New FFP to launch

Air France and KLM are merging frequent flyer programmes.

Under the arrangement AirFrance’s “Fréquence Plus” and KLM’s “Flying Dutchman” will be replaced by a single programme called “Flying Blue” from June.

Members of the two frequent flyer programmes will be automatically signed up to Flying Blue and over the coming months they will be informed about the changes by letter.

Members will retain their membership number and miles, with Flying Blue miles being equal in value to the Fréquence Plus and Flying Dutchman miles. Flying Blue will have four membership levels – Ivory, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The scheme has 36 airline partners and 100 non-airline partners with which to redeem and spend rewards.

The merger of the frequent flyer programmes follows the merger of KLM and Air France in May 2004.

SAS to go flat

Flat beds and video on demand will be enjoyed by SAS Business Class passengers from next year.

The Scandinavian carrier is introducing flatbeds in Business Class on flights toAsia and theUS fromManchester,Birmingham,Aberdeen andNewcastle, which operate via the SAS hub inCopenhagen.

The beds will be fitted from early next year following the removal of 14 seats from the original A340 Business Class cabin to make room for 60 flatbed seats. The smaller A330 aircraft will have 34 flatbed seats.

With a 61-inch seat pitch, 66cm width and recline of 11 degrees, the seats should be more comfortable than the current Business Class offering, which bar the front row of “sleeper seats” are reclining seats.

With the beds comes improved entertainment for Business Class passengers from video on demand, available through a larger 10.4 inch monitor.

Go to www.scandinavian.net.

Star TAPs into Africa and Brazil

Star Alliance has expanded its network further with the incorporation of Portugal’s flag carrier.

TAP is the 16th member of the alliance and brings 42 destinations in 25 countries. Its greatest strengths are routes to former colonies in Africa including Cape Verde Islands, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Principe and San Tome.

TAP also offers flights from its hub in Lisbon to destinations in north-east Brazil including Fortaleza, Natal, Recife and Salvador, dramatically cutting flight times to the region for Star Alliance passengers. Another Star Alliance member is VARIG Brazilian Airlines, which offers flights between Europe (London, Frankfurt, Madrid and Lisbon) and Rio, Salvador and Sao Paulo.

Other TAP routes include domestic flights to Madeira and the Azores.

The integration of TAP to Star Alliance brings reciprocal frequent flyer programme benefits so TAP passengers can earn and redeem miles with Star Alliance carriers and vica versa.

South African Airways will be another addition to the Star Alliance this year. The other members are Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, bmi, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Spanair, Thai Airways International, United, US Airways and VARIG Brazilian Airlines.

LCY eyes Madrid route

State-of-the-art 100-seater Airbus A318/319 planes could be operating at London City Airport in the not-too-distant future.

Richard Gooding, the airport’s managing director, has revealed that plane manufacturer Airbus is keen for its A318/319 models to be cleared to use London City’s short and restrictive 1,200-metre runway.

At present, almost all jet flights are operated by 95-seater BAe 146 jets but these planes have a limited lifespan as they are no longer in production.

“Flying the Airbus in is not a problem,” says Richard Gooding. “The problem is what to do on the ground. The Airbus is larger and taller than the 146 and our apron space is designed for planes having a smaller footprint.”

Gooding reckons that there’s a 50/50 chance the Airbus will arrive at London City, assuming that certification is granted. 

It is not clear which airlines would use the A318/319 at London City but, should the plane arrive, it will be good news for passengers as these Airbuses have wider, smarter and quieter cabins. They can also fly further than the 146 putting Madrid (the route most requested by passengers, according to Gooding) and other longer sectors within range.

* Self-service check-in has proved a hit with BA passengers at London City. Airport MD Richard Gooding has revealed that 40% of BA passengers no longer queue at the counters. Instead they complete the process either online or by using a check-in machine.

Lufthansa launches private jet service

Lufthansa is now offering a private jet service from 1,000 European airports to its hub inMunich.

The service will be provided by NetJets, a US-based private jet company which operates inEurope.

Business travellers can use the service either to fly intoMunichfor connecting worldwide flights in first or business class, or fly between any of the 1,000 airports.

Flights can be booked up to 24-hours before departure and Lufthansa claims the jets will save passengers up to five hours.

This is the latest move by the German carrier to capture the lucrative high-end executive market.

It has also opened a new first class terminal and two new first class lounges atFrankfurtAirportlate last year.

Virgin ups the odds on flights to the world’s gambling capital

Virgin Atlantic is adding a fifth weekly service to from London Gatwick toLas Vegasfrom July 4 and a sixth weekly service from September 9.

The airline has also announced that its revolutionary Upper Class Suite will now be available onboard all flights toLas Vegas.

“So if any passengers strike it lucky in the gambling capital they can upgrade to Upper Class Suite on the way home!” said Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson.

Virgin Atlantic currently offers four weekly services toLas Vegas. Flights depart on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 10.45 arriving intoLas Vegasat 13.30. Return flights depart fromLas Vegasat 16.05 arriving into London Gatwick the next morning at 09.55. The new flights will operate at the same times on Mondays and Fridays.

From May, DIY check-in kiosks will be available atGatwickAirportoffering passengers a faster and more efficient self-service check-in for their flight.

Bmi expands long-haul network with Mumbai and Riyadh

Bmi is launching a four times weekly service from London Heathrow to Mumbai on May 14.

The service will be followed shortly by a three times weekly service from Heathrow toRiyadh, making bmi the only British airline serving the Saudi Arabian capital from theUK. It has not yet released a start date for this service.

Flights to Mumbai will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with return services to London Heathrow on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Riyadhwill be served on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays with return flights departing on the same days.

The airline is continuing to fight for more frequencies and routes toIndiaand is applying for these in the next round of bilateral talks in April.

The confirmation of the start of its London Heathrow to Mumbai service follows a scarce capacity hearing in which bmi had applied to operate 13 flights per week to serve Mumbai,Bangaloreand Chennai. However, bmi was only granted four flights per week between London Heathrow and Mumbai, representing only 31 per cent of its initial request.

Emirates Palace opens in Abu Dhabi

emirates-palace-fountains-d

Abu Dhabi is now giving neighbouring Dubai a run for its money thanks to the opening of the Emirates Palace hotel.

Managed by Kempinski, the spectacular 302-room hotel boasts an entrance almost the size of the Arc de Triomphe at 40m high and 36m wide.

Set to rival the Burj Al Arab and Dubai’s other landmark hotels, the Emirates Palaceis being heralded as a National Monument of Abu Dhabi with its spiral staircases, pillars, mosaics and gold and silver leaf carefully felted on to the ceilings.

Its vast conference complex has a 1,200-seat auditorium and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 2,800 people.

The hotel has been builtwith leading edge wireless connectivity which means guests can stay connected online 24 hours a day throughout the palace grounds, beach, and even by the swimming pools.

Telephone and wireless functionality will be provided throughout the property using the latest Internet Protocol (IP) Technology so that guests can stay in touch on their own room extension using a device similar to a mobile.

Guests can use wireless connectivity to access an online library offering of books, films and music.

And they can spy on fellow guests too – a number of cameras have been placed in various locations throughout the Palace, which can be viewed from the plasma screens found in each room.