Airlines Woo High-end Passengers

The luxury trans-Atlantic flier is being treated to even more pampering at the same time the airlines, faced with rising labor and fuel costs and intense price competition, are cutting such things as food and pillows for passengers in the domestic economy...


He said the company explored other variations, such as offering all economy seats, but he said this plan to fly premium passengers on overseas flights seemed to be the most unique and highest-revenue producing. And until now, there has not been much discounter competition.

MAXjet is a private company, but Rogliano says it breaks even and could make a profit this summer. Business people make up about 70 percent of the passengers, and the rest are vacationers, he said. About 15 percent to 20 percent normally travel economy class when they fly overseas.

The airline plans to add flights from other U.S. cities to London in the next two years.

On a recent flight from Dulles, the plane had 38 passengers who waited for boarding in a designated lounge, where snacks and computer hookups were available.Once they settled into their wide leather recliners on the plane, passengers were served hors d'oeuvres by an army of flight attendants dressed smartly in gray pinstripes and scarves. They were offered portable TVs and DVD players with their choice of entertainment.

Davis, the Des Moines traveler, said a MAXjet agent called her a few days before her flight to check on her.

"They're very attentive," said Robert C. McFarlane, former national security adviser to President Ronald W. Reagan, who now heads an energy development firm and has flown MAXjet four times. "They're serious about wanting to run a good airline. I normally fly business class, but this is one-third the usual cost."

Flights between the United States and the United Kingdom are by far the most traveled North Atlantic routes, with almost 17 million passengers in 2004, according to the International Air Transport Association. The number is expected to grow to about 21.3 million by 2009.

But some analysts believe there may not be enough business for more airlines.

Business travelers also may not want to give up the fuller schedules, vast route structure and frequent-flier programs of the traditional carriers.

Travelers also would have to give up Heathrow Airport, the traditional businessman's destination, which is a 15-minute express train ride to central London. Stansted, a small, low-cost hub airport, is a 45-minute ride to downtown London. Gatwick airport, the region's second-largest airport, is a 30-minute ride.

Hugo Burge, vice chairman of Cheapflights.com, which helps travelers find fares in both the United States and the United Kingdom, said long-term the new airlines likely will lure more leisure travelers who are interested in the perks but are more price sensitive than executives with expense accounts.

For now, MAXjet and Eos aren't likely to force down prices on major carriers because they don't offer many flights.

Further, some of the cabin upgrades can be attributed to general competition rather than competition from the new entrants, he said. Several major U.S. carriers seeking more revenue have shifted flights to overseas routes, including Europe and big growth markets in Asia and the Mideast.

"I don't think the startups are much of a threat just yet, but I'm sure the traditional carriers are watching them carefully," Burge said. "The jury is still out on how successful they'll be. I'm a huge fan of the idea."

Burge said he expects the startups to grow "solidly, not rapidly," and said they would do well to target U.S. airports with a large presence of discount airlines, such as Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

MAXjet's Rogliano said he chose Dulles over the discount hub at BWI because it's in the middle of a large population that travel internationally frequently. BWI offers one daily flight to London on British Airways, while Dulles offers several.

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