Travel adviser: Creature comforts
All of us know what first class is, some of us fly in business class and the vast majority sit in economy class.
El Al airplanes sit on the runway Photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of
the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
US presidential election year, the aforementioned quote, attributed to Abraham
Lincoln, sums up exactly what El AL is trying to do with its much-touted
“economy class plus” option.
All of us know what first class is, some of
us fly in business class and the vast majority sit in economy class. These three
designations have been used by airlines since planes took to the air. Aircrafts
come in different sizes, and the three classes differ widely between various
airlines but in principle, when you purchase a ticket in any of the classes,
you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
Over 20 years ago, privately
owned Taiwan-based airline Eva Air created a fourth category, premium economy.
Don’t trouble yourself trying to comprehend what that means. If you’ve
experienced different types of economy classes, “economy plus” and “premium
economy” vary even more significantly among airlines.
For example inside
the United States, airlines such as United, Delta and Virgin America have an
upgraded economy class, which differs only by the extra two to five inches of
leg room. Of course no two airlines call it the same thing – some classify it as
“economy plus,” “economy comfort” or “economy class plus” – and each entails
Australian airline Qantasoffers a “premium economy”
class that includes premium check-in, large customized seats, seat pitch up to
41 inches with 50 percent more recline, premium meals, a personal in-flight
entertainment center and an amenity pouch containing items such as socks, sleep
masks & ear plugs.
From Tel Aviv, British Airways has been one of the
pioneers of premium economy, offering it on flights to and from London to great
success, as well as across the Atlantic.
Passengers enjoy sitting in a
completely separate cabin, marketed by BA as “World Traveler Plus.”
Tel Aviv, only five airlines fly non-stop to North America: Air Canada flies to
Toronto, US Air to Philadelphia, Delta to JFK, United to Newark and El AL flies
to JFK, Newark and Toronto. The first two airlines have no first class; The
offer only a superb business class and a comfortable economy class.
Airlines was the first to introduce the “economy comfort” class, offering extra
legroom in the first cabin of economy class on their refurbished 747. You can
enjoy an extra four inches of leg room and 50% greater recline as well as
complimentary liquor. You can drink to your heart’s content, with prices ranging
from $150 to $200 more per seat.
It must be stated, though, that all
members of their Diamond and Medallion frequent flier clubs get these seats for
free. All who purchase a full-fare economy class ticket, which starts at $2,588,
can also sit in these seats.
United Airlines, too, is rolling out economy
plus seats on its twice-daily Boeing 777 flight to Newark. United’s elite
frequent-flier members get the seats for free, and the general public can
purchase them for similar rates that match Delta‘s.
El Al, though, has
chosen a different path.
Leave it to top management at El AL, when
offered a viable way to increase revenue, to offer a muddled
Tens of thousands of dollars have been earmarked for advertising
in both print and television, heralding their dramatic news: El Al Economy Class
Using the tag line, “For you, there’s always more!” El Al states
that you can now enjoy a more comfortable, pampering and pleasant flight
experience. Comfortable seating in an ergonomic seat with a footrest, more
personal space, and quick and easy check-in entice potential
In fact, their press release states this new package, which is
only available on Boeing 747-400 planes to and from JFK, Newark and London,
include the following: Designated check-in counters; Individual entertainment
system; More comfortable work and entertainment environment, including an
electric outlet; Economy Class meals; Alcoholic beverages as served in Economy
Class; Special comfort kit; Business Class pillow and blanket; And many more
features for a richer flight experience.
It all sounds wonderful and,
like most airlines, frequent fliers and anyone paying for a full-fare economy
class ticket gets these perks for free.
I’ve been pushing El AL for over
a year to create such a package and assured them there was a strong need for it.
I shared with them how much market share they lost to British Airways on flights
to London, as there was a wealth of customers willing to spend a bit more than
the price for economy class.
El Al is asking an extra $150 for economy
class plus seats on flights to long-range destinations and only $80 to
shorter-range destinations like London.
Years ago, Tower Air saw just how
successful this concept was. Passengers as well as the entire travel industry
realized there was a need to open up this class.
Over the last two weeks,
my office has been bombarded with clients willing to fork out their hard earned
dough or having convinced their companies that they are worth the extra cost to
fly in economy plus. I have no doubt that El AL has had countless requests for
these seats as well.
Take the high holiday season for an
Flights are full, tempers will flare and it’s prime picking for
these better seats. Want to guess how many seats El AL has sold since they
initiated their campaign? ZERO!!! Yes, El Al has not sold a single seat for that
period. Plenty of seats exist, plenty of people want to purchase them but not
one has been sold. Are you wondering why not? Because El Al, in its infinite
wisdom, exhaustive market research and hundreds of hours of consultation,
elected to phrase their promotion as follows: “Would you like to treat yourself
to a more pampering flight experience? Sign up now to be wait-listed for a seat
in Economy Class Plus on your next flight and you will receive notification
confirming your seat in the Class the day before the flight.”
seated in Economy Class Plus entails a fee. Call me stupid, but you’ve created a
product for which there is a demand, you’ve been promoting it nonstop, it has
value and yet you tell clients that they can’t purchase it but must simply
register for it and if it’s available the day before the flight they can
purchase it? Has El Al really lost its mind? Why invest so much time and money
if you’re not even trying to sell the seats? When the facts came to light, I
realized that El AL wasn’t actually trying to make money by selling these seats.
They were simply trying to strengthen their bonds with their Gold & Platinum
frequent fliers. The message was clear; don’t fly with Delta or United, avoid
flying with BA or Lufthansa, stick with El AL and you can have these better
seats for free – if you qualify.
I’m not opposed to that philosophy; I
long ago stopped arguing with the logic of airline executives. If you want to
improve the flying experience for your highest-level frequent fliers, I’m all
Just don’t create a new class, market it incessantly and then
make it so that only when one reads the small print or contacts their Travel
Consultant or El Al, does the potential buyer realizes he’s being
When told that for only $2,588 they can get the seat for
free, most clients are going to feel victimized.
El Al needs to
comprehend – and quickly – that the vast majority of us are not
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.