Business Traveller magazine: April 2006 stories

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  1. QF WP

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    Some people were complaining at the size of the pages on the original thread, so now I'll do them in monthly threads (that'll up my thread count :D )

    I'll include the 31 March stories in this thread as well:

    Inaugural Virgin flight to Dubai

    Virgin Atlantic this week began flying to Dubai, its first Gulf destination, with a lavish inaugural trip attended by CEO Steve Ridgeway and Sir Richard Branson, as well as corporate guests and the UK press. As usual, the airline isn't backward in coming forward. Despite entering an extremely competitive market with prices being driven to an all time low by new entrants (see online news March 23), Sir Richard Branson spoke of his ambition to win a 10% market share.

    Sir Richard sees Virgin's main competitor on the route as being British Airways rather than local carrier Emirates, perhaps wary of upsetting the home carrier. He is also bullish that the Upper Class product will win over customers at the front of the plane, while at the back he intends to compete on price with economy fares which are 15% cheaper, something that will be a real achievement given current prices. Sir Richard also said that once the route has established itself, the airline would be looking elsewhere in the region. Some options might be Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Lebanon.

    A current Virgin Atlantic seat sale (book by March 30) sees economy class seats offered for £328, with Premium Economy at £553 for travel between April 13 and July 15. Upper Class costs £2,059 falling to £1,179 when booked several weeks ahead.

    Virgin is flying to Dubai four times a week with Airbus A340-600s. There will be five flights a week in May increasing to daily from June 1. The flight leaves London at 2100 arriving in Dubai at 0710 with the return departing Dubai at 1435 reaching Heathrow at 1910.

    These timings hardly connect with any onward services from Heathrow but from July 1 the schedules are revised. That's when Virgin's flight will leave Heathrow at 2025 to arrive in Dubai at 0620 the next morning. The Dubai-London service will then depart much earlier at 0820 to reach Heathrow at 1240 which is ideal to connect with domestic, European and long-haul flights.

    On his way to Dubai, Sir Richard officially opened the final stage of its clubhouse at Heathrow Terminal 3. Billed as a private members club it is certainly different. A cinema, spa bath, massages, facials and haircuts are all available, and there is even a 'sweet shop' for sweets and popcorn to enjoy whilst watching the screen. If you need refreshment you can get a drink from the cocktail bar and when hungry there is a brasserie with choices such a shepherds pie or a deli selection. The office / library has a good number of desks, some with workstations and seating / reading material, and is also quieter than the rest of the clubhouse. If you do want to work, choose your spot carefully as noise levels vary. It is a lounge for work, rest and play.

    For more information go to VS website

    Report by Julian Gregory


    New routes from Cardiff with Eastern Airways

    Commuter carrier Eastern Airways has announced three new routes from Cardiff International Airport. Starting April 24, the Humberside based airline will offer three flights each weekday to Brussels from the Welsh capital, two to Newcastle, and a daily flight to Aberdeen.

    The niche airline will service the new routes from Cardiff using 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircraft, taking over the routes from Air Wales which last week announced the suspension of its scheduled services from the same airport. Says Darren Roberts, Communications Manager for Eastern Airways:

    "We looked at the routes made available by the withdrawal of Air Wales, and felt that Newcastle, Brussels and Aberdeen fitted into our schedule well. We are already the biggest operator out of Aberdeen airport, with the oil operators making up a lot of our market in that area, and expect the majority of passengers using these routes to be business travellers looking to avoid overnight stays."

    Eastern Airways has carved a market for itself by plying domestic routes with poor surface connections, such as Inverness from Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, and Norwich – Manchester / Aberdeen. The latter route takes 1hr 20mins, giving passengers the opportunity to undertake a day trip that would be impossible by road or rail.

    The expansion follows the commencement of the airline's London City - Newcastle route, which began on January 31. Says Roberts:

    "The important thing with this route was to give passengers a large enough choice of flights, and we believe that four flights daily is what the market needed. We have been please with the support from local business communities, and operating out of London City has given workers in and around Canary Wharf a convenient option of travelling by air to Newcastle."

    The airline is not impervious to competition though, with its Stansted – Manchester route having been dropped earlier this year following the start of Air Berlin flights on the same route. Roberts said that the route had been withdrawn due to "a significant drop in passenger numbers since the arrival of Air Berlin."

    On of the reasons for this is that flights with Eastern Airways are not cheap - when Business Traveller checked this week, a fully flexible day return fare Birmingham - Inverness was £381.90, departing BHX at 0855 and arriving in Inverness at 1035, with the return leg departing at 1635 and arriving in BHX at 1815.

    A similar flight departing Cardiff – Newcastle in early May was £307.70, departing Cardiff at 0835 and arriving in Newcastle at 0950, returning at 1700 and arriving back in Cardiff at 1815. Timetables for the Cardiff – Brussels / Aberdeen routes have yet to be finalised, although they should be available for booking online next week. Readers should also note that all tickets with Eastern are non-refundable, although fully flexible tickets can be rebooked for travel up to six months after the original flight date.

    Of course the airline has not based its model on the low-cost offering – fully flexible passengers enjoy BA Terrace lounge access when departing Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle, and fastrack security clearance at certain airports including Southampton and Leeds Bradford. In addition all passengers receive complimentary bar snacks and champagne onboard, and a copy of 'Spectator' magazine.

    For more information visit Eastern Airways

    Report by Mark Caswell


    Bmed launches sixteenth destination

    Ankara is the latest destination to be served by British Airways. Flights to the Turkish capital began last Sunday operated by BA's partner Bmed. There are six services a week from London Heathrow with the flights continuing to Khartoum (Sudan).

    Until the arrival of Bmed's direct service, passengers flying to Ankara had to change planes in mainland Europe or Istanbul, a process which could make the trip eight hours compared with today's three and a half hour journey.

    It has been 15 years since British Airways last served Ankara, and that service was via Istanbul too. Michael Roberts deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Ankara says that the new service: " ...speaks volumes about the growing relationship between our two countries and Turkey joining Europe."

    Bmed's new flight uses Heathrow's Terminal 4 so that connections can be made on to some of the world's most important business destinations, though flight times (because of slot restrictions) vary depending on the day of the week you fly. Nevertheless, there are good connections in London on to BA's transatlantic, domestic and European services. It means a transatlantic traveller leaving Ankara at 0940 would reach New York or Chicago at 1510 the same day following a 50 to 95 minute transfer within T4.

    Chief executive of Bmed, David Richardson says: "At the moment around fifty per cent of our passengers fly on to the US so I imagine it will be the same from Ankara to America."

    But for transatlantic passengers wanting to fly on to Turkey, the schedule could mean a bit of a wait at Heathrow, with the earliest flight leaving at 1500 on Mondays and the latest on Tuesdays at 2125 arriving 0320 local time.

    An added comfort of flying on Bmed's A320 and A321 is the old-style Club World seats which offer long-haul business class-type seating on short-haul routes, something which no other airline currently offers.

    Bmed says the new route is down to the strengthening relationship between the UK and Turkey as well as Europe.

    Richardson says: "Air links with Turkey have traditionally been focused on Istanbul but we have identified an increasing demand for direct access to Ankara. Increasingly, our key markets in the UK and US are becoming aware of the great business and leisure potential within Turkey."

    But the timing also falls in-line with Ankara's Esenboga International airport expanding. To be completed by October this year, the new terminal will have e-ticketing facilities, something Bmed is quick to praise.

    Richardson adds: "We are very much looking forward to the new development. We would have probably come here anyway because we see it as a very good opportunity but the new technology and the new terminal helps."

    The main exports from Turkey to the UK are textiles, food, car parts and IT while the UK has interests with BP and Shell and Vodafone has recently bought Turkey's second biggest mobile phone company Telism for around £2.5 billion.

    Currently Bmed has six flights a week via Ankara, rising to daily in July with the delivery the second A321 of seven on order.

    A visa is needed for Turkey and this can be arranged on arrival at a cost of £10.

