Flybe charges for checked luggage

Flybe has become the first UK budget airline to charge passengers for checked luggage.

Starting next February (the exact date has yet to be confirmed) the Exeter-based airline will charge passengers £4 for every piece of checked luggage up to 25kg, or £2 for passengers who book in their bags in advance at flybe.com.

At the same time it will soften the blow by doubling the cabin baggage allowance to 10kg so that passengers intending to take light luggage have an alternative.

What Flybe is doing shouldn’t come as a surprise. Former US no-frills carrier People Express (which served domestic and transatlantic routes) instigated charges for checked baggage over 20 years ago. The system worked well even in the days of handwritten tickets and less automated check-in.

People Express is no longer in business, but with all airlines looking at cost-saving opportunities it seems that baggage is the next “free” service to be scrutinised.

Recently Jorgen Lindegaard, the president and CEO of Scandinavia’s SAS, told Business Traveller: “We are looking at whether we can unbundle benefits like fast-track and baggage handling and charge extra for them.”

Meanwhile airlines are making baggage economies in other areas. Since last summer the major US carriers have cut their free international baggage allowance from 32kg to 23kg although passengers are still allowed to check two pieces. American Airlines says: “The main reason is health and safety. We have to put special handling in place when bags weigh 32kg so the lower limit helps us to recover our costs.”

Report by Alex McWhirter

Hot competition on Australian routes

British Airways has announced it will no longer directly serve Melbourne from March 26 next year.

Instead the carrier will terminate its current Melbourne service in Singapore and transfer passengers onto alliance partner Qantas. Alternatively, BA passengers will be offered bookings for a new direct Qantas service to Melbourne via Hong Kong.

BA says its decision to withdraw from the Melbourne route is a cost-saving measure as “the route hasn’t been performing as well as expected”. The airline says the planes that would have been used to serve Melbourne can be more profitably employed on new routes and services that BA is simultaneously launching to China and India.

The move comes at a time of ferocious competition on the “kangaroo route” both from the Asian carriers and the newly emerging Gulf-based airlines. These carriers’ strategically placed hubs allow myriad connections to cities all over Australasia. By contrast, the economics of operating such a long route restrict point-to-point carriers like BA and Qantas into the number of cities they can serve.

For more information go to www.ba.com  www.qantas.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Marriott openings in Europe

Marriott is expanding its Courtyard brand in Europe. The US chain has just opened its first mid-range Courtyard property in Moscow and intends to add a further five properties in Europe next year followed by an additional two in 2007.

The 218-room Courtyard by Marriott Moscow City is located at Voznesenskiy Pereulok 7, which is a 10-minute walk from the Kremlin. It’s 30km from the city’s main Sheremetyevo airport and convenient for Red Square, the GUM department store and the Bolshoi Theatre.

In keeping with the quasi-four star standards now seen in the brand’s newer properties, Courtyard’s Moscow property features two restaurants, a business centre, health club, 24-hour room service and same day laundry and dry cleaning.

But this particular Courtyard doesn’t have the economical rates you would usually find elsewhere. A room shortage in the Russian capital means that Moscow hotels are among the world’s priciest. Until January 14, room rates at the Courtyard range between $225 and $345 but from then on you will pay $350 to $400. All rates are subject to 18 per cent tax.

The additional Courtyards planned for next year are in: Prague, Vienna, Munich, Paris (Colombes) and Gelsenkirchen (Germany). Following in 2007 will be two properties in the Czech Republic: Prague and Plzen.

For more information go to  www.marriott.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

New Bmi long-haul flights

Bmi is expanding its long-haul network next spring with additional flights to Mumbai and new routes to Jeddah and Doha.On March 23, subject to government approval, Bmi will start flying from London Heathrow to Doha in the Gulf state of Qatar.

On April 22 the airline will boost its London Heathrow to Mumbai flights from four times a week to daily. The following day, Bmi will launch a three times weekly service to the Red Sea port of Jeddah. This will complement the airline’s existing three times weekly link to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Bmi is short of long-distance planes so it plans to charter aircraft for the new routes. Jeddah and Riyadh will be flown by a Dutch-registered B767 on a damp lease (meaning that the registered airline provides the plane and the cockpit crew) in a 42-seater business and 150-seater economy class layout. Qatar Airways will operate the London-Doha service on Bmi’s behalf with the plane type and seating configuration yet to be decided.

Bmi’s premium economy product will be withdrawn from the Saudi routes once the B767 arrives. As Business Traveller has already reported, there is a lack of demand for this product in the Saudi market.

