Delta to serve Gatwick – JFK route

Delta looks certain to start flying from London to New York on November 15. Approval for the US carrier’s Gatwick – JFK route looks to be in the bag, now that the airline has received permission to start selling tickets.

Delta bought the route from United Airlines, and will fly a daily service from November, with plans to increase this to twice daily from May 1, 2007.

Subject to final government approval, the flight will depart JFK at 1905, arriving at Gatwick at 0725, with the return leg leaving London at 1100 and arriving in New York at 1410. The flights will be operated using Boeing 767-300ER aircraft featuring the airline’s recently upgraded business class cabins and service.

The Gatwick-JFK routes means Delta will be flying two flights daily to New York from the UK (the other leaving from Manchester) from this winter, alongside a twice daily service from Gatwick to Atlanta, daily services to Atlanta from both Edinburgh and Manchester, and a daily flight London – Cincinnati.

Initial lead-in return fares for the London – New York route will start from £159 in economy and £604 in business class.

Visit delta.com for more information.

Report by Mark Caswell

“Luxury budget” hotel opens in Hoxton

Tomorrow (September 1) sees the opening of The Hoxton Urban Lodge, billed as the Square Mile’s first “luxury budget” hotel.

Created by Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of the Pret a Manger sandwich shops, the hotel is located on Great Eastern Street, a few minutes walk from Old Street underground station, and comprises 205 rooms (185 doubles and 20 twins).

Rates start at £59 (Friday – Sunday), and £119 (Monday – Thursday), and all rooms include air-conditioning, a flat screen TV, desk, sofa, tea and coffee (with fresh milk), mineral water, as well as Frette linen and duck down duvets. Rather than installing a minibar the hotel has opted for an empty fridge in each room, with a shop in the lobby area serving goods at “regular retail prices”.

Business travellers will be attracted by the complimentary wifi internet access throughout the hotel, and in-room telephone rates of 3p per minute to the UK and 5p per minute to the US. There is no room service, but the Hoxton Grille serves French/American inspired dishes, and guests will also find a complimentary “Lite” breakfast of a banana, orange juice and yoghurt hanging on their bedroom door handle each morning (supplied by Pret a Manger of course).

Business facilities include five meeting rooms and two private dining areas, as well as “private offices” which can be hired by the day (10am – 4pm), from an initial rate of £19 per day.

The opening of the Hoxton Urban Lodge follows the announcement earlier this year by the Yo! Group of two budget “business class” hotels to be opened in early 2007, one inside London Heathrow’s Terminal 4, and the other at Gatwick’s South Terminal. The Yotels promise to follow a similar trend of providing luxury amenities such as flat screen TVs, mp3 player docking ports and free internet access at budget prices starting from £40 per night (although the Yotel “cabins” will measure just 10.5 sqm). For more information visit yotel.com.

Hoxton Urban Lodge
81 Great Eastern Street
London
EC2A 3HU
+44 (0)207 550 1000
hoxtonhotels.com

Report by Mark Caswell

Bangkok’s new airport to open in September

The long wait for the opening of Bangkok’s new international airport is nearly over. Ten years in the making, Suvarnabhumi Airport will begin operating limited domestic flights on September 15, with full-scale international flights beginning at 0300 on September 28.

Of course that’s assuming there are no more delays – the airport was originally due to open in late 2005, but construction and budgetary problems led to the date being pushed back nearly a year.

Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom and translating as “golden land”) will be the world’s largest single terminal airport, and will replace the current three-terminal Don Muang International Airport which reached full capacity some time ago.

Located 30km east of the Thai capital, a high speed rail link is under construction to connect the new airport to the city, however this is not due to open until November 2007 at the earliest. The airport is capable of handling 45 million passengers per year, although there has been speculation that this figure will not be enough to cope with increased demand, and a second budget airline terminal has been mooted. There will be a 600 room Novotel hotel attached to the airport, and two five-storey car parks with a capacity of 5,000 cars.

Suvarnabhumi Airport will become the new base for Thai Airways, and is expected to reinforce the city’s status as an important gateway for South East Asia.

The airport’s official website is currently under construction, but for more information visit airportsuvarnabhumi.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Oneworld and BA simplify flight searches

Airline alliance Oneworld has unveiled its new look website, and founder member British Airways has also enhanced some of the regional search options at ba.com.

The Oneworld website has been overhauled to give it a more user-friendly look. As well as nine language specific sites, more links to relevant member airline webpages and a tool to help plan round-the-world trips, the website now includes an interactive network map showing every destination served by a member airline, and the routes flown from them. This links into printable flight schedule information, although you cannot book flights directly on the website – you will still need to visit the relevant airline website to book online.

Says Nicolas Ferri, vice-president for Oneworld: “Our overall objective in relaunching oneworld.com is to make it more useful to our customers, rather than simply providing basic information about the alliance. So we’ve made it easier for visitors to find the site’s most popular features and added new elements we know will be immensely popular, like our new interactive network map.”

Meanwhile BA has made it easier for UK regional passengers to search for flights on its own site. In the past travellers searching for a flight, say, from Glasgow to Bologna (via London) would have had to perform the same search several times to check availability and prices on flights either side of their preferred departure date. But now they have the option of searching for flights seven days either side of the preferred date, a function previously reserved for direct flights. This enhanced option should help regional customers save time and get the best deals when searching for non-direct flights.

For more information visit oneworld.com, ba.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Rocco’s latest hotel to open in Berlin

Rocco Forte Hotel’s expansion into Germany continues this autumn, with the opening of its latest hotel in Berlin. Located in the Bebelplatz close to the Brandenburg gate, the confusingly named Hotel de Rome (after the Grand Hotel de Rome which originally stood on the site) is due to open its doors at the start of October.

It will be the group’s second hotel to open in Germany this year, after the Villa Kennedy in Frankfurt (for a full review of the Villa Kennedy click here), and precedes the as yet unnamed Munich property set for a Spring 2007 launch.

The hotel is housed in the former head office of Dresdner Bank, and comprises 146 rooms measuring a minimum of 35sqm (72 classic king rooms, 29 deluxe king rooms, 32 junior suites, 6 executive suites, 3 deluxe suites and a high security presidential suite). Designed by Tommaso Ziffer and described as “contemporary chic meets old-world Teutonic grandeur”, the rooms include sound absorbing doors, separate bath and shower, heated bathroom floors, wired internet access (wifi available on the ground floor) and flatscreen TVs, while all suites will have iPod docking stations.

There are five meeting rooms, all with natural daylight and 4m high ceilings, and a ballroom for larger events. Those familiar with the Rocco Forte brand will know spa and leisure facilities always figure strongly, and the Hotel de Rome is no exception – there is a 20m swimming pool housed in the former jewel vault, as well as spa facilities and a gym.

When Business Traveller checked for a stay in late October, rates started at Euros 250 for a classic king (excluding breakfast which is Euros 26). This compares with Euros 252 at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin, and Euros 235 at the Ritz Carlton Berlin.

Hotel de Rome
Behrenstrasse 37
10117
Berlin
roccofortehotels.com

Report by Mark Caswell

Easier access to Italian rail

Finding information on Italian trains, let alone buying a ticket, has always been a problem for travellers based overseas. Of course there are travel agents but few in the UK are versed in the complexities of Continental, let alone Italian, trains.

So the arrival of a new UK-orientated website operated by the Italian rail system Trenitalia and geared to the UK market has to be good news.You can either treat the site as an information source for schedules and fares or use it to make bookings.

Of particular interest to executive travellers will be those services operating on key business routes like Milan-Rome or cross-border services such as Milan-Zurich.But don’t be confused by Eurostar Italia trains which operate the country’s finest and fastest services. These have no connection with the well-known cross-Channel operator of high-speed trains.

A section on airport-downtown train links will help you cut costs when flying into Milan Malpensa, Rome Fiumicino or Pisa (for Florence).

For more information go to italiarail.co.uk

Report by Alex McWhirter

SAS drops Newcastle-Copenhagen

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is quietly dropping its Newcastle-Copenhagen route from the beginning of next month. It means that from September 3 travellers in the Northeast will no longer have direct access to the Danish capital.

SAS currently operates a single daily flight with a Canadair regional jet (leased from Kimber Air) departing Newcastle at 1340 and reaching Copenhagen at 1625. The inbound flight departs at 1225 arriving Newcastle at 1310.

But from September 3 they’ll have to opt for alternative indirect routings such as KLM via Amsterdam or with SAS via Heathrow, Stavanger or Bergen. This will increase the journey time from one hour 45 minutes to as much as four or five hours.

SAS wasn’t available for comment. But Newcastle airport is very surprised at the carrier’s decision to cancel the route, especially when a number of local firms were using it to access Scandinavia.

Chris Sanders, the airport’s manager for aviation development told Business Traveller: “Transport firm Arriva (based in nearby Sunderland) has operations in Scandinavia and Danish shipping company Maersk recently moved its UK head office from London to Newcastle.”

“From our own observations the load factors were extremely healthy and the service was carrying both business travellers and passengers making connections at Copenhagen for other destinations on the SAS network.

And this is despite the fact that the timings weren’t particularly convenient for business people and that SAS’ prices out of Newcastle tended to be higher than the carrier charged from other major airports like Birmingham, Manchester or Heathrow.

Says Chris Sanders, “We at the airport will be working hard to secure a replacement carrier for the route from spring 2007.”

For more information go to flysas.com, newcastleairport.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Reading gains two new hotels

September sees not one but two Accor hotels opening in Reading. The hotel group is adding both an Ibis and a Novotel to its existing portfolio, and they are located right next to each other.

Business travellers familiar to the Accor brand will know that Ibis is the group’s budget offering (along with its newer Etap hotels), while Novotel is a mid-market product (the group also operates upmarket Sofitel hotels among others).

The 182 room Ibis Reading Centre adds to the new generation of Ibis hotels in the UK, following the recent opening in Bristol (see online news July 27). Facilities include a queen size bed, desk and chair, tea and coffee facilities, flat screen TV / radio, and wired internet access in all rooms (some rooms also have wifi internet access). Restaurant La Table Rouge offers a cold buffet or table menu and is open 6pm – 10.30pm. The hotel is located at 25a Friar Street, a few minutes walk from Reading’s main train station.

Meanwhile next door at 25b, the four-star Novotel Reading Centre has 178 Novation guest rooms, the new modern-style room gradually being rolled out across the brand. Room facilities include everything the Ibis offers, plus laptop size safes, minibar, hairdryer and 24-hour room service. Elements restaurant and bar is open 6am – midnight, and is also open to the public. With the Novotel guests also enjoy leisure facilities (indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam room), and there are eight fully equipped meeting rooms, all with natural daylight.

Reading is well located for businesses around the M4 corridor, and is around 40 minutes drive from London Heathrow – there is no direct train service between the city and the airport, but Railair runs frequent bus services (see railair.com). Rates at the Ibis Reading start from £60 (Mon-Thurs) and £45 (Fri-Sun), while at the Novotel these rise to £120 (Mon-Thurs) and £59 (Fri-Sun). All prices are room only – parking is available on site for an additional charge.

Ibis Reading Centre
25a Friar Street
Reading
RG1 1DP
+44 (0)118 953 3500
ibishotel.com

Novotel Reading Centre
25b Friar Street
Reading
RG1 1DP
+44 (0)118 952 2600
novotel-uk.com

Report by Mark Caswell

Air Canada to launch Edmonton flights

Air Canada is set to launch a new route from London Heathrow to Edmonton in Western Canada on October 31. Services with a two-class (business and economy) 212-seater B767 will operate three times a week (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) from October 31 building up to a daily service from April 1, next year.

Flight AC899 will leave Heathrow at 1235 to reach Edmonton the same day at 1430. The return flight to London, AC898, will depart Edmonton at 1835 (2025 on Tuesdays) to arrive in Heathrow the next morning at 1010.

Says Ben Smith, Air Canada’s VP for network planning, “We’ve timed flights to ensure convenient connections at Heathrow with Bmi, SAS and other Star partners such as Lufthansa.”

“Edmonton is one of Canada’s fastest growing economic regions. We are confident our new service will meet the growing travel needs spurred on by the local booming economy. It will also enable Northern Albertans to travel via London to every major destination in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa.”

Air Canada says the B767s used for this route will be refurbished to feature the carrier’s 8.9 inch wide digital in-seat monitors and on demand audio and video. Executive First (Air Canada’s business class brand) will feature the latest fully flat beds (see online news January 24).

There are currently only a handful of direct flights between Europe and Edmonton. Zoom and Air Transat operate once weekly from Gatwick and Frankfurt respectively while Holland’s Martinair departs twice weekly from Amsterdam.

For more information go to aircanada.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Boeing disconnects

Just as business travellers in the UK learnt they would once again be able to bring their laptops on board, Boeing has officially confirmed its retreat from the inflight internet market. After weeks of speculation the US aircraft manufacturer announced that following a “detailed business and market analysis of Connexion by Boeing… the company has decided to exit the broadband communications connectivity markets.”

Connexion by Boeing launched its first commercial service in May 2004 on board Lufthansa flights between Munich and Tokyo. But despite signing up eleven airlines including Etihad, Singapore and Scandinavian Airlines, Connexion has failed to attract sufficient customers to justify the substantial “time, resources and technology” invested in the service. The company charges a flat rate fee of $26.95 for an entire flight, or one, two or three hours access priced at $9.95, $14.95 and $17.95 respectively.

Boeing confirmed that the company expects to phase out its service by the end of 2006, in co-operation with the airlines concerned. Says spokesperson John Dern:

“The market for the service simply hasn’t developed as we had expected. It’s not an issue of technology, it’s a market issue. The take up has been slower than anticipated – market penetration has been in the low single digits after two plus years of commercial service.”

Rival company OnAir, which currently provides in-seat SMS and email services on Emirates, Iberia, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic aircraft among others, believes its “fundamentally different approach” will result in a viable onboard communication service.

Says George Cooper, CEO of OnAir: “Our model recognises passengers’ differing requirements, ranging from using their mobile or BlackBerry-type devices, to accessing webchat and webmail through the in-seat inflight entertainment system, to full wifi internet and VPN access through their laptops.”

OnAir plans to introduce GSM and GPRS services in Western Europe in 2007, followed by internet services on long range aircraft in 2008.

For more information visit connexionbyboeing.com, onair.aero.

Send us your comments on the demise of Connexion by Boeing by clicking on the link below.

Report by Mark Caswell