Remember EOS, MaxJet, and SilverJet? How about MGM Grand Air? They were grand experiments that just never took off.
The history of all business-class airlines is littered with failures. MGM Grand Air flew DC-8 and Boeing 727 aircraft (remember those?) between New York and both Las Vegas and Los Angeles as well as 727's configured for 34 passengers. They also flew between LA and Montego Bay, Jamaica. The airline ceased flying in 1992, had another go at it in 1994, but went out of business for good in early January 1995. MaxJet filed for Chapter 11 in late 2007, EOS went belly up in April 2008, and SilverJet stopped flying the following month, all of them blaming the recession for their failure.
You'd think that sad record would have spelled the end of the all-business-class concept, but a number of airlines have been experimenting of late with, if not all-business-class airlines, then at least all-business-class flights.
There's Singapore Airlines' (www.singaporeair.com) business-only Newark to Singapore daily flight, with those outrageously wide lie-flat seats. Flight 21 is the longest regularly scheduled commercial nonstop flight in the world, taking 18.5 hours to make the run in an Airbus A340-500. The return flight, SQ 22, also flies the route nonstop. (Originally, the flight had business and premium economy cabins; I flew in economy round-trip a few years ago and somehow managed to survive.) Singapore also flies all-biz class nonstop from Los Angeles to Singapore, and both routes are highly popular.
"Our nonstop flights from Newark and Los Angeles to Singapore are among the best-performing routes in our regional network," according to spokesperson James Boyd, "and with just 100 seats on each aircraft, wait lists for popular days of travel are common."
Then there's British Airways' (www.britishairways.com) twice-daily service all-biz flights between New York's JFK and London City Airport (LCY), utilizing Airbus A319 aircraft. Owing to LCY's short runway, the return flight cannot take off with a fully loaded fuel tank, and thus must make a fueling stop at Shannon Airport, where passengers disembark and go through U.S. immigration (the plane lands as a domestic flight once arriving at JFK). Just over a year old, the London City service features fully lie-flat Club World beds. BA's Simon Talling-Smith says that the airline is "pleased with how the service is performing."
I recently flew round-trip from New York to London City one recent weekend, and was amazed at how quickly I was able to reach my hotel. I stayed at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf (www.fourseasons.com), about 15 minutes and $15 by cab from the airport, compared to an hour's journey and $80 or more by taxi between Heathrow and Central London. And although London City is the preferred airport for business types visiting London's financial center, it's also convenient, via the Docklands Light Railway and the Underground, to areas of London that many tourists miss. Plus weekend hotel rates in that part of town are quite reasonable since the business crowd has gone home.
In addition to BA's London City route, BA owns OpenSkies (www.flyopenskies.com), which flies business class-only flights between Newark and Washington to Paris, and three other airlines -- Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com), KLM (www.klm.com) and Swiss (www.swiss.com) -- contract with a company called PrivatAir to operate all-business-class service on several routes, among them Newark to Zurich, Houston to Amsterdam, and Munich to Riyadh. You won't find fully lie-flat beds in PrivatAir's Boeing Business Jet fleet, which carry between 45 and 56 passengers, but the seating is spacious and the service more than adequate.
What's the appeal of all business-class flights? Well, for one thing, it's a very egalitarian experience. Everyone is treated to the same product. When I fly on a plane with four classes of service (first, business, premium economy, and economy) I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, painfully aware that I'm traveling in a class-stratified vessel. I avert my eyes when the economy-class passengers file past me with their forlorn looks if I'm lucky enough to fly in business class or above, or I cast envious glances at the premium passengers when I pass by them to my cramped economy-class seat.
Another plus is that all biz-class planes carry far fewer passengers, so getting on and off the plane is a breeze. In fact, at London City Airport, you can check in for British Airways' flights to New York as few as 15 minutes before departure.
Even if you're flying in a private first-class suite on an A380 double-decker, you're still sharing the plane with over 400 other people. All-business flights are simply more relaxed. Perhaps the most memorable thing about my first (and, sadly, only) flight on EOS, from London to New York, was that after we pulled up to the gate and the door opened, barely anyone on the plane moved. There was no frantic jumping up to empty the overhead bins, no impatient Type A's queuing to get off. It was as if my fellow passengers had enjoyed the experience so much that they didn't want it to end. Sadly, a month later it all ended in tears.
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.
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