Open Skies: Planning, booking and the concierge service

Since Open Skies only operates one aircraft and flies one route, planning your itinerary is fairly easy. You’re going to be leaving from JFK at 5:30PM and returning from Orly at 10:55 AM. With the recent acquisition of L’avion, the airline plans to increase the frequency of those routes, but for now you only have one option in each direction.

Purchasing a ticket on Open Skies is remarkably easy, with one catch – you have to go to flyopenskies.com to book your ticket — they haven’t integrated their schedule into the Amadeus network yet so you won’t be able to find tickets on Kayak or Orbitz. Once at the homepage, you can easily pick your itinerary departing from either New York or Paris (with pictures, in case you get confused) and dates.

The best part about booking tickets on Open Skies is the concierge service. We’re at the point in the US where many travelers expect terrible service, off-shore customer support centers and general disdain among front-line employees. With respect to this airline, take all of those negative traits and reverse them.

Open Skies’ concierge service is in existence to make your travel experience fluid – not to make it frustrating. If you have any questions or concerns during your travel – at any point – you’re free to call them and get some help. This doesn’t apply to tickets either. In one of my several conversations with Sophia, one of the concierges, I asked if I could get a pizza delivered to the gate in Orly. “Of course,” she said, “what would I like on it?”

There are ten concierges based in Germany who are most friendly and apt. At the end of my journey I really felt as though they took care of me.

Continue onward to online check in or skip ahead to:

Arrival and check in
In flight: Economy
In flight: Prem +
In flight: Biz
Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word

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Open Skies: Online check in

Twenty four hours before departure, I got an email from Open Skies telling me that online check-in was open. I took a quick gander over to the website, plugged in my confirmation number and last name then clicked “Manage my booking”. In turn, the site asked for my passport information then took me to the seat selection website.

This is where things got a little tricky. Things may have been complicated a little because I was on a press ticket with several exceptions in the reservation, so the online system had trouble automatically checking me in. At first I thought that this was a problem with the website (I had the same trouble on the return trip), but I met several people who had successfully checked in online so can only blame my specific reservation.

Given that I had plenty of time to connect the next day, I shrugged off the problem and decided to check in then at the airport.

Continue onward to Arrival and check in or skip ahead to

In flight: Economy
In flight: Prem +
In flight: Biz
Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word

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Open Skies: In flight Economy

Looking at the economy configuration, you don’t immediately see many differences between the Open Skies product and any other transoceanic carrier.

But a closer look at the product reveals the perks. Seats are new, all-leather and surprisingly comfortable. With only about thirty seats in the cabin, there is a quieter, personal feel in the area, which means that if the baby three rows ahead of you starts crying it’s not going to reverberate as dramatically. The back of the plane, rows 18 – 14 make up the economy section with a hard bulkhead at the front, so if you’re concerned about legroom don’t sit in row 14.

Like other transoceanic carriers, both recline and legroom are limited in this section as well (I poked my head around the seat and decided not to recline into the dinner of the woman behind me), but such is the nature of coach.

Once airborne, an Archos 705 portable media player (many with the clear plastic still on the screen) chocked with 20 new releases and 42 TV shows including Ugly Betty, Family Guy and 30 Rock is dropped off. In addition, 66 musical artists with 777 titles are loaded as well as 10 simple interactive games. This In Flight Entertainment (IFE) is standard throughout the aircraft, although the headphones passed out in Economy and Prem + are a little flimsier than those given out in Biz.

Navigating the system is as simple as choosing French or English at startup and tapping what ever menu option you want on the screen. The entire system is refreshingly responsive, unlike many of the IFE that I have tested, which I partially believe is because the systems run independent from the aircraft. So when there’s a glitch in the server or row 10 isn’t working, the flight attendant doesn’t have to reboot the entire system. The bad part about this is that you don’t get integrated into the aircraft computer, so you don’t get GPS or network data, but the pros seem to outweigh these points.

In coach, these system strap to the back of the seat in front of you (or the bulkhead), while Prem + and Biz seats have dedicated arms and slots for the systems.

Meal service still has the same “chicken, pasta or fish” options with similar portions to other carriers. In spite of the portions, all meals are served on ceramic dishes with real flatware, so even if you aren’t eating better food you feel better about eating it. Food service is standard between Economy and Prem + as well, so you won’t be paying extra for that if you opt for second class tickets.

