Privatair did it first. Eos and MAXjet have done it as well. So has Silverjet and L’Avion. The ongoing success of these airlines may be unclear, but if nothing else, they have proven that there is some demand for business-class only flights over the Pond. This has now been confirmed by the fact that Virgin and BA are taking notice.
BA has said that it is studying the possibility, and Virgin just came out with an announcement that they will be doing it in the next 12 to 18 months. They’ll start with flights from New York to Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Milan, Zurich, and of course, London. Is this the end of the upstart carriers?
Let’s think about this. Virgin isn’t going to try to compete with MAXjet if they’re smart. MAXjet has gone for a minimal business class product for a low price. This is not a game that Virgin wants to play (I hope). So MAXjet should be able to continue to target those coach passengers who are willing to pay a little extra for a business class product, even if it doesn’t include a lie-flat seat.
Now what about Eos? Well, they have a much more comparable (though some would argue better) product to Virgin’s and you’ll pay for it. But you still won’t pay half what Virgin currently charges for their “Upper Class” seat. On the New York-London route, you think Virgin is going to match Eos’ fares on the business class-only flights just to dilute their fares on all their regular flights? Not if they’re thinking rationally.
The secondary cities make more sense, in theory. Virgin can’t get you there now anyway, and maybe they don’t see enough demand for a full service aircraft. Instead, they put smaller planes in there with business-class only seating to take advantage of the traffic that is there. Unfortunately, I don’t think most of these routes have enough business class traffic to make them work unless Virgin decides to buy a BBJ (737) to fly the route, and even that is questionable.
In the end, this seems like some sort of fanciful reaction on Richard Branson’s part and not a sound business decision. In the London to the US market, it will simply cannibalize their existing product. In other markets, they may have trouble finding enough traffic to fill their planes.