    Lead in fares are from £268 in economy and £613 in business including tax. When Business Traveller checked Bmed return prices for travel out of London on April 5 returning on April 7, 2006 the economy fare was £233.60 and business was £722.60 including taxes. For more information or to book visit BA website or call the reservations team on 0870 850 9 850 (if in UK) or visit your local travel agent.

    Report by Felicity Cousins and Alex McWhirter


    Air Berlin breaks Star Alliance monopoly

    Air Berlin is poised to enter the important 180-mile Frankfurt-Zurich business route currently monopolised by Lufthansa and Swiss.
    The budget German airline will fly four times a day on weekdays and once daily at weekends. Flights commence on April 24 with lower fares and business traveller friendly timings.

    Conventional wisdom had it that Frankfurt's main International airport had been closed to budget carriers because suitable "slots" were impossible to find.

    But Air Berlin has become an exception to the rule. According to an Air Berlin spokesperson, the EC competitions' department has instructed Lufthansa to release a number of Frankfurt slots because it is the process of buying out Zurich-based Swiss which will end any competition between the two carriers. Swiss will also join the Star Alliance next week.

    Air Berlin flights will depart Frankfurt at 0645, 1130, 1455 and 1900. From Zurich, the services will leave at 0905, 1305, 1645 and 2105. Flight time is 60 to 70 minutes.

    When Business Traveller checked Air Berlin return prices for travel out of Frankfurt on April 24 with a return from Zurich on April 25, we were quoted €60 for off-peak and €88 for peak time flights. By contrast, Lufthansa was charging a competitive €99 for off-peak flights (a new lower tariff introduced in response to Air Berlin) but peak time services were priced at a hefty €608.

    The following month sees Air Berlin add additional flights to Helsinki and open two new routes to Denmark. Flights will operate once daily from May 2 between Berlin Tegel and Helsinki. On the same day there will also be new services to Copenhagen from both Berlin Tegel and Hamburg.

    For more information go to Air Berlin website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Developments to Central and Eastern Europe

    Malev, CSA, Central Wings and SkyEurope are all improving their UK services this summer.

    Hungary's Malev is doubling the number of flights between London and Budapest by adding a new B737 service from Gatwick. Flights will operate up to twice daily from May 1 with departures from Gatwick at 0840 and 1900 and with the inbound services from Budapest timed to leave at 0600 and 1635.

    When Business Traveller checked fares on the route for a return flight out on May 2 and back on May 4 we were quoted an online fare of £176 return. Says Malev's UK country manager Doros Theodorou: "The new Gatwick flights will offer good connections at our Budapest hub for onward destinations in Central and Eastern Europe." Malev's existing twice daily flights from Heathrow continue as before.

    Czech airline CSA is upgrading its London to Prague service by introducing brand new 162-seater Airbus A320s. CSA has 12 of these state-of-the-art planes on order and they set the Czech national carrier apart from regional rivals Malev and LOT who all use the ubiquitious B737.

    The A320s feature a slightly wider cabin than the B737. The first plane to join the fleet will fly on CSA's flagship London Heathrow route. From April 1, you will (barring any last minute changes) encounter the A320s when taking flights OK651 at 1440 and OK649 at 2115 out of Heathrow and OK650 at 1235 and OK652 at 1845 from Prague.

    CSA's third daily service on this route, namely OK653 from Heathrow at 0740 along with OK648 at 2110 from Prague is expected to be converted to A320 operation from May 1.


    Meanwhile, Central Wings (a Polish budget airline backed by LOT) has just added its first B737 flights from Leeds and Edinburgh. On March 26 it began flying Leeds-Warsaw followed by Edinburgh-Gdansk on March 27 plus Edinburgh-Katowice (near Krakow in Southern Poland) on March 28. Flights on all these routes operate thrice weekly.

    Slovakia's SkyEurope is poised to launch two new routes to Krakow using B737s. A twice weekly service from Birmingham will commence on April 12 followed by a thrice weekly link from Edinburgh on April 13.

    For more information visit Malev, CSA, Centralwings or Skyeurope

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Westin guests can buy their bed

    Westin guests resident in Europe now have the chance to buy beds from the hotel chain by ordering online with delivery to the door. Guests who are resident in the US have been able to do just this for the past few years and now the hotel chain is making the same offer to guests in Europe.

    The Westin bed in question is the highly acclaimed 'Heavenly Bed', supposedly one of the most comfortable as well as being able to provide a good night's sleep. The bed was modelled after the one used by former chairman and CEO Barry Sternlicht at his US home.

    It certainly doesn't come cheap at a price of €2,900 for the king size version. Smaller sizes, such as a Double, cost €2,200, while a Full size (the smallest) costs €1,750. However, bear in mind that price buys just the mattress and box spring. You will have to spend hundreds more Euros to fit the bed with Westin cotton sheets, a duvet, pillows and so on.

    Fans of the Westin bathroom can buy a shower head for €150 along with bath robes for €115 or towels for €50.Toiletries are readily available at €14 for shampoo and €14 for body wash. The cheapest item is a bar of Westin soap for €3.

    Westin is part of the global Starwood Group comprising brands such as Sheraton, the Luxury Collection and Four Points. There are over 120 Westin hotels around the world including 22 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The UK is represented by only a single Westin:Turnberry near Ayr in Scotland.

    For more information go to Westin Hotels at Home website and select the European site.

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     

  2. QF WP

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    This weeks' articles - 7 April

    Air NZ to fly to London via Hong Kong

    As exclusively revealed in Business Traveller (see Online News, February 9) Air New Zealand will launch a second daily service to London later this year.

    The extra flight begins on October 28 but instead of taking the transpacific route via Los Angeles (as does ANZ's existing service) it will be routed via Asia using Hong Kong as a stopover. ANZ will use a 393-seater B747 which will be fitted with the latest seating in all classes (see Business Traveller's review of the new seating).

    Accommodation in business class will comprise of 46 fully lie-flat seats (identical to Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class suites) with 23 seats in premium economy and 324 in regular economy. There is no first class.

    Provisional schedules call for flight NZ39 to leave Auckland at 23.59 to reach Hong Kong the next morning at 06.15. After a two-hour stop the service continues as a daytime flight to London giving a lunchtime arrival into Heathrow at 13.30. From London flight NZ38 departs at 21.15 to arrive in Hong Kong at 17.00 the following afternoon. With a departure from there at 19.00, passengers arrive into Auckland at 10.45 the following morning or two days after leaving Heathrow.

    ANZ claims that the Auckland-London flight time via Hong Kong is practically identical to that via Los Angeles. The new service is expected to appeal to passengers who will appreciate the more spacious and pleasant transfer facilities afforded by Hong Kong's modern airport.

    The present service via Los Angeles is proving to be unpopular with a good number of passengers because of toughened security procedures at US ports. Even transit passengers find themselves photographed and fingerprinted, and must reclaim and recheck their bags. ANZ's CEO Bob Fyfe told Business Traveller last year, "We are meeting customer resistance from passengers travelling through Los Angeles. This is a problem we would look to address."

    ANZ's new routing will also appeal to the many business people flying between London and Hong Kong. ANZ will have traffic rights and, because it has no brand identity on this route, may offer special fares to fill seats. And it will be a useful service for loyalty members of Star Alliance carriers (of which ANZ is a member) who will now be able to notch up mileage.

    For more information go to Air NZ's UK site

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Bmi's Amex seat sale

    From tomorrow (April 7) Mancunians holding an American Express card can save thousands of pounds when booking direct Bmi flights from their local airport.

    Over the coming months Bmi is offering substantial savings on flights booked with an Amex card to a number of destinations in the UK, France, the US and Caribbean. Flights can be booked in business, premium economy or regular economy (subject to availability) and the destinations are suitable for both leisure and business travellers.

    Return business class fares are available from Manchester to Chicago or Los Angeles for £1,850 along with Antigua or Barbados for £1,299. Closer to home, Amex cardholders can book tickets to Edinburgh or Glasgow for £199 or Toulouse for £249. Premium economy tickets cost £699 to Barbados, Antigua and Las Vegas. Flights to London Heathrow cost £79.

