Why I Fly OpenSkies

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:39 pm -

story images courtesy of Open SkiesAs a dedicated flyer who never wants to fly in the back of the plane on long-haul flights, I’ve finally torn up my frequent flyer plastic and no longer do mileage runs hoping for an upgrade.

This may sound foolish or out of step with the times, but the days of upgrades have come to an end as far as I can tell. Being squeezed into a middle seat made me want to set my hair on fire: I’d rather buy a ticket from a consolidator than stand waiting for my name to be called in the event there’s a place still available in business class. By the time I boarded in the past, I was in a sweat after forking over miles plus $450 each way for the pleasure of more legroom. And forget about buying the least expensive fare because those tickets don’t qualify for upgrades.

Because I commute between Paris and Washington, it feels so good to have found my airline: thank you, OpenSkies. And the other passengers, be they French, American or Brits who take a connecting flight to Paris, say they like the airline because it’s more laid-back and with fewer passengers.

OpenSkies is an all-business class airline that feels like a club. A subsidiary of British Airlines, it currently flies between Newark (EWR)  and Washington, DC (IAD) and Paris’s Orly-Sud (ORY) airport. The planes are Boeing 757-200s retrofitted to accommodate far fewer passengers than the aircraft can handle when they’re shipping cattle—about eighty-six, I think. You get on—and off!—very quickly. Oh, there are also twelve flat “Biz Beds,” as they call them, 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.

The pampered experience begins once you check in. The personnel welcome 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 offer snacks, wine, spirits, coffee—all on the house—or included in the cost of your ticket. You can make a meal and then go right to sleep on the plane. You can place phone calls, use the WiFi or be left alone. There is also priority security clearance in Paris if you’re flying Open Skies.  Paris’s lounge is an Icare one and (because) it’s Paris, there’s an outdoor smoking area for those who need a last fix.  There’s also very good French champagne.

If you enjoy duty-free shopping, plan to 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.

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.

The flight attendants are some of the most enthusiastic anywhere. They really feel as if they’re a family and considering there are generally four per flight, they really are. During layovers on both sides of the Atlantic, all of them whom I queried said they tend to hang together.

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. If you ask if you can eat your more-than-decent meal (served on china with an eye for presentation) earlier or later, no one tells you it’s now or never.

When you fly OpenSkies, you’re rested even if you don’t sleep as most passengers appear to do. Some people watch movies on the mini-screen TV or work throughout the trip. Those who are cramming for business presentations are happy to see electrical plugs in the console so they don’t have to count the minutes until their 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 parts of 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 pejorative. 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 easyJet 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 has just celebrated its third anniversary, and may there be many more.

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.

Patrick Malval, Regional Commercial Manager Western Europe for British Airways (BA), took over as Managing Director of OpenSkies on June 30.

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 being one of his team.

Price: OpenSkies has had numerous promotions and if you’re flying between Washington or New York City (ok, Newark) 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. For example, there are special offers for less than $1900.00 round trip from Newark and $200 less if you’re originating at Washington’s Dulles Airport.

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 their flights. But, now they do and I know Kitty (or a canine companion) would have liked the airline as much as I do.

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