American Stansted experiment off to flying start?

AmericanW200.jpgWho said the legacy carriers are not concerned about the new all-premium carriers?

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic keep claiming the launch of three all-premium carriers on the lucrative London-New York route have had little to no impact. But American Airlines, which at the end of last month launched a New York JFK-Stansted service, seems to be taking it more seriously.

I’m sitting now in the makeshift American lounge at Stansted Airport, which two of the three all-premium carriers, Maxjet and Eos, serve from New York.The American lounge here is pathetic really – it has been sectioned off from the terminal by temporary walls and doesn’t have enough seats to accommodate the up to 28 business class passengers. But I’m promised construction of a new permanent lounge will begin after Christmas and be ready by April, when American will add a second daily flight on the route.

The new lounge will be big and offer premium passengers direct access from the lounge to the gate, a level of service not even offered at London Heathrow.

Another sign it is taking the all-premium competition seriously, American is already offering a separate check-in area for business class passengers at Stansted. For now it is confusing because there are no signs to direct business class passengers to the special area. I went to the regular economy class check-in desk, following prompts on the airport screens, and after asking an agent at the front of the long line was led to the business class check-in at the far end of the terminal.

I was told by the agent there American decided to separate the check-in areas to avoid business class passengers having to mingle with economy class passengers. Sounds like something out of the page of Eos and Maxjet!

Once at the check-in area I was processed immediately and escorted to the fast track security channel. I was in the lounge 10 minutes later. Not bad and American says it is working on signage to better direct their business class passengers at Stansted.

Another sign it is taking the all-premium competition seriously, American has hired several premium service representatives. Its handling agent, Swissport, looks after the economy class passengers but to make sure it matches the service of Maxjet and Eos it has its own team of premium service representatives.

Will this investment pay off? It’s too early to tell. Today’s flight is less than 25% full in business class and about half full in economy but I’m told weekend flights have been chocker block in both cabins.

Of course at roundtrip business class fares that now start at only $1,600, American may have a tough time making it work. Competition is fierce, with Maxjet offering similar fares and a much better lounge. Eos is generally much more expensive but recently also had a sale fare of about $1,600 roundtrip. Perhaps BA and Virgin knew what it is doing when it decided to stay away from Stansted and stick just with Heathrow.

It’s time to board. More on this later.

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