The Wonderful World Of Airline Amenity Kits

The airline industry's arms race has been on fire in recent years. When we take a look at this frenzy-filled mania, it's clear that the objective for each carrier is to outclass and outmaneuver their rivals. This, in turn, will drive increasing numbers of high value passengers to join their side. Once this emotional connection has been established, inertia ensures that they will continue to fly with that carrier longer than they normally would. In other words, if your experience with a certain carrier stands out so much that it makes your trips on other carriers feel monochromatic, it's clear where you'll be spending your hard earned cash the next time you fly out to London for that important business development meeting.

Credit: United Airlines

In addition to gourmet meals of lobster and caviar, luxurious seating, and airport lounges that facilitate relaxation (if you're interested in finding out more, here's an app that you may want to check out), carriers have been duking it out on another critical stage. While it may not be a make-or-break for the discerning consumer, it can certainly be very helpful as a deciding factor when passengers narrow their choices down to multiple carriers with similar levels of luxury (routing and pricing issues are taken care of).

Credit: WESSCO International

Some passengers have become so enthusiastic about this aspect of the journey that they continue to fly the same carrier just to get one step closer to completing their collections of these goodies. If that's not enough, keep in mind that these may be the only impressions that follow you home after a trip - or your saving grace when you accidentally leave your bag of toiletries behind at the hotel. Like Swiss army knives, they personify versatility. Today, we welcome you to our exclusive sneak peek into the wonderful world of amenity kits.

Let's Define The Amenity Kit

If you have flown first or business class, you're probably familiar with the ubiquitous amenity kit. For those who have not had this opportunity, let's take a brief moment to make sure that we're all on the same page. An amenity kit is the total package of personal care items that carriers provide to passengers on long distance flights. While these are usually given to premium passengers, it is certainly not unusual to receive one while flying on coach. More often than not, they contain a collection of small, travel-pack sized toiletries and other useful items, like earplugs - all neatly packaged into an aesthetically pleasing vessel. This can either be a bag, case, or even an iPad holder. What makes these little packages extra special is that the wildly successful ones give off an essence of exclusivity, high value, and utility at just the right time.

Credit: United Airlines

Early History

It's now time to hit the rewind button and set things back to the fabulous 1950s. During this burgeoning period of rapid growth, carriers began flying transoceanic, long distance routes. On these early flights, passengers remained on the aircraft overnight without stopping to rest, much like today. This brought about the rise of sleeper services. In the beginning, passengers brought their own bedding supplies - blankets, sheets, and pillows - as well as toiletries, as a carry on. Shortly after, the airlines began providing their own sets free of charge, bringing this trend to an abrupt end. This action ignited the little spark that eventually grew into the modern amenity kit industry.

Credit: San Francisco International Airport

During this early period, and continuing into the modern day, airlines provided separate "his" and "her" kits with gender-specific personal items. For men, this included a small tin of shoe polish, a razor, a comb, and some deodorant and aftershave. For women, the equivalent counterparts were hair cream or hair spray, cleansing cream, hand cream, and a small container of nail polish remover. The gender-neutral toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste were included in both kits.

Other special items include sleep masks to block out ambient lighting, sleep socks to keep your feet warm and toasty, and comfortable sleepwear - robes, pajamas, and slippers - your ticket to a better night's sleep. Over the years, a number of other nice freebies were brought into the mix, including small towelettes to keep your face clean, moisturizing lip balm to prevent chapped lips, breath mints to keep your breath smelling fresh, bottles of facial spritzer to rejuvenate yourself, bars of soap for your warm shower, and of course, washcloths! Who doesn't love washcloths?

Credit: San Francisco International Airport

For the most part, items from the early years were fairly basic compared to their modern counterparts. Luxurious brand names did not typically receive the amount of top billing that they do today (this trend really began to take off much more recently). However, this does not mean that there weren't plenty of nice gems - all you have to do is visit eBay to see for yourself. One interesting example is the amenity kit from "The President Special", Pan American Airlines' first class cabin. This kit came with perfume, cologne, and aftershave, among other items.

Credit: San Francisco International Airport

If you want to learn more about the history of amenity kits, a great place to start would be the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport. This museum is located in Terminal 1, before security, near the corridor that connects it to the International Terminal.

