Turn left at the aircraft door these days, and you’re boarding a new class of long-haul travel experience. Venue finds out what the airlines are getting up to. By Amanda Fifield.

When it comes to business class, the adage 'more is more' definitely rings true for what travellers now expect from their airline. This means more comfort, more privacy, more choice, and more ways to communicate with those both on land as well as on-board.

Let's start with comfort. When customers speak, airlines listen. Take the Qantas flagship 787-9 Dreamliner, which is expected to arrive sometime this year, for example. Many of the cabin's elements reflect what its customers have asked for.

Now, no matter where they're seated, every one of the 236 passengers will enjoy a cabin layout designed to maximise comfort for long haul flights.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says the interiors have been carefully designed with longer routes and changing passenger preferences in mind.

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"The Dreamliner is an aircraft built for comfort. The windows are bigger, it helps reduce jetlag, it's extremely quiet and there's a system that smooths out turbulence. Customers are going to love it."

There's also more comfort when it comes to sleep; while flat beds in business class are pretty standard across carriers these days, Qantas passengers' beds have the ability to stay reclined during both take-off and landing. So there's really no need to take your head off the pillow other than for mealtimes.

A better night's sleep was the prime focus for United Airline's new business class service, United Polaris, that was launched in December last year on all international long-haul routes.

To tap into the booming Asia Pacific business travel market, where the airline anticipates corporate spending to account for half of its world total by 2025, United conducted more than 12,000 hours research with customers and employees.

The single most important priority for international business class travellers emerged as: sleep.

With most business passengers travelling halfway around the world on long-haul flights,
they wanted a tailored experience that would maximise comfort and sleep, so they would arrive at their destination well-rested, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

And this is what United Polaris was designed to achieve, with plenty of special touches - from the sleep-focused amenities like Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding and Soho House & Co's spa-quality Cowshed products, to a custom-designed, personal on-board suite with added privacy.

Speaking of privacy, it's all very well having a comfy bed, but getting a peaceful sleep can often rely on retreating into your own personal space.

So alongside United Polaris', the Qantas Business Suite on the Dreamliner also provides a high level of privacy, made all the more flexible with an adjustable divider between each seat. It's described as the next generation of the popular seat recently installed on the Airbus A330 fleet.

On the upper deck of the Emirates A380, there are a few other special features that come with the flagship double-decker's 76 fully lie-flat Business Class seats, says Chris Lethbridge, the airline's New Zealand regional manager. They are, in fact, more like individual compartments, he says, with their own mini-bar and storage areas.

However, just like its competitors, the Dubai-based airline doesn't rest on its laurels, and has continued to innovate since it first started flying to New Zealand in 2009.

"Despite the various attractive features already available, there will always be new wants, needs and offerings for premium class passengers, and Emirates is determined to stay ahead of the game," he says.

One of those offerings has been more choice. So, once passengers have completed that email, text or blog they may be craving a little downtime, and here's where the technology comes in.

"Emirates was a leader in providing Wi-Fi, which has been a boon for many business travellers," says Lethbridge. "And for those who just want to chill out, there are more than 2600 channels of entertainment and information, available on digital widescreens."

After all that excitement, you'll be ready to choose your dining options from its gourmet standard meals, with a glass of fine wine, including some of New Zealand's best.

Air New Zealand customers can also choose from a selection of award-winning New Zealand wines designed to complement each meal. Consultant chefs Peter Gordon and Michael Meredith have created exclusive Business Premier menus for the airline featuring fresh, innovative creations.

Team that with luxury leather armchairs that convert to beds, all the bells and whistles in connectivity and entertainment, and you'll be so relaxed you'll float off the plane come arrival.

But, as they say, nothing ever stays the same, and the airline is constantly reviewing its offering. An Air New Zealand spokesperson explains:
"While we believe our Business Premier product is well suited to the markets we fly, we are
continually scrutinising every aspect of the customer experience and keeping an eye on
trends to ensure we best meet the needs and expectations of our customers and deliver a
world-class customer experience."

