Millions of dollars have been raised for a new airline that completely eliminates economy or coach class travel altogether… but are they rather missing the point of what makes these services so special?
Only a matter of weeks after Qatar Airways’ CEO claimed that first class was totally pointless compared to business class, while layouts like United’s “coffin seats” cabin raise questions about business class’ own usefulness as premium economy becomes the “new money-making machine“, you might be surprised to hear the news that the world’s first ‘premium only’ airline has just enjoyed a bumper round of funding…
BeOnd, an aspiring all-business class airline with plans to establish a hub in the Maldives, has announced a significant funding injection. The ambitious venture aims to position itself as the world’s first premium leisure airline, but industry experts — as well as this humble travel writer — have begun to raise concerns about the airline’s viability and growth strategy.
Led by CEO Tero Taskila, former Gulf Air and airBaltic executive, BeOnd has managed to secure $17 million USD ($26 million AUD) in funding, a commendable feat for an airline startup. However, while Be0nd hopes the cash could see the airline take flight sooner than expected, others are less convinced.
WATCH: First class isn’t immune from all the issues you’ll find in economy…
Whether the airline pitches itself as an ‘all business class’ or ‘all first class’ venture seems somewhat up for debate and, ultimately, a matter of semantics. While its ‘all premium offer seems novel, its promises of industry disruption may be somewhat overinflated. First, with only one aircraft to its name at present time, the airline’s plans to serve 60 to 80 locations via Airbus A321neos with 68 premium seats on every aircraft still seem quite a way off.
On top of this, however, BeOnd faces intense logistical challenges. After establishing its Maldives hub, the airline aims to serve Dubai, then Delhi, followed by Perth in the not-too-distant future. Breaking into the Middle East will constitute an enormous challenge given the stranglehold that established competitors like Emirates have over the area.
But a more fundamental issue could lie in the airline’s reliance on a single Maldives hub in the first place, which is what View From The Wing suggest they may use as an initial set-up, pointing to the fact that most airlines need a counter-seasonal hub that would see peak business during the Northern summer, allowing the airline to maximize revenue potential throughout the year rather than rely solely on the Southern summer boom.
Furthermore, the current lack of an air operator’s certificate from the Maldivian government and the total absence of ticket sales add to the uncertainty surrounding whether BeOnd has — or will ever have — an actual launch date. While the airline’s leadership expresses a desire to begin operations in autumn, some remain sceptical about the timeline.
For this writer, all of these problems — though entirely valid — fail to ask a more fundamental question about the airline’s proposition and brand: does having a ‘first class only’ airline, especially in the current economic climate, not pretty much entirely miss the point of premium travel cabins altogether?
Not only are first- and business-class cabins coming under huge amounts of scrutiny at the moment — thanks in part to their increasing financial ‘pointlessness’ when compared to the long-boom of premium economy but also because of their shocking environmental footprint when compared to cheaper cabins — but don’t these cabins get their allure precisely from the fact that they exist alongside the “lower”, cheaper classes?
To put it another way: ‘first class only’ vehicles already exist, we just call them private jets. The draw of first- and business- cabins in the context of a commercial vehicle is precisely that you get to turn left, toward the pointy-end of the plane, to relax in your resplendent throne knowing that the mere mortals are up the back in the cheap seats.
Now, I’m not necessarily endorsing this questionable breed of airline-facilitated moral superiority, but I do believe that it’s only in the power of cabin-contrast that luxury seating options become so desirable. To anyone that’s seen Pixar’s seminal movie The Incredibles, you’ll perhaps relate to the line trotted out by antagonist ‘Syndrome’ when arguing for the democratising power of superhero-style abilities: “When everyone’s super, no one is…”
Much the same can be said for this kind of travel arrangement: if everyone’s in first class, then there might as well be nobody in first class. The pointy-end’s biggest appeal is that you get to indulge in having an experience better than and separate from everyone else’s… but not so separate that you take your plush new digs for granted.
BeOnd rather misses this, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if the airline ever does get off the ground that it might find its supposedly pioneering offer to be a little less lapped-up than it has forecast. That being said, if they need someone to do a reccy of their Maldives hub, I’m always available to have my horizons broadened…