This is a story of two men who
One grew up amid
fabulous wealth in Europe; one grew up in a working-class
neighborhood in Queens, N.Y.
One regularly flies
in first class; the other books economy for shorter flights but
will splurge for a business-class ticket if crossing an
One is decked out
in finely tailored suits; the other dresses much more casually,
with an open collar and -- could this be right? -- orange
One began his
career in aviation as a CEO, the other as a reservations
One started a
premium-positioned airline, the other a no-frills
One has been
knighted, the other favors the honorific "Grandpa."
Just who, exactly,
Queens native Dale
Moss, founding managing director of upscale airline OpenSkies,
started his career as a res agent with the British Overseas Airways
Corp. (now British Airways), but now he
typically boards with the other well-groomed swells in the front of
the plane. When his airline was being developed, it was called
Project Lauren, after his granddaughter.
Haji-Ioannou, scion of a Greek shipping magnate, grew up in
five-star luxury. He asked his dad to finance a budget airline that
he named EasyJet and subsequently created an empire of orange that
now adorns everything from his planes to his cruise ship to his
hotels. And his socks.
By coincidence I
interviewed both men last week, and their contrasting origins and
destinies got me thinking about how a career in the travel industry
can allow for an expression of life as beautiful as any created by
a novelist. One would be hard-pressed to create fictional worlds as
unpredictable and complex as these two men have carved out for
Stelios, to the
villa born, created EasyHotel after the success of his low-cost
airline. The chain is known for 64-square-foot rooms and for
charging fees to provide any service more extravagant than changing
a burnt-out light bulb. "The day I see a chocolate on the pillow in
an EasyHotel, I will know we've lost it," he told me. "I'll sell
all my shares to private equity and get out."
Prior to opening
his first hotel, Stelios said, he had slept in budget lodging only
once. "I stayed in a Motel 6, doing research," he said, his face
contorting slightly as if he were smelling something
But since starting
EasyHotel, he said he stays in his no-frills hotels
Dale Moss took a
contrasting path. "I wanted to be a baseball player," Moss said,
looking back on his youth in Queens' Ozone Park neighborhood. "When
that didn't work out, I thought I'd get a job with an airline,
travel around the world for a while and then get a real
Last week, 30 years
later, having spent a lifetime traveling the world for British
Airways (and, for periods, for Rosenbluth International and India's
Jet Airways), he was charged with launching an airline on behalf of
"They asked if I
was interested," recalled Moss. 'I said, 'On a scale from 1 to 10,
my interest is an 11.' "
I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-doing-this enthusiasm is contagious,
and though he referred to himself as an "old man," he said he could
not imagine stopping work.
something you do to airplanes, not people," he said. "This is so
exciting, getting a chance to run an airline."
Though I had been
thinking of Stelios' and Moss' lives along the lines of a novel,
Moss said his odyssey recalled a song lyric: "As the Grateful Dead
sang, 'What a long, strange trip it's been.' "
So rich kid Stelios
now flies in a cramped EasyJet seat and spends an occasional night
in his orange-doored cubicles, while working-class hero Moss is
pampered in the front of the plane, stays at five-star properties
and is launching an airline. This isn't exactly "The Prince and the
Pauper," of course, but both success stories hinge on the
protagonists veering from the roles they were supposed to
And because they're
both in the industry, they've ended up influencing the travel
styles of people they didn't run into very much when growing up. A
man born to privilege provides cheap digs for penny- pinchers.
Another, who grew up with more ambition than cash, ultimately
tailors an airline with a preponderance of premium-class seats and
a focus on service.
Long, strange trips