Virgin announces Dubai launch

Virgin Atlantic Airways is set to launch flights on the competitive London-Dubai route, putting pressure on rivals British Airways and Emirates.

Virgin launches its Heathrow-Dubai flight on March 27 2006 with four flights per week, rising to five on May 1 and going daily on June 1.

The Dubai flight departs Heathrow at 8.10pm arriving in Dubai at 6.20am. The return flight leaves Dubai at 3pm and arrives in Heathrow at 7.30pm.

Virgin faces competition from a number of carriers on the London-Dubai routes including British Airways, Royal Brunei, Bangladesh Airlines, and Emirates.

The service will be operated by an Airbus A340 in a three-class configuration and will include the lie-flat Upper Class Suites. Upper Class fares start at £1,185, Premium at £785.60 return, and Economy Class fares start from £375 return, although the carrier says it will be offering promotional fares to Dubai later in the year.

Report by Ginny McGrath

SAS to launch from London City

London City Airport will get a connection with Copenhagen this winter on the back of strong demand from frequent users of the airport.

The route is being launched by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) on October 30, and will be the carrier’s first service from the east London airport.
There will be two flights per day between London City and Copenhagen (one daily flight on Saturdays and Sundays), with the first flight departing London at 9.40am and arriving at 12.55pm, and the second taking off at 6pm and arriving at 9.15pm.
The return flight leaves Copenhagen at 8am, and arrives in London at 9.15am, and the second flight leaves at 4.20pm and arrives at 5.35pm.

The SAS flight will compete directly with a Copenhagen flight being launched from London City by BA franchise-partner, Sun Air of Denmark, which starts on October 31 with two flights per weekday.

Copenhagen was among a list of destinations mooted by London City managing director, Richard Gooding, as potential new routes for this year in an interview in the Business Traveller May edition. Other destinations that are expected to launch in coming months from London City areGlasgow, Madrid, Milan, Newcastle, Stockholm and Vienna.

SAS will operate the Copenhagen service with a 72-seater turbo-prop Q-400 aircraft in a three-class configuration. The middle class is Economy Flex, which offers passengers a fully-flexible ticket, dedicated seating area on the aircraft, complimentary meal and drink and increased frequent flyer points.
Return fares start at £501 in Economy Flex, £606 in Business and £106 in Economy. Business class passengers enjoy more space on-board, lounge access and improved catering.

SAS operates a ten-minute check-in policy at London City. The airline also supports the airport’s claim that passengers travelling with hand luggage only can get from the plane to their taxi in five minutes on arrival.

Report by Ginny McGrath  

Marriott goes boutique in Paris

Marriott has strengthened its presence in Paris by taking over a luxury boutique hotel, which hasan award-winning restaurant.

Now branded the Renaissance Paris Vendome, the 97-room property is located along rue du Mont Thabor, one block north from the Rue de Rivoli and a short walk from attractions like The Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome.

Guests staying at the hotel will enjoy luxury, personalised service and various accommodation styles in a peaceful setting. There’s also a small leisure centre including a swimming pool (a rarity for Paris).

But what guests won’t find is a standardised Marriott with the sort of ubiqitious touches found in the US chain’s other properties. Thishotel isa world removed from the city’s other Renaissance in Paris, a 327-roomproperty located in La Defense business area.

All rooms are luxuriously furnished in different contemporary styles and have the usual business touches including plasma screen TVs. There are 12 junior suites.

Le Pinxo restaurant, which has two Michelin stars, serves a meal for Euros 50. It features cuisine fromsouthwestFrance.

Rates range between Euros 279 (weekends) and Euros 350 (midweek), with junior suites from Euros 350.

Renaissance Paris Vendome, 4 rue du Mont Tabor, Paris 75001, tel: + 33 1 4020 2000, www.marriott.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

24-hour hotel for InterConti

InterContinental has opened its first hotel in Beijing.

The 332-room hotel is on Financial Street in the Xicheng District of West Beijing, a financial hub where over 300 financial institutions are located. The hotel is 40km from Beijing International Airport and a ten-minute drive from cultural sites such as Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall.

It’s not just the location of the InterContinental Financial Street Beijing that will attract business travellers. The hotel is the first international premium hotel on the street and offers a range of services 24 hours a day including the business centre and gym.

In addition the hotel has a spa, swimming pool, and conference facilities including a grand ballroom that has capacity for 380 people and five meeting rooms.

Guests have a range of dining options – a modern Chinese restaurant with a soup and dim sum kitchen, a New York-style coffee shop and deli and a café-style restaurant offering Asian and Western dishes. There is also a contemporary bar/lounge called XChange, which serves cocktails and new world wines and offers live entertainment.

The rooms have high-speed internet access, safe, in-room television check-out, phone with voicemail and minibar. There are also executive rooms on the hotel’s Club InterContinental floors, which have butler service and separate business centre, complimentary use of meeting rooms, complimentary breakfast and evening drinks, and separate check-in.

Rates start at CNY814, which is about £57. Go to www.interconti.com.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Easier passage to India from newcomer Jet

Fast-growing Jet Airways is gearing up for a major expansion of services to London this winter. At the same time the Indian carrier hopes to launch its first ever transatlantic flight, one linking Brussels with New York.

