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June 4, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    OpenSkies To Paris

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When OpenSkies, the unique all-business-class airline, first began service in June 2008, I was jonesing to fly them. After all, an all-business-class airline that flies only across the pond sounds pretty good, doesn't it? There have been others with a similar business model, like Eos (story, video) and Max Jet (story, video), but they didn't make it because of unexpected soaring fuel prices. OpenSkies might have an advantage as they are a subsidiary of British Airways (BA). Their business model, according to one of their executives, is to keep it simple by flying point to point.

OpenSkies currently has four Boeing 757-200 with an average of 64 seats (some planes differ slightly in numbers). They fly from New York (Newark) to Paris (Orly) twice a day and between Washington, D.C. (Dulles) and Paris (Orly) once a day five times a week. They are the first airline created as a result of the E.U./U.S. Open Skies Agreement, which allows airlines to fly between any U.S. and E.U. destination. Their planes have two classes: Biz Seat and Biz Bed. The front half of the plane has 24 Biz Bed seats that recline 180 degrees to a flat bed and a 73-inch pitch. Biz Seat is similar to a U.S. airline's domestic first class, with a 140-degree recline and a 52-inch pitch (supposedly providing the best comfort-price ratio in the transatlantic market, according to OpenSkies). As you are about to see, OpenSkies offers guests innovative features onboard, including personal entertainment units and an upscale, healthy meal service. Since OpenSkies' first flight, they have flown over 130,000 passengers, and I am now one of them. Here's my experience.

BA bought their competitor, Paris-based L'Avion, shortly after they launched OpenSkies (that's why the two former L'Avion planes differ slightly in configuration). Although OpenSkies is 100 percent owned by BA, their operating certificate and headquarters are in Paris.

I arrived to Washington Dulles Airport at 3:45 p.m. for the 5:45 p.m. flight. For check-in they use British Airways counters and have just one dedicated line for OpenSkies passengers, so be sure to get in the right line. The agents are BA employees and are courteous and quick-I didn't wait more than two minutes. The security line took about seven minutes, which was quicker than expected considering the long line.

All OpenSkies passengers have access to BA's lounge. It's really nice and has loads of beverages and good food (hot and cold). They also offer free Wi-Fi.

Since this was the inaugural D.C. to Paris flight, Dale Moss, CEO of OpenSkies, was on hand for a cake and ribbon-cutting ceremony. I love going on inaugural flights because you usually get free cake and champagne. In his speech Mr. Moss said, "This maiden flight is a strong symbol for the company, bringing about the first flight from Orly to Washington, D.C., something that has never been done before. This is an important step forward, confirming our position as an innovative and flexible airline current within the market."

OpenSkies already has 29 percent market share in the NY to Paris biz-class market because they have so many business-class seats?

One interesting fact about Dale Moss: He's probably flown over the Atlantic more than any other American, including pilots. He used to be a sales rep for British Airways and over the past 3 years he has done 106 round trips (212 crossings), 1 trip to Australia and one to Brazil. He has also made over 200 Concorde crossings, and in his life, on top of the above, he has made roughly 300 round trips. Now that's impressive.

Boarding (and deplaning) is quick and hassle free since there are just 64 passengers.

Each of the two classes has a divider in the middle, breaking the two classes into four sections-it creates more of a private-plane atmosphere. However, I was told they will possibly remove one divider eventually, so they can bump their seat count up to 76 seats.

There are at least four flight attendants (FAs) on board, one in each cabin. Our flight had five since it was the inaugural-the fifth person was their trainer, who splits his time between NY and Paris every other week (talk about a long commute). The FAs only fly for OpenSkies. Some came over from L'Avion, while others were hired in America. Our crew was made up of Polish, French, and American flight attendants. The uniforms are similar to BA's, but their ties/scarves are a different color. Overall they were pretty attentive and came around with water often, including when you first sit down (as well as OJ and champagne).

NYC- and Paris-themed paintings hang on the walls in each cabin-there's also one in the bathroom. Speaking of the bathrooms, they are stocked with swanky Elemis products. The amenity kit is also filled with Elemis products.

The 24 Biz Bed seats are configured two by two. I'm pretty sure they are British Airways' old business-class seats, because the fan divider looked awful familiar. The window seats face backwards and the aisle seats face forwards; it can be a little uncomfortable staring at your seatmate unless you know them. Don't worry, the divider only has to be down for takeoff and landing, but it can be uneasy if you have a seatmate who's a talker and you're not. One thing is for sure: The seats are definitely comfortable, and they do indeed turn into a lie-flat bed.

All the seats come with an electrical outlet that fits both European- and U.S.-style plugs. I love that!

After takeoff the FAs come around with personal entertainment units that are seven inches in diameter and have 50-plus hours of programming, including 16 on-demand movies, music and numerous TV shows. They are decent, but not game changers like those on Emirates and Singapore Airlines.

OpenSkies just announced this week that they have an exclusive new menu created by Michel Richard, world-renowned chef and owner of acclaimed D.C. restaurants Michel Richard Citronelle and Central Michel Richard. Chef Richard's meals will be served in both Biz Bed and Biz Seat cabins, and will feature a variety of dishes inspired by French and American cuisine, such as:

  • Duck breast with port cinnamon sauce, served with succotash
  • Beef with pesto and steamed vegetables
  • Michel's Fried Chicken served with whole-grain mustard remoulade and parsnip puree
  • Baked salmon, stuffed with eggplant and mozzarella, with tomato emulsion
  • Selection of desserts, including Michel's signature chocolate bar with butterscotch sauce; pear tart with pecan cream and maple syrup anglaise

    When I flew them a few weeks ago the food was pretty good–not great. Just after takeoff dinner was served. The starter was chicken salad. The main entrée was a choice of flat-iron steak or spinach and ricotta gnocchi (I had the latter and it was pretty greasy). It was followed by a cheese plate with fruit (grapes) and strawberry cheesecake. I passed on dessert but could not resist the fresh-baked cookies: chocolate with white chocolate chips or chocolate chip.

