SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

February 28, 2014

Latest airline perk: Safe distance from the masses

(Continued)

Want to board first? No problem. Want to be the last one seated, moments before the door closes? Sure. Airlines will even save room for your bags in the overhead bin.

International first class has long been distinguished by gourmet meals, wide seats and giant TVs preloaded with hundreds of movies and TV shows. But in recent years, airlines also upgraded their international business class sections, ripping apart cabins to install chairs that convert into lay-flat beds. That left very little to differentiate first class from business class.

So, some airlines scrapped the ultra-premium cabin. Others have cut the number of first-class seats in half, thereby creating a more intimate experience that commands the higher price. For instance, a roundtrip flight in July between New York and Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific costs $1,600 in coach, $7,600 in business class and $19,000 in first class. Other airlines charge similar price differences among their passenger classes.

Besides privacy, that extra cash provides an outsize seat, attentive service and superior wines and liquors. Austrian Airlines, Etihad Airways and Gulf Air are among the carriers to staff planes with their own first-class chefs. Instead of having flight attendants reheating meals cooked on the ground, these chefs prepare the meals at 35,000 feet.

Sometimes, that smell wafts back to the rest of the plane.

“You know they’ve got something good up in front of the curtain, and you know you don’t have anything close to it,” Harteveldt says. “When you fly coach, you are reminded of the fact that you are unimportant as a traveler.”

In the ultimate show of indulgence, Emirates has offered an onboard shower for first class passengers on its A380s since the plane joined the fleet in 2008.

Once back on the ground, that luxury treatment continues. At airports in Paris, London, Istanbul, Bangkok, Sydney and elsewhere, airlines offer their top passengers fast-track cards allowing them to speed past immigration lines.

And then, while other passengers wait in lines for buses, taxis or shuttles, chauffeurs in suits meet these fliers ready to — once again — whisk them out of the chaos.

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