Is the short-haul business cabin dead? Your views

 

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A while back, I asked you whether the short-haul business class cabin was dead. I posed this slightly provocative question via the Airline Business Blog, my VictoriaOnAir Twitter account and through the Interactive section of our April print edition.

 

I want to say a huge thank you to the readers who took the time to get in touch. You can see the final outcome in the article titled “Cabin Sickness” in our May print edition.

 

Sadly we didn’t have space to run your full commentary in the magazine, so read on to see other Airline Business readers’ thoughts in full.

 

 

I think the future of short haul business travel is rail, sorry, high speed rail. With continuous, free WiFi. I just can’t see how airlines and bothersome airport safety regulations, always in flux, can compete.

 

I think early figures in China do support that. (and Spain, Germany, France). The story is different in the US, which when it comes to infrastructure is a third world country.

 

Dirk, via the Airline Business Blog

 

 

Dear Miss Moores,

 

My thought is that we should have a look at Porter Airways in Canada and flybe in England. Both airlines predominantly focus on business travellers and both airlines do not belong to any big frequent traveller scheme or offer a separate business class. In addition to this, both carriers use a turboprop (Dash 8Q-400) for their regional business routes, despite the (questionable) fact that business travellers try to avoid turboprops.

 

In my opinion this is a good example, that for probably most business travellers, miles and status are not as important anymore as are frequent and fast connections from smaller primary or secondary airports to other smaller primary or secondary airports. It comes all down to how many frequencies a day your airline offers and how much the fully flexible tickets in economy are. I think that this is also going to be the case once the global economy has fully recovered from the current recession. The only routes I can think of where a separate business class will still make sense in the future are those between two large/rich catchment areas with a lot of high-potential business travellers (eg. banking, consulting, etc.). For the rest, companies probably realised during the last couple of harsh months, that business class on short-haul routes is not really necessary for their employees.

 

So, in the end, I believe that business traveller in the future are rather looking for a fast and flexible connection between point A and point B at a relatively low cost (without having the “Ryanair Feeling”). Flybe currently caters exactly this market and I think that the future will see a couple of new entrants into the European airline market that offer a low cost, point-to-point network with the right level of daily rotations and the extra bit of service.

 

Best regards,

 

Jan Willem Kappes, Master Student Air Transport Management, Cranfield University

 

 

 

Dear Victoria,

 

In regard to your article on Airline Business Blog, here’s my opinion on the subject:

 

The same way Ryanair has introduced a new way of travelling light in Europe (a market in consolidation, not yet mature when looking at air transport), I understand that mainstream airlines have little to do to keep their passengers, especially “business humans” (men and women), whose perception of time is sensitive.

 

One of the main advantages of mainstream airlines is the possibility of changing schedules on demand. A delayed meeting or an early return are much appreciated for one who will likely arrive and work, one whose work hour costs more than a price difference.

 

Minimum hassle would be my pick. Try changing a Ryanair flight to see how much time is needed and how much it will cost. For sure it’s cheaper to just go for a no-show and buy another ticket, in which case the price would be similar to a mainstream business-class-flexible option from, say, British Airways or Delta.

 

Any last minute change is already a hassle. Having priority in rescheduling or being given a seat no matter the situation (overbooking other pax, economy restricted, ie.) is really what I think will guide the airlines.

 

Best Regards,

 

Marcelo Wuo Lopes, civil engineer, Brazil

 

 

Dear Victoria,

 

Your question is interesting from a consumer or business traveller point of view. However, for market analysts, it has become quite clear that short-haul business travel will no longer be what it used to.

 

- The main decision driver for business travelers has become price; in more than 90% of the cases a business traveller will choose his/her flight using only price.

- Not even schedule matters, as it did just a few years ago. Many corporate passengers reported that, when buying a ticket, they would ask their travel agency for a ticket at a certain schedule and then the agency would come back with the cheapest ticket within a range of plus/less 1.5h around the suggested schedule.

- Flexibility? Yes, a bit, if not overpriced. Purchasing departments have done their homework and are willing to buy an extra ticket in case of necessity instead of buying a flexible ticket as a common base.

- On board and on the ground product? Nice to have, but not worth the price of a business-class fare.

 

Therefore, I think it will not take long until we see most of the European short-haul traffic become a pure economy class on board. Business lounges will still be available to some Freq Flyers or maybe accessible to everyone willing to buy access to it – as a source of ancillary revenues.

 

On the other hand I do not expect a downturn in long-haul business class, as all information I receive from the market shows that business passengers are back in the business class compartment – although with a worst yield than before the crisis.

 

Kind regards,

 

Albert Muntane, airline consultant, Spain

 

 

 

Hi Victoria,

 

In principle, for travel up to 90 minutes or so flight time there is no appreciable difference between the budget and traditional airlines. What you want – especially in business – is to get there, on schedule. Most of the time, the travel to and from the airports will take more time and inconvenience than the actual flight anyway. Seating, drinks, entertainment play absolutely no role for me.

 

So me and my colleagues will use whatever airline can take us nearest to our final destination at the time we need to be there, whether Ryanair, Lufthansa, Air France or any other. Often the price difference is negligible, too, if you book long enough in advance; and almost in each case the difference is small compared to the extra cost for a detour, if your final destination is not in the immediate region of your flight’s destination airport, ie. if you need a long car ride after landing.

 

There are three real values traditional airlines can add, however: First is their network, as there’s a number of destinations between which no direct flights are available; in this case it’s almost invariably better to go with a big carrier. Second is lounges. If you’ve spent an evening in the departures hall of some non-descript regional airport, you get to appreciate the calm and comfort of an airline lounge – even for just a short pre-boarding wait and regardless whether you want to finish a presentation, or have a snack. And the third is, you can book a flight one week and be reasonably sure they’ll leave the schedule untouched until next week. When you’re going for a one-day meeting, you don’t want to find out on Monday that Wednesday’s flight has been moved from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. That said, these trips are getting rarer with all those video conferencing facilities available these days. And that answers part of your first question: The future is, short-haul will compete with fast trains, video and mobile business, and therefore will probably stagnate for a while. Certainly does for me.

 

Of course, if any of the carriers ever developed a taxi or shuttle service to book with the flight, so they’d pick you up at home in the morning and check you in during the ride, that might make the entire experience smoother. But I’m fantasising now…

 

Kind regards

 

Anon, Germany

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One Response to Is the short-haul business cabin dead? Your views

  1. Barry Graham 22 April, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Interestingly enough American Airlines has just started offering first class on short haul regional jet flights, and as a frequent flyer I will be using my upgrade coupons to get these seats when I need to fly on one of these planes. If upgrades are affordable, then there will be a market for them. What you are forgetting is that people have the choice to pay for upgrades themselves, and that’s what most of us do in the USA when we fly, if we want to fly first class on short flights. The now passed recession isn’t going to change that if we still have our jobs.

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