Several years ago I sailed on the second half of a trans-Atlantic voyage, boarding the ship in Madeira and continuing on to Barcelona. My air route took me from San Diego to Boston on one airline, to Paris on another, from Paris to Lisbon on a third and then on to Funchal, all in coach class. My luggage ended up in Zurich.
While this type of routing isn't -- alas -- unusual for cruise line-designed air itineraries, it was surprising to me because I was sailing on a luxury line. I didn't realize what options I had at the time. Even though luxury lines offer air deviations at extra cost -- so passengers can plan their own routes or upgrade to business class (for a fee) -- coach-class flying is, oddly enough, the standard transport.
Now, in fact, there will be even better options available, at least for those traveling to or through the U.K. While still featuring coach as standard in its air/sea program, Crystal Cruises is upping the ante on upgrades beyond using traditional multi-class airlines like British Airways, United and Lufthansa. It recently announced a partnership with EOS Airlines, an all-business class, six-plane airline flying between New York (JFK) and London Stansted airports. Airplanes hold just 48 passengers.
Crystal's the first to put a program in place, but EOS spokesman Burns Patterson told Cruise Critic it's not the last. "We have signed air/sea agreements with Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Cunard Line, and are looking forward to making our products available to their high-end clientele." In Cunard's case, the product is sold as an upgrade to combined cruise and air packages through travel agencies.
Flying custom-fitted Boeing 757 aircraft, the two-year-old airline, whose CEO is Jack Williams (former honcho at Royal Caribbean), has carved a niche for itself where other premium carriers have failed. Partnering with Crystal Cruises is a prime example. While Crystal has always offered air deviations, its partnership with EOS elevates its business-class options beyond the first-class seats provided by most airlines, and at a cost that is comparable to business-class on the major carriers. For the payment of the $100 deviation fee, (or what Crystal calls its "Custom Air Program"), you can choose to fly on EOS from JFK to Stansted for around $1,300 one-way, Crystal's normal upgrade cost from coach to business-class. This entitles you to an airborne "suite" of 21 square ft., a fully-flat 78-inch bed with turn-down service, and even a "sleeping suit" to wear so your clothes don't get wrinkled!
Compare that to flying on British Airways or American, for example. Yes, you're in business class, but you still have an aircraft filled with at least 200 (usually more) other weary travelers, and you have to deal with check-in, security, and schlepping your bags around. EOS staff meets you and takes care of your luggage, escorts you through security, sees that you're comfortably settled in its lounge, and -- if you're flying from JFK to London -- even offers you a complementary shower room at the Radisson SAS Hotel on arrival. There's one caveat though: Crystal does not provide transfer service from Stansted to Dover or reverse or to other London-area airports if you're continuing on; you'll have to get your travel agent to handle that.
There's even better news on the horizon. EOS is increasing its fleet this year, adding two more planes. It will begin service from Newark to London Stansted and from JFK to Paris during 2008.
Details from RSSC and Cunard about their individual partnerships with EOS have not yet been released.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor