Business Traveller magazine: June 2006 stories

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  1. QF WP

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    #1 QF WP, Jun 10, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 11, 2006
    Aer Lingus to quit Oneworld

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    Aer Lingus says it will quit the Oneworld alliance (whose main members include British Airways, American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas) early next year. The Dublin-based airline says it's no longer the same airline it was since joining Oneworld six years ago. In recent times, Aer Lingus has repositioned itself as a low fare point-to-point carrier developing more direct international routes from Ireland.

    Says a Oneworld spokesperson, "Aer Lingus' current business plan is no longer consistent with Oneworld's strategy which is to focus on connecting premium international traffic."

    It's also believed the Irish airline wasn't happy at having to spend a small fortune on its IT systems so that they could "talk" to three soon-to-arrive Oneworld members (Hungary's Malev, Royal Jordanian and Japan Airlines) when these airlines would not be a big source of connecting passengers for Aer Lingus. Says one airline analyst, "There was a cash cost to this and the Oneworld issue has brought matters to a head."

    State-owned Aer Lingus has a number of routes between Ireland and the UK. In particular its three main routes into Heathrow from Dublin, Cork and Shannon feed passengers onto the networks of Oneworld carriers like BA, American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

    No other Oneworld carrier flies these routes and it's by no means certain that Aer Lingus will continue to interline its passengers (with Oneworld members) when it leaves the alliance.

    Says a spokesperson for Oneworld, "This is one of the issues which we will cover in the bilateral agreements with Aer Lingus. This carrier has confirmed to us that it has no intention of joining another global alliance and its intention is to complete these bilateral agreements before it leaves Oneworld."

    If Aer Lingus decides not to interline with Oneworld in the future then it will hand a strategic advantage to the rival Star Alliance. Star member Bmi flies Dublin-Heathrow and interlines with the likes of United, SAA, SIA, Thai, SAS, Lufthansa and so on. One solution, of course, is for BA to restart a Dublin-Heathrow service.

    Meanwhile, Aer Lingus' recently launched three times a week (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) direct service to Dubai could make Dublin a cost-effective springboard for the Gulf. As with its other routes, Aer Lingus has adopted simple point-to-point pricing for the Dubai routes with return tickets typically priced from £252 (Euros 367) return.

    For more information go to aerlingus.com, oneworld.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter




    SN Brussels introduces lie-flat seats to Africa

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    Belgian-airline SN Brussels is introducing lie-flat seats in business class on Airbus A330 flights to Africa. One A330 has already been fitted with the new seating and the other two planes will be equipped by the end of June.

    The new seat, which is manufactured by UK firm Contour, can be transformed into a 180 degree flat bed with a length of 198 cm. Foot, leg and armrests can be adjusted to suit the passenger and there's also a massage function. Passengers can view audio channels and films using 10.4 inch LCD screens. SN Brussels compliments the new seat with an a la carte choice of four Belgian-style meals.

    The airline serves 14 destinations in Africa including Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda. The carrier specialises in difficult to reach African destinations and it has a monopoly (from Brussels) on practically all these routes.

    For more information go to flysn.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    New Edinburgh-Hamburg service with BA Connect


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    There are precious few direct international routes from Edinburgh so when a service is launched it's always a newsworthy event. In this case it's tomorrow's re-instatement of a three times direct link from the Scottish capital to Hamburg. This route was pioneered by German budget airline Hapag Lloyd Express which operated it for a short time using a 150-seater B737 before suspending service a few months ago.


    It's now been taken over by BA's low-cost subsidiary BA Connect who will operate it three times a week using a smaller 110-seater one-class BAe146. Says a spokesperson for BA Connect, "The Scottish executive is very keen to develop direct flights to mainland Europe and beyond. We think Hamburg represents a potential gap in the market."

    Flights start on June 2 leaving Edinburgh on Wednesdays and Friday at 1050 and arriving in Hamburg at 1340. The inbound service leaves Hamburg at 14.20 to reach Edinburgh at 1515. On Sundays, BA Connect departs Edinburgh at 1710 arriving in Hamburg at 2000 and returning at 2035 to land back in the UK at 2130.

    Return fares start at £87 although at busy times you could pay as much as £367. On days when there is no direct flight, passengers have an alternative with BA mainline via Heathrow. But BA's website (ba.com) doesn't automatically offer this option so you have to request it via the multiple flight search. Fares via Heathrow may also be more expensive.

    BA Connect is aiming this service at both business and leisure travellers at both ends of the route. It's timed for the start of the FIFA World Cup and Scottish summer tourism including the famous Edinburgh Festival.


    Like Edinburgh, Hamburg has a wide catchment area covering cities like Bremen and Hanover in Northern Germany while even Berlin is within striking distance by fast train. Let's hope BA Connect is more successful on this route than was Hapag Lloyd Express.


    For more information go to ba.com, edinburghairport.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter
     

  2. QF WP

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    1 June 2006 stories

    Cool off in Rome with Radisson SAS

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    Rome's hotels can be dated and horribly expensive compared to equivalent accommodation in other European capitals. And few properties offer guests use of a hotel swimming pool.

    One exception is the recently opened 235-room Radisson SAS Es located near the city's main Termini train station. This new build property, designed in minimalist style, provides up-to-date facilities including free broadband including wi-fi. It also boasts a 20 metre long open air rooftop swimming pool (open June 1 to September 24) enabling guests to cool off during the city's sweltering summer months.

    This area may not be the most attractive but it is convenient for travellers arriving by train either from other domestic destinations or from the city's main Fiumicino airport. Rome Termini is also the arrival point for the airport buses coming in from the city's secondary Ciampino airport which is used by budget carriers Ryanair and Easyjet.


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    The four-star Radisson has a bar plus the casual Zest and gourmet Sette restaurants. There's a spa, fitness centre and gym. There's also a 510 square metre conference centre.

