Friday, April 18, 2014

The Price of Comfort – $400 per hour

A throne on high.

How much more would you pay to lie flat to sleep rather than recline back a few degrees? Or sip lukewarm generic champagne from a glass rather than ginger ale from a plastic cup? Or have a service provider obsequiously fawn over you rather than dismissively shove overcooked food in an aluminum box onto your fold-down table?
For an Asian traveler flying to a far-away destination such as London, New York or Toronto, the cost differential can be $7,000 or more ($2,000 for an economy seat vs. $9,000 for B-class. As for the price of a First Class seat, if you have to ask...). In normal circumstances, which excludes those times when you find yourself in a dentist chair or being stretched on a medieval rack, paying such a premium for up to sixteen hours of comfort would sound like sheer lunacy. However, getting a certain class of patrons (or more likely their employers) to pay up is the core business model that airlines have needed to execute to make money. And by and large, the most successful ones have been Asian, namely Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. As reported in this riveting and amusing article in the New Yorker magazine, the process is more difficult than at first imagined, particularly given the safety constraints that need to be faced. The airlines have paid many millions to outside design firms to create ever more comfortable, ergonomic environments for their coveted premium customers. The illusion to be created is that those hours spent in an aluminum tube at 12,000 meters in the air and in the company of total strangers (mostly sane, but not all) can be a pretty damned memorable part of a trip and can keep the busy executives bright eyed and bushy tailed on the ground. It’s a helluva trick, though a pricy one.

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