A bottle of Salon Champagne sits on the table of a Japan Airlines first class seat.

Surprise-and-delight: a new model for Champagne and other beverages?

SmartSky - Finally WifI that Wows

A cold, crisp glass of Champagne is one of the perks of premium class travel that continues to bewitch and beguile travellers. Airlines buy veritable seas of the stuff: since the jet age, commercial aviation has been the largest purchaser of the world’s most famous bubbly, so special that there’s a snowclone meme about it — it’s not X unless it’s made in the X region of France; otherwise, it’s just sparkling Y.

Some airlines have been doubling down recently, like Emirates’ exclusivity deal for LVMH’s Dom Pérignon. Others have been cutting: Finnair (perhaps understandably given that the Russia overflight bans following that country’s invasion of Ukraine punched a hole in the Finnish carrier’s route network and business model) removed its longstanding little splits of Joseph Perrier from its shorthaul business class, replacing it with a not-from-the-Champagne-region-of-France sparkling.

Others still are maintaining their long-held standards. Japan Airlines, for example, still loads a single precious bottle of decade-and-a-half-vintage Champagne Salon on its first class flights from Tokyo, a bottle so rare that few wine stockists RGN spoke with on recent visits to the Champagne region could even put a price on it, but all agreed that it stretched to four figures in Euros.

A split of Joseph Perrier Champagne is sitting next to a glass half full on a Finnair tray table.

Finnair recently removed the little bottles of Joseph Perrier from shorthaul business. Image: John Walton

But is Champagne good value? It’s an inherently subjective question, and the answer for international first class is a firm yes. But what about the increasingly luxurious business classes? Here, the question gets a little more difficult. There’s certainly a point at which the most inexpensive mass-produced Champagnes — the entry-level bottles that retail in France for around 20 Euro — can come across as too sharp and acidic, lacking in complexity, and absent the generous mouthfeel so characteristic of Champagne. Is there value in offering these Champagnes? Not to the same extent, if at all.

Outside the aviation world, Champagne itself is a textbook example of a Veblen good: one where demand increases with price. Its famous brands — the grandes marques that include Dom Pérignon, Krug, Cristal (from Louis Roederer), Bollinger, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, among others — are referred to in media ranging from the James Bond books and movies to the music of 50 Cent. The cachet and prestige from these brands is beyond priceless: to the contrary, they’re very expensive, by design.

But the vast majority of Champagne houses are not grandes marques, being independent producers making limited amounts of the wine, without the marketing budgets of the big players, and with individual characteristics depending on where and how it is produced. And it’s these producers that represent a massive opportunity for airlines, especially in business class.


Talking to Champagne merchants in Reims recently, your author was struck by a common theme: airlines are getting a rum deal from their business class purchases. Cost-cutting, even before Covid, meant that airlines were buying cheaper business class bottles from their volume suppliers. While this does bring efficiencies through being able to offer one single product across all flights in one class, the quality of the actual Champagne is markedly lower than if airlines were to spend the same amount of money with smaller producers.

This would, of course, require a new approach to onboard presentation. Rather than every wine list featuring a marquee brand like Veuve or Moët, airlines might instead offer a blurb about how their Champagne consultants scoured the leafy hills and valleys of France’s most famous wine region to find hidden gems from small independent producers, which the airline is delighted to curate for your drinking pleasure on board today’s flight. 

Carriers could make the most of their onboard wifi by adding a QR code sticker to each bottle, linking interested passengers to information about the producer and the wine (and perhaps where the airline might be able to sell them a case if they enjoyed it).

This curation model could be opened to other beverages as well. Trends in beer, including the increasingly popular non-alcoholic varieties, are firmly towards smaller independent producers rather than the big brands, especially among business class clientèle. The opportunities to not just save money but to improve the airline’s passenger experience positioning are, in these cases, bottomless.

Related Articles:

Featured image credited to John Walton