom/recline) seats will now include free drinks, a free "premium snack" and free newspapers.
Like many things in the airline industry this seems to be a case of things coming full circle, with complimentary snacks and drinks returning to the coach cabin in the name of competition. Virgin America already has free snacks/drinks in their comparable offering (Main Cabin Select). American Airlines is going to be competing with frequencies, upping to roughly hourly shuttle service in the coming year as they get their new A321 planes with fewer seats. United is also pushing new configurations out in the market, though no other special features noted.
Airlines are looking to cut costs in just about every way imaginable. For Frontier airlines a major focus on that front has been encouraging customers to book on their website rather than through 3rd party sites (OTAs). The OTA bookings cost the airlines a lot of money and saving those margins can be significant, particularly for a smaller airline which is struggling as it is.
Last September Frontier cut mileage earning on OTA tickets to 50%. At that time they also increased most fees by $50 for fares not booked directly. It was hoped that would help increase direct bookings. In March of this year Frontier pulled their inventory from Expedia, cutting distribution costs but also reducing the potential bookings. And, this week, they’ve taken this a step further, announcing that they have "Enhance[d] Services for Customers Using FlyFrontier.com." Yes, they used the word "enhance" in the ironic form.
The latest changes see more cuts for customers booking OTA-issued tickets. Carry-on bags will now come with a fee – up to $100 at the gate – for the cheapest fares booked through 3rd party sites. "With this change, we are ensuring that our most loyal customers – Ascent and Summit level members of EarlyReturns®, those who book Economy, Classic and Classic Plus tickets, including all customers who book through FlyFrontier.com, will have more space onboard the aircraft for their carry-on bags,” said David Siegel, Frontier’s chief executive officer. The effective date for the carry-on charges has not yet been set.
Charges are also coming for in-flight beverages. Effective July 1, 2013, customers who purchase Economy or Basic fares will be charged $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice. On the plus side, that $2 will entitle customers to the whole can of soda or to unlimited refills on coffee. No word on if they’ll charge again if you want more hot water for your tea. Customers who purchase a higher fare or who have elite status will need to show their boarding pass or elite card to have the beverage fees waived.
And, on the mileage front, the fares which were earning only 50% when purchased through an OTA will see that number further reduced, down to 25%.
There’s a whole lot of hurt in this latest round of changes. It is hard to believe that things will end well for Frontier out of these moves. Maybe it will shift the consumer behavior but I get the feeling more customers are going to buy their tickets through an OTA, get annoyed at the lower service levels and then choose a different carrier on the OTA rather than change their buying habits. I suppose we’ll see soon enough.
Air travel is treated as a commodity market for the most part. Price is, by far, the most significant driver of purchase decisions. But there are other things travelers should be thinking about. Unfortunately, figuring out which flight offers a better overall travel experience is a pain in the ass. It is roughly impossible to determine the differences airlines offer in terms of seat, IFE, meals and service. Enter Routehappy. Rather than shopping only by fare, they want to show customers that the same price can get you a notably different travel experience.
The company officially launched their new site today and it offers a tremendous amount of information, including some major upgrades from the earlier iterations of the interface. The Happiness Score factor is an aggregation of both customer reviews and administratively managed data like seat comfort/space, IFE systems, wifi connectivity and even airplane type. And, with today’s launch, there is also fare data and a booking channel integrated into the site. Search for a trip and you’ll get the available flights, a rating of the expected trip quality and the fare details.
Pick a flight on the search screen and you get a ton of useful information, all focused on helping find a better flight experience.
And, once you find the flight you want, click through and book the trip.
This is a tremendous collection of information and I’ve only started to scrape the surface of what is available in the site. But it is clear that there is a lot of potential for this to be both a lot of fun for the data geeks and very useful for the rest of the world, too.