This airline is no common carrier. As the ranks threaten to thin out among the major airlines, a new one is joining the fray in a couple weeks. Regent Air, however, expects to be entirely above the fray. It is an ultra-first-class luxury line of the sky.
Nothing subtle here. A one-way trip from here to New York or from San Francisco to New York costs $1,500. Plus tax. It includes door-to-door limousine service.
The Regent passenger will stride through two art-deco lounges - overstuffed leather chairs, brass fittings down to the seat-belt buckles, mauve carpets and walls - reminiscent of staterooms aboard the Queen Mary.
In the hallway beyond, he will spot his seat through an etched glass window into his compartment, reminiscent perhaps of the Orient Express. Inside there are two screens for viewing some of the videocassettes in the jet's library. If a passenger buys the whole four-passenger compartment, the seats convert to a queen-size bed.
For dinner, a white-clothed table is set with engraved crystal, silver, and gilt-edged china for the Nouvelle Cuisine of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
But the luxury here is not all idle. A Regent jet carries an air secretary with a typewriter and copy machine, a barber/hairdresser for a midair trim or shave, an air-to-ground telephone service, and an electronic monitor of New York Stock Exchange quotations.
Regent's competitors are not the air carriers but the private corporate jet. Regent's president, retired Air Force Gen. F. Michael Rogers, say flying Regent cross-country is cheaper and more comfortable.
The dapper General Rogers, a former World War II pursuit pilot and later member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, looks quite the aristocratic airman wearing a pinstriped, double-breasted suit, aviator sunglasses, and a carefully brushed and parted mustache.
Can he sell seats at that lofty price, enough to fill the plane on twice-daily flights?
''I'm afraid it's too low,'' he answers. ''It will attract too many people.'' While each plane has 36 salable passenger seats, General Rogers says Regent will settle on an optimum number of passengers for the right atmosphere on board, probably in the mid-20s. At 16 passengers per flight, Rogers adds, Regent can break even.
Regent began its advertising blitz in business journals, but it is looking for its clientele among three groups of people: First, many bicoastal business travelers, especially in the garment industry and entertainment, commute frequently between New York and Los Angeles. Second, there is a wealthy segment of society that always travels in luxury, Rogers says. They are the people who once rode the 20th Century Limited or flew the Concorde. Third, there are the nouveau riche, or ''upwardly mobile whose images haven't caught up with them,'' as Rogers puts it - mostly successful entrepreneurs.