New service gives fliers everything but a mint on pillow

January 09, 1992|By John H. Gormley Jr.

American Airlines thinks there are a lot of people who fly between New York and Los Angeles who are willing to pay a premium price for a choice of movies, fine wine, goat cheese and a seat that turns into a bed.

The airline announced yesterday that beginning Feb. 4 it will fly reconfigured airliners that offer passengers a level of service now largely limited to international flights.

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10s will offer two classes of premium service -- business and first class -- in addition to coach seats. Just coach and first-class service are now available on most domestic routes.

"We are catering to a traveler who demands and appreciates premium service from an airline, whether flying from New York to London or Los Angeles," Michael W. Gunn, the airline's senior vice president of marketing, said in a prepared statement.

Of course, creature comforts have their price. An unrestricted, first-class, round-trip ticket costs $2,650. A business-class passenger will pay $1,996.

The round-trip coach fare is a more modest $1,504.

First-class passengers will have personal video systems that will allow them to choose from a library of 48 movies. From New York, both first- and business-class customers can choose such delicacies as bouillabaisse or chateaubriand with roasted shallot sauce. From Los Angeles, the menu will include prawns with Pinang curry sauce. First-class customers with more traditionaltastes will be able to order ice cream sundaes.

For those who feel a little sleepy after a bottle of Clos du Bois, the first- and business-class seats form mini-beds that can be made up with blankets and sheets, allowing passengers to sleep their way to their destinations during the six-hour flights.

The new service seems to be part of an effort by airlines to increase revenue by selling more higher-priced seats.

"The major carriers are in a furious bid for the big-spending business traveler," said Robert W. Ellenby, head of Safe Harbors Business Travel Group Inc. "It's funny who goes for these spectacular service flights -- free-wheeling entrepreneurs, people who don't have these restrictive [corporate] boards."

American is not alone in offering three-class service on domestic flights. United Airlines announced last week that it is offering three-class service on some domestic routes, including flights from Dulles International Airport outside Washington to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Trans World Airlines has offered three classes on its domestic flights for years.

Charles Roumas, vice president of marketing for TravelOne, a Mount Laurel, N.J., travel agency that specializes in corporate clients, said he doubted the market for such premium travel is very deep. "The trend in corporations is away from the first-class travel segment where cost is no object," he said. "It's counter to the needs of most corporations in 1992. I don't see the appeal."

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