Terminal C: This Restaurant is Classified

The Wall Street Journal: “You’re a top-dollar flier. Would you fly an airline more if it secreted you into a speakeasy-like restaurant hidden in a back corner of the airport—and handed you the bill? United Airlines is betting you might. United and airport concessionaire OTG Experience have opened an invitation-only restaurant inside Newark Liberty International. To pump up the air of exclusivity, there are no signs for Classified: It’s behind an unmarked blue door in the back of another restaurant in Terminal C.”

“Classified can entice premium passengers to fly out of Newark rather than Kennedy or LaGuardia, says Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president of loyalty, merchandising and digital channels … The airline won’t say how it decides which customers get invitations. It’s not all about frequent-flier status or fare paid. Long layovers may increase your chances. CEOs and celebrities get invites. United officials can walk-in VIPs or even angry customers left stranded by flight problems … Try as it might to be swank, Classified remains an airport restaurant. The knives are plastic, per TSA regulations … Comments are mixed on frequent-flier forums like FlyerTalk. Some road warriors like it. Others find the food overpriced and the seemingly random invitations annoying.”

“United isn’t the only U.S. airline trying to make downtime at the airport more memorable. American now has Flagship First white-tablecloth restaurants open only to people who buy first-class tickets for international or New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco flights.” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president for marketing, loyalty and sales, comments: “It’s for that small, small percentage of customers that generates a disproportionate amount of revenue.”

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Free Meals in Coach Make a Comeback

The New York Times: “It seemed to be extinct. The airlines stopped offering it on domestic flights more than a decade ago, along with other amenities that once made air travel an adventure rather than an endurance test. And yet it has reappeared in recent months: a free meal in coach. Continuing their emergence from hard economic times, some airlines have begun adding complimentary breakfast, lunch or dinner on some of their flights in the United States.”

For example: “Delta’s snacks have gotten an overhaul, moving on from ’40 years of unbranded peanuts and pretzels,’ said Lisa Bauer, Delta’s vice president for onboard service, to a variety that includes sweet, salty, healthy and gluten-free choices that will be rotated every six months … The company tried to replicate what the customers would naturally choose for themselves “if they weren’t at 35,000 feet,” Ms. Bauer said. And that includes local and seasonal foods.”

“Ms. Bauer said a free meal alone might not change a customer’s mind. But she said she hoped that given a package of amenities and service, a customer faced with two flights might choose the one run by Delta, even if it costs a little more.”

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Airbnb Antidote: Hotels Take Aim At ‘Self-Worth’

The New York Times: “With competitors like Airbnb nipping at their heels, hotels are rolling out experiences to their most faithful customers that go far beyond extra nights and room upgrades. Want to improve your cooking skills? How about a class with a Michelin-starred chef? Or snorkeling in Hawaii with Jean-Michel Cousteau? Or basketball tips from the N.B.A. standout Dwyane Wade? … In offering such exclusive experiences, hotels are looking to establish deeper connections with their customers in the face of growing competition from start-ups.”

“Marriott is trying to differentiate itself by focusing on self-improvement activities, in part because its own research suggests this is how people will increasingly spend their money when traveling … Such experiences not only increased travelers’ self-worth and satisfaction, the research found, but travelers sought to share the interactions with experts on their social channels.”

“The large hotel brands are mindful that right over their shoulder, Airbnb, in particular, is reinventing what travelers expect from a local stay by introducing smaller-scale experiences and classes, which people can bid on through its site even if they are not staying in an Airbnb rental. One in Paris, for example, offers to teach patrons how to sculpt a head from clay, taught by an artist who studied at the Louvre museum. Another offers a class in San Francisco on creating a French macaron.”

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Disney Brings Its ‘World’ To Retail

The New York Times: “Quietly, like a mouse on tiptoe, Disney overhauled its retail store at the Northridge Fashion Center mall in late July. Out went the twisty Pixie Path aisles, the ornate displays, the green walls and the color-changing fiberglass trees. In came a movie-theater-size screen, a simplified floor plan, white walls and more items for fashion-conscious adults … the Disney Store here was a prototype, and the company has been monitoring sales and consumer feedback as it prepares to revamp its 340-store chain.”

“The redesign makes Disney’s stores a bit more like Disney’s theme parks. For instance, daily parades at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed live to those colossal video screens. During the parades, store personnel will put out mats for shoppers to sit on and roll out souvenir carts stocked with cotton candy and light-up Mickey Mouse ears. The screens could easily be used to stream other events, such as red carpet arrivals for Disney movie premieres. That kind of programming could bolster foot traffic, and thus sales — while also turning the stores into a more potent promotional platform for Disney’s films, television shows and theme parks.”

“As it attempts a new mall strategy, Disney is also remaking its e-commerce operation. ShopDisney.com is replacing DisneyStore.com. The new site will have a less cluttered look and a vastly expanded assortment of designer merchandise aimed at adults (Mickey-themed Ethan Allen furniture and a $350 Siwy denim jacket with Minnie embellishments will be on offer). The site will also stock more items that previously were available only in stores inside Disney theme parks.”

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Public Hotel: Ian Shraeger’s Airbnb Killer?

