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I met recently with Lawrence Hunt, CEO of Silverjet — the all-business-class, transatlantic airline that launched last year…and survived (unlike competitor Maxjet). Lawrence and I discussed what lessons Silverjet learned in the past year, since we ran stories on the company both online and in the magazine.
They learned that it was harder to recruit an enthusiastic, energized crew than they thought it would be. The fact that Silverjet was a start-up was a problem, apparently. So they started recruiting people in the hospitality rather than the airline industry. Yes, they began looking for a staff that was ready to make a leap, but who also know customer service, and could apply their experience to a new industry.
Another lesson: don't eliminate frequent flier programs. Road warriors love these, he learned. But due to demand from corporate clients, he added a loyalty program. It's not a point-system, but instead a "fly ten flights, get one free" deal. Two months after adding it, 700 customers signed up.
And yet another lesson: don't assume clients don't want to sacrifice one amenity for another. One plus Silverjet touted in terms of service was making sure they offered as much uninterrupted sleep time as possible by turning down the lights immediately at the start of flights. But passengers also wanted to shower when they arrived -- and while Silverjet provided showers, they didn't, apparently, provide enough. "There was a queue for the showers in our lounges," Hunt says. So the company is tripling the number of areas to bathe, based on this observation of customer behavior.
I bring up these lessons and solutions because they're examples of how an airline company quickly and nimbly adjusted to a number of challenges. All within only a year of launching. While Maxjet started to go under, Silverjet moved fast to keep going. (And, as Hunt says, the company saw a 20% surge in customers after Maxjet announced it was declaring bankruptcy and going under.)
Of course, Silverjet isn't alone in surviving the arguably tenuous (given today's economy) business-class-only arena. Eos and L'Avion, along with Silverjet, are still around and looking to expand. Will they all survive another year? And could some of the major airlines for the rest of us learn from Silverjet?
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.