Europcar gives thumbs up to identification scheme

Car rental firm Europcar is to extend a thumbprint identification trial to all of its UK locations from next month. Designed to combat vehicle theft, the scheme requires all customers to provide a thumbprint prior to renting a vehicle.

Europcar says it is implementing the scheme following the success of a pilot project at London Stansted airport, in which all of the on-airport car rental companies have been taking part over the last twelve months (see online news August 10, 2006). Europcar says that all of the 48,000 vehicles rented from Stansted airport during the trial were returned at the end of the rental period – this compares to an average of 15 vehicles per month which the company as a whole reported missing during 2006.

Says David Alexander, operations and franchise director: “Vehicle theft is becoming more problematic for us and the ever-increasing sophistication in producing false documentation has made it increasingly difficult for us to trace and recover vehicles that are not returned. We believe that the implementation of the thumbprint scheme across our network will be a significant deterrent against vehicle theft, and as the trial at Stansted has proved, it has been 100 per cent successful.”

Alexander added that Europcar has received just 12 complaints regarding the thumbprint requirements at Stansted, and pointed out that prints are destroyed or returned to the customer once the vehicle has been returned. In the case of a missing vehicle Europcar will attempt to contact the customer before handing over all rental documentation including the thumbprint to the police.

At present Europcar is the only car rental firm to announce such a UK-wide scheme, although an Avis representative said the company was “looking into it”.

For more information visit europcar.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Emirates to restrict free UK chauffeur-drive mileage

UK business class passengers departing with Emirates from Gatwick, Heathrow or Manchester could soon find themselves paying £45 for an airport chauffeur transfer which used to be free.

Right now, business class passengers departing from Heathrow or Gatwick are entitled to 65 free chauffeur-driven miles from their home or office. From July 1 that limit is cut to 50 miles.

While the move will have no effect on passengers living within the Greater London area it will impact on those based outside the capital. In particular travellers in northern home counties like Bedfordshire or Cambridgeshire who currently just scrape into the current limits might have to pay.

Those passengers taking transfers for flights departing Manchester may also have to pay. The current limit of 80 miles is cut to 70 miles from September 1.

It means passengers from certain areas of Yorkshire may not qualify for a free ride. On the other hand, Emirates would probably argue that these passengers will instead opt instead for its Newcastle service launching on the same day. (Emirates has yet to publish Newcastle mileage limits, but they may be generous in the early days in order to stimulate premium traffic).

Emirates is also raising the cost of extra miles. Passengers heading for Heathrow are currently billed £1.89 a mile for excess miles over 65. Gatwick passengers pay £1.95.From July 1, Heathrow excess fees for trips of over 50 miles will be billed at a flat £22.33 for every 10 miles. Gatwick passengers will pay £23.50 respectively.Passengers using Manchester are already charged for every 10 mile band at the rate of £22.33.

The move does not affect Emirates’ first class passengers who will continue to qualify for a ‘no mileage’ limit anywhere in the UK. Neither does it affect the situation at Dubai where all premium passengers are entitled to free chauffeur-drive transfers to anywhere in the UAE.

For more information go to emirates.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Ryanair to open Bristol base

Travellers in the West Country will find it much easier to reach destinations in Central and Eastern Europe amongst others this winter. Ryanair is creating a new base in Bristol with two dedicated B737-800s. It will open 16 new routes starting in November.

The Eastern cities are:

Bratislava (Slovakia) 3 weekly
Budapest (Hungary) 4 weekly
Katowice (Poland) 3 weekly
Poznan (Poland) 3 weekly
Rzeszow (Poland) 2 weekly
Wroclaw (Poland) 4 weekly

In addition there will be new flights going to Derry (daily), Dinard (three a week), Knock (four a week), Milan Bergamo (daily), Riga (three weekly), Salzburg (two weekly from December).

Ryanair says its Bristol base will see its passengers numbers at this South West airport growing five fold to over 1 million in 2008.

For more information go to ryanair.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Korean Air taps into Japanese market

Korean Air’s new lie-flat style seating on services from London to Seoul are a clear sign that the airline is upping its service standard by another notch.

