Low-fare MAXjet considers MIA, FLL

All business-class carrier to London could make South Florida it's fifth U.S. gateway


Sep. 2--South Florida travelers to London seeking business-class seats and plenty of frills -- at lower fares -- may soon have a new alternative.

MAXjet Airways, an all-business-class airline launched in November 2005, is seriously considering adding a route from London to Miami International Airport or Fort Lauderale-Hollywood International Airport.

"South Florida is an extremely attractive market for MAXjet," said Josh Marks, the airline's executive vice president of planning. "It's just a function of timing."

The airline plans to make a decision on a new market by the end of this year, in order to begin service by early next year. South Florida is one of three finalists, along with San Francisco/San Jose and Orlando, Marks said.

Whichever U.S. destination is chosen will represent MAXjet's fifth, after launching its fourth -- Los Angeles -- on Thursday.

Seeking to serve small-business executives, professionals and affluent leisure travelers, MAXjet offers business class service at what it says is 50 percent to 75 percent less than current business class fares. Round trip fares from New York's JFK range from about $1,500 to about $3,000, including tax. That compares to typical business class fares of about $3,500 to $10,000.

All flights -- from JFK, Washington Dulles, Las Vegas and Los Angeles -- fly to London Stansted Airport, a favored destination for European low-cost carriers. That allows passengers to connect on such carriers as easyJet, Ryanair or Air Berlin, Marks said.

"It's an easier connecting experience at Stansted than Heathrow," he said.

MAXjet's fleet of five Boeing 767-200ERs are configured for comfort, holding 102 passengers rather than the usual 200. There are no middle seats, and each row is 60 inches apart -- more than United or Continental's business class rows, and equivalent to Delta's and American's, Marks said. Passengers are served gourmet food, have departure lounge access, and an arrival facility with showers at Stansted.

Greg Sosbee, a Dallas executive who always flies Business or First Class, earlier this month took MAXjet for the first time, from JFK to London, then back to Washington Dulles, for a two-day business trip to Munich.

"I had a last-minute trip and I didn't want to spend $10,000," said Sosbee, who paid $2,000 round-trip for his MAXjet seat. "It was quite good value for the money."

Sosbee said the ride was comfortable, and the food and service well above par, especially the airline's club in London, which he called the best he had ever been in.

"I stuffed myself on the smoked salmon and scones," he said, a far cry from the cuisine he usually finds at airport lounges.

The only downsides: a newly acquired plane that still had signs in English and Arabic on the way to London; a "beat up" bathroom on the flight back; and, most significantly, the lack of frequent flier miles.

Nevertheless, he said, the value of the ticket was much better than paying thousands of dollars more to get miles on a major carrier.

STIFF COMPETITION

As MAXjet competes on its well-traveled markets, such issues will go far in determining its success. Competitors such as American Airlines are already eyeing London Stansted. In late October, American will launch flights between there and JFK.

Still, MAXjet's niche market of business class service at affordable fares -- where it is often the only such carrier in the market -- makes it a promising venture, said Calyon Securities airline analyst Ray Neidl.

According to Neidl in a report he wrote initiating coverage with a "buy" rating in June, MAXjet can maintain relatively low fares due to its low-cost structure, from an all Boeing 767-200 fleet and scaled down airport services to low labor costs and lean corporate overhead. Yet its fleet, which has an average age of more than 12 years, may require more maintenance, adding to costs.

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