COVID-19 may be making business class feel more like economy, but it’s seeing the sector boom.
Though reports (see: this one from Busines Times) came in last year predicting the removal of close customer service and multi course banquets might send premium passengers scuttling back towards economy, the opposite has occurred.
With passengers more hygiene conscious than ever, and it now being public knowledge cattle class passengers are the first to be bumped whenever there is a squeeze on arrival caps, business class is seeing a mini-boom.
As Bloomberg reported in April, “For those who are able to travel, you might find that the business-class cabin is less empty these days. The once-exclusive haven is being invaded by the masses.”
“Flush with cash and unused air miles, leisure travelers are splurging on premium seats as they return to the air,” Bloomberg reported. “It’s not just the lure of reclining beds, gourmet food and champagne. They’re also trying to minimize the risk of catching Covid-19 in the closer confines of economy.”
The sentiment is summed up well by retired New York resident Jennifer Arnold, an avid scuba diver, who in anticipation of a trip to the Maldives told Bloomberg securing a business-class seat was, in her opinion, essential.
“It was strictly to try to sit in an area with fewer people. I wouldn’t have taken this trip if I had to fly in coach while the virus is still raging in so much of the world.”
This business class boom is an unexpected silver lining for beleaguered airlines punching through a crisis that’s forecast, according to Bloomberg, to have cost them $174 billion in losses by the end of 2021.
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British Airways’ company’s chief executive, Sean Doyle, speaking recently at an industry webinar, said he believes corporate travel will bounce back after the pandemic.
Though he admitted he’s not exactly sure what shape it will take, he said he had faith his carrier’s £6.5bn (AU $11.64bn) investment in refurbishing its business-class cabins, seats and lounges since 2018 had been worth it.
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“The reason we’re very compelled by the investments is we have a significant premium leisure segment.”
“A lot of people who travel in our premium cabins are travelling for leisure, or visiting friends or relatives.
“That’s been growing over the last decade and we think that will continue to grow – and that gives us a very effective buffer if the corporate segment is not recovering at the pace of other segments.”
Doyle also spoke about people being very fed up with Zoom meetings: “I think we will see business travel recover because people do business with people, not organisations.”
A positive sign for the industry? Only time and ticket sales will tell.