A Look at Boutique Airlines

A Brandweek article called them 'boutique airlines', so I will too. Perhaps you've heard about some of these boutique airlines. You know, the ones that offer cushy seats, decent food, attentive flight attendants, etc. Here are the big three boutique airlines (at time of writing). One is transcontinental (across the US) and the other two are transatlantic.

1. United's Premium Service (p.s.)
United's p.s. service is flown on Boeing 757-200 aircraft between New York's JFK airport and Los Angeles and San Francisco. These p.s. flights have three classes of seating: first, business, and 'Economy Plus', which is basically coach class seating with more legroom.

In first class, you get seats that lie down flat, like you would in first on a trip overseas. If you're in business then your seat only reclines quite a bit. (Only.) Passengers in these two classes get portable DVD players with movies. Everyone gets free food and power for their laptop computers. Fares on p.s. start at $1000 for Economy Plus, $3660 for business class and $4550 for first class.

So is this airline-within-an-airline a success? United says it is. "We're extremely proud of the success of p.s.," said Dennis Cary, United's senior vice president-Marketing, in a press release. Cary went on to talk about the accolades that p.s. has racked up.

2. Maxjet Airlines
Maxjet Airlines is a Dulles, Virginia-based startup that concentrates solely on business class. It currently flies three Boeing 767-200s five times a week between New York-JFK and London's Stanstead Airport. In April it will start service from Washington-Dulles to London as well. They're supposedly a 'low-fare airline' - the first transatlantic one since People Express back in the 80s. Tickets start at $1500 round trip, last minute, between New York and London. That may not seem like 'low fares' - but it is when you compare it to the likes of American, United, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic, who charge about $9000 for the same flight.

The 767s are equipped with 102 business class seats. Not bad, considering the plane can usually fit over 200 seats. The seating arrangement is 2-2, meaning that everyone has either an aisle or a window seat. The seats, which don't recline all the way but close to it, have 60 inches of space in front and in back of it. That's about double what you'd find in economy in most airlines. "Eighty percent of our customers are coming from the premium cabins of our competitors," the airline's CEO says. "We give you everything they do and reduce the price 75%."

Really? I've never flown Maxjet, so I can't comment. But I ask a simple question: how can they afford to do that?

3. Eos Airlines
Maybe you've got a lot of extra dough that you can use on a flight to London. If so, you could skip Maxjet and book on Eos, which has a higher level of service than Maxjet but - not surprisingly - charges more. (Duh.)

Instead of the wide-body 767s flown by its competitor listed above, Eos flies single-aisle Boeing 757-200s. And those only hold 48 passengers, who are waited upon by six flight attendants. That comes out to one flight attendant for every eight people. Not bad.

And the amenities don't stop there. Each passenger has a personal 'living space' that covers 21 square feet. Each has a seat that converts in to a 6 foot, 6 inch long flat bed with feather pillow and cashmere blanket. Reading light, side table, guest seat, computer power, and fold-out table are included. If you're hungry, you can dig into entrées such as rack of lamb and filet mignon.

All this luxury must be really expensive, you might think. And it is - at $6500 for a last minute round trip from JFK to London, it is. But that's only about half the price of a first-class fare on British Airways.

In conclusion: these three airlines are great ways for passengers with deep pockets (or expense accounts) to upgrade their flying experience. But if I had to pay my way from New York to California, I might just go with jetBlue.


ChadMcJ said...

Don't forget about Australia's all business class Ozjet. So successful they have cancelled all scheduled operations after only a few months in the air.

Guess the formula is not for every market.

ChadMcJ said...

And don't forget about Ozjet. The Australian all business class operation that just closed it's doors.