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
OpenSkies Prem+ review
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
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
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
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
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.
pitch for a premium economy cabin is extraordinary and more akin
to what you'd find in many business class cabins. Indeed,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
review under the same heading therefore apply with equal
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
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
(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
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.
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
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
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
OpenSkies Business Seat review
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24 Oct 2008, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.