Airlines battle for business travelers with ultra-luxurious suites

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Delta Air Lines will begin to roll out a business cabin with private suites next year. United Airlines announced it is launching a luxury business section, dubbed Polaris, starting in December. (Delta Air Lines)
Delta Air Lines will begin to roll out a business cabin with private suites next year. United Airlines announced it is launching a luxury business section, dubbed Polaris, starting in December. (Delta Air Lines)

The battle among airlines to win over the big-spending business traveler intensified this week, with Delta Air Lines announcing a business class section of private suites on long-haul flights.

Delta’s plan to roll out its so-called Delta One section on the carrier’s new A350 jets, starting next year, comes a couple of months after United Airlines unveiled its Polaris business class section, with pod-like suites and lie-flat beds on international flights.

The latest upgrades are prompted by several changes in the industry, including a surge in airline profits over the past few years because of lower fuel costs and a series of mergers that reduced competition for domestic flights.

“The airlines now have some money burning a hole in their pockets,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive of the travel website Farecompare.com.

A trade group for the nation’s airlines has reported that the average profit margin for the country’s top airlines was 14.1% in 2015, or 14.1 cents on every dollar of revenue, nearly on par with the average for major U.S. corporations of 16.5%.

So it makes sense that the airlines would invest some of those profits to keep or expand their appeal to business travelers, who generate the lion’s share of airline revenues.

U.S.-based airlines also are buying new planes and installing more luxurious seats to respond to the expansion of foreign carriers, such as Etihad and Emirates, which began years ago to fly out of the U.S. equipped with ultra-luxury amenities such as private suites and onboard showers and cocktail lounges, Seaney said.

The business class sections for Delta and United both offer seats with direct access to the aisle that convert to lie-flat beds that stretch to 6 feet, 6 inches. Delta has an 18-inch television monitor, while United offers a 16-inch screen. Both also have specially made bedding, mood lighting and power outlets.

The key difference is that Delta’s suites will be equipped with sliding doors for ultimate privacy while United’s pods are open to the aisle but display a glowing “do not disturb” sign when passengers want to be left alone.

By Hugo Martin Courtesy The Los Angeles Times

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