The new business class product, which was launched on five of the seven flights out of London in April this year, will complete its roll out by June 13. First class will feature the fully flat Kosmo Sleeper seat on the London route later this year, while Prestige (business class) cabins have been fitted with the new angled lie-flat bucket seat.

The seat reclines 170 degrees, with individual controls for different sections of the seat, a power source, directional lighting and AVOD in-flight entertainment with an extensive range of recent films (both Western and Korean) and music. New menus were introduced last year with healthy organic choices. [For a review of Korean Air business class London to Seoul see the July/August issue of Business Traveller].

Korean Air flies daily from London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Seoul Incheon Airport at 2130 arriving the following day at 1620 local time. The return journey departs at 1325 arriving at Heathrow at 1655. Asiana is the only other airline serving Seoul direct from London, flying on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2100 arriving in Seoul at 1550 and returning on the same days at 1300 arriving at Heathrow at 1705.

Korean Air is clearly pushing its onward Japanese connections and taking advantage of the fact that, while Tokyo Narita is served directly from London by four airlines with five flights a day, other Japanese cities have been neglected. For example, JAL is the only airline that flies directly to Osaka from London.

Connecting passengers in Seoul will certainly not be in any discomfort at Incheon. The futuristic, spotless and stylishly designed airport was completed in 2002 and is built on entirely reclaimed land. It has had such a successful reception in Asia that the designers of Heathrow’s T5 flew out to look at the convenient “one terminal” concept.

As well as a good selection of duty free shops, Incheon has a spa area for massages and trees growing inside the terminal. Connecting Korean Air passengers will be well looked after in the spacious lounges. With natural daylight and clear views onto the gates, seating is divided into smaller quiet areas and there are several hot and cold meal options provided by the Hyatt hotel group in the kitchen and bar area. There are showers, free internet connection, a smoking room and for first class lounge users, massaging chairs in a separate relaxation room.

A spokesperson for Korean Air says: “Korean Air traffic from the UK to Japan has been traditionally strong, but has recently seen an increase in passenger numbers because of the ease of transfers at award-winning Seoul Incheon. Passengers can transfer with ease through Incheon’s ‘one terminal concept’ to a variety of regional gateways in Japan without having the hassle of landing at Tokyo Narita and then having to change airports to Haneda Airport for the domestic leg of their journey.”

Korean Air has connecting flights to 15 destinations in Japan: Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda (from Seoul Gimpo Airport), Sapporo, Hakodate, Aomori, Akita, Komatsu, Niigata, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Fukuoka, Oita, Nagasaki and Kagoshima. Some services are offered on a code-share with JAL to offer passengers more options.

Connection times are attractive, for example: London-Seoul-Nagoya has a two and a half hour connection time at Incheon Airport and one hour 25 minutes on the return journey; London-Seoul-Osaka connection times on the outbound flight are one hour 35 minutes with one hour 55 minutes on the return leg.

When Business Traveller checked online with Airline Network for Korean Air flights in mid-June, business class fares were from £1,931 return. Business class fares for Japanese destinations via Seoul were £2,286 return for both London-Seoul-Nagoya and London-Seoul-Osaka.

Visit koreanair.com.

Report by Felicity Cousins

Etihad to serve Dublin from July 2

Abu Dhabi based carrier Etihad has moved forward the launch date for its Dublin route to the start of July. The airline had originally planned to serve the Irish capital from August, but says that it has brought forward this date because “demand has grown significantly”.

Etihad will operate four flights per week with an Airbus A330-200, configured to carry 200 passengers, with 10 in diamond zone (first class), 26 in pearl (business class), and 164 in coral (economy).

Flights EY045 (Monday and Friday) and EY041 (Tuesday and Saturday) will depart Abu Dhabi at 0205 and 1355 respectively, arriving in Dublin at 0735 and 1925, with the return legs EY042 and EY048 leaving Ireland at 1015 and 2110, arriving in Abu Dhabi at 2035 and 0730.

The flights will allow Irish-based travellers the opportunity to connect on to destinations such as India, Australasia and the Far East with Etihad. The advantage of having two timings is that travellers will be able to pick and choose depending on their connection requirements – for instance those arriving into Abu Dhabi on the 0730 flight can pick up flights EY450 to Sydney at 1010, EY206 to Mumbai at 1020, or EY218 to Delhi at 1030. Conversely the evening arrival allows timely connections to places such as Bangkok (departing Abu Dhabi at 2155 on flight EY402), and Muscat (departing 2150 on flight EY388).

The Dublin route represents the carrier’s fifth new destination this year following routes to Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, and Indian destinations Trivandrum and Kochi (the latter from June 2) – Etihad will also be launching flights to Milan from September. To read Tom Otley’s review of Etihad’s business and first class offering on the London – Abu Dhabi route click here.

Visitors interested in the forthcoming Irish issue of Business Traveller, with features on Dublin, Belfast and a look at Irish investors buying property abroad, can read it by clicking here.

Visit etihadairways.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

New secure car park at Heathrow

Passengers looking to park “off-airport” to save money might risk finding themselves directed to a muddy waste ground site situated miles from the airport. But off-airport parking at Heathrow has been taken to a different level now BCP has opened an £11 million multi-storey car park.

The facility can be found along the A4 Bath Road at the eastern end of Heathrow’s north runway. It is open 24 hours a day and operated by BCP’s parent firm Q-Park. There are regular bus transfers both to Terminals 1, 2 or 3 and Terminal 4. Journey times can vary but shouldn’t exceed 10 or 15 minutes depending on traffic.

Passengers using the new facility will find a high level of security. Upon arrival, for example, passengers’ cars are photographed from multiple angles before being valet parked. BCP says that 80 per cent of vehicles are parked under cover.

Rates are competitive with “on-airport” prices charged by BAA (the operator of Heathrow) both in its Business and Long Stay parks. Says BCP’s marketing director Eric Campus, “We would encourage people to prebook because they can save between 30 and 50 per cent on the ‘drive-up’ prices. In general we have dynamic pricing so the rates will vary depending on how busy we are at any given time.”

Because of the costs of processing the vehicles (the security checks, valet parking etc) in the park, BCP’s rates tend to be more advantageous for stays of three days and over.

When Business Traveller compared the online rates for a two-day stay next week (with Q-Park and BAA) arriving at 0800 and checking out at 1900 the next day we were quoted £24 by Q-Park but £22 by BAA Business Parking and £20 by BAA Long Stay parking.

But for a four day stay (in at 1000 on a Monday and out at 0800 on a Friday) for someone who might be flying long-haul we were quoted £39 by Q-Park as against £48 for BAA Business and £43 for BAA Long Stay.

For more information go to q-park.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Two new international routes for Edinburgh

The Scottish capital will shortly gain new links to Barcelona and Paris CDG. Spanish carrier Clickair will inaugurate a daily Edinburgh to Barcelona link on August 1 just in time for Scottish city’s famous Fringe Festival. Clickair will use an Airbus A320 with the flight departing from Barcelona at 0945 and returning from Edinburgh at 1030.

It will be in competition with local airline Globespan which also operates every day but using a B737. Globespan’s service departs Edinburgh at 0900 and comes back from Barcelona at 1335.

Says Clickair’s CEO, Alex Cruz, “We are delighted to add Scotland to our list of destinations. Edinburgh is a great complement to our existing London services, our two regions are especially close and we are proud to offer all travellers – business people, tourists and students alike – a product they can tailor to their needs.

The second service, operated by Easyjet, will compete with existing flights by Flybe and Air France. Easyjet’s daily service to Paris will begin on September 10 with flights departing at 0935 and returning at 1255.

The Paris route will further strengthen Easyjet’s presence at Scotland’s capital. Says Katie Stitson, Easyjet’s marketing manager for Scotland, “We now offer 14 routes from Edinburgh and are Scotland’s largest low-cost airline. Paris is our sixth new route this year following the launch of Madrid, Munich, Milan, Palma and Dortmund which begins on May 30.”

For more information go to clickair.com, easyjet.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Air France to fly Bristol-Paris

The seat shortage on the key Bristol-Paris CDG route continues to ease. Last month (see Online news, April 12) we reported on how Easyjet was adding an extra flight to compensate for the recent withdrawal of BA Connect which used to operate five flights a day.

Easyjet now operates two flights a day and the budget carrier will be joined on the route by Air France which will fly three times a day starting on June 11. Fares will start at £105 return with flights by 48-seater AT5 turbo-props.

