x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Checking in is a breeze

Some savvy fliers are tacking on VIP or concierge services onto no-frills tickets for a total cost that can fall far short of a first-class fare.

London Heathrow is one of several airports that have launched or expanded VIP services in the past five years. Jonathan Player / Rex Features
London Heathrow is one of several airports that have launched or expanded VIP services in the past five years. Jonathan Player / Rex Features

No more wasted time in long queues

Expanded VIP services are becoming more popular, even for economy-class passengers

Eileen Gunn

When Chicago attorney Martin McKenzie flies, whether for business or with his family, he wants more than anything to avoid long queues. His aim is always to get through check-in and security in about 20 minutes. Then he heads to a private lounge to rest up or find snacks and entertainment for his kids.

"I've never waited behind more than 10 people to check in," he says. What might be surprising is that unless he's going overseas, this travel veteran now typically flies economy. He snags efficient first-class service by tacking VIP or concierge services on to his no-frills ticket for a total cost that can fall far short of a first-class fare.

These services, once used mostly by the wealthy and business executives, are becoming more popular and available to a broader section of passengers. Heathrow in London and Changi Airport in Singapore are among airports that have launched or expanded VIP services in the past five years. Munich Airport unveiled a new VIP service in June.

The services can cost as little as US$125 (Dh459) a person and increase to more than $1,000 depending on the city and level of exclusivity. As security lines and flight delays get longer and on-board comforts disappear, everyone wants quicker check-ins and better amenities.

"People generally have become more open to paying up to sweeten the travelling experience," says Gabe Saglie, the senior editor at Travelzoo, an online travel site.

Rafi Cattan, a co-founder of Royal Airport Concierge Service, based in Washington, estimates his business has grown by about 25 per cent a year since it launched in 2005.

He says economy ticket holders are a small but growing portion of his clients. VIP services usually include access to lounges that get more exclusive as the price goes up. But the real draw is that they minimise, or entirely bypass, airport queues.

The services typically include an escort meeting passengers kerbside, sometimes at a private airport entrance. The escort will have boarding passes ready or, if that is not possible, assist with priority check-in. If there is no dedicated security check for VIPs, passengers will be taken to the front of the long public line. They will then be escorted to the departure gate to be first or last to board, depending on choice. Passengers who buy separate landing services are met at the gate, escorted through customs and immigration if travelling abroad, have their luggage retrieved and taken to a waiting car.

"Marathon business travel puts a lot of wear and tear on your body," says Mr McKenzie. "I'm interested in anything that will allow me to use less energy so I'm not increasingly weary as the week goes on and the weekend at home isn't just recovery."

When Mr McKenzie was logging more than 200 travel days a year in a previous job, he accessed these services by paying for a club membership with American Airlines. Now he travels regularly but less often, so he buys concierge services for individual trips through airlines, private companies or at airports.

The private companies do business internationally and typically serve dozens of airports.

They work with the Transportation Security Administration, airports and airlines to gain access to priority lines for their clients and to obtain the airport clearance their employees need to pass through security gates.

* Reuters