In November, United Airlines announced it became "the first major U.S. airline to offer lie-flat beds in business class." A Washington-to-Frankfurt flight was the first to carry the new seats. Further proof of the airline's effort to boost premium services is the multi-course menu designed by famous Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. United is refurbishing 97 aircrafts with 180-degree, lie-flat seats.
Delta said it plans to introduce lie-flat beds this year, and American is already adding more comfortable business seats to part of its international fleet.
Private Jet Services
The proliferation of private jets started with fractional ownership plans. The new trend, however, is on-demand jet flights, a no-strings-attached service offered by companies like Halcyon Jets and XOJET.California-based XOJET has a fleet of brand-new Citation X jets, which fit eight passengers and are said to be the fastest business jets in the world. The company promises an aircraft with a 12-hour notice and flies internationally. Its on-demand service requires no initial purchase and offers one-way fares and flat rates for popular routes. A quick roundtrip from New York to London costs $90,700, which includes all airport and international fees. As a general rule, the cost of keeping two crew members overnight on international trips is $1,300 per night. In-flight amenities include baby alpaca blankets, a wide selection of movies and CDs, toiletries, wines, cocktails, organic snacks and comfort foods. XOJET also has partial ownership solutions for high-frequency fliers. Halcyon Jets, of New York, works with a large fleet of small, medium and heavy aircrafts. The company can also arrange to charter a jumbo jet. Halcyon's Dream Card membership program is not aircraft-specific and requires an initial deposit of $25,000. "But the typical member has six figures on account with us," says founder Gregory D. Cohen. The prepaid charter program offers benefits like access to deeply discounted "empty leg" flights. (These are empty aircrafts returning from a one-way trip.) Although most customers are frequent fliers -- professional athletes, celebrities and investment bankers -- the company also offers on-demand flights for the occasional jet setter. A trip from New York to London on a heavy jet, like a G4 Gulfstream fitting 12 people, can cost from $6,000 to $8,000 an hour. Flying time is six to seven hours each way. Soft drinks, blankets, pillows, DVDs and snacks are provided. As for the bleak economic outlook, Mr. Cohen says jet companies like Halcyon deal with and elite clientele that is not affected by the vicissitudes of the marketplace. He foresees significant growth. "We are in the second inning of a nine-inning game," he says.