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SilverJet All Business Class 767: LTN-EWR

SilverJet All Business Class 767: LTN-EWR

Old Feb 23, 07, 2:38 am
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Arrow SilverJet All Business Class 767: LTN-EWR

If Only Every Cloud Had a SilverJet Lining

Luton twinned with New York? An unlikely scenario, but now just seven hours and thirty minutes flying time from Lorraine Chase’s back garden, the Big Apple awaits!

The concept for an all business class airline traversing the Atlantic has been tried before, and it was rather successful. The British Airways Concorde traversed this route for over 20 years, in an all one cabin layout representing pinnacle of on board service and exclusivity.

Beaten by an unfortunate crash in France, increasing fuel costs, loss of key customers in 9/11, the ensuing downturn, ageing airframes, heightened environmental concerns and a cash-strapped Airbus, the option for supersonic travel sadly ended in 2003.

To be fair the sea-change in subsonic Business and First class cabins cushioned the blow somewhat. From what had been little more than a flexible ticket, palatable catering, good selection of wines, larger seat and an upstairs 747 lounge in the 80s, the late 90s saw great transformation.

Airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore innovated in both cabins with personal on-demand in flight entertainment, fully flat beds, stunning lounges, luxury amenity kits, in seat power, face to face dining, improved catering, in flight massages and even the ultimate luxury - a window in the FIRST lavs.

But while everyone focussed on the speed of Concorde in the air, what had not been factored in was the speed on the ground as well. Check in under one hour. Planeside Bag Valet. No stacking or queuing on landing. Just one hundred passengers to load and unload. Boarding straight from the lounge. Minimised hubbub in the terminal.

In 2004, the busy executive or aspirational leisure traveller did not have much of a choice between the mass market experience of the existing legacy carriers and high end exclusivity of a private jet.

As security concerns grew, institutions like the TSA and BAA responded both glacially and ineffectually to the new threats which faced us all. The shoe carnival, laptop shuffle and poor training and staffing levels led to enormous lines. Worse: no one was exempt. Recent restrictions on cabin baggage and liquids throughout Europe were the last straw, and seriously impacted premium travellers used to escaping the wait in the baggage hall on landing.

There had to be another way.

Choice emerged in 2006. Like buses three came along at once. Plans were announced for several new start up all business class airlines.

Maxjet, EOS and now the most recent and only British entrant of the trio, SilverJet Airways, now fly the friendly skies between the UK and USA. A fourth, L’Avion is the Continental cousin, flying between Paris and New York.

Privatair has offered a similar service as part of mainline Lufthansa, and Icon Airlines is mooted to be starting up service LGW-JFK in the near future, the first to use “principal” airports in the all business class model.

Cleverly, having a single cabin means tickets are not liable for the higher rate of newly increased Air Passenger Duty exUK (currently £80 for most business class flights, SilverJet gets away with the standard £40 per economy ticket charge). SilverJet also shows its green credentials by ensuring all flights are carbon neutral, by covering carbon reducing schemes as part of your ticket.

SilverJet sets itself apart from its competitors by offering one unique feature. A Private “terminal” at both Newark and Luton. Coupled with a compromise between an old fashioned arm chair business class seat offered by MaxJet and the fully flat bed of EOS, in the form its lie flat 6’3” lie flat-at-an angle seat, this is a good product filling a clear niche between the two more established start ups in this area, with the added fun of being able to take a helicopter transfer from Battersea for an additional charge.

Pricing, however is firmly in the £1000 round trip bracket – much more akin to the MaxJet price model, but SilverJet are offering much more bang for your buck.

Website

My first contact with the airline was through the website. This looks professional and slick, with careful attention to consistency and an understated refined colour scheme throughout. The booking process was easy, and the Manage My Booking and Print your Own Boarding Pass functionality was impressive for such a small carrier.

The three highlight boxes on the front page emphasise the opening offer of £799 round trip. This offer will come and go, but people will now be disappointed if they cannot get that great lead in fare. What will persist beyond the honeymoon period will be the service itself, particularly the hard product in terms of the lounge, seat and cabin photos. This is what the website should emphasise both on its home page and in detail elsewhere.

The rather artistic layout with small, colourwashed close up photos does not allow a proper cabin view, and it was only through trawling other websites that I was able to actually see a proper photo of the seat, the cabin and the lounges.

