A Touch of Class

New services from airlines and hotels give new meaning to learning on the fly.

Somehow, tuning in to the "ROI Report" on American Airlines' radio channel nine doesn't quite cut it as in-flight entertainment. We might learn a thing or two from listening to Unisys's senior manager of enterprise-server marketing, but, um, we'd hardly call that an escape.

Learning something new on the road doesn't have to feel like homework. Increasingly, airlines and hotels are rolling out on-site learning opportunities aimed at business travelers. In June, Singapore Airlines launched foreign-language classes for passengers. The software-based course teaches numbers, dates, and basic dialogue in 11 languages. Also in June, Virgin Atlantic added Japanese lessons to the Spanish courses it has provided since last year. (Not interested? Strap on noise-canceling headphones to drown out your seatmate's rudimentary Cantonese.)

Hotels, too, are getting in on the act. Both the Charles Hotel in Cambridge and the Wyndham Anatole in Dallas have recently begun tours of their resident art collections. A number of hotels are launching courses aimed at biz-travel booze fans. For instance, the InterContinental Buckhead in Atlanta offers cognac seminars for guests. And for yoga fans tired of the mat-and-video loaner trend that's been sweeping the chains, Hotel Vitale, in San Francisco's financial district, offers free daily yoga classes in its penthouse-level studio.

Our only question: What took them so long? The experience economy has been alive and kicking for years now, and the possibilities are endless for companies that hold captive smart, curious customers. Which brings me to my memo to Air France: On my next flight to Paris, I want a champagne seminar!

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