Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- The world’s premium airlines have rushed to make their first and business-class cabins pleasure domes of comfort. Champagne, caviar, celebrity chefs, and seats that recline 180 degrees into beds are now mandatory if you’re going to compete for the globe’s top trotters.

A less-visible industry trend now accompanies these high-tech thrones, and the battle for supremacy is just as fierce: Yes, the airlines have gone to war over your pajamas.

Passengers riding the premium cabin want to deplane “looking crisp and fresh,” says James Bradbury-Boyd, a spokesman for Singapore Airlines, which has made sleepwear an integral part of its in-flight service for at least 20 years. “We are flying many of the world’s longest distance and duration flights, and many of those flights are overnight,” he said. “It’s simply practical in order to help passengers arrive in better shape for them to be better able to change out of their clothes.” Some carriers also offer showers at airport clubs so you can be as fresh as your suit—Emirates even moved theirs onboard, but you get just five minutes of water.

Following years of financial duress, U.S. carriers have also begun touting sleepwear as an amenity. Their aim is to get ever closer to the big leagues of lavish service in which Asian and Middle Eastern carriers hold sway. Those airlines have long considered leisure apparel de rigueur.

Pajamas also provide an opportunity to stand out for carriers that already coddle their lucrative passengers. Qantas Airways Ltd., for example, is offering Olympic-themed pajamas on some international routes through Sept. 18 to celebrate Australia’s athletes. The limited-edition green/gold design, which matches the Aussie team colors, is a temporary replacement for the gray cotton ones Qantas normally distributes in business class.

Almost every airline chooses cotton for its sleepwear fabric, and most, like Singapore, have made the apparel’s presentation into part of the pre-bed ritual. This includes pillows, duvets, and turndown service to replicate a posh hotel experience.

The pajamas, which can be purchased on eBay and other sites for a tidy sum, are also meant to complement the high-tech seating now found in all premium cabins, pleasure centers that can cost airlines upward of $500,000 each. Some offer massage, and all recline flat, an amenity often listed in passenger surveys as the most critical component of a long flight.

Over the past year, the Big Three U.S. network carriers have revamped or introduced new features for those sitting closest to the cockpits.

Delta Air Lines Inc. has pajamas on flights to China in its Delta One cabin, the airline’s moniker for first class on international routes and nonstop flights from New York City to California. United Continental Holdings Inc., which had a glitzy ceremony in Manhattan this summer to introduce a new premium cabin dubbed Polaris, will have sleep suits available for request on flights of more than 12 hours. The revamped cabin is scheduled to make its debut in December.

American Airlines Group Inc. offers pajamas in its “Flagship” first class on long-haul international routes and has begun adding them to business class offerings on some longer routes, such as to Auckland, Sydney, and Hong Kong. The carrier recently switched to a 100 percent cotton fabric from a cotton-polyester blend.

Naturally, airlines that are regularly lauded for their in-flight service—Cathay Pacific, All Nippon Airways, Air France, Emirates—are well into the pajama game as well.

Still, as common as they may be for high-flyers, pajamas aren’t found in every premium cabin. Hawaiian Holdings Inc., which is introducing a new premium cabin on its Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330 fleet, decided to skip pajamas. The new cabin became available this summer and will be added to the long-haul aircraft through 2018.

Hawaiian’s research showed that pajamas are more closely associated with first class—which it offers internationally—not business class, a spokeswoman said. Secondly, because the airline skews heavily toward vacationers, “we focused on the amenities that made the most sense for our guests,” spokeswoman Alison Croyle said in an e-mail. For example, if you’re already wearing shorts and a tank top instead of a business suit, you’re less likely to feel the need to change.

Popular or not, wearing lounge wear at 35,000 feet has another attribute rarely seen outside the Playboy Mansion. As airline blogger Ben Schlappig put it last year: “Where else do you get to wear pajamas and drink cocktails in public?” 

(Updates with showers in third paragraph.)

To contact the author of this story: Justin Bachman in Dallas at jbachman2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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