NBTA: OpenSkies’ Earth-Shaking Announcement in Los Angeles

OpenSkies has been full of news this week. First it was the announcement of Amsterdam – New York flights and then yesterday it was the decision to ditch coach and go with all premium economy and business class. The news was quite literally earth-shaking. In the middle of the press conference, the 5.4 earthquake you probably heard about started to roll through downtown LA.

I was sitting next to my friend Johnny Jet, and we looked at each other and instinctively headed for the doorway. Once it was over, a lot of the people didn’t seem too comfortable with the idea of hanging around and hovered by the door (anyone want to bet how many of them were from the east coast?), but as an LA native, I headed back to my seat without pause. OpenSkies MD Dale Moss seemed a bit rattled, but he picked up where he left off.

Enough about that. So what was it that was so rattling? The Amsterdam news was interesting. Dale said, “I always love to go into a market in which we can make a refreshing change and stir it up a bit.” Uh oh. For those keeping score, that means OpenSkies will now serve the two largest Air France/KLM hub cities from New York effective October 15. How long before AF/KL strikes back with a vengeance? This might be fun to watch.

But I think the bigger news is that only a couple months in, the airline has decided to reconfigure its airplanes. Instead of having 24 seats in business (called Biz), 28 seats in premium economy (called Prem+), and 30 seats in coach, they will now replace those 30 coach seats with 12 more in Prem+.

So now they’ve got a mere 64 seats onboard to cover the costs of an entire 757 flying across the Atlantic. Dale seemed confident that having the backing of BA, codesharing, access to their frequent flier program, fuel hedging, etc is going to make a big difference. I agree, but I wonder if it’s enough. They have what looks like a fantastic product, but their fares don’t seem very high right now.

I asked Dale if this was simply a strategic move or if early demand for the Prem+ seats was driving the change. Dale responded that it was a strategic decision. They’ve always wanted to focus on the premium passenger and even though it was “almost always oversold,” coach was “a distraction.” So now they don’t have to worry about that anymore, I guess. He also noted that the reduction in capacity will help give them longer legs on a full tank of fuel.

He also said that Prem+ demand has been strong, but more interestingly he said, “The closer we got with our friends at L’Avion, it validated that.” So, is it possible that L’Avion gave them such incredible information that paying the costs of reconfiguring only a couple months after the planes were first configured makes sense? I’m skeptical. It sounds like they’re ready to make that jump strategically, something they’ve probably wanted to do since the beginning but for some reason did not.

They’ve got what appears to be a very nice product and low fares for what’s being offered. I’d certainly keep them in mind if you’re in New York. Dale also mentioned that Boston and Washington are possibilities for future service in the US with cities like Brussels, Milan, and Barcelona in the EU. They’re going to be expanding, and that’s good for travelers.

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