Battle Of The Emerging ‘Boutique Airlines’

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It’s a phrase that some airlines build their business model and service proposition on, but the ‘Boutique’ airline is a seemingly new airline type that will no doubt turn our heads a little more often than legacy carriers, but why is that?

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While La Compagnie has already built the strap-line ‘Boutique Airline’ into their marketing, they aren’t the only carrier that classes themselves as a boutique carrier. Gulf Air this week announced their plans to continue their operation as a boutique airline. Instead of competing with their Middle Eastern counterparts of Etihad, Emirates and Qatar, they have taken a different approach.

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However, Gulf Air isn’t the only boutique carrier in the region by our calculations. Oman Air, with a similar customer experience, fleet structure, hard product and network also vies for the position of the leading Boutique Airline of the Middle East. Both airlines offer truly outstanding products, and both won awards in our awards this year for good reason.

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Having a smaller fleet means more money can be spent on adapting existing hard products, customising trim and finish and creating truly outstanding cabins. Legacy carriers who have to retrofit hundreds of aircraft look for more cost effective options. These boutique carriers also benefit from smaller airports, which allow for (usually) more seamless transfers, and the ability for the airline to have a bigger impact on the airport experience.

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Boutique carriers usually don’t offer the full bells and whistles of their larger competitors, such as chauffeur drive, powerful international frequent flier programs or frequent schedules, but they can cherry pick their route network, much like Virgin Atlantic has done in comparison to their behemoth competition at British Airways.

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But how can boutique airlines compete with each other? Fares are often similar, and in the likes of Gulf and Oman, both offer exactly the same hard product in business. These smaller boutique carriers rely on their less-robotic, more authentic service style, that allows individuality to thrive. It also means the carriers have more opportunity to develop brand partnerships, and shake things up, like introducing local chefs to design menus, source better amenities and design heavily customised lounges.

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But most likely due to coincidence there are two clear rivalries going on. While Oman Air and Gulf Air both compete for savvy travellers who understand what travelling with either airline will bring at usually a lower cost than the ME3, on the other side of the world there is another unlikely trio emerging as boutique carriers.

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While Hawaiian wouldn’t usually be classed as a boutique carrier, it follows the same template, with a unique business class, smaller route network and fleet offering, and a signature customer experience that is synonymous with the tropical state.

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Further south, two other carriers, Fiji Airways and Air Tahiti Nui, are also constantly improving their passenger experience. Air Tahiti Nui has just updated not only their brand and livery, but their fleet, with a new wave of 787s and lie-flat seats in business class, while Fiji Airways launched the new wave of Boutique carriers a few years back, with a sophisticated (although not industry-leading) customer product and exquisite livery.

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While this new wave of carriers continue to jostle for our attention, other carriers look on, hoping to emulate the same attention to detail, individuality, cherry-picked routes and ultimately business model.


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