A conversation with OpenSkies’ Dale Moss

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dale Moss, the managing director of OpenSkies, the planet’s newest airline flying between New York City and Paris. After test driving his airline out last week, I had a few questions about the airline and Mr. Moss was kind enough to call me personally. Here’s what he had to say.

Gadling: For the lay person who’s getting into the transatlantic market, what’s the big difference between OpenSkies and a legacy carrier?

Dale Moss: Well, I think there is a whole load of difference. If we got into the market with the same offering as a legacy carrier, it certainly would have not have fulfilled the mission that we were given to by British Airways: to take advantage of new legislation called Open Skies that gives a company like British Airways an opportunity to fly directly, non stop from European cities to New York. So OpenSkies the airline is a manifestation of that mission. And we said to ourselves, “How do we want to be different?”

We want to be predominantly a premium kind of carrier. We’re not going after the masses – we never want to be a large airline with huge airplanes, because that defies what our mission is. Our mission is to go after an intelligently priced product for customers who are discerning.And it is a terrific product. It’s a 757, so it’s not like traveling with 300 of your closest friends; it’s only about eighty people on the airplane when we’re full. And that’s a very different experience. I’ve flown the Concorde maybe two hundred times myself, and I think think that [Open Skies] is one of the most unique travel experiences since Concorde for a transatlantic journey.

When you walk on the airplane you get this great feel, almost like an intimate, corporate jet. And this goes for every cabin – not only for the business seats. It’s all very discreet, a nice way to travel and the service is great.

If there was one word that I would look to that helps us distinguish ourselves, it’s attitude. It’s remembering that we’re starting the airline at a difficult time so we know that we have to better, have to be different and that we just can’t have bad days. Our people are geared for that, we want to be very attentive and take the sensitivity we have for our customers to a new level of anticipation.

We have a different platform – the 757, we’ve got a great suite of products and the prices are absolutely fantastic at every price point through that airplane. We also have the uniqueness of a very nice brand – an up and coming brand that people want to be part of. It’s an exclusive feel without any snobbery. We think that it’s a great way to travel over the Atlantic from Paris to New York and we’re starting to get some great traction with customers.

I noticed on the flight out there that you have the three class configuration. Is that something that you’re going to continue or are you going to expand Biz and Prem +?

We’re going to give it the first six months or so to evaluate what the market is like, what customers are saying, where the returns are and then we’ll perhaps be in the position where we can look at what the product portfolio would be going forward. It’s still in the early days – this past Thursday was our three week anniversary.

With respect to that market that you spoke of — there has been a little bit of volatility in the niche sector recently and obviously you have stronger financial backing than some of those carriers – but is there anything that you plan on doing differently to prevent yourself from going down that same path?

There are some dramatic differences and distinctions between some of the folks that have gone before us. Two of them were using 767′s, and we believe that was just an airplane that is too large for the mission that we could give it. Another was using a 757 with only 48 seats and we thought that that was way too rich a configuration.

There are a number of items that I think are important to note. We have the endorsement of British Airways. We have their support on the sales side. We have a full range of opportunity for people to book with us, whether this is on our website or on BA.com as a BA codeshare. We have the British Airways frequent flyer program.

To have all of those things right out of the box and the special uniqueness of being able to have our own signature we think gives us a tremendous fortification and every chance to be a successful company.

We also take advantage of the British Airways fuel hedge.

There are great synergies that we can use where don’t have to spend a lot. For instance, we have the British Airways lounge facility at JFK and now that we’ve made the acquistion of L’Avion, they have their facility at Newark. We can use the British Airways facility at Newark in the course of time. All of this plays to the economies of scale that we would get because of our relationship with British Airways.

This is to say that the combination of British Airways and OpenSkies gives customers more opportunities and it never pits British Airways against OpenSkies because we’re flying in different markets.

And with your acquisition of L’Avion, are you initially going to use their routes and slots into Orly or are you going to expand their aircraft into the other markets that you’ve been looking at?

It gives us a great footprint into Orly, and that’s the first and most important thing. Now we will have three flights a day, so it really puts Orly on the map for New York. When you have three departures per day you add some girth to your schedule which is something that frequent travelers care about and which will also help us grow.

Beyond that, with regard to how we bring the two companies together, we have some plans — but they need to be tempered with discussion and joint planning. They’re great people. They’re have a great little company and we are very confident that the combination will be infinitely better than the two companies were separately.

Can you tell me what other markets are on your radar?

We hope to make another announcement later this summer. We’re considering four cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan. We’re on the threshold of making that decision at the end of the month.

We hope to have, by the end of 2009, seven or eight airplanes in the fleet with perhaps five or six destinations.

And will those all be rebadged 757s and L’Avion planes?

Two airplanes will come from the L’Avion fleet while the rest will come from British Airways.

With regard to the mileage program, do you have any plans to perhaps integrate with the Oneworld program?

What we’ve tried to do is keep our company as simple as we can. We’re a point to point premium airline and we’ve tried to keep away from affiliation. Certainly in the beginning we’re going to keep our process very simple, keep our cost structure down and we can make the prices that we offer to customers – even though they’re really premium products – very attractive. That’s our initial strategy.

You’ve got a great airline, thanks for speaking with me.

Thank you.