Varig resumes flights to the UK

The Varig brand returned to the Uk this week, with
the resumption of flights between London and
the Brazilian cities of Rio and
Sao Paulo.

Once Brazil’s flagship carrier, all of
Varig’s international flights were postponed last summer following financial
difficulties and subsequent restructuring under new owners Gol Transportes
Aereos. But the airline (operating under the name VRG Linhas Aereas SA) has been
steadily resuming flights to Europe, with Frankfurt, Rome, and Paris already commenced, and the latest London
Heathrow route starting on October 30.

Flight RG8753 departs Heathrow daily (except Thursdays) at 2205, arriving
into Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport at 0815 the next day, before connecting to
Rio de Janeiro
and arriving at 1000. The return leg RG8752 leaves Rio for London at 2030 (daily
except Wednesdays), connecting in Sao Paulo and arriving into Heathrow at
between 1400 and 1605 depending on the day of travel.

Varig’s competitors on the Sao Paulo-London route include BA and
Brazil’s TAM Linhas Aereas, which
both offer a daily service. The news follows Emirates’ first foray into the
Brazilian market, with a daily service from Dubai (see online news October 19).

For more information visit varig.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

High-tech parking at T5

Terminal 5’s car parks will have a number of high-tech services when they open next
year. The terminal will offer more than 7,000 spaces, designed to “take the
guesswork out of parking at the airport”.

Among the
facilities at T5’s short stay car park (located within walking distance of
check-in according to BAA) is a “Car Finder” service, aimed at helping lost
customers locate their vehicles when returning to the car park. They will be
able to input their registration details at kiosks, allowing CCTV cameras with
number plate recognition technology to narrow down the vehicles location to a
specific zone.

A similar
service called Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) will help pre-booked
customers gain quick access and exit from the car park, while BAA says that bay
monitoring will enable drivers to pinpoint spare spaces and reduce queuing and
congestion.

The short
stay car park will have a total of 3,800 spaces, and will also offer valet
parking, allowing passengers to drop their car off on the terminal forecourt,
and collect it from just outside arrivals. The remaining car park spaces will
be provided in two off-terminal locations, which BAA says will be “a short
distance from the terminal and served by frequent courtesy coaches”.

The
announcement follows details of the new Heathrow Express service to T5 (see
online news September 19), with BAA eager to promote services it believes will “help
passengers arrive at the terminal relaxed and stress free”. There will also be
space for 150 motorcycles next to the short stay car park, while for the more
energetic BAA says it will provide free parking for bicycles, with new cycle
paths connecting T5 to the wider world.

For more
information on services at T5, visit terminal5.ba.com.

Report by Mark
Caswell

Marriott to add hotel at Schiphol airport

Marriott is to open a
318-room Renaissance property near Schiphol International Airport in 2009. It
will be the second Renaissance-branded hotel from Marriott to open in the
greater Amsterdam area.

Rooms at the Renaissance Amsterdam Airport
hotel will be “spacious” and provide guests with high-speed internet access,
mini-bar, flat screen TV and 20-hour room service.

There will also be a restaurant serving
breakfast, lunch and dinner, a bar, lobby lounge, business centre, gym and
shops. Large business meetings or social events will be  accommodated by a 4,627sqft meeting room, or
alternatively guests will have the choice of one of 12 smaller meeting rooms. Said Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s chief financial
officer:

“Schiphol is the largest international
gateway to Amsterdam and one of Europe’s most important airline hubs. We are
confident that this Renaissance hotel will be a welcomed addition to
Amsterdam’s hospitality infrastructure, especially for those doing business in
the vicinity of the airport.”

The hotel will be situated near the airport
and there will be regular bus services running to the city centre 15 kilometres
away. Other Marriott Hotels in Holland’s capital include the Courtyard Amsterdam
Airport, the Amsterdam Marriott Hotel, and the Rennaisance Amsterdam Hotel.

For more information go to marriott.com.

Report by Jenny Southan

New York investigates measures to reduce flight delays

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced recommendations to
reduce current flight delays and congestion that are the result of a continuing
increase in air traffic.

The proposals come in direct response to the Federal
Aviation Administration’s recommendations to deal with the problems by cutting
flights at JFK to 80 per hour. This restriction would be the equivalent to the
cap on air traffic at JFK in the late 1960s. The Port Authority has argued that this would not solve the
problem realistically. Said Anthony E. Shorris, executive director of the Port
Authority:

“The FAA’s
action would simply put a ‘No Vacancy’ sign up at one of the nation’s busiest
airports and then walk away from the problem. Cutting the number of flights
at one airport to levels not seen in almost 40 years and declaring victory
isn’t a solution.”

Since March 2006 flight demand at JFK has increased by 41
per cent, so If the FAA had implemented a cap last year, JFK airport would have
had to turn away around 10,000 passengers per day.

“Unfortunately, the FAA’s approach of cutting flights at JFK
isn’t a solution, in fact it’s potentially a recipe for worsening the problem
by pushing growing passenger demand to other airports,” said Anthony Coscia, Port Authority chairman.

