All-business fares to NY plummet

All business class carrier Maxjet has slashed the price of its soon-to-be-launched transatlantic service. The US carrier launches a six times weekly service between London Stansted and New York JFK on November 2 (the eastbound flight starts on November 1). Maxjet hopes the lower price of £854 return will encourage more business people to try the flights. It will certainly appeal to the many small to medium-sized firms located within the Stansted catchment area.

Maxjet CEO Garry Rogliano told Business Traveller: “For the same price as a flexible economy ticket you can now fly business class. Our aim is to make business class more affordable and attractive to a larger market.”

Rogliano believes that transatlantic business class passengers have been getting a raw deal from the big carriers. “We analysed 15 different UK-US routes and we saw that 8% of the passengers were providing 50% of the revenue.”

Maxjet expects most of its passengers (60%) to come from the UK/mainland Europe with the remainder from theUS. 

Although some UK travellers may view Stansted as inconvenient that view may not be shared by travellers on the other side of the Atlantic.  Says Rogliano: “US travellers will find they can reach the City in 45 minutes by the Stansted Express.  Stansted will offer US passport holders faster clearance. The other morning [as a US national] it took me 90 minutes to clear passport control at Heathrow.”

Maxjet will operate with a 102-seater wide-bodied B767.  Seating layout will be six across (2-2-2) with 60 inches of legroom. Flights depart Stansted at 10.00 returning from JFK at 18.30. The carrier says it will offer Stansted passengers use of Fast Track along with the SAS lounge.  Passengers leaving JFK will have access to the Korean Air lounge.  When they reach Stansted they’ll be able to use an arrivals’ lounge at the adjacent Radisson/SAS hotel. For more information go to www.maxjet.com 

Report by Alex McWhirter

Westin comes over all W

It appears that elements of the trendy W hotel group, with its quirky extras and concepts, are rubbing off on its sister brand, Westin.

As part of an overhaul of the Westin brand, Starwood Hotels and Resorts is introducing new minibars to its Westin properties.

Among the healthy gadgets, snacks and gizmos going into the minibar, which has now been renamed the “Purification Station”, is a stress relieving spray, sweets that revitalise your skin, and a pure oxygen dispenser.

The first Purification Station will debut at the Westin New York at Times Square, in its Renewel Suite, a $2,000-a-night suite that features a decompression chamber, spa bath, gym and music, light and water features, all designed to soothe the weary traveller.

Among the products on sale in the Purification Station are:

– Essential oil patches called Naturopatches, including bergamot to relieve stress, and arnica to ease aches and pains
– BORBA’s Skin Balance Gummi Booster Confections, which are intended to revitalise skin with an organic cultivated bio-vitamin complex
– Skyn Iceland Anti-Stress Oral Spray, which is sprayed into the mouth like a breath freshener, and should ease tension
– Dr. Hauschka Jet Set Essentials kit, which includes pampering face and body products from the popular organic brand

Despite these holistic additions, guests who head for the minibar because they’re peckish will not be disappointed – alongside these products will be organic wine, beer and cookies. The new minibars, or elements of them, will eventually be rolled out across the Westin brand globally.

Even the humble bedtime mint on the pillow is being scrapped in favour of something more wholesome – instead guests will be presented with a Moondrop Homeopathic Sleep Therapy Lozenge, which contains sleep-inducing natural ingredients.

Report by Ginny McGrath

JAL eyes Oneworld

Oneworld is set to recruit the largest carrier in Asia Pacific, the second new member to join the airline alliance this month.

Japan Airlines (JAL) would be the largest carrier in the alliance in terms of group revenue, and would join American Airlines and British Airways as the alliance’s largest three airline members, according to other measures such as fleet size and route network.

Five Oneworld members already operate in Japan, but the move by JAL, which is still subject to the necessary agreements and procedures, would bring a 10 per cent expansion to the Oneworld network, adding 68 destinations including 56 in Japan and five in China.

JAL already operates to seven Oneworld hubs: London Heathrow, New York JFK, Hong Kong, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, Singapore and Sydney, and has bilateral agreements in place with six alliance carriers: American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Iberia, Cathay Pacific and LAN.

As reported by Businesstraveller.com last week, Royal Jordanian made history as the first carrier from the Middle East region to enter a global airline alliance, and in May Hungarian carrier Malev started proceedings to join the alliance. 

Other existing members of Oneworld are Finnair and Aer Lingus.

Report by Ginny McGrath

Delta announces new routes to become world’s largest transatlantic airline

Delta Airlines this week has announced 11 new transatlantic routes for 2006, including a new daily Manchester to New York flight and an Edinburgh to Atlanta route. The new services will be from its two transatlantic gateways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Edinburgh to Atlanta service will begin operating on 5 May 2006 with a wide-bodied 767-300ER configured in two classes – BusinessElite and Economy and a total of 204 seats. The Manchester service will begin with a 767-400 with an all economy product, which will then be reconfigured into the two-class product during the course of the year.