    By comparison Bmi's regular rate for Manchester-Chicago in business class is £4,185 while premium economy is priced at £1,042. There are economy offers too ranging from £49 for Heathrow and £99 to Toulouse up to £325 for Antigua and Barbados.

    A particular advantage is that passengers can make changes for a fee of £30 for short and £100 for long-haul routes. Tickets must be booked online (using the special link displayed below) between April 7 and May 5 with travel to take place between April 15 and June 31. There is no minimum stay restriction but tickets must be booked at least seven days ahead (42 days ahead for the Manchester- Heathrow route).

    For more information go to Bmi's AMEX page

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    BA Connect – not so low-cost after all

    When BA Connect (see Online news January 11 and February 3) was launched, travellers reasonably expected they might have access to the sort of budget fares which Go (a low-cost carrier founded by BA) offered in its heyday.

    But the reality has been different. Readers have been telling us that they have noticed little if any difference to the high fares which had been charged in the past.

    West Midlands reader Tony Dry who was seeking to book a return flight from Birmingham to Nice next June was shocked to discover BA Connect's cheapest ticket cost £214. If he wanted a flexible ticket the cost would have been a whopping £786. As Tony Dry wrote, "For that money I could holiday in Barbados instead."

    Now reader Carl Jilks has contacted us to complain about BA Connect's high pricing from his local airport of Bristol to Paris CDG. A regular traveller on this 280-mile route, he was also looking forward to paying less. But the cheapest ticket available this week cost a hefty £534 return (even when booked several days ahead). So Carl trekked back to Heathrow to fly with Air France for a £400 saving.

    BA Connect has a monopoly on the Bristol-Paris route. Its fares are indeed high especially when booked at short notice. When Business Traveller checked prices last Monday April 3 (for a Tuesday-Thursday trip this week) BA Connect was charging £536, yet identical peak hour flights with Flybe from Exeter cost £160, while Bmibaby from Cardiff was £190. From Heathrow you could fly Air France for £306 or BA mainline for £382.

    When I asked BA Connect to comment on these findings a spokesperson said, "BA Connect cannot be classed as a budget airline because we are not offering a budget service. Compared with the days of Citi Express [the predecessor to BA Connect] we have doubled the number of seats offered at the lowest prices, from one to two million. The biggest price cuts are with full fare tickets [the former Club Europe] with some fares cut by £200 or £300 one-way. BA Connect has also introduced one-way pricing and we allow passengers paying the lowest fares to make changes for a small fee."

    One of the flaws in BA Connect's business model is that it's using small 49-seater planes on some routes (this includes Bristol-Paris) to offer a more frequent schedule. On some others (like the once-weekly Birmingham-Nice route) flights operate infrequently.

    That means it can't offer sufficient low-cost seats to meet demand, and once these are sold the price rockets. It means that passengers must book weeks or months ahead to get the best prices and this can be impractical for business travellers.

    Rival carriers tend to operate larger 150 seater planes so they have more cheap seats. In addition the price tiers rise more gradually.

    BA Connect will have to sort out its pricing on a lucrative route like Bristol-Paris otherwise budget rivals (Flybe and Easyjet already operate a number of routes from Bristol) will be tempted to step in and compete.

    In other news, BA Connect is adding more regional routes. It has just added daily flights from Birmingham to Berlin Tegel and Geneva and will start a service to Belfast City on April 12. A new Bristol-Dusseldorf service starts in June along with a new link between Edinburgh and Hamburg.

    For more information go to BA website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Air Berlin: first budget airline to offer hot meals

    Budget carrier Air Berlin already sets itself apart from rivals by offering passengers benefits like seat selection, free snacks and drinks, an FFP and through baggage checking. Now the airline is bucking the trend further. It says that from May 1 it will provide passengers with improved catering including the offer of (paid for) hot meals.

    Air Berlin has teamed up with upmarket airline catering firm Do and Co (which handles the first class catering for national airline Lufthansa amongst others) to devise a range of menus which will be served network-wide.

    There will be different menu options throughout the day with English breakfast on morning flights. All meals will be served on porcelain dishes and menus will be seasonal. Breakfast will cost Euros 10 with meals at other times of the day priced between Euros 7 and Euros 15.

    English breakfast, arguably the most important airline meal of the day for business passengers, will consist of bacon and egg, fried mushrooms and potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurt, ham, cheese, jam, croissant and rolls.

    A lighter "tapas" menu at other times might consist of Serrano ham with olives and grilled artichokes, prawns with sour cream cocktail sauce, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, curried chicken salad, a bread roll and chicken mousse.

    According to an Air Berlin spokesperson, "If passengers have to buy food on board we say it should be of the highest quality. We want to offer passengers a top quality service and we believe it gives us a point of difference over our rivals."

    The airline says early trials have proved that its speed of service can be maintained. Air Berlin's planes are fitted with hot ovens and staff have for a number of years been providing passengers with hot meals on the many charter services between Germany and Southern Europe.

    But the test will come in real life. Whether staff will be able to cope with serving dozens of hot breakfasts (and collecting the cash) on a Monday morning flight from Stansted to Belfast, Manchester or Dusseldorf remains to be seen.

    The carrier's existing free snacks and drinks will continue as before. But quality will be upgraded now that Do and Co is involved.

    Air Berlin is the third largest low-fare airline in Europe behind Ryanair and Easyjet. It operates several dozen B737s and has begun taking delivery of the first of a large fleet of Airbus A320s. From the UK there are flights from Stansted to Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Leipzig, Munster, Nuremberg, Paderborn and Vienna. From Stansted Air Berlin flies to Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast City (from May 2).

    For more information go to Air Berlin website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Bmed launches Ankara route

    ARRIVAL From Hatton Cross tube station I caught the three minute transfer bus to Heathrow terminal four and arrived at 1710 for the 1900 inaugural flight (March 26) to Ankara, which continues on to Khartoum, Sudan. Currently there are six flights a week, rising to daily in July. I went to check-in Zone B by mistake instead of the business class check-in zone, but did not have to wait long and was allocated an aisle seat. I went through fast-track security and was airside by 1725 with boarding beginning at 1840. The A320 continues on to Khartoum in Sudan, with a 45-minute re-fuelling stop at Ankara. During this period passengers do not leave the plane, with security checks being carried out on-board - present restrictions mean that passengers cannot board at Ankara to fly to Khartoum.

    THE LOUNGE Business class passengers have the use of the upstairs Terrace lounge opposite Gate 10, which has an impressive buffet (introduced after last year's Gate Gourmet problems to ensure passengers did not go hungry, but retained due to its popularity). Wifi broadband connection is available and there are separate TV and computer areas, as well as an ingenious mobile phone charger, which can reputedly take any battery.

    BOARDING We boarded at 1830 from a transfer bus, with my seat being in row six, the last row of business class. Our jackets were taken as we settled ourselves and we were offered newspapers and magazines - I chose Cornucopia ('Turkey for Connoisseurs'). We were then offered champagne, orange juice or water before take-off. The flight was busy and in economy class nearly every seat was taken.

    THE SEAT In stark contrast to a number of other European airlines, such as Lufthansa, KLM and Air France (who perhaps consider this destination as short-haul), Bmed offers long-haul style seating in business class. Configured in a 2-2 formation, the blue seats are the old BA cradle offering, previously used in Club World until they were ousted by the lie-flat bed. The pitch is a generous 127cm and the width around 51cm. The controls for reclining, massage function and leg rest extension are on the right-hand armrest. In seat power for laptops is being rolled out across the A320 and A321 fleet in business class, while the in flight entertainment (IFE) screen is housed inside the left-hand armrest and extends on a metal hinge, with the control on the side of the armrest.

