This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
“Project Lauren” was born out of the Open Skies treaty of 2007 which liberalised the EU-US transatlantic market.
Hitherto, the operation of transatlantic routes was heavily restricted. Open Skies gave EU and US airlines the freedom to operate routes anywhere between the EU and the US.
BA took advantage by launching a new subsidiary OpenSkies. The company had its own CEO, Dale Moss, a former BA Executive who returned to the group.
This was not BA’s first foray into owning airlines based in mainland Europe – it had previously held unsuccessful investments in Air Liberte and Deutsche BA. Undetered, Open Skies started with grand ambitions. The plan was to provide with the airline with a large number of reconfigured Boeing 757s from BA. Its launch was controversial and provoked industrial relations tensions with BA pilots who objected to the establishment of a new airline outside of their collective bargaining agreements.
On launch, OpenSkies was clearly aimed at the US market, possibly because it knew that local French loyalty to Air France would be hard to crack. Its long-haul business class was branded “Biz Bed”. This was effectively a reupholstered version of BA’s first Club World flat bed, and “Prem” (also briefly called “Biz Seat”) for premium economy and “Eco” for economy.
The branding and service at the time of launch was quite distinct from BA and it borrowed very much from “boutique” premium airlines of the era such as Silverjet and eos. The intention was give the feel of a small airline, with just 82 passengers on board each flight, but with the backup and support of its parent, such as the Executive Club frequent flyer programme.
The airline launched with Paris to New York JFK in June 2008. Whilst it was well received by passengers, later route launches between Amsterdam and New York and Paris and Washington were not successful. In early 2009, BA decided to sell what remained of its Boeing 757 fleet rather than transfer them to OpenSkies.
At launch, OpenSkies was the only significant means of expansion for BA. It had withdrawn all non-London flights from UK regional airports and significantly downsized at London Gatwick. With no imminent prospect of a third runway, there was no scope for growth at Heathrow.
However, BA soon turned its attentions elsewhere. In early 2011, BA merged with Iberia. It finally, on its third attempt, secured a long sought after joint-venture with American Airlines. The acquisition of bmi in 2012 also enabled substantial growth at Heathrow, much of which has been on transatlantic routes.
OpenSkies was left in limbo for some time with no evident plan to upgrade its fleet and in-flight product which, baring the addition of a BA Boeing 767, had remained the same since launch.
In 2018, BA finally decided to plug the plug. After suspending Paris Orly – New York JFK in March 2018, the last flights between Paris Orly and Newark operated on Sunday 2 September 2018.