The last few weeks have seen social media platforms flooded with images of two airline’s groundbreaking new business class seats. The airlines in question are British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Both carriers have just received their first A350-1000 aircraft and from the social media circus you would think that they have both just received the first airplanes ever built. Note: 26 other airlines already operate the A350, with some such as Qatar Airways having received their first aircraft more than 4 years ago.
Then you have Emirates, who market their ‘Game Changing’ First class seat. Is it a game changer? Fully closing doors and a fantastic hard product means the answer is a firm yes. However, this is where these airlines marketing has deceived us all. A simple search engine test will show you that most pictures for Emirates First are of this ‘Game Changer’ – this is all we are led to believe First Class is on Emirates. So imagine the disappointment after spending as much as $12,000 on a First class ticket, and finding you in fact don’t have this seat at all. Imagine, even worse you find out that actually, this First Class seat that is heavily advertised in fact only flies on nine Emirates aircrafts. Considering Emirates has 256 widebody planes in its fleet – some quick maths would suggest you have a 4% chance of flying in the ‘Game Changer’. Are they making plans to rollout this heavily marketed seat on the rest of their current 777-300 fleet? In short, not yet. That means, to me, this is nothing short of a great marketing ploy, where passengers will in all likeliness not get to try this fantastic product.
Emirates are not the only airline who is piling more marketing dollars into a great but rarely seen product.
So, the reason such a media fanfare has been made with Virgin and British Airways? Because both airlines have introduced new business class seats, with partially and fully closing doors respectively. Granted, both these seats are a huge step up from the current business class products the UK based airlines currently operate. British Airways Club World has a folding foot stall and passengers have to step over other passengers to get to the aisle. The product hasn’t seen an upgrade for many years and leaves a lot to be desired if you have just forked out several thousand dollars for a ticket. The new Club Suite is a great improvement, however, if you take away the closing door, the product is certainly not revolutionary and almost the same as what Virgin Australia introduced 4 years ago already (Note, despite the branding, Virgin Australia is separate to Virgin Atlantic). Granted, Virgin Atlantic have an onboard bar, but any feature would have been a marked improvement from their quite frankly crammed and overpriced current Upper Class Seats.
Again, the current Upper Class was marketing genius. The name alone sells. People have heard about Upper Class, people want to experience it, but have you actually seen the product? Your back to the window, with cramped seats and a foot stall in the aisle. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be staring another passenger in the face almost sat toe to toe. Both these airlines products needed a significant upgrade – and passengers got one. Two new great products.
But, and here’s the big but – good luck actually flying in these seats. Credit where it’s due, with Virgin Atlantic their fleet will consist of 12 A350s, making up around 30% of their fleet, so the chances of flying in the new and improved seats are significantly better than with British Airways. By the end of 2019 Virgin plan to fly the A350 5 times daily between London and New York. Whereas for British Airways, by the start of 2020, the A350 will fly on just four long haul routes. Furthermore, with a much larger fleet of 277 planes, and just 18 A350s on order, the chances are you’re not going to start seeing much of the new Club Suite until British Airways start receiving the new Boeing 777x they have on order.
I would suggest putting the media fanfare on hold and circling back in 2022 when the product these airlines advertise extensively, is in fact the product paying passengers are more likely to receive regularly. Until then you can currently fly one route on British Airways’ new A350 and none (yet) on Virgin Atlantic – despite the extreme marketing efforts splashed across the press. Back to business as usual. Forgive the pun.