For some time now, I am flying business class. This gets me a broad spectrum of reactions, from respect and understanding, all the way down to pure jealousy. On the other hand, my personal experiences are also very broad, from too much unnecessary services towards a plain terrible rip-off. I have been wondering for a while, why there are only two ticket categories with a lot of options, and not just three clear categories in airline tickets: tourist class, business class, and luxury class.
As a tourist, you have time. You are taking your friends and family to a fun location. You are going on a holiday to relax or to have fun. You do not need to work. You might need some drinks. Want to play music. Read a book. You have no issue bringing a neck pillow attached to your colorful luggage. You are going to fight over the towels and chairs around the swimming pool anyway, so you might agree with a little queue at the airplane, as long as you get into the plane and to your destination at minimal cost.
That to me, is the tourist class. No issue to fly this way, when I am traveling to a tourist destination. But when in business mode, this is not the way I want to travel.
Business is about speed, effectiveness, the ability to load the laptop battery, do some extra work, answer mails, make a presentation for the client you are visiting, etc. Queues before entering the plane, annoying surround noise, waiting lines at security, and the impossibility to open your laptop and do proper work in economy seats are real blockers, which keep you away from doing the work you need to do. And no, I do not need a glass of champagne. I do not need an attempt to present me with luxury food which will never taste really well. I might need some peanuts with the coke, and a cookie with the coffee though. But that’s a different story.
The closest one airline got to the real business class specifications is Ryanair – most probably to everyone’s surprise. They allow you to book first row with leg space, fast lane security check, priority boarding, and you can order whatever light snack in the plane as you please. That’s actually what really matters for business. The main issue is that their experience too often does not match their promise. The boarding gate crew often lets anyone pass the fast lanes, because all they care about is to get the cattle in the plane asap. Also, due to the strikes, one is not sure about the trip. And getting from the airport to the business zones can be a challenge, because mainly, the airports they work with are not well adapted to the business traveler.
All the other airlines, up to now, have mainly been underdelivering an over-specified service, that felt like a “tang op een varken” as we say it in Flanders. They added too much unnecessary luxury, that business people do not really need all the time, and might not want to pay for. The core issue is that the business class services are not created outside-in from the client perspective, but bottom-up: services and extras are added on top of the mainstream tourist class offering and airline/airport activity, and value is considered as “how much more can I charge for what package of extras offered” rather than “how much more value could we offer to a business person, and what is that value worth for the business person”.
What is needed then? If you are into airline and airport product marketing, read the next paragraph carefully. No, no, no. Do not say “oh, but that is impossible”. I know it is. But that is not going to help you. And, in the end, it is not going to help the business people. Think again. And yes, you will have to think again and again. Get out of that box, and try thinking bigger, broader, outside-in. Hire an expert if you need some client-centric viewpoint. Or read the next paragraph for free to use advice, for the benefit of your airline or airport.
Okay, here we go. It starts outside. I started from the arrival at the airport, for the sake of this blogpost. A real good service design might even start before that, but I leave this to your expert advisor, so that they still have some value to offer too 😉
Upon arrival we need a pre-booked and pre-paid reserved parking space close to the check-in: we need to be sure the car can be parked. No, this is not a commodity! Try Brussels Airport in busy seasons, and see how many business cars are parked in such a way and on such places, you know for sure the driver was in panic mode, when they left the car out there.
Inside the airport, a fast-lane business check-in that is always open for all the airlines would be great. Not having to look where to check-in. Just knowing beforehand there is one check-in desk for business. Ensure there is no long queue, so ensure there is enough people available to check-in and take the luggage. Okay, some digital points might be added for those business people that do not carry any luggage. No issue. The point is that you can get inside the airport to go to the lounge and do some more work, even when you are more than two hours early. Which does happen. As it also happens that you arrive late, and have to hurry in. Maybe you could add an additional “we get you very quickly through the airport right to the gate, when we arrive late.”. Think about it. I am prepared to pay for it, if needed. Maybe others will too.
Now inside the airport. A business lounge that is nice to work in, is the basic accomodation. Please add a totally silent working corner that is really kept silent by the staff. No Manchester Airport, it is not sufficient to put a label “silent corner”, and then let any silly salesperson call with a loud voice, without any staff member telling them to be quiet. It requires permanent attention, before this works. Preferably put the business lounge as close to the gate as possible, but it’s okay to put it anywhere in between the security check and the gate. No luxury needed in the lounge, but water, coke, and coffee with a cookie would be nice. Thank you Marc for having added the peanuts in the Brussels Airport lounge.
Then ensure there is a fast lane at the boarding gate, that is kept free for business people all the time. Just like in Schiphol Airport, where they have three digitally monitored lanes to get in, and one is always reserved for fast lane. So you move forward, whenever you arrive at the boarding gate. In most airports you have to work your way up to the front desk, with everyone else looking angry at you, even after the staff mentioned that business class passengers could move forward as they arrive. You know what? If I am not sure that I will be boarding first, I always wait in the business lounge until the very last minute, so that I am sure not to loose the extra fifteen minutes of annoying queues at the boarding gate and inside that dreadful tube. And yes, I have had my name being announced many times while rushing to the gate …
It would then be great to be allowed to get in the plane more quickly, and not have to wait inside ‘the tube’ for all the passengers to be seated. I do not mind walking the tarmac, though, but please don’t put me in a queue in front of the plane knowing that I could do some extra work in the front row seats.
Finally inside the plane. The main three basic specifications for business people are leg space, leg space, and leg space. No, not the millimetred additional leg space you add in the premium economy formula. That is not good enough – at all. Leg space means you can put your laptop in front of you while working and not hitting/annoying the passenger in front of you – even when that passenger has lowered the seat for a nap. On long-distance, the opportunity to sleep horizontally is also extremely important, of course. But no, I do not mind to skip the fancy dinner, the cloth, the champagne. Thank you. I’ll order whatever I would like to drink or eat – if any. Oh yes, and please tell the other passengers around the business class to be a little bit quiet, so that we business people can continue to work our long hours. That really helps. Thank you.
All the rest of the extras are for the luxury class. And yes, there is a market for them too. Small. But they have loads of money to spend, so be creative and think about what kind of crazy offer could get their money into your bank account. Indeed, they might need the champagne. They need all the super-services, the luxury food, a massage, a hairdresser in the lounge, and all the other Vogue-centric stuff I cannot even imagine. That kind of luxury is not in my travel needs, as a business person. And really, I do not mind people being jealous about luxury class. That’s the problem of both the luxury class traveler, and all the jealous people. I do hope my kind of business class is not being considered as luxury, nor making people jealous. Which it sometimes does, while it is just about being efficient. Business class should just be a good offering for hard working middle class people, who are now getting stressed over the unadapted service levels of the airline industry.
Does this help? I hope I can get the attention of one product manager. Then that attention might already start to impact the way we work and travel.