The new routes are as a result of Delta reducing capacity in its domestic market and moving more of its wide-bodied planes onto international routes where competition is less fierce and yields are higher.

Other new routes Delta will fly to next Spring include:

Athens, Greece – Atlanta (effective May 30)
Nice, France – Atlanta  (effective May 10)
Venice, Italy – Atlanta (effective June 7)
Budapest, Hungary – New York/JFK (effective May 9)
Dublin/Shannon, Ireland – New York/JFK (effective May 16)
Manchester, England – New York/JFK  (effective May 16)
Kiev, Ukraine – New York/JFK*
Tel Aviv, Israel – Atlanta (previously announced to begin March 28)
Düsseldorf, Germany – Atlanta (previously announced to begin April 4)
Copenhagen, Denmark – Atlanta (previously announced to begin May 2)
(*The Kiev-JFK service is subject to U.S. and foreign government approvals. All remaining routes listed except JFK-Manchester are subject to foreign government approval.)
Delta is also increasing the seasonal capacity between Atlanta – Shannon, Ireland and between New York (JFK) and Rome, Italy.

www.delta.com

Report by Tom Otley

Oneworld welcomes Royal Jordanian


Royal Jordanian is to join oneworld making it the first carrier from the Middle East region to enter a global airline alliance.

The Jordan-based airline will become a fully-fledged member at the end of 2006 and has already satisfied the initial criteria for membership. Work will now begin on connecting its IT systems to those of its new partners and aligning its services.

Currently, BMed is the only oneworld member serving Royal Jordanian’s home market, with daily flights from the capital Amman to London Heathrow. Iberia is the only oneworld airline that has a code sharing agreement with the new member, but agreements are likely to follow with other members. 

Royal Jordanian’s membership will benefit passengers in the Gulf buying round the world tickets who will no longer need to travel into Europe to access the oneworld network; instead they will be able to travel via Amman to all points east into Asia.

Residents of northern Europe will be able to make stopovers on the Royal Jordanian network – for example, Tunis, Cairo, Damascus or Beirut – on their way to the Middle East and may be able to take advantage of special fares to the Gulf via Amman.

Existing members of oneworld are American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, LAN, Finnair and Aer Lingus. Hungary’s Malév signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2005 as a first step towards joining.

Report by Sarah Maxwell and Alex McWhirter

Bangalore gains new flights

Bangalore, the software centre of India is getting better air links with Europe and the outside world.  Until now travellers have had to rely on Lufthansa, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways or irregular Air India services. From October 30, British Airways and Air France will launch five times a week direct flights from London Heathrow and Paris CDG respectively. At the same time Northwest and KLM will begin operating a joint service from Amsterdam. Passengers using these airlines’ hubs can make connections to elsewhere in Europe plus North America and Africa.

But travellers arriving in Bangalore will be faced with an acute accommodation shortage with room rates at four and five star hotels having rocketed by 42 per cent over the past year. It means that short notice bookings are problematic and hotels charge London prices. According to global travel agency chain BTI, Bangalore’s hotel rates are the third highest in the world after Moscow and Rome. According to BTI’s CEO in India Vijay Chadda, “This is hardly surprising as hotels in Bangalore get whatever prices they want since demand far outstrips supply.” Says expat interior design consultant Carlito Lo Sosito, “Even smaller, less comfortable hotels can now get away with charging an arm and a leg. We tell our clients visiting us here to let us know at least a week ahead otherwise we won’t be able to accommodate them.”

The Leela Palace, widely regarded as the city’s best hotel, has “rates ranging between US$350 and $450 with the average price being $400 all plus 10 per cent tax,” says sales executive Amit Reddy. The Leela is building a 140-room extension but it won’t be ready until April 2006. Other options for business people include the ITC Sheraton Windsor, The Taj, and Oberoi.

The room shortage has prompted some firms to build accommodation blocks for visitors and staff. Other executives have no option but to commute in from Chennai or Hyderabad some 200 or 300 miles away.

The situation should ease from 2007 when Shangri La, Marriott, Hyatt and ITC Sheraton plan to add a raft of new properties.

www.theleela.com  www.ba.com  www.klm.com  www.airfrance.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Brown’s returns to London hotel scene

London’s famous Brown’s Hotel is set to reopen on December 12 following an extensive refurbishment.

Since taking over the well-known Mayfair hotel in 2003, Rocco Forte Hotels has performed a £19 million makeover – which was overseen by Sir Rocco Forte’s sister and hotel designer Olga Polizzi. The new Brown’s will have 117 guestrooms and suites in contemporary design, six private meeting rooms, three spa treatment rooms and a 70sqm fully-equipped cardiovascular gym.                     

