Refurbishment for Amsterdam Marriott

Amsterdam’s Marriott is about to undergo extensive refurbishment in a bid to regain its five-star status. When this 392-room business property opened 30 years ago it brought a breath of fresh air to the city’s staid hotel scene.

But time doesn’t do anyone a favour. Having stayed at this particular Marriott on several occasions over the past 25 years (most recently last August) I can report the hotel is now overdue for a refurbishment.

“We’ve set ourselves an ambitious timescale for this refurbishment,” the hotel’s GM Vera Duehring told Business Traveller. “We plan to start the work in November and complete it by March next year.”

Vera Duehring declined to reveal the exact cost of the work but she says: “It will include a full re-do of the hotel including the restaurants, rooms, bathrooms and corridors. The executive lounge will be included and here we’ll be adding a work station [guests currently use a desk by the entrance door]. By next January we hope to have completed enough of the work to re-apply for our former five-star grading.”

But two of the Marriott’s 30 year old features won’t change. The low-ceilinged lobby (think Heathrow T2’s check-in area) and the slow elevators will stay the same.

The Amsterdam Marriott is located at Stadhouderskade 12 in the Leidseplein area.
Tel: + 31 20 6075555

For more information go to marriott.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

New Virgin premium economy seat

Virgin Atlantic this week unveiled details of its new premium economy seat. Unlike many announcements from airlines of their forthcoming product improvements, the seat is already on seven aircraft, with a quick rollout promised across the entire fleet.

The new seat is a further refinement of the premium economy cabin, a concept which Virgin claims to have introduced in 1992 with its Mid Class product, though travellers may quibble and mention Eva Air and its Evergreen product. What’s certain is that Virgin has increased the number of premium economy seats on its aircraft and says that the £12 million revamp is in response to a 56 per cent increase in passengers flying in premium economy between 2005 and 2006 with some 500,000 passengers (out of a total of 4.8 million flying with the airline last year) flying in the cabin.

The details of the new seat are a 38 inch seat pitch (the distance between the seat and the back of the seat in front – effectively leg room) and a width of 21 inches, wider than the competitors in the premium economy market. In part this has been achieved by moving the control for the in-flight entertainment from the armrest to the back of the seat in front, underneath the TV screen.

Other features of the seat include an ergonomic S-shape, a dual position footrest attached to the seat in front which allows for an overall reduction in the weight of the seat (important for fuel economy), a new leather covering which Virgin says is more comfortable as well as easier to clean and reduces laundering (also an environmental benefit), and a redesigned tray table. The headrest is adjustable in four ways, both up and down and with wings for sleeping, and all seats have laptop power with power adaptors available free of charge from the cabin crew. This last enhancement is a considerable innovation when many airlines expect passengers to either have the full complement of adaptors with them in their laptop bags, or alternatively charge high prices by selling the adaptors as part of their onboard shopping range.

Seat configuration differs depending on the aircraft flown, but on the lower deck of the Boeing 747 and all Airbus aircraft it is 2-3-2, and 2-2 on the upper deck of the 747. There are currently 58 premium economy seats on the aircraft operating out of Gatwick, and between 28 and 38 on the planes flying out of Heathrow.

Other benefits included in the price of the ticket include dedicated check-in, priority boarding and baggage reclaim, pre-departure drink and post-dinner liqueur, a redesigned meal service (crockery, metal cutlery), an upgraded amenity kit (though details of this are forthcoming and it is unlikely to be introduced before December 2006) and a softer fleece blanket with a contoured neck, which apparently hugs the body more effectively and keeps passengers covered and warm during flights. Passengers also enjoy a fruit bowl available throughout the flight and a dedicated toilet for the cabin.

So who flies premium economy? Business Traveller spoke to Chris Birch, Virgin Atlantic’s Head of Product and Service, economy and premium economy: “It’s not just for business travellers. Across the fleet we see a 60/40 split in favour of leisure in our premium economy cabin, with it coming down to 50/50 on the routes out of Heathrow, and up to as high as 90/10 out of Gatwick. Interestingly the cabin also has the greatest range of ages, with families but also retirees flying in it.”

Virgin believes it can succeed in gaining a further 10 per cent increase in premium economy passengers over the next year in a worldwide market estimated at £500 million by Chief Executive Steve Ridgway. The rollout of the new seats is a quick one, with all aircraft out of Heathrow having the seats by the end of next year, and flights from Gatwick shortly after.

Visit virginatlantic.com

Report by Tom Otley

More Italian routes for London City

London’s City airport (LCY) is poised to see a big boost in services to Italy. Currently the capital’s own airport only boasts a single daily flight to Milan Malpensa operated by BA Connect.

But Italy’s privately-owned Air One expects to launch twice daily flights to Milan starting on November 20. Services to Rome, Genoa and Turin will follow next January.

