There’s a scientific reason why people, for whom money does matter, pay many thousands of dollars or frequent flyer points for a first class plane ticket. It’s not, as some would claim, that it is for a comfy chair that fits a traditionally sized bottom, a lay down bed, high-end champagne or even Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar. Nor is it to meet glamorous and interesting people, quickly build up frequent flyer points, enjoy stress free pampered travel, nor even to make the have-not economy plebeians jealous. It is much more… and it feels so good.
It’s all about the “rubber ducky”.
Consider some of the things you actually get in various First Class air products:
- Impeccable service from start to finish from a cast of superbly trained professionals
- Pick up and delivery in a luxury car or limo to the airport lounge/or right to your plane
- Luxury lounges which offer a range of entertainments which can include everything from a “free” spa treatment to drinkipoos at one of the world’s best scotch bars
- On board bars and lounges
- High-end wine and spirits with your own personal sommelier (who will talk to you for hours if that is your wish)
- Top-quality menus and snacks from award winning chefs (any time you feel peckish)
- Table settings for dinner with specially designed tableware and linens
- Personal Chef
- High end bathroom facilities (with showers, fluffy white towels, great products, and relatively clean)
- High-end personal entertainment systems (large personal screens, noise cancelling headphones, a humongous selection of movies, tv shows, games and music)
- Large seats with massage features and fancy lighting
- Comfortable armchairs and lie flat beds (sometimes even for two in a private room – mile high club anyone?)
- High-end linens, comforters, and bed mattress
- Private apartments
- Rubber duckies
OK, nice, but…
Wait, there’s more!
Working with high end chi-chi fabricators such as Aesop, Bulgari, Christian Lacroix, Dior, Ferragamo, Givenchy, and Rimowa, airlines have produced take away First Class airplane BLING. SWAG. “Free gifts” (for which you may have paid several hundred dollars).
Little luxury amenity kits including bespoke gender-specific kit bags with high-end lotions and potions that will transform your skin into a First Class work of touchable art, in-flight silk sleeper suits (no pajamas for the First Class set), comfy socks, eye-masks, and slippers,… and oh, yeah, some basic toiletries.
While it may sound rather unbelievable, these amenity kits are big business for airlines. We have met a surprising number of people who actually chose their flights based on opportunities for novel swag. First Class amenity kits are collected and traded with the same passion as any other collectable. Check out eBay!
We are all collectors at heart. Psychologist Carl Jung attributed it to the ancient need to collect nuts and berries, essentially a survival instinct that no longer has its original raison d’être. Mozart’s Don Giovanni famously collected sexual experiences, and flying First Class is also a collectible experience. And the rubber duckies and other swag are the tangible evidence, the souvenir, of that experience. They are also a drug in their own right.
Like Cracker Jack promising a “toy surprise” in every box, or unlocking the secret level on a video game, the First Class luxury travel business has perfected its magic by combining brain science and behavioral economics to stimulate the pleasure center in your brain.
Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain. It is associated with reward-driven behavior and pleasure seeking. Many addictive drugs act directly on the dopamine system (our apologies for the geeky science lesson).
So how does First Class, and yes even Business Class, keep on supplying you with a dopamine rush to part you with your hard earned moolah?
Simple – by continuously providing small, albeit unexpected, constantly changing blingy “surprises” in their products. These bits of collectible swag, like the Lufthansa’s First Class lounge bathtub rubber duckies, trigger dopamine hits, which in turn leave the consumer with a positive feeling and the desire for another hit… then another… It is addictive, and it is intended to be.
The airline ticky tacky trinket game is big business. For example, according to The Economist, First and Business class products account for about one sixth of the seats but half of the revenue on trans-Atlantic flights.
Work through the numbers… is First Class really worth it? You don’t get there any sooner, and still suffer the same delays. But even knowing this, are you going to be bought with bling? Probably. Youbetcha. It’s basic brain chemistry.
And rubber duckies.