As the launch customer for the Boeing 777X, Lufthansa is planning to do business a little differently when its fleet of those Boeing 777-9s begin arriving in 2020, moving from a one-size-fits-all business class cabin to a more bespoke offering tailored to individual needs and price points.
But rather than emulating many low-cost airlines – where the base price of the ticket includes only the seat, and everything else is an added extra – Lufthansa’s approach will maintain all the staples of business class for every passenger, while introducing new options on top, for those who want to pay.
Speaking with Executive Traveller on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM in Seoul, Harry Hohmeister, Lufthansa Group’s Chief Commercial Officer Network Airlines (Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian) is quick to assure that “it's not unbundling, it's upgrading.”
“It's not just one business class anymore. Within the (Boeing 777X) business class cabin, you can upgrade yourself to an even better product than just standard business class… it’s a real jump forward in terms of convenience, and in terms of product selection.”
This approach would see an extra charge levied on seats that have more favourable aspects such as added privacy, longer beds – being up to 220cm (7’ 3”) at some prized locations – or extra working and bench space, such as these ‘throne’ seats in the centre of the Boeing 777X cabin:
However, Hohmeister affirms that regardless of whether a passenger buys into the ‘business class plus’ experience or opts for a standard business class seat, all the usual business class inclusions would remain, such as meals, lounge access, and the ability to earn miles on paid fares.
This is a distinctly different approach to that unveiled by rival Emirates this month, which instead created a new ‘discounted’ business class fare with some features like airport lounge access, chauffeur services and advance seat selection excluded on the lowest-priced tickets.
“The challenge for us, is how do we present this to the customer,” Hohmeister continues. “This is what we are working on, because we do not want to sell just a standard business class. For example, having a 220cm bed (as an upsell) is of course a selling argument, especially for (taller) guys like me.”
“We have to make clear in the market that we are not disrupting the (existing business class) product, but developing it to a better quality standard … to give the customer the best selection for themselves in terms of individualisation.”
Direct aisle access will be standard on Lufthansa's Boeing 777X
Currently on Lufthansa’s intercontinental flights served by aircraft like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8, the business class experience requires many travellers to either step past a seatmate to access the aisle, or give way to another traveller doing the same.
But on the Boeing 777X, business class will instead adopt an alternating 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 approach, finally giving every passenger a direct (and uninterrupted) path to the aisle, regardless of their seating choice.
“I don't want to ask my neighbour, “please wake up so that I can jump over you!”,” Hohmeister admits, sharing that Lufthansa’s new approach to business class is based on extensive passenger feedback, as well as a broader trend towards more privacy for high flyers.
“It's really this privacy which is ‘premium’, or what is defining ‘premium’ in these days: so too is individualism, and this is a trend to which the answer is our new business class concept.”
Although these new types of business class fares aren’t yet on sale, Hohmeister confirms that the price point for the standard business class experience will remain comparable to today’s business class fares, with passengers paying more to select one of those more favourable seats.
Lufthansa remains the launch customer for the Boeing 777X
With conflicting media reports stating that both Emirates and Lufthansa are the launch customer for the Boeing 777-9 (777X), Hohmeister also takes the opportunity to clear things up.
“I’m quite sure that we will be the launching customer. Who else can it be? We already have our ‘ingredients’ in the test programme, and we are in close collaboration with Boeing.”
Being a launch customer “is more than just buying an aircraft, it’s also a collaboration not just regarding the interior, but also the technology and things like that, so I would wonder if we would not be the launching customer, and I don't like wonders!”
Like Lufthansa, Emirates also has Boeing 777-9s planned for delivery from 2020. Emirates will follow this with Boeing 777-8s from 2022, which Lufthansa has not ordered.
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.