    On weekdays rooms are priced from Euros 286 including breakfast and these are either 20 or 25 square metres in size. Junior suites (40 square metres) cost Euros 360 while an Executive suite (45 square metres) will set you back Euros 410. Room rates are slightly cheaper at weekends although suite prices remain the same.

    Radisson SAS es. Hotel, Rome
    Via Filippo Turati 171
    00185 Rome
    Tel: +39 (06) 444841


    For more information go to radisson.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Etihad to offer UK chauffeur cars


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    Etihad has begun offering complimentary chauffeur-driven cars for Diamond (first class) and Pearl (business class) passengers flying to Abu Dhabi from Gatwick and Heathrow. The offer will cover flights from Manchester later in the summer.

    The transfers have no mileage limits within the UK and are being carried out by Chauffeurcar Plc using BMW 7 series and Mercedes S class for Diamond and Mercedes E class and Volvo S80 for those booked in Pearl class.

    Rival Gulf airline Emirates has had a long-standing chauffeur car offer in the UK but its service, although offering a no mileage limit for first class passengers, has a 65 or 100 mile limit for those booked in business class.

    In the Gulf itself, Etihad continues its door-to-door service. Diamond and Pearl passengers have a transfer to any UAE address, while Coral (economy) passengers enjoy a complimentary coach sevice between Abu Dhabi airport and the cities of Al Ain and Dubai. Bear in mind that some ticket types may not qualify for these chauffeur transfers, so check when booking.

    Etihad currently flies once daily to Abu Dhabi from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. There's a second daily flight from Heathrow between Thursday and Sunday inclusive.

    In other news Etihad will add a further four destinations in the coming weeks. Flights from Abu Dhabi will begin to Casablanca on June 2 with Doha following on June 18. Kuwait follows on July 1 with Khartoum to be added on July 5.

    For more information go to etihadairways.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Ryanair to establish Marseille base


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    Ryanair will make Marseille its 16th European base next November. The budget airline will operate 13 routes from this French Mediterranean port city which acts as a major gateway for Provence.

    These new services will make it easier and less expensive for business and leisure travellers in areas of Europe and North Africa to access Provence and vice versa. Ryanair aims to carry one million passengers in its first year of operation.

    Ryanair has been wooed to Marseilles because the airport authority has been foresighted enough to develop a separate low-cost terminal. Says Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary, "It's a decision which won the base for Marseille despite intense competition from five other low-cost European airports.

    Low-cost terminals are relatively new in Europe. They tend to be separate from the main terminal and provide more austere travel experience (don't expect to find the frills or amenities you get at a traditional airport terminal). But the budget carriers like them because they have simplified procedures which means the carriers pay lower handling fees.

    Ryanair will operate flights from Marseille to Brussels, Eindhoven, Karlsruhe (near Strasbourg), Frankfurt Hahn, London Stansted, Rome Ciampino, Dublin, Glasgow Prestwick, Oporto plus three cities in Morocco, namely Fez, Oujda and Marrakesh.

    Marseille, in common with many other secondary cities in Europe, has been neglected by the national airline. Air France operates few international flights from this city. Almost all its services are bound for Paris. The carrier runs hourly Navette (shuttle) services to Paris Orly and a further six flights a day to Paris CDG. The latter are aimed at feeding both Air France's and those of its fellow Skyteam partners' global networks.

    In another deal, Ryanair will expand its services to between Europe and Morocco over the next five years. The government will grant Ryanair access to various regional airports in Morocco and in return Ryanair has committed itself to opening up 20 routes and carrying one million passengers a year.

    For more information go to ryanair.com, marseille.aeroport.fr
     
  3. QF WP

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    #3 QF WP, Jun 10, 2006
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2006
    8 June 2006 stories

    Savoy to close in 2008

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    The Fairmont Savoy Hotel in London is to close for the whole of 2008. Speaking exclusively to Business Traveller, John Williams, Executive Vice President Operations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts said that though the exact date of the works was dependent on Westminster City Council, 2008 was the most likely year because of the need for various permissions. "We are working with the council on this," he said, "we want to do it well, so that the Savoy retains its position as one of the finest hotels not only in London, but in the world."

    Ruling out the possibility of carrying out the works while keeping parts of the hotel open because "all you do is upset the guests", Williams told Business Traveller that the process was one which Fairmont had experience of and was in the process of completing with the New York Plaza, which will reopen in mid-2007 with 282 rooms, down from 805 before closing in 2005 (the rest being turned into apartments).

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    "With the Plaza all the public spaces remain, newly restored. It's something that the Raffles in Singapore has already gone through, and now it will be the turn of the Savoy. From those three properties we have the anchor from which we can grow."

    Williams predicted that the current portfolio of approximately 55 Fairmont and Raffles hotels would grow to 110 within five years. The Fairmont brand would concentrate on five-star customers but would focus on business travellers and meetings and conference business, with its larger size properties, while Raffles hotels would be smaller, more discreet and more personalised service, though Williams agreed that both hotels brands could appeal to the same five-star travellers, depending on the purpose of his or her trip. There would also be some rebranding, with smaller Fairmont Hotels becoming Raffles, and vice versa.

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    Savoy Grill

    Other announcements include the rebranding of the 209-room St Andrews Bay Hotel, Scotland (standrewsbay.com) as a Fairmont Hotel in autumn 2006 and the promise that many leading cities in both North America and Europe are targets for both a Fairmont and Raffles hotel within the next five years.

    In recent months Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has merged its portfolio of properties with Raffles, and now has 120 hotels in 23 countries including both Raffles and Fairmont Hotels, as well as Delta Hotels in Canada, and the Swissotel brand. Williams said there were no plans for a customer recognition programme encompassing all four brands, and refused to be drawn on whether the Delta and Swissotel brands would remain under the umbrella of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts or whether they would be sold to another hotel management company.

    Visit fairmont.com/savoy

    Report by Tom Otley



    Air France's summer business class sale


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    Summer is a time when business travellers are thin on the ground. So it's also a time when the airlines cut their premium cabin fares to encourage leisure passengers to upgrade from economy class.

