The fate of first class has been up in the air for the past few years. Many airlines are turning their attention toward improving business class in lieu of competing for world class amenities. Those who have remained in the game have had to up their efforts at nearly every level. They are not just competing with the best their rivals have to offer. They must outperform themselves year over year. The brands airlines rely on to reach that goal span from Italian designers to Australian wineries to American mattress vendors.
Pods and seat cabins grow cushier by the year, but the amenity kits are where flyers are truly wowed. British Airways has tapped luxury designer Anya Hindmarch to for their airline-branded amenity bags, where first class fliers can find various moisturizers and balms from Ren that prioritize an all-natural hygiene experience.
Etihad Airlines provides their female guests Swarovski crystal jewelry and a variety of toiletries from Switzerland’s La Prairie. A luxury seat is easy to get used to on a longer flight, but memorable gifts that go off the plane with fliers at their destination leave a lasting impression.
Another opportunity for airlines to set their brand apart is during mealtime. Fly Emirates has, as they often do, set a new watermark for the ever hotly-contested wine offerings. With their nearly $120 million 2015 investment in wine, they have tapped vintages from Bordeaux’s Chȃteau Mouton Rothschild, the Yarra Valley of Australia, and Dom Pérignon.
British Airways has recently added the Bolney Wine Estate de Blanc (2013), making for an investment in luxury that keeps things domestic. Though their hub is technically “dry,” Qatar Airways features well-rounded wine list with showings from Tattinger Prestige Rose, Krug Brut Grand Cuvee Champagne, and more.
While wines are a key point of competition for airlines, a new trend is redefining menus as a whole. Wellness and nutrition are growing in importance as passengers become more informed about the source and sustainability of their diets. The challenge is balancing this new push for health while keeping the fine-dining edge. For example, TAP Air Portugal utilized a group of Michelin-starred chefs to develop a menu of low-cal dishes inspired by Portugese cuisine.
Though Singapore Airlines has long been known for its service of having meals selected a day ahead of time to ensure freshness of ingredients, also known as “book and cook,” Qatar Airways just may have them beaten. Their team of celebrity chefs with Nobu Matsuhisa, Ramzi Choueiri, Vineet Bahia, and Tom Aikens labored for months to develop a menu that was at its best at 30,000 feet.
The race for the finest in first class offerings is, if anything, speeding up. Airlines that are pushing their first class brand are making long-term investments in brands that are domestic to their hub countries and established as luxury. Even as new trends change expectations, these principles of the first class experience seem steady.