Ryanair takes low-cost travel a step further

Ryanair is set to further revolutionise low-cost flying within Europe from March 16.

This is when the Irish airline will copy rival budget carrier Flybe and  start charging network-wide for checked baggage.  But unlike Flybe, passengers taking Ryanair are also being offered the time-saving convenience of online check-in.

It means that passengers carrying up to 10 kgs of hand luggage (Ryanair states that 25% of its passengers fall into this category) can check-in using ryanair.com and bypass the queues at the check-in counters. At the same time these travellers will also be entitled to priority boarding which, in theory, means they’ll get to choose the better seats on the plane.

Passengers taking checked baggage (the allowance is boosted from 15 kgs to 20 kgs from March 16) will check-in as normal. But for bookings made after March 16, they’ll pay £2.50 per piece when pre-booked or £5 if presented unbooked at the airport.

Ryanair reckons that some 40% to 50% of passengers will quickly switch to online check-in which it believes will save it Euros 30 million in ground handling costs.  It is ploughing back this saving by trimming a few pounds from ticket prices.

Despite its no-frills reputation a lot of business people use Ryanair. This is partly because of its prices but also because Ryanair serves a number of airports and destinations which cannot be reached by using other airlines.

Regular customers who take hand baggage will welcome these developments. At busy times they can end up standing in a long queue just to collect a boarding pass. This will be a thing of the past  from March 16.

For more information go to www.ryanair.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Air Canada adopts fully lie-flat beds

Air Canada will shortly launch more luxurious Executive First (business class) seating on its long-haul international routes. The new product, similar to the lie-flat suites offered by Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand, debuts on transatlantic services in the middle of this year, with Air Canada’s routes to London being a priority.
Ten years ago Air Canada’s Executive First was highly rated on account of its legroom and wide seats. But the product has increasingly become outdated when stacked against British Airways’ lie-flat seating in Club World and the lie-flat style seating offered by the likes of Air France and Lufthansa. The airline says its new product is similar to those of Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand but with specific changes unique to Air Canada.

The new seating is manufactured by Contour, a UK firm.  It features truly lie-flat beds which are 191cms long and up to 79cms wide at the shoulders.  The individual suites are separated by a 109cm high privacy screen.  This product is widely regarded as offering the best business class comfort aloft.
New Executive First will adopt the east-west herringbone layout  (like Virgin and Air New Zealand) rather than the north-south configuration seen at other carriers. 
All passengers gain access to an aisle or window seat with in-seat video and audio entertainment, adjustable head and footrests, power for portable electronic devices and an oversized tray table for dining and working.
For more information go to www.aircanada.com
Report by Alex McWhirter

SAS to fly London City to Stockholm

London City is regaining a much requested Stockholm link after a gap of several years.  The new service, to be operated by Transwede using an 82-seater BAe 146 on behalf of SAS, starts on February 13.

Flights from London City will arrive at Stockholm’s main Arlanda airport (38 km outside town) instead of more convenient Bromma (9 km from the city centre) which had been served (from City by former Malmo Aviation) in previous times. But Arlanda offers better possibilities for onward connections and (since the days of the former link) it now enjoys a dedicated Arlanda Express rail service into central Stockholm.

Flights operate twice daily from Monday to Friday and once daily on Sundays. Services leave City at 09.15 to reach Stockholm at 12.45 and again at 18.15 to arrive at 21.45. Inbound services (which include the Sunday service) leave Stockholm at 16.15 and arrive in City at 17.45.

Three classes will be offered (business, economy flex and economy) and SAS will offer one-way pricing enabling passengers to mix and match their class of travel. Fares start from £51 one-way.

Says Lars-Ove Filipson, GM for SAS in the UK, “Following the success of our new route to Copenhagen [launched last autumn], we now have a very compelling offering from London City. There is a huge market to be served from this airport and with the advent of the DLR [the rail service opened last December] London City has come of age.”

For more information go to www.flysas.com www.arlandaexpress.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Emirates adds Hamburg and Copenhagen routes

Emirates is poised to bring lower business class fares to travellers based in northern Germany and Scandinavia.  The Dubai-based airline inaugurates a daily service to Hamburg on March 1 and plans to add flights to nearby Copenhagen on October 29. Both routes will be flown by Airbus A330 craft.

Flights will depart Hamburg at 15.35 arriving in Dubai at 00.45 the next morning.  Inbound services will depart Dubai at 08.55 to reach Hamburg at 12.55.

For the Copenhagen route, Emirates’ daily flight is set to depart from the Danish capital at 14.55 to reach Dubai the next day at 00.05. The inbound flight will leave Dubai at 09.25 and arrive in Copenhagen at 13.25.

Currently there are practically no long distance flights from Hamburg so passengers have no choice but to make an en route plane change. Long-haul flight coverage from Copenhagen is limited.

Emirates is set to provide passengers from both cities with a large range of destinations in the Middle East, Asia and Australasia thanks to its Dubai hub. With the exception of Australia and New Zealand (where an overnight stop is required on the outward leg) there are good connections.

