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Business travel in a class of its own

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Most small businesses are looking to cut non-essential costs such as travel in the economic crisis. Is flying business classstill a justifiable expense or just a tax-deductible perk of the job? Business class means big money for the airlines and there’s a lot of competition out there. With small business owners having to justify all their costs more than ever, many will have considered downgrading their business trips to economy class. Which begs the questions, is business class just a luxury perk which you can claim back on tax or are there tangible benefits for business? If you’re not lucky enough to travel with a decent amount of leg room, your immediate reaction might be to dismiss it as an unnecessary, if appealing, luxury. But there are several reasons why business class makes business sense. You know what it’s like when you’re off on holiday and you have to wait in the seemingly endless queues for check-in and customs. If you’re in your suit, on the way to an important meeting and all you want to do is sit down and start reading over documents to prepare yourself, standing in a queue is likely not the most appropriate place for that. Business class with most airlines usually guarantees you a fast track through all that, with exclusive check-in facilities and fantastically-equipped business lounges with plenty of peace and quiet, wi-fi, printing facilities, tea, coffee and more. You can walk straight in, grab a coffee, log on and get an hour or two’s work in before you even board the plane. Some would say that’s priceless, but it does come at a price.

In flight benefits

Once you’re on the plane, in business class you’ll probably find you can set up strategic meetings via the personal satellite telephone found in your seat, and all without someone else’s kid screaming or kicking the back of your seat. Plus your seat will be seriously roomier and will probably extend into some kind of-if not always fully flat-bed, ensuring you arrive at your destination rested, and not feeling like you want to sleep for a week before you can cope with anything vaguely work-related. Many airlines, like Emirates for example, offer a chauffeur-driven car between home and airport. No more worrying about whether or not your cab will arrive on time when you have all sorts of other important matters on your mind, like where you put your passport. When it comes to food and drink there probably aren’t many business-specific reasons why one needs to eat nicer food, with more fine wines, but it’s all part of the service you expect when you’re paying so much more than in economy class. In fact, there’s probably even less excuse for getting tipsy on the ‘complimentary’ champers if your mind’s supposed to be on work!

Is business class worth it?

"There’s a golden rule when it comes to travel. Don’t be pennywise and pound-foolish," says David Padman, general manager, Travelscene Corporate. "The value of flying business, particularly on long-haul flights, lies in the value of productivity and the fact that you are able to hit the ground running, and functioning as a proper human being, from the moment you step off the plane. It might look cheaper to fly economy but by the time you factor in the trade-offs such as your inability to work on the flight, you inability to sleep, and the fact it takes longer to recover once you land, economy class can be a real pain in the neck, literally as well as figuratively." He adds: "The fact that you are actually able to sleep properly in a bed, that you have the space and the privacy to continue to work in-flight if you choose, plus the added benefit of lounge access, all help to minimise the stress of being out of the office and maximise your ability to operate effectively." Read more for business class in an economic downturn...

Will airlines suffer?

And what about the airlines? How is the economic downturn going to affect their revenue from business class services? Stephen Pearse, vice president for Emirates in Australia, says: "The next year is not going to be an easy ride for the airline industry overall. Emirates will not be totally immune from this, and we are expecting to see some reduction in premium class traffic. Currently Emirates’ bookings remain healthy and because we are committed to the Australian market and have a strong product offering, we are optimistic of remaining an airline of preference for our Australian customers. "This year has already seen Emirates increase capacity on its Sydney to Dubai and Sydney to Auckland routes with the introduction of the new A380 aircraft. In addition to launching the A380, we have further enhanced our capacity into Australia by introducing second-daily Brisbane and third-daily Melbourne services in February. We plan to continue to pursue our growth strategy in Australia by launching a third-daily Sydney service later this year."

People will always fly business

Pearse adds there will always be a need for business class, however bad the economic situation. "Customers travelling internationally for business purposes have additional service and communications requirements to those of international leisure travellers. Business travellers, especially those who are time-poor or travelling frequently, need to know they can arrive at their destination relaxed, refreshed, and with minimum inconvenience when flying with us. They also need to have the confidence that our communications services will allow them to easily conduct business in-flight as required." So the need is there but is the money to pay for it? Expect to see business class seats get cheaper in the not too distant future.

Business class benefits

The following are available on most airlines’ business class services: On the plane

  • Laptop charging
  • Satellite phones
  • In-flight entertainment
  • Seatback SMS and email services
  • Multilingual cabin crew

In the lounge

  • Free broadband and wireless LAN access
  • Individual workstations
  • Newspapers and satellite television news
  • Full bar and catering

At the airport

  • Priority baggage handling
  • Dedicated check-in facilities
  • Chauffeur drive to and from home
  • Fast track immigration services

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