By now, economy-class airline passengers have become accustomed to getting a soft drink, tiny bag of pretzels (maybe) and nearly intimate contact with those sitting beside and in front of them.
But life has never been better in the front of the airplane, thanks to an amenities arms race that foreign airlines started, leaving U.S Chanel Wallets. carriers to play catch up.
Emirates Airlines offers first-class passengers showers and walled-off suites with minibars on its Airbus A380s.Singapore Airlines has double-bed suites.Lufthansa offers first-class passengers in Frankfurt a Chanel Bags separate terminal, with dedicated immigration officers, and a ride to their airplanes in aMercedes-Benz S-Class or Porsche Cayenne.
It used to be that first class offered cushier seats, a little more room, better food and free booze, but not much more. And U.S. airlines stripped away even many first-class luxuries in the difficult decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Now, they're spending almost $2 billion to upgrade amenities for their highest-paying customers. On the most profitable international routes, high fliers are being treated with preflight champagne, seats that turn into beds and flight attendants who greet them by name, hang up jackets and serve meals on china.
The lavish treatment is meant to keep people like Tim Carlson happy. Carlson, the chief financial officer of a semiconductor materials company, has taken 189 flights in the past two years, traveling 353,176 miles on United and its partners.
After the pilots, Carlson might just be the most important person on the plane. United will do anything to make sure another airline doesn't steal his business. Agents call him about delays and reroute him so he doesn't miss meetings.
"I go to the top of the list for the next flight," Carlson says.
On a recent trip from Newark, N.J., to Brussels, he was met at the curb with a boarding pass and escorted to the front of the Chanel Bags Outlet security line. Four minutes after being dropped off, he was past the checkpoint.
As The New York Times put it recently