Surely it would make sense to post this on one’s own website, where the images can be high quality, presented in a controlled way, and accessible to those who would be most likely to use them?

Despite the solid experience using the booking engine, I did find information difficult to obtain on in flight entertainment listings, seating plans and whether an amenity kit was offered. I also was unable to locate information about what sort of at seat power supply was available, and I could find no mention of the availability of showers in either of the lounges.

I decided to telephone the helpline, and was greeted by a very cheery and helpful assistant, who could not have been nicer which was a great plus, having been used to dealing with outsourced call centres in the past.

Unfortunately the assistant had never been on a SilverJet flight, and seemingly never even on the aircraft or in the lounge itself, so was unable to answer my questions immediately. She did however respond that afternoon via email, and fully answered my queries. It would seem sensible where possible to encourage call centre staff, and indeed all staff, to experience the product as a customer, and so understand from a different perspective the service they deliver every day.

Train up to Luton

I decided to take the train from London, and worked out the best route from the National Rail Enquiries website. Again simple facts like standard weekday timings from major London stations, the average journey times and recommended trains, and perhaps a link to the Midland Mainline website would be an improvement.

The soon to be available helicopter transfer from Battersea to Luton in just 4 minutes will be an experience, and a great way to start a weekend or business trip to NYC.

St.Pancras is not a terminus I am familiar with, especially since it is in the throes of being redeveloped as part of the new Eurostar International hub being constructed there. It was easy to get there on the Piccadilly Line, and a short 500m walk around the side past the construction site.

I purchased my ticket to Luton Airport Parkway, which is different from Luton Station itself. I bought a round trip ticket for £21 which I thought good value.

The train was departing soon, so I had a coffee and waited on the platform; fifteen minutes prior to departure the train (which was the 0800 to Derby) was opened up, allowing an escape from the cold winter’s morning outside.

The train was clean and less than a year old; first class was available, but not really worth it for the 21 minute journey as there was plenty of space to sit down. As we left the station, the full extent of the recent snowy weather was apparent as we sped out in to the fields north of London.

The previous day’s flight schedule had been cancelled. One of the risks you run booking a smaller carrier such as this is the lack of back up aircraft should something go wrong. Although entirely outside the control of SilverJet, snow had closed Luton, and the aircraft was diverted to Manchester. After a few hours’ wait on the ground there, they were bussed to Luton and Heathrow; not an ideal solution, but the decision was taken to cancel the following days flight programme, with passengers re-accommodated onto other carriers out of Heathrow and so minimal knock on delays were experienced.

On arrival at Luton, about 40 miles north of London, I was very pleased to see a heavy emphasis on advertising from the new airline; nearly every billboard was covered in the SilverJet logo.

Exiting the station I was met by a SilverJet emblazoned cab, which whisked me the seven minute/£4 ride for free over to the Private Terminal.

The Silver Lounge

First impressions last, and the SilverLounge does not disappoint. Greeted by an imposing concierge in a coat I would normally associate with the very best London hotels, my modest luggage was whisked away as I was escorted to one of the fifty or so leather chairs. Here I completed check in by leaving my passport with the agent, who returned with a boarding pass some moments later.



Complimentary WiFi is available, and there was plenty of Pol Roger for Bucks Fizz, should you fancy a stiffener pre-flight. A range of continental breakfast offering is available, and given lunch is not until around noon, you would be well advised to at least have something to stave off hunger.

All the staff were super friendly and cheerful; such a change from the sultry, underpaid staff often found in other lounges. A tray was proferred with a stack of bacon sandwiches; a nice touch, though a little ungenerous with the bacon in my opinion…. 



There are three showers at this lounge, one for those with disabilities (incidentally referred to as “blind” and “deaf” on the special assistance website – surely something a little more PC might be adopted…?) the other two for men or women (sadly no room for two!).



Plenty of newspapers were provided, and the lounge seemed adequate for the 65 or so people on my flight – it would have been crowded with the full compliment of 100, however this should not be such a problem as regulars will arrive late and those in the lounge well ahead of time were encouraged towards security from 0915 onwards, well prior to our 1000 take off.



Boarding

Security was a revelation. Super friendly, chatty yet professional people manning the single private x-ray machine – this is how it can be done, with a smile, yet without disregard for imposing the rules. A sea change from the service one normally witnesses, especially recently in BAA and TSA airports.

