New ‘premium’ airline makes first flight

Image:  Boeing 757 OpenSkies airliner
This is an undated graphic provided by British Airways of the business class interior of a Boeing 757 OpenSkies airliner. British Airways/ho / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

British Airways is betting that, even in a down economy, wealthy travelers are still willing to pay for luxury on a trans-Atlantic flight.

The airline's new premium affiliate, OpenSkies, made its first flight Thursday, a jaunt from Paris to New York aboard a Boeing 757 with only 82 roomy, leather-clad seats.

OpenSkies is promising to pamper passengers with good food, chairs that fold into beds, and other perks that will justify round-trip prices ranging from about $1,320 to about $3,800 per ticket on its New York to Paris route (restricted fares, with tax).

"When you walk on the airplane, it's such a different feeling. You feel like you're on a large corporate jet," said OpenSkies Managing Director Dale Moss.

For all its glamour, the venture carries some risks.

The world's tarmacs are littered with the corpses of similar airlines that catered mostly to business-class travelers.

MAXjet Airways, which had flown from London to New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, quit flying on Christmas Eve. Eos Airlines Inc., based in Purchase, N.Y., gave up its London to New York route in April. Silverjet PLC, which flew between England, Newark, N.J., and Dubai, shut down at the end of May, although there has been talk of a revival under new owners.

Those failures led some analysts to question whether the business-class-only model can work, but Moss said he is confident OpenSkies has advantages others lacked, including a seasoned backer in British Airways PLC.

"It may be a tough time, but it is our time, and we think it is the right time for this type of product," he said.

For now, the airline has only one jet, flying between Orly Airport in Paris and New York's JFK Airport six times per week. It plans to begin flying a second aircraft later this year and add four more jets serving other European cities by the end of 2009.

The airline owes its existence, and takes its name from, the U.S.-European Union Open Skies agreement, which opened tightly controlled trans-Atlantic routes to new competition in March.