x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Executive travel: airlines extend the VIP experience

First class is no longer enough for wealthy travellers, forcing airlines to up the ante once more. But, the new mode of VIP travel has little to do with fancy meals or comfy chairs.

A lounge at the new arrivals terminal at Doha international airport in Qatar. Osama Faisal/ AP Photo
A lounge at the new arrivals terminal at Doha international airport in Qatar. Osama Faisal/ AP Photo

With the buzzword “luxury” now found everywhere, to many it has lost its true meaning. However, a few airlines are going above and beyond to offer a truly exceptional luxury experience that money can only just buy.

Understanding that offering passengers more is key to retaining loyal customers, airlines have discovered innovative ways on the ground to offer a five-class service, more akin to a luxury hotel than an airport experience.

For those seeking privacy and a stress-free experience, check out two airlines’ premium first class terminals. Qatar offers a check-in that seats their passengers down while the luggage is whisked away and tickets issued. Then passengers are escorted to the first class wing where they can relax, enjoy a spa treatment, fine wines and cocktails, dedicated luxury duty free shops or even sleep for a few hours and when ready, get taken to the aircraft by luxury car.

The second über-terminal, by Lufthansa, offers a designer haven to prepare for your flight with its own cigar lounge and dedicated immigration officers. When it’s time to board, passengers are driven to their plane in a Mercedes-Benz S-class or Porsche Cayenne.

Lufthansa is not the only airline to offer this new luxury car service airside. Both United and Delta will drive its most prestigious transit passengers, with tight connections, from one plane to another in a Porsche or Mercedes without even having to enter their US hubs.

London Heathrow has also recently announced it has opened private suites – inclusive of private screening and security – originally designed for the royal family to passengers flying business or first class for just an extra US$2,500.

Airlines are now also offering more VIP treatments to their business class customers. Virgin Atlantic was one of the first airlines to offer chauffeur service, kerbside check-in at a variety of airports, and at Heathrow, a dedicated upper class wing, with a private drive-up check-in and dedicated security lane.

For those wanting complete VIP privacy, the airline can also offer the same service it offers to its celebrity passengers, escorting you through the terminal.

Virgin Australia has also just opened its new Melbourne Lounge, which offers a dedicated security lane, direct from the lounge to the gates, which will open this year. It ensures everyone feels a little more like a rock star.

q&a going the extra air mile

Gretchen Watson, spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic Middle East.

As passengers’ expectations for the business class experience grow, what do you think passengers will consider important in the coming years?

Virgin Atlantic commissioned a major global study of 10,000 passengers about their expectations. The results show that as the number of people travelling by plane has skyrocketed in recent decades, the experience has lessened. Passengers are now calling on the industry to introduce more innovations.

How is Virgin Atlantic using technology to offer a more personalised VIP service?

The launch of Virgin Atlantic’s Google Glass trial in London’s Heathrow Airport is an example of how the airline is responding to our passengers’ requests. The response is an industry first in testing how the latest wearable technology, can best be used. Staff will be able to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and events at their destination and translate foreign language information.

Can you sum up how Virgin Atlantic goes the extra mile?

We offer a complimentary chauffeur car service at both ends of your journey, private upper class wing at Heathrow, and departure clubhouses at Heathrow and select other airports and an arrivals lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. These offer showers, Wi-Fi, and our Heathrow Clubhouse offers a poolside lounge, multi-screen TV lounge, observation deck, sky lounge, library, music room, playground/videogames room, study, bar and brasserie/deli.

business@thenational.ae

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