    As a result Air France is halving business class fares on a number of long distance routes to destinations in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

    It means a return ticket to Buenos Aires costs £1,814 while flights to Santiago are priced at £2,024. In Asia, you can fly to Beijing for £1,204. Shanghai for £1,204, Hong Kong for £1,516, Singapore for £1,585 or Delhi for £1,161. Flights to Beirut cost £995 while Cairo is on offer at £915. Dakar in West Africa costs £1,599 with Johannesburg offered for £1,369.

    The deals are available on flights departing the UK and which involve a plane change at Paris CDG. Most services depart London Heathrow but connections are also offered from Southampton, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

    Tickets are valid for travel between July 1 and August 31 and must be booked at least 14 days ahead and no later than June 30. Minimum stay is seven days.

    For more information go to airfrance.co.uk

    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Oneworld members to switch at Tokyo Narita



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    Oneworld airlines are to consolidate their operations at Tokyo Narita airport alongside future member Japan Airlines (JAL) in Terminal 2.

    Qantas is already installed with JAL in T2 and Japan Asia Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Finnair plan to move and join them next year. But British Airways will remain in Terminal 1 for the time being.

    Passengers are promised state-of-the-art facilities. Narita airport says it will invest US$170 million in improvements in a five year programme starting this year. It means that connections between international and domestic services and also from one international service to another will become easier. American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas plan to build their own lounges for premium passengers with JAL upgrading its existing lounges.

    Oneworld's current members operate some 250 flights a week to and from Narita destined for the US, Asia, Australia and Europe. JAL alone operates 60 flights a day to 49 destinations worldwide.

    In other news, JAL and Hungary's Malev are now participating in Oneworld's Global Explorer round-the-world product. This will provide passengers with more options especially when flying to or through Japan or visiting Central and Eastern Europe.

    For more information go to oneworld.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  4. QF WP

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    #4 QF WP, Jun 10, 2006
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2006
    8 June 2006 stories

    GB Airways will become BA Connect at Manchester

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    As exclusively revealed in Online news (see May 18), GB Airways will rebrand its Manchester operation as BA Connect this summer.

    The new one-class no frills in-flight service will be launched on September 1. Until then GB Airways flights will continue to operate with the current two-class (business and economy) layout with free food and drinks.
    GB Airways is a partner carrier of British Airways. Flights booked now for trips starting on and from September 1 will adopt BA Connect's branding including having to pay for food and drink on board.

    Says Kevin Hatton, MD for GB Airways, "This is a natural and strategic business move for us. We will continue to offer the distinctive British Airways brand and the wide range of benefits associated with a full service airline at competitive prices."

    Adds David Evans, MD of BA Connect, "In the five weeks since BA Connect was launched we have had some very favourable feedback from our customers who are enjoying low fares, quality food and drink to buy on board and the same quality services. GB Airways passengers will also be able to enjoy these benefits in future."

    GB Airways stresses that its regular product will continue to apply on flights operated from Gatwick and Heathrow. From Manchester, the carrier operates to various destinations including Dubrovnik, Heraklion, Malaga and Tenerife. From Heathrow and Gatwick, it flies to numerous destinations in France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa.


    For more information go to gbairways.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Thirsty flyers pay more on SAS long haul

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    SAS already charges for soft and alcoholic drinks in the back of the plane when you fly short-haul. But from October 1, the Scandinavian national airline will begin charging for some drinks on long-haul flights.

    There is a difference, though. On long-haul flights SAS will serve soft drinks free of charge at all times, but passengers wanting an alcoholic drink will receive one free of charge with their meal (excluding champagne). Extra drinks will be paid for at a cost of $5 a time.

    Says an SAS spokesperson, "With the challenging market situation, all airlines have to find ways of reducing costs to keep ticket prices as low as possible. We also believe this procedure will reduce over-consumption of alcohol."

    When asked why SAS would be providing one free drink (rather than charge for all drinks) the spokesperson replied, "We feel that a free cocktail before the meal and a free beverage with each meal gives a good first impression. For those who want to consume more alcoholic beverages, it is reasonable to charge a small fee."

    When this new policy takes effect, SAS will become one of the first European carriers to charge for certain drinks on long distance routes. For some time now, several US airlines have been charging for alcoholic drinks.

    For more information go to flysas.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Second Radisson SAS opens in Brussels

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    Radisson SAS has added a second hotel to its Brussels portfolio with the opening of the Radisson SAS EU hotel on June 1.

    The four-star plus hotel is a new build situated a few minutes walk from the European Parliament. The hotel is around three kilometres from the city centre, around Euros 6 by taxi from Place du Luxembourg or Euros 1.50 by bus, which takes about 15 minutes.

    The hotel was designed by Architect Matteo Thun, who has worked with Porsche Design, Hugo Boss, Missoni, Bulgari and was also responsible for the eye-catching Radisson SAS Frankfurt amongst other projects. The 149 rooms have three different styles: Fashion, Chic and Fresh and are both contemporary and practical, with free broadband and wifi access (as is the case throughout the Radisson SAS brand), laptop-sized safes, mini bars and separate baths and showers.

    There are 13 business class rooms and 15 suites, a gym and sauna, and six meeting rooms which can hold up to 80 people. There is also a 24-hour kitchen at Willards Bar and Restaurant, which serves international cuisine and cocktails.

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    A Fashion style room


    Since the soft opening in January the hotel has enjoyed occupancy of between 80 – 100 per cent during the week (60 per cent of guests are linked with EU institutions) dropping off at the weekend to between 20 and 50 per cent as EU business travellers return home.


    As a result weekend room rates are attractive. Internet only rates for the weekend of 16th June were from Euros 77. Telephone/internet rates for a standard room were available from Euros 85 per night and business class rooms from Euros 125 per night including breakfast. Compare this with weekday internet only rates rates of Euros 179, with telephone/internet rates for standard rooms from Euros 209 and business class rooms from Euros 249. Despite the low weekend rates the Radisson SAS EU has tough competition from its sister hotel, the well-established Radisson SAS Royal Hotel (radissonsas.com), which is located in the centre of the city just off the Grand Place.

