If you were partially sighted and someone offered to enhance your eyesight, you would probably think that was a good thing. Or perhaps you use Instagram or Facetune to enhance your selfies – again, in most cases, that’s a positive. But how about if an airline says it’s going to ‘enhance’ its service? Now things start getting a bit more complicated.
We’ve seen many airline ‘enhancements’ over the last few years. It’s become an industry buzzword which accompanies pretty much every press release from airlines around the world. The problem is, the ‘enhanced service’ they promise isn’t always quite so passenger friendly.
For sure, there have been some enhanced offerings that really do upgrade the passenger experience. Take United Airlines – they’re recently rolled out their new Polaris Business Class soft product (and rather busily updating the hard product). United promises a “sleep-enhancing experience” with new luxury bedding and (their words, not ours) an “elevated” dining experience.
It’s definitely a massive improvement on the old Business Class product that United offered and has been well received by frequent flyers. CNN’s Business Traveller, Richard Quest even gave the product a big thumbs up in a recent segment on the cable news channel.
But while things are getting better at the pointy end of the plane, life down the back in Economy is anything but enhanced. United has started fitting out it’s Boeing 777’s with 10-abreast economy seating – it means the airline joins the likes of Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Etihad Airways but it’s hardly a positive move for the passenger experience.
‘Basic Economy’ has been one enhancement too far for United
And in most cases, things are going from bad to worse. All three major U.S. airlines now offer a basic economy product – you get the same seat but your luggage allowance and other amenities are seriously restricted. The airline’s say it allows customers to choose the right product for their needs at the right price.
But while that might work for budget carriers, even United has had to admit its interpretation of Basic Economy has been an ‘enhancement’ too far. They recently announced they would scale back their Basic Economy offering as any gains were being “offset’ by losing passengers to low-cost competitors.
And it’s not just the U.S. airlines who have been playing tricks with their choice of words. Take luxury, 5-star airline, Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi as an example. For many Economy passengers, the last final joy of air travel is finding a half full cabin and rows of empty seats available to lay across.
Etihad is ‘enhancing’ the passenger experience in ways you might not expect
It turns out that Etihad wants to give passengers “the option to enhance their flying experience by ‘bidding’ for up to three empty seats next to their original seat.” That’s right, Etihad wants you to pay to make use of seats that would otherwise be empty.
And that’s not the only change coming to the passenger experience at Etihad as the ‘enhancements’ creep into the premium side of the business as well. In the same announcement, Etihad said it would increase the “value proposition” for premium passengers by cutting perks like its worldwide complimentary chauffeur service, save for at its hub in Abu Dhabi.
Etihad devotees complain the airline is losing its luxury ’boutique’ feel but the airline somehow has to plug a gap of $1.87 billion USD that it lost in 2016. Time to ‘enhance’ away. A similar strategy is underway at rival Emirates who have come under fire for new advanced seat assignment charges.
British Airways has long ‘enhanced’ its services to cut costs
Ranging from $15 per person for short flights and $40 per person for long-haul flights, the charges are just one way that Emirates is both charging more for ‘value added’ services while cutting back its existing proposition.
Many would look towards British Airways as the master of this approach. The cutbacks and new charges are probably too high in number to list individually. The airline has forensically examined every service it offers and ruthlessly decided whether to trim it back or charge for it.
The most famous of these decisions was its tie-up with premium British brand Marks & Spencer – the deal saw BA withdraw free food and drink on short-haul services and instead offer a Buy On Board concept. Still, it’s the way in which airlines are now deliberately confusing an ‘enhancement’ with a cutback that is most annoying for passengers.
Royal Jordanian latest airline to cofuse ‘enhancement’ with ‘cut back’
The latest airline to join this bandwagon is Royal Jordanian under the leadership of its new chief executive, Stefan Pichler. The former German CEO of airberlin, Pichler has been brought in to reduce costs at the state-owned airline. Here’s what he had to say about swapping free hot meals in Economy class to cold snacks:
“We have reworked and enhanced our onboard food concept.”
In a statement, the airline said it was reacting to the “prevalent tendency in the global air transport industry.” For now, the changes will only be made to medium- and short-haul services with sandwiches and sweet snacks replacing hot meals.
Expect airlines to announce many more ‘enhancements’ soon. Some might actually be for the benefit of the passengers. Many others will be attempting to cover up a difficult financial decision.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.