Aviation research company AirlineTrends has cited a range of products and services for business travellers as key factors in choosing the world’s most innovative airlines.
“The airlines featured on our list do not necessarily feature on the various ‘best airlines in the world’ surveys that are published regularly” explains Raymond Kollau, founder of AirlineTrends.
“We aimed to select airlines that have come up with interesting innovations in recent years, be it as part of a company culture of continuous innovation, a strategy to challenge the industry status quo, or as part of efforts to catch up after years of underinvestment.”
Here’s a rundown of the key business traveller-friendly features which catapulted these airlines onto the ‘it list’.
Air New Zealand
“For avid airline industry watchers it may come as no surprise that Air New Zealand tops our 2011 list of most innovative airlines in the world” Kollau observes. “Air New Zealand is a small airline in a small country at the end of the world with powerful competitors everywhere, so it has to be innovative and nimble to gain an edge over larger rivals.”
These include the premium economy ‘Spaceseat’ (below) which is so good that AirNZ is looking to licence it to other airlines for their business class cabins.
AirNZ is the first commercial airline to introduce induction ovens, which allows it to serve fresh pizza, burgers, toast and eggs as well steak cooked the way passengers want it. Passengers in all classes can also use the new IFE touch screen system to order food and beverages outside of main meal times.
As frequent flyers prefer a fast and hassle-free experience on the ground, members of AirNZ’s Airpoints loyalty program with an ‘ePass’ RFID sticker that for example can be attached to the back of a mobile phone.
Passengers then can use their mobile device to check-in on domestic and short-haul flights, enter passenger lounges and self-board at the gate. (Qantas’ Next-Generation Check-in system builds upon this by using smartchipped frequent flyer cards and bag tags.)
All Nippon Airways (ANA) has been courting business passengers with an improved product at a time its major competitor JAL is in the middle of a restructuring. The opening of Tokyo Haneda’s new international terminal in October 2010 and the trans-Pacific joint venture with United/Continental also has given ANA an opportunity to capitalize on its large domestic network out of Haneda.
ANA’s new first class features a private suite with a full-flat bed, a 23-inch LCD touch screen and an individual coat closet. At both Tokyo Haneda and Narita airports, First Class passengers can also work or relax in their own private ‘ANA Suite Lounge’ pod as they get checked-in and wait for their flight. The new business class also offers a full-flat bed in a staggered 1-2-1 layout which gives all seats unrestricted aisle access.
Further raising the bar, ANA offers First and Business class passengers travelling round trip from Japan to North America or Europe a ‘welcome-home’ helicopter or limousine transfer to central Tokyo.
ANA’s new economy seats have a very generous 34 inch pitch, USB and power ports, and the fixed back shell allows passengers to recline inside their seat, instead of into the lap of the passenger seated in the next row.
In a nod to business travellers that have traded down to economy class, full-fare economy passengers departing from Japan are eligible for priority check-in, free lounge access and priority baggage arrival.
ANA operates B767-300ERs on intra-Asian routes with business class seats that do not have in-seat power ports, so the airline lends passengers an external laptop battery which is compatible with approximately 20 different manufacturers and provides up to eight hours of extra laptop power. On domestic routes ANA passengers can have their luggage picked up or delivered at their home or office for a small fee.
CX is also “among a limited number of airlines that prepare parts of the menu fresh on board” according to AirlineTrends. The airline’s long-haul aircraft feature an onboard rice cooker as well as a toaster oven and an espresso machine.
Catering to the connected traveller, Cathay Pacific will fit its entire fleet with broadband Internet and mobile phone connectivity by early 2012 in partnership with Panasonic.
Emirates is one of the very few airlines to provide its cabin crew with real-time customer information. “Cabin crew can access the airline’s CRM (customer relationship management) system to learn about passengers preferences, register possible complaints and let passengers pay for a last-minute inflight upgrade with miles” applauds AirlineTrends.
The Korean airline is a long-time yet often little-known innovator – for example, in 1999 it introduced a coat storage service Seoul Incheon Airport during the winter season for passengers travelling to sunny destinations.
Last year’s new services include an onboard chef and sommerlier as well as a sushi chef on select flights to Los Angeles. In June 2010 Asiana started an US$70 million upgrade program, introducing new flat-bed seats in business class and free video-on-demand in-flight entertainment system on even short-haul routes.
AirlineTrends also calls out Lufthansa’s A380 first class, which has sound-absorbing curtains and carpet and special sound-insulating material in the aircraft’s outer skin blocking noise; and US carrier Delta’s rollout of in-flight Internet access on all mainline domestic aircraft, along with free ‘recharge stations’ dotted around its US airports where passengers can top up their laptop, smartphone or tablet.
For a free copy of the 20 page report, which makes fascinating reading for any frequent flyer, click here.
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.