Air Transport World

U.S. carriers discover duty free - finally. (air lines)

U.S. carriers discover duty free -- finally U.S. carriers with international routes are finally catching on to something their European and Asian counterparts have known for a long time: there are profits to be made from selling luxury duty free products to the captive consumers flying between countries aboard their airplanes.

Northwest over the past 15 months has built a duty free program that rivals any in the world. Pan Am will turn a half-hearted effort into a full-blown enterprise this summer. TWA is injecting a new aggressiveness into its program. Carriers with only a few international routes--Eastern and People Express among them--have been calling on Sky Supply Inc. to implement duty free programs for them and are enthusiastic about the results.

There are, of course, airlines that continue to neglect duty free. United, for instance, is still studying the extent to which it will offer the service on the Pacific routes it acquired from Pan Am.

The problems, potential and promotion of duty free sales will be the subject of a panel discussion at the International Food Services Association Annual Conference in Miami in May. Claus Ritter, director-catering and commissary for CP Air, who is putting the panel together, hopes it will spur the laggards to jump on the duty free bandwagon.

One carrier that has demonstrated what can be achieved through a corporate commitment to building duty free revenues is Northwest. Its program today, says Ted Baier, manager of inflight sales, "is more extensive than that of any other U.S. carrier--and I think we're as good as anybody in the world at this point, even though we don't yet make quite as much money as some of the European carriers do."

Northwest program revamped

Northwest used to be "a little lazy" with its program, says Baier. "If the crew didn't want to do duty free that day, they wouldn't." The program was totally revamped at the outset of 1985, and by the end of the year Northwest had boosted its gross sales by 50% "and doubled our sales on many of our Pacific routes," he says.

Among other things, Northwest switched to a cart system of selling, introduced 11 new products, developed a promotional inflight video, and began accepting credit cards. …

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