A love letter to OpenSkies

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:03 pm -

I’ve finally seen the light and am no longer spending time and money on mileage runs hoping to collect frequent flier miles for upgrades from economy to business class. The upgrade days appear to be coming to an end and if you’re able to snag one, you probably won’t know until the last minute.

With fewer flights (and smaller planes), the chances are far less. If it’s a long haul flight, who wants to end up at your destination feeling as if you’ve been through the wringer and all you want to do is sleep.

I’m not happy  squeezed into a middle seat. I’d rather buy a business class ticket from a consolidator than stand waiting for my name to be called if a place is still available. By the time I board, I’m in a sweat after forking over miles plus $450 each way for the pleasure of more legroom. And forget about buying the least expensive ticket because they don’t qualify for upgrades.

Because I commute between Paris  and Washington, it feels so good to have found my airline: thank you, OpenSkies.  The other passengers, be they French, American or Brits, who take a connecting flights in Paris, say they like the airline because it’s more laid-back and with fewer passengers. OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Air, bought L’Avion and L’Avion’s planes are being made to look like the ones from OpenSkies.

OpenSkies is an all-business class airline that feels as if it’s a club. It currently flies between Newark and Paris, and Washington, DC, and Paris Orly Sud airport. The planes are Boeing 757-200’s, retrofitted to accommodate far fewer passengers than the aircraft can handle when they’re shipping cattle—about eighty-six people. You get on (and off!) very quickly. There are also twelve flat “biz beds” that recline 180 degrees. Some people book the trip to Paris in the biz-bed and fly back in the biz seat that reclines 140 degrees.

When questioned as to whether or not they’re planning to expand the routes right now, a spokesperson from OpenSkies, said they’re concentrating on the existing ones.

The feeling of being pampered  begins as soon you check in. The personnel welcomes you as if you’re a VIP;  the baggage allowance is three bags. You receive your boarding pass and a lounge admit slip, so you don’t have to sit in the corridor or go shopping to fill your time until the flight departs. Why would you?

The lounges offers snacks, wine, spirits, coffee—all on the house—or included in the cost of your ticket. You can have  a meal in the lounge and then go right to sleep on the plane. Make your phone calls, use the WiFi, be left alone or simply chill out. There’s also priority security clearance in Paris if you’re flying OpenSkies.

If you plan on buying duty-free, do it at the airport because you can’t on the flight —and so much the better so there’s more time for the crew to cater to their clients’ whims. If you ask if you can eat your more-than-decent meal (served with an eye for presentation) earlier or later, no one tells you it’s now or never. It you don’t like the wine you selected (and thank goodness, they’re French wines – which seems only appropriate between France and the U.S.), you aren’t made to feel as if you’re a criminal if you ask to sample another. The selection of after-dinner drinks is fewer since OpenSkies doesn’t serve miniature bottles.  The flight attendants make cocktails and serve passengers since they’re more than service oriented.

The flight attendants go out of their way to make you feel welcome. On one flight when I was upgraded to a biz-bed seat, I fully expected the steward to tuck me in under a white cotton duvet. Was I comfortable? You bet.

Dealing with snarky flight attendants has become tedious for frequent flyers, who don’t want to hear about the crew’s personal problems or that their pensions have been cut. Please don’t think I’m not sympathetic. But that’s not why I board a plane. I fly to go somewhere, not to be a stranger on a plane or a shrink. And yes, I talk to the crew (when I’m not sleeping) because I was destined to spend much of my life “up in the air” à la George Clooney.

If you take OpenSkies, you’re rested even if you don’t sleep as most passengers appear to do, especially on the east bound route between the U.S and Paris. Some people may watch movies on the mini-screen TV or work throughout the trip. People, who are cramming for business presentations, are happy to see electrical plugs in the console. It’s terrible to be forced to count the minutes until a computer battery fades into the dark of the night.

Even if your final destination isn’t Paris, OpenSkies supplies first-class tickets on the TGV to other cities in France. It’s part of the deal and a darn good one.

OpenSkies should also be considered a feeder airline and I don’t mean that as a negative. If you want to go further afield, there are many low cost airlines in the E.U. that make it easy for you to go where you want to be, with minimal wear and tear. For example, if Milan is your final destination, a round trip ticket on Easy Jet can cost less than $100 depending upon when you reserve. Anyone can tolerate sitting up straight and not being served more than water when the trip is only an hour and a half long.

OpenSkies  just celebrated its third anniversary, and may there be many more. Price: OpenSkies has had numerous promotions and if you’re flying between Washington or New York City and Paris, it’s important to get on the mailing list and book seats when the prices are right. When they are, you’ll pay only a couple of hundred dollars more than coach on other carriers. One caveat: if you need to change your date, expect to be hit with a hefty change fee. But that’s no different from other airlines.

There are lots of changes taking place at OpenSkies. Dale Moss, who’s been head of the airline since it launched, is retiring. He’s made 145 transatlantic  trips and feels it time to spend more time with his family. It’s not surprising that all the flight attendants with whom I’ve spoken feel as if they actually know him, because they invariably do. It’s so apparent they enjoy their work and function as a team.

Patrick Malval, Regional Commercial Manager Western Europe for British Airways (BA), took over as Managing Director of OpenSkies on June 30th. Malval (who happens to be French) has been a board member of OpenSkies for over three years and with British Air since 1990. He’s held various roles within the commercial organization before being appointed in 1999 to Business Sales Manager for France. On my most recent flight, the flight attendants said they’d met their new boss and were excited over the prospect of working for him since he exuded enthusiasm.

OK, I’m a convert and so are many of my friends. I would have made the leap sooner had it not been the airline didn’t accept animals on  flights. But, now they do and I know my jet-setter Kitty (or a canine companion) would have liked the airline as much as I do. Animals weighing up to nine pounds (including their carriers) can sit in the business section of the plane. Up to three larger animals may be checked in cargo. Naturally, there’s a charge for their transportation and required documents proving they’re healthy. But as the French would say, “C’est normale.”

Posted in Consumer Traveler |