Most air travelers are no longer surprised when asked to pay for snacks, pillows and other services that were once free.
On some airlines, however, amenities are making a comeback.
“There are free in-flight amenities some airlines are offering that not only make a big impression, they’re cheap,” said Raymond Kollau, an analyst for airlinetrends.com.
Consider the “stretch bar” SAS installed on some jets to aid with in-flight exercise or the small mirrors the airline added to seats on some long-haul aircraft so passengers, Kollau explained, “can check their appearance without having to go to the bathroom.”
The mirrors SAS and other airlines are also placing inside overhead bins are inexpensive, Kollau said, “but help passengers and cabin crew check for forgotten items before leaving the plane.”
In February, All Nippon Airways (ANA) set aside a women-only lavatory on some of its international flights and then, by popular demand, added a men-only toilet in May.
ANA’s newly launched Haneda route to and from Los Angeles, Bangkok and Singapore has many late night departures, so the airline uses special lighting, sound and scent effects to create “a calm cabin atmosphere that invites passengers to relax and rest,” according to ANA spokesperson Nao Gunji. In addition to scented hand towels, the airline hands out small “Relax” and “Refresh” cards that emit a lavender or “ANA Original Aroma” scent when a small button is pressed.
South Korea-based Asiana Airlines has been offering a “Happy Mom Service” at many airports that includes a dedicated check-in line for families traveling with small children. With sponsorship from a Korean company that sells baby products, the service is extended onboard with complimentary nursing blankets, baby slings and baby seats.
The Happy Mom Service was so popular that Asiana introduced a “Pre-Mom” service in November that not only invites expectant moms into the dedicated check-in line but whisks them to the departure gate on an electric cart for early boarding. Once on-board, “pre-moms” get sleeping socks and front row seating that makes it easy to reach the lavatories.
Trend-watcher Kollau calls this sort of service a win-win-win airline amenity. “The airline doesn’t have to foot the bill and passengers share the story of the services and the products when they arrive. That creates word of mouth and helps build the brand.”
On many of its long-haul routes, Air New Zealand’s in-flight concierge team solves in-flight problems and offers tips for touring when on the ground.
Korean Airlines, meanwhile, has in-flight cultural ambassadors, while Asiana Airlines recently announced that some cabin crew will be using skills learned in recently completed sommelier courses.
“I’m increasingly seeing airlines using the skills or passion of the cabin crew to make the service stand out,” Kollau said.
Turkish Airlines offers free, guided city tours of Istanbul to passengers that have long layovers between flights. “The itineraries vary by day, but the sites visited usually include the Sultanahmet Mosque, Hippodrome Square and the Grand Bazaar,” said spokesperson Kim Niadna. “Travelers can find out more at the Hotel Information Desk at Istanbul Atatürk Airport,” she said.
Drinks on the house
On most airlines, passengers flying in business- and first-class cabins can kick back with complimentary alcoholic drinks. Back in coach, that beer, wine or cocktail will cost you.
But Horizon Airlines, the regional carrier of Alaska Airlines, offers passengers in every section a complimentary selection of Northwest wines and microbrews. During December, for example, a holiday porter called Hum Bug’r Ale from MacTarnahan’s Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., is on the menu.
On flights to Hawaii, Alaska Airlines offers complimentary Mai Tai cocktails for adults and complimentary tropical POG juice for kids. Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, often offers complimentary adult beverages to passengers on some holidays and special occasions. “The next day we’ll be doing this is Valentine’s Day,” said airline spokesperson Brad Hawkins.
Throughout December, American Airlines will offer discounted happy hour drink prices on certain flights during the 5 o’clock hour. It may not be free but is helpful for penny-pinching travelers.
Connect for free
In-flight Wi-Fi has been picking up steam, but “the usage, or ‘take’ rates are averaging [only] around 15 percent,” says Henry Harteveldt, an airline and travel analyst for Forrester Research. That may be why airlines continue to partner with sponsors to offer free samples of the service.
Passengers on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America are able to use the Wi-Fi service for free through Jan. 2, 2011, courtesy of Google Chrome.
Lufthansa passengers can use the airline’s new FlyNet service free through Jan. 31 on some North Atlantic routes. And in April 2011, when SAS rolls out Wi-Fi on European and intercontinental flights, the service will be complimentary for business class customers.
Little travelers get their wings
Delta Air Lines hasn’t forgotten about the kids. In addition to installing complimentary charging stations by its gates at 19 airports, the carrier also brought back the tradition of handing out complimentary plastic wings.
“Delta’s kiddie wings drifted away after 9/11, but they are an often asked-about item,” said airline spokesperson Morgan Durrant. “So we recently ordered more than 1 million pins with more on the way. Now customers of all ages may request a free set of gold wings from pilots and silver ones from flight attendants.”
(This story originally appeared on msnbc.com: In-flight amenities making a comeback on some airlines.)