The Importance Of A Stylish Amenity Kit

More than ever, amenity kits today command an exceptionally large amount of attention in the minds of airline executives. As one of many channels for carriers to differentiate themselves creatively, amenity kits are not only a reflection of the carrier's brand; they demonstrate a high regard for the airlines' top customers. These premium class travelers contribute almost one-third of a carrier's total revenues, a disproportionate share considering that they make up only about 10% of total airline passengers. Given these numbers, it is easy to see why it is so important for carriers to stand out as a part of their overall brand strategy towards these travelers.

Credit: American Airlines

To do so, many carriers have chosen to model their kits after special collectors' items that hold some exclusive value. If the kit is memorable and fits seamlessly into a brilliant branding strategy, the carrier will succeed in tying the brand to feelings of good memories and nostalgia. This is very effective when they're looking to appeal to prospective future customers' emotions.

Credit: WESSCO International

Another factor that comes into play is that airlines are increasingly interested in co-branding and revenue sharing opportunities with outside brands. What a fascinating stroke of luck for the amenity kit industry! As one of the first things that passengers notice when they board a flight, amenity kits represent real lucrative potential. With different brands supplying not only the case, but each individual product within, amenity kits are tailor-made for co-branding opportunities. Here's a short list of the prominent partnerships that have taken root: Etihad Airways and Korres, Cathay Pacific Airways and Jurlique, and British Airways and Elemis.

By providing just a pinch of luxury, brands can efficiently expose themselves to high value passengers. The amenity kits bring about another great benefit to passengers - the opportunity to sample products that they otherwise would not. And remember - these passengers are a captive audience on a plane for five, ten, or sometimes even fifteen hours. If a passenger discovers that they have developed an acquired taste for a certain product, he or she may be able to purchase it in larger amounts on the flight or at the airport, duty free.

WESSCO International

Credit: Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association

To get a better understanding of how an amenity kit supplier operates, let's take the example of an industry juggernaut with over thirty-five years of experience in the hospitality industry. Founded in 1979, WESSCO International has been the supplier of top notch, award-winning amenity kits to many of the world's leading carriers, including American Airlines, United Airlines, Etihad Airways, and Delta Air Lines. Special thanks to Mark Nguyen, WESSCO International's Director of Market Research, for his gracious assistance and insights on the travel sourcing industry.

Other leading suppliers worldwide include Formia, gategroup-Harmony, SkySupply, Helios, AK Service, Spiriant, and Watermark.

Creating A Kit From A to Z

While amenity kits are pretty straightforward, the process behind how an amenity kit comes into being is a bit more complex. It's also very fascinating. Every couple of years, carriers like American Airlines or JetBlue Airlines decide that they would like to create new amenity kits for their passengers. Of course, they will need a supplier.

To jumpstart the process, these carriers will allow suppliers like WESSCO International to bid for the right to fulfill the orders for a specific project. In their bids, the suppliers submit responses detailing why their plans would fit best within the airlines's overall big-tent marketing strategy. Often, carriers are specific about what they want to include in their kits, and the suppliers will then be responsible for fulfilling these orders. The level of specificity that carriers demand, however, varies.

Let's say that WESSCO International has won the right to become a supplier for American Airlines - an instance of art imitates life. Once American has given WESSCO International some specific information on what they expect, WESSCO International is then responsible for sourcing the items from the supplier partner networks that they have built up over time. The order then must be fulfilled within the allotted time with the correct quantities and sizes. Carriers often have a budget in mind, and WESSCO International plays a role in helping them figure out how to meet these constraints while optimizing the value of the products within the kit at the same time.

Credit: American Airlines

The amount of creative input that WESSCO International has on any given project varies. Sometimes, carriers will work more closely with suppliers in order to define the airline passenger experience, not only onboard, but in the lounge, as well. (If you need a buddy for the lounge portion of your flight experience, you know where to look). When carriers prominently feature certain brands in their amenity kits, they may also like to have them in their lounges. The reasoning: If premium passengers see a brand name more than once on their trip, this sharpens those neurons in their minds, making the brand more familiar and easier to remember. In other situations, WESSCO International may have more freedom in figuring out how to meet the carriers' needs.

