“Welcome to OpenAir, please watch your step while boarding the aircraft.”
Or, if you’re really busy viewing This Week In The NFL on your Crackberry or trying to create a last-minute iPod playlist on the fly, you can pretty much ignore the “watch your step” part. After all, OpenAir owner Michael Klein, who moonlights — or more accurately daylights — as an ankle surgeon, can always unstrap himself from the pilot seat to render assistance if you stumble and fall.
One caveat: Since the cost of having Dr. Klein shrink wrap your sprained ankle in an Ace bandage might very well be two or three times the price of having Air Taxi Operator Klein fly you from just about any Point A to pretty much every Point B between Texas and Maine, you might want to watch your step after all.
Just kidding. You should always watch your step when boarding or exiting any aircraft, even if the pilot is a physician, which Mike Klein really is. Also, with OpenAir now offering service to approximately 3,000 communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, Gulf Coast and Mid-South regions, the odds of Dr. Klein occupying the left seat on your flight are much lower today than they were when OpenAir launched in January 2007.
In addition to being a physician, a pilot and an aviation entrepreneur, Mike Klein could also be described as a visionary if it weren’t for the unpleasant fact that the word “visionary” has acquired — with some justification — a connotation blacker than a lunar eclipse in the air taxi field. So let’s just say Dr. K thinks outside the cockpit, which, happily, inspired him to redefine “fly-on-demand” to be more than just a marketing slogan.
Specifically, he built suburban Washington-based OpenAir around a literal interpretation of the words “on demand,” looking at them the way a “strict constructionist” judge looks at the United States Constitution. OpenAir does not offer its fly-on-demand service during business hours only. It does not frame fly-on-demand within a polymer window that might stretch for three or four hours on either side of a passenger’s desired departure time. What OpenAir does do, in its own words, is “allow you to fly wherever, whenever.”
Actually, that last statement isn’t quite true. “You” don’t even have to travel to take advantage of OpenAir’s 24/7/365 fly-on-demand service. If you’ve got an emergency cargo shipment — medical supplies, computer repair parts, etc. — that have to get from one rural or remote community to another without sitting in an airport package room, waiting for plane changes, or taking a long, grid-locked drive to or from a major airport, OpenAir will have it on its way within an hour.
That this dedication to doing things the customer’s way has earned OpenAir membership in the very exclusive club of air taxi companies which made a profit on their very first flight and have remained in the black ever since, comes as no surprise to many aviation economists.
As Professor Joakim Karlsson, who holds both Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT) and Master of Arts in Economics (University of New Hampshire) degrees, says “the air taxi industry was postulated on the idea of providing travelers, particularly business travelers, with a significantly advantageous alternative to the major airport/major carrier model. In far too many cases, for any number of reasons, some internal and some beyond the control of the operators, this failed to happen. In too many cases the only real benefit to the traveler was the utilization of more conveniently sited airports. That single advantage in and of itself was not, in retrospect, enough to entice many fliers to change the air travel habits of a lifetime.”
Karlsson points out that many air-taxi carriers that failed were guilty of committing some of the same sins common to scheduled carriers: poor scheduling, counter-intuitive booking and pricing procedures, and lackadaisical customer communications.
“For business travelers, price is not necessarily as major a driver as efficiency and productivity,” he said. “Once carriers like DayJet started telling customers that the ‘per seat’ price would be one amount for a two-hour departure window, another amount for a four-hour departure window, and a third amount if the aircraft stopped to pickup or discharge another passenger enroute they were doomed. They were demanding that customers consider as many options and make as many decisions prior to a 90-mile intrastate air taxi flight as they would for a cross-country trip.”
Travelers on OpenAir face no such logistical impediments. Rates on one of OpenAir’s seven all-weather, known-icing-certified Cirrus SR22-GTS airplanes are a flat $595 per flight hour for one to three passengers and $25 per waiting hour (maximum wait charge is $100) for same-day return flights. Other user-friendly options include prepaid block-time discounts, door-to-door limo-aircraft-limo service, “empty-leg” specials and pre-packaged New York Theater, Atlantic City Casino and Spa Indulgence outings.
The success of OpenAir and scores of other thoughtfully conceived, well-managed air taxi services from Atlanta to Athens is proof positive that air taxi service, as most of us have believed all along, is an idea whose time has come — but only if and when it’s implemented with 100 percent commitment to changing the air-travel culture to benefit the traveler, not the carrier.