I don’t want to drink the swill that many airlines serve on board, and would love an option to pay for something nicer. I’m not sure it would work, though, as a business proposition because of the cost to source a niche product, taking up scarce galley space, when the market for this might be limited.
Airlines might also worry that a paid upcharge in a premium cabin might cheapen the experience. On the other hand they don’t seem to worry that serving cheap wines cheapens the experience! So perhaps they should give it a go as a test to improve the product while generating incremental revenue as well?
Delta Air Lines probably has the best paid wine program in its Sky Clubs though it recently devalued paying for those wines in SkyMiles. United has a paid premium wine program in its clubs, and so does American.
All three airlines offer paid upgrade options for club members and those with access through the class of service, yet none offer paid upgrade options in the air for premium class customers. And all largely offer swill in their domestic first class cabins, and while they’re somewhat better in international business class the options aren’t great.
- They don’t offer a truly premium feel
- And don’t serve the kinds of wines you’ll find on international competitors.
Delta has even been caught serving $4 champagne in international business class.
To be sure not every airline offers bad wine on board! Flying Qatar Airways first class I had a glass of Taittinger Comptes de Champange in first class, before heading back to the business class bar for a glass of Krug.
But how nice would it be to enjoy a class of Penfolds RWT Shiraz on a flight out of Australia, like I’ve had on Singapore Airlines, but in business class or even economy? Or perhaps a 2005 Pichon-Lalande, which I’ve also enjoyed from Singapore’s first class cellars or a Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe? I should disclose that I have a preference for big and complex French Bordeaux blends and Burgundies, for California and Australia wines generally, and am somewhat averse to acidic and to overly tannic wines. That influences my take on what works well in a lounge and in-flight.
God Save The Points argues that airlines should offer a paid upgrade option for passengers in premium cabins to drink better wines than airlines will serve at the price bundled with a ticket.
Galley space is highly constrained on narrowbodies, it would be difficult to offer more than a bottle or two for upsell, and airlines may not find the juice here to be worth the squeeze. On the other hand galley space is more available on widebodies, and this could be an option for international long haul. So why don’t U.S. carriers do it?
- The idea likely overrates consumer’s willingness to pay for better wine, especially at altitude where your ability to taste changes (Singapore Airlines has a pressurized room for wine tasting on the ground to simulate the cabin experience).
- Put another way,, the idea may underrate consumer’s willingness to drink the swill that airlines serve today. When faced with a choice of bad wines, I skip the wine and might enjoy a cocktail (or just a glass of water).
- And this could create the hotel minibar problem, where the option is expensive to service and a money loser despite high prices.
- Given the constraints of space, cost to source and serve a limited market item, the price could be higher than customers might expect and would be willing to pay.
About four years ago I sat next to a passenger on a Dallas Fort-Worth – Austin flight who had brought her complimentary wine from the Admirals Club on board in a ‘to go’ cup. She wound up in an altercation with the flight attendant who insisted she give it up prior to takeoff, and she could have a new glass of wine once we were in the air. It ended up with a passenger inflight disturbance report.
I have to remind myself at times that much of the wine that’s being served is being served to this passenger, or Cort McCown’s character Quint in 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love trying to impress a girl with his wine knowledge.
Quint: I’ve learned to appreciate the finer things in life. I even travel with my own wine. You never know the quality you may encounter at a soiree.
Fran: [smells the wine and coughs] Very classy.
Quint: [takes a swig out of the wine bottle] Mm-hmm. I’m into class. It’s my new thing.
Given this customer, and that it’s expensive enough to source wines for an airport location and bring them through security, and storage is at a premium inside of an airport, these problems are only magnified in an aircraft cabin, the idea may be both challenging and low value to an airline. But I’d still personally love to see it!
One idea that God Save The Points offers for airlines with an international first class product is to offer bottles already being sourced and loaded for first class to passengers in other cabins for a fee. This solves some logistical problems while creating others, such as quantities to board, whether to store it all in first class and having crew running between cabins, or truly just to serve the wines you’re buying anyway in other cabins.