Open Sesame

June 06, 2008
Fares from Washington DC:

    OpenSkies launches new route from New York to Paris, but don't expect any cheap flights or great deals.

    Possibly the worst kept secret in aviation history and the first airline to be planned by blog, OpenSkies by British Airways is now open for business and ready to fly you from New York to Paris Orly. Well, almost. Like an overly ambitious Chinese restaurant, they'll be happy to take your order for, say, sesame noodles, but they won't actually be able to deliver for another couple of weeks, by which time your noodles should be as cold as we hope you like them.

    All similarities end here, unless you happen to think that high-class Chinese take-out is not an oxymoron. Sure, a ticket buys you some chow—and "healthy" airline food to boot, if you can believe that oxymoron—but dinner at this lofty joint definitely comes at a price. After a quick gander at their smart new web site you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another business class-only airline, because all those "high value" concepts are really just a fancy way of saying "overpriced" and marketing-speak for "no bargains here."

    All-business is allegedly all British Airways wanted all along, but after watching three such airlines—EOS, MAXjet and SilverJet—fail dramatically in as many months, they decided to play it safe with a very traditional three-tier class system. They got hip new names like prem+ and biz to make them sound fresh, except for economy which is apparently just too boring to rebrand and gets squeezed into less than a dozen rows in the far back, while the bulk of the aircraft is reserved for what is essentially a very large and very expensive first-class cabin.

    Nice seat if you can get it, and you can get if you pay, to paraphrase the classic blues song. By pay, we mean something starting close to $4,000 for a round-trip ticket, which is enough to give our charge cards the blues and obviously caters more to the old disenfranchised Concorde crowd. There is a summer sale of sorts going on for premium economy at around $1,600, but the best coach fare we could find for July is over $1,300 or nearly double what Air India is currently charging. That's a lot of price padding for a little extra seat padding, and sesame noodles or no, we hear they serve a mean curry!

    As for increased competition to keep fares in check, this venture doesn't hold a whole lot of water. Not only are transatlantic routes being hosed down and washed out by the week, this is after all British Airways by any other name, not an airline known for aggressive pricing. What's more, the sole remaining independent business class-only carrier, L'Avion, which serves Newark from Paris Orly, is actually in code-share cahoots with OpenSkies, so this is really nothing more than a run at Air France for the suits and of little consequence to the grubby unsuited rest of us. So much for the promise of Open Skies, the treaty!