As the scheduled airlines bemoan the loss of business class customers due to the recession, they really need to look at their offer and consider why customers are defecting to economy class or to budget airlines – it’s not just down to business people economising as shown by my ‘business class’ flights today with Lot Polish Airlines and Austrian Airlines from Warsaw, Poland, to Tripoli, Libya.
As a frequent traveller I generally take economy class flights in Europe and business for longer haul. My reasons for travelling business are twofold – firstly, some comfort as I’m particularly tall and secondly to be able to get on with some work while travelling. My flights today didn’t meet either of these criteria.
Lot Polish Airlines
For many years, Lot have looked like an airline which has lost its way. Today’s flight from Warsaw to Vienna was on a Boeing 737-500. Business class, as usual with Lot, was in 6 abreast economy class seating. Often, but not always, the central seats on each side of the aisle remain vacant in business class. Not today, however, when I had a central seat between two other big guys. The possibility of working – nil. Comfort meant a fight for the armrests! Lot also seem very confused about the difference between a snack, which they provide, and a meal, which they tell us they’re going to provide.
Today’s flight from Vienna to Tripoli was on a Boeing 737-800. However, it was a charter or budget airline aircraft operated by Lauda Air, Austrian’s charter airline. I guess that with people leaving Libya for Christmas vacation they’ve got a good number of bookings for the return to Vienna, so upsized the aircraft from the normal Fokker 100. Stick a curtain half way down the aircraft and ‘hey presto’, they can sell a whole load of ‘business class’ seats in a charter aircraft with charter aircraft seating configurations!
I was just able to get my long legs into the space between the rows of seats, but it could hardly be described as comfortable and opening and operating my very compact laptop in the space available was an impossibility. What about other ‘business class’ facilities such as hanging your jacket to keep it in good shape – not on this flight. So, Austrian also failed both of my criteria – the ability to work and to travel in reasonable comfort.
Other Airlines – who’s good and who’s bad
It seems to me that many of the scheduled airlines are configuring their aircraft with more rows of seats. It was quite controversial in the 70’s when there were campaigns to increase leg room and there were improvements as a result. It looks to me like we’re reverting to early 70’s leg room standards despite awareness of issues such as DVT (deep vein thrombosis). Particularly bad experiences of late:
- Air France
Generally the Middle Eastern airlines offer standards which are only a memory in Europe. I’ve had recent satisfactory flights with the following airlines:
- Egypt Air
- Oman Air
I thought of complaining, particulary about the decreasing seat pitch in all classes, but there’s no obvious place to go. Had a look at the UK’s Air Tranport Users Council, but this didn’t appear to be an issue that they’re pursuing despite being a ‘consumer rights group’. It seems to be a well known issue judging by this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Airlines Are at It Again: Less Legroom“. If any readers are aware of any legroom campaigning groups, please let me know by commenting on this article.
As for the ‘scheduled airlines’, they can’t continue to expect business travellers to pay business prices without providing a business class product, and overall, they’ll only continue to lose out to the budget airlines if they can’t or won’t differentiate their product overall by providing decent seat pitches and a modicum of comfort for travellers.