Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buy-on-Board at 40

A white paper called Buy-on-Board: A Viable Alternative released this month by LSG Sky Chefs takes the reader almost immediately on a trip down memory lane and offers some interesting details from a period just before and after deregulation on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first example in the report took place with a charter airline called Court Line, later changed to Autair in 1963. The airline was based at Luton Airport. A little additional research shows that Court Air/Autair offered what was known at the time as “cheap and cheerful” package tours to Spain with a fleet of primarily L-1011s or BAC 1-11s. Starting in the 1970s, Autair also offered packaged meals for sale. They sold salads, sandwiches and that British favorite, manufactured in Minnesota – Spam.

According to a history of the airline, the meal or snack for the outbound journey would be in a top compartment and the meal for the return journey would be in the bottom compartment, both in the seatback. A supply of dry ice would be placed under a plastic food container. Passengers paid cabin crew to have the seatback containers unlocked for purchase.

A search around the Internet couldn’t yield a picture of the setup, so those who weren’t fortunate enough to sample the concept will have to use their imagination, like I am. But, thankfully, Spam is still being made, so a quick trip to just about any grocery store would at least help to complete that part of the experience.

An Autair BAC 1-11 had no galleys, but plenty of Spam.

No only did the system bring in additional revenue and spawn some copycats, but without the need for galley space, an additional three seats and, hopefully, an equivalent number of revenue passengers could be added to an Autair BAC 1-11.


Deregulation, first in the United States, and later in Europe expanded the realm of buy-on-board. The favorite of bedraggled backpacking students was People Express Airlines, founded in 1981, and operated for six years out of Newark International Airport. Nonstop service to London Gatwick on one of the airline’s 747-200s could be as low as US$149 each way. But People Express was strictly no-frills. Checked bags were US$3 and passengers could pay a few dollars for sodas, brownies and a snack pack of cheeses, crackers and salami.

Across the Atlantic, aggressive sales by airlines like easyJet and Ryannair in the 1990s began writing another chapter in the history of buy-on-board

In the past decade, the buy-on-board concepts have made their greatest evolution. Now, LSG estimates that buy-on-board sales worldwide generate more than  1.1 billion euro (US$1.4 billion) yearly. Sales models have been tried and abandoned. Several different types of partnerships have taken shape. New technologies are being used and airlines and passengers are coming to accept the practice and part with their hard-earned money. LSG Sky Chefs projects a buy-on-board spending increase of 12 percent by 2012.

We’d be interested your opinions on the future of buy on board. Where will the next innovations in buy-on-board service and products take shape? What regions are poised for further development? The LSG Sky Chefs report gives some interesting perspective on a concept that began decades ago with a simple meal of Spam.

-Rick Lundstrom

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cheeky airline marketing

During my relatively short time in the passenger services industry I have done a bit of travelling on a number of different airlines. Some take themselves rather seriously and when it comes time to market their brand, they are quick to point out qualities like dedication, class, superior service and tradition. These airlines tend to be established legacy carriers whose brand colors, slogans and values are quite ingrained into the psyche of seasoned travelers and first timer’s alike.
For the low-cost regional carrier, marketing efforts can go either way. While some may mimic the international legacy carriers, appealing to the passenger’s loyalty and perception of quality or tradition, others use humor, sexuality and even shock value to get our attention.
 The question now is… what works? I suppose that depends on who you ask. If you’re asking me, I’ll have to admit that I love a good laugh and a campaign that shows some wit or takes some risks is my preference. Does it mean that I’ll fly with that airline over another? That’s tough to say. I think that in the end the bottom line, is the bottom line. A good seat fare with the least amount of stop-over time will get usually get my pick. It never hurts to try though!
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
South African regional charter Kulula’s recent livery called “Flying 101” features a bright green background with comical references to the aircraft’s various parts in white. These include labels for the doors, windows, wings, engines, ‘throne zone’, ‘mile high initiation chamber’ and more
Regional carrier Germanwings got my attention one day in on my way to Hamburg for the AIrcarft Interiors Expo. It’s pretty hard to miss these sexy-retro flight attendants, at German airports they’re everywhere!
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine attended TFAP (Tax Free World Exhibition Asia Pacific) in Singapore and was lucky enough to hear a speech by Azran Osman Rani, CEO of AirAsia X. He reported that the speech was one of the highlights of the show.  Earlier this week, this ad from the regional airline was easily the highlight of my day.

And who could forget the May 2009 media frenzy caused by Air New Zealand’s “Nothing to Hide” TV ad campaign featuring otherwise nude airline staffers kept modest some body paint, camera angles and strategically placed luggage and drink carts. During this time the kiwi airline also announced the nation's first human interactive billboard controlled entirely by mobile users to promote the Los Angeles to London roundtrip fares The digital billboard projection launched May 21 at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles and featured a 1970s-era airline pilot holding a sign that reads "TXT ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO 310310." The character responded to more than 150 different text commands including eating fruit, moon walking or even attempting to strip.
                                                                                                                 - Maryann Simson

Friday, November 19, 2010

‘Have any apple juice?’

For as long as I’ve been an airline passenger I’ve been watching my fellow flyers order tomato juice.

The drink seemed more popular than it should be, probably because I’ve never liked the flavor and couldn’t understand why anyone else would. It addition, there was the color which I could never really get past as well.

But this morning, I recalled reading a story on inflight tomato juice consumption I ran across while traveling to this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. I set it aside for possible research on a future story, and promptly misplaced it.

It was amazing how fast I was able to retrieve it with a couple Google searches.

As recently as last month, an update on the story showed up on this German website  http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6114748,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf. 

