As the battle for business-class travel hots up, airlines are doing all they can to corner the luxury market. From private terminals to limousine transfers, flatbeds and Michelin star cuisine, offering a service one step above the competition is key.
One airline which is ahead of the game is Singapore Airlines, which launched the first of the Airbus A380 super-jumbos on the Singapore to Sydney route last October. The route will extend to London this year, when it receives second and third A380s.
For Singapore Airlines, innovating its business class is an important strategy to grab the attention of the executive traveller. According to Stephen Forshaw, vice-president Public Affairs, Singapore Airlines, business class will never phase out first class, the two classes service different sections of the market.
“The Singapore Airlines first class as well as our new Singapore Airlines suites continue to be a very important part of our overall product and service strategy. To maintain and advance our status as one of the leading premium carriers in the world, it is important for us to continue to lead in all the market segments that we serve.
“I don’t think business class will actually eliminate demand for first class overall, but on some routes – particularly leisure routes – demand will not be there to support first class, so on those routes, we will usually offer a two-class product: Business and Economy (example – Christchurch, Brisbane, Manchester and Copenhagen),” said Forshaw.
Forshaw explained that business class, by definition, is more popular than first class because there are more seats in the business class cabin. “This reflects the nature of the two products, and that first class will be highly-specialised at the top tier the market.”
The business-class seats on Singapore Airlines are already super-comfy, measuring 76.2cm on the B777-300ER, and have been extended to 86.4cm on the A380. The seat pitch is 139.7cm. All of the business-class seats have a fixed back shell that extends to the sides for more privacy. It becomes a home away from home, with a touch of French decor. The bedding and dining-ware have been exclusively designed for Singapore Airlines by Givenchy. With fares from Singapore to Sydney costing about S$4127 (Dh10,569), the airline is banking on the A380 success.
According to Forshaw, the company conducted extensive customer surveys and workshops to find out what business-class travellers wanted.
“Through these feedback sessions, we found what customers really want on a flight is more personal space, comfort and privacy. With their comments in mind, our team went through numerous design options before arriving at the seat configuration and cabin interior we have now.”
Another important factor for the business traveller is being able to catch up on reading and prepare for meetings.
The A380 offers in-seat laptop power supply, Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports and two personal reading lights so passengers can easily read or prepare for meetings while the cabin lights are dimmed. Singapore Airlines is also gearing up for the new wave of mobile and internet use on flights.
“We recognise that there is a demand for in-flight telephony and internet connectivity. We are exploring possible solutions and technologies that are currently available, but there are no firm plans at the moment. We have to ensure technological capability, i.e. that the technology will not be quickly superseded, and that it provides a cost effective solution for our business and our customers,” said Forshaw.
Personal space, comfort and privacy