ZIPAIR, a new Japanese carrier owned by Japan Airlines, is offering Basic Business Class and it’s a great solution to a problem many travellers face.
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What Is Basic Business Class?
Business Class often comes with lots of extras: checked luggage, a pair of hot (“gourmet”) meals, lounge access (sometimes both at origin and destination), an amenity kit, extra miles, priority boarding, expedited security, and most importantly, a seat that converts to a lie-flat bed.
ZIPAIR has unbundled business class to give customers more options. Customers can buy just the seat or can add on any number of additional options – think Spirit Airlines, but really, really deluxe.
The carrier isn’t the first, in fact, it’s not even the first to offer it in Asia. Air Asia XL sold unbundled business class seats on routes to and from Malaysia aboard its A330 though the product is now mostly aligned with traditional business class offerings. Initially, some of those flights were as far as London and Paris. Norwegian offers a business class product but, again, includes extras. Emirates unbundles the fare for those interested.
A few more trans-Atlantic products might be classed as Basic Business Class such as XL Airways, La Compagnie, and Air Transat depending on how closely the definition is followed.
Who Is The Customer?
Who wants cloth seats in a Mercedes? Those that want a premium product without all of the premium frills is a pretty narrow market. However, for business class seats, I can see a use case for myself and many others. One in, particular, would be the trans-Atlantic market (which in turn also makes sense for ZIPAIR due to the duration of the flight and the number of time zones crossed.)
Sleep is incredibly important on trans-Atlantic flights from North America to Europe or Africa in order to avoid jet lag. But some of those flights simply are not very long. Boston to Dublin, for example, is a shorter flight than Boston to San Diego. Instead of crossing three time zones across the US, there is a five-hour difference to Ireland and the UK, six hours to continental Europe. The flights are so short that many of the carriers offer a far more impressive meal service in airport lounges on the ground rather than investing on the inflight service because that’s what customers want.
Likewise, the proposed ZIPAIR flight is about seven hours from Tokyo to Honolulu; six hours from Tokyo to Bangkok, another destination in their scopes. The wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan Airlines (JAL) started flights to Seoul from Tokyo this month.
Why Is It Great?
For those flights, I don’t care about the meal. I may use the lounge but probably won’t, opting instead to get into the city as soon as I land and having eaten hours before departure. I may have a bag to check, but depending on the duration in Europe, it’s possible I am just carrying on. The extras are nice to have but honestly, I am really just paying for the bed.
For business customers and those who fly back and forth frequently, the bed can be a game-changer, saving a week of jet lag with a sturdy 4-5 hour nap on the plane and a very long day upon arrival.
Many simply don’t need all of the trappings of business class for these specific flights. Passengers like me cannot sleep sitting up, whether in coach or Premium Economy, but do not see as much value in the rest of the service offerings. I’d rather save money or points by just buying what I want.
Businesses who have traditionally flown their executives in business or first class might take advantage of cheaper coach seats in a tight economy. Those that will allow employees to buy Premium Economy tickets may find the jump to Basic Business a tolerable increase in costs for improved productivity for their staff.
I hate paying for things I am not going to use. Getting a boxed sandwich on British Airways due to COVID-19 seems particularly wasteful, I’d rather save the money.
I have spilled copious amounts of ink (digitally) about my love for Spirit Airlines, despite being both a United 1K and American Airlines Executive Platinum member. Why? Because for some flights you don’t need the extras. I love Polaris lounges and for long haul flights, it is about far more than just the seat/bed. But ZIPAIR has the right idea with unbundling those extras from the seat. Given the time change from Honolulu to Tokyo, it makes sense to buy an unbundled product and I can only hope more carriers offer this to fill a market gap between Premium Economy and Business Class.
What do you think? Would you buy a Basic Business Class seat at a reduced price (miles, points, or dollars?) Do you fear this only further degrades the experience?