Growing up, there was a certain glamour to air travel. It didn’t quite match the glamour of the 1960s and 70s, but I can distinctly remember being too excited to sleep as a child, the day before any long-haul flight.
Fast forward to now, the idea of spending 13 straight hours in a hard-backed chair, knees scratched by the magazine pocket from the seat in front, is enough to cause a cramp down my right calf. It needn’t even be long-haul. A three-hour flight somewhere close within the region on any LCC conjures the same antsy feelings.
Air travel is in desperate need of a makeover. Airports are already part way there with the introduction of biometric processing to speed immigration and security along. Yet the moment you step on any plane, whether into the narrow-bodied tube of an A320 or the renovated interiors of a Boeing 777, unless you’re in first or business class, you’re hardly looking forward to the prospect of straddling your neighbour to get to the aisle or the hours of fractured sleep.
It comes down to the fact that ‘customer experience’ is simply not the key priority when running an airline. Said Timothy O’Neil-Dunne (co-founder, Air Black Box) at WIT Japan & North Asia 2018, “when it comes to a customer, airlines have been pretty bad. The customer is way down the list after safety and operational excellence.
“It’s not a bus, travel is still sexy… but we’ve made it really complicated and difficult to appreciate. Our view is ‘let’s bring travel back to something that is quite pleasant’.” When he says ‘let’s’, he means the new entity formed by Miami-based specialty finance investment firm, 777 Partners, to provide a vehicle for making investments in airlines. It has provided financing to Flair Air, an emerging low cost airline in Canada, and is providing assistance in turning it around and it bought the assets of World Airways with the intention of launching it as the US first low cost long-haul airline.
777 Partners’ associate Adam Weiss, who brought airline veteran O’Neil-Dunne and his startup, Air Black Box, into the venture, wants to put both digital and customer at the heart of the airline experience.
The opportunity is there, said Weiss who made the case that while governments have traditionally invested in airlines with tax dollars, there is now an emergence of private equity stakeholders excited at the growth potential of an LCC market. Explaining the acquisition of Flair Air, he pointed out that with a population of 36m, 20m of Canadians have not flown on a Canadian airline because air fares are three times those in the US. With affordable fares, Flair could encourage more Canadians to fly. World Airways’ plans to fly to Asia are as yet undecided but O’Neil-Dunne said there were lots of lessons to be learned from Asia given the rapid emergence of low cost long-haul models in the region. It is clear they are watching carriers based in Asia very carefully with news that a new Seoul-based low cost long-haul carrier, Premia Air, is planned and Japan Airlines has also announced plans to launch a subsidiary by 2020. (Webintravel.com)