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Comfortably High - Your Lounge in the Sky

Travelling by air can be as plush as the luxury of your living air or as productive as your office. Charmaine Fernz unveils the whole new world up there...

There was a time when travellers sat on cane chairs inside aeroplanes. Nowadays they sleep on flat beds, turn their seats to face each other to hold a meeting or just lie back as they pick and choose from a selection of music programmes or cable channels or movies.

Sentiments like 'If only I could have finished that report during the flight', 'I couldn't sleep a wink' after a long-haul flight have been more or less laid to rest. Travelling is getting very user friendly – about as productive as your office and as comfortable as your living room. Especially for the business traveller.

The business travel market is one of the most keenly fought after one in the airline industry. Not surprisingly, airlines are going to great lengths where services are concerned. Broadly, leaving aside food and wine which Express Business Traveller touched upon in its October issue, what the business traveller would be interested in inside a flight are seating, entertainment and nowadays increasingly, fitness facilities.

Snug In The Comfort Zone
The prime issue in the battle for the business traveller's loyalty has been space or seat-width, legroom, and angle of incline. While seats with a 160 degree incline are more or less commonplace at present, some airlines have started converting to complete flat beds. British Airways (BA) recently shelled out 600 million pounds as it introduced 21st century air travel which promised travelers a 'lounge in the sky' - a completely new design which included a fully flat bed. Their Business Class seats could even be turned to face each other for mid-flight meetings. The airline has plans for smart cards that programme your seat position preference and seats that read your shape. BA is not an isolated case. Many airlines are providing Business Class facilities to their First Class passengers.

China Airlines, with its fleet of new Airbus A340s, has brought to the skies a 'new level of comfort, convenience and security'. The airlines' all new First Class luxury space has been meticulously arranged to cater to practically every need of the traveller. With just 14 seats, one is rest assured of more room. Besides which everyone has a personal coat hook, beverage table, book bag and shoe cubby.

Delta is offering its passengers a new sleeper-seat design which includes fully electronic controls for recline, lumbar support, leg rest extension for full leg and thigh support, a six-way adjustable headrest, and one-touch controls for 'sleep' and 'land' positions in all their Business Elite Class.

Cathay Pacific's brand new extra-large pillows are a treat. Besides which they give you cotton slippers and eye-shades, English wool blankets, adjustable head- and back-rests, reading light and a computer controlled personal TV.

Work As You Fly
The objective of many of the features provided by airlines is to give passengers greater ability to control their travel experience. The all new China Airlines 747-400 is a case study. Its First Class Comfort Console-Chair provides travellers with seven considerations:

  • A 180 degree fully reclinable electronically operated chair with a spacious 83 inches (210 cm) stretch area
  • An extra-large headrest which can be adjusted in any direction
  • Back reading light which can be tilted to any angle
  • Computer controlled personal television equipped with a six inch touch screen monitor allowing one to touch-select
  • 10 different games and air show information
  • Hi-8 high-density personal video that offers a selection of 20-30 of the hottest movies and programmes
  • An electronically adjustable back support and leg rests that allows optimal personalised comfort.

The idea is to bridge the gap between work and travel for businessmen who prefer to be on top of their work while travelling.

Most airlines provide all the vital requirements towards this end. For example, Singapore Airlines has a specially designed rich, burgundy writing kit comprising postcards, envelopes and a writing pad that is available on request. When flying on their new SkySuites, these writing materials, along with an elegantly designed pen, are presented in the personal stationery drawer of one's seat. Postage and handling, if required, is also available.

The 'Well Being' Factor
For almost 50 years travellers have been taking commercial flights for both business and pleasure. Though air travel has been acknowledged to be one of the safest means of travel, we still hear of flight-related illnesses, long-haul stress, jet lag. But awareness of setting in and a lot more thinking is going into fitness considerations inside a flight.
For example, in Thai Airways, flight attendants are trained to make sure passengers have enough water throughout the flight to prevent dehydration. Passengers are made aware that it is important to avoid pre-flight stress and obtain adequate amount of sleep prior to flying.

Emirates has introduced a number of 'healthy flying' initiatives to its regular in-flight service. MedLink provides an Emergency Telemedicine Centre service from a hospital in Phoenix, USA. During medical emergencies, the Emirates crew can phone the MedLink emergency centre from anywhere in the world via satellite communications lines.

One can also procure Aircraft Medical Kit that include a selection of common use drugs, intravenous fluids, resuscitation equipment, first aid items, suture equipment, bandages, and even equipment to handle on-board deliveries of babies. Every aircraft is also equipped with a Defibrillator with fully trained senior cabin crew.
The fitness factor sunk into the industry after the appearance of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), an ailment associated with flying.

To counter this, Emirates has introduced the Airogym - a medically proven inflatable cushion to provide exercise safely for passengers without their having to leave their seat. It makes their leg muscles work harder. A series of four varied exercises has been devised to help pump blood to the heart, helping to alleviate blood clotting and swelling.

This service is available for a small charge on all long haul flights.

Looking Ahead
Aircraft are getting bigger and we can expect a corresponding rise in magnitude of in-flight services. With technology advancing, no airlines can afford to be behind the times.

Business travellers set a high premium on such amenities and it dictates the choice of which airline to take. Shekar Bajaj, chairman and MD of Bajaj Electricals Limited says, "I rate Singapore Airlines very high because they are able to provide passengers all the convenience needed to turn their flight into an office in the sky. Another airline that matches my expectations, even though I do not fly it frequently, is Emirates. The airline offers a host of modern benefits."

Getting Connected
It is needless to elaborate on how important connectivity is for the business traveller. A business trip often means intense preparation followed by a hectic series of meetings. Nothing can be left to chance. It is imperative that the business traveller remains connected during the flight. The most requirements are telephone and e-mail connections. SWISS offers its business travellers electrical power outlets for laptops that can be installed. But for this one would require a special airplane adapter cable compatible with a 15 volt DC Hypertronic socket. One can also buy a Targus PA350E Universal Connector Cable or even loan a cable. For shorter notes, the airline offers the e-messaging system that enables travellers to send short text messages to any e-mail, mobile phone or fax worldwide.

Delta offers its Business Elite passengers a battery-saving EmPower system for laptop computers, a data port for online access and a personal telephone to keep connected wherever you may be.

Ashank Desai, chairman and MD, Mastek Ltd says, "Time for me is a decisive factor. Thus, various mediums, which facilitate travel have to prove gainful with respect to time."

Entertainment Unlimited
Businessmen rarely have time for entertainment in their daily life. A long-haul flight is the perfect place and time for him to indulge his senses. One can catch up with the latest movies, serials or music. In-flight entertainment (IFE) is therefore a good hooker to build loyalty. Airlines know this.

Cathay Pacific has launched StudioCX built around three basic elements: entertainment, communication, and information. What they offer include the introduction of noise canceling headsets allowing passengers to enjoy many new music channels, television shows and movies with crystal clear audio. AVOD - Audio and Video On Demand - is yet another installation allowing passengers to select the movie they want to watch whenever they want to watch it. AVOD provides superior digital picture and sound quality. Or there is the video monitor and high fidelity CD sound system. Or you can choose from a selection of eight music programmes.

So also, all of China Airlines' aircraft except its B737s is equipped with in-flight audio-visual entertainment systems that offer a comprehensive selection of the latest music videos, news and short features and even in-flight yoga instruction.

Moral of the story: the customer is an elusive species, only the best will do for him, otherwise he will fly to a different brand.