British Airways’ new subsidiary OpenSkies took off from Paris Orly at 10.45 this morning on its maiden flight to New York.
Just 82 passengers flew in a refurbished Boeing 757 that would normally seat 180. The aircraft carries the BA tailfin, but offers just 30 economy seats.
The flight marks a departure for the airline and the industry. It is the first BA service to fly direct between the Continent and US, and the first carrier created solely to take advantage of the US-EU agreement to open access to transatlantic skies.
BA will use the subsidiary to try new ideas after facing down a strike threat by pilots over the contracts offered to OpenSkies’ crew.
Chief executive Willie Walsh said: “OpenSkies will become a test-bed for new customer services and onboard products that we hope to integrate into BA’s fleet.”
The extra room derived from taking out almost 100 seats means the 24 passengers in the business-class cabin called Biz enjoy fully lie-flat beds and the 28 in premium economy or Prem+ can recline with 52 inches of leg room.
BA also promises a personalised, multilingual concierge service from the moment passengers book to the time they step off the aircraft.
Walsh is confident the carrier will not go the way of recent all-business class start-ups Silverjet and Eos Airlines. He said: “We believe OpenSkies can compete effectively. It has a low cost base and support from BA in key areas such as sales and marketing. This differentiates it from airlines that have failed recently which were operating in isolation.”
The carrier plans to add a second 757 and begin flying from another European city – probably Brussels – before the end of the year. It will subsequently look to expand to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Milan.
OpenSkies is run from New York by former BA worldwide sales director Dale Moss and operates a code-share with French all-business class carrier L’Avion, from which it obtained the slots at Orly.
Moss said: “Our Prem+ cabin will compete with what our competitors offer as business class, but at a more compelling price.”
One-way economy fares start from $554 and business class from $1,746.