The one of two brand new busses sporting the SilverJet logo was waiting outside and took us to the distant stand where the aircraft was waiting; up the steps and on board this Flyjet 767 to begin my journey to the US.

The Aircraft

On entering, there was cardboard laid out on the floor to absorb the mucky snow and grit which was being trudged into the cabin; the crew areas have a sort of faux wood linoleum which does not absorb water well, and this was a temporary solution to this problem, in an attempt to keep the carpets serviceable.





I was shown to my seat; I chose the rear of the two cabin as fewer people had chosen that section; the allure of “sitting up front” was still very strong, but in fact the second cabin is more airy, being slightly longer, and also appears wider as the (old style) overhead bins are set about six inches wider apart in this widest part of the fuselage; the pointy end reduces this space in the forward cabin.

The Seat

Drinks were offered prior to take off (Pol Roger again) and I settled in to the fresh and modern ambience of the cabin, enjoying the in seat massage function pre take off.

The seat is of the lie flat variety, and looks to me exactly like that offered on Finnair. So not fully flat as offered by BA and Virgin on the New York routes, but good for a day flight and adequate for a short overnight hop. Subtle chocolate shades in a 2-2-2 layout on this widebody gives a spacious feel. The cocoon feature ensures you cannot be reclined into by the person in front.



There are some nice touches. The stalk of the LED reading light is covered with hand stitched leather. Simple control panel for the seat is very easy to use.

There is no amenity kit, rather the essentials are offered; eye shades, socks and ear plug, all of similar quality to those offered on BA. It would be nice to have some mouthwash and toothbrushes/toothpaste available on board, on request.

Take off was an energetic affair; the comparatively empty 767 sprinted off the runway and were into a steep climb without much effort from the engines.

On Board Service

SilverJet has made a point of recruiting from the hospitality industry, a factor that comes across in the relaxed and friendly interactions I experienced unfailingly with all the employees I spoke to.

There is however, somewhat random approach to service, which though well meant, needs to be reined in with training to lend a more professional air to the operation.

Examples include being asked my lunch order twice by different stewardesses; ordering my post take off drink and waiting nearly an hour for it to be delivered, eventually not by the same person who took my order; handing out the IFE kits without turning on the in seat power (I had to explain to them the need for the red light to turn green signalling power on); not using trolleys makes for repetitive journeys carrying one or two glasses to each seat – would have been much better if a more structured four people served at a time system was in place to speed things up; when asking for a cup of tea later in the flight being asked to wait 20 minutes until the main tea service came around; and the worst part of the experience was being presented a mug of tepid water and a still sealed Camomile tea bag. If I wanted to fly on an American airline, I would do.

Having had my little rant above these were small inconsistencies which will no doubt be dealt with through training. Systems and processes can be picked up; a smile and a good attitude is very hard to instil, and the people working for SilverJet have a surplus of good character traits which will set the airline in good store for the future. As long as they learn how to serve proper tea.

There was a selection of generic magazines, like wallpaper* in the forward cabin, but no inflight magazine. The IFE was a single digital box which plugged into the American style sockets, one per seat. Each unit can with what appeared to be passive noise cancelling headphones and two speaker jacks so you could share one screen with your seatmate if you wished; I stuck with my Bose set. It would have been crowded with two people using different digiboxes.

The IFE had a great selection of comedy, drama and movies; I watched the excellent Last King of Scotland. On a relatively short flight I was spoiled for choice, and the quality of entertainment and AVOD functionality was impressive.

Drinks service was OK, but I was rarely asked if I would like a top up, and often found my glass whisked away before I had quite finished. Although this is business class, staff were not yet able to anticipate my needs – offering bottles of water without having to ask after take off would have been good for instance.

Crew uniforms are smart casual, though I am not sure I would have been able to identify them easily in an emergency. Name badges would allow more easily to praise good service – of which there was plenty – and should be looked into.

Food was excellent, lamb was perfectly cooked, though the jumbo prawn starter could perhaps have been fresher, as I discovered later that night. Enough said.

A massive chocolate cake came round for tea about an hour before landing; though tasty even I could not have handled all that and something more health conscious (fruit or a bagel) might have suited better at that time of day. Several people near me were asking for a healthier option.

