Open Skies Turns to Trains to Help Fill Airplanes

Once thought to be on the ropes, British Airways (BAIRY) subsidiary Open Skies seems to be riding the return of demand for business class travel. It's far from being out of the woods here, but it has a second life. Now, it's looking at what Americans would consider unconventional methods to fill its planes: trains.

British Airways launched Open Skies as a child of the open skies agreement signed between the US and European Union (hence the airline name). The idea was to run an all-business class airline between the European continent and the US using 757s. The airline started with the Paris/Orly to New York/JFK route and soon expanded into Amsterdam, but it was a bumpy road.

The service suffered as the recession tanked demand for premium travel. Amsterdam was dropped quickly and British Airways announced that instead of giving its remaining 757s to Open Skies, it would sell them off instead. Open Skies looked to be in trouble.

Open Skies did buy French airline L'Avion which had a similar strategy. It shifted service to Newark from JFK and then hunkered down to wait out the recession. This year, it has returned to growth. Open Skies now flies from Washington/Dulles to Paris/Orly and has begun talking with a more bullish tone.

But Open Skies still faces difficulty. With no feed opportunity in Newark or Paris from its alliance partners, it has to rely solely on local traffic. Flying into Paris/Orly makes connections even more difficult since it's far from the more popular Charles de Gaulle.

Instead of relying solely on local traffic, the airline has decided to try a different route. Open Skies will now partner with SNCF to feed people on to trains (pdf).

To start, this partnership will only connect with Lyon and Nantes, but it's expected to grow. Passengers fly into Orly and then receive a transfer to Massy Palaiseau, about 15 minutes away, where they get their connecting train. The entire trip can be booked direct through the Open Skies website.

It's this sort of creative, multi-modal thinking that should define the next phase of air travel. In the US, with high speed rail plans on the drawing board, being able to connect trains to planes is an important step that will create opportunities on both sides. It's nice to see Open Skies getting out in front on this one.

Photo via Flickr user madmolecule