If you’re curious about what the future holds for air travel in 2012, two things are almost certain:
1. Airfares – or at least the taxes, fees, charges and surcharges – will rise like a hot air balloon.
2. Ryanair will whip up yet another media frenzy by inventing even more obscure passenger fees (and get away with it by calling them ‘optional’).
But if you want some trend predictions straight from the horse’s mouth, just ask airBaltic: a Latvian airline that’s breaking the mould having just started selling its own branded Mini Coopers on board flights for a limited time.
The airline has been looking ahead at what’s in-store for air travel and published its trend list this week.
It suggests that airlines could become, among other things, estate agents in the skies, experimenting by selling ‘real estate’ on board to pad their incomes.
Has airBaltic just given away its 2012 business plan? If so, we’re not ‘sold’ on the idea just yet.
Perhaps the airline has missed the point of why most of us travel in economy class? Or been so preoccupied flying its planes at 30,000ft that it hasn’t noticed the economic turmoil on the ground?
Joking aside – judging by airBaltic’s dabble in the car sales business and how airlines love to cross-sell flights with car hire and hotel bookings, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before more airlines start thinking big with the in-flight shopping experience?
Airlines are thinking and acting more and more like retailers. They know that a compelling ‘shop window’ on board can be a lucrative business, especially when they can sell to captive audiences.
You only need to look at how Korean Air is catering for the big duty-free spending Asians. They’ve transformed on-board shopping this year by furnishing their new A380s with the world’s first (physical) in-flight duty free store: hands-on retail therapy that’s worth getting out of your seat for.
Indulging us in cars and property is perhaps on the extreme end of what airlines might look to sell.
But if airlines are going to become luxury retailers, wouldn’t selling holidays be a little more appropriate?
It could include tickets for ground transportation, attractions, tours and other offers that add value to a trip.
Airlines would benefit by offering these destination-based offers, which would be a far more attractive sell to holidaymakers.
Imagine being able to browse various holiday activities on your seatback video screen, talk to the cabin crew about tour options and then make your purchase there and then, ready to get stuck in when you land?
It raises the question: why aren’t airlines stepping in? Aren’t they the ultimate travel agents? It makes a whole lot more sense than selling real estate.
Whatever course airlines decide to take, 2012 promises to be yet another interesting year for aviation.
While we’re pretty confident that airlines like Ryanair will steal most of the headlines, airBaltic might just give them a run for their money, and take a wadge of ours too by the looks of it.