Finnair drops Singapore and Malaysia in favour of China, India and Japan

Finnair will add more flights to India, Japan and mainland China this summer. At the same time the Helsinki-based carrier will stop serving Singapore and will abandon plans to inaugurate flights to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The highlight of Finnair’s expansion is the launch of a five times a week service to Mumbai during June. In addition, the current three times a week link to Delhi (launched only a couple of months ago) will move to a daily frequency (see Business Traveller’s review of the Helsinki-Delhi route in the February 2007 print edition).

Taking the bold step of operating 12 flights a week to India demonstrates that Finnair is planning for the future.

“It will be extremely hard, if not impossible, for airlines to secure new arrival and departure slots at Indian airports in coming years,” says Henrik Arle, Finnair’s deputy CEO for scheduled passenger traffic. “By adding to our Indian scheduled traffic now, Finnair is ensuring its presence in these fast-growing markets.”

Other expansion plans for mid-May call for Guangzhou in mainland China to see a fourth weekly flight while Hong Kong (presently served four times a week) will move to daily. At the same time the popular service linking Helsinki with Osaka (known as the Manchester of Japan) will go from four a week to daily. Then in mid-June, Finnair will boost its Nagoya service from three to four flights a week.

“With 15 flights a week it will make Finnair the third largest Western airline operating between Europe and Japan,” says Petteri Kostermaa, Finnair’s VP for network strategies and management.

But at the same time Singapore (currently served as a continuation of the Helsinki-Bangkok route) will be dropped, and plans to launch a new service to Kuala Lumpur are to be abandoned.

The exact start date of the Mumbai service has still to be announced. But schedules show flight AY029 departing Helsinki at 2000 arriving in Mumbai at 0610 the next morning. Return flight AY030 will leave Mumbai at 0815 reaching Helsinki at 1350.

Finnair is acquiring two Airbus A340-300s during May and June for its long-haul network. These planes will operate alongside its existing MD-11s.

Good connections will be available at Helsinki for connecting passengers coming from cities in Scandinavia and mainland Europe.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

Free parking at Heathrow courtesy of ANZ

Business class passengers can park free at Heathrow provided they fly with Air New Zealand (ANZ). The Antipodean carrier is promoting its Business Premier service with the offer of 30 days free valet car parking.

The deal, which is offered to UK-based travellers, is being marketed in conjunction with Chauffeured Parking Services. It covers passengers taking ANZ’s twice daily flights from Heathrow either to New Zealand or Hong Kong or Los Angeles.

Heathrow car parking is costly. Normally valet parking for a working week would cost £100 or more. A traveller heading Down Under for a three week business-cum-leisure trip might pay as much as £300.

The free car parking must be booked directly with ANZ within 48 hours of departure from London.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

Clickair arrives in London

Budget carrier Clickair is poised to add London to its fast-growing network. The Spanish airline will replace Iberia (the national Spanish carrier which owns a stake in Clickair) on daily flights into Heathrow from both Seville and Valencia.

The services start next Thursday (February 1) and the good news is that tickets will cost less on account of Clickair’s lower operating costs.

The London-Seville service will depart at 1110 to arrive in the Andalucian capital at 1450. The inbound flight will leave Seville at 1430 to reach Heathrow at 1605.

Clickair’s Valencia service will depart Heathrow at 1715 reaching the city at 2030. Out of Valencia the service departs at 0840 arriving in London at 1000.

Return fares to Seville typically start from £79 while Valencia costs from £61. Clickair flies from Barcelona, Seville and Valencia. But its main base is Barcelona. From here it covers numerous cities in mainland Europe including Amsterdam, Berlin Tegel, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lisbon, Munich, Prague, Seville and Zurich.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

VLM reduces Liverpool flights

Liverpool’s sole air link with London will be cut to a twice daily service from the beginning of next month.

VLM currently operates a three flights a day service into London’s City Airport (LCY). But from February 1 the 1920 service heading south and the 2050 return from LCY will be dropped.

