In an age of nickel-and-diming and fee-grubbing, it’s nice to see an airline take a stand for customer service: British Airways’ all-premium class subsidiary OpenSkies is launching a limited-time offer of a money-back guarantee for passengers on their flights. It may be a gimmick, but it’s also a statement of brazen confidence in their inflight product.
So if you buy an OpenSkies ticket between September 8 and November 30, 2010, and fly by November 30, 2010, you can request a refund if your inflight experience wasn’t to your satisfaction. Notably, you can’t request a refund if your flight was delayed or your baggage was damaged. It’s a guarantee of their inflight service.
To get your money back, you need to send a letter, postmarked within 30 days of the return travel date, explaining your dissatisfaction. If approved, you’ll get base fare and fuel charges refunded. Taxes, airport and security fees, and any other fees (like excess baggage or unaccompanied minors). The full fine print is on their site.
OpenSkies flies from Washington-Dulles or Newark to Paris-Orly. (For now, that’s it.) Their planes have flat beds in the front, cradle seats in the back. No coach seats.
The economy isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, but premium cabin traffic has been making a comeback. (No thanks to companies like Energizer…) IATA recently reported global traffic numbers for April 2010, and despite the drama of a big drop (volcano, anyone?), the number of people in the big-money seats is remarkably high. See the chart for yourself:
Some explanation of the steep drop:
The impact on flight segment markets from the ash plume in April is clear from the chart above. All markets connected with Europe slumped sharply, while other major markets continued to grow strongly. Data from the AEA shows that European airlines experienced a sharp rebound in traffic in May on within-Europe, transatlantic and Europe-Asia markets. So it appears as though the impact of the ash plume, substantial though it was in April, has only been a temporary interruption in the air travel upturn.
The volcano is indeed a quirk, so it’ll be interesting to see if the trendline is restored in the next month’s report.
And note that these data are passengers numbers, not paid passenger numbers. Upgraders are indeed included in the figures.
So, with traffic higher, it’s perhaps not a surprise when I read British Airways’ all-premium-seating subsidiary OpenSkies is talking about expansion, with 20 new routes reportedly in consideration. (Their website still predicts that they “plan to operate non-stop flights from New York to additional Continental European cities including Brussels, Milan and Frankfurt.”)
I just find it ironic that an all-premium airline is able to gain 29% share of the Paris-New York market in 2010, while the other coterie of all-business class airlines (Eos, Maxjet, Silverjet…) couldn’t make it happen in happier economic times.
Oh, 2007, the heady days of all-business class airlines like Maxjet, Eos, and Silverjet, with a newcomer popping up every few months to offer premium service on heavily-traveled business routes? …And who could forget MiMa? (Milan to Manhattan, quote…)
OpenSkies offers lie-flat seats (“BizBed”) at the front of the plane, and old-style business-class/new-style premium-economy cradle seats (“BizSeat”) in the the rear of the plane.
To me, the significance of this is two-fold:
For starters, it shows that British Airways, which had reportedly been shopping the OpenSkies subsidiary to prospective buyers a few months ago, has recommitted to the brand. This should give customers a smidge of confidence that their OpenSkies bookings are less likely to be canceled anytime soon.
Second, it’s a sign that premium-cabin demand may be coming back. The five Washington-Paris flights per week aren’t being added at the expense of the 17 weekly existing Newark-Paris flights. And the airline’s routemap webpage claims that they “plan to operate non-stop flights from New York to additional Continental European cities including Brussels, Milan and Frankfurt.” We’ll see if the latter claims actually pan out, of course, but even adding a DC flight to the mix says that business travel is starting to pick up.
Fares on the new route are being pitched at $815 plus taxes each way for the “BizSeat” option, and $1570 plus taxes each way for the “BizBed.” Not rock-bottom cheap, to be sure, but far less than the cash fare for an equivalent seat — even on a discounted Z fare — on a major airline. And hey, you earn BA miles.
Upgraded: United’s Mileage Plus
Man bites dog! Airline reverses fee! United is eliminating the fees for booking Mileage Plus tickets within 21 days of travel. If you book today, you’ll still pay a fee — $100 for travel within six days was $100 and $75 for travel within seven to 20 days. But if you book July 30 or after, there will no longer be a last-minute booking fee for using your miles. It’s an interesting — and welcome — move, considering airlines aren’t known for cutting fees. Here’s hoping others follow suit.
Downgraded: American’s luggage fees
Speaking of fees, this is more or less the norm: American is raising its checked baggage fees by $5, both for the first piece (now $20) and the second ($30).
Downgraded: Open Skies
OpenSkies, the all-premium class British Airways subsidiary, is dropping its New York-JFK to Amsterdam route and is focusing entirely on flights from Paris to Newark and JFK. Just days after announcing that the airline was for sale. A shame.
Downgraded: Government architecture
Just when they started making customs and border crossing buildings a little more interesting, they go ahead and roll it all back: The 21-foot-high letters spelling “United States” were deemed a target, and thus a security risk. Words fail me.
Upgraded: Deals at Starwood hotels
Starwood is cutting rates by up to 50%, albeit off rack rates. “Limited time only,” they say, but no end date.
Upgraded: Headline writing
A Southwest Airlines flight made an emergency landing shortly after leaving Hartford, due to an electrical problem emanating from a coffeemaker, but you’ve gotta love the Times of London’s headline for the incident: “Southwest Airlines flight grounded by coffee aroma.”
Upgraded: Eco-designations for hotels
AAA is planning to note an “eco-friendly” designation in their TourBook travel guides for properties that participate in local, regional, or third-party eco-accreditation systems. The patchwork approach means that a hotel might make the cut in one state but not in another, based on regional variation.
Downgraded: Bangkok airport duty-free
If you’re in Bangkok, you might want to skip the duty-free shop. Customers have been falsely accused (better: framed) of shoplifting. And thanks to an apparently collusive agreement between the police, the duty free operator (King Power), and individual “translators,” all working in cahoots, travelers have been forced to pay up thousands of dollars in order to leave the country. “The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.” Absurd! Read the whole convoluted story of the “zig zag scam” here.
British Airways is looking to sell its all-business class OpenSkies subsidiary, only a year after buying L’Avion and merging the two operations. The airline-in-an-airline is still operating, though, and there are some pretty sweet deals for premium class travel. If you’re flying between New York and Amsterdam or Paris anytime soon and looking for a relatively inexpensive upgrade, this could be the ticket. (~$1230 all-in roundtrip for a 140° cradle seat, or ~$2100 for a 180° flat bed.) But I wouldn’t book more than a month or two out.
Upgraded: Inflight internet overseas
Lufthansa is reportedly exploring ways of restarting the now-defunct Boeing Connexion satellite-powered inflight internet service. The receivers are already installed on many of their planes (a process which was undertaken at a hefty cost. Panasonic is the most likely provider of the services to the airline.
Downgraded: The St. Regis Monarch Beach
You may recall the St. Regis Monarch Beach in California as the site of controversy — Weeks after accepting a huge federal bailout, AIG executives spent nearly half a million smackers to host a swank affair at the resort. Now the resort itself has gone into receivership: Creditor Citigroup has foreclosed on the property, taking possession from the franchisees, Makar Properties. (Perhaps not surprising if reports of 15% occupancy rates are true.) But foreclosure doesn’t mean closure. The property remains open, albeit under new ownership.
Upgraded: Exotic inflight vermin
Paging Samuel L. Jackson! A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight departing Phoenix was stung by a scorpion in flight. The creature fell out of luggage in the overhead bin, where numerous other scorpions were residing.
Downgraded: Budget Rent-a-Car’s ethics
Budget Rent-a-Car is still working with Trilegiant, the shady operators who send out “checks” you shouldn’t endorse. Signing the back commits you to an expensive membership in a “consumer club” with minimal benefits — all billed to the credit card you used when you rented a car from Budget. I reported on this back in January. I just received a similar solicitation this week, offering me a $10 check in exchange for a $219.98/year membership in “HealthSaver.” Shame on you, Budget, for pimping out the credit card data that your customers trusted you with.
Downgraded: Airline fees
Another week, another hike of airline fees. Continental, as part of its earnings report, is raising the cost of checked luggage by $5, bringing it to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second. Also: Delta is adding a $5 in-person luggage fee for bags not checked in in advance online.
L’Avion, the French all-premium class airline that was bought by British Airways last year, is being merged into BA’s existing premium class sub-airline, OpenSkies. But while the L’Avion name is disappearing, there won’t be a single airline just yet.
Here’s part of the e-mail that went out last week:
In light of recent international developments, and following our acquisition by the prestigious British Airways, beginning April 4th, L’AVION will fully merge with and formally change its name to OpenSkies.
The premium service you received on board L’AVION is not only being preserved, but further enhanced, all while maintaining very attractive prices. OpenSkies will be a unique, all business class airline featuring 2 cabins of service. You will recognize the normal L’AVION Business Class, which will be called “Biz Seat”, as well as enjoy an entirely new product, “Biz Bed” featuring a 180° fully reclining flat bed available at prices that are still unbeatable! You can combine the rates for the two classes, too. This way, you could, for example, book an outgoing flight in “Biz Seat” and a return flight in “Biz Bed”.
You will also benefit from the “British Airways Executive Club” customer-loyalty frequent flyer program, allowing you to accumulate BA Miles that can be converted to complimentary flights or upgrades.
What’s odd here is the branding of the cabins. OpenSkies has already been operating a two-cabin aircraft (down from three cabins, when they ditched economy), which this will align. But OpenSkies labels their cradle seats “Prem+,” while the L’Avion planes will use the “biz” title, implying business class.
From various reports from the field, L’Avion’s product has been widely described as a better premium economy product. Which is fine. And which would align with OpenSkies’ terminology. So the fact that they’re becoming OpenSkies, while at the same time still calling themselves “biz,” is odd.
(There is no sign that OpenSkies is (yet) adopting the “biz” nomenclature, so somehow, the merged airline will still maintain two distinct cabin identities.)
This is what L’Avion’s seats – the “Biz Seats” – look like now:
In any case, for aficionados of the discounted premium class travel, it seems that BA is sticking with their OpenSkies sub-brand, and that L’Avion really is the sole survivor of the all-premium independent airlines (though admittedly it’s not independent anymore…).
- Booking flights on L’Avion just got less risky
- Inside L’Avion, part un: a good seat but a shortage of fluids and information
- Inside L’Avion, part deux: the airline that is betwixt and between