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The Interview: Dale Moss, OpenSkies

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OpenSkies is an airline that offers two-class seating in 757's with a maximum of 64 passengers on board. It aims to succeed where other companies have failed in offering a less expensive way to fly transatlantic in business class. It's also a subsidiary of British Airways, which gives it deeper pockets than most. I asked Dale Moss, the managing director, about the viability of such an airline in this bleak economic environment.

What makes you confident that Open Skies will succeed when we've seen the demise of Eos, MaxJet, and Silverjet in the past year, airlines that offered exclusive transatlantic business class flights?

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    There are many big differences between OpenSkies and these other companies.  To start, they flew to London.  British Airways already has a great business in London and was a formidable competitor to these startups.
These companies were also flying one class of service, whereas we offer two options — the business bed and business seat. Two of these players used 767s, which are a very heavy and fuel-inefficient aircraft for the all-business class mission. 
    EOS used a 757, like OpenSkies, but had significantly fewer seats on board.  This made their economics very challenging. Then, on top of it all, the oil price spike put huge pressure on companies that were flying 767s or had a very small number of seats on board. 
    An extremely important thing to keep in mind is that OpenSkies is backed by British Airways,  so we have the wonderful advantage of being able to combine the proven expertise of one of the world's biggest airlines with the passion and commitment of a start up.  We also have a code share agreement with BA which gives us even more exposure to their vast customer base, and we're part of the BA Executive Club frequent flier program.  Overall the BA relationship gives us many advantages in distribution and sales that these startups did not have. 

One defining difference between OpenSkies and other all-business class flights is your two-tiered service, which you call Biz and Prem+. Why make it two classes? And what's the real difference between the two, in terms of comfort and service?

    We hope that OpenSkies sets itself apart in ways big and small, but specific to this question about our two offerings, we feel that the choice of two different cabins broadens our customer base and appeals to travelers with a wide variety of priorities. 

   

The main difference between our cabins comes down to what we call our "business bed" and our "business seat".  Both of our cabins offer fantastic personal service with bottle-poured wine, creative, delicious meals and great individual entertainment options.  And all of this is delivered aboard a Boeing 757 with a maximum of just 64 passengers total, giving it a comfortable, uncrowded, almost private jet-like feel.   

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     In our BIZ cabin we offer 24 "business beds" (above).  This is a 180 degree, fully lie-flat bed — no angle at all.  It's the only lie-flat bed on our routes between New York and Paris or Amsterdam.  The PREM+ cabin offers our "business seat", 40 wide leather seats with a 140 degree recline and 52 inches of legroom. We like to say that PREM+ offers business class comfort without the business class price because, in terms of quality and comfort, it really rivals our competitors' business class offerings.

How about price. Currently, you have $662 one-way fares between New York and Paris and $550 for New York and Amsterdam, both for Prem+ What's the percentage difference between the two classes?

   

Roundtrip PREM+ fares between New York and Paris or Amsterdam start at about $1,215 while the starting round-trip fare for BIZ starts at $2,527 between New York-Amsterdam and $2,820 between New York-Paris, so PREM+ is about 45% of the BIZ fare.  What's even more compelling is that these fares start at thousands of dollars less than comparable cabins from competing airlines in the same market/ Traditional transatlantic business class flights can often cost in the neighborhood of $8,000 roundtrip. That's incredible value for a product with the space and comfort we're offering. 

Tell us about your partnership with L'Avion, the French business class airline.

    We announced our acquisition of L'Avion in July.  From the start, we felt L'Avion could add a lot to our new company's DNA with their like-minded entrepreneurial style. L'Avion also offered access to the Newark — Paris route, complementing our daily OpenSkies flight from JFK to Paris.  Together, we offer three flights a day from the New York area to Paris-Orly. We're working hard to complete our integration, when the company will be branded as OpenSkies and all aircraft will have a two-cabin configuration.

You're owned by British Airways yet you don't fly to London. Does this have something to do with the available slots at Heathrow?

    One of the driving forces behind the creation of OpenSkies was to give British Airways an opportunity to tap into brand new routes that have been opened up as a result of the Open Skies Agreement.  We don't have any plans to fly to London because that is British Airways' home turf.  We have no intention of competing with ourselves.    

Go to OpenSkies.

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