However, Bmi will not be offering first class and nor will it have fully lie-flat seating in business class, both of which are popular with wealthy Saudis who continue to miss what British Airways used to provide (BA pulled out of Saudi earlier this year).

“We especially liked BA’s flat bed seats in first and business class,” a member of the Saudi Royal family told Business Traveller. “We simply want to sleep, not to eat, on the overnight flight to London.”  Visit www.flybmi.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

UK domestic flights: Air Berlin’s well-kept secret

New flights leaving up to twice daily from London Stansted to both Manchester and Glasgow will begin on December 16 courtesy of a surprising source: Air Berlin.

The German airline is not the first carrier that springs to most passengers’ minds when booking UK domestic flights and this is good news for cost-conscious UK travellers. Most services over the coming weeks and months (excluding some dates over the festive period) are still priced at £19 one way or £38 return. Not only are these prices cheaper than many rail fares, they also undercut rival carriers which ply these two routes from Stansted: Easyjet, Ryanair and Eastern Airlines.

The new flights are timed for London travellers planning a day trip and will enable passengers starting from Manchester and Glasgow to connect at Stansted (Air Berlin provides through-checking) for the carrier’s destinations in Germany and Austria.

Air Berlin is also expanding its services between Stansted and Germany. From December 16, flights to the east German city of Leipzig move from four to six a week with more consistent timings. Weekday flights now depart Stansted at 2020 with the inbound service from Leipzig leaving at 0610. Air Berlin offers the only direct link between the UK and Leipzig’s main airport.

Flights to Hanover are being upgraded with a twice daily frequency and better timings (these allow a full working day in either Hanover or London) from March 3. The new schedules coincide with Hanover’s CeBit computer fair taking place between March 9 and 15.

Other destinations served by Air Berlin from Stansted are Berlin Tegel, Dusseldorf, Munster, Nuremberg, Paderborn and Vienna. Visit www.airberlin.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Maxjet to serve Washington DC

Business class fares to Washington DC are about to tumble as Maxjet announces flights from London Stansted starting in late February.

Timings have yet to be finalised but the American all-business class airline says it will fly five times a week. It also plans to add a Saturday frequency to its existing Stansted-New York service.

Fares are expected to be similar to New York prices (these cost around £860 return), which is far less than British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and United charge from Heathrow. For example, BA’s return price for a short-notice booking to Washington is £4,416. BA offers a lower £2,504 deal but you must book weeks ahead.

According to CEO Gary Rogliano, air travellers already recognise the enormous value that Maxjet offers. “Our load factor and customer reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. People are thanking me every day, by email or in person, for creating an airline that finally makes sense for consumers.”

In common with other carriers Maxjet suffers the odd hiccup. But unlike the big ones, Maxjet currently has only one plane and so any problems can impact on schedules. Its flight on Tuesday from Stansted had to be cancelled while today (December 14) the inbound service from JFK is delayed by over six hours. These hitches should ease now that Maxjet is set to acquire additional aircraft this month.

The carrier says it will launch a loyalty scheme on February 1 allowing families and small businesses to tag up to five names on one account and to jointly earn free tickets. Unusually, the airline will allow members to claim retrospectively for flights taken since November. Visit www.maxjet.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

BA adopts cheaper one-way pricing

British Airways passengers can now book one-way and open-jaw tickets at low prices.

In the past, if a BA passenger wanted a one-way flight (for example, if he or she was getting a lift back or taking the train) there was no option but to pay the costly flexible ticket price.

This meant that a single ticket from London to, say, Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt would cost three or four times more than the excursion return. Passengers seeking a good deal had to use tactics such as buying a return ticket and then throwing away the return portion once the outward flight was completed.

One-way pricing removes the need for such under-the-counter activities. BA says it has been gradually rolling out one-way pricing since last May and now all short-haul routes (both international and domestic) are covered. A BA spokesperson said: “We’ve introduced one-way pricing because we recognise that some short-haul passengers were requiring extra flexibility. A passenger might only wish to book a one-way ticket because he or she was returning overland and our new booking system allows this.”

It also means passengers can now book “open-jaw” arrangements online – something not possible before (which was a regular source of complaint from Business Traveller readers). For example, you can book a ticket from London to Amsterdam and return from Brussels to London. Bear in mind, though, that you must make two separate bookings.

This brings BA into line with the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair, which have offered one-way pricing from the start, and it’s good news for travellers seeking flexibility at a budget price.

In more BA news, the airline is cutting flights to Germany next summer. The carrier says it is suspending three routes from March 26 because they are no longer profitable. The services in question are Heathrow-Cologne and Gatwick to both Hanover and Munich.

For further information go to www.ba.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Cathay Pacific announces Manchester to Hong Kong flight

After months of secrecy Cathay Pacific has announced the introduction of direct flights between Manchester and Hong Kong, starting March 27 next year.

Unusually, Cathay’s flight will make a stopover en route at Moscow’sSheremetyevo Airport. The carrier has secured traffic rights both for Manchester-Moscow and Moscow-Hong Kong allowing passengers to travel just on one leg of the route.

This could be lucrative for Cathay. It’s expected to prove popular not just with UK travellers flying to Hong Kong and beyond, but also to those based in the Midlands and the North seeking a non-stop service to Moscow. Currently, UK passengers must travel from London if they want to take a direct flight.

A further bonus is the fact that Cathay will be offering a long-haul business class product with lie-flat style seating which is superior to British Airways’ short-haul Club Europe product between Heathrow and Moscow.

With limited direct flights between Moscow and Asia, Cathay’s new service will appeal to Russian business people forging closer ties within the Pearl River Delta and who may have plans to travel further afield within the Asia-Pacific region.

Flights will operate three times a week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday) in either direction on an Airbus A340-300 configured for business and economy class. Departures from Hong Kong will be at 00.15 arriving in Manchester at 08.55 the same day. The return service from Manchester departs at 10.00 arriving Hong Kong at 08.10 the following day.

For more information go to www.cathaypacific.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Official opening for London City Airport’s DLR link

London City Airport’s DLR rail link opened officially on Tuesday (December 6) giving London City the cheapest, fastest and most comprehensive public transport links from any of the capital’s airports to the city centre.

Besides offering a faster ride, the airport station adjoins the arrivals area, allowing passengers to reach the platform within a couple of minutes. This contrasts with the long distances involved in reaching the rail links at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton or Stansted.

Trains run every seven to 10 minutes on elevated tracks, affording a bird’s eye view of the Thames, the Thames Barrier and the Millennium Dome. Services operate direct to Bank in the City (22 minutes away) and Canning Town (six minutes away, where you change for the Jubilee tube line). But passengers bound for Canary Wharf (14 minutes away) must change at Poplar.

London City Airport is in Travelcard zone 3 with one-way tickets into central London costing £2.80 (or £2.50 with a prepaid Oyster card). Travellers visiting London for the day can buy a one-day Travelcard priced at £7 peak or £5.20 off-peak, which offers unlimited transport within the capital.

Now that the DLR is open, the airport bus services are being rescheduled. The shuttle to Canning Town will cease on December 11 but the other links to Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street will continue for the moment.

The main carriers using London City Airport include Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Scot Airways, Swiss and VLM.

For more information go to www.dlr.co.uk or www.londoncityairport.com.
 
Report by Alex McWhirter

“Cabin” hotels to open at Heathrow and Gatwick

The company behind the Yo! Sushi brand has unveiled a prototype of its new “cabin” hotels at Heathrow and Gatwick where weary travellers have the option of hiring a room for four-hour stretches.

Yotel hopes its tiny rooms, measuring 10 square metres, will appeal to delayed and transfer passengers as well as those needing an overnight stay before an early check-in or arriving on red-eye flights.

Due to open in summer 2006, the cabins will have a rotating double bed, en suite bathroom with monsoon showerhead, free broadband internet access (wired and wifi), satellite TV and movie channels, and an iPod plug-in point. The cabins have been designed by Priestman Goode, which has worked on the new Airbus A380.

Travellers will be able to book through www.yotel.com and can opt for four hours at £40 or overnight for £80. Yotel also plans to incorporate an even smaller “economy” option, which will cost £40 for an overnight stay or £25 for four hours.

Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo!, says the aim is to provide the luxurious touches of five-star hotels but at an affordable price and convenient location: “People want to find ways to get the same luxury but for less cost.”

Rooms will have a monitor displaying flight details, but Woodroffe says soundproofing will ensure that airport announcements don’t penetrate the walls. There will be no minibar or room service, and checking in and out will be done automatically, with staff on hand to help things run smoothly.

The company plans to build 50 cabins at Gatwick’s South Terminal and 40 at Heathrow Terminal 4 on the level between the arrivals and departures areas.

Yotel’s rates are substantially lower than the nearest hotel competitor to Terminal 4 (Hilton). Five-star hotels on the Bath Road offer rates closer to those of Yotel, but they are more difficult to access for T4 passengers.

Report by Sarah Maxwell