As the airport hassle factor has increased, the concept of dedicated terminals for premium travellers is becoming more appealing
There is nothing more frustrating and unpredictable than an airport queue. Airlines have started to cash in on this frustration by offering their best customers the opportunity to skip the queues and complete all the required processes, from check-in to security and immigration, at a dedicated terminal.
Lufthansa pioneered the concept of premium terminals at the end of 2004 with the opening of a first class terminal at Frankfurt. Qatar Airways followed in late 2006 by opening a business and first class terminal at its Doha hub and UK all-premium start-up Silverjet followed early this year by opening a private terminal at London Luton. All three carriers have since seen significant increases in premium sales, which will surely be noticed by rival carriers.
"We've gotten fantastic feedback. We really raised the bar for premium travel," says Qatar chief executive Akbar Al Baker. "This will be the prototype for what will be in the new airport [at Doha which opens in 2010]. It will be a lot bigger with a lot more facilities."
According to Silverjet chief executive Lawrence Hunt: "It's probably our biggest selling point. It's taken out the stress and hassle of travelling. It's been a smart investment."
Lufthansa vice-president sales and services Europe Karsten Benz says first class sales have surged by over 20% since it converted an employee parking lot at Frankfurt into a first class terminal, which can also be accessed by members of its HON Circle ultra frequent flier club. "We saw the need for a premium airport service with easy and seamless access to aircraft avoiding the hustle and bustle of the airport," Benz says. "Considering the numbers we have and the extra passengers we think absolutely we are on the right track."
Benz adds the terminal was an important part of a new premium strategy which also included the launch of all-premium transatlantic and business jet feeder services. Lufthansa opened in August a first class lounge in Munich which Benz says matches the services available in Frankfurt, including a separate entrance, personal assistants, dedicated immigration and security queues and limousines that whisk each passenger directly to the aircraft. Benz says Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss will open a similar terminal in Zurich next summer. "This is not the end," he says. "We'll roll this out to other markets in Europe in future."
Expanding in Dubai
Silverjet has expanded its private terminal concept to Dubai, which in November became its second destination after Newark. The carrier is using Dubai's executive terminal, typically only accessible to corporate jets. "We wouldn't do the deal if we couldn't deliver the same service we do in Luton," Hunt says. "We won't go to a new airport that won't give it to us."
In fact, Hunt says Silverjet picked Luton because its owner, Abertis, allowed the carrier to redevelop an old terminal building while BAA, which owns London's other major airports, was not supportive of the private terminal concept. US authorities also have refused to provide Silverjet a separate security and immigration queue at Newark, forcing it to settle for "a private terminal within a terminal" that still provides a dedicated entrance and concierge-style check-in.
All the carriers say they opened their premium terminals in response to customer research, which showed the biggest gripe of high-paying passengers was unpredictable queues. The private terminals reduce check-in time to as little as 30mins by providing dedicated security and immigration and offering a dedicated drop off lane where a concierge awaits to take bags and passports. The boarding pass is personally delivered after the passenger settles down inside. "Our model is differentiation," Benz says. "If you have a first class ticket we treat you differently."