Saturday, December 08, 2007

MaxJet Alert

MaxJet, the two year-old all-business-class airline, suspended trading of its stock on a London market.

In a very vague statement yesterday, the airline said "it is business as usual" -- which itself is a red flag because suddenly suspending trading of your stock is by definition not "business as usual." It is not a good sign for a start-up company to clumsily try to hide whatever the problem, disruption or unexpected turn of events is.

MaxJet has been reporting significant losses.

See this story today in the Times of London. (The London Times story says MaxJet is based in the UK. It's actually based in at Washington Dulles airport in Virginia). Also see this one in the Independent.

MaxJet is one of four discount all-business-class international startups to come on line in the last two years.

The others are Eos, which flies between New York and London and occupies the highest-end niche with its 48 lie-flat seats in 757 airplanes; Silverjet, which has been posting respectable loads on transatlantic routes between Newark and London; and l'Avion, which flies between Newark and Paris. (L'Avion seems to be competing with Air France for the title of Crappiest Airline Web Site in the western world, incidentally).

MaxJet flies 767s, with an average age of about 18 years each, between Kennedy and London Stansted; Las Vegas and Stansted and Los Angeles and Stansted. In late October, MaxJet suspended its service between Washington Dulles and Stansted.

The MaxJet roundtrip fare between New York and Stansted is about $3,900. Silverjet, meanwhile, has a fare sale, about $2,200 roundtrip on its Newark-Luton route. American Airlines, by comparison, charges over $8,000 for a refundable round trip business class seat from Kennedy to Heathrow. (Don't gasp: the walk-up first class roundtrip fare is about $13,000).

On Friday, Silverjet brashly announced that MaxJet passengers "worried about flight cancellations" would be accommodated on Silverjet on Friday and Saturday, on a space available basis, if they produced a MaxJet ticket. (MaxJet flew its normal weekend flights.)
The start-ups have generated industry interest in all-premium-class service, by the way.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been making noises this year about possibly starting some all-business-class routes, or maybe even starting separate small airlines with all-business-class service (or a combination of business class and premium economy class).

There has been speculation that British Air might be looking to acquire an all-business-class airline, but I'm skeptical of that. For example, Willie Walsh, the CEO, told me that B.A. has plenty of suitable planes in the fleet that could, if called upon, be easily converted to accommodate all-business-class or premium-class cabins, depending on routes, flying to various cities in the U.S. from London and various other cities in Europe.
With oil prices hammering every airline's operating-costs projections, there are bound to be a few casualties among recent airline startups. I'd be surprised, for example, if the Midwest-based SkyBus makes it through the winter.

Meanwhile, in the absence of forthright information from MaxJet about what's going on, I'd avoid MaxJet, at least for now. Holding a ticket on an airline that goes belly-up is an EZ Pass to that queue marked "Unsecured Creditors."

If MaxJet is going to continue operations, the airline need to get out front of this situation and level with its customers. Pronto, and in detail.


Here is the MaxJet statement:

"MAXjet has temporarily suspended its share trading on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in the UK. This decision has no effect on MAXjet’s normal operations, and the Company and its Management Team assures its customers that it is business as usual. MAXjet continues to make bookings for its daily flights to/from London, Stansted and New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. There are no changes or cancellations in the flight schedule, and MAXjet will continue to offer its award-winning service."


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