The Wall Street Journal: “Stroll into Public, a full-service, 367-room hotel that opened this summer on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and it quickly becomes apparent that certain features are nowhere to be found … Guests check in via a series of self-service tablets along a wall, where they can find their reservations, create their own room keys and proceed up an elevator to their rooms. If questions arise, they’re answered by a handful of roving, jack-of-all-trades staffers known as ‘Public advisors’.”

“These cost-cutting efficiencies are all part of an attempt by Ian Schrager, the veteran hotelier and night life impresario who owns Public, to fight back against Airbnb Inc. on behalf of the hotel industry, which he believes hasn’t properly assessed the challenge posed by the tech upstart … he aims to better compete with Airbnb on nightly rates and offer superior amenities such as bars and other places to socialize … Mr. Schrager’s new concept fuses a sprawling bar and restaurant operation onto the property, deriving revenue and profits from amenities that are meant to attract a much larger crowd than just the hotel’s guests.”

“Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor at New York University’s hospitality program, said Mr. Schrager’s concept flips the traditional role of food and beverage in hotels. Rather than being a less-profitable service that a hotel must provide as an amenity to guests, Public’s food-and-beverage offerings are meant to be a centerpiece that can ultimately drive more room occupancy, he said … The hotel’s rates officially start at $150 and increase during high-demand times, such as fashion week. In early August, rates started at $250, with some last-minute online rates as low as $180—well below the rates of upscale, full-service Manhattan hotels, which typically range higher than $500.”

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As The Bombardier Bombs, So Bombs The Bombardier

The Wall Street Journal: “Four years after its maiden flight, only two small European airlines fly the Bombardier C Series of 100- and 145-passenger planes. Delta will begin flying the plane next year. While there are many reasons for the slow sales, the lack of interest highlights the low priority airlines and passengers place on comfort.”

“The two airlines currently flying the C Series—Swiss and Air Baltic—say most coach passengers won’t pay higher fares for comfy cabins. For a small fare difference, they’ll still pick less-comfortable airplanes. Airlines say cost is the No. 1 factor when evaluating new airplanes.”

Martin Gauss, chief executive of Air Baltic, comments: “Passengers get into anything that flies if the ticket is cheap.”

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Uniqlo Tries Airport Vending Machines

Quartz: “Heattech tops and UltraLight down jackets are two of Uniqlo’s big sellers, items that represent the brand’s style of simple but highly functional clothes. And now they’ll be sold in one of retail’s simplest and most functional of venues: vending machines … The machines will have a variety of colors and styles for women and men, changing with the seasons and local customer needs, and dispensed upon purchase in small boxes or canisters. The airport locations are especially fitting for the brand’s signature thermals and jackets, which are designed to be thin but warm and easily packable.”

“Uniqlo’s vending machines … are more of an experiment, offering a cheap, efficient way to introduce the brand and its down jackets ($69.90 in the vending machines) and Heattech tops ($14.90) to a new audience … They can also give Uniqlo insight on US consumers, which Uniqlo has been trying to reach—not always successfully—for years. In urban centers such as New York, the brand has found a firm foothold, but it has struggled to get traction in suburban malls.”

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Technology Cannot Hug a Customer

The New York Times: “Technology, some hotels are finding, has its limits. ‘Technology cannot hug a repeat guest,’ said George Aquino, the vice president and managing director of AHC+Hospitality … That is the reason his company, which manages several hotels, has been running a training program for some of its managers and other staff members to improve their hospitality skills, connect with local business leaders and learn more about local tourist offerings.”

“Similar programs are sprouting in other cities, involving not just hotels but also restaurants and even cities themselves, which see the personal touch as giving them a competitive edge. For business travelers, in particular, talking to someone knowledgeable about a city can lead to a good restaurant. And it can also help expand business leads.”

“A consulting program based in Tucson, Certified Tourism Ambassadors, trains hospitality workers. Mickey Schaefer, the chief executive and founder, said she had developed the idea in 2006 while working for the American Academy of Family Physicians to plan its conventions. Hospitality workers sometimes did not know their own cities, leading to bad experiences, she said … The program, she said, ‘is more than just helping the customer. It is helping them find the richness of whatever they are interested in.’ She added that the program also instills civic pride.”

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Uniform Identity: Airline Apparel & Brand Experience

The New York Times: “Long ago, airline uniforms reflected the glamour of flight. Now, they have to serve more utilitarian needs. Do they reflect the airline’s image? Will they look good on most everyone? And, perhaps most important, are they comfortable? … For American Airlines, which introduced new uniforms in September, the different look was an important step in conveying a unified brand image since its merger with US Airways in 2013.” Brady Barnes of American comments: “There was a visual difference in what people were wearing, and I think, inherently, that kind of creates a barrier.”

“Most of the uniform overhauls include clothes not only for flight attendants and gate agents — ‘above the wing’ jobs — but for the luggage handlers, mechanics and other workers who make up an airline’s ‘below the wing’ work force … Shashank Nigam, chief executive of the consulting firm SimpliFlying, said uniforms were a crucial part of an airline’s brand, especially with the decline in the number of in-person encounters a traveler experiences.” He comments: “Today more than ever, the uniform is the most important symbol of an airline that a passenger interacts with and sees.”

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