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Is it worth it to fly business class?

More legroom and overhead luggage space, better food and amenities, make "C" class an attractive way to travel.

What is business-class air travel? Is it the seats sandwiched between first class and coach? Not exactly. On some planes, business class is located in the front of the aircraft; on others, ifs in the middle or back. Business class amenities and service are just as varied and hard to generalize as the location. One thing is certain, however: an upgrade to the comfort zone will cost you--or your company. But is it worth it? It depends upon the value you place on your comfort and stress levels.

Business class has always been hard to define. TWA first introduced the mid-section class in 1982. Referred to as "C" class, the concept grew from little more than a classier coach section to an in-between niche in search of a clearer definition. For the most part, business class is offered only on international flights of six hours or longer. If you're traveling to a full day of wheeling-and-dealing in Tokyo, for instance, you will need a comfortable, roomy, hassle-free and work-conducive flight.

Now, however, a few U.S.-based air carriers are providing domestic business-class service on their transcontinental flights. United Airlines introduced its domestic -Connoisseur Class" in late 1991; American Airlines has developed domestic "International Flagship"; Delta Air Lines offers "Business Class" on some of its domestic routes; and TWA has "Ambassador Class" on all its wide-body flights. Other major carriers, though, have been somewhat reluctant. Continental Airlines offers "Business Class" service only on its international flights, while Northwest Airlines 'Executive Class" is available only on its transatlantic routes.

Industry experts say the domestic business-class trend has a double edge. On one side, international travelers can use domestic "C" as a lead-in or follow-through to their final destination, making a seamless connection. But on the other side, some industry experts regard it as a marketing ploy that the airlines can use to upgrade frequent passengers from coach without forfeiting expensive first-class seats.

According to Paul L. Edwards, publisher of Travel Confidential, a monthly newsletter for frequent travelers, domestic service was not introduced simply to better serve business travelers. "We take a cynical look at the new domestic surge," he says. "Now the airlines have a stronger case for selling first class. They have cut out upgrades to first class--and they want people to pay for it." Delta, American and United no longer upgrade to first class on transcontinental flights, and Delta has even stopped upgrading from business class to first. TWA, however, remains the most flexible in upgrading, depending upon availability.

While domestic business class is a way for the airlines to protect their precious first-class cabins, it is also used to entice business travelers away from the deeply discounted economy seats usually targeted to the leisure flier. According to Frequent Flyer magazine, passengers tend to book up to business class more than they book down from first. Business class cabins hold two to three times more passengers than first class (and fewer than coach), and are generally more heavily booked than either first class or full-fare economy. And business class seats tend to be filled with passengers who have been bumped up from economy class, not with people who have paid business-class fare.

There may be another possible reason for the domestic trend, says Karen Batterman, vice president of travel management for Runzheimer International in Rochester, Wis. She sees the new development as a way for the airlines to remain competitive. "It may be a response by carriers to match each other in service," she says.

Tim Smith, an American spokesman, says: "On our transcontinental flights we were turning away first-class passengers. The only other alternative for the business traveler was to go coach." Therefore, he says, American installed domestic business class.

No matter what the reason, most experts agree: Domestic business class will not become a standard any time soon. So is business class necessary for business travelers? It depends upon two factors: who is paying for the ticket and the value placed on passenger comfort.

Jackie DeVeaux-Morris, national director for a division of TVC Marketing Association Inc. in Oklahoma City, Okla., and a Diamite sales representative, flies at least once a month, generally economy. "I would only fly business class for convenience and comfort. But if I can save a couple hundred dollars that could go toward hotel or car rental expenses, I'll fly economy."

These days, most companies require that their employees take the lowest priced flights, meaning coach, except on long hauls, such as overseas flights. There may be other reasons at play, besides economic ones. Says Clyde Harris, a nuclear technician for Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s Nuclear Service Division in Spartenburg, S.C.: "A lot of times people aren't really that productive after flying business or first class. Some people abuse the free drink privilege, which defeats the whole point of productivity." When flying long distances, Harris flies economy or pays for the difference for first class .

But business class travelers have found it beneficial. "I fly 40 percent to 50 percent of the time I travel, and I only go business or first class," says Sandy Reichard, an executive vice president at D.L. Blair Inc., a major sales promotion agency in Garden City, N.Y. Business travel is work, Reichard explains. "You want to make the process as easy as possible," she says. "For me the extra amenities in business class are a necessity, not a luxury."

David Pendarvis, a pharmaceutical sales representative for Abbott Laboratories in Denver says his company prefers that its employees fly economy class. But whenever possible, Pendarvis upgrades to business class. "It's roomier," he notes. "I try to get some work done while on board. Business class is not as confining as economy."

Those who fly "C" class profess to be more productive. "When you travel at least once a week, like I do, it's necessary," explains Reichard. "If you're making presentations, you want to arrive fresh and productive."