    THE FLIGHT We took off just after 1915 and were instructed how to use the IFE audiovisual on demand while we were served drinks and Pretzels. Food orders were taken after about 15 minutes - there was no menu but a flight attendant explained the three choices. Unfortunately they ran out of my preference of starter and main course by the time they got to me (this could be put down to the fact it was the inaugural flight). Further drinks were served about 15 minutes before dinner which arrived at 2045. It was served on blue trays with metal cutlery and smart white BA crockery. All meals are plated on board and the presentation was a nice touch, although unfortunately the white truffle salad dressing had leaked over my tray and napkin (apparently out of all the dressings this one escapes most frequently). The tasty vegetable and cheese terrine was served with a radish salad, while the main course was chicken kiev with chips and green beans, which was well presented although the chips were a little soggy. For dessert I had sticky toffee pudding. On the return leg breakfast is served, including a tasty Turkish style stuffed pancake and sausage. We finished dinner by 1015 and the lights were dimmed. Unfortunately at this point I could not get my IFE to work - the screen froze and despite resetting it several times the friendly flight attendant could not get it to play. In the end I gave up and had a snooze (on the return journey the IFE worked perfectly and I enjoyed a film and an album of my choice).

    LANDING We landed at Ankara's Esenboga International airport at 0050 local time (2250 UK time). As this was the inaugural trip we were taken to a VIP area while our visas were stamped - Turkish visas can be arranged on arrival for around £10. After around half an hour we left for the 35km journey into the centre of town.

    VERDICT A relief for business travellers making the journey between London and Ankara as it has cut the time by around 4 hours (previously passengers had to go via Istanbul). The seats are extremely comfortable and a big bonus for travellers in Bmed's business class.

    PRICES When Business Traveller checked this week, return flights towards the end of April in economy started at £268, with business class return fares at £723, both including taxes.

    Report by Felicity Cousins


    Rocco Forte opens first hotel in Germany

    Luxury hotel chain Rocco Forte have opened a first class hotel in Germany's financial hub. Villa Kennedy Frankfurt is located just south of the River Main, five minutes drive from the city centre and Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and around seven miles from the international airport. The hotel is also within easy walking distance of the city's main museums, concentrated along the bank of the river.

    The hotel comprises the original villa on the site dating back to 1904, along with three new adjoining wings creating a 163 room hotel and spa complex.It has all the facilities that you would expect from a five-star offering, including LCD screens in all rooms, interactive video / music libraries on demand, wifi access throughout the hotel, separate shower cubicles, and original artwork by local artists. Rooms are virtually soundproof, thanks to heavy doors, and, in the case of those rooms looking out onto the busy main road, four panes of glass in the windows.

    The hotel's lobby and reception area is housed within the original villa, which features a listed staircase, as are the deluxe and presidential suites. The rest of the rooms are in the new building over three floors, with a mixture of road and internal courtyard views.

    Meeting and conference facilities can be accessed by a separate entrance, and the complex has underground parking for 120 cars. The Villa Spa is also located in the new building, and features eight treatment rooms, a gym, sauna, steam room and relaxation area. In line with Sir Rocco Forte's tri-athlete interests, all new hotels feature a pool of at least 15m in length, a bonus in a city where hotel swimming pools are rare. For a full review of the hotel's facilities, see May's issue of Business Traveller magazine.

    The hotel has been open for just over a month, and initial signs are good. When Business Traveller visited last week the hotel was bustling, and in particular JFK's bar was busy with both residents and casual visitors. The hotel's main visitors are expected to be from the financial sector, arriving from the US, UK and Germany, with peak periods during the city's trade fairs including the book fair in October. Of course this year will also see a surge in demand during June and July due to the Fifa World Cup, with first round matches being played in the city's Walstadion on June 10, 13, 17, and 21, and a quarter final tie on July 1.

    When Business Traveller checked today, flexible rates (cancellable up to 1pm, 48 hours before arrival) for a midweek stay in April in a classic room started at Euro 250 (£176), room only, although the official rack rates quoted are Euro 440 (£307). Interestingly, the hotel has decided not to discount their rates at weekends, confident that the spa facilities will attract a distinct weekend clientele from the weekday business travellers.

    This latest Rocco Forte follows the opening of the 400-room Radisson SAS in Frankfurt earlier this year (see online news January 23). Villa Kennedy is the ninth Rocco Forte hotel, and the first of three due to open in Germany in the next year or so. Next up will be the Hotel de Rome in Berlin (August 2006), followed by an as yet unnamed hotel in the heart of Munich (spring 2007). Further afield, Rocco Forte plans to open its first hotels in the Czech Republic and Sicily in 2007 and 2008 respectively – add these to the refurbished Le Richmond in Geneva, due to reopen in early 2007, and the chain will soon have over a dozen resorts dotted around Europe.

    For more information visit Villa Kennedy

    Villa Kennedy, Kennedyallee 70, D-60596, Frankfurt Am Main; +49 69 717 120.

    Report by Mark Caswell
     
  3. QF WP

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    This weeks' articles - 14 April

    Swiss and SAA join Star Alliance

    It's official. Both Swiss and South African Airways (SAA) have become the 17th and 18th members of the Star Alliance.
    This development adds more value to Star Alliance which now covers 842 destinations across 152 countries. It provides members of any Star frequent flyer programme with the ability to earn and redeem miles to hundreds of new destinations, and it means that in the case of Zurich-based Swiss, travellers can choose from another European hub or gateway. And with Johannesburg-based SAA, the first African airline to join Star, there are now better links for FFP members to fly both to and within Africa.

    SAA president and CEO Khaya Ngqula admitted that the service standards hadn't always been as good as they should. But this was being changed as SAA upgrades itself to the level of the top carriers.

    Says Khaya Nqqula, "To celebrate this occasion, SAA is releasing an extra 12,000 mileage redemption seats for FFP members on five key international routes [including London] between June and August. Redemptions open in May."

    In the case of Swiss, membership of Star and its acquisition by Lufthansa will ensure the carrier's survival. Swiss has never made a profit since it emerged from what remained of the former Swissair which went bankrupt in 2001. Says Swiss chairman Rolf Jetzer, "Swiss hopes to return its first ever profit this year. Following the takeover by Lufthansa [which will take several years to complete] we will continue to have our own management, fleet, crews and retain our head office in Switzerland."

    As a landlocked country, aviation is vital for Switzerland. Says federal councillor Joseph Deiss, "Worldwide flight connections are business-critical for firms operating out of Switzerland. It is not without reason that so many international firms have established their bases in Switzerland; not without reason that so many Swiss companies are so successful internationally."

    Other news to emerge:

    • Air China is expected to become Star's 19th member and an announcement will be made shortly. A further Chinese member, this time a carrier based in Shanghai, is also expected to join at some stage.

    • Differing service standards. As Business Traveller has previously reported not all airlines offer the same high standards in business class, while check-in services can also differ. The widening membership will compound the problem. Issues that have arisen include that of menu pricing (by Air Canada) see Online news January 5, and the few frills and baggage check policies (by Bmi) see Online news May 26, 2005. Member carriers seem to have come to terms with these developments and have adopted a 'get what you pay for' attitude. But they realise that these changes must be better explained to the travelling public.

    For more information visit Star Alliance website

    Report by Julian Gregory


    Emirates set to fly Hamburg-New York JFK

    Emirates will challenge European and US transatlantic carriers on their home turf this autumn. That is when the Dubai-based national airline is set to launch daily flights between Hamburg in Northern Germany and New York's JFK airport. The service, which originates in Dubai, is expected to get under way on October 29. It will be operated by a three class B777-300.

    Although the schedules aren't yet displayed on Emirates' website, a spokesperson for Emirates says, "We can confirm that Emirates does have plans to start additional services to Hamburg which will link to JFK."

    According to preliminary timings, flight EK205 will depart Dubai at 0855 to reach Hamburg at 1255, departing from there at 1440 to reach New York at 1700. In the reverse direction flight EK206 departs New York at 2315 to arrive Hamburg at 1235 the next day. Departure from Hamburg is at 1415 with an arrival in Dubai later the same day at 2325.