Tea Rant

Another rant about tea here. When I step onboard a British Airline of whatever hue, I expect strong, properly brewed and served tea. It is the one thing we can easily get right and SilverJet did not. The Tepid camomile experience above was bad enough, but the main tea service had a distinct coffee flavour to it (perhaps the pots had not been cleaned properly?) and was weak. Whether the milk was not real milk, the bags not left to brew, or the water not filtered, something has to be done to fix this and ensure we get a proper British cuppa on board.

I had followed my usual outbound plan of avoiding the bright sunlight glare by sitting on the right side of the plane, though on landing into Newark, the best views were to be had on the left, looking out over Manhattan in the noon day sun.

Newark arrival involved a lengthy taxi, and despite only 65 people immigration still took a while as there were a few troublesome cases on the flight ahead of mine. Thirty minutes after deplaning I expected to get to baggage claim and see my bags waiting; it was an unforgivable extra twenty minutes, meaning it was nearly an hour after landing before I received my luggage. Though smaller airlines like SilverJet have little influence over handlers at large airport, slow delivery of bags defeats the advantages gleaned from rapid boarding at Luton and needs to be addressed as the airline expands on to other routes and becomes used by commuters who rely on timeliness.



My bag was slightly damp; others had wet bags, and having the state of the canvas weather protection on the sides of the FlyJet cargo pallets, I am surprised we got off so lightly. They need fixing.

The Return Journey

The departure lounge is in Terminal B, in the Arrivals section. Rather confusing, and you need to know where the SilverJet Lounge is as cabbies are not familiar with it.

The lounge was rather busy when I entered at six pm, and hour and a half before my flight. Check in was again smooth in seat affair. Just 38 people on this overnight flight departing at 1930; the lounge is being extended to offer showers and proper pre-flight dining. Piper Heidseick was on offer and a range of other premium spirits including Bombay Sapphire Gin.

Any more and this current sized lounge would have been over comfortable capacity; I adjourned to the BA lounge just beyond security using my Gold Executive Club card anytime access, where the place was deserted, and enjoyed a few sandwiches similar to what had been available in the SilverLounge.

I noted a few people fell foul of the no liquids on board rules; check in agents should remind people to check liquids or risk surrendering them at security.

At the gate I noticed my green departure slip had not been collected from inside my passport; this is serious but again training should alleviate these problems.

Back on Board

On board I prepared myself for an early rest, changing into my BA FIRST pyjamas pre take off, and requesting a camomile tea (clearly stating how it should be served this time!) to settle me.

I reclined almost immediately after take off and with the aid of a pill, went straight to sleep, preferring a slightly kinked setting to the fully flat option, which tended to result in a wedgy feeling which was not very comfy. Despite the lack of a fully flat bed I slept comfortably enough to function the next day at the office, though did rowse a few times to reposition to guard against the dreaded wedgy. At this price, the lack of a bed and the other service benefits make this tremendous value.

I felt the lights came on a little soon shortly after 0600 OK time, and there was plenty of chatter amongst the stewardesses which should have been curtailed, as despite sitting in 13F in the middle of the cabin, banter and loud walking past woke me early. It would be better if half the cabin were in darkness until the very last minute.

On the matter of lighting, it may be possible to fit different lighting schemes to future aircraft to avoid the lurch from black to searchlight which seems to afflict older aircraft.

Having brought my own toothpaste I appreciated a few minutes to freshen up, but had I not known about this I would have been disappointed with the lack of this amenity.

I picked up my ham and cheese croissant, smoothie and water bottle in a bag handed out as breakfast to go and was on my way.

Immigration and Baggage Claim at Luton

Immigration and baggage claim was an unmitigated disaster. Arriving on time at 0730, it was not until 0900 that I reached the SilverJet lounge for a shower. Immigration has no IRIS functionality, and the hordes of eastern Europeans coming in off early morning LCC flights clogged the four desks, making a delay of nearly an hour.

Then problems with baggage handling meant no bags. Even the crew were getting agitated. No information was forthcoming, and when I asked the ServisAir agent what was going on she alleged she had advised us – apparently by shouting to the assembled passenger there was a delay. Is this the Middle Ages? A tannoy system should be used to keep passengers abreast of the situation; arriving in the UK is becoming an unprofessional embarrassment and this sort of small town attitude needs to change.

Things do go wrong, which is not ideal, but so much goodwill can be restored if passengers are properly communicated with. In this case they were not. Luton is plainly not used to dealing with the higher expectations of premium passengers, and needs to step up to the mark if it is to properly support new services such as this.

