In another sign of luxury travel’s unstoppable post-pandemic rebound comes the launch of a brand-new entrant in the lucrative niche of all-business-class airlines.
Offering — to begin — a limited network of flights from key European and Middle Eastern cities to the Maldives, Beond promises to lure on board well-heeled travellers looking to jet off to island paradise, without having to jostle with the hoi polloi of (gasp!) those who fly economy.
All-business airlines are a curious business, and it’s a sector with stories of both success and failure. Without the reliable loads of a crowded economy cabin to balance the peaks and troughs of the more lucrative premium seats, making money out of capricious premium travellers isn’t easy. Throw in smaller fleets, meaning no economies of scale, and limited route networks, and it’s no surprise history is littered with failure. Eos, Silverjet, MAXJet — they all tried and floundered.
But all-business airlines do fill a niche in the market; those without the means or appetite to charter their own jet, but who’d rather avoid the crush of flying a commercial airline carrying hundreds of passengers. The stress points of check-in and boarding procedures can be smoothed out, and with just a few dozen passengers on board, the experience feels intimate. Not the same as chartering your own Gulfstream, of course, but you’re getting there.
And the founders of Beond are bullish that there is money to be made in launching what they’ve dubbed the world’s first premium leisure airline.
Beond’s inaugural flights are scheduled for November, with services from Riyadh, Munich and Zurich. The airline has also announced new routes from Dubai and Milan, set to take off in March 2024.
“Our aim is simple: to fly our customers to the most unique and unspoilt destinations where they can release their inner explorer on the most memorable vacation of their lives,” said co-founder and CEO Tero Taskila.
If that sounds a little bold, they are at least backing up the braggadocio by launching services on a beautifully-specced new Airbus A320 fitted with just 44 lie-flat seats laid out in a 2x2 formation. The cabin design is by acclaimed Californian innovation studio paulwylde, and features beautiful bespoke seats by Italian manufacturer Optimares. Add in crystal glassware, a silverware collaboration with storied English manufacturer Robert Welch, Chilewich placemats and fine china tableware by William Edwards and you have a thoroughly bespoke in-flight offering.
Beond also plans to add additional Airbus aircraft to the fleet from 2024, which will increase both the seats on board and the destinations it can connect non-stop with the Maldives.
For now, they’ll have the Maldives route to themselves because the most successful player in the market has its focus firmly on the lucrative trans-Atlantic market.
French-based La Compagnie has, since 2014, offered a hugely popular all-business service between Paris and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, an easy limo-ride from downtown Manhattan. Aside from a daily New York service, there are also direct routes from Milan and Nice in the peak summer months. By 2026 the airline will acquire more aircraft to entrench existing routes and launch services to a new US city.
La Compagnie flies modern Airbus A321neo jets, single-aisle aircraft that offer a boutique on-board experience. There are just 20 rows on board, with 76 fully-flat seats in a 2x2 configuration, cleverly angled to ensure everyone gets a window view. A menu of elevated bistro cuisine is paired with French wines and fine champagne. And, of course, the Wi-Fi is on the house.
Sound expensive? Well, yes. For a random set of dates in March 2024 their Paris-New York fares start from €1,350 return. But considering a business-class seat aboard a busy Air France 777 for the same route and dates will set you back €1,900, there’s a strong argument that there’s value to be had.
Another example of successful all-business offerings is the Four Seasons private jet, which offers some of the world’s most exclusive — and expensive — package holidays on the planet.
Four Seasons’ sexy black Boeing 757 was the first-ever fully-branded aircraft in the hotel industry, carefully customised to fly 52 travellers to the world’s most remote locations in opulent comfort. Think Mongolian cashmere blanket, white linen bedding and bespoke tote bags by Ghurka. You even get to keep the Bose noise-cancelling headphones at your seat.
I’d hope so for the $135,000 per person price tag. That’s what the two-week African Wonders trip will set you back if you step aboard this December. But with stops to soak up the Pyramids of Giza, the Serengeti, Mauritius, Rwanda, Victoria Falls and Johannesburg, you’re certainly going to walk away impressed.
Considered luxury, bespoke service and attention to detail never come cheap in the skies, but judging by the slow burn of all-business air travel, it seems those with the pockets to pay for it certainly aren’t afraid to.