    Emirates launched Dubai-Hamburg flights only last month (March) so this move next autumn (when the existing A330 is switched to a larger B777) means a service upgrade.

    Hamburg is one of Germany's wealthiest cities and the airport's catchment area covers Northern Germany, Berlin and areas of Denmark. Yet it is poorly served by long distance flights. Lufthansa, for example, hasn't a single long haul flight from Hamburg. As a result, passengers seeking to reach the outside world invariably have to change planes at another hub.

    One exception, besides Emirates, is US airline Continental which operates a five times a week service to New York Newark using a two-class B757.

    Business class flights to New York next November are currently priced by online agent Travelocity as costing £3,323 return with Continental, £2,294 with Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), £2,277 with SAS (via Copenhagen), £1,784 with BA (via London) and £1,723 with Air France (via Paris).

    Emirates is expected to price keenly in all classes and will operate a wide-bodied B777 which has more passenger appeal than Continental's narrow-bodied B757.

    This autumn's Dubai-New York service via Hamburg means Emirates will be flying the route thrice daily. As now, the two daily non-stop services operated by Airbus A340-500s will continue. But one of these Airbus flights will be upgraded to a larger B777-300 aircraft from September 1.

    Emirates' New York services are proving to be popular. Passengers are drawn both from the Middle East region and the Indian subcontinent. The latter is poorly served by direct flights so passengers originating in, say, India find it easier to take Emirates from one of various gateways and change in Dubai.

    For more information go to Emirates website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Top luxury Hilton for Jeddah

    It's Jeddah's turn to acquire not one but two top luxury hotels. In recent times the Saudi port city has been left behind in the prestigious hotel stakes with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat all acquiring "palace" properties.

    Jeddah will redress the balance next month with the opening of Qasr Al Sharq, a 46-all suite top luxury hotel. The property is managed by Hilton and it's located along Jeddah's North Corniche adjacent to the international chain's existing hotel. Soon after, Corniche (a Rosewood property) is slated to open.

    The Qasr Al Sharq which has 60kgs of gold leaf adorning its decorative ceilings – will offer a highly personalised butler service and contain 1,200 crystal vases, porcelain china, intricate mosaics and the world's best fabrics. The level of detail is reflected in the bathrooms which have 20 different oriental-scented soaps. The interiors have been designed by London-based KCA International whose top-tier portfolio includes Dubai's luxury Burj Al Arab hotel.

    Hilton is not known for properties of this order, so does it represent a change of tack for the hotel chain? "There is no change in our policy," says a spokesperson, "Qasr Al Sharq is a unique property. Both Hilton and the owner realised there was a clear demand for an upscale suite product."

    Food and beverage outlets include two restaurants featuring Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine along with private dining facilities. There is also a business centre and a luxury spa.

    Rates range between £766 (SAR5,000) and £7,656 (SAR50,000) plus 15% service fee. It's not clear whether or not special introductory rates will be offered during the opening period. When questioned about the prices, a spokesman replied, "These rates aren't really comparable to other hotel rates as they include 'on demand' housekeeping, as often as required, as well as breakfast, wireless internet access, a laptop in the room, late check-out and a personal butler."

    Qasr Al Sharq's exact opening date in May has not yet been confirmed and Hilton's website is still not displaying any information. Bookings open on May 1.

    Qasr Al Sharq
    Po Box 7079
    Jeddah 21462
    Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
    Tel: 966 2 659 9999

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Better UK regional access to Rome

    Low-cost airlines are making it easier to get to Rome from the UK regions. Whereas Alitalia and British Airways largely confine themselves to serving the Italian capital from London airports, the likes of Jet2, Easyjet and Ryanair are offering passengers the opportunity to fly from their local airport.

    Although BA used to operate a few direct services in previous years from, say, Birmingham, it meant that travellers from other regions still faced taking indirect services involving a plane change in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris.

    The latest direct services were launched by Jet2 last Monday (April 10). The Leeds-based carrier is offering a four times a week service from its home town. Jet2 is also flying five times a week from Manchester.

    Other regional links which have been started in recent times include Easyjet from Bristol, Nottingham, Newcastle anfd Belfast along with Ryanair out of Nottingham, Liverpool and Glasgow Prestwick.

    Jet2's flights arrive at Rome's main Fiumicino airport (36 kms from downtown) whereas the other carriers here use the secondary Ciampino facility (15 km from the city centre).

    For more information go to jet2.com, easyjet.com or ryanair.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    More RTW opportunities

    New air services and alliance members are increasing the usefulness of RTW (round-the-world) tickets. These are special tariffs allowing globetrotters to save money on the normal fare provided they obey some ticketing rules and restrict their travel to a select number of carriers.

    Last month Virgin Atlantic launched direct services between London Heathrow and Dubai. This move is likely to make the Great Escapade RTW ticket (jointly marketed by Virgin, SIA and Air New Zealand) more popular as it allows travellers to break their journey in Dubai on the way to Asia and Australasia.

    The Great Escapade ticket's appeal will be increased further next October when Air New Zealand begins flying from London to Hong Kong (see Online news, April 6). Currently travellers buying this ticket can only reach Hong Kong by taking SIA via Singapore which is a somewhat roundabout routing.

    But passengers buying the Star Alliance ticket (in which 19 carriers now participate) who qualify for a multitude of new options. Recently SIA began flying from Moscow to Dubai which means that Star customers can now include the Russian capital when flying between Europe and the Gulf. Previously an awkward backtrack into Europe would have been needed. And later this year ANZ's arrival on the key London-Hong Kong route (see above) will provide Star members with direct flights on this key service.

    New members have further boosted the ticket's appeal. Swiss offers an alternative gateway to Europe while SAA gives the ability to include South Africa plus other regional destinations on the circuit.

    For more information go to thegreatescapade.com, staralliance.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Flybe expands UK Southwest to Paris market

    Flybe is claiming credit for a significant expansion in passenger numbers between the Southwest of England and Paris. A year ago the budget carrier inaugurated twice daily flights between Exeter and Paris CDG. In that time, says a Flybe spokesperson "we've grown the market between the Southwest [both Exeter and Bristol airports] and Paris CDG by 52%".

    Besides tapping business from the Exeter area market, it appears Flybe has attracted passengers from BA Connect's rival service from nearby Bristol. According to industry sources the passenger market between Bristol and Paris is static. Indeed sources state that numbers actually declined slightly over the past year. Although BA Connect operates five flights a day at convenient timings it uses 49-seater Embraers. These planes are costly to operate and fares tend to be high because there are only a handful of cheap seats on every flight.

    Flybe operates more economical 78-seater Dash8-400 turbo-props allowing the airline to charge lower fares and with greater low fare availability. Says the spokesperson, "They offer the speed of one of our larger BAe146 jets but not the capacity." Both Exeter and Bristol are around 285 miles from Paris. The Dash8's flight time is only five or 10 minutes longer than with the Embraer.

    When Business Traveller compared the cost of flying from Bristol and Exeter to Paris CDG over the next fortnight there was a significant price difference between the two routes.

    Last Tuesday (April 11) for travel to Paris on April 18 and returning April 21, BA Connect was quoting £537 online for peak and £322 for off-peak flights. By comparison, the online rates with Flybe from Exeter varied between £187 and £147 respectively. Flybe flies only at peak times.

    For travel to Paris during the week following (out April 24, back April 28) BA Connect wanted £349 and £237 whereas Flybe's prices were between £135 and £86.

    It would seem that some would-be users of Bristol are voting with their wallet. Depending on where they are based in relation to Bristol airport (which is located southwest of the city) Paris-bound travellers are opting for more economical flights with Flybe from Exeter, Bmibaby (who flies from Cardiff in Wales) or they are heading down the M4 to Heathrow for British Airways, Bmi or Air France.

    A spokesperson for BA Connect said the carrier has started offering lower fares from Bristol for a limited period. Aimed at leisure travellers the deal sees BA Connect making 12,500 one-way seats available at its lowest price of £71 return. But the lowest fares are hard to find unless you book to travel many weeks ahead. The deal ends on April 21 although travel is allowed until October 31.

