A Holiday Peace Offering?

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by: Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

As the holiday season is now upon us, I always find this a good time to look back on the year nearly behind us and reflect on some of the various topics and trends that caught my eye this year in corporate travel. One topic that started to get some fairly significant media attention this year were the knees of travellers. Specifically, whether those knees had certain “rights” onboard an airplane and what repercussions might be in store for violating those rights.

ACTE’s Executive Director Greeley Koch weighed in on this topic when it hit the mainstream media in September following a much publicized  incident involving “knee defenders” and a diverted flight. As the debate raged on in airport lounges worldwide, the point that Greeley made – that diverted flights cost big money and lots of wasted time – was not lost on many business travellers.

Over the past few years, airlines around the world have invested huge sums of money in a “business class war” of products, services, comfort and convenience which has grabbed travel headlines and made those road warriors languishing at the back of the plane drooling with envy. Lie-flat beds are so 2003 – do you have a private suite yet? Can I take a shower on board? Can I avoid seeing, talking to or hearing any other human being at all while on an airplane?

For many business travellers, the grim reality is Economy Class travel and little has changed in that cabin in recent years – all the while the seats up front get more and more luxurious. So as I reflect on yet another year of stories about how bad air travel is in cattle class, the question is: will things ever get better?

There certainly is no shortage of ideas out there in the design and practical world in terms of how Economy Class could potentially be a little bit better (and less stressful?) A clever armrest design called the Paperclip gives all occupants their own individual armrest; a lawn-chair like design called the AirGo looks pretty radical but certainly takes a 40-plus year old approach to Economy seating and gives it a dramatic update; and of course there’s always one of the few new ideas which has actually made it on board an aircraft. Air New Zealand’s Skycouch is pretty much the only new design flying at the moment (apparently after a slow start it’s starting to catch on; China Airlines just took delivery of their first plane equipped with Skycouches.)

I talk to a lot of airline executives who give a lot of good reasons as to why many of these ideas have yet to make it on board planes: some aren’t cost-effective, some actually aren’t as comfortable as their designers would like you to believe, and others don’t believe their current seats are that bad. But the long and short of it is that airlines are a business, and unless the numbers stack up with seat designs, they’re unlikely to make it on board – period.

Corporate Travel Buyers: for those of you who have Economy Class-focused programs, do you think that airlines are paying enough attention to your traveller’s needs on board? What if ACTE decided to host an “Economy Class Summit” on board a flight where buyers and suppliers all sat in Economy and did some workshops on how better to address the traveller’s needs as well as the commercial requirements of both sides – would that be something you’d like us to pursue? Let us know!

In closing, and in this season of “peace on Earth” I did hear* of a recent idea which is elegantly simple: just split the plane into reclining and non-reclining zones. You want to recline? Book a seat that’s A, B or C. Don’t want to recline? Book in seat D, E or F. How easy (and cheap?) is that! And could it help find peace on Earth just at the right time of the year for it to take hold perhaps?

 

Thanks for chattering,

Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives

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(* – full disclosure: I confess, I read this idea on a LinkedIn discussion somewhere and cannot for the life of me find it again. If you also read it or if you were the author of it, please let me know so I can acknowledge it! Thanks.)

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