New air links for Newquay

Poor rail and road links mean that reaching Newquay can be a time consuming and stressful experience. Yet by air, the Cornish resort is little more than an hour away from any city in England or Scotland and that is why the number of air links to this Cornish resort have mushroomed in recent years.

Now comes news of two new routes, one from London Luton and the other from Edinburgh.Irish carrier Aer Arran will fly four times a week from Luton starting next Monday (July 3). Flights will operate every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On weekdays services depart Luton at 1050 and return from Newquay at 1250.

Budget carrier Flybe launched a once weekly service from Edinburgh at the end of May. But from July 10, Flybe will increase this to a three times a week operation (every Monday, Friday and Saturday). On weekdays its flight departs Edinburgh at 0715 heading north from Newquay at 0910.

Flybe is the only carrier flying to Newquay from Edinburgh and for travel in the next few weeks you can expect to pay upwards of £142. But from London there are daily services with Ryanair from Stansted and a four times a day link from Gatwick with Air Southwest.

Ryanair remains the price leader (although its fares can be costly at weekends) but as Aer Arran is a newcomer it is pricing keenly to attract custom. Most expensive of all the carriers flying from London is regional carrier Air Southwest although in compensation it does offer the best schedules.

Last Tuesday Business Traveller checked the cost of the cheapest return ticket to Newquay from London travelling out on July 17 and returning on July 20. We were quoted online rates of £60 by Aer Arran, £58 by Ryanair but £133 by Air Southwest.

For more information go to aerarran.com, flybe.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Jet Airways postpones Amritsar route

Jet Airways’ planned service from London Heathrow to Amritsar, which should have started last month, has been postponed.The privately-owned Indian airline had planned to start a daily (except Tuesday) flight today (June 28) using a B767 belonging to Air Sahara with whom it was in takeover negotiations. But the deal fell through at the last minute, seemingly about a difference in price. So with no spare long-haul aircraft Jet Airways has been obliged to delay the start of the Amritsar route.

In other news, Jet Airways has taken delivery of its first A330-200 plane which is fitted with 226 seats comprising 196 in economy and 30 in business class. The latter are flat beds with 82 inches of pitch. The A330 has similar inflight entertainment to the A340 with passengers having access to to ‘on demand’ digital audio and video. It is being rostered for the Delhi-London service flying to Heathrow on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the A340 plying the route on other days.

Jet Airways has also announced marketing partnerships with Star members Lufthansa, Austrian and Thai and this is fuelling speculation that the carrier will become a future member of this alliance.

For more information go to jetairways.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Flybe to launch Amsterdam services

It’s good news for UK regional passengers heading for Amsterdam. Budget carrier Flybe is launching three new routes from the autumn which will provide competition for the incumbent airlines.

First off the mark is a twice daily service from Southampton commencing on September 11 followed by a single daily service from both Exeter and Norwich which gets under way on October 29.

Weekday timings (different schedules apply at weekends) for Southampton-Amsterdam are convenient. You depart at 0745 and 1840 returning from Amsterdam at 1030 and 2125.

However, flights from the other two cities aren’t so good. On weekdays the service from Norwich departs at 1050 returning at 1315 while the single service from Exeter leaves at 1415 heading back at 1720. Prices for all routes are set to lead-in at £60 return.

There are currently no flights to Amsterdam from Exeter. Scot Airways has had the Amsterdam route to itself from Southampton for a number of years while Dutch national carrier KLM (and its predecessors KLM UK, Air UK and Air Anglia) has monopolised flights from Norwich for over 30 years.

For more information go to flybe.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Renovations underway at top St Petersburg hotel

One third of the room count at St Petersburg’s Grand Hotel Europe have been refurbished. The hotel which for some time was a Kempinski Hotel, but was bought by the Orient Express Group in 2005 is undergoing a thorough refurbishment.

The historic hotel has 301 rooms of which 110 Classic and Superior rooms have been renovated in a new intimate style and fitted with hypoallergenic beds at a cost of $9 million. However, one drawback is that their size is rather small compared to what you might expect to find in a hotel of this price and quality (see rates below) elsewhere in the world, a result of the age of the property, dating from 1824 and a hotel for much of its history since then.

The renovation scheme continues next year when a further 90 rooms will be completed. At the same time all of the hotel’s 301 rooms have been fitted with flat-screen TVs. Wi-Fi is now offered throughout the hotel including all rooms and public areas.

The hotel is located in the heart of the city opposite the Shostakovich Philharmonic, next to the Russian museum and the Mussorgsky opera and ballet theatre. It’s within walking distance of the Hermitage and Winter Palace Square. The hotel boasts seven restaurants and bars including the art nouveau L’Europe which serves French and European specialities.

Rates for the refurbished rooms (for a stay either in June or July) are $550 for a Classic (room size 16 to 25 sq metres) and $600 for a Standard (25 to 29 sq metres). Tax at 18% is additional.

Grand Hotel Europe, Nevsky Prospect, Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7, St Petersburg. Tel 7 812 329 6000.

For more information go to grandhoteleurope.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Jet Airways expands UK-India services

Jet Airways is poised to increase services to Mumbai and add a new route to Amritsar. The privately-owned Indian airline already flies daily from London Heathrow to Mumbai and Delhi. But from June 28 it will launch a daily (except Tuesday) flight from Heathrow to Amritsar and on July 10 it will add a second daily service to the Heathrow-Mumbai route.

The Amritar service is being flown with a B767-200 configured for business, premium economy and economy class. Flights from Heathrow depart at 21.35 to arrive in Amritsar the following day at 1030. The inbound flight departs Amritsar at 1300 (Monday and Thursday) and 1350 (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) to reach London at 1740 and 1830 respectively.

Mumbai will be served by a two-class A340-300 with the new service leaving Heathrow at 0930 arriving in Mumbai at 2300. Inbound the extra flight leaves Mumbai at 0125 to reach Heathrow at 0645 the same morning.

The carrier’s best premium products are featured on the Mumbai routes (where business class comprises a fully flat bed) rather than Amritsar and Jet Airways’ fares reflect this fact.

Currently the carrier’s website cannot quote prices for flights departing the UK. But Jet Airways says that its typical return fares to Amritsar start at £340 for economy, £700 for premium economy and £770 for business class. Return fares to Mumbai are £380 economy and £1,360 for business class.

For more information go to jetairways.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

BA’s new baggage policy – an update

Last week’s news piece on British Airways’ new baggage policy which comes into force this October (see Online news, June 15) predictably drew a flood of emails. Most premium travellers condemned BA’s decision to adopt a maximum luggage weight of 23 kilos per piece even though there will be more routes on which they can take two pieces rather than one.

Readers are protesting because on long trips they prefer to take one piece of checked luggage (typically weighing around 30 kilos) plus a separate piece of carry-on baggage. It must be stressed that where BA’s rules differ from other carriers is that 23 kilos per piece is the absolute maximum. Passengers with a few kilos excess won’t be surcharged or waived through as they are now. Instead they will have to put the extra kilos into another suitcase. And the system which BA check-in agents will use will be programmed not to allow staff to override or waive charges.

As reader Peter Phillips wrote, “Whether I’m travelling alone or with the family, we want to keep the number of cases to a minimum. These new luggage restrictions play straight into the hands of BA’s competitors.”

Adds reader Pete Morris, “As a big BA fan this is so wrong. I have a trip to Australia and New Zealand in October with numerous stopovers. I am flying out in first but back in Club. For the flights around Australia and New Zealand I am travelling in economy class and expecting to have one suitcase. As it’s a five week trip I don’t want to carry two suitcases !”

But there is one way to circumvent the new rules – by booking a connecting flight. Buried in the small print of BA’s baggage policy is the rule that “Where journeys involve mixed classes of travel, or connecting flights, the greatest allowance will apply for the entire journey.”