    In other news, Flybe hopes to replicate the success of its Exeter service in East Anglia. It will start a daily Norwich-Paris service on May 25.

    For more information go to flybe.com, ba.com/flytoparis

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  4. QF WP

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    This weeks' articles - 21 April

    Bangkok set to improve gateway status

    Bangkok's long-awaited new Suvarnabhumi airport will open this year, reinforcing the city's status as an important gateway for SE Asia. "The new airport is expected to open later this year," Vasing Kittikul, Thai Airways' executive VP commercial told Business Traveller at the launch of Swiss into the Star Alliance in Zurich. "We intend to position ourselves as a significant hub for destinations beyond Bangkok" said Kittikul. "Both ourselves and fellow Star Alliance carriers are working together to optimise available connections through this airport."

    Other developments include a confirmation that by this July all of Thai's B747-400s will have the carrier's new lie-flat style business class seats. The new seats are currently available on at least one of Thai's daily flights out of London Heathrow to Bangkok (see Online news, January 11). Passengers will automatically experience the new business class seating if they book a flight in one of Thai's new Airbus A340-600 planes. They can be found flying to Bangkok from Europe's secondary gateways like Athens, Copenhagen, Madrid, Rome and Zurich.

    In other Star news, Scandinavia's SAS is partnering with fellow Star member Swiss to carry its passengers between Copenhagen and Singapore via Bangkok. Last month (see Online news, March 9) SAS announced that for cost reasons it was scrapping its Copenhagen-Bangkok-Singapore service in favour of simply flying Copenhagen-Bangkok.

    "We have decided to link with Swiss to carry our passengers on from Bangkok to Singapore," Joergen Lindegaard, SAS president and CEO told Business Traveller. "Both our service and that of Swiss have timings which allow us to feed passengers between one another. It's an opportunity for both of us as we were both flying with half-empty planes [on the Bangkok-Singapore-Bangkok sectors]"

    It means that SAS passengers get the benefit of a through service although the overall journey time is a few minutes longer owing to the plane change. SAS flight SK973 departs Copenhagen at 2125 to reach Bangkok at 1320 the next day. Connecting Swiss flight LX182 (which comes in from Zurich) departs Bangkok at 1510 and arrives in Singapore at 1830.

    On the way back, flight LX183 leaves Singapore at 2110, arrives Bangkok at 2235. SAS' Copenhagen passengers then switch planes to SK972 leaving at 00.35 and arriving Copenhagen at 0625.

    SAS and Swiss both operate Airbus A340-300s to and from Bangkok. The Swiss planes have lie-flat style seating in business class. Those of SAS are currently being fitted with this new seating.

    For more information go to TG website, Suvarnabhumi Airport website, SAS website, Swiss website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Air France introduces online check-in

    Air France and its partner airline KLM have joined the growing list of airlines offering internet check-in for most destinations. Passengers can now check-in online at their leisure between 24 hours and 30 minutes before the check-in deadline for their flight, and choose to print out their boarding pass or collect it at one of the self-service kiosks at the airport.

    Passengers may use the service whether they are travelling with or without checked baggage, an added bonus compared to the online check-in facilities recently introduced by low cost carriers Easyjet and Ryanair (see online news February 23 and January 25 respectively), which are for passengers with hand luggage only.

    The service follows British Airways' announcement that from April 25 all domestic passengers must check-in using online or self service kiosks (see online news March 23). Internet check-in represents yet another cost saving opportunity for airlines, complementing the established e-ticketing now used by the majority of carriers. There are undoubted advantages for the consumer, such as being able to arrive later at the airport, choosing seats online, and ensuring that frequent flyer details are attached to the purchase.

    But it is still a relatively new concept, and airlines have had mixed experiences in delivering the product to the consumer. The Bmi website for example provides excellent demonstrations of its online and self check-in facilities, but when a member of the Business Traveller team tried to access his account on two separate occasions in the last week, he found the service to be temporarily unavailable. Understandably there has also been concern from the airlines regarding online credit card fraud, and Business Traveller will be publishing an investigation into the implications in its May issue.

    In other news, Air France has announced plans to allow passengers to use their mobile phones onboard flights. Trials will begin in early 2007 on new A318 aircraft fitted with 'OnAir', an inflight system which allows mobiles to be used without the risk of disrupting the plane's navigation.

    The service will enable passengers to send and receive calls and text messages, access the internet in WAP/imode, and receive and send emails on a laptop or PDA. Exact details of the service are sketchy at present, although Business Traveller understands that call tariffs will be comparable to the international roaming agreements currently used by phone operators.

    For more information visit AF website, KLM website

    Report by Mark Caswell


    Bmi poised to operate Saudi routes with B767

    Bmi will switch its Saudi Arabian services from an Airbus A330 to a Boeing 767 from next Saturday (April 22). The B767, which is being leased from a Dutch charter will have a different seating layout to the A330 which has operated the Saudi routes since last autumn.

    Whereas the A330 operates in a three-class (business, premium economy and economy) layout the B767 will be two class. There will no longer be a premium economy cabin.

    The Riyadh flight departs every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from Heathrow at 0935 to arrive in Saudi Arabia at 1750. The inbound service operates every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday departing Riyadh at 0025 to reach Heathrow at 0525.

    The B767 will launch a new three times a week service to Jeddah starting on May 18. Flights (at similar timings to the Riyadh services) will depart Heathrow every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday returning early the next day.

    In another move Bmi has surprisingly decided to interline its Riyadh and Jeddah services with British Airways for passengers booking through flights to North America. Logically, one might have thought Bmi would team up with fellow Star Alliance partner United rather than a carrier in a rival alliance (BA being a Oneworld member). On the other hand, BA serves more gateways in the US and Canada than does United.

    The tie-up, displayed on the Saudi section of ba.com covers Bmi flights departing Saudi Arabia for North America. Passengers fly Bmi to Heathrow from where they connect with BA to any of 22 destinations in the US and Canada. Executive Club members earn mileage with both Bmi and BA flights (though bear in mind a change of terminals might be required as Bmi flights go into Terminal 1 while most of BA's transatlantic flights depart Terminal 4).

    The special interline fares start at SR4,300 (£654) in economy class from Jeddah to New York (via Heathrow) with Jeddah-San Francisco costing SR4,900 (£746). Ticket prices exclude taxes and fees and, at the time of writing, can only be booked through BA's offices in Jeddah or Riyadh. They cannot be booked online.

    In other news BA recently raised its UK online booking card fee from £2 to £3, while Bmi has settled with an even higher fee of £4.95 (except for holders of the Bmi credit card). From tomorrow (April 21) BA will increase its long-haul flight fuel surcharge from £30 to £35 per sector. The short-haul surcharge remains the same at £8 per sector.

    For more information go to BMI website, BA website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Air NZ revives RTW kudos

    Air New Zealand (ANZ) is reviving the kudos of being able to circumvent the globe using a single carrier.

    Readers with long memories will recall that the late Pan Am instigated RTW flights almost 30 years ago. At the time Pan Am incurred the wrath of trade body IATA (International Air Transport Association) by offering a special fare in the form of a loyalty discount. Pan Am's ticket went on to become a big seller.

    With the launch of daily London-Hong Kong-Auckland flights on October 29 (see Online news, April 6) ANZ is set emulate Pan Am's concept as it offers London-Auckland flights via either Asia or North America.

    This has prompted London agent Austravel to devise a special fare for ANZ's RTW service. Lead-in prices for the basic routing covering London-Hong Kong-Auckland-Los Angeles-London are £789 for Economy class, £1,415 for Premium Economy and £2,688 for Business class. Stopovers are allowed in every city but note that taxes, charges and fees will inflate these rates.

    Passengers can pay extra and make sidetrips to NZ domestic cities along with Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney and Melbourne across the Tasman. Other possibilities include Tahiti, Fiji and San Francisco. Most if not all these sectors will be with ANZ too.

