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Much better than coach class, and almost identical to OpenSkies' business class, Prem+ is a great value alternative to either coach or business class.

Recommended as the best value way to fly between New York and either Paris or Amsterdam.

 
 
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OpenSkies Business Seat (Prem+) Class Review

A business class experience for much less than a business class price

This picture shows me in one of the Prem+ seats fully reclined - it isn't flat, but there is a lot of recline, and I actually found the seat more comfortable than their business class seating.

But note the headrest is too low, and (not visible) the foot rest is too short, even for my moderate 6' height.

Part 2 of a three part series on OpenSkies - please also visit

1.  About OpenSkies

2.  OpenSkies Prem+ review

3.  OpenSkies Biz review

 

 

Over the years, business class service has got better and coach class service has got worse on most airlines.  And so, into this widening experience gap has appeared a fourth class of service - a Premium Economy service.

Not all airlines offer Premium Economy, and there is a wide variation in terms of what constitutes a premium economy cabin and service.  But, without a doubt, the OpenSkies Prem+ service is one of the very best Premium Economy offerings available, with a massively improved experience and only a moderately increased cost over regular coach class.

This review is based on a flight between AMS and JFK on 17 Oct, 2008.

NOTE :  OpenSkies has renamed this product, to more accurately reflect its business class quality.  Formerly known as Prem+, it is now called 'Business Seat', contrasting with their other cabin, which is now called 'Business Bed'.

Before the OpenSkies Business Seat Flight

Alas, one limitation of the OpenSkies airline is that they don't interline bags.  I was on a three leg journey - London to Amsterdam on VLM, then OpenSkies to New York and finally Delta the rest of the way back home to Seattle.

So I had to first check my bag for the flight to Amsterdam, then upon arrival in Amsterdam had to unnecessarily collect my bag, 'enter the country' (ie go through Customs and Immigration) and then go to the OpenSkies checkin counter to check myself and my bag in for the flight on to New York before then going back out of the country through Immigration once more; and in New York repeat the process again (although not quite so onerous because all passengers have to claim their bags and enter the country at JFK).

OpenSkies justify this lack of baggage interlining as a cost saving measure which they say they pass on in the form of lower airfares.  Although this isn't true of their business class fares (which are similar in price to full service airlines), but it may possibly be true of their Business Seat service (although it is harder to compare apples with apples for premium economy type services and the fares charged for them).

Checking In and Airport Lounge

Checking in for the flight from Amsterdam to New York was a terribly slow process.  There were two check-in agents (one for Biz and one for Prem+) for a flight that probably had only 30 people on board, total, so in theory you'd think it to be a quick and easy process, particularly with some people presumably having done an online self-checkin before arriving at the airport.

But I had to wait 27 minutes in line before it was my turn to check in, and the people behind me clearly ended up waiting the same or longer amounts of time.  This is unacceptable for anything other than the cheapest nastiest carrier offering the cheapest nastiest coach class service.

Prem+ passengers don't get access to the BA lounge in Amsterdam, but I managed to get a lounge invitation as a courtesy to help me complete this review.  BA's Amsterdam lounge is nothing fancy, and suffered from no workstations for people wishing to work on their laptops.  There were a few desks with BA provided computers, but nowhere for people with their own computers, and while this might sound silly, I feel awkward taking up a public computer space to work on my own computer, whereas I have no second thoughts at taking up a bare workstation space.

Free Wi-fi was offered, but - same as at JFK - BA censors and restricts the websites you can access through their Wi-fi.

Although it was the British Airways lounge, I didn't see any British beer in their cooler, and neither was there British lemonade (a popular British drink similar to Sprite).

Boarding and getting Settled

To my surprise, boarding time was set at 50 minutes prior to departure, and sure enough, at that time, a boarding call went through the BA lounge encouraging passengers to go to the gate to board.

Amsterdam has at-gate security rather than one major security portal prior to admission into the main gate areas and concourse - this is because passengers off arriving flights go straight into this same area.  The gate level security is always a hassle, and there can sometimes be long lines of people waiting to go through a single scanner and metal detector.  I wasn't so concerned for the OpenSkies flight, because how long a line could it possibly be for a flight that carries a maximum of 64 people, and for this reason, wondered why on earth we had to be at the boarding gate 50 minutes prior to departure.

There was, of course, no reason for this, other than it being another example of an airline selfishly setting its priorities for its own convenience, rather than planning for the best interests of its customers.  Indeed, when I got to the gate and passed through the security checkpoint, it was a case of then doing nothing but waiting at the gate until 37 minutes after the boarding call was issued in the lounge.  I'd have much preferred the comfort of the lounge to the alternate of standing in the small ugly gate area for half an hour.

There was no coat hanging service offered.

