Israeli flag carrier El Al is considering adding more premium economy seats to its Boeing Dreamliner B787s, according to its CEO.
In an interview with Business Traveller, Gonen Usishkin said its new premium economy option – which the airline terms ‘Premium Class‘ – has proven so successful it was considering adding an extra row on its B787s.
The seats are available on the eight routes served by the aircraft (Newark, JFK, Hong Kong, Paris, London Heathrow, Miami, Los Angeles and Toronto) and provide more legroom and recline, a greater baggage allowance and different dining options.
“Premium is the new kid in town,” Usishkin said. “I feel that trend will continue for the foreseeable future with only minor tweaks.”
Usishkin said that the airline is focusing on business travellers, and the way to cater for them is through the provision of premium economy seats for the cost-conscious traveller and improved business class, rather than first.
El Al has been an all-Boeing carrier since 1961, with B737s, B747s, B767s, B777s, and most recently B787s.
The airline is taking delivery of 16 Dreamliners between 2017 and 2020, with eight already in use and six more arriving in 2019, which Usishkin called a “big move” for a company of El Al’s size. The new aircraft will replace its B747-400 and B767-300s, and since first class is only currently available on the B747s, it does look as though the days of first class for El Al are numbered.
The introduction of B787s has seen El Al introduce a new business class seat from Recaro which converts into a two-metre long fully-flat bed, change its business class configuration from seven abreast to four (1-2-1), and add premium economy.
It is also planning to retrofit its B777s with seats in a similar formation to the B787s, though “probably” with Zodiac seats in business, according to Usishkin.
He added that it would replace the seats on its 15 B737-800s by the end of 2019.
On short and medium haul, low-cost carriers such as Easyjet, Wizzair and Ryanair have entered the Israeli market, meaning El Al is focusing on business travellers to ensure profitability. The airline gets 60 per cent of its revenue from long-haul, but while passenger numbers are edging up, profits fell to a loss in the first nine months of 2018, which the airline blamed on oil prices and increased staff costs.
The airline has various codesharing agreements, including with Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines, American Airlines, Qantas, Iberia and TAP Air Portugal. But for political reasons, it has in the past been blocked from joining airline alliances, setting it apart from many of the carriers flying to Israel. The airline has previously said it “severely restricts our global operations and destinations served.”
Usishkin commented today: “The alliances are now more open to talking to El Al.”
“We have been denied entry into alliances before, but I think the geopolitical climate is changing and there is more openness to it.”
One of the reasons for that, Usishkin pointed out, is that the big carriers are increasingly focused on joint ventures over alliances.
He also discussed more general issues on the ground level, as queue times get worse at big airports.
“Airlines have been improving but airports feel like they have been left behind,” he said.
“At some point that will require a new technology or alignment, and I don’t see people talking too much about it.”
“It has been held back a lot by security issues. It feels like there is a lot of talk about security threats and that’s been pushing airports to take more and more measures, but with the customers suffering. We need to see how that can be solved.”
“The world is struggling to understand what’s going on with security. It seems like the solutions are not addressing the concerns, but they definitely create hassle. Anxiety about travel is on the rise.”