Some carriers may already have certain brands in mind when working with their supplier, while others are more open to suggestions from the suppliers themselves. As with others in the industry, WESSCO International has exclusive relationships with a number of brands that work solely with them in certain regions of the world. For much of their history, WESSCO International has maintained a strong presence in North America, having enjoyed a working relationship with the three major carriers in the United States today, as well as Air Canada. As they grew in popularity, WESSCO International began making inroads into the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Many of their products are now sourced from international design hubs like Hong Kong and London.

Designing The Ideal Kit

A lot of thought is given to putting together the ideal amenity kit. The best kits, or la creme de la creme, feel as if they blend together as one. When this happens, it is certainly not by accident. While cheap plastic looking bags may have been acceptable in years past, beautiful keepsakes that will last for years are so common nowadays that they've become expected.

An important part of creating a memorable amenity kit is building up a sense of luxury and prestige, which enhances the value and perception of the final product. As such, partnering with high-end beauty and cosmetic brands has never been more important. In recent years, WESSCO International has worked with Dermologica, whose products can be found on American Airlines, and Philosophy, the official personal care brand of United Airlines. On foreign carriers that want to go really high-end, brands like Bulgari and Ferragamo will do the trick.

Credit: WESSCO International

Another important consideration to take into account is utility. After all, passengers will value the product a bit more if it meets and surpasses more of their wants and needs. This is why amenity kits resemble a metaphorical fruit basket: ear plugs, socks, combs, eye shades, tissues, and even notepads. Taking these factors into account, it's clear that a balance of aesthetics and function is important. Imagine Goldilocks and the Three Bears - you want the bowl of porridge that's just right.

Perhaps the most important wildcard, as we touched upon earlier, is creating a collectors' item. Carriers want to release amenity kits that passengers take home after the flight is over. If this does not happen, the carrier may interpret it a sign that their efforts have been wasteful or unsuccessful. The logic goes: if the kits are memorable enough, unique enough, interesting enough, passengers will want to bring them back as a keepsake. This can be an effective way to encourage frequent flyers to build up a collection, much like people do with baseball cards, stamps, or souvenir license plates. The only caveat? To collect all the all the pieces of a set, you must continue flying the same carrier.

To commemorate the Sochi Olympics earlier this year, WESSCO International assisted United Airlines by sourcing specially customized bags and tins. As with this example, carriers will often distribute seasonal and special edition kits on special occasions, whether we're talking about Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas season, or whenever the world succumbs to World Cup mania.

Credit: American Airlines

A clear trend that we've been seeing in the past several years, and which will continue to stay strong in the foreseeable future, is more eco-friendly kits. This goes hand-in-hand with the increasing strength of the worldwide green movement. Carriers from American Airlines to Aeromexico to Cathay Pacific Airways have all been moving towards reusable bags, synthetic fabrics, corn-based toothbrushes, and even bamboo socks.

In sum, the best kits are valuable, memorable, and useful. Some have bolder designs, some are more traditional, and some may be more luxurious - but in the end, the kit should be a reflection of carrier's branding message.

Ready to Go Live

The final product is complete, and everything has shipped on time, ready to go live - now what? Well, at this point, carriers will begin to distribute the newly made amenity kits to passengers onboard. Often, featured products are not yet available to the public. If one of these products becomes successful, don't be surprised if you come across one of them while browsing the aisles of the airport's retail outlets in the future.

Credit: WESSCO International

If you've visited the duty free shops in the airport terminal or pored over one of the carriers' catalogues on board, you may have noticed that they often carry the same merchandise that you would find in your amenity kit. If you sample a bottle of skin cream, and you like it so much that you decide to bring some home to your extended family, this would be a success for the cream brand. The airline also comes out ahead, receiving a hefty commission from the sale. The more successful the skin care brand becomes, the better the carrier looks by association - a win-win situation indeed.

Case Samples of Successful Kits

Let's take a look at a few of the WESSCO International's many successful collaborations over the years. Before we start, we'll introduce one of the most prominent trailblazers in the industry, a woman who the New York Times once called the "godmother of the modern-day amenity kit", Anita Gittelson. As WESSCO International's Executive Vice President of Product Development, Gittelson has scoured the globe to secure the best boutique products to complement individual carriers' brand strategies.