When I reached the relaxing precincts of the SilverLounge again, I was able to enjoy a shower with Aromatherapy Essentials Shower gel. No mirror for shaving here, and also no hairdryer, but good enough at this stage to allow me to get into work clean and refreshed after your flight.





So, on the whole the elements of my journey SilverJet were responsible for were pretty much top notch, especially considering it was only their 10th day of service. We lost Concorde, and have suffered all sorts of security constraints in the past few years, but it does seem that every cloud has a silver lining; and SilverJet is here to prove that.

THE VERDICT: OK so I have been picky. I have highlighted some inconsistencies, but there were many pleasurable aspects to the service. The team are superb; obviously eager to please, the SilverLounge in Luton was a genuine innovation, the aircraft is clean and modern in appearance, catering, IFE and service were perfectly pitched, and all at a price less than half the least expensive business class tickets for the legacy carrier competition. With a little more practice, this has the makings of a great British airline. I would fly with them again without hesitation, and wish them every success in the future as they grow the frequencies and destinations in the coming years.

Areas for improvement

1. Urgent need to sort out baggage handling at both Newark and Luton
2. Training to give crew more professional, systematic approach to service delivery
3. More emphasis on the hard product on the website
4. Publish IFE listings on the website
5. One of the two cabins kept in darkness until right before landing
6. Need toothbrush/toothpaste and/or mouthwash on request
7. Shaving mirror (and basin if possible) in Luton male shower room
8. Improve quality of tea on board
9. CSD should ask customers if they enjoyed the service, had any comments
10. Spread people out throughout the cabin

The good

1. Superb lounge at Luton
2. Security arrangements at Luton on departure
3. Cab and helicopter transfer innovation
4. Excellent cabin
5. Seat but needs more promotion
6. Friendly Crew
7. Food ex Luton excellent
8. British
9. Superb Manage My Booking functionality

If you would like to read another trip report on SilverJet, you can check out moszy's report here.


Last edited by krug; Oct 4, 07 at 12:14 pm Reason: added links and now photos
krug is offline  
Old Feb 23, 07, 5:49 am
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Excellent report krug, thanks for sharing! ^
Originally Posted by krug
The good
...
8. British
You do like to stir, don't you. ^
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Old Feb 23, 07, 6:27 am
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Thanks for the good report.
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Old Feb 23, 07, 6:59 am
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Great detail and an excellent resource for anyone considering a flight with SilverJet. Totally First Class report on this Business Class carrier. ^
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Old Feb 23, 07, 7:56 am
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Bravo!

Thank you for a superb report; you've provided a very good assessment of the airline's pros and cons along with a fine description of the 'feel' of the flight.
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Old Feb 23, 07, 8:02 am
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Excellent report! Many thanks, Krug. Having just flown with this airline to the US, I can agree fully with these comments. Great value for money, and a wonderful alternative to any of the mainline carriers ex LHR or LGW!
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Old Feb 23, 07, 8:13 am
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Good Report ^ ^ ^
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Old Feb 23, 07, 12:54 pm
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Outstanding and very well laid-out trip report. Thanks!
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Old Feb 23, 07, 3:37 pm
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An outstanding, detailed report, thanks for posting ^
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Old Feb 23, 07, 4:09 pm
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Most interesting report krug. Thanks. ^

Originally Posted by krug View Post
and the worst part of the experience was being presented a mug of tepid water and a still sealed Camomile tea bag. If I wanted to fly on an American airline, I would do.
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Old Feb 23, 07, 10:20 pm
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Thanks for the report, krug! ^
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Old Feb 23, 07, 10:22 pm
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Wonderful report! ^
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Old Feb 25, 07, 2:47 pm
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Re getting to Luton Airport by train.

You mention Midland Mainline but for most people coming from London (or Gatwick Airport) First Capital Connect (formerly Thameslink) would be a better choice
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Old Feb 25, 07, 3:54 pm
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Originally Posted by krug View Post
Exiting the station I was met by a SilverJet emblazoned cab, which whisked me the seven minute/4 ride for free over to the Private Terminal.
The last time I went from LTN to the parkway the bus was free.

Who told you it was 4?
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Old Feb 25, 07, 6:34 pm
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Quality report krug, an excellent read!
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