Sunday, July 3, 2022 Jul 3, 2022
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FLYING HIGH IN LOW-COST LUXURY

By D Magazine |

“In every misfortune, there’s fortune.” That’s what Vernon D. Bagley, vice president of sales for Air One, has to say about his airline’s relationship with Braniff. Although thousands of Dallasites bemoaned Braniff’s bankruptcy, a young Turk named Mark G. Morris and three business partners saw opportunity in the situation. They had nothing against Braniff, mind you, but they had a lot to gain from the Flying Colors’ losses.

By the time Braniff shut down, Morris and Company had already spent several years working out a way to make a coach-priced, all first-class airline fly. Morris had been working on the project for almost 10 years. The bargains on Braniff’s new and used equip-ment and laid-off employees helped make Morris’ plan possible.

Air One purchased Braniff’s leather seats, china, glassware, silverware and wine, which had been stored in the defunct airline’s cellar. Today, 35 percent of Air One’s pilots are former Braniff employees, as are numerous others, including the director of dining, the vice president of advertising, the director of reservations and nu-merous customer service agents. Half of Air One’s maintenance crew are ex-Braniff employees, and old Braniff terminals now house Air One’s facilities in two of the five cities the airline serves.

Air One was incorporated in July 1981 and flew for the first time on April 1, 1983-during a recession and a depressed period for the airline industry. After two failed attempts to go public, the company’s stock was finally offered two months ago. The initial issue of six million shares ($5 each) sold out in one hour; the first offering gained the airline about $32.5 million.

What’s the airline’s secret? Morris says it’s service. Real first-class accommodations: two roomy seats per aisle, glass glasses, china dishes, menus, complimentary cocktails, steamed towels and haute foods such as smoked salmon, artichoke hearts and pasta salad (and those are just the snacks). Other extras include imported wines and champagnes, a choice of gourmet entrees, after-dinner cordials and free limousine service from Newark airport to Manhattan and back.

How can this first-class service be offered at coach prices? It’s simple: Employees’ wages have been sharply cut (profit-sharing is offered instead), and no unions are allowed.

Morris, 35, says that he expects Air One to become “the Federal Express of the air carriers’-that is, the first to offer a particular service (like overnight mail) and the ultimate winner because the company can expand rapidly enough to stay one step ahead of copycat competitors.

“Service is the last way to compete today,” Morris says. “In this business, quality has gone out. Air One is like travel was 20 years ago. We’ve put style back into the airlines. It will catch on.”