Significantly, Air One has chosen to operate to and from Milan’s Linate airport (10 km from the city centre) rather than Malpensa (48 km from downtown). Flights will be operated by BAe146 jets with return fares starting from £107 in economy and £330 in business class.

Schedules are geared for the Italian rather than the UK market. But they are still more business-friendly from LCY than those currently offered by BA Connect. From Linate there are connecting possibilities to a few Italian domestic destinations.

Air One’s weekday flights leave LCY at 1010 and 1730 arriving in Linate at 1310 and 2030. Inbound flights leave Linate at 0840 and 1600 to reach LCY at 0940 and 1700 respectively. There is one flight on Saturdays at 1010 from LCY (0840 ex-Linate) and one on Sunday leaving LCY at 1730 (1600 ex-Linate).

The airline has also published details of its schedules from LCY to Rome’s main Fiumicino airport from next January. Timings are similar to those on the Milan route with double daily services on weekdays and a single flight every Saturday and Sunday.

For more information go to flyairone.it, londoncityairport.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Cathay Pacific to introduce fully flat beds in business class

Cathay Pacific promises state-of-the-art seating from next year. The Hong Kong-based airline says it will begin installing the new and more comfortable seating throughout its long-haul fleet commencing in January. It will take three years to complete the refitting.

The big news is that Cathay will now adopt fully flat beds in business class. Although Cathay was the first Asian airline to install angled lie-flat style seating in business class back in 2001 its competitors have caught up in the meantime.

Air New Zealand, Air Canada, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are just four carriers who either have or are poised to launch fully flat beds on key business routes linking their home countries with Hong Kong.

So Cathay has followed suit. Says a spokesperson, “Research has shown there is a strong expectation among passengers for a fully lie-flat bed together with improved living space and enhanced individual privacy.”

The carrier’s new business class will adopt the “herringbone” layout seen on Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic where seats are arranged east-west rather than north-south. Full details have yet to emerge but the carrier is expected to adopt a six across (1-2-1) configuration on its B747s and B777s with the layout on the A340’s narrower cabin being the same or less.

Economy class undergoes something of a revolution compared to what other carriers have been offering recently. Cathay is adopting an entirely new “fixed back” shell design, similar to a mini-business class seat (see picture) which allows a passenger to recline without intruding on those seated behind. The airline maintains that it will be the first economy class seat to provide a fixed living space and recline.

First class passengers are in line for even greater space and privacy with new accommodation in the style of a private suite. To find room for the new first class layout, the number of seats is being slimmed down from 12 to just nine seats on the B747 and A340 (the only planes in Cathay’s fleet to feature first class).

This could make seat availability an issue for those passengers wishing to redeem frequent flyer miles in first class. Reader feedback also suggests that round-the-world passengers (whose special fares don’t provide the same booking priority as those paying full fare) might have difficulty securing first class seats on popular business routes like New York to Hong Kong.

For more information go to cathaypacific.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Jet Airways’ transatlantic ambitions

India’s privately-owned Jet Airways plans to launch two transatlantic services next year. First off will be a link between Mumbai and New York via Brussels with another link, this time between Delhi and Canada, to follow later.

The Mumbai-based carrier wants to compete with the Gulf carriers which are increasingly tapping the growing traffic between Asia and North America.

Jet Airways UK general manager, Emmanuel Menu, says it will opt for Brussels, rather than London, Paris or Frankfurt, as a stopover point between India and North America because of the ease of securing traffic rights and landing slots.

The airline is poised to add 20 new long-haul planes to its fleet between 2007 and 2009 and there are moves afoot to use them on new routes to the US, Far East and Africa.

In another news, Jet says its UK website now allows bookings to be made starting in London. A UK-specific website is expected to come online next November.

The airline hopes to get more international recognition for its Jet Privilege loyalty programme. A current offer for new members sees passengers being offered a 50 per cent discount on business class fares and double miles.

For more information go to jetairways.com.

Report by Tom Otley

Temporary BA/Qantas lounge at new Bangkok airport

British Airways and Qantas have now transferred their flight operations to Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi airport located 30 miles east of the city centre.

But these carriers’ best passengers might be disappointed about the experience on the ground. That’s because neither carrier will have proper lounge facilities for the next three months.

Says a BA spokesperson, “We are currently designing new first and Club World lounge facilities at Suvarnabhumi which are scheduled to open in late December. Until the new lounge is open, both ourselves and Qantas will be using temporary facilities.”

“Owing to space limitations, access to these facilities will be restricted to first and Club World passengers on the day of travel. Lounge access will not be possible for Executive Club Gold or Silver members or Oneworld alliance Sapphire members travelling in World Traveller (economy class) or World Traveller Plus (premium economy).”

BA and Qantas use Bangkok as a main transit point between Europe and Australia.

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

Report by Alex McWhirter

Bmi to introduce lie-flat seats

Bmi is joining the lie-flat club. The carrier will upgrade its long-haul business class by next summer with new generation seating. Bmi’s small fleet of wide-bodied planes are to be fitted with ‘Perseus’ angled lie-flat seats manufactured by Italian firm Aviointeriors.

Seating will be configured six across (2-2-2) on Bmi’s Airbus A330s (it is not clear at this stage whether or not Bmi will continue to operate the single leased B767 currently used on the Saudi routes out of London) which fly from Heathrow to Mumbai along with Manchester to Chicago, Las Vegas, Antigua and Barbados.

Bmi says the new seats will feature on flights linking Heathrow with Jeddah and Riyadh when they revert to being flown by an A330 next spring.

Other than boasting a generous 80 inches of legroom, little more about the seating is known. Bmi claims the seats will be lie-flat but illustrations on the manufacturer’s website suggests they are of the angled lie-flat variety rather than fully flat.

Seating class configuration will vary. Flights to Jeddah and Riyadh will be configured for 42 business seats with planes on other routes being fitted with 18.

For more information visit flybmi.com, aviointeriors.it.

Report by Alex McWhirter

The May Fair completes £75m overhaul

The May Fair Hotel finishes its extensive overhaul this month, after two years and a £75m refurbishment programme. The iconic hotel in the heart of Mayfair dates back to the 1920s and was purchased by the Radisson Edwardian Group in 2004, which is operating the May Fair as a stand alone brand.

Every room in the hotel has been overhauled as part of the refurbishment, and an entirely new wing added at the rear, as well as an extra floor on the existing wing on Berkley St. There are now 406 bedrooms in total, including ten suites and 11 “Al Fresco” rooms, which include external decking, ornamental gardens, outdoor television and private dining facilities.

All rooms now include hand made wool carpets, Bang & Olufsen TVs, furniture by Philippe Hurel, complimentary wifi internet access and triple glazed windows. Bathroom fittings are made of Sicilian marble and include full-size Gilchrist and Soames products. Superior (standard) rooms are a minimum of 21sqm, with deluxe rooms starting from 35sqm.

Amba Bar and Grill serves seasonal British fare in an Eastern inspired interior, while the May Fair Bar has its own entrance on Berkeley Square and serves tapas-style British dishes.

Other stand-out features include London’s largest private-hire cinema with 201 seats, a spa with ten treatment rooms and a steam chamber, as well as 16 meeting rooms including the Crystal Room, complete with a £1 million Baccarat chandelier and capable of seating up to 250 guests theatre style. The business centre is open 24 hours a day and offers secretarial services and mobile phone hire.

When Business Traveller checked today, rates for a midweek stay in early October started from £270 for a superior room.

The May Fair Hotel
Stratton St
London
W1A 2AN

+44 (0)800 374 411
radissonedwardian.com/mayfair

Report by Mark Caswell

United’s Economy Plus – restricted access

United has become fussy about which passengers can occupy its Economy Plus cabin. Until last week, the carrier’s premium economy seating was open to any Mileage Plus FFP member regardless of the fare paid. It was also available to all others provided they held a full fare ticket.

Economy Plus consists of a few rows in economy class which boast an extra five inches or so of legroom. The product is available across United’s entire domestic and international network and readers tell us it’s a lifesaver on a long transatlantic flight.

But in an about turn, presumably designed to placate its most loyal customers, United has become more fussy. From last weekend only mid- to high-tier loyalty members can sit there. Ordinary passengers, even if holding a full fare ticket, are only given seats at the last minute.

According to a United spokesperson, “Having looked at the role of Economy Plus, we’ve identified a need to ensure that Global Service, 1K, Premier Executive, Premier and Premier Associate Mileage Plus customers receive this service having booked an economy ticket [at either the full or excursion rate]. Other passengers holding Y, B or M class economy class tickets [essentially the higher fare categories] will only be allocated a seat at the airport on the day of departure for a nominal fee.”

Reaching any of these tiers requires you to be a good customer of United. For example, Premier (whose equivalent would be Star Silver) requires travellers to fly at least 25,000 miles, 1K (equal to Star Gold elite) requires 100,000 miles while Global Service is for million milers or executives with firms who have struck special corporate deals.

For more information go to ual.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Easyjet to expand at Madrid

Budget airline Easyjet says it will launch six routes from its new base at Madrid early next year.Four of the routes will cover international destinations, namely Lyon and Toulouse in France along with the Italian capital of Rome and the Moroccan business city of Casablanca.

Easyjet says it will also begin flying on two domestic routes from Madrid, to Oviedo and La Coruna.The carrier is bringing much needed competition to the Spanish market where international services on such routes tend to be controlled by the countries’ respective national airlines.

Exact starting dates and prices for the new routes have yet to be announced.Existing Easyjet routes from Madrid comprise several UK destinations along with Basle, Berlin Schonefeld, Geneva, Milan Malpensa and Paris Orly.

For more information go to easyjet.com

Report by Alex McWhirter