Bmi downgrades product on Heathrow flights

Bmi is turning its London Heathrow services into a low-cost operation from August 1, scrapping business class on almost all domestic and international routes, simplifying fares and charging economy class passengers for in-flight food and drinks.

Nigel Turner, Bmi’s CEO, claims the move is in response to market pressure and it will save the carrier £30 million a year. “Over 50% of our passengers are travelling on business but most of these now do so in the back of the plane. Now we’re getting back in sync with what our customers want. We’re giving them the choice of paying for what they need.”

Bmi is retaining business class on routes from Heathrow toMumbai, Brussels,Edinburgh,Glasgow andBelfast City.

But Bmi’s move may not go down well with premium ticket passengers making long-haul connections at Heathrow. Bmi is a Star Alliance member and feeds passengers to over a dozen member airlines including United, ANA, Thai and Varig.

Says a spokesman for Star Alliance: “Yes, first and business class passengers will no longer get separate seating on many routes, but Bmi has assured us that frequent flyer benefits will stay and so too will the lounges. Bmi’s move shows that member carriers are adapting to market needs.”

Bmi will announce details of fares and catering in mid-June.

www.flybmi.com

Second Park Inn for London

Rezidor SAS Hospitality takes over the management of the Gresham Hyde Park London on June 1 and will re-launch it under its mid-market Park Inn brand.

The 188-room Park Inn Hyde Park, in Lancaster Gate, will be the group’s second Park Inn property. The first is the Park Inn Heathrow.

Kurt Ritter, president and CEO, Rezidor SAS Hospitality, said: “London is a key destination for Rezidor SAS and it is no secret that we have been looking for the right opportunity to expand Park Inn, our fastest growing brand, into centralLondon. With our aim to have 700 hotels by 2012, the Park Inn brand is key to Rezidor’s growth and we hope to have 150 hotels in operation and under construction by the end of 2006, withLondon being a significant success in targeting strategic destinations across Rezidor’s area of operation.”

The Park Inn Hyde Park,London has a restaurant, bar and a 24-hour fitness centre.

More regional flights to New York

Continental continues to make the Big Apple more accessible from the UK regions by launching daily flights from Bristol and a new service from Belfast.

Until now both cities have had no direct flights to New York.

The US carrier is operating Boeing 757 twin jets in a two-class (business and economy) configuration. All flights operate to and from New York’s Newark airport.

Services depart Bristol at 1100 arriving Newark at 1400. The inbound overnight service leaves Newark at 2055 to reach Bristol at 0855.

Belfast flights depart at 0900 arriving Newark at 1125, with the inbound service at 1955 landing in Belfast at 0730.

For travel from now until the end of June economy class passengers pay rates starting at £302 return from Bristol and £299 from Belfast. These deals expire at midnight tonight (May 26) but other offers are expected to take their place.

Business class passengers pay discounted rates starting at £1,169 return from Bristol and £1,129 return from Belfast. They are valid for travel between now and August 31 and you can book until July 30.

Other UK regional airports served by Continental are Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. From London, the carrier operates from Gatwick.

www.continental.com

Air France commits to business class

Passengers using Air France to Paris CDG from Heathrow and Manchester can toast the airline. This week it has declared that it will retain business class within Europe at a time when its rivals are considering dropping the class for short haul flights.

The carrier is one of the very few among Europe’s national carriers in offering three classes on mainline services: L’Espace Affaires, Tempo Challenge (superior economy class) and Tempo (economy class).

Says Catherine Jude, the carrier’s route director for Europe and North Africa, ” Last summer we experimented by removing business class from three routes but we found we lost more money in the process. Business class passengers opted for Tempo Challenge [with its lower fares] so our revenue suffered.”
 
Air France’s business class features roomy two by two seating (with a fold down table) while Tempo Challenge, although offering an economy class layout, is aimed at cost conscious travellers with its provision of essential business features like expedited airport handling and dedicated seating. Both these products are offered on mainline flights to and from France. In the case of the UK, it would cover services departing Heathrow and Manchester.
 
Catherine Jude says that the flexible curtain in the cabin enables the carrier to tailor capacity to demand.  She also argues that Air France needs premium products to look after top fare paying customers who are transferring between short and long-haul services at its main Paris CDG hub.  The carrier claims that over 50% of its passengers at CDG are now in transit rather than destined for Paris itself.

Rival squares up to Easyjet

Easyjet is facing price competition on two busy Anglo-Scottish routes from Stansted.

Next month Scottish budget carrier Globespan will launch twice daily services from Edinburgh and Glasgow to theEssex airport.  Flights fromEdinburgh start on June 1 with services fromGlasgow following on June 2.

Timings are attractive for business travellers and are especially aimed at Scottish passengers. Services fromEdinburgh depart at 0700 and 1715 returning from Stansted at 0855 and 1900. Globespan’s new flights will leaveGlasgow at 0730 and 1730 and head back from Stansted at 0930 and 1915.

Besides carrying passengers to and fromLondon, Globespan’s service is also aimed at the growing number of travellers who are changing planes at Stansted for destinations further afield.

Fares with both carriers start at around £40 return, although the price you actually pay will depend on when you book and when you travel. Globespan allows flight changes for a £15 fee (plus the higher fare, if applicable) and snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board. Go to www.flyglobespan.com.

Dubai hotel to be world’s tallest

Two hotels opening in Dubai are planning to make a distinctive mark on the burgeoning state.

The first is a Radisson SAS property, which will open later this year inDubai’s Media City.

The 251-bedroom property will have a distinctive architectural or design feature in keeping with other Radisson properties such as Stansted, which has a wine wall scaled by wine waiters fitted with a climbing harness and ropes, or Berlin, which has the world’s largest freestanding aquarium.

The Radisson SAS Hotel,Media City will have three stylish bars and restaurants, seven meeting rooms and an executive lounge with boardroom and business centre. There will be two pools (one rooftop), a fitness centre, separate male and female steam rooms and a spa with five treatment rooms.

The second property is being built by Dubai-based airline, Emirates. It will be the world’s tallest building, at 70 storeys or 800 metres high, when it opens in 2008. The hotel will be built on Sheikh Zayed road and will have 560 rooms, 112 suites and a presidential suite.

Emirates says it hopes to break architectural boundaries with the property, which will have rooms jutting out from the main tower in curved wings. The hotel will also have a health club with fitness centre and spa, 15 food and beverage outlets and a rooftop bar with panoramic views ofDubai.

Dubai received 5.4 million visitors in 2004, which is expected to increase three-fold in the next decade.