This is all a far cry from three years ago when VLM served the route five times a day. Over the years the Liverpool-London air route has had a chequered history with several carriers trying their hand at making a success of it. Bmi once had a go from Heathrow while Easyjet thought it had a solution with its low fares formula from Luton. But neither succeeded leaving the field open for VLM.

But the Belgian niche airline blames current market conditions for the fall off in traffic. Says a VLM spokesperson, “Despite extensive commercial efforts to support our three-times-daily service, there’s currently only demand for two flights a day. As an independent company, we have to ensure that all of our routes are commercially viable.”

It could be that some passengers have defected to Virgin’s Pendolino trains (these depart Euston hourly with a journey time of 2 hours, 30 mins). On the other hand, it could be argued that rival Manchester airport (which VLM continues to serve eight times a day) is a better gateway for the region.

From February 1, VLM’s flights will depart LCY at 0810 and 1745 arriving in Liverpool at 0915 and 1845. The return services leave at 0645 and 1615 to reach LCY at 0745 and 1715 respectively.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

Jet2 establishes itself at Manchester

As British Airways retreats from the regions, the budget carriers are stepping in. A prime example is Jet2 which is opening eight new routes from Manchester over the coming months in addition to the ones it currently operates.

Some of these routes are still being plied by BA’s value for money subsidiary BA Connect. But for how much longer is anyone’s guess since BA Connect is about to be taken over by budget carrier Flybe.

Yorkshire-based Jet2 already covers five business destinations from Manchester (namely Amsterdam, Budapest, London Gatwick, Rome and Valencia), but last Monday (January 22) saw it add a daily service to Milan Bergamo and Geneva.

These will be followed by services to:

• Prague operated several times a week from March 1 increasing to daily by the summer.
• Flights to Paris CDG (once daily) and Barcelona (one daily) and Berlin Schonefeld (four times a week initially then daily by the summer) starting March 25.
• A five times a week link to Toulouse from April 16.
• Venice to be flown four times a week from May 19.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

More flights from Bmi regional

Bmi’s regional division is adding new routes and expanding flights.The carrier is acquiring a further four Brazilian-made Embraer commuter jets, which will see Bmi Regional launch three new international services and add extra flights on existing links from Edinburgh to Manchester and Leeds.

The three new routes are Aberdeen to Kristiansand, Edinburgh to Zurich and Leeds to Copenhagen. Flights will be suitable for point-to-point passengers plus, in the case of Copenhagen and Zurich, will provide connections into the Star Alliance hubs of SAS and Swiss.

Flights from Aberdeen to Kristiansand operate six times a week. Weekday services depart Aberdeen at 0855, arriving in Kristiansand at 1110. They return at 1125 from Kristiansand to reach Aberdeen at 1200.

There is a once a day flight between Leeds and Copenhagen. Weekday timings mean a 1000 departure from Leeds arriving in Copenhagen at 1255. The inbound service departs at 1325, arriving in Leeds at 1425.

The daily Edinburgh-Zurich service will be Scotland’s only link to the Swiss banking centre. Weekday flights depart at 1005, landing in Zurich at 1330 and returning at 1400 to reach Edinburgh at 1520. Timings vary at weekends and all three routes commence on March 26.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

United upgrades transatlantic premium class catering

From this summer United Airlines will be offering an improved catering experience for its premium customers.The mammoth US carrier has partnered with famous restaurant owner and chef Charlie Trotter to devise special menus for first and business passengers on selected routes.

The Charlie Trotter menus will be offered on eastbound United flights departing the US for Europe. They will also be provided on board United’s “ps” B757 flights operating on transcontinental routes linking New York with Los Angeles and San Francisco. These “ps” or premium service flights feature an above-average product on US domestic routes. “We’ve put back the quality which was taken away in the past,” said a United spokesperson.

Passengers get lie-flat seating in first and what the carrier describes as a “substantially-sized” seat in business class.

“We’re very please to partner with world-renowned chef Charlie Trotter to develop a memorable in-flight dining experience for our customers,” says Charlie Ahmes, United’s VP of onboard service.

“Offering an upscale menu for our customers travelling in our premium cabins is one of the many ways we are enhancing our customers’ overall travel experience.”

To ensure premium quality, Charlie Trotter will collaborate with United’s corporate executive chef Gerry Gulli on the menu options. United will be the only airline to offer these entrées, which will be introduced next summer on a date to be announced.

In other news, United will launch a daily B777 service linking Rome with Washington Dulles on April 2. Flight UA967 will depart Rome at 1055 arriving in Washington at 1440. The overnight inbound service departs Washington at 1816 to reach Rome at 0850. This will be the only direct service linking both capitals. Currently passengers must change planes in Munich, Paris or London.

United has also been given the green light to link two other capital cities: Washington DC and Beijing, mainland China. Services are expected to start in the next few months on this route which, again, is not served directly. United said it would be able to offer connections elsewhere in China at Beijing thanks to code-share links with Air China and Shanghai Airlines.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

L’Avion launches all-business class flights between Paris and New York

France’s first all-business class carrier took to the skies earlier this month.L’Avion is operating a B757 five times a week between Paris Orly (located 14km south-west of the capital) and New York Newark.

Like the US all-business class carriers such as Maxjet and Eos (which operate New York flights from London Stansted), L’Avion is fitting far fewer seats than normal.

Typically a B757 will hold as many as 220 passengers in an all-economy class layout. But the plane used by L’Avion accommodates only 90 seats, which are disposed four across (2-2) with a 140-degree angle of recline.

The outward flight departs Paris Orly at 1400 and reaches Newark at 1645. The inbound overnight service leaves Newark at 1930 and arrives in Orly at 0850.Return tickets typically cost US$1,269 (GBP655).

This is the first service of its type from France, although elsewhere in mainland Europe there are all-business class New York flights operated from Germany with Lufthansa and from Switzerland by Swiss. But these carriers use smaller 50-seater Airbus A319s or B737s.

It is not yet clear whether there is sufficient demand in the French market for a 90-seater business class flight. The premium transatlantic market from Paris is much smaller and less competitive than it is from London. And L’Avion doesn’t have the local brand identity of Air France.

Early reports indicate that L’Avion is flying with a lot of empty seats but, on the other hand, that was also true of Eos and Maxjet when they began flying to New York from Stansted in the winter of 2005.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

Bangkok’s former Don Muang airport to reopen?

It looks increasingly likely that the Thai authorities will transfer most domestic flights from Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi airport back to the former Don Muang facility.

According to reports in the local press, the move is aimed at saving on airline operating costs, which are much higher at Suvarnabhumi. Thai Airways alone is reported as saying that the move to the new Suvarnabhumi airport has added millions of US dollars to its operating costs.

Asia’s emerging budget or no-frills airlines have also complained about the increased cost of using Suvarnabhumi compared with Don Muang. They too are likely to want to transfer back in order to save money.

But moving flights from Suvarnabhumi will also free up space for the management to tackle a host of unresolved problems at the new airport (see below).

If approved, the move is likely to take effect in March with all domestic flights being switched to Don Muang with the exception of routes to Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi. According to Thai Airways’ president Apinan Sumanaseni, these three routes will remain at Suvarnabhumi because they carry a lot of international transfer passengers so it will be easier for the latter to make connections. All international flights will remain at Suvarnabhumi.

But the move has been criticised by trade body IATA (International Air Transport Association). It has warned the AOT (Airports of Thailand, which is the body managing both Bangkok airports) that any move would damage Bangkok’s potential for becoming an aviation hub in SE Asia.

Albert Tjoeng, a spokesperson for IATA’s Asia-Pacific region, said: “Imagine a passenger arriving in Suvarnabhumi and having to catch a connecting or no-frills flight from Don Muang. How long will that connection take when you include baggage collection, transit and then check-in? If an airport wants to be a hub it’s important to keep the connecting time low.”

The airlines plan to operate shuttle buses between the two airports for passengers who need to transfer. But as the facilities are located on opposite sides of the city, the journey could take time given the unpredictable nature of Bangkok traffic.

Transferring the flights to Don Muang will free up capacity at Suvarnabhumi, which has been dogged with problems since its opening. Even though the airport is only four months old it has almost reached its design capacity of 45 million passengers. So with fewer flights, management would be able to tackle issues like cracking taxi-ways, insufficient toilets and congestion.

One Business Traveller reader just back from using Suvarnabhumi found “cracked floor tiles, malfunctioning air conditioning, huge walks (more than at Don Muang), incomplete lounges, unopened F&B outlets, shoddy baggage services and abysmal ground services”.

Don Muang served as Bangkok’s main airport for decades until being closed to civilian flights last September. It is still functioning as a Royal Thai Air Force base and Thai Airways continues to have a maintenance base there.

But passengers needn’t worry about airline staff checking them to the wrong airport. Don Muang has adopted airline code DMK as its former BKK code has been taken by Suvarnabhumi.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

London City’s best-kept secret

Fans of London’s City Airport (LCY) will soon have access to four important Italian cities.

Privately-owned carrier Air One launched flights to Milan towards the end of last year followed by Rome on January 8, and it will add services to Genoa and Turin in the coming weeks.

There is little awareness of Air One in the UK. But in its home market Air One has expanded rapidly since its formation 12 years ago. As a full-service airline it is the country’s second largest after national carrier Alitalia.

With a 42-strong fleet (plus a further 40 Airbus A320s on order) and an extensive domestic network, Air One has begun spreading its wings overseas.

“The domestic market is saturated,”Claudio Balzarini, the carrier’s VP sales, told Business Traveller. “We must expand internationally for future growth.”

Recently Air One launched international flights linking Rome with Copenhagen. It also began flying fromMilan LinatetoBerlin Tegeland started services from Turin to Paris CDG and Barcelona.

Its Milan and Rome services to LCY operate twice daily between Monday and Friday with a single flight on Saturday and Sunday.

Because of LCY’s restricted runway these flights are operated by two-class RJ70s (a version of the BAe146) which are chartered from Swedish airlineTranswede. Cockpit crew are provided by Transwede; cabin staff by Air One.

Unlike most other operators of this plane type, the 66-seat RJ70s planes used by Air One provide comfortable five-across (3-2) seating with the middle seat of three unsold in business class. (Other BAe146 operators tend to feature cramped six-across 3-3 seating.)

Business class catering is of good quality with the “hand-crafted” look so beloved of Italy’s secondary carriers.

Air One uses Milan’s close-in Linate airport (10 km from downtown as against Malpensa’s 46km). In Rome it uses the city’s mainFiumicinofacility.

An advantage for business people is that Air One prices on a sector basis, so there are no advance-booking or minimum-stay rules and its domestic network enables passengers to easily combine cities. In other words, a passenger flying from LCY can visit both Milan and Rome using the same carrier throughout. One-way fares from LCY to either Milan or Rome start at €104.

A further bonus is that Air One is a partner of Lufthansa and is a prospective member of Star Alliance. That means members of Lufthansa’s Miles & More or SAS’s Eurobonus (two popular loyalty schemes in the UK) can earn miles flying Air One.
But Air One will need to update its website to make it more acceptable for UK customers. Claudio Balzarini agrees: “Our website will be improved in the coming months. At present it’s angled more to customers in mainland Europe [prices are displayed only in euros] but this will be changed.”
Air One schedules
Monday to Friday flights (morning service only on Saturday; afternoon service only on Sunday):
LCY-Milan  departures at 1010 and 1730
Milan-LCY departures at 0840 and 1600
LCY-Rome departures at 1010 and 1650
Rome-LCY departures at 0820 and 1450
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Report by Alex McWhirter