A spectre is haunting aviation – the spectre of failed ‘all business class’ airlines.
Countless such airlines have come and gone. In the UK alone this includes Eos and Silverjet in the mid noughties, whilst British Airways operated its direct all-business class service from London City Airport to New York JFK from 2009 until 2020. Qatar Airways also tried ‘all business class’ flights from Doha to Heathrow pre-pandemic.
Despite the failure of those airlines (La Compagnie, operating from Paris to Newark, is by my reckoning the longest-operating such service) there is a renewed interest in the concept. And why not? ‘All business class’ airlines are sexy in a way that two- or three-class aircraft are not, with their promise of a hybrid between a private jet and commercial flight.
Skip forward to the present day and you have two start-up airlines jockeying to be the next success story: BermudAir and Beond.
BermudAir, as you might have guessed, is a new Bermudan-based airline operating flights to Boston, Westchester NY and Fort Lauderdale. Whilst it initially launched as a mixed cabin carrier with second-hand Embraer E175 aircraft, the original plan was to refurbish these with a business-only product.
The plan has now been scrapped. After operating 170 flights, BermudAir realised that its customers wanted choice and flexibility and has decided to keep operating mixed cabins permanently. So much for ‘all business class’ ….
Introducing Beond, a new ‘all business class’ airline
This leaves Beond, a brand new Maldivian airline, to take up the mantle.
Beond is backed by Dubai-based investment company Arabesque and SIMDI Group, which jointly launched the One&Only resort brand and claims to have kick-started the Maldives as a destination for luxury tourism.
With no local long-distance airlines, the Maldives is entirely dependent on foreign carriers to fly tourists in. Launching Beond is an attempt to become, at least partially, self-reliant, with the autonomy to pursue Maldivian priorities rather than be at the whim of foreign airlines.
I go onboard Beond’s first A319
Beond’s inaugural service launched yesterday, when the airline’s first A319 jet flew paying passengers from Munich to Male with a short refuelling stop in Dubai.
I was invited to see the aircraft on the ground at Munich before it departed.
Beond’s first aircraft is an ex-easyJet A319 that is just under 20 years old. This will be joined by an A321 later this year. The airline is also looking to lease A321LR and XLRs, which should hopefully allow the airline to fly to Europe without refuelling stops.
This week, Beond launches flights from the Maldives to Munich, Zurich and Riyadh. In total, Beond hopes to serve 66 destinations with just over 30 aircraft. There is no date for a UK launch yet.
The A319 features 44 business class seats in a 2-2 layout. Seats are by the Italian manufacturer Optimares. The overall colour scheme is of dark grey surrounds, leather seats in cream (incorporating the airline’s logo in the stitching) and coral accents:
One thing that is immediately apparent is that these seats are not as spacious as most modern business class seats. Anyone taller than 1.8m is going to struggle to stretch out in bed mode, because there isn’t a ‘proper’ foot well. Instead you get a little corner:
I personally would not consider this fully ‘lay flat’ and I wasn’t able to stretch out fully.
Direct aisle access is also missing, although as a leisure-oriented airline this is less likely to be an issue, with most people travelling in pairs.
If you couldn’t spot the in-flight entertainment screens, it’s because there aren’t any. Beond will provide all passengers with iPads pre-loaded with content. There are special mounts to hold these iPads.
Tray tables are strong and sturdy and pop out of the centre armrests:
There are just two lavatories for the entire cabin, a ratio of 1 for every 22 passengers. This is certainly not unprecedented, although it’s less than I’d be comfortable with; in my review of Etihad’s A380s I bemaoned the fact they only had four for 70 seats, a ratio of 1:17.
A velvety pillow and a blanket were available at every seat, as were a pair of slippers.
The blanket was very long and wide and had a good weight to it:
Tableware and cutlery will be provided by William Edwards and Robert Welch respectively.
Clearly I didn’t get the full Beond experience in the 45 minutes I spent examining the aircraft on the ground. Service, food and the overall flying experience will all have a huge impact on how this seat is perceived.
One thing is clear, however. This is not a world-leading business class seat, with no direct aisle access for half of the seats and a bed length that is shorter than the average European passenger. You also have to factor in the inconvenience of the refuelling stop in Dubai, although you do not need to leave the aircraft.
Whether that is a problem or not will come down to the price Beond charges. If you’re saving hundreds or even thousands of pounds versus other airlines then I’d argue it’s a fair trade off. Some people will also accept these trade offs in return for being on an aircraft with just 44 seats.
The real question is whether Beond can make it as an ‘all business class’ airline, or whether it will have to compromise by switching to a mixed model more similar to JetBlue. We’ll have to wait and see.
We’ll let you know when we hear more about Beond’s UK launch plans.