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    24-hour kitchen and bar

    The Royal Hotel had weekend internet rates for Euros 105, standard rooms from Euros 140 and business class rooms from Euros 150. It is 16 years old and is renowned for the two Michelin star Sea Grill fine dining restaurant (although this is shut on Saturday and Sundays) and attractive atrium lobby.


    Radisson SAS EU
    Rue d'Idalie 35
    B- 1050 Brussels
    Tel +32 2 626 81 11
    brussels.eu.radissonsas.com



    Report by Felicity Cousins

     
  5. QF WP

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    15 June 2006 stories

    [​IMG]

    Winners and losers in BA baggage shake-up

    There are winners and losers in British Airways' new baggage policies which will start next month.


    Economy


    Under the new rules (which will be phased in on July 5 for cabin baggage and on October 11 for checked baggage) economy class travellers checking in their luggage will be limited to one piece weighing a maximum of 23 kilos on most BA routes (the exceptions are BA flights bound for North America, the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico or Nigeria, where the limit is 23 kilos in a total of two pieces of checked baggage). In the past this 23 kilo limit could be spread over one or more pieces.

    No longer will passengers be able to haggle over a few kilos of excess. If your limit exceeds 23 kilos, you will have to put the excess into a separate case. If you don't have a spare bag with you at check-in, then you will have to buy one on the spot (the airport luggage shops will be doing a roaring trade) and pay an additional fee of between £30 and £120 oneway for that bag depending on the destination.

    On the plus side, economy class passengers will now be able to take much heavier loads as cabin baggage. Cabin baggage will be limited by size, rather than weight. All passengers can take one piece (maximum size: 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm) plus a further briefcase or laptop which can fit under the seat in front. BA says it will be installing measuring gauges at all of its network airports so that passengers can check their hand baggage size.
    The only deciding factor regarding the weight is that a passenger must be capable of lifting the piece unaided into the overhead locker. Start working out with those dumb bells.


    Business


    Those who lose out under the new rules are high fare premium ticket customers. Their allowance for each bag has been reduced from a maximum of 32 kilos down to 23 kilos. In addition, where before the allowances were 30 in business and 40 in first class, with those weights able to be spread over several bags, now the weight has been reduced to 23 kilos, rather than 32 kilos at present and the number of bags restricted to just two pieces for those travelling first, business class or World Traveller Plus (BA's superior economy class).


    BA says the new policy is designed to make it easier for travellers and reduce airport queues. It also says it is following health and safety rules guidelines set down by the Department of Transport and airport operator BAA. According to BA marketing director Martin George, "Making the airport experience easier and speedier for our customers is one of our key objectives as we move towards the opening of Terminal 5 in March 2008. We have created new policies which are easier to understand and will reduce queuing time at airports."

    A spokesperson for the AUC, a government-funded watchdog body, said "There isn't much we can do [about BA's new policies]. The reason an airline would wish to do this is so it can cut its ground handling costs because it would be carrying fewer bags in the hold. Overall we think the lower limit is pretty impractical for passengers because more will have to weigh their bags before setting off for the airport."


    There are no consumer rules which prevent airlines changing baggage allowances, but BA's move is going to be unpopular with premium passengers who are the ones providing BA's profits. "It's going to be mayhem at the airport," says travel management consultant Andrew Solum.


    "All this is going to annoy BA's first and business class passengers," Yorkshire-based businessman Tim Newman told Business Traveller, "if BA wants to cut costs then it shouldn't go for its premium passengers."
    Tim Newman has trips planned later this year to Sydney and San Francisco. "As with other business people I like to travel with one large bag weighing around 30 kilos in total. Now I'm going to have to carry two cases. When I heard the news I immediately rang customer services in Newcastle to complain. The manager there admitted that staff had been getting it in the neck [from disgruntled passengers] all day as a result of the proposed changes. I have checked with rivals including Qantas, SIA and Virgin Atlantic and none say they plan to follow BA's move. If BA wants to retain the custom of premium fare passengers it must scrap these plans as soon as possible."

    BA's baggage allowances


    Current for checked baggage:


    First: 40 kilos in total; business: 30 kilos in total; World Traveller Plus plus economy class: 23 kilos in total. Excess charged on per kilo basis. Other routes: North America, Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico or Nigeria: 2 pieces weighing up to 32 kilos each, so a total of 64 kilos.

    Current for cabin baggage:



    One piece with dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20 cm plus a briefcase or laptop. Weight varies between 6 kilos (economy) and 18 kilos (first, business class).


    New rules for checked baggage (from October 11):

    First, business, World Traveller Plus allowed 2 pieces weighing 23 kilos. Economy class allowed 1 piece weighing 23 kilos.
    But on routes to North America, Caribbean Nigeria all passengers allowed 2 pieces weighing 23 kilos. Excess pieces charged at £30 to £120 each depending on route distance.


    New rules for cabin baggage (from July 5):


    Cabin baggage for all passengers: one piece at 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm. No weight limit but passengers have to be able to lift the item into the overhead bin. Plus one briefcase/laptop as at present.


    For more information go to ba.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter


    No free lunch with GNER

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    GNER is cutting back its famous restaurant car service. The train firm, which operates services between London Kings Cross, Yorkshire, the Northeast and Scotland, prides itself as the UK's only rail service which still provides passengers with a full on-board breakfast, lunch and dinner service. But from the start of the summer timetable this week, the number of GNER trains offering meal service has been trimmed by 10 percent from 102 to 92 a day.


    GNER says the move reflects reduced customer demand for full meals at certain times of the day with some lunchtime trains tending to see the restaurant service cutbacks. It's also believed GNER is being forced to make economies in the light of its whopping £1.3 billion franchise payment to the government (for the right to operate trains over a 10 year period) and the fact that its parent company, Bermuda-based Sea Containers, is in financial difficulties.