The new UK services are expected to get under way at the end of October. They will see a new route being opened between Delhi and Heathrow and the doubling of Jet Airways’ flights between Mumbai and Heathrow.

Fares and schedules have yet to be announced but the current daily Mumbai-Heathrow service departs India at 13.20 (services on Monday and Thursday leave slightly earlier) to arrive in London at 17.40. The return flight departs Heathrow at 21.25 to reach Mumbai at 10.50 the next day. Connections are available at Mumbai to and from 40 domestic destinations.Other international services include links between Mumbai and Singapore along with Chennai to Kuala Lumpur.

Privately-owned Jet Airways, which started flying to London in May this year, is seeking to change the image of Indian airlines on the world stage.  Rightly or wrongly, the latter haven’t enjoyed the best reputation for service in recent years.

Chairman Naresh Goyal told Business Traveller, “Our crew and in-flight catering are multi-cultural.  We want to challenge other Asian airlines for service and reputation.  It’s not rocket science to become the best carrier in Asia.”

Current flights from Mumbai to Heathrow are operated by Airbus A340s with fully lie-flat seats in business class along with 73 inches of legroom.  Services to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are handled by Boeing 737-800s with conventional business class seating providing 58 inches of legroom.The airline’s business class checked baggage allowance is 40 kilos which is 10 kilos higher than the industry standard.

*  The growth of flights to India (besides Jet Airways, services are now operated by Air India, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Bmi) and Shanghai (where British Airways has just joined Virgin Atlantic and China Eastern) contributed to an 11% growth in traffic handled by BAA airports during June.

Air NZ unveils revamped planes

Air New Zealand’s new look for its long-haul fleet was unveiled this week. The airline is spending NZ$160 million (£60 million) on the relaunch which will eventually see eight 747s and eight 777s refitted with lie-flat beds, on-demand in-flight entertainment throughout the plane and a new premium economy class.

Regular flyers with Virgin Atlantic will give a nod of recognition when they see Air New Zealand’s new Business Premier class. The airline has gone for 22 inch wide leather armchairs that convert into 6 foot 8 inch flat beds, arranged in a herringbone pattern, just like Virgin’s. The seat includes an ottoman footrest, in-seat power and a 10.4 inch screen.

In the new Pacific Premium Economy class – the only premium economy service offered to New Zealand – there will be 23 seats, each 18.5 inches wide and with a pitch of 38 to 40 inches.”With Pacific Premium Economy fares available at just 25-30% more than economy fares we have seen strong bookings, particularly for San Francisco and London, with a total of more than 7,000 sectors booked across North America and London routes,” said Air New Zealand chief executive Ralph Norris.

The new planes will come into service on the Auckland – Los Angeles – London route (flights NZ1 and NZ2) from 5 November.

As part of the revamp Air New Zealand has ordered some 14,000 new salt and pepper sets and almost 650,000 items of cutlery.

Radisson reopens

The Radisson SAS Hotel,Edinburgh has reopened with a host of services geared to business travellers. 

The hotel has undergone a refurbishment costing £5 million in a bid to more effectively compete with rival four and five star properties in the city.

Among the business traveller-friendly facilities that have been added is wireless internet, which can be accesses in all 238 bedrooms at a cost of £14 for 24 hours in-room, or in the hotel’s public areas for £3 per 15 minutes. The hotel also now has air conditioning, double glazing and a more contemporary interior.

Business travellers accustomed to premium service will appreciate the hotel’s new Business Class rooms, which have added extras such as complimentary newspaper, free in-room movies, and breakfast on the run.

The Radisson is onEdinburgh’s Royal Mile, making it easily accessible from the train station and well located for the businesses, shops and restaurants in the centre of town as well as attractions such asEdinburgh Castle.

The refurbishment has also seen a stylish bar developed at the front of the hotel serving drinks and light snacks. In addition there is a restaurant, eight meeting rooms, and a health club.

Rates start at around £115, subject to availability. Go to www.radissonsas.com.

Report by Ginny McGrath

After two and a half years, a new Hilton Sydney

Hilton is reopening itsSydney hotel next week to unveil the city’s most extensive hotel conference and event space and a contemporary brasserie.

The Hilton Sydney, located in the central business district between George and Pitt streets, will reopen on July 15. It has been closed for 30 months while undergoing refurbishment costing AUS$200 million.

The hotel has been completely renovated, and a 20-metre lobby added, with a design emphasis on light and space. It was overseen by Johnson Pilton Walker, the architects who oversaw a makeover of the Sydney Opera House.

All 577 rooms have been renovated, including 97 Executive Rooms and 31 Relaxation Rooms, which have spa bathrooms with jet showers and holistic relaxation kits, mood lighting and lounge chairs.

The refurbished hotel will feature a contemporary restaurant, Glass Brasserie, in addition to a trendy new bar with the same name and trendy style as the bar in Hilton’sLondon Park Lane hotel, Zeta Bar. There are four levels of event space including seven high-tech meeting rooms, six functions rooms, a state room and exhibition space.

Go to www.hilton.com.

Report by Ginny McGrath