New York – Flying has never been so good — for those able to splurge.
While most Thanksgiving travelers will fight for overhead bins and go hours without a snack or room to stretch their legs, life in first class is stress free. It’s always been a special place on the other side of the curtain. Now, it’s getting even cushier.
U.S. airlines, profitable again after a disastrous decade, are spending almost $2 billion to upgrade amenities for their highest-paying customers. On the most profitable international routes, high fliers are being treated with preflight champagne, flat-screen TVs and seats that turn into beds.
The lavish treatment is meant to keep people like Tim Carlson happy. Carlson, the chief financial officer of a semiconductor materials company, has taken 189 flights in the past two years, traveling 353,176 miles on United and its partners.
United will do anything to make sure another airline doesn’t steal his business.
On a recent trip from Newark, N.J., to Brussels, he was met at the curb with a boarding pass and escorted to the front of the security line. Four minutes after being dropped off, he was past the checkpoint.
First-class and business-class passengers make up only 8 percent of international travelers but account for 27 percent of revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association.
“There is a war going on for the profitable passenger,” says Henry H. Harteveldt, co-founder of the travel firm Atmosphere Research Group.
Airlines are focusing on three areas:
- Giving passengers a full night’s sleep. Delta, United and US Airways are installing seats in premium international cabins that recline into flat beds.
- Stimulating taste buds. Come mealtime, passengers can forget TV dinners. US Airways serves citrus mahi-mahi with lemon herb sauce, jasmine rice, baby carrots and grilled asparagus in international business class. American serves Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sundaes.
- Providing escapes from the chaos of airport terminals. Delta’s new Seattle lounge features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Mount Rainier. American’s new San Francisco club lets members cozy up next to a fireplace.