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    When interviewed recently by Rail, an industry magazine, GNER's CEO Christopher Garnett said, "The [restaurant service] reductions mostly affect lunchtime [trains] because there aren't enough people eating at lunchtime. People don't eat lunch any more, it seems." But there is some good news for WiFi users with the news that GNER has confirmed it will extend the service across its entire fleet by August of this year. The train company has found that 64 per cent of mobile workers are now using the internet and email to keep in touch on the move, with 60 per cent continuing to use the phone.


    WiFi is free for GNER first class ticket holders. Prices in standard class range from £2.95 for 30 minutes' use to £9.95 for 24 hours. But in a bid to encourage standard class custom, passengers are being offered 24 hours use of WiFi free of charge. To access the free trial, users on board GNER have to launch their web browser which will automatically detect the GNER landing page. From there, click on the 'gotrywifi' promotion link and type in 'gotrywifi' to get online.


    For more information go to gner.co.uk


    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  6. QF WP

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    15 June 2006 stories

    Easyjet targets BA at Gatwick

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    Budget airline Easyjet is targeting British Airways' business passengers at Gatwick by expanding routes and flight frequencies.

    The changes take place next autumn and winter. They see Easyjet inaugurate a new three times a day service to Glasgow and increase the number of flights on key routes to give business people better schedules. The Glasgow service starts on October 2 with other cities gaining the extra flights from the start of the winter timetable later that month.

    It means that the number of daily flights to Madrid will increase to four with Milan (Linate and Malpensa) now served up to five times a day. Other cities seeing extra flights are: Athens (11 a week) Amsterdam (five a day), Cologne (three a day) and Berlin Schonefeld (two a day).

    Says Andy Harrison, Easyjet chief executive, "Easyjet has grown dramatically at Gatwick over the last few years. Gatwick is now our biggest single airport base."

    Easyjet's move comes at a time when BA is contracting its operation there. Flights and routes are being dropped and on-board service cut back as the carrier seeks to reduce losses at the Sussex airport (see Online news, May 11 ) There is also the possibility that partner GB Airways (which flies under BA colours) will adopt the BA Connect budget formula at Gatwick just as it is about to do at Manchester (see Online news, June 7).
    And the budget carrier offers a number of business-friendly services at Gatwick, although not all are free. For example, passengers can buy lounge access, they can check-in online, they can switch flights to an earlier departure and they can be the first to board the flight.

    For more information go to easyjet.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    United arrives in the Middle East

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    United's forthcoming service to Kuwait is a welcome return to the Middle East region by a US carrier.

    In their heyday the famous US airlines Pan Am and TWA flew daily to the Middle East. Pan Am served Beirut and Tehran while TWA flew into Cairo and Dhahran.

    But Pan Am and TWA are no more and their successors American and United have since shunned the region citing security concerns. The latter prefer to hand their Middle East-bound passengers over to alliance partners at a European gateway so a passenger taking United from New York to, say, Kuwait would be handed over to Lufthansa at Frankfurt.
    United will be the only US carrier flying to an Arab country. It will begin non-stop B777 flights from Washington Dulles to Kuwait in late October. Services will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday departing the US at 2156 to reach Kuwait the following day at 1755. The return service is set to depart at 0035 to reach Washington Dulles the same morning at 0627.

    The B777 is configured for 10 first, 45 business and 198 economy class passengers. It will also have a fair amount of cargo capacity as United is using Kuwait as a gateway to Iraq.

    Flights are timed to allow connections at Washington Dulles for domestic US destinations.

    For more information go to united.com.

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  7. QF WP

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    15 June 2006 stories

    Affordable Shanghai luxury weekends

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    Travellers visiting mainland China this summer can enjoy a luxury weekend at Shanghai's St Regis Hotel.

    For stays between July 1 and August 31, this 318-room luxury hotel is charging only RMB 1,680 (GBP112) per night (plus 15 per cent service charge) over the weekend for a package which includes accommodation, 24-hour butler service and an eight-hour chauffeur-driven car at your disposal. The limousine is available to take you anywhere you want either within or outside Shanghai.


    This property (a member of the Starwood chain) is located in the Pudong financial and business district. It offers guests free wi-fi in all rooms and guests area also offered daily fresh fruits and flowers and a wide selection of local and international newspapers. Other features include a range of food and beverage outlets, and a spa which comes with an indoor lap pool

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    St Regis Shanghai, 889 Dong Fang Road, Pudong District, Shanghai 200122.
    Tel (86) (21) 5050 4567


    For more information go to stregis.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Virgin Atlantic adds extra Hong Kong flights

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    Hong Kong will gain yet another link with London Heathrow this autumn. On the heels of Air New Zealand's new service (starting on October 29) Virgin Atlantic will add a further three flights a week with Airbus A340-300s from November 1, and from February 1, 2007 the second service will be stepped up to a daily frequency.

    Virgin's existing Hong Kong service VS200 on a A340-600 departs Heathrow 2230 arriving 1750 the next day, while the inbound VS201 departs 2325 to arrive 0525. The new flight VS328 will depart Heathrow at 2035 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to arrive in Hong Kong at 1705 the next day. The inbound service VS329 leaves Hong Kong at 0120 arriving at Heathrow the same morning at 0710.

    This route is reputed to be Virgin's busiest (in terms of passenger occupancy) as the carrier's existing daily A340-600 service continues to Sydney.

    The addition of this new service (and Air New Zealand's arrival on this route on October 29) means that passengers flying from London to Hong Kong will have a choice of up to 11 daily flights from this autumn operated by five different carriers.

    Virgin Atlantic is expected to have promotions to launch the extra flights. Check nearer the time when booking.

    For more information go to virgin-atlantic.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
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    23 June 2006 stories

    BA's new baggage policy - an update

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    Last week's news piece on British Airways' new baggage policy which comes into force this October (see Online news, June 15) predictably drew a flood of emails. Most premium travellers condemned BA's decision to adopt a maximum luggage weight of 23 kilos per piece even though there will be more routes on which they can take two pieces rather than one.

