Soon nearly all US airlines will likely offer doors on business class seats, a nice privacy improvement, but this is not where they need to improve.
JetBlue, Delta, American… United? Oh My
JetBlue has offered its Mint business class seats with privacy doors for long-haul flights for some time. Delta has offered this in Delta One, and American joined the ranks with an official announcement this week. United Airlines has purportedly offered some Global Services members (most frequent flyers) a trip to Chicago where they will explore business class doors before settling on a design.
The recent obsessions with doors in business class cabins may be new in the US, but seats with doors is hardly a novel concept. Business class suites on many aircraft in the Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Etihad fleet have featured this (and more) for some time. Even Air France and British Airways are getting in on the “club suite” approach.
Note: Singapore only features doors on its first-class prouct.
Make no mistake – these changes are good. I am shocked that United still operates recently acquired 787s with 2-2-2 layouts as direct aisle access should be standard by now. That ignores entirely its 777 sub-fleet that still offers 2-4-2 (yes, two middle seats in business class) – woof. That said, this strategy of “anything you can do, I can do the exact same” is so much more expensive, difficult, and yields so much less for passengers than other lower-hanging fruit.
Hard Product vs Soft Product
Airfare is sold on “hard product” and “soft product” throughout the sales process. Hard product is the physical seat on the aircraft, and the equipment around it. Soft product is services like catering, service level, and amenity kits.
Delta once said, “when everyone is elite, no one is” which is to say that if everyone boards priority, no one is really a priority. Fair enough. Applying that here, when every product has a lie flat, closed-door suite, it no longer presents an advantage but not having it would be a deficiency.
The soft product is so much easier, and cheaper to fix. Boarding a flight on Singapore, Emirates, or Etihad from the United States still means the same great food and award-winning service one expects when choosing those carriers and flying from abroad. Better catering is not only possible but other carriers execute it from the US, and other airlines can too. United launched Polaris with a wine flight, a selection of wines served prior to the primary meal. That’s gone away.
American Airlines has annoyed premium passengers for decades by collecting its noise-canceling headphones more than an hour prior to landing, often hassling customers in the process. The added value of these headphones is quickly diminished when guests are awoken to collect them, especially during shorter long-haul flights from the east coast to Europe.
American and United used to offer pajamas and slippers on all long-haul flights, but now American and United have reduced that to just ultra long-haul. United purportedly continues to offer pajamas on 12+ hour flights but that’s limited to Hong Kong, India, Singapore, South Africa, and the remaining flights to China that qualify.
These are all far easier and cheaper ways to enhance the service offering before taking aircraft out of the fleet to add a door.
Is it that hard to have mixed olives, hummus, and diced tomatoes that look edible over what United Polaris is currently serving onboard?
United’s Polaris lounges are the standard in the US and I’d argue the product is on par with lounges anywhere in the world. It adds to the experience rather than simply offering cheese cubes and soup (I’m looking at you, American) with plated dinners, full service bars, and plenty of space.
All summer and even now into fall we have seen images from airports with lines for Delta Sky Clubs extending well into the terminal. Building new lounges exclusively for long-haul ticketed passengers as Polaris does might not be the affordable answer US airlines are looking for, but that doesn’t mean adjustments can’t be made to existing lounges. Most airline co-branded premium credit cards offer lounge access leading to excessive crowding. Designating some lounges for long-haul ticketed passengers and renovating them might be a good solution to adding to the experience without overhauling all lounges in every market.
JetBlue does not yet offer its own lounges despite adding international destinations and many trans-continental routes from both Boston and New York JFK.
Premium check-in is something most carriers offer, but at fortress hubs like Miami for American Airlines, the experience is just a shorter line than economy with hundreds of passengers being corralled into a different section of check-in desks but otherwise no true premium experience.
I am certainly looking forward to doors in business class, even if they do not offer true total privacy but rather than chase this niche upgrade, there is lower hanging-fruit. Improving service levels, airport lounges, and the check-in experience are easy ways to attract and retain premium customers. Serving better food would take very little time and effort, as would adding back pajamas, slippers, or improving amenity kits. I’m happy that doors are coming to business class, but would choose an airline that offers a fresh espresso before landing over a door seven days a week.
What do you think? Do doors matter to you? Should airlines focus on other aspects of their product first?