Dale Moss has spent most of his 30 years in travel and aviation leading large teams in global companies, including worldwide director of sales and marketing, cargo and passengers for British Airways (BA), where his team numbered 12,000 and individual passengers were ones of millions. After a stint as COO of fast growing, highly regarded Indian carrier Jet Airways, Moss returned to BA, creating and launching its subsidiary Open Skies as founding CEO. The always energized and optimistic Moss recently took time for lunch with Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan to talk about his current team (nudging 200) and what’s behind the concept. From his perspective, he is running a scheduled private jet service.
ET: What is OpenSkies? Dale Moss: We are the only scheduled all-premium airline operating between New York (Newark Airport) and Washington, D.C. (Dulles) and Paris (Orly). We have two flights a day between New York and Paris, and we recently started one flight a day from Washington.
ET: What’s an all-premium airline? DM: We fly 757s that regularly have over 200 seats in them. We have two configurations, either 72 seats or 84 seats. We sell two products: Biz Bed, which is a seat that converts to a full flat bed, and Biz Seat, which is a very rich product—a nice big seat that reclines to 140 degrees and has a 52-inch pitch. Both are in a 2×2 configuration. It is a very similar experience to flying on a private jet.
ET: How so? DM: We time ourselves and typically it takes between seven to 12 minutes for everyone to board or deplane. If you want to fly with 500 people you don’t know, we are not the airline for you. If you leave your scarf on the plane, you don’t have to worry that now you are behind 499 other people. Like a private jet, we are easy-on, easy-off, and the cabin has a private jet environment.
ET: Tell us about the ownership of OpenSkies. DM: We are a 100 percent owned subsidiary of British Airways, so we have the best of both worlds. For example, when it benefits us we can buy fuel using British Airways contracts, however if we can do better on our own, we can do that. The company is based in France.
ET: What type of culture have you tried to create? DM: When you are in a company of 80,000 people you can have a bad day, week or even year. Our total team is less than 200 so we know that every day, every hour, every minute, this is our time to shine. We don’t have a place to run and hide and I think that makes a difference. For example when there was bad weather this past winter we had managers and directors who left the office and put on coats and gloves and came to the airport to help make sure our planes were able to go. For us it’s very personal.
ET: You’re very competitive! DM: My parents raised me to be the best I could be. I don’t believe in leaving anything on the table. The airline business is a tough business, and we are coming up on our three-year anniversary. We started on the cusp of a severe recession, and if you have been watching the price of fuel, you know that the challenges in the airline business never end. In this business three years may seem short, but it is really like ‘dog years.’ To survive and be successful you really have to go above and beyond, and that’s what we try to do.
ET: What does your customer mix look like? DM: It is quite varied. We have lots of lawyers, financial and fashion executives, as well as people from the arts and models who basically commute between New York and Paris. We also have a nice mix of leisure business from Paris to New York and now Washington, D.C. as well. New York is New York, but I always tell people if you want to get a sense of what America is all about, go to Washington, D.C. and you have the entire history, plus two hours to Maryland or Virginia, where there is so much to see.
ET: How have you been promoting Open Skies? DM: We don’t have a large ad budget. We have worked to make our customers our ambassadors. Even though we have been flying less than three years we have customers who have made 50 or 60 trips with us. Because I’ve done over 70 round trips, I get to know the regulars, and they know me. One woman who is a regular was telling me recently about more than a dozen people she has gotten to fly us. We have another customer who has directly brought in another 50 customers. Over 96 percent of customers say they would recommend us to others. You certainly don’t see many companies that have pied pipers like this, and certainly it is very rare in the airline business.
ET: What’s the pricing like? DM: Our fares run 40 to 60 percent less than competitors (Business Class) for what we believe is a much better product. Even the rich like to save money.
ET: Do you offer 757s for charter? DM: About nine percent of our business is charter. We run charters for the NHL, top singers on tour, birthday parties and corporate events. Obviously the planes have the range to go anywhere. We did a charter for the French Industry Minister and a trade group she took to China. We can do anything anyone wants in terms of catering and in-flight service. It is a part of our business we really think can grow.
ET: Any other expansion in the cards? DM: Yes. If you look at the Joint Business Agreement between British Airways, Iberia and American, there are definitely opportunities that it will create. We believe there are some excellent opportunities in Washington, D.C., but no announcements today.