Things don’t look too promising about the (immediate) future of business class

May 9, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

It’s been about two months since most of America has been under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. With so few people traveling, the airline industry has been one of the toughest hit.

Earnings season revealed just how much cash carriers are burning through. It’s no surprise, then, that airlines are taking their route networks and fleet strategy back to the drawing board. To save money, many carriers have paused cabin retrofit projects and are greatly scaling back other capital expenditures.

United’s new Boeing 787-8 cabin (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

 

Before the pandemic halted travel, carriers worldwide, and particularly those in America, were doubling down on premium cabin retrofits. Delta was going full steam ahead on the introduction of Delta One Suites and United was just beginning to install Polaris and Premium Plus in much of its Dreamliner fleet. And then it stopped abruptly.

Though these product redevelopment projects are on pause to save cash, the coronavirus may kill many key elements of the “soft product” in the name of public health. Most notably, we’ll likely no longer see inflight pillows and blankets for a while.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter

Just like the seat themselves, there was a revolution in inflight bedding over the past few years. American, Delta and United all got cozy with upscale brands and brought high-quality bedding to the sky. On some routes, you might’ve been offered Casper body pillows or Saks-branded mattress pads.

Unfortunately, that’s about to change. Henry Harteveldt, president at Atmosphere Research Group, told TPG that he believes “airlines won’t provision complimentary pillows and blankets except, perhaps, for their longest flights.”

In premium cabins, passengers typically receive washed and individually wrapped pillows and blankets. In long-haul coach, the pillow is usually placed at each seat with an individually wrapped blanket.

But now that travelers are going to be more germ-conscious, airlines may remove these amenities — at least for the short term. Herteveldt reasoned that many of these changes are likely just temporary “until we have vaccines or ‘herd immunity.'” Even then, he cautioned, pillows and blankets may never return for coach passengers.

Related: The best neck pillows on the market

But whether or not these changes last two months or two years, business and first class as we know it is going to be changed, at least for the time being.

When people slowly (and safely) start traveling again, it won’t just be the comforter or mattress pad that they’ll miss. Though single-use amenity kits are here to stay, there’s a good chance that we’ll see many of the name-brand headphones replaced with disposable ones. (This is net positive for American Airlines flyers since the carrier typically collects its Bang & Olufsen headsets about an hour before landing).

Likewise, we’ve already seen drastic changes to the meal service that could remain post-pandemic. I can’t imagine the return of the create-your-own ice cream sundae cart any time soon (as much as it pains me to write that). Similarly, the bread basket and table-side salad preparation could become a relic of the past.

United Polaris ice cream sundae cart (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Going forward, premium cabins may look the same as before, but the experience is definitely going to change — at least in the short term. As airlines look to craft new service protocols, it’s more important than ever, according to Harteveldt, to be transparent with passengers about the changes, and set expectations early if their flight may be different than previous journeys with the carrier.

Related: The best premium cabins for onboard social distancing

Some passengers may not even be bothered by the limited amenities. In order to maximize social distancing, some people may choose to sit in premium cabins to reduce their contact with others. It’s possible that the temporary value proposition of sitting up front is the ability to avoid other people in your personal pod.

But nonetheless, we’re living in unprecendented times. Even when people start flying again, we’re definitely headed towards a (temporary) “new” normal with many fewer inflight amenities on planes that might not’ve yet been retrofitted with cutting-edge products.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.