    Readers are protesting because on long trips they prefer to take one piece of checked luggage (typically weighing around 30 kilos) plus a separate piece of carry-on baggage. It must be stressed that where BA's rules differ from other carriers is that 23 kilos per piece is the absolute maximum. Passengers with a few kilos excess won't be surcharged or waived through as they are now. Instead they will have to put the extra kilos into another suitcase. And the system which BA check-in agents will use will be programmed not to allow staff to override or waive charges.

    As reader Peter Phillips wrote, "Whether I'm travelling alone or with the family, we want to keep the number of cases to a minimum. These new luggage restrictions play straight into the hands of BA's competitors."

    Adds reader Pete Morris, "As a big BA fan this is so wrong. I have a trip to Australia and New Zealand in October with numerous stopovers. I am flying out in first but back in Club. For the flights around Australia and New Zealand I am travelling in economy class and expecting to have one suitcase. As it's a five week trip I don't want to carry two suitcases !"

    But there is one way to circumvent the new rules – by booking a connecting flight. Buried in the small print of BA's baggage policy is the rule that "Where journeys involve mixed classes of travel, or connecting flights, the greatest allowance will apply for the entire journey."

    A spokesperson for Oneworld (whose members include BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Iberia) confirmed that if a passenger were to fly business class with Iberia from Madrid to Heathrow to connect with, say, a BA flight to the Gulf or Asia then BA must honour Iberia's 30 kilo baggage policy.

    It's a similar scenario if the connection to BA is made with a Star Alliance carrier when the passenger holds a through ticket and is booked in business class. Star Alliance quotes the example of where a passenger might fly Bmi from Edinburgh to Heathrow to connect with BA to Dubai.

    This ruling should also apply when transferring from BA to another Oneworld or Star carrier. So if you fly London-Sydney with BA the piece limit would be 23 kilos. But flying London-Perth means taking BA to Singapore plus a connection to Qantas for the onward leg. In this case it's expected you would be governed by Qantas' 30 kilo allowance.

    So far BA is the only carrier which has opted to bring in such a baggage policy. An airline spokesperson (who wished not to be named) told Business Traveller, "All airlines are looking at reducing costs and now it seems that some carriers are focusing on baggage. But in my opinion BA's idea of a weight concept has taken it to extremes."

    Some readers told Business Traveller that BA would be "shooting itself in the foot" were its new baggage rules to go ahead. They point out that Star Alliance Gold tier loyalty members are allowed an additional 20 kilos of baggage in addition to the normal rates of 20 kilos for economy, 30 kilos for business and 40 kilos for first class (however, no single piece can exceed 32 kilos and some members may have different limits on routes to North America, Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria).

    Travellers using other airlines can breathe a sigh of relief. At this stage spokespeople for Oneworld and rival Star confirm that their members are not looking at following BA. Says a spokesperson for Oneworld, "It's up to each individual carrier to decide its own baggage policy. Competition in key countries means that airlines cannot liaise in issues like this – even if the airlines concerned are in the same alliance. Some may argue that it may actually make life easier for their passengers if all airlines in an alliance developed a common baggage policy. But the lawmakers regard such activity as anti-competitive, so it's 'off limits'."

    For more information go to ba.com/baggagepolicy


    Report by Alex McWhirter




    Virgin Trains upgrades catering


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    Virgin Trains is offering an improved range of catering to first class passengers. At a time when rail company GNER is cutting back on train catering (see Online news, June 15) Virgin Trains has brought in a new range of Primo menus on its principal business trains to and from London Euston. Breakfast, daytime snacks and evening meals all include an enhanced selection of items.

    A select number of trains feature Primo menus. These include services like the 0635. 0645 and 0705 trains from Manchester to Euston and the 0745 from Birmingham. Heading north, first class passengers can sample the new menus when taking a number of trains like the 1535 or 1748 to Manchester or services to Glasgow departing at 1545, 1715, 1745 and 1808.

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    First class passengers on other West Coast trains continue to receive the Great British Breakfast along with snacks and drinks served throughout the rest of the day. Says Charles Belcher, MD of Virgin West Coast, "After breaking new ground with high-technology [Pendolino] trains, we are now leading the way with the best complimentary meal service available on Britain's railways. This will distinguish our product even further from domestic airline and motorway catering."


    All on-board catering is provided free of charge to first class passengers. For more information go to virgintrains.co.uk

    [​IMG]

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  9. QF WP

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    ANZ boosts premium economy capacity

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    Air New Zealand (ANZ) is so pleased with the success of its new Pacific Premium Economy product (introduced only six months ago) on long distance routes, it is increasing the number of seats by a third to meet demand.

    The carrier's B747s (these fly ANZ's flagship routes to the US and the UK) will see Premium Economy boosted from 23 to 31 seats. The eight new seats are being taken from the economy zone with the 747s being converted between next August and October.

    Premium Economy is currently located on the 747's upper deck, so the new zone will be located at the front of economy class on the lower deck. ANZ's B777s (which were delivered from Boeing's factory already fitted with Premium Economy) will keep their current 18-seater configuration.

    Ed Sims, ANZ's group general manager, said, "We introduced Premium Economy for those customers who seek the additional comfort and space but who do not look to purchase a Business Premier seat."


    "The new seating provided at a very competitive price, has proven extremely popular on long-haul routes to Los Angeles, San Francisco and London. We have seen average cabin loadings of 80 per cent with up to 95 per cent during peak travel periods."

    "Our customers are telling us that the extra width and legroom are 'excellent' and the new seating arrangement within a small cabin arrangement is 'very comfortable'."