The overhead bins are the same dimension as in Biz - not overly large, but with the seating being two on either side of the aisle, that means that each two passengers get to share 52" of overhead space - 26" each.  This should always be plenty of space, and, as you'll see mentioned in the Biz class review, the airline's Managing Director offers a free ticket to anyone who can't get their carry-on items conveniently stowed in the overheads (assuming they are within the legal carry-on limits, of course).

The plane pushed back from the gate 5 minutes early, but notwithstanding its early departure from AMS, we arrived into JFK 25 minutes late.

Sitting and Sleeping

The Business Seat cabins (two, each with five rows of four seats) are in the rear of the plane.  Seats are leather covered, wide, generally comfortable to sit in, and have a generous 52" pitch, allowing for each seat to recline back to 140 without become impossibly intrusive into the space of the person behind you.

A 52" pitch for a premium economy cabin is extraordinary and more akin to what you'd find in many business class cabins.  Indeed, it is little more than a decade ago that business class cabins were typically at 39", and then upgraded to about 50", before further upgrading now to lie-flat type seats.

By way of comparison, BA's premium economy seats are only slightly better than their coach seats, with a 38" pitch, and Virgin Atlantic's premium economy seats are also at a 38" pitch.

Each seat has controls for recline, lumbar support, raising the leg rest, and extending out the leg rest.  The controls are not electrical though, so if you're leaning back and relaxing and want to sit up a bit, you have to pull yourself up and use your repositioned weight to move the seat rather than an electric motor.

However, as good as the seats are, they are surprisingly imperfect.  The biggest annoyance for me was the neck/head support at the top of the seat was too low down.  This cushion can be slightly raised, but even with it at its maximum extension, it was still too low and uncomfortably rested below my shoulders.  This can be seen in the picture of me reclining in the seat at the top of this page.

The other end of the seat had similar challenges.  The foot rest was just a few inches too short, and I found my feet hard up against the end of the footrest.

Note that I'm 6' tall.  This is far from unduly tall, and it is surely a fair expectation that a premium economy seat can fit a 6' tall person.

In terms of sleeping, I'm perhaps slightly unusual.  I find it easier to sleep in a reclining seat than on an airline sleeper 'bed' - without exception, all the airline lie-flat sleeper bed seats I've tried in both business and first class have been markedly less comfortable than any 'normal' bed, whereas a reclining seat that goes a long way back seems to work better for me.  So I actually slept better in this seat on my afternoon flight from Amsterdam than I did on the overnight flight in the Biz seat from New York to Amsterdam.

Something that didn't help my sleeping was the supplied blanket, which was too short to cover me from shoulders to feet.  Come on, OpenSkies.  Surely it isn't too much to ask you to spend a couple of pennies more for a blanket that is long enough to completely cover a passenger.

I also found this seat better to work in.  Like Biz class, there was at-seat power for every seat (although only one of the two plugs for the pair of seats I was in worked).  Unlike Biz class, there was also a generously sized solid table to place a laptop on and work reasonably ergonomically with, and due to the problem with the A/V system (see below) I simply worked on my computer most of the flight.

Just like in the Biz cabins, there were no individual air vents.

Food and Drink

Food service was better than expected.  Unlike the airline's parent company, BA, which provides coach class food and drink in its Premium Economy cabin, OpenSkies provides an upgraded food service that is almost as good as their service in business class.

But that's not necessarily high praise, being as how the food I had in their business class on the flight to Amsterdam was uniformly awful.  And whereas their business class service included individual salt and pepper grinders, their Business Seat service didn't provide any salt or pepper at all - not grinders, not miniature shakers, not even sachets.  We had a lunch shortly after takeoff, with a lovely smoked salmon appetizer, then a choice of either pasta or chicken for a main course - is EC copying BA by no longer offering meat dishes in its lesser category cabins?

Later in the flight, a snack was also offered.

Wines seemed to be the same two reds and two whites and one champagne as in business class, and were also, to use the airline's phrase, 'bottle poured'.  Big deal (not).

In Flight Entertainment

The same free-standing Archos video player was offered in Business Seat class as is offered in Biz on OpenSkies.  My comments offered in the Biz class review under the same heading therefore apply with equal relevance here.

You can get a vastly better selection of in-flight entertainment even in coach class on some other airlines - even American carriers like NW and DL increasingly offer sophisticated and extensive seat-back video on demand systems in coach that vastly surpass that offered by OpenSkies in its two premium cabins.

There was a strange problem with the video players.  In Biz class they were powered through a laptop power supply port on the seat that presumably feeds something like 13V DC to the unit, but in Prem+ they were powered from the mains plugs offered at every seat (110V AC).  Something in the mains power supply created an interfering whine in my Bose QC2 noise cancelling headset (probably a poorly filtered out residual from an electronic inverter that converted the DC power to an AC supply).  This was not present in the airline supplied ordinary and unpowered (ie not noise cancelling) headset.  But the lack of noise cancelling made the listening experience massively less positive, and it also meant that one had to choose between using the power supply for the airline a/v player or for one's other electronics.