For the past several months, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, in Holzkirchen near Munich have been trying to figure out the same thing I’ve been wondering about and have been conducting research for Lufthansa German Airlines. It seems, Lufthansa serves approximately 1.7 million liters of tomato juice per year. This, from all indications is a bafflingly large desire for tomato juice.

But according to one researcher, passengers who don’t even like tomato juice when they’re not flying may like it in a pressurized aircraft cabin.

“So when they taste tomato juice on the ground and give it bad marks and if they do the same test under reduced pressure conditions they give the tomato better marks because tomato juice tastes better under low pressure conditions," said Florian Mayer the researcher’s team leader in a story written by Marianna Schroeder.

The tests cover more than just tomato juice. In a pressurized chamber on the ground, subjects are fed a variety of foods in airline environment conditions. The final tests will be done in December, but Lufthansa has already added more salt to bread rolls, based on what it has learned so far.

There will be more to discuss on this subject when Boeing’s 787 finally takes to the air in scheduled service. With the higher humidity that company is promising, food will have a different flavor profile.

And although the German study is interesting and intriguing, I’m not in the least bit tempted to test my taste for tomato juice inflight. Because even if the taste is more appealing, it doesn’t change the color.

                                                                                                             - Rick Lundstrom

Monday, November 15, 2010

First time is charming

The Marine Hotel Association pulled off its first European show in style this month, attended by more than 450 delegates who came to see about 80 exhibitors and hear some distinguished speakers. I always enjoy the MHA gatherings.  They possess a certain sophistication, a sense of real class and are consistently hosted by only the best hotels. This theme of quality and elegance, to my amazement, is always executed without sacrificing fun in the name of stuffiness.
I arrived at BCN after an 11 hour journey from Toronto via British Airways, which stopped for a bit at Heathrow. It was my first time flying with the legacy carrier and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. Not only was I greeted warmly by the flight attendant who served my drink but I was also asked where I was headed, why I was headed there, if I’d been before and whether I was excited. The selection of entertainment on the flight was nothing to sneeze at, the food was good and I was astonished to find an eye mask, sleep socks and dental kit in my seatback pocket.
After a bit of confusion and eventually finding my box of magazines looking a bit worse for wear on a lonely parcel conveyor belt, I hopped a cab to the Hotel Arts. Although I did have to wait a bit for my room it gave me an opportunity to do some socializing in the hotel lobby where MHA attendees were already congregating in the champagne bar. When I did get to my room I was pleasantly surprised by how large and well appointed it was.

Guests enjoyed coktails served up at the Bacardi reception
Bacardi hosted the welcome reception which took place on the hotel’s veranda, a mere stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea. Two smiling servers with beverage trays greeted guests as they crossed a small footbridge to where the party was happening. They and others later criss-crossed through the crowd, ensuring that no guest was left feeling parched. The weather was perfect and I found that most of the people present had left their shyness at the door, mingling and laughing freely with one another while enjoying some truly excellent tapas-style hors d’oeuvres. I even persuaded a few of them to let me snap their photo.

The trade-show floor buzzed over the next wo days and I did my best to visit all the exhibitors. Most exhibitors hailed from Europe and this was the whole idea. This bi-annual European installment of MHA was created to make exhibiting a little easier for the hundreds of companies in Europe who work hard every day to get their products onboard.
The dining area at the Cavas Cordorniu estate
The evening engagements were reflective of Spanish culture. On Thursday November 4th, attendees were treated to dinner at the Casa La Llotja De Mar (a centuries-old merchants palace) followed by a performance by professional opera singers. The following night, delegates took a forty minute bus ride to just outside city limits and tooke a short tour and a meal at Cavas Codorniu (one of Spain’s oldest and most beautiful winemaking facilities) where they were entertained once more, this time by a half a dozen guitar players and flamenco dancers.
Peter Tobler, MHA present adressed the gathering during breakfast
MHA differs from airline shows like ITCA and IFSA in that they make important announcements and schedule guest speakers to talk during a conference breakfast. I like this concept and if you’re like me, a fan of eating while watching movies or television, you probably do too.
                                                                                                            - Maryann Simson

Friday, November 12, 2010

An economy experience


Some years back, a press contingency I was part of toured facilities at Singapore Airlines. When we were led into an economy class cabin mockup, the editor of an air cargo magazine decided to needle the gathering a bit.

This is economy class, he said. Something you guys never see.

I’ve seen a lot of economy class cabins in subsequent years and I expect that most of the group who met that day have as well. I can say with all honesty that certain airlines have handled economy service and cabin design in ways that have really impressed me.

A la carte in economy class on KLM

Take for example, KLM.  On my flight from Amsterdam to Dubai a couple weeks ago, the meal service on the 747-400 from AMS was delivered in an interesting tray setting with a choice of meat or vegetarian dishes. The noodle vegetarian dish, with an Asian influence, was light and fresh tasting as was the rest of meal.  I had a similar experience last year on KLM and tweeted about it, as well as one of the airline’s suppliers, Conimex http://www.conimex.com/. Its slogan: The Indonesian Food Brand. A good fit for a Dutch airline.

I neglected to dig deeper to see which companies supplied the meal ingredients and the interesting packaging. Any readers out there who can fill me in would have my gratitude.

They would also have my gratitude if they could give me any tips to keep from spilling salad dressing on my shirt.  Even with the innovations such as those on KLM, economy class is still economy class.

¾Rick Lundstrom

From the editor

This week, PAX International is launching a new blog. During the course of the work week, staffers will be posting their thoughts and observations gleaned from the headlines and their own experiences to share with the thousands of readers of our e-newsletter and visitors to the website.

In the future, we plan to make our website more interactive for the industry we cover. Your feedback is always appreciated. Our goal is to provide you with an additional source as you seek to keep up with this rapidly changing segment of the travel industry.

So, stop by often and please share your thoughts as we move ahead with this new feature!