Guests will dine in The Grill under the watchful eyes of Maitre d’ Angelo Maresca, previously of the Savoy Grill, while the kitchen will be at the helm of executive chef Laurence Glayzer of The Ritz and Savoy Grill.

Brown’s first opened in 1837 and is enshrined in London’s cultural history with a host of famous guests, including Alexander Graham Bell, who made the UK’s first telephone call from the hotel in 1876, Rudyard Kipling and a procession of Roosevelts, from Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor.

www.brownshotel.com

Report by Sarah Maxwell

Business booms for Bmi

Since Bmi launched thrice weekly non-stop flights from London Heathrow to the Saudi capital of Riyadh on September 1 the carrier has seen strong bookings in both standard and premium classes.  It now hopes to add a further thrice weekly service to the port city of Jeddah by Spring 2006.

Currently Bmi is the only British carrier flying into Saudi Arabia following the withdrawal of British Airways earlier this year for commercial reasons. BA had latterly been routing its services via Kuwait (where the crew were based for security reasons) and this had pushed up costs and led to unattractive scheduling. In a part of the world where loyalty is so important, BA’s decision to pull out wasn’t popular with the Saudis.

Bmi has been welcomed with open arms.  Riyadh has limited air connections to Europe and this means that seats are in short supply. At busy times passengers must route themselves to Europe via Bahrain or Dubai which adds hours to the journey time.

Bmi is operating wide-bodied A330s configured for business, premium economy and regular economy.  Business class gets a six across (2-2-2) layout with conventional seating offering 60 inches of legroom and a 160 degree recline. Premium Economy is basically the same seating as in regular economy deposed eight across (2-4-2) with 38 inches of legroom as against 32.

But Bmi’s seat configuration isn’t ideal for the Saudi market. There’s no first class (in a part of the world where there’s still a good demand) while Saudi travellers aren’t familiar with Premium Economy which they also regard as too expensive in relation to the cost of business class. Says Bmi’s CEO Nigel Turner, “we do have a different product to what BA was offering but we do have the best crew in the world and they do make passengers feel more comfortable.”

However, Bmi will need an extra plane to serve both Riyadh and Jeddah (the single A330 currently used also covers Mumbai) and the carrier indicates that this aircraft may be reconfigured for the Saudi market.

Flights currently depart Heathrow every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 09.35 returning from Riyadh at 00.40 the following day. From November 1, the flights will be rescheduled to leave at the same times every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday returning from Riyadh on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Return fares start at £230 in economy class including taxes and charges. Premium economy costs £1,624 with business class priced at £1,962. For more information go to www.flybmi.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Milan base for Easyjet

Easyjet continue to spread their wings across Europe, with news of the introduction of its first base in Italy.

From March 26 2006, Milan’s Malpensa Airport will become the airline’s 16th European hub, serving Athens, London Gatwick, Madrid, Malaga and Paris Charles de Gaulle, in addition to Berlin and Dortmund, which commence at the end of October.

Easyjet will use three new Airbus A319s to service the seven new routes, and expects to carry around 1.2 million passengers through the base in the first 12 months. Easyjet currently operates flights to nine Italian airports, and the base will be its sixth to be situated outside the UK.

The low cost airline will face stiff competition from British Airways and Alitalia, both of whom have established bases at Milan Malpensa. The airport is located around 29 miles from the centre of Milan, significantly further than Milan Linate (from where Easyjet already flies to London Gatwick and Paris Orly), but closer than the city’s third airport, Bergamo, used by low cost rival Ryanair. Transport links from Milan Malpensa to the city centre include an express rail link and shuttle bus.

Ray Webster, Easyjet chief executive, said: “We have been focusing on growth in Italy over the last year. Our move into Milan Malpensa’s airport demonstrates our commitment to provide low-cost efficient services in Italy.”

Flights with Easyjet from Milan Malpensa can be booked from October 15 at www.easyjet.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Northwest down to one UK flight

Northwest Airlines has scrapped flights between the UK and Minneapolis after 25 years operating the route.

From October 30 the London Gatwick-Minneapolis route will be suspended until further notice, leaving Northwest with just one UK flight, operating from Gatwick to Detroit.

Passengers with bookings to Minneapolis after October 30 will be rebooked with KLM flying via Amsterdam, but passengers inconvenienced by the change of schedule, change of departure airport (from Gatwick to London City Airport or Heathrow) or by the extra connecting flight, may apply for a refund, although a spokeswoman told Businesstraveller.com that it would not be a full refund.

Northwest once operated three flights out of the UK, the third to Boston, but has had to scale-down services further since entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in recent weeks.

Report by Ginny McGrath