Last year Eos Airlines launched a dedicated business flight from Stansted to New York. In an era of bankrupt and struggling airlines and one dollar no-frills flights this service broke the traditional mould now prevalent in the aviation industry.
With $87 million in capital, ex-British Airways executive David Spurlock founded EOS Airlines basing his concept on the low-cost airline model—in that one class of travel works for all—except Spurlock dared to venture into the premium market.
And this is the first time that an independent airline has put its entire business in the hands of the premium passenger. Eos Airlines’ mission statement is “to know its customers well enough to become a true specialist, offering a superior travel experience at a competitive price.”
Lufthansa and Continental are just two airlines that have operated business only flights, yet their business model has not been entirely dependent on premium travelers. Another major ongoing challenge that Eos faces is to persuade business travellers to select Stansted as their airport of choice when flying to New York, rather than Heathrow.
Promoted as “the Orient Express of the 21st Century”, Eos Airlines’ Boeing 757s have 48 business-class seats, although the jet is built for 220 passengers. All passengers have their own two square metre private suites, featuring fully-flat seat beds, desks and personal DVD players. A return ticket starts from around $3,500 (£2000).
The airline has 175 employees and three aircraft. Spurlock has declined to reveal the average load factors since the airline’s launch but claims the first few months have gone well. Breaking Travel News hooked up with him to find out if Eos will be able to revolutionise business flying, as we know it.
BTN: Having previously served as director of strategy at British Airways, what prompted you to leave and set up Eos Airlines?
SPURLOCK: At British Airways I realised that the days were gone when an airline could be all things to all people. I believe that the true winners in this industry will be those who specialise their products and services to specific markets.
Low-cost carriers proved that for discounted economy travel for short-haul domestic markets, their business model was the winning model.
Eos Airlines sets out to prove that in the long-haul premium travel it is far better to fly with a specialist airline like ourselves, than to travel with one of the big, old incumbent airlines.
BTN: What has been the greatest challenge so far in setting up Eos Airlines?
SPURLOCK: We have many challenges. Building a business from scratch, especially one as large and as complicated as an airline is very difficult. My biggest thrill has been bringing our people together and building a service that is unparalleled in the industry. The biggest challenge is introducing Eos to the marketplace on a day in, day out basis
BTN: What is the difference between Eos and MAXjet?
SPURLOCK: Simply put—Eos and MAXjet have different business strategies. We believe success lies in differentiating our product and specialising our offering. MAXjet just believes in commoditising business travel and making everything about price. From my perspective, the successful international premium airlines, like Singapore Airlines and British Airways have proven that carriers who invest in services and products usually win. Eos also stands for innovation and is trying to leapfrog all other carriers in terms of our investment in products and services.
BTN: How are you distributing your tickets?
SPURLOCK: We have a multi-channel distribution network. We have a contact centre in our New York offices that takes phone calls direct from the public and the travel trade. We distribute through the GDS systems to travel agencies. We have a number of key travel agency relationships which we have developed and we also have our own website where you can learn more about the airline.
BTN: Speedy check-in is a top priority for business travellers. What are your policies in this area?
SPURLOCK: One of the great advantages we have with our business model, a model which has just 48 seats aboard each aircraft is that our check-in processes and indeed all our processes are much quicker than airlines who need to get 300 or so people on and off their airplanes. We actually have very stringent security practices that either meet or exceed the practices of other airlines, but because of our smaller number of passengers we can provide a much quicker service than our competitors.
BTN: What other services do you provide to accommodate business traveller’s requirements?
SPURLOCK: From the day you make your booking until 24 hours after the time of your last journey with Eos Airlines we give you access to a concierge service run by Quintessentially, who can book you the finest restaurants, hotels, theatre tickets, chauffeurs in New York and London. They will really take care of you while you are overseas.
When you walk into the airport we will take you from our check-in counter and personally escort you to our lounge. At boarding time our cabin crew actually come up to our lounge to announce that the aircraft is boarding and escort our guests on board our aircraft. On the plane we offer everyone a fully flatbed with a choice of pillows, cashmere wool blend blankets that are lined with cotton sheets so people can enjoy a night’s sleep. We take service very seriously and we believe we have set a new standard in the industry.
BTN: How is the current air travel landscape going to be affected by Eos Airlines?
SPURLOCK: It comes down to the founding principal of Eos Airlines. We believe it is only specialised airlines that are going to work in this current climate—airlines that specialise in the low-cost field servicing the leisure and mass-market or airlines that specialise on quality service and products. By establishing our service at the high-end we raise the bar against every other international airline. They are then going to have to either invest in their products or seed their position to us.
BTN: What are your priorities for the next twelve months?
SPURLOCK: We want to continue the outstanding pace of customer service we have set. We currently have customer service scores that outpace the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons, the leading hotels groups in the luxury industry. And we have scores that are twenty points above the leading airlines in the world. My number one mission is to maintain that service level and to continue to win new customers and new clients for our business.