United Polaris passengers can also enjoy re-imagined dining options. These are created in partnership with chefs from The Trotter Project, a group inspired by American celebrity chef and restaurateur the late Charlie Trotter. Even before they board, passengers are able to access the exclusive United Polaris lounges, with new rest spaces and high-end pre-flight dining options.

Finally, let's talk communications, which is vital for business travellers who need to be
connected wherever they are in the world. Nowadays Wi-Fi is generally a given, but it is those face-to-face interactions where friends and deals are often made. The Qantas Dreamliner has a new self-service bar in Business, as well as one in Economy, for the chance to socialise over drinks and snacks inflight.

The Emirates' A380 provides the opportunity to chat or network at 40,000 feet, alongside First Class passengers, at the rear of the top deck in the lounge bar area. Business class passengers can now take a break from the paperwork, stretch their legs and ask the dedicated bartender to mix them a cocktail, oh, and pass the canapés please.

Yes, more is definitely more.

Door to door service on Virgin Australia

Photo / Supplied.
Photo / Supplied.

Passengers can expect stylish, relaxing and refined travel when flying business on Virgin Australia's B777 aircraft to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi.

"When departing out of Australia we offer complimentary limousine service transfers to and from participating airports to select Business Class guests travelling on international long haul services," says VA's Nicola Segal.

Once on board you can stretch out in your private cocoon-like suite - which includes a fully flat bed and the convenience of direct aisle access. Request a turn down service with luxurious pillows, duvet and Julie Grbac designed pyjamas while you refresh with a Mandarina Duck amenity kit and REN Skincare products.

For those travelling in pairs, VA's centre suites provide a retractable privacy screen allowing you to enjoy the in-flight experience together.
"Our Business Class out of NZ on our 737 800 was introduced in May 2015 and has been very well received in the market for the short haul flights across the Tasman and into the Pacific Islands," says Segal.

- Greg Fleming


THE BUSINESS OF 'BLEISURE'

Photo / Supplied.
Photo / Supplied.

While the blending of business with leisure trips is nothing new, the phenomenon is reportedly growing, along with the use of the blended buzzword 'bleisure' or its sister portmanteau, 'bleasure'.

Names aside, the idea is to actually enjoy yourself while you're away on business, especially if you've travelled halfway around the world and don't fancy sitting inside
a conference hall the entire time before jetting back.

Instead, why not spend some time enjoying your new surrounds, and at the same time recharge your batteries, learn and experience new things, and often as not 'work' on your team building skills with fellow colleagues and travellers.

Another option: possibly reconnect with your other half or family members, if the invitation extends that far.

While it does rely on having the means and professional flexibility to tack on a few days, there is a growing emphasis on bleisure and achieving more work-life balance, especially as business travel increases.

Last year the BridgeStreet Global Hospitality report found 60 per cent of travellers had taken bleisure trips, with 30 per cent of those adding at least two days to their time away.

They reported they'd worked more effectively, been less stressed with travel and more relaxed away from home.

A whopping 94 per cent said they do it to gain cultural experiences and explore the cities they travel to, and almost 55 per cent said they had brought family members along with them.

Air New Zealand is doing its bit to show the world what our country has to offer
ith its Regional Convention Bureau Famil Programme.

Last year, the airline committed more than $100,000 to supporting the development
of domestic conference and incentive business right around the country in partnership with Convention Bureaus.

Breakouts into regional centres are becoming more popular as New Zealand is seen as a destination where you can work, stay and play for a week around the conference rather than simply flying in and out.

United Airlines research found that in the Asia Pacific region, 56 per cent of business travellers view travel as a perk of the job, and 48 per cent said they were interested in extending business trips for leisure.

This presents an enormous opportunity for the airline to offer end-to-end customer journeys, and it's tapping into this opportunity by providing customers with customised holiday packages, assisting with planning itineraries through United Vacations, and giving members access to more than 45 United Club locations and participating Star Alliance-affiliated airport clubs worldwide.