Pricey Digs For Business Travelers

One definite is that you pay a price for the comfort of flying business class. Business class fares can go as high as 10 times the cheapest advanced-purchase coach fare, but average about 30 percent to 40 percent higher. Take for example, an unrestricted, one-way fare to London. At press time, the fare from New York on American was: $1,042 for coach; $1,946 for business class; and $3,205 for first class. On a transcontinental flight from New York City to Los Angeles, a full-fare coach ticket cost: $650; $1,060 for business class; and $1,330 for first class.

However, discounted fares aren't limited to economy class. Many carriers, through direct mail, offer free business-class upgrades or free or deep-discounted companion fares, in conjunction with charge card issuers. TWA tends to offer the most business-class breaks.

Just as service differs on international and domestic flights, the amenities offered in "C" class vary by carrier. Generally, here's what you get for your business-class dollar: better food service, a choice of entrees, free drinks, more legroom, wider seats made of leather or sheepskin, chairs that recline rather than just tilt, footrests, adjustable headrests, lumbar supports, seatback video screens, CD audio equipment, seatback phones, laptops and a wide selection of foreign newspapers and magazines.

With United's "Connoisseur Class" service, introduced in late 1991, passengers enjoy a choice of three entrees served on china, Sevruga caviar canapes and Godiva chocolates. There's also an extensive selection of French, German, Australian and American wines. United's business class also has a separate nonsmoking cabin and bigger carry-on overhead storage space. Passengers can also keep abreast of American and international news via ABC network news broadcasts.

USAir gives business-class passengers an extra amenities kit. On a recent flight, they received a leather belt, perfume and eye blinders, among other small goodies. And, TWA is one of the few carriers that offers transportation to the passenger's hotel after arrival at some international destinations. The foreign carrier SAS offers sleeper seats (at an additional cost of $300) to "EuroClass" passengers who want to catch up on their rest.

Across the board, business-class service includes: separate check-in areas and boarding times, and free use of frequent flier clubs for members and nonmembers. Seating is typically arranged in a two-by-three-by-two seats per row fashion on the 747, MD-11 and L-1011 aircrafts, and in a two-by-two-by-two arrangement on the 767 and DC-10 aircrafts. First class is generally two-by-two seating, and the coach section is usually configured to two-by-five-by-two or three-by-four-by-five.

The average business class seat has a pitch (a measurement of legroom) of 36 to 42 inches. In contrast, first class offers a pitch of about 60 inches, while coach has a measly 32 inches. Continental is reconfigurating the planes that fly on its European routes by moving business class to the front of the cabin, giving the seats a 55-inch pitch. That's room enough for the 7-foot-tall Manute Bol to stretch out. Seats in business class recline anywhere between 6 and 7 inches, compared with 3 or 4 inches in coach. Seat width in business class ranges from 18 to 21 inches.

Is Business Class Worth The Money?

Is "C" class what business travelers really want? As a passenger, Harris says he's "looking first at comfort on long flights. I'm 6-feet tall, and comfort is very important to me."

On the other hand, Batterman cautions, "Corporations are cost-conscious, while travelers are service-conscious."

If service is at the top of your list, Singapore Airlines consistently rates among the best. Zagat, the New York-based publisher of the biannual United States Travel Service Guide, has, for the second time in a row, named Singapore the best overall carrier. The company surveyed 5,000 travelers who rated the airlines on food, service and on-time performance. Singapore came out an average of two points ahead, says Allan Ripp, Zagat spokesman.

While Singapore provides basically the same amenities as the other carriers, the focus is on quality. On Singapore, there are usually 19 flight attendants per craft; the industry average is 16. The carrier also says its fliers are treated as "guests," rather than as "passengers." Its advertised "gentle Asian hospitality" works: Singapore fills 70 percent of its 747 seats. Other "C" class perks include an in-flight phone system hooked to a satellite so that fliers can make calls while over the ocean instead of waiting until the plane is over land, and fax machines on flights, starting early in 1993.

As for the 30 U.S.-based airlines in the Zagat survey, Alaska Airlines ranked first domestically and ninth worldwide. Alaska, which flies mostly in the western United States, is "a super regional carrier," says Ripp. In other surveys, Alaska's first-class and coach service consistently ranks in the top 10 on food, pre- flight and in-flight service, on-time performance and luggage handling.

Overall, domestic airlines were rated lower in quality than many of their international counterparts. However, other domestic carriers in the Zagat survey came out as follows: American, 3rd; Delta, 4th; United, 5th; America West, 6th; Northwest, 7th; Southwest, 8th; USAir, 9th; Continental, 10th; and TWA, 11th.

American, however, came out on top in the 1991 Airline Quality Report. The study, published by the Wichita State University National Institute for Aviation Research, ranked nine major U.S. carriers on safety records, consumer complaints, and on-time arrivals and departures. Southwest ranked second and Delta ranked third.

If you are seeking low cost with great service, fly business class.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Author:Brown, Ann
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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