Hyatt arrives in Kiev

Making a business trip to Kiev will soon be less of a hardship with the opening of a first class Hyatt hotel. Until a 255-room Radisson appeared on the scene, about a year ago, the Ukrainian capital couldn’t boast a single international standard hotel.

Today’s demand for decent accommodation in Kiev from visiting business people is such that the Radisson has weekday room rates starting from Euros 292 (GBP197) for a standard and Euros 333 (GBP225) for a business class room with junior suites priced at Euros 383 (GBP258). And there are no reductions at weekends. This in a city where the average wage is around GBP100 a month.

Now Hyatt has announced it will bring its first class Regency brand to Kiev next May (the exact date has yet to be finalised). The 234-room hotel will be located close to the Old Town and Saint Sophia Cathedral.

The competition is to be welcomed but strong demand means that room rates (not yet published) will be on the high side. Guests can expect all today’s luxuries and facilities including a choice of F & B outlets, fitness centre with spa and swimming pool, in-room safe and broadband etc.

For more information go to hyatt.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Qatar Airways to fly transatlantic from Geneva

Qatar Airways plans to serve New York Newark and Washington DC from next June. These will be the Doha-based carrier’s first US routes. Washington DC will be served non-stop while New York will be served via the Swiss city of Geneva.

Qatar has secured the right to carry passengers both between Geneva and New York as well as from Doha (its home base) to Geneva and on from there to New York.

Although Qatar Airways hasn’t officially announced the new services, advance schedules indicate that Qatar’s four times a week Doha-New York flight will start on June 28.

It will be operated by an Airbus A330. Flights will operate every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with QR83 leaving Doha at 1140 reaching New York at 2155. The return QR84 is set to depart New York at 2355 reaching Doha the following evening at 2215.

On the Geneva-New York sector, Qatar Airways will be competing with Swiss (which lands at JFK) and Continental (which also uses Newark). Qatar is expected to offer keen fares to compensate for the fact it doesn’t fly daily and that it lacks brand identity in the fussy Swiss market.

Qatar’s Geneva-New York timings call for an evening departure at 1855 to reach Newark at 2155. The return overnight flight departs at 2355 to arrive in Geneva at 1350.

The daily Doha-Washington route starts on June 24. It will be operated by larger A340-600s which have the capability of flying non-stop. Flight QR51 departs Doha at 1235 reaching Washington at 2010. Return flight QR52 leaves at 2255 arriving in Doha at 1900 the next day.

It means that Qatar will now be the second Gulf airline to serve New York (Emirates was the first) and the only one serving Washington DC.

It will also be the second carrier from that region to gain transatlantic traffic rights from mainland Europe, following in the footsteps of Emirates who began a daily Hamburg-New York JFK service last November.

For more information go to qatarairways.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Etihad drops Gatwick but increases Heathrow flights. Also serving Johannesburg daily from August

Etihad is making big changes to its London schedules. With little more than a month’s notice the Abu-Dhabi based carrier has decided to ditch its daily Gatwick B777 service on March 24 in favour of extra flights out of Heathrow.

A revised double-daily service from Heathrow will start on March 25. Etihad’s existing evening departure is unchanged but the erratically timed afternoon service EY12 (it departed at different times during the week) now leaves at a standardised 1305 giving an Abu Dhabi arrival at 2315.

Inbound service EY11 will now depart Abu Dhabi at 0255 to arrive in Heathrow at 0740 (previously this flight departed the Gulf in the morning, reaching Heathrow around 1300).

Both timings are excellent for passengers making connections for domestic and international services. Etihad is understood to have secured these ‘slots’ times from Bmi. Officially, the carrier will not confirm or deny this rumour but it seems plausible seeing as Bmi places its flight code on all Etihad flights to and from the UK.

But why scrap Gatwick? It seems that Etihad’s service to the capital’s second airport wasn’t generating enough cash. Moreover the B777 was too large for the number of available passengers. A spokesperson for Etihad explained that the B777 is “being transferred to meet demand elsewhere on the network.” The simplified timings at Heathrow “will benefit passenger connectivity at our Abu Dhabi hub” says the spokesperson.

It means that Etihad’s London-Abu Dhabi-Sydney schedules will be dramatically improved when flights start on March 26. When Business Traveller covered the Sydney service (see Online News, January 11) there was no easy connection back to London from Sydney. But this will change now that the Heathrow flights have been retimed.

It means that on the outward leg to Sydney there’s a 2 hour, 40 min transfer in Abu Dhabi along with a 1 hour 45 min layover on the return.

Other News

Next August, Etihad will expand flights to Johannesburg by stepping up its current twice a week service to a daily frequency.

It means it will become a bigger player in the busy Europe-South Africa market which Gulf rival Emirates and Qatar Airways now exploit with keen pricing.

