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Eos aim to fill luxury niche

By Dean Irvine for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Budget airlines have revolutionized the airline industry in the past five years, and now specialist all business class airlines are hoping to transform the high-end of air travel in the same way.

Eos and MAXjet have been the first to tap into the new niche, aiming to provide a customized service for the business traveler, with shorter check-in times and an in-flight service that is comparable or better than those offered by the likes of British Airways Club World and Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class.

As well as offering more in-flight comfort and faster check-in times, they also provide a more attractive option to the cost-conscious business traveler. The high cost of business class fares on major carriers is there to offset their loss making economy seats.

The major airlines were the first to react to the gap in the market, exposed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that radically reshaped the airline industry.

Lufthansa flew a business class only jet on its Dusseldorf to Newark route, fitting an Airbus A319 with 48 seats. Swiss followed suit with a service between Zurich and Newark and KLM began a six-times a week flight from Amsterdam to Houston, leasing a Boeing 737-300 from Privatair.

Eos is the new kid on the block that has been at the forefront of this quiet revolution, first taking to the skies in September 2005 flying twice daily between London Stansted and New York JFK, the most competitive and lucrative business travel route.

A London to New York route is operated by MAXjet that also fly from Stansted to Washington Dulles and Las Vegas - an increasingly popular destination for conferences.

Eos' founder David Spurlock is a former director of strategy at British Airways. He saw that the airline industry wasn't specializing enough and catering to all types of groups, from tourists to business travelers.

"Incumbent airlines have always had to promote themselves as all things to all people. By focusing on a high quality luxury product, we can offer something that they can't, and long-haul is the area where passengers are really sensitive to product quality," he told CNN.

Both Eos and MAXjet are aiming to appeal to frequent flyers who want the benefits of smaller queues and shorter check-in times and the luxury of a service dedicated to the needs of business travelers. However the similarity really stops there.

"We really don't see ourselves competing with other new airlines. What we've done from the beginning is concentrate on providing a product that focusing on quality, whereas the other way to operate is to compete on price, which can mean compromising the product," said Spurlock.

A comparison on the services and product provided by MAXjet and Eos bears out the differences.

There are only 48 seats on each of Eos' three 757s. With an industry busting 21-feet of personal space each seat comes with a "companion seat" and retractable table large enough for any in-flight meetings. It also folds down to a 6 feet 6 inch fully flat bed, with cabin crew offering a "turn-down" service.

It's clear then that Eos has styled itself as "all-business and all-pleasure", competing with British Airways First and Virgin Upper. MAXjet's reconfigured 767's have 100 seats and are closer to the standard business class seat.

Eos has also been careful in recruiting in-flight staff from other sections of the hospitality industry. The whole experience of is more akin to flying on a private jet with a tranquility so far removed from the normal experience of flying, once you have tried it, you won't want to fly any other way between New York and London.

Spurlock's focus on the whole "product" to attract passengers begins with a chauffeur service to and from the airport to the in-flight luxuries of champagne cocktails before take-off and superb meals served whenever the passengers want them.

Naturally these luxuries come at a price. Advanced purchase tickets on Eos are around $3,000, compared to around $1,500 for MAXjet's more no-frills approach, although a current Eos promotion over the quiet Christmas and New Year period has ticket prices at only £550 ($1,070) one-way.

Eos plan to expand their operations to new destinations next year, adding new aircraft to their fleet. Long-term plans are to add five new planes a year.

Two new business only airlines will be joining the fray in the New Year. Silverjet will operate from a dedicated terminal at Luton airport flying to New York. Like MAXjet they will use reconfigured 767s fitted with only 100 lie-flat seats. A new French airline Elysair also plans to start flying from Paris to New York in 2007.

Cost-conscious travelers then might opt for MAXjet, but Spurlock and Eos don't feel they have anything to worry about from them or British Airways or Virgin Atlantic.

"We feel we've leapfrogged BA and Virgin. The best product will win the market, where as the philosophy of other airlines seems to be whoever lowers the product and prices will win. History has proven in nearly all industries that quality wins out."


With only 48 seats on a 757, Eos has an atmosphere closer to that of private jet.


Given the choice, would you rather fly on a major carrier or dedicated business class only airline.
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