Dusseldorf flight takes off

Lufthansa has launched flights between London City Airport (LCY) and Düsseldorf.

The German carrier launched the flights on April 18, with a twice-daily service Monday to Friday. Lead-in fares start at £89 return including taxes.

The flight is operated by a 46-seat ATR42 aircraft. It leaves LCY at8.55am and7.10pm and leaves Düsseldorf at7.50am and6.05pm.

Lufthansa also offers four flights a day out ofLondon City toFrankfurt, operated by a subsidiary, Contactair.de. This flight is in direct competition with British Airways, which operates a thrice-daily service toFrankfurt.

Go to www.lufthansa.com or www.londoncityairport.com.

Free food is back on Swiss

Swiss is re-introducing free food for economy class passengers on flights over one hour.

The carrier has taken a u-turn on the decision it made in summer 2003 to start charging economy class passengers for in-flight snacks.

The free food and drink will be introduced from May 25 and will include hot or cold snacks depending on the time of day and length of flight. Passengers on flights of less than half an hour will receive only chocolate, while those flying up to 45 minutes will receive water and chocolate.

Flights over one hour, which include all flights between theUK andSwitzerland, will receive more substantial snacks such as breakfast pastries, a selection of sandwiches and Calzone, a folded pizza.

Alexander Arafa, head of product and project leader, said: “In addition to these warm snacks, the in-flight food service will include such items as yoghurt, chocolate, sandwiches, ice cream and biscuits, depending on the time of day and length of the flight.”

Passengers will also be served wine free of charge.

Swiss food and beverage supplier, Nestlé, will provide some of the food and drink, and Dutch-based Supplair will provide the rest.

According to Swiss the move is part of more general service enhancements that have included installing more comfortable economy class seats on its Airbus A320s and reducing transfer times atZurich airport from 45 minutes to 35 minutes.

Go to www.swiss.com.

First flight for A380

The Airbus A380 successfully completed its first flight yesterday, taking the world’s largest passenger aircraft one step closer to commercial service.

The A380 was taken for a test flight of just under four hours around south-westFrance, taking off and landing at Blagnac airport, nearToulouse. It is expected to fly for as many as 2,500 test hours using five developmental aircraft.

The first airline to fly the A380 will be Singapore Airlines (SIA), which ordered 10 of the aircraft in 2000, with an option on a further 15. They will operate commercially from summer 2006.

The aircraft can accommodate up to 555 seats in a three-class configuration, although SIA will fit the plane with 480 seats, including a new suite of premium class products “over and above the trademark in-flight service the airline is known for”.

Emirates has made the largest order for A380 aircraft, totalling 45. The airline has hinted at plans to offer cabins with showers in first class and lie-flat seats in business.

This compares to more elaborate plans from Virgin Atlantic, which will start flying with six A380s from spring 2008, with an option to take a further six.The airline plans to operate the aircraft to JFK,Hong Kong,Sydney,Los Angeles,San Francisco andTokyo with 500 in a three-class configuration. Virgin has hinted at casinos, bars and double beds for the A380 but details have yet to be confirmed.

Doha welcomes Four Seasons

Four Seasons has opened its latest property, in theQatar capital.

The Four Seasons Hotel Doha is on the edge of the Diplomatic District overlooking theArabian Gulf, close to the upscale shopping and exhibition centre and 15 minutes from the airport.

The hotel has been elaborately decorated with two large wind towers on the exterior overlooking the beach and hand-carved wooden doors, denoting a Moorish influence. Of the 232 bedrooms, a quarter are suites, including the Royal Suite, a duplex apartment on the 17th floor. All rooms have CD and DVD players, down duvets and pillows, in-room safe and high-speed internet access. Wireless internet access will be available in public areas shortly.

The hotel has a private beach, boat marina, and a choice of seven restaurants. The Spa and Wellness Centre, which includes squash and tennis courts, will open in July, and in the meantime a temporary fitness centre has been set up.

There are several meeting rooms including an ornate ballroom, plus a 24-hour business centre.

Rack rates start at QR1,900 plus 17% tax, which is around £320 including tax.

Apex comes to London

A contemporary hotel chain familiar to business travellers who visitEdinburgh is opening its firstLondon hotel.

The Apex City of London hotel will be a modern property, consistent with the other four Apex hotels, and geared to business travellers.

The four star property, a converted office block, is walking distance from the City in Seething Lane, close to Tower Hill underground station and Tower Bridge, and will open in early autumn.

All 130 rooms and suites will have wireless internet access, desks and bathrooms with separate bath and power-shower. In addition it will have a sauna, steam room and a gym with state-of-the-art equipment supplied by Technogym, the company that also supplied The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire.

The Metro Bar and Brasserie in the hotel will serve modern British cuisine and the hotel will have five conference rooms, one with capacity for up to 80 theatre-style. Rates for the hotel have not yet been confirmed but rates at theEdinburgh properties start at around £120.

The Apex Hotels group currently owns four properties – three in Edinburgh and one inDundee. Go to www.apexhotels.co.uk.

Lufthansa rolls out new business seats

Availability of Lufthansa’s new long-haul business class seats has been extended to the carrier’s prime destinations out ofFrankfurt andMunich.