Continue onward to In flight: Prem + or skip ahead to

In flight: Biz
Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word

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Open Skies: In flight Prem +

What you are paying for in Prem + is for comfort and leg room. The biggest difference between the Economy and Prem + cabins is the sheer volume of space alloted to each passenger. Seats in Prem + are much more pleasant at 20″ wide with a 140 degree recline and a 52″ seat pitch, resulting in four seats per row instead of six.

A generous armrest containing two brackets for your IFE system is between each pair of seats while a tray table and controls for recline, lumbar, leg rest and footrest extension are on the other side.

Another significant perk between Economy and Prem+ is the power port available between all Prem + seats. On an eight hour flight with a two hour battery, this can make the entire difference between getting a little and a lot of work done. It’s worth noting that this feature isn’t unique to Open Skies though; plenty of carriers offer in-seat power in their cabins (even coach) – it’s just that power only goes to the back of Prem + on this airline.

Continue onward to In flight: Biz

Transfer in from Orly
Return trip logistics
The final word

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Open Skies: In flight Biz

The first thing that you notice when you reach the Biz seats is that all window seats face aft. Seats are laid out in a head-to-toe orientation so that they fit comfortably together and so that you can compartmentalize your seat easier. I chose a window because I like watching as the aircraft ascends out of New York City and because I don’t like the aisle traffic.

While your seat has to be in an “upright and locked position” during ascent, shortly after the flight, you can fold down an ottoman in front of you and prop your feet up. Later, this section comes in handy for your lie-flat bed. To your left is a control panel that adjusts over-shoulder-light, lumbar and recline, while under the seat is a little compartment in which you can stash your shoes. By your left hip is a 120V power outlet where you can plug your laptop (or a blender, if there is enough current) while the tray table is stowed in the arm rest to your right.

Together, the two facing chairs sort of form a yin-yang mirror image of each other. Luckily there is an accordion shade that you can draw between them in case you don’t want to stare at your fellow row mate. In my case, 2 B C and D were empty, so I left the shade down.

Once at a reasonable altitude, Christopher dropped off an amenity kit with socks and other toiletries as well as a pair of Sennheiser noise canceling head phones and my Archos 705 portable media player.

Not long after I figured out the IFE system, he stopped by again with my first course and a glass of wine, followed by Wendy, the purser, with a basket of at least four types of bread. I was still kind of full from pre-flight supper, but ate half of the vegetables while I took notes.

Since I was backwards facing the galley, all that I had to do to get my duck was glance up and smile, and one of the flight attendants came back with the next course. While I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the duck (in retrospect, who expects an airline duck to be superior), Christopher did come back with a New York cheesecake that was downright outstanding.

Fifteen minutes after finishing dessert, “I am Legend” came to a close on my video box so I decided to get ready for bed. At this point, it was already past three hours into my flight and I needed rest if I wanted to function the next day anyway.

A thick blanket and even thicker duvet were provided for my short nap, so once I returned from the lav I lowered the seat all of the way to the flat position, spread out the blanket and crawled under the duvet; in it’s lowest position, the bed mates with the ottoman to form a totally flat bed. Stretched out completely, the length of the bed was about 6’1, which is a bit of shame because I’m 6’3, but I was still impressed with the length – after all, it is on an airplane.

My primary problem with sleeping on transatlantic flights is on the earlier departures. Many people like to leave between 5 and 7 PM to get more time in the city the next day, but I find that one rarely gets sleep on these flights and the next day just becomes miserable. My personal preference is to leave in the 8-10PM window, sleep for several hours on the flight and attempt to have a normal day (albeit later) in Europe.

Needless to say, I got an hour or so of sleep before Wendy came over and poked me to let me know that breakfast was on the way. I hadn’t even slept enough to be groggy, so I obliged, pulled my seat up and got my things in order before a breakfast box with a ham and cheese sandwich, croissant, yogurt and fresh squeezed orange juice showed up. Still full from my two dinners, I nibbled on the yogurt and caught up on the FARC in the New York Times that I had sequestered from the BA lounge before we started our descent into Orly.

On arrival I find that I am surprisingly awake. I have always mused if jetlag was a virus of sorts, where increased exposure gives you better resistance to the disease – and sooner or later your body just automatically adapts. Perhaps the tiredness will set in later.

Continue onward to Transfer in from Orly or skip ahead to

Return trip logistics
The final word