By Ron Bernthal
What was once a rare treat for trans-Atlantic flyers is quickly becoming a trend among commercial airlines competing for the lucrative business-class market between the U.S. and Europe — the all-Business Class flights that have been trying to carve a niche for themselves during the past several years.
Some of the entrants in this select group include new airlines like EOS (JFK/London’s Stanstead Airport;www.eosairlines.com); MaxJet (JFK, Las Vegas and Washington/Dulles to Stanstead; www.maxjet.com) and L’Avion, a French carrier with all business class service (Newark/Paris Orly; www.lavion.com). The more established carriers with one-class service include KLM (Houston-Amsterdam; www.klm.com); Lufthansa (several US cities and Germany), and Swiss (Newark/Zurich; www.swiss.com). I recently flew to London’s Luton Airport on Silverjet’s (www.flysilverjet.com) new all business-class service from Newark’s Liberty International Airport, and the newest of the trans-Atlantic all business-class carriers has something special on the British side – their very own private terminal.
Check-in at Newark is in the airline’s Silverjet lounge, currently a makeshift private room near Door 12, Level 2, at the far end of Terminal B. It’s a little difficult to locate, but well placed signage gets you there, and Silverjet staff at the door quickly checked my bag, issued a boarding pass, and ushered me into the lounge, filled with silver and white “space age” pod seats, and a light buffet of finger sandwiches, snacks, fruit and beverages. Obeying the airline’s instructions, I arrived at the lounge about 30 minutes before departure, so it did not matter if the lounge seating was not that comfortable, or the buffet was not quite up to business class standards, for within ten minutes the flight was called, and we were whisked through what looked like a private security line, into the main terminal, and all passengers were onboard by our 7:30 pm departure time. (A second flight, departing at 10:30 p.m., will be added in July)
Silverjet uses Boeing 767′s, painted silver and light blue, and configured with 100 flat-bed seats. Alas, our 7:30 pm departure was delayed an hour due to runway congestion at Newark, but cabin staff was attentive and friendly, the aircraft looked clean and new (they immaculately refurbished aircraft), and within minutes a personal audio/video console was delivered to the seat, along with Champagne and other refreshments. After takeoff there was a choice of three entrees for dinner, along with appetizers, dessert, and full bar. My flat-bed seat, a model known as Majesty, and made in France, had many confusing little buttons on the armrest control panel, but eventually I managed to get my seat to fold down and out, not quite absolutely flat but close enough, and certainly more comfortable than most regular business class seats on the trans-Atlantic route. An interesting addition to Silverjet flights is a “female-only” bathroom, which may or may not be politically incorrect, but it did look quite clean when I stole a peek towards the end of the flight.
After a satisfying breakfast, we landed at Luton Airport, located about 35 miles north of London. Silverjet maintains a separate private terminal building about 100 feet from Luton’s main arrival and departure terminal. Arriving Silverjet passengers clear customs at the main terminal, and can then walk over to the Silverjet terminal where they can have another breakfast if they desire, or relax and make local phone calls before heading into the city, via a fast express train (about 45 minutes), or a special Silverjet black English taxi (extra charge). I used the terminal’s Wi-Fi service to check email on my laptop, take a quick shower, and call my car rental company, which offered to drop the car off for me at the Silverjet terminal.
The amenities available at the private Silverjet Luton terminal were put to good use when I made the return trip to Newark a week later. I had breakfast in the terminal lounge two hours before the 10:00 am flight, even though the 30-minute suggested check-in time is valid in this direction as well. Silverjet passengers use a special security lane within the private terminal, which means no crowds or lines, and a Silverjet bus takes you out to the waiting aircraft. This type of efficient, VIP treatment seems more like first class service than business, but you won’t get a complaint from me.
Silverjet’s non-refundable, round-trip fare on the Newark/Luton route, is approximately $2,000, including taxes, but with small penalties for date changes. British Airways offers a non-restrictive Business/Club Class Newark/Heathrow round-trip fare of approximately $8,000. My flights on Silverjet were quite comfortable, and ground services at both ends, especially at the private terminal at Luton, were excellent. I understand that some passengers prefer flying into Heathrow but, personally, I like the smaller airports outside of London. They are slightly further from center city, but less crowded than LHR, and the new all business class airlines certainly give their passengers the “Royal” treatment.