Air travel trend: Safe distance from the masses

Airlines reflect growing gap between top 1% and the rest

The growing and much-debated gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the masses is becoming obvious on aircraft too. The latest perk for elite passengers is evidently a safe distance from the masses.

As first-class passengers around the world enjoy grilled prime beef tenderloin or a Mesclun salad with king crab, sup on fine champagne and stretch out in a wide seat that changes into a bed, perks like these are increasingly unavailable to the vast majority.

Now airlines are rewarding rich fliers also with physical distance between them and everyone else. In return for around $15,000 per ticket, check-in is available privately and they are escorted directly to the planes in luxury cars.

Emirates’ new concourse in Dubai keeps premium passengers away from those in coach, with the building’s top floor a lounge from which they can directly board the upper level of the double-deck A380s. London Heathrow has a private suite zone for the royal family and heads of state and recently opened it to any premium passenger paying an extra $2,500. Lufthansa gives first-class passengers their own ultra-exclusive terminal in Frankfurt.

At some airlines about 70% of revenue comes from the top 20% of its customers. “First class has become a way for a traveller to have an almost private jet-like experience,” airline analyst said, adding that airlines “will do everything but sing a lullaby.”

In the planes, the majority of the passengers often get reminders of their inferior status, for example the scent of meals freshly cooked by chefs at 35,000 feet that flows to the rest of the plane.

“You know they’ve got something good up in front of the curtain, and you know you don’t have anything close to it,” says Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst with Hudson Crossing. “When you fly coach, you are reminded of the fact that you are unimportant as a traveller.”


[pictured: Actress Rachel Weisz in British Airways first class suite reclined into a bed; courtesy British Airways]