The new seats offer more sideways space (56 cms as against 50 cms) and more legroom (152cms compared with 122cms). Although not fully lie-flat, such as the business class seats offered by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa’s new seats recline almost to the horizontal whereas its older seats had a 135 degree recline.

Destinations now covered from Frankfurt include: Dallas, New York JFK, Los Angeles (from May 1), Washington Dulles in the US,  Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Muscat in the Middle East along with Hong Kong, Singapore, Osaka, Seoul and Tokyo in Asia.

From Munich the available destinations include: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Washington Dulles (from May 2) in the US along with Delhi, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Asia.

Readers should bear in mind that one daily flight on each route features the new seating. Where the routing is served by several flights a day, it’s essential to check with Lufthansa or your travel agent to determine the relevant service. The airline stresses that last minute plane substitutions may affect new seat availability.

Lufthansa says that the new seating will installed throughout its long-haul fleet by 2007. Go to www.lufthansa.com

Starwood launches meetings concierge

Starwood Hotels and Resorts has boosted its meetings and conference offering by launching a concierge service.

A Starmeeting Concierge is assigned to each meeting to welcome delegates, explain use of the facilities and deal with queries relating to audio-visual equipment.   

The service is offered free of charge to meeting planners, who are handed a business card featuring a photo of their concierge so they can recognise them easily.

The Starmeeting Concierge service has been implemented across theUS and is being rolled out across Starwood hotels inEurope,Africa and theMiddle East at the moment. So far it is available at Sheraton Heathrow, Sheraton Skyline,Park Lane, Sheraton Belgravia, andSheraton Park Tower inLondon, and inScotland in Westin Turnberry Resort and Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa.

The introduction of the service follows customer research and testing in Starwood’s Heathrow,Frankfurt andMadrid properties. According to the hotel chain, during the test phase 95% of delegates rated their concierge’s responsiveness as “excellent”. Go to www.starwood.com.

Oneworld goes paperless

The Oneworld airline alliance has beaten rivals Star Alliance to enable e-ticketing across all member airlines.

The announcement by Oneworld means passengers travelling on any of the alliance’s eight member airlines will have one electronic ticket covering an entire trip, regardless of how many transfers made between airlines.

Aer Lingus and LAN were the last two airlines to implement e-ticketing this month, nearly three years after the first Oneworld airline pair enabled interline e-ticketing in May 2002.

Star Alliance will have completed interline e-ticketing across its members by August, with the exception of TAP Air Portugal, which recently joined Star and will be integrated by the end of the year according to Star Alliance director media relations, Markus Ruediger.

Now any combination of the eight airlines – American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific,Qantas,Iberia, Finnair, Aer Lingus and LAN – can be covered by an e-ticket. The only exception is where bookings are made to one of a small number of airports that cannot handle e-tickets – in these cases a paper ticket would be issued.

The Oneworld network encompasses 600 destinations in 135 countries.

The advantages to having an e-ticket rather than a paper ticket is that there is no possibility of a ticket being lost or stolen, plus passengers can use self-service check-in machines where available. According to Oneworld e-tickets also make check-in quicker and smoother by removing the administration associated with paper tickets, but the main advantage is to airlines in terms of cost savings.

Oneworld estimates that interline e-ticketing will save the eight airline members a total $65 million a year.

Two new destinations for Easyjet

Easyjet is boosting flights from Bristol in July.

The low-cost carrier will launch daily flights from its south west base to Inverness, Murcia and Pisa from July 7. The carrier already flies to Inverness from Luton and Gatwick but Murcia and Pisa, the gateway for Florence, are new to Easyjet.

The new routes means the airline will have eight aircraft based at Bristol, operating 66 daily flights to 22 destinations.

Return fares start at £31 to Inverness, and £41 to Pisa and Murcia.

Easyjet has taken delivery of its 100th aircraft and now claims to operate the largest “low cost fleet” in Europe.Last month, it carried 2.6 million passengers which, according to Easyjet, was more than BA, Air France and KLM, and only topped by Lufthansa.Go to www.easyjet.com.

Skyteam boosts RTW offering

The Skyteam alliance has increased the attractiveness of its Round the World (RTW) andEurope Pass tickets following the inclusion of three more carriers.

Current members of Skyteam that participate in the RTW offering include AirFrance, Korean Air and Delta. Now they’ve been joined by Northwest, KLM and Continental, adding 141 destinations in theUS,Canada,Latin America, theCaribbean andAfrica to the 658 destinations previously available to RTW passengers.

The RTW tickets allow customers to opt for one of four packages that includes between three and 15 stops for a trip ranging from 10 days to one year. They cost from E2000, for the package starting inAmsterdam.

Rules governing the RTW ticket mean travellers must start and finish in the same country, cross both theAtlantic and Pacific oceans and can backtrack only within the same continent.

TheEurope Pass is for alliance passengers who do not reside inEurope, have made a transatlantic or transpacific flight and want to buy three or more single tickets aroundEurope at a reduced rate. Airlines offering these European routes are Air France, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines and now KLM.

Passengers travelling on either the RTW orEurope Pass tickets can earn and redeem frequent flyer points with all Skyteam airlines. The alliance is expected to make additions to itsAmerica Pass ticket later this year following the inclusion of Northwest, KLM and Continental.  

Skyteam’s alliance rivals, One World and Star Alliance, also offer RTW ticket options utilising the network strengths of their member airlines. Go to www.skyteam.co.uk.