    ANZ's B747-400s used on the London route all feature the carrier's new long-haul products. Legroom in Economy class is 34 inches, Premium economy 38 to 40 inches while Business class consists of fully flat beds with almost 80 inches of space. Passengers deviating from the standard itinerary will find the new product on ANZ's B777s. Other B747s are in the process of being retrofitted.

    For more information go to Austravel.com website, Air NZ UK website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    UK regions get more transatlantic flights

    US carriers will offer more transatlantic flights from the UK regions this summer.

    As already noted (see Online news, March 2) Delta will launch a daily non-stop B767 service from Edinburgh to Atlanta on June 6. Now comes news that American will re-instate its daily B767 summer-time link between Glasgow and Chicago on May 2. Besides being destinations in their own right both Atlanta and Chicago are mammoth hubs which provide connections to many dozens of onward destinations.

    Continental, which offers more direct services by B757 from the regions than any other carrier, is boosting flight frequency to its hub at New York (Newark). Last March it upgraded its flights from Bristol and Belfast from a five times a week to a daily service. Next month it will add extra flights from Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    From May 4 Edinburgh will be served by 11 flights a week while Glasgow will go up to 10 flights a week from May 6. Both Scottish cities currently have a single daily service.

    Also on May 6, Continental will begin operating twice daily with B757s to Manchester in place of today's single service by B777. Finally on May 29, the carrier will increase the number of weekly flights from Birmingham to New York from seven to 10.

    For more information go to DL website, AA website, CO website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    New Leicester (UK) Marriott

    Marriott is poised to open a state-of-the-art business hotel on the outskirts of Leicester in the East Midlands. It's the first new-build Marriott outside London for over 10 years.

    The 227-room property will open on May 31 and is aimed at guests arriving by car. Located close to junction 21 on the M1 and with the M69 close by the Marriott is a short drive from Leicester city centre. It's also convenient for other towns and cities in the Midlands including Derby, Nottingham, Coventry and Birmingham. East Midlands airport is a short drive north on the M1.

    Accommodation comprises both regular and executive rooms along with a dedicated lounge. All feature the new Marriott interiors with "Revive" bedding, flat screen TVs and internet access. Wi-fi covers the lobby area.

    Food and beverage outlets comprise a cocktail bar, lounge-style café and a new restaurant called Mixx. There are also 20 meeting rooms and a large function suite. Fitness facilities include a gym and pool.

    Rates are keen. Introductory midweek offers for standard rooms are £99 for regular rooms (car parking at extra cost) or £105 (including breakfast and parking). Executive rooms (including the usual perks) cost £119. Weekend rates start at £58 (including breakfast), £76 (including breakfast and dinner) while executive rooms are priced at £96.

    Marriott Leicester, Smith Way, Grove Park, Leicester LE19 1SW. Tel: 0870 6001348

    For more information go to Marriott website

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  5. QF WP

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    Jun 20, 2002
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    This week's articles - 27 April

    BA's one-way fares – not such a good deal after all

    Last week BA cut one-way fares on short-haul routes in a bid to compete with rival carriers. The carrier says that one-way tickets now cost from £29 with changes (for a £30 fee) now possible until midnight on the day before travel.

    "We have slashed our one-way fares by up to 50 percent," says commercial director, Martin George. "This is not a short-term gimmick but a long-term commitment to our millions of customers to offer irresistible low fares every day of the year. Customers will now be able to easily compare prices for themselves between British Airways and the airlines offering lower standards of service and I can assure the public that it is our intent to offer the best value for money in the market."

    After research by Business Traveller, however, it seems clear that BA's best prices are only to be found if you book at least one or two weeks ahead. This Monday (April 24) we compared the cost of booking a one-way flight online for yesterday morning (April 26). We chose flights from London to Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Stockholm and we considered both budget carriers along with the handful of conventional airlines who, like BA, also have low one-way tariffs.

    The results showed that BA's one-way fares were either much more expensive than claimed or were simply unavailable. For example:

    London-Amsterdam one-way for the morning of April 26

    BA: no economy class availability from either Heathrow or Gatwick. Only Business class rates offered at £313 on the 0700 from Gatwick or £318 on the 0840 from Heathrow.
    Bmi: £186 on the 0625, 0810 or 1040 from Heathrow.
    Easyjet: £81 on the 0610 or 1020 from Gatwick, the 0600 or 0905 from Luton, or the 0700 from Stansted.
    VLM: £237 at 0730 from City or £147 at 0830

    London-Edinburgh one-way on April 26

    BA: £186 at 0630 or 0925 from Gatwick, £188 at 0750 from Heathrow, £120 at 0810 or £87 at 1000 from City.
    Bmi: £180 at 0640 or 0840 from Heathrow
    Easyjet: £41 at 0625 or £61 at 0945 from Gatwick, £51 at 1105 (earlier flight full) from Luton and £121 at 0805 from Stansted.

    London-Stockholm one-way on April 26

    BA: no economy class availability. Only Business class offered at £490
    SAS: economy class availability on non-stop flights. But we were offered a connection via Copenhagen for £98 or one via Gothenburg for £340.


    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Massive upgrade for Hilton Prague
     
  6. QF WP

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    Last week's articles - 27 April

    BA's one-way fares – not such a good deal after all

    Last week BA cut one-way fares on short-haul routes in a bid to compete with rival carriers. The carrier says that one-way tickets now cost from £29 with changes (for a £30 fee) now possible until midnight on the day before travel.

    "We have slashed our one-way fares by up to 50 percent," says commercial director, Martin George. "This is not a short-term gimmick but a long-term commitment to our millions of customers to offer irresistible low fares every day of the year. Customers will now be able to easily compare prices for themselves between British Airways and the airlines offering lower standards of service and I can assure the public that it is our intent to offer the best value for money in the market."

    After research by Business Traveller, however, it seems clear that BA's best prices are only to be found if you book at least one or two weeks ahead. This Monday (April 24) we compared the cost of booking a one-way flight online for yesterday morning (April 26). We chose flights from London to Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Stockholm and we considered both budget carriers along with the handful of conventional airlines who, like BA, also have low one-way tariffs.

    The results showed that BA's one-way fares were either much more expensive than claimed or were simply unavailable. For example:

    London-Amsterdam one-way for the morning of April 26

    BA: no economy class availability from either Heathrow or Gatwick. Only Business class rates offered at £313 on the 0700 from Gatwick or £318 on the 0840 from Heathrow.
    Bmi: £186 on the 0625, 0810 or 1040 from Heathrow.
    Easyjet: £81 on the 0610 or 1020 from Gatwick, the 0600 or 0905 from Luton, or the 0700 from Stansted.
    VLM: £237 at 0730 from City or £147 at 0830

    London-Edinburgh one-way on April 26

    BA: £186 at 0630 or 0925 from Gatwick, £188 at 0750 from Heathrow, £120 at 0810 or £87 at 1000 from City.
    Bmi: £180 at 0640 or 0840 from Heathrow
    Easyjet: £41 at 0625 or £61 at 0945 from Gatwick, £51 at 1105 (earlier flight full) from Luton and £121 at 0805 from Stansted.

    London-Stockholm one-way on April 26

    BA: no economy class availability. Only Business class offered at £490
    SAS: economy class availability on non-stop flights. But we were offered a connection via Copenhagen for £98 or one via Gothenburg for £340.


    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Massive upgrade for Hilton Prague

    Hilton is splashing out Euros 50 million on upgrading its mammoth hotel in Prague. The renovations include all 788 rooms along with the various food and beverage outlets and other facilities and the work is expected to be finished by 2008.

    Prague is an increasingly popular destination with both business and leisure travellers. According to the Hilton Prague's marketing manager Marketa Sebkova, "The renovations are necessary to meet clients' increasing expectations and to keep track of the latest accommodation trends. They will provide greater comfort for corporate and leisure travellers alike.

    Over 20 per cent of the accommodation has already been totally modernised and upgraded including the CzecHouse Grill and Restaurant with its open kitchen and which specialises in modern European and Czech traditional cuisine.