    Premium Economy offers a 39-40 inch seat pitch with a seat cushion width of 18.5 inches and a 9 inch angle of recline. By comparison, the statistics for regular economy are 34 inches, 17 inches and 6 inch respectively.
    ANZ flies daily from Heathrow to Auckland via Los Angeles. From October 29 it will launch a second daily flight to Auckland via Hong Kong. Premium

    Economy tickets for current travel are priced at £1,405 return.

    For more information go to airnewzealand.co.uk

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    SAS' summer sale

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    Scandinavian airline SAS is offering UK-based travellers two separate seat sale deals this summer. On flights to the Far East the carrier is cutting the cost of flying Economy Extra (a similar product to other airlines' premium economy product) by 50 per cent for flights from London Heathrow (via Copenhagen) to Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and Bangkok.

    Travellers must fly between July 1 and August 20 with tickets booked no later than July 15. Return tickets cost £750 to Beijing or Shanghai with Tokyo priced at £791 and Bangkok at £745.

    Says Lars Ove-Filipson, GM for SAS in the UK & Ireland, "Our Economy Extra fares give travellers some of the advantages of a business class ticket without paying the business class price. Passengers can enjoy comfortable seating, flexible fares and benefits such as video on demand or wireless broadband and pay a fare that we believe is the lowest of its type in the market at this moment."

    In addition, SAS is more than halving business class fares to Scandinavia and Finland for a six week period this summer when high fare paying executives are thin on the ground. Travelling between July 17 and September 3, booking seven days ahead and including a Saturday night stay means the cost of a trip from Heathrow to Copenhagen, Oslo or Stockholm is cut to £209 return. Flights to Helsinki cost £389. Bookings must be made no later than July 30.

    For more information go to flysas.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  10. QF WP

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    Jet Airways expands UK-India services

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    Jet Airways is poised to increase services to Mumbai and add a new route to Amritsar. The privately-owned Indian airline already flies daily from London Heathrow to Mumbai and Delhi. But from June 28 it will launch a daily (except Tuesday) flight from Heathrow to Amritsar and on July 10 it will add a second daily service to the Heathrow-Mumbai route.

    The Amritar service is being flown with a B767-200 configured for business, premium economy and economy class. Flights from Heathrow depart at 21.35 to arrive in Amritsar the following day at 1030. The inbound flight departs Amritsar at 1300 (Monday and Thursday) and 1350 (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) to reach London at 1740 and 1830 respectively.

    Mumbai will be served by a two-class A340-300 with the new service leaving Heathrow at 0930 arriving in Mumbai at 2300. Inbound the extra flight leaves Mumbai at 0125 to reach Heathrow at 0645 the same morning.

    The carrier's best premium products are featured on the Mumbai routes (where business class comprises a fully flat bed) rather than Amritsar and Jet Airways' fares reflect this fact.

    Currently the carrier's website cannot quote prices for flights departing the UK. But Jet Airways says that its typical return fares to Amritsar start at £340 for economy, £700 for premium economy and £770 for business class. Return fares to Mumbai are £380 economy and £1,360 for business class.

    For more information go to jetairways.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Renovations underway at top St Petersburg hotel


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    One third of the room count at St Petersburg's Grand Hotel Europe have been refurbished. The hotel which for some time was a Kempinski Hotel, but was bought by the Orient Express Group in 2005 is undergoing a thorough refurbishment.

    The historic hotel has 301 rooms of which 110 Classic and Superior rooms have been renovated in a new intimate style and fitted with hypoallergenic beds at a cost of $9 million. However, one drawback is that their size is rather small compared to what you might expect to find in a hotel of this price and quality (see rates below) elsewhere in the world, a result of the age of the property, dating from 1824 and a hotel for much of its history since then.

    The renovation scheme continues next year when a further 90 rooms will be completed. At the same time all of the hotel's 301 rooms have been fitted with flat-screen TVs. Wi-Fi is now offered throughout the hotel including all rooms and public areas.

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    The hotel is located in the heart of the city opposite the Shostakovich Philharmonic, next to the Russian museum and the Mussorgsky opera and ballet theatre. It's within walking distance of the Hermitage and Winter Palace Square. The hotel boasts seven restaurants and bars including the art nouveau L'Europe which serves French and European specialities.

    Rates for the refurbished rooms (for a stay either in June or July) are $550 for a Classic (room size 16 to 25 sq metres) and $600 for a Standard (25 to 29 sq metres). Tax at 18% is additional.

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    Grand Hotel Europe, Nevsky Prospect, Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7, St Petersburg. Tel 7 812 329 6000.

    For more information go to grandhoteleurope.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter




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  11. QF WP

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    [​IMG]

    Jet Airways postpones Amritsar route


    Jet Airways' planned service from London Heathrow to Amritsar, which should have started last month, has been postponed. The privately-owned Indian airline had planned to start a daily (except Tuesday) flight today (June 28) using a B767 belonging to Air Sahara with whom it was in takeover negotiations. But the deal fell through at the last minute, seemingly about a difference in price. So with no spare long-haul aircraft Jet Airways has been obliged to delay the start of the Amritsar route.

    In other news, Jet Airways has taken delivery of its first A330-200 plane which is fitted with 226 seats comprising 196 in economy and 30 in business class. The latter are flat beds with 82 inches of pitch. The A330 has similar inflight entertainment to the A340 with passengers having access to to 'on demand' digital audio and video. It is being rostered for the Delhi-London service flying to Heathrow on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the A340 plying the route on other days.

    Jet Airways has also announced marketing partnerships with Star members Lufthansa, Austrian and Thai and this is fuelling speculation that the carrier will become a future member of this alliance.


    For more information go to jetairways.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Virgin announces record passenger numbers

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    Virgin Atlantic carried a record 4.9 million passengers last year, helped by a large increase in business travellers. The carrier's Upper Class suite and ground facilities such as the new Clubhouse at London Heathrow (see Online News, September 1, 2005) have boosted business passenger numbers by over 10 per cent compared with 2005/6.