Hamburg’s catchment area covers Hanover, Bremen and cities as far east as Berlin.  Besides Denmark itself, Copenhagen services southern Sweden (thanks to the 7,800 metre long Oresund Bridge). It also enjoys excellent air links with other cities in Scandinavia and the Baltic.

It’s too soon to finalise prices from Copenhagen but those from Hamburg are exceptionally keen with Emirates’ business class rates undercutting rival carriers.

When Business Traveller checked return business class fares with emirates.com from Hamburg for travel in March to Sydney we were quoted Euros 2,637 whereas the same ticket with British Airways via London would cost Euros 7,102 – almost three times as much.

A return ticket for Hamburg-Dubai will cost Euros 2,152 with Emirates as against Euros 2,705 with Lufthansa via Frankfurt, although on most of these flights you would have the choice of B747 and A340s.

Other examples  include:  Hamburg-Mumbai Euros 2,370 (Emirates) compared to Euros 4,010 (Lufthansa) and Euros 3,755 (Air France). Or Hamburg-Singapore Euros 2,321 (Emirates), Euros 3,586 (Lufthansa), Euros 3,552 (Air France).

For more information go to www.emirates.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Two new Frankfurt hotels

Frankfurt, Germany’s most important business and financial centre has two new first class hotels.

International chain Radisson SAS has just opened a 400-room hotel along Franklinstrasse next to the city’s busy exhibition complex.  Comprising 19 storeys and measuring 87 metres high, it features state-of-the-art accommodation in a range of styles along with 1,000 square metres of conference facilities. There are several food and beverage outlets plus a fitness centre.  One selling point is the offer of free broadband, including wi-fi, throughout the hotel.

Online rates start at Euros 185 for standard (24 square metres) rooms, Euros 220 including breakfast for business class (28 square metres) rooms. One bedroom suites (56 square metres) include breakfast and cost Euros 450.

Then on March 1, British luxury group Rocco Forte Hotels opens a more personalised property. The 163-room Villa Kennedy is located along Kennedyallee just off the south bank of the River Main. It’s constructed around the 100-year old Villa Speyer and located amidst extensive gardens to provide a retreat from city life.

Besides luxurious accommodation and fine dining one of the hotel’s selling points is the spa area, split over three levels and comprising a 15 metre pool, sauna, steam rooms and so on.

Rates for  standard rooms (35 square metres) start at Euros 260, with deluxe rooms (50 square metres) priced at Euros 320. Junior suites cost Euros 370.

For more information go to www.radisson.com or www.roccofortehotels.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Lower fares to Helsinki

London is poised to gain better value flights to Helsinki.Fares to the Finnish capital have soared since the demise of Buzz (a low-cost carrier) several years ago. 

Right now British Airways and Finnair serve the route from Heathrow. But these Oneworld partners market each other’s flights and have little incentive to compete. Consequently their business fares have drifted upwards. It means that Helsinki has become more expensive to reach than other Nordic or Baltic capitals.

Air Berlin will be the first to enter the route. The German airline will offer a once daily (except weekends) B737 service via Dusseldorf. Flights start on February 6 with departures from Stansted at 07.30 and (following a 100 mins transfer in Dusseldorf) arrive in Helsinki at 14.45.  The return service departs Helsinki at 15.55 and reaches Stansted at 19.50 after a 140 mins transfer.

Air Berlin’s schedules aren’t the best but the airline compensates with typical prices of between £74 and £157 return. It will also through-check passengers and luggage.

The second new service is being operated by SAS subsidiary Blue 1 using an MD-90. This Finnish carrier (marketed in the UK by SAS) will operate non-stop twice daily on weekdays with a single evening flight on Sunday.  The morning service departs Stansted at 09.45 and arrives Helsinki at 14.40 with the later flight leaving Stansted at 20.00 to arrive 00.55 the next morning. Inbound services leave Helsinki au 08.00 and 18.10 to reach Stansted at 09.00 and 19.10 respectively.  Blue 1 fares start from £132 return.

BA and Finnair offer more frequent flights but at a price. Today, when Business Traveller checked peak hour fares with www.finnair.com for a two-day trip starting on January 23 the cheapest online fare was a hefty £646 return.

For more information go to www.airberlin.com  www.flysas.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Flybe invests in Economy Plus

Flybe is spending £4 million on strengthening its Economy Plus business product.

The budget airline wants to set apart  Economy Plus from its standard no frills offering. It means Flybe will be offering a similar two-tier product to that of BA’s forthcoming BA Connect (see Online news BA rebrands Citiexpress, January 11) operation which starts on March 26.

Economy Plus is available now on all routes. It offers business perks to passengers who pay the full fares which start from £100 one-way.