    FYI: The difference between Biz Seat and Biz Bed meals is that Biz Seat has more drink choices and a speedy meal option (prawn salad was our choice).

    There was a makeshift snack bar with potato chips, bottled water, and Godiva chocolates, which of course I had to raid.

    About an hour before landing a light cold breakfast was served. They had fresh fruit, fresh-squeezed orange juice, yogurt, muffins, and of course croissants. The flight was so short (seven hours) that I couldn't fill my belly with any more food.

    It was my first time going into Paris's Orly airport (12 miles/19 km from the center of Paris). Not only is it closer to the city than Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) by 5 miles (9 km), but it was a breeze clearing customs-it took less than 10 minutes, and I wasn't the first one out of the gate, either. That's because we had to deplane from the stairs and hop on a bus. FYI: To put the distance and feel in a Washingtonian's terms, Orly Airport is similar to Reagan National Airport and CDG is more like Dulles. Paris Airports Website.

    There are definitely advantages to flying OpenSkies to Paris. First of all, their planes make it feel like you are flying private and not commercial-without the price shock. Secondly, there are rarely crying babies on board (so I've been told). Passengers can accrue BA miles (125 percent for Biz Seat and 150 percent for Biz Bed). Their prices are competitive and you can split price points. For example, fly from the U.S. to Europe in Biz Bed, so you can sleep since it's a night flight, and fly back in Biz Seat so you can work since it's a day flight. Rates start as low as $1,450 for Biz Seat (R/T!) and Biz Bed is $3,000 R/T. No wonder lots of high-profile people fly them.

  • Departure from Paris Orly South at12 p.m./ Arriving at Washington Dulles 2:45 p.m. (local time)
  • Departure from Washington Dulles at 5:45 p.m. / Arriving at Paris Orly South at 7:40 a.m. + 1 day (local time)
  • Flights on Mondays, Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays

    Reservations for OpenSkies flights are available through the call center (Tel: 1-866-581-3596), on the OpenSkies website (, and through travel agents. OpenSkies on Facebook. OpenSkies on Twitter.

    Paris and ???

    *PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

    Note: This trip was sponsored in part by OpenSkies

    Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    Pictures From

    The Trip






    Club Lounge


    Good Food


    Party Time




    Dale Moss


    Ribbon Cutting


    Gate Agent


    Biz Bed


    From Behind


    Biz Seat




    Welcome Drink




    Amenity Kit




    Dulles From The Air


    Entertainment Systems




    Hot Towels










    Snack Bar






    Flight Crew






    Next Week


    • I have been following your travel blog, and want to let you know how much I enjoyed your most recent post on your trip to Abu Dhabi! It’s not a place I would normally think of visiting, but after reading the information you provided, looking at your pictures, and watching your “dune riding” video, Abu Dhabi is definitely on my “to-go-to” list! Vivian -

    • I just read your Delray Beach story! a place I always wanted to visit... I will definitely book the Marriott and I am so happy about your inputs about the place, thank you!! Cheers, Maja

    • Well, following daily is the first thing I do... where is JJ and what is he doing. I was glad to see your brother and sisters as they have been missing lately. You are the party animal for sure. Being in So Cal you are always in another time zone so it is fun seeing how you are spending the day and NIGHT. It is wonderful reading 1st hand about the great places I have visited or will never visit such as today Aspen? How you manage to go from one party to another flying to one then another. How you get the invites is amazing. Isn't this your life a dream come true??? Your dad sporting a new LOOK - very distinguished...........your brother is looking great for what he went through. Summer is here and I enjoy the Manhattan Beach pics, too. You should have an old fashion FAN CLUB... I want to be Pres. and I am your mom's age!!! Sailinsal - California

    • I love reading all of your blogs and seeing and hearing your pictures videos etc!! I am very envious for sure at times.... Nancy C – Norwalk, CT

    • Excellent as always Johnny. I am truly envious of your "job" -- more like a dream come true in my opinion. I too, when I can, love to travel but alas, that is not too often any more. If I'm lucky, twice a year for business. In the late 80's, used to be in the air 2-3 times a month. Toronto to Dallas to San Jose/San Francisco triangle. Been to many places in the U.S. -- to Jamaica and Barbados in the Caribbean. To Mexico City, Buenos Aires twice (love that place) and Sao Paulo. Never across the ponds. Back to your May 25, 2010 newsletter -- I like your way of describing the various stages of the trips you take -- very informative. And, your website links that you find are invaluable too. Keep up the great work. Craig M – San Jose, CA

    • I’ve been following your website and all it's resources for a few years now. I sit and daydream in my cubicle dreaming of all these beautiful destinations. I especially enjoyed reading your tribute to you mother. She sounded like a fabulous women and wish I could have known her. Chris T - Norwalk, CT

    • Your site is amazing as have SO much good info...I always find things there I can use. I'm wondering if you'd consider adding me to your Twitter Travel Writers? I'm: @ProvencePost. My blog is Julie

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