The front of the plane has always been plusher than the back. But in recent years, airlines have put a greater focus on catering to the most affluent fliers’ desire for new levels of privacy.
There’s a lot of money on the line. At big carriers like American Airlines, about 70 percent of revenue comes from the top 20 percent of its customers.
The special treatment now starts at check-in. American and United Airlines have both developed private rooms, located in discreet corners of their terminals in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, that allow for a speedy check-in. Boarding passes in hand, travelers exit through hidden doors leading to the front of security lines.
Some foreign airlines have gone further.
Lufthansa offers first-class passengers a separate terminal in Frankfurt. There’s a restaurant, cigar lounge and dedicated immigration officers. For those who choose to shower or take a bath, the private restrooms come with their own rubber ducky — an exclusive plastic souvenir for the international jet set. When it’s time to board, passengers are driven across the tarmac to their plane in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Porsche Cayenne.
“That sort of exclusivity plays to the ego of people who are in a position to spend that much money on airline flight,” says Tim Winship, publisher of travel advice site FrequentFlier.com.
At Heathrow’s private suites, designed for up to six people, fliers pass swiftly and privately through their own immigration and security screening. While they’re waiting, hors d’oeuvres and Champagne are provided. Steak, sushi or other meals can be delivered from airport restaurants.
When it comes time to actually fly, passengers are driven to their plane in a BMW 7 Series sedan and escorted to their seat.
U.S. airlines have copied a bit of that touch. United started in July and Delta Air Lines in 2011 driving their top customers who have tight connections at major airports from one gate to another in luxury cars. No need to enter the terminal, let alone fight the crowd on the moving walkway.