A spokesperson for Oneworld (whose members include BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Iberia) confirmed that if a passenger were to fly business class with Iberia from Madrid to Heathrow to connect with, say, a BA flight to the Gulf or Asia then BA must honour Iberia’s 30 kilo baggage policy.

It’s a similar scenario if the connection to BA is made with a Star Alliance carrier when the passenger holds a through ticket and is booked in business class. Star Alliance quotes the example of where a passenger might fly Bmi from Edinburgh to Heathrow to connect with BA to Dubai. This ruling should also apply when transferring from BA to another Oneworld or Star carrier. So if you fly London-Sydney with BA the piece limit would be 23 kilos. But flying London-Perth means taking BA to Singapore plus a connection to Qantas for the onward leg. In this case it’s expected you would be governed by Qantas’ 30 kilo allowance.

So far BA is the only carrier which has opted to bring in such a baggage policy. An airline spokesperson (who wished not to be named) told Business Traveller, “All airlines are looking at reducing costs and now it seems that some carriers are focusing on baggage. But in my opinion BA’s idea of a weight concept has taken it to extremes.”

Some readers told Business Traveller that BA would be “shooting itself in the foot” were its new baggage rules to go ahead. They point out that Star Alliance Gold tier loyalty members are allowed an additional 20 kilos of baggage in addition to the normal rates of 20 kilos for economy, 30 kilos for business and 40 kilos for first class (however, no single piece can exceed 32 kilos and some members may have different limits on routes to North America, Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria).

Travellers using other airlines can breathe a sigh of relief. At this stage spokespeople for Oneworld and rival Star confirm that their members are not looking at following BA. Says a spokesperson for Oneworld, “It’s up to each individual carrier to decide its own baggage policy. Competition in key countries means that airlines cannot liaise in issues like this – even if the airlines concerned are in the same alliance. Some may argue that it may actually make life easier for their passengers if all airlines in an alliance developed a common baggage policy. But the lawmakers regard such activity as anti-competitive, so it’s ‘off limits’.”

For more information go to ba.com/baggagepolicy

What are your thoughts on BA’s new baggage policy? Let us know by clicking on the link below.

Report by Alex McWhirter

ANZ boosts premium economy capacity

Air New Zealand (ANZ) is so pleased with the success of its new Pacific Premium Economy product (introduced only six months ago) on long distance routes, it is increasing the number of seats by a third to meet demand.

The carrier’s B747s (these fly ANZ’s flagship routes to the US and the UK) will see Premium Economy boosted from 23 to 31 seats. The eight new seats are being taken from the economy zone with the 747s being converted between next August and October.

Premium Economy is currently located on the 747’s upper deck, so the new zone will be located at the front of economy class on the lower deck. ANZ’s B777s (which were delivered from Boeing’s factory already fitted with Premium Economy) will keep their current 18-seater configuration.
Ed Sims, ANZ’s group general manager, said, “We introduced Premium Economy for those customers who seek the additional comfort and space but who do not look to purchase a Business Premier seat.”

“The new seating provided at a very competitive price, has proven extremely popular on long-haul routes to Los Angeles, San Francisco and London. We have seen average cabin loadings of 80 per cent with up to 95 per cent during peak travel periods.”

“Our customers are telling us that the extra width and legroom are ‘excellent’ and the new seating arrangement within a small cabin arrangement is ‘very comfortable’.”

Premium Economy offers a 39-40 inch seat pitch with a seat cushion width of 18.5 inches and a 9 inch angle of recline. By comparison, the statistics for regular economy are 34 inches, 17 inches and 6 inch respectively.

ANZ flies daily from Heathrow to Auckland via Los Angeles. From October 29 it will launch a second daily flight to Auckland via Hong Kong. Premium Economy tickets for current travel are priced at £1,405 return.

For more information go to airnewzealand.co.uk

Report by Alex McWhirter

Winners and losers in BA baggage shake-up

There are winners and losers in British Airways’ new baggage policies which will start next month.

Economy

Under the new rules (which will be phased in on July 5 for cabin baggage and on October 11 for checked baggage) economy class travellers checking in their luggage will be limited to one piece weighing a maximum of 23 kilos on most BA routes (the exceptions are BA flights bound for North America, the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico or Nigeria, where the limit is 23 kilos in a total of two pieces of checked baggage). In the past this 23 kilo limit could be spread over one or more pieces.

No longer will passengers be able to haggle over a few kilos of excess. If your limit exceeds 23 kilos, you will have to put the excess into a separate case. If you don’t have a spare bag with you at check-in, then you will have to buy one on the spot (the airport luggage shops will be doing a roaring trade) and pay an additional fee of between £30 and £120 one way for that bag depending on the destination.

On the plus side, economy class passengers will now be able to take much heavier loads as cabin baggage. Cabin baggage will be limited by size, rather than weight. All passengers can take one piece (maximum size: 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm) plus a further briefcase or laptop which can fit under the seat in front. BA says it will be installing measuring gauges at all of its network airports so that passengers can check their hand baggage size. The only deciding factor regarding the weight is that a passenger must be capable of lifting the piece unaided into the overhead locker. Start working out with those dumb bells.

Business

Those who lose out under the new rules are high fare premium ticket customers. Their allowance for each bag has been reduced from a maximum of 32 kilos down to 23 kilos. In addition, where before the allowances were 30 in business and 40 in first class, with those weights able to be spread over several bags, now the weight has been reduced to 23 kilos, rather than 32 kilos at present and the number of bags restricted to just two pieces for those travelling first, business class or World Traveller Plus (BA’s superior economy class).

BA says the new policy is designed to make it easier for travellers and reduce airport queues. It also says it is following health and safety rules guidelines set down by the Department of Transport and airport operator BAA

According to BA marketing director Martin George, “Making the airport experience easier and speedier for our customers is one of our key objectives as we move towards the opening of Terminal 5 in March 2008. We have created new policies which are easier to understand and will reduce queuing time at airports.”

A spokesperson for the AUC, a government-funded watchdog body, said “There isn’t much we can do [about BA’s new policies]. The reason an airline would wish to do this is so it can cut its ground handling costs because it would be carrying fewer bags in the hold. Overall we think the lower limit is pretty impractical for passengers because more will have to weigh their bags before setting off for the airport.”

There are no consumer rules which prevent airlines changing baggage allowances, but BA’s move is going to be unpopular with premium passengers who are the ones providing BA’s profits.”It’s going to be mayhem at the airport,” says travel management consultant Andrew Solum.

“All this is going to annoy BA’s first and business class passengers,” Yorkshire-based businessman Tim Newman told Business Traveller, “if BA wants to cut costs then it shouldn’t go for its premium passengers.”

Tim Newman has trips planned later this year to Sydney and San Francisco. “As with other business people I like to travel with one large bag weighing around 30 kilos in total. Now I’m going to have to carry two cases.When I heard the news I immediately rang customer services in Newcastle to complain. The manager there admitted that staff had been getting it in the neck [from disgruntled passengers] all day as a result of the proposed changes. I have checked with rivals including Qantas, SIA and Virgin Atlantic and none say they plan to follow BA’s move. If BA wants to retain the custom of premium fare passengers it must scrap these plans as soon as possible.”

BA’s baggage allowances

Current for checked baggage:

First: 40 kilos in total; business: 30 kilos in total; World Traveller Plus plus economy class: 23 kilos in total. Excess charged on per kilo basis.

Other routes: North America, Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico or Nigeria: 2 pieces weighing up to 32 kilos each, so a total of 64 kilos.
 
Current for cabin baggage:

One piece with dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20 cm plus a briefcase or laptop. Weight varies between 6 kilos (economy) and 18 kilos (first, business class)

New rules for checked baggage (from October 11):

First, business, World Traveller Plus allowed 2 pieces weighing 23 kilos. Economy class allowed 1 piece weighing 23 kilos.

But on routes to North America, Caribbean Nigeria all passengers allowed 2 pieces weighing 23 kilos. Excess pieces charged at £30 to £120 each depending on route distance.

New rules for cabin baggage (from July 5):

Cabin baggage for all passengers: one piece at 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm. No weight limit but passengers have to be able to lift the item into the overhead bin. Plus one briefcase/laptop as at present.

For more information go to ba.com

What do you think about these new baggage rules? Send us your comments by clicking on the link below.

Report by Alex McWhirter

No free lunch with GNER

GNER is cutting back its famous restaurant car service. The train firm, which operates services between London Kings Cross, Yorkshire, the Northeast and Scotland, prides itself as the UK’s only rail service which still provides passengers with a full on-board breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

But from the start of the summer timetable this week, the number of GNER trains offering meal service has been trimmed by 10 percent from 102 to 92 a day.

GNER says the move reflects reduced customer demand for full meals at certain times of the day with some lunchtime trains tending to see the restaurant service cutbacks.

It’s also believed GNER is being forced to make economies in the light of its whopping £1.3 billion franchise payment to the government (for the right to operate trains over a 10 year period) and the fact that its parent company, Bermuda-based Sea Containers, is in financial difficulties.

When interviewed recently by Rail, an industry magazine, GNER’s CEO Christopher Garnett said, “The [restaurant service] reductions mostly affect lunchtime [trains] because there aren’t enough people eating at lunchtime. People don’t eat lunch any more, it seems.”

But there is some good news for WiFi users with the news that GNER has confirmed it will extend the service across its entire fleet by August of this year. The train company has found that 64 per cent of mobile workers are now using the internet and email to keep in touch on the move, with 60 per cent continuing to use the phone.

WiFi is free for GNER first class ticket holders. Prices in standard class range from £2.95 for 30 minutes’ use to £9.95 for 24 hours. But in a bid to encourage standard class custom, passengers are being offered 24 hours use of WiFi free of charge. To access the free trial, users on board GNER have to launch their web browser which will automatically detect the GNER landing page. From there, click on the ‘gotrywifi’ promotion link and type in ‘gotrywifi’ to get online.

For more information go to gner.co.uk

Report by Alex McWhirter

Easyjet targets BA at Gatwick

Budget airline Easyjet is targeting British Airways’ business passengers at Gatwick by expanding routes and flight frequencies.

The changes take place next autumn and winter. They see Easyjet inaugurate a new three times a day service to Glasgow and increase the number of flights on key routes to give business people better schedules.The Glasgow service starts on October 2 with other cities gaining the extra flights from the start of the winter timetable later that month.

It means that the number of daily flights to Madrid will increase to four with Milan (Linate and Malpensa) now served up to five times a day. Other cities seeing extra flights are: Athens (11 a week) Amsterdam (five a day), Cologne (three a day) and Berlin Schonefeld (two a day).

Says Andy Harrison, Easyjet chief executive, “Easyjet has grown dramatically at Gatwick over the last few years. Gatwick is now our biggest single airport base.”

Easyjet’s move comes at a time when BA is contracting its operation there. Flights and routes are being dropped and on-board service cut back as the carrier seeks to reduce losses at the Sussex airport (see Online news, May 11) There is also the possibility that partner GB Airways (which flies under BA colours) will adopt the BA Connect budget formula at Gatwick just as it is about to do at Manchester (see Online news, June 7).

And the budget carrier offers a number of business-friendly services at Gatwick, although not all are free. For example, passengers can buy lounge access, they can check-in online, they can switch flights to an earlier departure and they can be the first to board the flight.

For more information go to easyjet.com

Report by Alex McWhirter