Etihad’s EY600 departs Abu Dhabi at 0120 reaching Johannesburg at 0820. The return EY601 leaves at 1045 to land in Abu Dhabi at 2050.

Connecting times in Abu Dhabi from Heathrow are excellent (125 mins) on the way out. But the return requires a six hour layover.
For more information go to etihadairways.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Switzerland loses Delhi link

Air Canada’s decision to pull off the Zurich-Delhi route from May 1 deprives Switzerland of its sole link with the Indian capital.

The Canadian carrier operated a daily Zurich-Delhi service by B767-300 as an extension of its overnight service from Toronto. Air Canada code-shared the service with fellow Star Alliance member Swiss.

It had been thought that any airline flying to India (because of the high passenger numbers) would find it a licence to print money. And according to the 2001 census there are 700,000 people of Indian origin residing in Canada. But unless the yield (revenue per seat) is healthy airlines with high costs cannot make a profit.

According to a spokesperson for Air Canada in London, “The route didn’t meet our financial performance objectives. The aircraft will be deployed instead to mainland China this summer. It will enable us to operate a twice daily service on the Vancouver-Beijing route.”

Industry sources say that airlines flying to India need to run their planes with an 80 per cent load factor in order to be profitable. That’s because ticket prices are falling as more carriers enter the market.

Air Canada is facing stiff price competition from the likes of Gulf carriers such as Etihad, Emirates and, soon, Qatar Airways who are all tapping its North American market.

From May, Swiss passengers bound for Delhi will have to make connections using Star member Lufthansa via Frankfurt.

For more information go to aircanada.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Eurostar faces increased Avignon competition

This summer sees budget airline Flybe again compete with Eurostar on the popular Avignon route. Eurostar operates a weekly (every Saturday) high-speed train direct from London to Avignon between July and September.

Air options in previous years were limited and costly. The sole option was to route via Paris and transfer between CDG and Orly.

But last year Flybe began summer flights from Southampton. It was the first direct flight linking the UK and Avignon. Southampton continues again this year with Flybe adding an additional service from Exeter.

So air travel can be a better alternative for travellers living within easy reach of either airport especially as there are more departures. A further advantage for Flybe is that Eurostar’s timings (an early departure from Waterloo with a late return) are geared for the London market so regional passengers can incur additional hotel expenses.

Eurostar’s Avignon service departs from, and returns to, Waterloo every Saturday between July 7 and September 8. Return fares start at £99 in standard and £249 in first class.

Flybe departs Southampton four times a week (every Monday, Wednesday. Friday and Saturday) between March 26 and October 27. Typical return fares in July start at £100. Flybe’s new service departs Exeter three times a week (every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) between March 27 and October 27. Return fares in July start at £76. Flybe’s prices may vary when you travel outside the summer peak.

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

Report by Alex McWhirter

Air France expands at London City

Air France is set to expand its presence at London’s fast-growing City Airport (LCY) by launching five new routes. At the same time it will link with Scot Airways to jointly operate flights on a further three routes.

Air France is using City Jet (a Dublin-based carrier which is now 100% owned by the French national carrier) to add services to Madrid, Milan Linate, Geneve, Zurich and Nice. The Scot Airways services will continue, as at present, to Edinburgh and Dundee with the addition of a new route to Belfast’s downtown Harbour Airport.

Flights to the first five cities will be operated by 95-seater RJ85 jets (an updated version of the ubiquitous BAe146). Scot Airways’ flights will be operated mainly by its existing Dornier 328 turbo-props although the plan is for City Jet’s RJ85 jets to feature on a few services. All these routes, with the exception of Nice and Belfast Harbour, are already served by other carriers.

So far Air France isn’t making available details of schedules and fares. But prices are expected to be competitive with the likes of British Airways, Swiss and Air One who already serve one or more of these cities from LCY.

Air France’s existing flights from LCY to Dublin and Paris Orly will continue. The carrier has yet to decide whether or not to continue its once a day link with Paris CDG for the summer season.

For more information go to airfrance.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Air France and KLM to expand North American networks

There are more opportunities for transatlantic passengers making connections through Paris CDG and Amsterdam this summer. Both Air France and its Dutch partner KLM are adding new routes and increasing flights on existing services.

The main news is that Air France will launch a new daily service to Seattle on the US West coast from June 11. The flight will be operated by an Airbus A330-200 and it’s a significant development because there are currently few non-stop flight options between Europe and Seattle.

Flight AF46 will depart Paris CDG at 1320, reaching Seattle at 1435. Inbound service AF41 will leave Seattle at 1655 to arrive in Paris CDG the next day at 1140.

These timings are perfect for making connections at CDG both for other European and long-haul destinations.

In other news Air France will add a sixth daily flight to the busy Paris CDG to New York JFK route. It will also draft in larger B747-400s to serve Toronto, Atlanta and Boston.

Meanwhile KLM plans a third daily service linking Amsterdam with New York JFK from July 1. It will also operate an additional five flights a week to both Los Angeles and Toronto using B777s.

KLM will rejig some schedules out of Amsterdam to offer what it terms a “morning transatlantic departure bank” covering flights to New York JFK, Boston, Los Angeles and Detroit. The airline says the revised timings are geared to the needs of connecting passengers arriving in Amsterdam on overnight flights from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

For more information go to airfrance.co.uk, klm.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

VLM launches online check-in facility

Belgian carrier VLM has launched an online check-in facility on its website. Customers of the airline are now able to check-in up to 30 hours (and until two hours) before departure.

Says Johan Vanneste, managing director of VLM: “This means that passengers travelling [without checked luggage] can turn up at London City Airport, Rotterdam and Antwerp just 15-20 minutes before the flight takes off.”

At Brussels airport passengers are advised to leave at least half an hour because there is a longer walk to the gate. In March VLM will also introduce self check-in kiosks at Manchester and Amsterdam airports.

Passengers will be able to choose their seat and receive boarding passes by swiping their passport or credit card. Vanneste added that he believes the service will also be available at London City in the next few months.

VLM offers over 100 flights per weekday to and from London City Airport and the airline begins a new route on February 26 with direct flights from Manchester to Rotterdam.

Vanneste says: “We have done three new destinations in the last few months so we have always got our hands full. I think in the second half of this year maybe we’ll see another new route.”

Visit flyvlm.com for more information.

Report by Felicity Cousins

SAS drops Copenhagen-Shanghai in favour in favour of new Asian routes from Stockholm

From April 8 Scandinavia’s SAS will no longer serve Shanghai. Its current three non-stop flights will be replaced by an indirect code-share operation using Air China via Beijing.

The surprise decision to drop Shanghai, perhaps China’s most dynamic city, was taken says SAS to suit an increasing number of passengers who prefer to arrive at the city’s domestic Hongqiao airport (12 km from downtown and where Air China’s flights from Beijing arrive), rather than less convenient Pudong (30 km away) where SAS’ international flights touch down.

One advantage of the new arrangement is that SAS can now serve Shanghai six times a week via Beijing, albeit with a longer journey time.

But Stockholm is set to benefit as SAS is deciding to expand its Asian network from the Swedish capital (traditionally SAS has operated Asian flights from its main hub at Copenhagen).

SAS will launch a new four times a week Airbus A340-300 linking Stockholm with Beijing next month. Starting March 25 flight SK993 will leave the Swedish capital at 2230 to reach Beijing at 1255 returning as SK994 at 1445 to arrive in Stockholm at 1810. Good connections are available in Stockholm to and from other European cities.

Another new route from Stockholm, this time to Bangkok, will be launched at the end of October. It will be operated by an Airbus A340-300.
Flight SK975 will depart Stockholm at 2030 arriving in Bangkok at 1250 the next day with the return SK976 departing at 1440 to reach Stockholm at 2005 the same day. There are connection possibilities from other European airports for the outward service. The return flight from Bangkok may necessitate an overnight stop at Stockholm but this needn’t be an inconvenience seeing as there is a Radisson SAS hotel within the terminal at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

For more information go to flysas.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

BA adds Glasgow and Zurich from London City

British Airways continues to expand its operations at London’s City airport (LCY) with the launch of two new services on March 25. It also says that schedules from this airport will be further expanded in the years ahead.

BA will begin a much requested service to Glasgow operating up to four times a day in each direction, with fares from £78 return. No other carrier plies this route.It will also begin flying up to four times a day to Zurich in competition with Swiss and priced from £98 return.

At the same time BA will expand its Edinburgh route. It will ply the route up to eight times a day as against seven currently.Flights are being operated by BA’s Cityflyer division because BA Connect, which currently operates for BA at LCY, is in the process of being sold to budget carrier Flybe.

The Glasgow timings tend to suit business passengers originating in Scotland rather than the London area. Flights depart LCY at 0910, 1340, 1800 and 1920 returning from Glasgow at 0700, 0830, 1225 and 1550.

BA’s Zurich timings seem to be aimed at London rather than Zurich-originating executives. Departures from LCY are at 0705, 1040, 1435 and 1730 returning from Zurich at 1025, 1540, 1800 and 2045.

On the other hand, BA reports that its passengers can and do ‘mix and match’ their flights between City, Heathrow and Gatwick airports depending on convenience.

Says BA Cityflyer MD, David Evans, “Our schedules from LCY have been well received by the business community and the latest of our route offerings are very much at the top of the airport’s “wish list.” London City will be a major focus for us over the next few years. We continue to evaluate other opportunities as we plan our schedules for 2008 and beyond.”

For more information go to ba.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter