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All-Biz-Class Airline Adds Economy Option

Previously all-premium line OpenSkies is adding an "Eco" class economy section, starting June 19. Seating will be conventional big-line economy—six-abreast at 31-inch pitch on its 757s—but OpenSkies will provide no-charge drinks and individual digital tablets for entertainment. Pricing is apparently set at the going economy rate. For a test trip in July, the round-trip fare on its sole route from New York to Paris in Eco will be $1,310, the same as on Air France nonstops.

OpenSkies is also repositioning its former "Biz Seat" class as premium economy, which will become "Premium Plus." It will be priced a bit higher than premium economy on Air France, at $2,638 round-trip for July, compared with $2,265 on Air France. Summer prices will also be substantially higher than current Biz Seat prices, now at $1,847 round-trip. And in this crazy world of airline pricing, British Airways is selling July nonstop premium economy seats from New York to Paris for $2,040—on a flight operated by "partner" OpenSkies. Go figure.

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My take, for what it's worth, is that OpenSkies missed a golden opportunity to provide a truly unique and superior economy product at a reasonable price. Seating at five-abreast in 737s would be plenty wide, for example, and 34-inch pitch would provide adequate legroom. That sort of product, priced to compete with United's Economy Plus and Delta's Economy Comfort, could be a real winner. Even just equivalent legroom could be attractive.

Instead, OpenSkies decided to make Eco class just another economy cattle car. Contrary to the line's online blurb, six-abreast at 31-inch pitch is never "comfortable," even in leather seats. And in an industry known for chutzpah, OpenSkies takes some sort of prize for justifying squeeze-em six-abreast seating as guaranteeing "service intimacy." The sad fact is that six-abreast at 31-inch pitch in a 757 is and will always be a cattle car, a fact no cabin service tweaks or hype can change.

As far as I can tell, OpenSkies' Premium Plus will remain a good product—probably superior to other transatlantic premium economy options. But for regular economy, I suggest you stay away from Eco and instead try to find a flight on an Air France 787 or A340, American 777, Delta 777, or United 777. And for a little more room without doubling the cost, go for Economy Comfort on Delta or Economy Plus on United.

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