We review two new airlines for high fliers - and reveal how they fare.
The airline as we once knew it is pretty much dead. Sure, there are a few legacy carriers still plying the skies, but for the most part the airline industry is a fractured place. A splintering sector doesn’t mean it lacks innovation, however.
On virtually every continent a short-haul low-cost carrier has carved out a niche, and the more ambitious are taking the low-cost model long-haul. In Canada, Zoom has developed a following flying passengers across the Atlantic to London, Glasgow and Paris. In Australia, Qantas subsidiary Jetstar has aggressive long-haul expansion plans to build on its domestic business.
In the cabin, first class has come under threat from new business class products that are making the in-seat sleeping experience ever more bedlike. In Asia, Singapore and Cathay are starting to slug it out with their new products and Japan’s ANA has taken the lead with the launch of mid-haul two-cabin hybrid business class/upgraded economy product.
Currently the highly profitable London-New York route is offering the greatest range of choice and services. At one end of the scale you can fly on a worn- down US legacy carrier or a UK airline that might be working hard on its premium economy product (Virgin Atlantic) or its business class (British Airways). While the latter struggles through one fiasco after another, it’s also realising that Heathrow and loyalty miles alone are not enough to maintain marketshare.
Both BA and Virgin are fighting challengers coming from the north and east. At Luton, Silverjet just launched a trans-atlantic service into Newark and US-based Eos recently added a second service between Stansted and JFK. Maxjet is also a player in the mix, albeit with a less ambitious service concept.
Monocle dispatched a correspondent to sample Eos’s established offer versus Silverjet’s much-hyped debut. As a matter of editorial policy, Monocle does not accept complimentary or subsidised travel offers and our correspondent was not known to either carrier’s PR team.
Fleet: Boeing 757s
Route: London Stansted to JFK New York
Prices: From £1.765 (€2,680) to £3,624 (€5,500) for a fully flexible fare.
Fleet: Boeing 767s
Route: London Luton to Newark New York
Prices: From £799 (€1,200) to £1,400 (€2,125) for a fully flexible fare.
Eos has been operating a single, premium-class service between New York JFK and London Stansted since 18 October 2005. Space, efficiency and service are at the core of the airline’s business offering.
Silverjet, which launched on 25 January 2007, has dubbed its all-business class service Silver Class. The intention is to position the airline as lower-fare with all the bells and whistles of a full-service business class.
Eos accepts bookings via its website and call centre as well as through travel agents. The day before the flight, I was contacted by my agent who offered me a complimentary chauffeur-driven car service from central London to Stansted.
Tickets on Silverjet can be booked on its website, flysilverjet.com, via its call centre or at travel agents. The online booking system is poor. Despite asking for more information on the transport options, no one contacted me.
I was picked by a Mercedes S-class but four hours before departure time. Not likely to impress business people. At Stansted, porter met my car and escorted me to the Eos check-in, where there was no queue and four members of staff.
Silverjet uses terminal B in Newark Airport, and your bags are taken care of outside the Silverjet lounge on level 2, which is mainly an arrivals hall. One very temporary-looking wooden console on wheels served as a “registration desk”.
A partitioned-off room by the departure gate. All the furniture and fittings look cheap. There is a good newspaper and snack selection and Wi-Fi access. An Eos concierge was on hand to answer any travel enquiries.
The lounge is poorly designed. It was so cold inside that most of the passengers kept their coats on. Need the loo? You will have to leave the lounge and use the public facilities in the main arrivals hall. Not very premium.
A smiling flight attendant welcomed me. There were six crew on the flight, caring for 25 passengers. Crew wore stylish charcoal uniform. As soon as I sat down a crew member introduced himself, offering champagne and a menu.
At the door, I was greeted with “Hiya, you all right?” The male crew wore blue striped shirts and dark suits, the women had skirts well below the knee. They explained how to use the disappointing portable in-flight entertainment unit.
After take-off, crew gave out hand-held personal entertainment systems. Hot towels were offered and the aperitif and smoked salmon canapés swiftly followed. All the food was great. The chocolate praline soufflé was superb.
The pre-dinner drink was served with canapés, which were soggy and dry. My pasta was lukewarm. My glass was never cleared away, and bread and drinks were offered inconsistently and randomly. I gave up waiting for the dessert.
There are only 48 seats in the Boeing 757 aircraft. The seats are staggered, so Eos’s passengers never feel hemmed in. The seat reclines into a 2m bed; I had a good night’s sleep. The feather pillow and duvet definitely contributed to this.
The seat is narrow and was so uncomfortably hard that I did not sleep well. It did, however, offer great flexibility in recline options as well as a back massage function. The pillow was thin and the brown fleece nearly see-through.
Eos landed 30 minutes early into JFK’s terminal 4. The walk from the gate and passport control took five minutes. My bags were already on the baggage belt, and I left the airport straight away. A speed one can usually only dream about.
Silverjet landed 30 minutes late at London Luton. Passengers were bused to the terminal building for passport control, which took nearly 15 minutes. It took another 10 minutes to get checked-in baggage from the belt.
Eos is the way to fly. It is often called an all-business airline. However, it exceeds the business-class performance of most full-service airlines in Europe and would leave US carriers fumbling at the gate. The service experience is one of first-class character, despite operating from London Stansted. Eos understands the premium customer, exceeds expectations continuously and does this at an affordable price.
Silverjet claims that “Flying Silver Class is like nothing on earth. Or in the sky”. I have to agree. The experience was a huge disappointment: the airline simply does not deliver. The service is neither premium nor polished. It is disorganised and inefficient. To say it in Silverjet’s own words, “It starts on the ground, and it doesn’t stop.”