Cabin noise measured 82-85dB with C weighting, slightly louder than up front in the Biz cabin (probably due to extra noise typically occuring behind the engines).  A weighted levels were only slightly lower than the C weighted levels, indicating that much of the sound energy was in middle and higher frequency bands.

Service in General

Similar to the flight over, the a/v players were taken away from us ridiculously early - 47 minutes before we landed.  As I comment in the Biz class review, this is a classic example of the passengers being forced to conform to the crew's schedule and to accept inconvenience in return for the crew's convenience, and is unacceptable in a premium cabin where you're paying extra, presumably for a greater degree of comfort and service.

We also had to endure a massive 25 minutes with all electronics off and seat backs upright prior to landing.  What idiot makes this arbitrary decision?  One of the frustrations of flying is that idiots impose these stupid constraints on us for no good reason at all, but if we try and complain, instead of being treated as a valuable customer with a bona fide concern, we run the risk of being branded a terrorist, strapped to our seat, and arrested upon arrival, charged with the 'crime' of 'failing to follow the instructions of a uniformed crew member'.

The two cabin crew were otherwise polite but distant, even though there were only 15 passengers in the 40 seat Prem+ cabin.

They were also a bit unattentive.  About an hour into the flight I decided to use a washroom, and went to the two washrooms at the rear of the cabin.  Both showed as 'occupied' so I waited.  After ten minutes of waiting, with no signs of life from either washroom, I wondered what was happening, and asked a crew member if the washrooms had been locked off for some reason.  He said 'Oh, sorry, I forgot to open them up after we took off' and unlocked them.  Thanks for the unnecessary ten minute wait, guy.

When my meal was presented to me, it was served on a tray that was covered by a tablecloth.  Somewhere in the process of getting it to me, the tablecloth had folded up and part of it had rested on the dessert - a custardy sort of thing with powded chocolate on top, so one corner of the tablecloth was a greasy chocolaty mess.  No-one seemed to either notice or care, even though both the tablecloth was obviously dirtied and the dessert obviously damaged.

Surprisingly, whereas Biz class offered absolutely nothing in the form of passenger amenity kits, Prem+ had basic plastic envelopes containing a pair of socks, an eyeshade, a toothbrush and toothpaste.  What sense does it make to provide this to Prem+ passengers but nothing to people paying twice as much to fly in Biz class?

Something that was puzzling by its omission was any form of Duty Free shopping.  One has to assume that airlines offer this not for our convenience, but for the revenue opportunities it presents to them.  So why no duty free on offer?

There wasn't even an inflight magazine or any other type of reading material in the seat backs.

Overall, service was average rather than good.

How Much Does it Cost

In our review of the OpenSkies business class service, we observed the lowest cost for a roundtrip business class fare between JFK and Paris was $3600 for travel in mid February 2009 (as of 22 October 2008)

By comparison, the lowest price for Prem+ travel at the same time is $1310.  And using Kayak.com, the lowest price for coach class travel on any airline, nonstop, is $700.

Is it worth $610 extra to fly in Prem+ rather than coach class?  In total, you're spending about 16 hours (roundtrip) to fly between New York and Paris and back, so the $610 extra cost represents $38 an hour.  For this you get vastly more seat room, a much more comfortable seat, and much better food and drink; a superior travel experience in just about every meaningful respect.

This means you're more likely to arrive in Paris better rested, and better able to immediately start enjoying yourself (if on vacation) or doing business (if traveling for work), and at the end of your travels, you'll get back home and need less time to recover after your return, too.

While many of us might struggle to find the extra value to justify buying the $3600 Biz fare on Open Skies, the chances are that many of us will find it easy to justify and accept the $610 extra cost of Prem+ compared to a regular airline's regular coach class.

Conclusion

I've been somewhat critical in pointing out the areas that could and should be improved in the Business Seat service on OpenSkies.  But, these shortcomings notwithstanding, it is clear that Business Seat class is vastly better than most other airlines' coach class service.  Perhaps surprisingly, it is also clear that the Business Seat service is closely comparable to OpenSkies' own Biz class service.

So - should you upgrade from regular coach class on another airline to Business Seat class?  If you don't have to confront the hassle of checked baggage on connecting flights before or after your EC flight, then yes, this is definitely a great option to consider.

And - should you downgrade from business class on another airline (or even on EC) to Business Seat so as to save almost $2500?  Yes, most people will not notice the slightly poorer service quality in Business Seat compared to business class, whereas most of us will definitely notice a $2500 savings.

Business Seat is good value for money and a good choice.  It could be better, but even in its present imperfect form, it is a smart choice to make.

Part 2 of a three part series on OpenSkies - please also visit

1.  About OpenSkies

2.  OpenSkies Business Seat review

3.  OpenSkies Business Bed review

 

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Originally published 24 Oct 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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