    The transatlantic airline continues to expand existing routes, with a sixth daily service beginning between London and New York on July 1. The outbound flight will depart LHR at 1800, arriving at JFK at 2100, with the inbound service leaving JFK at 0730 and arriving at LHR at 1910.
    As revealed by Business Traveller earlier this month (see Online News, June 12), the airline will also be launching a second service from London to Hong Kong, initially four times a week from this November, increasing to daily from February 2007.

    In addition Virgin has announced it will begin flying a 747 service to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius from November 2007, as part of its strategy for expanding the leisure market.

    Says Steve Ridgway, Chief Executive, "Virgin Atlantic's pioneering style of service continues to attract many new travellers. Our award-winning service is encouraging more business travellers to switch from other airlines, while the growing list of destinations we serve is ensuring our leisure travellers keep coming back."

    For more information visit virginatlantic.com.

    Report by Mark Caswell


    Emirates offers free luxury accommodation in Dubai

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    Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah

    This summer Emirates is bringing back its offer of free accommodation in Dubai. The Dubai-based airline is providing two or three nights complimentary accommodation at four of its city state's best hotels. The deal is available to passengers flying first or business class from the UK either to Dubai itself or to an onward destination. It is worth at least £500 or £600 depending on your chosen property.

    Featured hotels are the Emirates Towers located along Sheikh Zaid Road along with the Mina A'Salam and Al Qasr which both form part of the Madinat Jumeriah complex (located near the famous Burj Al Arab). The final property is the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort.

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    Emirates Tower

    First class passengers are offered three nights accommodation while those flying business class are entitled to two nights. Breakfast, tax and service fees are also included. Extra nights can be arranged at preferential rates.
    Qualifying dates for the complimentary stay are between August 15 and September 15. Accommodation must be prebooked before you leave the UK at least 48 hours before departure.

    For more information go to emirates.com/uk

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
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    Flybe to launch Amsterdam services

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    It's good news for UK regional passengers heading for Amsterdam. Budget carrier Flybe is launching three new routes from the autumn which will provide competition for the incumbent airlines.

    First off the mark is a twice daily service from Southampton commencing on September 11 followed by a single daily service from both Exeter and Norwich which gets under way on October 29. Weekday timings (different schedules apply at weekends) for Southampton-Amsterdam are convenient. You depart at 0745 and 1840 returning from Amsterdam at 1030 and 2125.

    However, flights from the other two cities aren't so good. On weekdays the service from Norwich departs at 1050 returning at 1315 while the single service from Exeter leaves at 1415 heading back at 1720. Prices for all routes are set to lead-in at £60 return.

    There are currently no flights to Amsterdam from Exeter. Scot Airways has had the Amsterdam route to itself from Southampton for a number of years while Dutch national carrier KLM (and its predecessors KLM UK, Air UK and Air Anglia) has monopolised flights from Norwich for over 30 years.
    For more information go to flybe.com.

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    New air links for Newquay

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    Poor rail and road links mean that reaching Newquay can be a time consuming and stressful experience. Yet by air, the Cornish resort is little more than an hour away from any city in England or Scotland and that is why the number of air links to this Cornish resort have mushroomed in recent years.

    Now comes news of two new routes, one from London Luton and the other from Edinburgh. Irish carrier Aer Arran will fly four times a week from Luton starting next Monday (July 3). Flights will operate every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On weekdays services depart Luton at 1050 and return from Newquay at 1250.

    Budget carrier Flybe launched a once weekly service from Edinburgh at the end of May. But from July 10, Flybe will increase this to a three times a week operation (every Monday, Friday and Saturday). On weekdays its flight departs Edinburgh at 0715 heading north from Newquay at 0910.
    Flybe is the only carrier flying to Newquay from Edinburgh and for travel in the next few weeks you can expect to pay upwards of £142. But from London there are daily services with Ryanair from Stansted and a four times a day link from Gatwick with Air Southwest.

    Ryanair remains the price leader (although its fares can be costly at weekends) but as Aer Arran is a newcomer it is pricing keenly to attract custom. Most expensive of all the carriers flying from London is regional carrier Air Southwest although in compensation it does offer the best schedules.

    Last Tuesday Business Traveller checked the cost of the cheapest return ticket to Newquay from London travelling out on July 17 and returning on July 20. We were quoted online rates of £60 by Aer Arran, £58 by Ryanair but £133 by Air Southwest.

    For more information go to aerarran.com, flybe.com.

    Report by Alex McWhirter




    ANZ to undercut London-Hong Kong rivals


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    ANZ's Business Premier seating

    Air New Zealand (ANZ) will be offering the lowest business class fares between London and Hong Kong when it enters the route next October. The Auckland-based carrier says it will launch its daily non-stop B747-400 service with a special business class return fare of £2,207 with premium economy offered at £1,020.

    The premium economy rate is similar to that charged by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Cathay Pacific and Qantas (the other two carriers plying this route) do not offer premium economy seating.

    But ANZ's business class price (based on fares researched now for next November) is roughly 10 per cent less than BA, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic. And it's over 35 per cent less than the rate charged by Cathay Pacific. See price comparison below.

    This is good value when you consider that the ANZ class on board product is practically identical to Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Suite which is recognised as one of the world's best business classes. ANZ's London-Hong Kong service forms part of a second daily service to Auckland which starts this autumn (ANZ's existing London-Los Angeles-Auckland route continues unchanged).

    The flight gets under way from London Heathrow on October 29 with a departure at 2115 and an arrival in Hong Kong the following day at 1700. The inbound service will depart Hong Kong at 0815 to reach London at 1335 the same day.

    London-Hong Kong return fares compared:

    ANZ Business Class £2,207; Premium Economy £1,020
    Cathay Pacific Business Class £3,507 Premium Economy n/a
    BA Business Class £2,398; Premium Economy £1,028
    Qantas Business Class £2,387; Premium Economy n/a
    Virgin Atlantic Business Class £2,407; Premium Economy £1,016

    Note: Prices are based on flights booked online this week for travel next November.

    For more information go to airnewzealand.co.uk

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
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