TWA tempts business fliers with first-class incentives

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Trans World Airlines reconfigured its planes two years ago to add more first-class seats. Now, the airline is launching a campaign to fill them.

TWA -- which has received a recent public-relations boost from the Super Bowl run of the St. Louis Rams, who play in the eponymous Trans World Dome -- begins an estimated $8 million to $10 million campaign today touting a new promotion called "First Up."

The offer, aimed at business travelers, allows people who purchase a full-price coach ticket to receive an automatic upgrade to first class.

"They want to be on time and they love to fly upfront," said Stephen Schlachter, TWA's managing director of marketing programs.

The option is available on domestic flights originating at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and those that route through the airline's hub, Lambert Field in St. Louis. Northwest Airlines is the only other U.S. carrier to have a similar program.


The 15- and 30-second TV commercials will run on spot TV and national cable, including CNN, CNBC and ESPN. Radio and print will also be used. D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, is the agency.

The half-minute spot places the words "Buy coach. Fly first" on the screen twice in an effort to prompt viewer recall. That's also the catchphrase in the print ads.

"It's a very easy way for the business traveler to understand what's in it for them," said Lynne Brinker, senior VP-group account director at D'Arcy.

The campaign marks the airline's major ad push for the first half of this year. In 1999, TWA spent the first six months touting both its first-class service and the fact it would add one new plane every 10 days.

Then in September, the airline launched an image campaign with a new tagline: "One mission. Yours" -- a tag that continues in the "First Up" effort.


Like United Airlines, which recently launched its first campaign after dropping its "Rising" theme, TWA's ads have a recognizable narrator and distinct background music. United had used Gene Hackman for years and recently switched to actor Liam Neeson for the voice-over, and has long used George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" as its tune. TWA uses Jack Perkins, voice of A&E's "Biography," as its narrator and a quick-moving version of "Simple Gifts."

In 1998, in a bid to attract more high-margin business travelers, TWA altered the configuration of its planes to include what it says are 60% more first-class seats. Though it is far from true across the board, the airline industry maxim is that 20% of the customers bring in 80% of the revenue.

This year, airlines may be forced to rely on high-end business travelers even more as soaring fuel prices have forced them to raise fares. High fuel prices, an increased number of unfilled seats and weather problems may all cut into profits.

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