Passengers are offered a range of benefits including ticket flexibility, dedicated check-in (with shorter check-in deadlines), advance seat selection, use of airport lounge, in-flight snacks, extra baggage allowances and use of a loyalty scheme. There’s also a special business-to-business website for bookings:  www.flybe2b.com

Simon Lilley, Flybe’s director of marketing says that the Economy Plus benefits  meets the needs of today’s business travellers. “The only remaining reason to travel with a traditional airline has disappeared,” he claims.

Flybe is essentially a regional carrier. It operates very few flights into London.  Most services link the UK mainland and the Channel Islands and include destinations in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal.

But Economy Plus can be expensive. Today when Business Traveller checked peak time flights for a day trip between Gatwick and Jersey on January 23 we were quoted £298 as against the regular no frills rate of £193. A similar trip between Southampton and Edinburgh would cost £340 and £230 respectively.

The price difference was even more marked on international routes.  For a one night trip departing next Monday, Birmingham-Toulouse in Economy Plus was priced at £373 compared with £165. Another trip between Exeter and Paris CDG would set you back £361 as against £175.

For more information go to www.flybe.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Istanbul gains second Radisson SAS

Istanbul has a new first class hotel and one which has extremely attractive rates. International chain Radisson SAS Bosphorus has just opened a 120-room property with a location in one of the city’s choicest areas.

It’s on the banks of the Bosphorus strait and next door to the well-known Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel. Shopping and business areas are nearby and the Old City with its various attractions including the Grand Bazaar is 15 minutes away.

The property’s accommodation comprise a mixture of standard (25 square metres in size), business class (30 square metres) and suites (from 35 square metres). The main food and beverage outlet is the Starboard Café Terrace and Cruise Lounge Bar.  Facilities include a Wellness and Beauty centre with sauna and solarium.

A useful service is the provision of free broadband including wi-fi throughout all public areas and guest rooms.

Room rates are keen. Online week-round prices start at Euros 110 (seven days advance booking needed) with standard rooms at Euros 120, business class rooms (these offer breakfast, newspaper, bathrobe and so on) at Euros 170 and junior suites at Euros 300.

Radisson SAS Bosphorus, Ciragan Cad 46, Ortakoy,
Istanbul 34349.  Tel + 90 212310500

For more information go to www.radisson.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

AF expands at Southampton

Air France is expanding operations at Southampton airport this summer. Two of its three daily flights to Paris CDG are getting extra capacity in the shape of 70-seater ATR turbo-props compared to the 50-seater Canadair jets used at present.

The carrier says the extra seats are to meet demand for passengers flying both to Paris and beyond. Air France offers connections at CDG for worldwide destinations and economy or business class fares are competitive compared to those offered from Heathrow. Some passengers living to the west and southwest of London prefer Southampton because of its ease of use, cheaper parking and good access by rail (Southampton Airport Parkway station adjoins the terminal) and road.

The BAA-owned airport is becoming the South Coast’s main springboard for secondary cities in France. Whereas Air France concentrates on Paris, the budget carrier Flybe intends to operate 11 routes this summer including Avignon, Brest, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Rennes.

Air services to France from this part of England have a bright future. Rival train firm Eurostar will be less of a threat from 2007 when it transfers its London terminal from convenient Waterloo to less convenient St Pancras.

Last year Southampton handled 1.85 million passengers (a 20% rise over 2004). This year’s total is expected to exceed 2 million.

For further information go to www.airfrance.co.uk  www.flybe.com  www.baa.co.uk

Report by Alex McWhirter

New SIA Moscow-SIN route

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is pipping rival Cathay Pacific to the post by becoming the second SE Asian carrier to serve Moscow.  It has announced the launch of a three times a week Moscow-Singapore service on March 1 several weeks ahead of Cathay’s Moscow-Hong Kong planned start date of March 27.

At present the routes between Moscow and SE Asia are ripe for development. Thai is the only SE Asian carrier serving Moscow (from Bangkok); all other services are flown by Russian carriers.

With its huge energy reserves generating vast sums, Russia is increasingly important both for in and out-bound business. These new links facilitate ease of travel via Hong Kong and Singapore to and from the entire Asia Pacific region. 

SIA and Cathay Pacific are spreading their risks in the early days by including another destination in their schedules. Cathay’s three times a week service  (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in each direction) with a B747 actually starts in Manchester. So besides being aimed at the Moscow to Hong Kong market it will also attract passengers flying from Manchester to Moscow as well as Manchester to Hong Kong because there are no direct flights on these latter two routes.

SIA’s three times a week (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday ex-Moscow ; a day earlier ex-Singapore) B777 service makes a stop in Dubai. It has traffic rights for Moscow-Dubai and Dubai-Singapore as well as Moscow-Singapore.

The new routes are great news for passengers using round-the-world tickets who no longer need to make backtracks when including these cities on a global circuit.

There is a concern that the launch date of Cathay’s flight might be slightly delayed. Says a spokesperson, “We are still working towards a March 27 start date but there are details to be finalised with the Russians regarding a codeshare arrangement with Aeroflot on the Manchester-Moscow leg.”

For more information go to www.singaporeair.com  www.cathaypacific.com

Report by Alex McWhirter