But whereas Easyjet caters more for passengers flying to or from Paris (because passengers cannot throughcheck to other carriers), Air France is targeting the route at travellers hoping to make onward connections at its Paris CDG hub.

In particular there are convenient links to other cities in mainland Europe along with the Middle East, Asia and the US. For example, Air France’s 1725 flight from Bristol reaches CDG at 1955 in good time for late night departures for Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.

The full schedule sees Air France departing Bristol at 0630, 1040 and 1725 and arriving in CDG at 0900, 1310 and 1955. In the return direction, services depart at 0935, 1400 and 2040 to reach Bristol at 1010, 1425 and 2115.

But remember to allow two or three hours to be sure of making connections at Paris CDG’s Terminal 2 (the terminal used by Air France and various foreign carriers). Although Air France’s MCT (minimum connecting time) is only 45 minutes it’s essential to allow longer owing to delays on the ground.

For more information go to airfrance.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Hilton to open Luton Garden Inn

Hilton has announced its first Garden Inn property in the UK, due to open next year. The three-star Garden Inn concept is relatively new to Europe, although there are over 180 properties across the US, Canada and Mexico. In Europe, the brand is represented by three hotels in Stuttgart, Florence and at Rome airport.

Hilton is playing catch up in the mid-priced sector in the UK, with chains like Holiday Inn, Radisson SAS, Marriott and Accor all having established mid-priced brands such as Express by Holiday Inn, Park Inn, Marriott Courtyard and Novotel.

The Hilton Garden Inn Luton North will be located within the Butterfield Luton project, an 85 acre business and technology park capable of housing up to 100,000sqm of office space. The park is situated to the north east of the town just off the A505, around four miles from London Luton Airport.

The Garden Inn property will feature 155 rooms with work desk, air conditioning and LCD satellite TV, complimentary wifi throughout the hotel, a 24-hour business centre, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. There will also be a lobby lounge area with library and fireplace, a bar with plasma screen TV, a Pavilion Pantry shop offering ready meals, snacks and drinks, and a hospitality centre with microwave, fridge and coffee maker. Rooms will feature the Garden Sleep bed, the firmness of which can be adjusted by a dial on the side of the mattress according to the preference of the user. It is being built with a renewable energy “bio-mass” boiler to reduce fuel consumption.

Says Simon Vincent, area president for Hilton UK and Ireland:

“This first Hilton Garden Inn signals a new era for Hilton in the UK, and with Luton as an important hub with a large population centre, good access to a growing airport and its easy distance to the sites and sounds of London, the launch of the upper mid-market Hilton Garden Inn in this location is sure to be a success.”

Meeting facilities at the hotel include a boardroom and meeting room with parquet flooring and natural daylight, and there will also be a complimentary fitness centre, and on-site parking at the property.

Hilton plans to open 20 further Garden Inn properties over the next five years. It’s not the only new look Hilton brand to hit the UK recently, with several “lifestyle” Hilton hotels opening in London and Manchester (click here to see Business Traveller’s review of the Hilton London Bridge). This new style Hilton should help to give a more consistent feel to the brand, which has experienced a fair amount of brand stretch in terms of individual hotel standards over the years.

For more information visit stayhgi.com, butterfieldluton.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Manchester to get first ever direct flight to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian Airlines will capitalise on the growing number of business people flying from the Northwest to the Middle East. On June 22, the Saudi national airline will launch the first ever direct link to its home country from Manchester. At present, passengers have to route via Heathrow or airports elsewhere in Europe or the Middle East.

Flights with B777s will operate twice a week every Monday and Friday to both Jeddah and the Saudi capital of Riyadh. On Mondays, flight SV122 will depart at 1400, reach Riyadh at 0015 (the next morning) then continue to Jeddah where it arrives at 0245. The Tuesday service SV124 leaves Manchester at 1400 but stops first in Jeddah at 2359 then Riyadh at 0230.

The return service SV123 every Monday will leave Jeddah at 0210, Riyadh at 0450 to arrive in Manchester at 1130. On Friday SV121 departs Riyadh at 0235, Jeddah at 0515 for a Manchester arrival at 1130.

For more information go to saudiairlines.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter