Air Berlin introduces corporate fares

German carrier Air Berlin has extended its corporate rates to the UK market, increasing the probability of UK companies using the carrier.

In its home market the budget airline has signed up over 100 major firms and it now hopes its special offer will appeal to companies based here who book large numbers of flights.

“Our volume proposition offers savings of up to 40 per cent with the benefit of ticket flexibility,” says UK country manager Titus Johnson. “We have already signed up over a dozen UK-based companies and believe these corporate rates are lower than anything else in the market.”

Air Berlin’s UK network mainly revolves around Stansted. It operates domestic flights to Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast City. It also flies to Vienna along with a number of cities in Germany including Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Leipzig and Nuremberg.

Passengers from the UK regions can connect at Stansted for onward services to Germany and Austria.

Unlike other budget carriers Air Berlin serves snacks and drinks free of charge. It also through-checks baggage and operates a frequent flyer scheme.

Says Titus Johnson, “Our Top Bonus [FFP] scheme for individual travellers provides last seat availability [when redeeming miles] and there are no blackout periods. Passengers earn 1,000 miles for every UK-Germany sector and you need to accrue 12,000 miles for a free ticket.”

Companies wishing to enquire about their eligibility for corporate rates should email: corporate@airberlin.com

For general information go to www.airberlin.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

Swiss expands at London City

Swiss continues to consolidate its Geneva flights at London’s City airport (LCY) in favour of Heathrow.

The carrier’s Heathrow-Geneva operation is now reduced to a couple of seasonal flights aimed at the ski market. Meanwhile Swiss will expand its LCY to Geneva service from four to six flights a day effective December 15.

The new timings give a better spread of departures allowing a longer stay in Geneva. A new early bird service from LCY at 0650 gets you to Geneva at 0930. In the return direction, a later flight back departs Geneva at 2050 reaching LCY at 2130.

Flights leave LCY at 0650, 0825, 1120, 1545, 1730 and 2015. From Geneva they depart at 0715, 1010, 1435, 1620, 1905 and 2050.

So far this autumn has been a busy one for LCY. At the end of October, Lufthansa began services to Hamburg and Nuremberg (See Online news, October 19) while Belgian carrier VLM extended one of its Amsterdam services on to Groningen in north Holland.  This new service departs at 1750 from LCY returning from Groningen at 0650.

Then on November 20, Air One began daily flights to Milan Linate (see Online news, October 19).

For more information go to www.swiss.comwww.londoncityairport.com

Report by Alex McWhirter

BT 2006 China Travel Awards

Business Traveller China (Business Traveller’s Chinese language publication) presented the Business Traveller China Awards 2006 on November 15, 2006 at the JW Marriott Tomorrow Square in Shanghai in front of an audience of over 300 travel industry attendees.

Business Traveller China (Business Traveller’s Chinese language publication) presented the Business Traveller China Awards 2006 on November 15, 2006 at the JW Marriott Tomorrow Square in Shanghai in front of an audience of over 300 travel industry attendees.

The 32 awards were decided as a result of a survey of the magazine’s subscribers who travel frequently around China and Asia-Pacific.

The top awards went to Hong Kong SAR for being the Favourite City in the World (holding on to the position from last year), Singapore Changi as Best Airport in the World and Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok as Best Airport in China.

Other awards went to:

Best Airline in the World – Singapore Airlines

Best Chinese Airline serving China – Air China

Best American Airline serving China – American Airlines

Best European Airline serving China – Lufthansa

Best Airline First Class – Lufthansa

Best Airline Business Class – Virgin Atlantic

Best Airline Economy Class – Dragonair

Best Hotel Brand in China – Shangri-La

Best Hotel Brand in the World – Grand Hyatt

Best New Business Hotel in China – JW Marriott Shanghai

Best Resort Hotel in China – Hilton Sanya

Best Golf Resort in China – Mission Hills Resort Shenzhen

Best Serviced Residence Brand in China – Ascott

Best Business Hotel in Shanghai – Pudong Shangri-La

Best Business Hotel in Guangzhou – The Garden Hotel

Best Business Hotel in Dalian – Shangri-La

Best Business Hotel in Tianjin – Renaissance Tianjin TEDA Hotel & Convention Centre

Best Business Hotel in Beijing – Grand Hyatt

Best Business Hotel in Changchun – Shangri-La

Best Business Hotel in Chengdu – Sheraton Lido

Best Business Hotel in Shenyang – InterContinental

Best Business Hotel in Hangzhou – Shanri-La

Best Business Hotel in Nanjing – Jinling Hotel

Best Business Hotel in Chongqing – JW Marriott

Best Business Hotel in Hong Kong SAR – Island Shangri-La

Best Business Hotel in Shenzhen – The Pavilion

Best Business Hotel in Xiamen – Marco Polo

Best Business Hotel in Macau SAR – Westin

Report by Courtney Schultz

Underwater resort on the horizon

Construction on the world’s first underwater resort will begin in January in Fiji.

The exact location is being kept secret for the moment, partly for security, and partly we suspect for marketing reasons, since the island will be renamed Mystery Island.

The fashion for adding stars hasn’t died, though, with the Poseidon Undersea Resort being termed ‘seven star’. It features accommodation both on land, on the 225 acre, yet to be revealed island, as well as 24 underwater suites which will be submerged in 40 feet of water.

The 550sqft suites are made with 70 per cent “durable acrylic”, giving guests a clear panoramic view of a coral landscape day and night.

Jean-Claude Carme, executive vice president of Poseidon says: “Not everyone can dive, and they may want to dive, but the problem with diving is that you always have to come up.”

The futuristic resort was conceived six years ago by the president of US Submarines, Bruce Jones, and designed with the expertise of US submarine engineers. The facility will house a revolving restaurant and bar, spa treatment rooms and there will be lift access to land where there will be 21 beach bungalows and 27 over-the-water (stilted) bungalows with transparent floors.

Currently, the resort has a fixed stay period of one week for US$15,000 per person. The package includes two nights in a beach villa, two nights in an over-the-water bungalow and two nights in an underwater suite. Meals and some spa treatments are also included, as well as transportation in a private plane from Nadi Airport, scuba diving, snorkeling, walks on the lagoon floor, and wine tasting. Guests will have access to all activities and the under water restaurant and bar for the duration of their stay.

Corporate packages will also be available with exclusive use of the resort (for up to 144 people), costing US$3 million a week.

For the more adventurous, there will be the opportunity to pilot a three passenger Triton Submarine (a mini submarine) to explore the lagoon or take a submersible 1000ft under the ocean. And if you tire of the sea, the island also has a nine-hole golf course, an infinity pool, tennis courts, two gourmet restaurants, three bars and a health club and spa.

Although Poseidon will be the first underwater resort it does have competition from Dubai’s Hydropolis underwater hotel, which has a projected completion date of December 2007.

Reservations for Poseidon will be taken from January 15th next year and the resort will open in September 2008. For more information see www.poseidonresorts.com.

Report by Felicity Cousins

Qatar unveils new premium terminal at Doha

Premium fare passengers now have a better reason to book indirect flights via the Gulf. Qatar Airways is making the whole experience of changing planes at its Doha hub much more palatable.
 
The carrier has leapfrogged the likes of regional rivals Emirates and Gulf Air by splashing out $90 million on a first and business class terminal. The Doha facility is aimed at providing a better experience for premium class transit passengers and one in which they can make productive use of their time. It’s also for the use of passengers departing Doha itself.
 
The terminal occupies 10,000 square metres. It is adjacent to the airport’s main terminal and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Until now no other airport either in the Gulf or elsewhere has offered such a facility (the highly acclaimed Lufthansa Frankfurt terminal is restricted to first class passengers and is on a smaller scale).
 
Over 150 staff have been recruited to work in the terminal whose features include a meet and greet service, health spa, lounges, meeting facilities, secretarial services, medical centre and fine dining. Many of these services are offered free of charge.
The new terminal is part of a package of improvements at Doha where the departure and arrival halls have already been expanded to cope with the airport’s rapid growth.

Qatar Airways is the biggest user of Doha. It operates 90 per cent of the airport’s flights to 70 worldwide destinations. The carrier expects to carry six million passengers this year.  Many of these are travellers flying between Europe, South Africa and Asia via Doha.
 
In other news …
Qatar Airways website is still unable to accept bookings for flights starting in the UK.  In the meantime passengers can book online through appointed sales agent www.myqatar.co.uk
 
For further information go to www.qatarairways.co.uk
 
Report by Alex McWhirter

Going green

Travellers anxious to display their green credentials can now do so when booking flights across the globe.

Online agent Lastminute has teamed up with carbon offsetting organisation Climate Care. The booking pages on Lastminute’s UK site now display how much each passenger needs to contribute to offset his or her CO2 emissions for any particular flight.

The contributions are voluntary and examples typically include 92 pence for a return flight between Bristol and Paris or £10.78 for a return flight from London to Bangkok. They even take into consideration the higher C02 emitted when flying indirectly.  For example, when flying London-Amsterdam-Bangkok return with KLM your C02 fee increases to £12.12.

The scheme was launched last Monday and it’s too soon to say how many people have contributed.  But feedback from British Airways, which instigated a similar voluntary scheme with Climate Care a year ago, suggests only a handful of passengers will bother.

Says a BA spokesperson, “The take-up is under 1 per cent although it has shown a gradual increase over time.”
But maybe BA’s take-up has been low because the Climate Care link is hard to spot ? “I agree that visibility is an issue,” says BA, “And we are looking at ways to increase this. But as an awareness [for Climate Care] the results have been good. Climate Care tells us that since we started to show this organisation on our website its hits have gone up 20 fold.”

One selling point, though, is that BA’s scheme convers its passenger in every country served by the airline. And payment can be in a variety of currencies.
 
Lastminute’s scheme covers flights by BA and many others. Says a spokesperson, “Research by Carbon Trust (a government-backed body) showed that two-thirds of customers want to know their carbon footprint. We sell flights with 300 airlines so passengers can offset regardless of whom they are travelling with.”
 
Now the all-business class airline Silverjet has followed suit. When it starts flying on January 25 between Luton and New York, passengers will pay a mandatory sum of between £10 and £20 for every return trip. The scheme is being set up with Carbon Neutral and will be included in the ticket price.

Says chief executive Lawrence Hunt, “We are the first airline in the world to have its flights carbon neutral.The important thing is the carbon neutral offset is included as a mandatory item – this is the real difference to what the others are doing.” 
 
But when researching this news piece I came across a whole range of issues that need airing. Should “green” Silverjet, for example, be promoting airport limousine and helicopter transfers to its passengers ? Silverjet says its fee is worked out on the basis of its average load factor. But the airline has yet to fly. Who knows how many passengers its flights will carry ?
 
Then there’s the fact that Climate Care’s C02 figures are sourced from the Oxford-based Environmental Change Institute and calculated using B737 jets on short flights and four-engined B747s and A340s on longer routes.

 
So are passengers are paying over the odds if they choose to fly with an environmentally friendly aircraft like a twin-engined B777 or Q-400 turbo prop which emit less C02 per seat?

A spokesperson for Climate Care says that there’s a whole range of factors which must be considered before CO2 can be calculated. “At present we need to make certain assumptions because for an accurate analysis the airline would need to tell us its fuel uplift and its load factor (both for passengers and freight).”   (And for commercial reasons no airline is yet willing to provide such information.). The spokesperson continued, “This is the best we can do at the present time.  But as more and more people get interested we would imagine we will be able to produce more accurate figures.”
 
The initiative is to be applauded, but it does not stand up to much examination, for consider:
 
      ·                    A Lastminute passenger booking Flybe’s Q-400 turbo-prop (which emits 50 per cent less C02 than a jet)  between Exeter and Paris would the same fee as if he or she were taking a thirstier and much larger B737 on a similar length route.
      ·                    Someone choosing Eva Air (which operates new B777-300ERs) to Bangkok will pay the same as if taking older and less fuel efficient B747s of BA and Thai.
      ·                    On London-New York Lastminute passengers are asked to contribute £10.78 irrespective of whether they choose to book a 48-seater all business class B757 from Stansted with Eos or an economy class seat on one of BA’s 400-seater B747s from Heathrow. No prizes for guessing which is the greener of the two.
 
For more information go to www.lastminute.comwww.ba.com/environment, www.climatecare.org, www.flysilverjet.com
 
Report by Alex McWhirter

Iberia to serve the Rock

Iberia will make history on December 16 when it launches a daily service linking Spain with Gibraltar. In living memory political considerations have meant there has never been a direct service to the Rock of Gibraltar from Spain. Such considerations have also restricted the development of all air services into this British protectorate. According to the OAG (Official Airline Guide) Gibraltar currently only has air links with London.

Residents of the Rock needing to reach the outside world would either fly to London or cross the border and take the land route to Malaga in Spain and fly from there.

Iberia’s new service will be operated by a 141-seater Airbus A319 which will feed into its Madrid hub with connections to the rest of Europe and beyond.

The single flight is timed to depart Madrid at 1150 arriving in Gibraltar at 1300. It returns at 1350 to reach Madrid at 1500. GB Airways (a franchise partner of BA) is also expected to announce a link to Spain in the near future.

For more information go to iberia.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Lufthansa extends Frankfurt connection times

UK passengers changing planes in Frankfurt with Lufthansa must allow more time to make the connection. In a bid to improve the reliability of connections the German airline has extended the MCT (minimum connecting time) from 45 to 60 minutes.

The new MCT applies to all Lufthansa passengers connecting to or from US flights. It also applies to passengers travelling between non-Schengen countries (like the UK) and Schengen countries within the EU.

As an example it would cover any Lufthansa passenger flying, say, from Zurich to San Francisco or from Edinburgh to Milan. But it wouldn’t affect a passenger flying, say, London-Frankfurt-Tokyo.

In other news, Lufthansa will become the second European airline to serve Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) on December 1 when it begins a three times a week service from Frankfurt. Currently the only other services are operated by British Airways and Air India from Heathrow.

A further development takes place on March 27 next year when Lufthansa adds a new three times a week service from Munich to Seoul and Busan in South Korea. It’s the first European airline to fly into Busan which is a centre of car manufacturing and ship building in South Korea.

For more information go to lufthansa.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Birmingham Airport goes wifi

Birmingham International Airport (BHX) has become the latest airport with wifi access, with T-Mobile’s hotspot service now available throughout the terminal buildings. The mobile operator claims its hotspot service is now available to over 85 per cent of UK air passengers, and follows its recent announcement of wifi coverage on the Heathrow Express (see online news November 9).

BHX’s hotspot service means that T-Mobile now offers wifi access in 15 UK airports, including all seven BAA-owned airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton), as well as Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Leeds Bradford, Nottingham East Midlands, Humberside, Bournemouth and now Birmingham.

The news will be welcomed by regional business travellers using BHX to reach key domestic and European destinations. Further afield the airport serves New York with Continental, Dubai twice-daily with Emirates, and Toronto, Delhi and Amritsar (northern India) with Air India. But travellers from Birmingham will soon have to make do without a BA service following the sale of budget brand BA Connect to Flybe (see online news November 9).

Visit t-mobile.co.uk/hotspot, bhx.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Grand Central launch delayed

New train firm Grand Central (see Online news, August 16) has had to postpone the launch date of its service linking London with the northeast.

Grand Central had hoped to begin its three times a day service from Kings Cross to Sunderland on December 10. But it has been unable to obtain rolling stock in time to meet this deadline.According to the firm’s MD Ian Yeowart, Grand Central now hopes to launch on May 20 next year.

It will operate the service with refurbished 125 mph diesel trains (£5 million is being spent on bringing the trains up to scratch) until new rolling stock can be acquired in a few years’ time.

Grand Central plans to run up to three times a day from Kings Cross calling at York then continuing to Sunderland with calls at Thirsk, Northallerton, Eaglescliffe and Hartlepool. With the exception of York, these cities are not well served by incumbent train firm GNER.

The city of York is expected to be one of the most popular destinations for business and leisure travellers alike. Besides being a main rail hub in its own right, York has no convenient airport or motorway links.

Artist’s impression of a Grand Central first class carriage

Grand Central says its trains will depart Kings Cross at 0804, 1127 and 1650 with the inbound services from Sunderland departing at 0642, 1230 and 1730. Overall journey time averages 3 hours 30 minutes.

It will offer first and standard class seating and promises a simpler range of fares than is offered by GNER. At busy times Grand Central promises to provide a 50 per cent refund to passengers who cannot find a seat on one of its services.

For more information go to grandcentralrail.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter