World’s leading airlines step up competition for VIP travelers

Reinhold Alt, a VIP passenger of Lufthansa, arrived in Frankfurt Airport several hours prior to boarding his plane. The reason why Mr. Alt arrived so early had nothing to do with congestion on the highways leading from the Frankfurt city center to the airport. Mr. Alt came to enjoy the amenities offered by a business-class lounge of a terminal, which was recently opened at Frankfurt Airport, reports The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Alt can indulge in the luxury of Jacuzzi, swimming pool, steam room and sauna. He can also receive a professional massage and sample delicacies at an elite restaurant. To top it off, Mr. Alt can relax at a bar that has a large variety of beers, wines and liquors to choose from.

Then the smiling staff at Lufthansa will help their VIP customer check in and ease him through the security and customs formalities. At last, a Mercedes or Porsche will whisk Mr. Alt off to a first-class gangway minutes before the boarding is complete.

No doubt about it, no Russian airport could offer similar top-notch services to such a passenger. According to information posted by Russian airlines at their web sites, standard services for VIP travelers include a stay in the departure lounge of “improved comfortableness” e.g. a bar and a business center which provides computer workstations, Internet access, faxing and printing capabilities. Refreshments will be served to VIP travelers who can watch TV and read newspapers and magazines while waiting for their flights. The above are about all the privileged passengers can get in the Russian departure lounges.

U.S. major carriers including Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, and US Airways decided to scrap first-class seats in favor of business-class seats on their aircraft involved in international flights. According to experts, the decision followed huge losses sustained by U.S. carriers as passenger traffic decreased dramatically in the wake of 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. At the time, U.S. airlines could not care less for luxuries provided to their VIP passengers. Not unlike the Russian airports, U.S. airports are not on a par with their European and Asian competitors in terms of amenities. Compared with European and Asian airlines, free alcoholic beverages are rarely served in the lounges operated by U.S. airlines.

According to the 2006 survey conducted by the London-based company Skytrax Research, which surveyed services provided to 400 thousand travelers around the globe, West European, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian airlines are currently competing against one another for services provided to VIP passengers.

A terminal operated by Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific was the best facility providing services to VIP customers in 2006, says the survey. Services rendered to first-class and business-class travelers include workout area, Jacuzzi, sauna and spa. Travelers can also receiveavariety of massages, Ozonetherapy and Thalassotherapy.

A terminal launched in December 2006 by Qatar Airways in Doha International Airports looks equally impressive in terms of services provided to those traveling in style. The facility is staffed with 150 employees; its passenger traffic capacity is about 800 passengers per hour. The terminal’s total area is 10 thousand square meters. The project’s construction cost totaled $90 million.

West European carriers are trying to catch up with their competitors from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. According to Lufthansa, the German national carrier, ticket sales for first-class seats have increased by more than 40 percent since the VIP terminal was brought into operation at Frankfurt Airport two years ago.

Driven by optimistic ticket sales figures, the German carriers are planning to open a similar terminal at Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport in early August.

“In terms of competition between the world’s major carriers, the quality of in-flight services is only part of today’s success story. The other part depends on a range of services provided to travelers on the ground, at the airports’ terminals,” said Lufthansa Vice-President Oliver Wagner.

Air France also improved the quality of services for VIP travelers in April 2007. Though Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport has no specific terminal catering for first-class passengers, some new services became available for elite travelers as of April 1. Air France staff will help their VIP costumers check in and pass through all the formalities required for boarding the plane. Still, the Parisians can only dream of a lounge that provides massages, Jacuzzi, a swimming pool etc.

British Airways intends to leave the competitors behind by building 5 international departure lounges for their first-class and business-class passengers in the carrier’s new giant Terminal 5 which is slated for opening in March 2008. Apart from receiving massages and relaxing in Jacuzzi, sauna and spa, travelers will be able to read at the terminal’s library and watch movies at its cinema.

The Australians decided to keep pace with the latest developments. The Australian carrier Qantas Airways opened its new first-rate terminals at the airports of Sydney and Melbourne. The new facilities provide such services as a whirlpool bath, sauna, spa etc.

Experts predict that the next round of competition for VIP travelers should begin once the brand-new Airbus A380 passenger airliners become part of the fleet operated by the world’s major carriers. Airbus A380, a huge double-decker, is capable of carrying 555 passengers. The privileged passengers will be entitled to a special level of service on board the airliner.

Translated by Guerman Grachev.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov