The delicate work of a sommelier has become more important as U.S. airlines fight for premium passengers willing to shell out up to thousands of dollars to fly business class on international and transcontinental flights. The idea isn’t to make money on the wine — the passengers in those seats drink for free — but rather to keep those customers coming back and encourage their well-heeled friends and co-workers to join them.
According to the International Air Transport Association, through the first four months of this year, there was an 8.5 percent increase year-over-year in premium passenger traffic, which includes business class and first class seats. Those seats are among the most pricey and profitable for airlines. The trade group expects fuel costs to weigh on premium traffic, and stronger growth in the second half of the year will depend on how well the economy holds up.