The current legendary first class SingaporeAir A380 suite

The extent to which Singapore Airlines plans to hold the line against declining air travel quality was given more depth this week when it announced a strategic partnership with French crystalmaker Lalique.

SingaporeAir doesn’t need any help from Plane Talking or anyone else to promote itself given its reputation and loyal cadre of regular quality-over-price followers, even in these more austere times when it comes to sagging premium travel demand.

What makes this ‘news’ is that it is one of the very few established brands in air travel to resist giving in to packing airliners with far more seats than Airbus or Boeing ever envisaged earlier this century.

It’s making a novelty out of the once widely upheld view that air travellers are guests, not opportunities to sell extras like checked luggage, or sustenance, thus removing what were once key differences between full service carriers and low cost brands.

If you want to sit on what feels like a plastic covered rock and pay over the top for snack food and lower quality liquor, you might want to try SingaporeAir’s cheap brand Scoot, or its Qantas equivalent Jetstar, or British Airways Euro business class over short haul flights where hurting and humiliating anyone of average stature or above is apparently considered agile and clever.

The partnership is set to start with the launch of Singapore Airlines’ next batch of Airbus A380s, deliveries of which are due to begin in the second half of this year featuring all-new cabin products.

SIA and Lalique have signed a memorandum of understanding to join forces on enhancing the travelling experience in SIA’s Suites and First Class cabins. The partnership between SIA and Lalique – which forms part of Switzerland-based Lalique Group (LLQ) and specialises in decorative crystal ware, interior decor, perfumes, jewellery, art and hospitality – combines both companies’ dedication to excellence. The two partners intend to offer co-branded items such as amenity kits, toiletries, glassware, loungewear and beddings.

The airline has already started its premium push with a premium economy product which is available on its A380s and A350s and some of its newest 777-300ERs, although it isn’t clear if it will be used on those future services where the flight is a shorter ‘regional’ one stop flight in the Asia Pacific zone rather than one that continues on long haul routes to Europe, Little Britain and North America.

The ME3 carriers of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways on one side, and the Japanese flag carriers All Nippon and Japan Airlines on the other are the main contenders for existing and future routes where SingaporeAir wants to keep what it currently ‘owns’, or own what is about to come over the horizon.

Etihad flies a stunningly outfitted A380 in all classes from Sydney and Melbourne daily, and the much larger Middle East player, Emirates,  has in association with Qantas won and grown market share in areas that Singapore Airlines and its hub airport at Changi dominated at the turn of the century.

Emirates has its own total remake of its first class product due for launch around about the same time as Singapore and Lalique show their hand on the A380s later this year.  Qantas has no public plans for a new first or business class for its A380s, which infers they may not fly them beyond Dubai to London for much longer,  but it has relaunched its A330 fleet with a new and greatly improved business class, and will feature that plus an under wraps new premium economy product on its 787-9s from later this year.

It seems like a lot of investment in a shrinking premium sector in general until the claimed profile of buyers of such high priced products are taken into account. If a first or business class customers is doing one or two long distance return flights a month that person’s patronage can be worth between say $180-360 thousand dollars a year. If enough people can be persuaded to pay premium economy they can also give an airline flying a long route to London or LA the equivalent of an extra two to four dozen regular economy fares per flight. This is revenue to die in a ditch for.

Those are the reasons why these major airlines will defend at high risk to themselves their hold on customers motivated more by quality than price.

The Singaporeans are telling us they are making a stand. One hopes not like Custer’s last stand.

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