Oilmen Get Airline With Gourmet Touch

PATE de foie gras, chilled lobster, creme brulee with raspberries - somehow that doesn't sound like what Ross Perot had in mind when he admonished Congress to fly commercial airlines and "eat a bad meal" like other passengers. But luxury fare is standard aboard one United States carrier, new UltrAir.

Flight attendants, who number one per 15 passengers, hand-deliver entrees and beverages. The only thing rolling down the aisle is the dessert cart full of five-star temptations. A noted caterer trains the attendants for two weeks in comprehensive customer service.

Along with exquisite meals and prompt service comes the elbow room to enjoy them. UltrAir reduced the standard 150 seats per Boeing 727-200 aircraft to 89, which enlarged the cabin space per passenger by 60 percent. Extra carry-on space eliminates the need for checking baggage.

Founded in Houston last November to serve business travelers exclusively, UltrAir commenced service on Jan. 17.

It links the oil industry hub to Newark, N.J., with twice-daily flights and flies to Los Angeles three times a day.

The airline's fleet of four jets will grow to 10 when New York's La Guardia and Washington's National airports join the list of destinations next month.

UltrAir intends to serve 10 percent of the business travelers on its routes. In just 10 weeks it captured half of the full-fare market, the company says.

Initially it eschewed discounts for advance bookings, but relented last month in the face of recession-born penny-pinching by corporate clients.

"Our customers love us," Chairman Barney Kogen says, "but when they know far enough in advance, they can't justify paying double."

ULTRAIR'S top price for a coach ticket to Los Angeles is now $590 one-way, while rival Continental charges from $260 to $833. Both airlines charge $420 for a round-trip ticket purchased 14 days in advance.

Mr. Kogen and his co-founder, Gordon Cain, have impressive records as entrepreneurs.

Kogen built the world's largest privately held travel services business and then sold it to American Express in 1991 for an undisclosed price that analysts estimated at $100 million.

Mr. Cain founded a chemical company in 1987 and sold it 10 months later, turning a $24 million equity investment into a $1.25 billion profit.

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