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Airlines pamper affluent travelers

If you are among America’s well-to-do, you may have noticed that the airline industry has been rolling out the red carpet for you lately.

For good reason. The number of affluent travelers has risen in the last few years, according to a report by the travel marketing agency MMGY Global and research firm Harrison Group.

Defined as those with an annual household income of $250,000 or more, affluent travelers make up 6 percent of the leisure travel market, up from 4 percent in 2010, according to the report. Women constitute most of those travelers at 54 percent, up from 42 percent in 2010, the report said.

The airline industry has responded with roomier seats and better onboard entertainment and food.

But affluent travelers are also getting the royal treatment at airport terminals.

Delta recently expanded a program that uses Porsche Cayenne S. Hybrid vehicles to take what the airline calls "high-value" customers from one gate to another to make sure they don’t miss their connecting flights.

The program began on a trial basis in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2011 and has been expanded in the last month to Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy International and Minneapolis-St. Paul International.

"We’ve found a unique opportunity to surprise and delight customers while assisting customers between connecting flights," said Mike Henny, director of customer experience for Delta.

Meanwhile, American Airlines has expanded its Flagship Check-in program. The airline’s elite passengers, such as international first-class travelers, are met at the curb by a sky captain and a ticket agent and are escorted through a special entrance into the terminal. Once inside, they get to cut to the front of the security screening lines.

The Flagship Check-in program is primarily for influential travelers who are invited to join by the airlines. The invited travelers have included the late film critic Roger Ebert and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, according to airline officials.

The program began at LAX a year ago and was expanded in the last few months to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, JFK and Miami International Airport.


Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

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