Whenever Ben Schlappig travels from his home in Los Angeles to Europe, he flies Singapore Airlines.
It is not a direct flight. In fact, his choice of carrier means that the journey is prolonged by hours. But Schlappig, who pens the popular One Mile at a Time airline blog, doesn’t mind. Singapore Airlines offers something that no other carrier flying to Europe direct does: his favorite champagne.
For a select group of elite travelers, it’s not the flat beds or the price of a ticket that matters, but the chance to enjoy the finest wines during their flight. They choose airlines that serve the best vintages, even if that sometimes means deliberately taking a longer route to reach their destination.
Schlappig says that for him and the like-minded travelers who read his blog, opting to add a layover in favor of a few glasses of high-quality golden bubbly is worth it.
“There are a lot of champagne enthusiasts who read trip reports about first- and business-class experiences, and the aspect I get the most comments on is on champagne or the alcohol quality,” he says. “People certainly do notice that, and I think it does drive people’s decision ultimately,” he adds.
The blogger’s pursuit of his favorite tipple isn’t limited to the sky:
“There is one lounge in the world, the Qatar Airways lounge in Doha, where they serve Krug, which is my favorite champagne,” he says.
“I will internationally route to Doha with a lengthy layover to have some champagne. I have planned longer layovers and specifically done it at certain airports where I know there’s a better selection,” he says.
Courting champagne travelers
While Schlappig and his fellow oenophile fliers might not be in the majority, they’re certainly significant enough for airlines to start paying attention to their selective palates.
Last December, Emirates Airlines announced a long-term investment of over $500 million for its on-board wine program. The company already serves blockbuster French labels like Château Lafite and Château Margaux, and currently has over 1.2 million bottles aging in its cellar in Burgundy, some of which won’t be ready to drink for another decade.
“To us, wine is an experience,” says Sir Tim Clark, Emirates’ CEO.
“Our customers want to enjoy wine on board as if they were in a fine-dining restaurant. It’s not just red, white, or rose. They are interested in where the grape comes from, the vintage, the vineyard’s heritage and so on,” he adds.
Qantas, which was awarded The Best Airline Wine List by the World of Fine Wine last year, publishes its own biannual glossy guide to on-board wine. The airline serves Taittinger Comtes de Champagne – which can retail up to $470 a bottle – in first class.
It’s not all about high price tags either. Schlappig says that UAE-based Etihad Airlines is popular with wine connoisseurs because it offers wine from smaller, lesser-known vineyards which are harder to source: “They rotate the selection every couple of months so it’s almost a fun way to try new champagne,” he says.
The blogger attributes airlines’ focus on fine wine to their need to set themselves apart at a time of increasingly luxurious perks in first class, from hotel-worthy suites to on board showers.
“For someone looking to provide the best experience, having a great champagne is a good way to differentiate yourself from other airlines. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s just the champagne, but that’s a way to associate yourself with a brand that helps reflect the quality you’re trying to bring to your airline,” he adds.
And when it comes to choosing routes, how far would Schlappig go for a glass of his favorite bubbly?
“Realistically, I would say that if the product is significantly better I would add one connection or a two hour transit,” he says, “I wouldn’t travel an extra 15 hours.”
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