Delta Air Lines

In the early 2000s, Gittelson discovered Essentiel Elements, a Californian aromatherapy brand. Impressed with their offerings, she introduced the brand to Delta Air Lines, a decision that resulted in great rewards for all parties involved. Essentiel Elements products were featured in Delta's amenity kits, along with coupons for future purchases. The outcome? Product sales went up, and Delta received a commission off of each sale, bringing in an additional stream of revenue.

Credit: WESSCO International

Another WESSCO International success story, also involving Anita Gittelson, is the introduction of L'Occitane products to Delta, which you can read more about here. To say the least, this effort was wildly successful. WESSCO International was so thoroughly impressed with the products that they decided to present the brand to long-time clients outside of the aviation industry, namely Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Norwegian Cruise Line. During the years when L'Occitane products were featured by these WESSCO International clients, L'Occitane skyrocketed in stature, experiencing exponential growth around the world. Coincidence? Highly unlikely.

American Airlines

American Airlines has collaborated with the Eames Foundation, which celebrates the works of Charles and Ray Eames, two pioneers of design from the mid-century modern movement of the 1950s. The result was a highly popular kit, featuring a classic dot pattern from the Eames historical archives. The first class kit can even be used as an iPad cover - pure multi-functionality. Remember the part from earlier about carriers featuring brands in both their amenity kits and lounges? Here's a perfect example - you can find Eames chairs in American Airlines Admirals Clubs.

Credit: WESSCO International

Etihad Airways

WESSCO International's continuing partnership with Etihad Airways is one of their most prominent. One of their notable collaborative efforts resulted in an amenity case featuring a traditional design that celebrates the rich Bedouin heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, Etihad's home base.

Credit: WESSCO International

As a luxury carrier, Etihad provides unique amenities and comfort items that you may not find on other carriers. For instance, you'll find Le Labo amenities and premium flat-beds in Diamond First Class, topped with glossy dupioni silk, cotton duvets and COCO-MAT luxury all-natural bedding. And we're just getting started - as an Etihad premium customer in Diamond First Class, you'll also receive your very own beautiful Etihad sleep suit. These are so comfortable and elegant that you'll want to wear them again and again - at the hotel, in your master bedroom, maybe even in your very own daybed by the pool.

Credit: WESSCO International

United and Copa Airlines

If you've flown first or business class on a long haul United Airlines flight, you may already have an amenity kit or two loaded with Philosophy skin care products. Due to the brand name, these products would almost certainly receive Aristotle's endorsement. In addition, if you fly on a limited number of special routes with United, you may be familiar with collector tins displaying "NYC Friendly" or "LAX Friendly" (great for stoking the flames of collectomania).

Credit: WESSCO International

While we're on the topic of United, let's visit Panama's flag carrier, Copa Airlines, whose logo bears a striking resemblance to that of United. For Copa's amenity kits, inspiration for the designs was taken from the Biomuseo, which showcases Panamanian anthropology and culture. On a related note, the museum's architectural design is quite unorthodox - take a look. For all of these efforts (other than the Biomuseo's architecture), you can thank WESSCO International.

A Bright Future Ahead

Looking forward, WESSCO International expects to continue in their quest to facilitate a more encompassed flight experience with the help of their specially designed kits. With over 35 years of industry experience working with small and large carriers from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America, WESSCO International boasts a deep pool of unparalleled connections with suppliers, flexibility with regards to budgets, and a commitment to optimizing the travel experience. Over time, WESSCO International looks forward to introducing new brands and promoting more products in airport lounges through special events, giveaways, and complimentary spa treatments.

As for the industry in general, we expect an increased emphasis on pushing the boundaries of creativity, with new designs, product combinations, and multi-purpose amenities. Collectors should expect more good news, with an increasing number of exclusive collector's items and tins that come with flying special routes or during the run-up to special occasions. Putting all of this together, carriers will provide a greater emphasis on fashioning a more integrated and seamless flight experience. As a result of these initiatives, the importance of the amenity kit will continue to rise, and we would not be surprised if this ushers in a renaissance period in the amenity kit industry.

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