    The two-level executive floor with its 137-rooms, 32-suites and dedicated lounge has been totally renewed. Guests staying here receive the usual benefits (separate check-in, free breakfast, snacks and so on) along with a free broadband link (in the lounge area) and use of a meeting room.

    The current room size (28 square metres) reflects the standards when the hotel (originally called the Atrium but rebranded as a Hilton 10 years ago) opened some 15 years ago. In those days Prague had only a handful of Western-style hotels so the room size was considered perfectly adequate and guests found the atrium lobby to be jaw-dropping. But today the accommodation isn't as spacious as some guests might expect to find at a leading business hotel.

    Says Marketa Sebkova, "The size of the rooms is driven by the architectural structure of the building and there isn't much that can be done in terms of size. However during the renovation we have maximised the space by adjusting the furniture layout. Also in the executive rooms we removed the wall between the bathroom and toilet. We now have four point bathrooms with a separate shower cabin."
    The Hilton is located on the right bank of the Vltava River, a short walk to the city's historical centre.

    Room rates (including service and tax) for a mid-week stay in early May start at Euros 165 for a Value and Euros 205 for a Flexible rate room. Executive rooms cost Euros 230 and Euros 270 respectively.

    Hilton Prague, Pobrezni 1, Prague 18600.
    Tel + 420 224841111

    For more information go to Hilton website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    VLM to acquire jets ?

    Travellers flying with VLM from London City (LCY) next month could be in for faster and smoother flights.
    The Belgian airline is rumoured to be adding a couple of BAe146 jet aircraft to its fleet by mid-May and they are likely to enter service on the Luxembourg run.

    Until now this niche airline whose hub is at London City has specialised in operating a fleet of Dutch-made F-50 turbo-props over its route network which, besides Luxembourg, covers domestic UK cities along with Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels. This made sense because VLM has few direct rivals, the F-50s are economical to operate and they also meet the noise restrictions at LCY. But the planes are beginning to show their age when compared against more modern turbo-props and jets.

    But it is Luxair (who flies with swish Embraer 135 jets) on the popular business LCY-Luxembourg route which seems to have prompted VLM to consider the switch.

    For travel on and after May 15, VLM's website is showing all three daily flights between LCY and Luxembourg operated by BAe146s. These are the services at 0800, 1500 and 1850 from London which return at 0705, 1400 and 1755.

    A spokesperson for VLM would neither confirm nor deny the addition of the BAe146s. In a statement VLM says, "We are currently reviewing our fleet and the type of aircraft we operate on certain routes. At this stage no final decisions have been made but current passenger numbers and the fact that load factors are constantly increasing do require us to look at alternative aircraft. Since VLM operates at several slot-constrained airports, increasing the size of its aircraft is the only option to increase capacity further."

    For more information go to Flyvlm

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    SIA cuts fares to SE Asia

    Singapore Airlines (SIA) has shaved hundred of pounds off the cost of flying to SE Asia. Sluggish advance bookings in economy class have prompted SIA to offer seat sale rates starting at £480 return. These are amongst the lowest prices on the market.
    That fare covers flights from either Heathrow or Manchester to Singapore and is almost £300 less than an equivalent fare from rivals British Airways and Qantas. It is also only a little more expensive than the discounted rates charged by the likes of Gulf Air, Emirates or Qatar Airways for their indirect services via the Middle East.

    The reason for the seat sale is, according to an SIA spokesperson, "because we currently have strong demand for First and Business class seats. On the other hand the period between now and the summer is typically one of low demand for leisure travel. In addition, the timing of the World Cup may influence leisure travel during this period. As with all airlines, SIA always remains competitive in the marketplace offering excellent value to passengers."

    A particular advantage of the special fares is the fact there is no advance booking or minimum stay restrictions. And tickets can be booked on an open-jaw basis allowing you to fly to one destination but return from another.

    For a small extra fee (another £20 or so) you can include onward flights to other regional business or leisure destinations like Bangkok, Bali, Manila, Phuket, Kuching, or Langkawi. Stopovers are possible in Singapore both coming and going which makes the deal suitable for business and/or leisure travellers.

    SIA flies daily non-stop from Heathrow at 1200, 1830 and 2215 returning from Singapore at 0900, 1240 and 2320. There are daily flights from Manchester at 1000, returning from Singapore at 2350 (Manchester-Singapore flights operate non-stop five days a week).

    For more information go to SQ's UK website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Virgin Trains plans service improvements

    Virgin Trains has announced plans for extra trains on its West Coast routes from London Euston. At the same time the train firm says it will offer passengers chauffeur-driven cars, revamp its website and move towards e-ticketing.
    Currently trains operate every half-hour on weekdays between London, Birmingham and Manchester. Services from London to Liverpool and Glasgow are less frequent.

    But under plans being finalised with Network Rail, Virgin Trains plans to raise train frequency to a service every 20 minutes on routes to Birmingham and Manchester. Trains would then operate hourly to Glasgow and half-hourly at peak times on the Liverpool route. The schedule improvements are expected to start in late 2008.


    The current Virgin Trains website
    The chauffeur-drive service will be trialled for passengers arriving at Euston from this summer. It will cover any destination in Central London with transfers priced between £22 and £34.

    Virgin Trains' website will also be revamped this summer with simpler fare displays. In addition, there will be an e-ticketing trial which will enable passengers who book online to print their own tickets in the office or home. Eventually Virgin Trains expects to extend e-ticketing across its network.

    Passenger numbers on Virgin's West Coast routes have risen from 13.6 million in 1997/8 to 18.17 million in 2005/6. The biggest growth has been on the London-Manchester route where the number of rail journeys has increased by 105% since the half-hourly timetable was introduced in September 2004.

    For more information go to Virgin trains UK website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    LCY to Edinburgh – can David compete with Goliath ?

    There are now almost as many flights on weekdays to Edinburgh from London City (LCY) as there are from Heathrow. Being located within easy reach of Westminster, the City and Canary Wharf (thanks to Jubilee/DLR rail links), London's own airport is popular with parliamentarians, bankers, lawyers and financiers.
    On May 2 BA Connect will add two extra services bringing its weekday total up to seven flights. Scotairways, the other carrier plying this route, operates nine flights on weekdays. LCY's 16 flights to Edinburgh compares with Heathrow's daily total of up to 19 split between British Airways and Bmi.

    But the competition between Scotairways and BA Connect at LCY is set to intensify now that the latter is placing many more seats into the marketplace.

    Tiny Scotairways (run by husband and wife team Roy and Merlyn Suckling) operates small but modern 32-seater Dornier 328 turbo-props. By contrast BA Connect (owned by BA) operates 110-seater BAe146 jets and is backed by a global brand, sophisticated marketing and a powerful FFP.

    Can David (Scotairways) compete with Goliath (BA)? "We've been profitable on this route for the past six years," says Scotairways commercial director Jerry Froggett, "and we see no reason why this should change."

    What Scotairways has done from May 2 is to make some schedule adjustments to stay competitive. It has rescheduled its first two flights of the day to leave LCY (at 0710 and 0800) before BA Connect's first flight at 0840. Out of Edinburgh, Scotairways doesn't have a similar time advantage but it now offers a choice of four flights in the morning peak (at 0655, 0755, 0910 and 1000) as against BA Connect's three.

    And some travellers, like myself, are mistaken if they think a turbo-prop is slower than a jet. Says Jerry Froggett, "Don't think for a second that a turbo-prop represents a downgrade. It beats the jet every time because it has a faster ascent and descent [than a jet] and so we catch up time over the BAe146."

    It's true. When I recently flew this route with BA Connect the BAe146 failed to overtake the Dornier even though both planes left LCY only minutes apart.

    The small plane's other advantage is that it can be turned around more quickly (in as little as 15 or 20 minutes) than the larger jet. And that's the reason why Scotairways has been the most punctual carrier flying between London and Edinburgh for the past three years.

    For more information go to Scotairways website, BA website

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
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