“We face a crisis right now and real solutions mean meeting
the demands of families and businesses who need to fly, expanding capacity to
allow the system to continue to grow, and working to treat all customers
better.”

The Port Authority hopes that the problems will instead be
overcome by introducing 17 new initiatives which will essentially aim to expand
capacity through the use of new technology, use of the newly acquired Stewart International Airport,
better management of planes in-flight and on the ground, and improved customer service
during delays.

Among the recommendations the Port Authority hopes will reduce delays include: installing
advanced ground surveillance systems to allow more efficient management of
take-offs and landings, adding an additional westbound departure route, adding
taxiways to handle more aircraft, and improving navigation systems to reduce
space between planes in-flight.

The Port Authority has since called on congress to pass the
‘FAA Reauthorisation Bill’ in order to fund and oversee the FAA in the
implementation of these potential solutions.

For more information visit panynj.gov.

Report by Jenny Southan

American Airlines B767-300ER business class

AA767

American Airlines’ new service from London Stansted to New York’s
JFK, which began on October 29, is notable for a number of reasons. Announced only four months ago (see online news July 13) it is the debut of the new lie-flat business class
offering from American. It also marks the return of legacy carriers to
Stansted; both American (from 1992-1993) and Continental Airlines have in the
past served Stansted. And while the all-business class carriers such as
airlines Eos and Maxjet have been there for almost two years, American is entering the market with a two-class product, allowing economy class
passengers access to the route.

Lastly, it allows the estimated 14
million people living in the Stansted catchment area (calculated as those within
a two-hour drive of the area) the chance to fly into not only New York, but
American Airlines’ recently opened $1.3 billion hub at JFK (see online news August 30) and onwards to over 40 destinations across the
States and down to the Caribbean.

First impressions: Business
Traveller was on the inaugural flight from Stansted, so service was definitely
above normal. There was a swing band at the gate, the cutting of the ribbon by
American actor Christian Slater, speeches by Stewart Wingate, managing director
of BAA Stansted and Maria Sebastian, vice president of sales and marketing EMEA
for American Airlines, a champagne reception, the cutting of a giant cake and
traditional water shower from the emergency services as the Boeing 767-300
taxied out onto the runway.

Flight times are
AA125 departing Stansted 0915, arriving 1315 JFK Terminal 8, with AA124
departing JFK 1945, arriving London Stansted 0700.

The check-in area for the flight is
split between Zone D for economy passengers and Zone K for business class
passengers. Business class passengers have access to the fast-track, and the
shuttle train takes you through to the gate at Terminal 2 (second stop for the
shuttle).

At present there is a temporary
lounge opposite Gate 31, although American is building a dedicated lounge to
seat 48 with restrooms and two shower rooms to be opened in the first quarter
of 2008. This will be in time for the second daily flight to JFK by American starting April 8,
2008, which will depart London Stansted as flight AA129 at 1800, arriving into JFK at 2050, and returning
on AA128 departing JFK at 2145, arriving into Stansted at 0945.

The flight: The Boeing 767-300 has 225 seats (30
business, 195 economy). The redesigned cabin seems spacious partly because of
the ergonomically designed overhead lockers, and partly because the business
class seats, though contained within their own shell, aren’t very high,
allowing for clear sight angles around the cabin. The new business class seats
are in a 2-2-2 configuration, and are lie-flat with personal in-flight
entertainment (IFE)
with audio and visual on demand. This comes from a large laptop-like screen,
which can be detached from the seat in front, or simply unfolded to act as a TV
screen with the controls where the keyboard would normally be.

To one side of this is a power
socket which can be used for charging either the IFE unit or a laptop. Note though that a
special adapter is needed to power your laptop when using this socket. It can
be bought onboard from the duty-free catalogue, but at $125 onboard (none are
available for hire) you may simply choose to work until your battery is flat
and then fume the rest of the journey. The IFE was disappointing in its choice – under
‘Thrillers’ for instance, there was only one selection – Rear Window, from
1954. Nevertheless there is a large choice of TV programmes and audio choices,
and BOSE noise cancelling headphones were handed out

The food choice is a large one, with
four options for the main course, devised by AA’s ‘Chef Andrew Bailey
from [American’s] London
kitchen’. Cutlery is metal, and breads, salads, appetizers and wine choice
all mark this product out as one competitive with other airlines flying this
route.

The seat is comfortable, with an
array of pre-set choices for positions suitable for take-off and landing,
reading or sleeping, as well as a ‘Memory’ button allowing the passenger to
find the perfect position and then enter it into the seat’s memory. In common
with most new generation business class seats, this is a lie-flat product
rather than fully flat. In the lie-flat position the arms of the seat can be
pushed down to give more room, though some may prefer to leave them up, partly
for privacy, partly to provide a brace to stop from rolling off the seat. The
service was efficient and friendly and professional.

Arrival: Arrival into JFK was
preceded by a lunchtime snack, the choice being a huge breast of cold chicken,
or a pizza (again both delicious). But an hour before landing, first the
headphones were collected for ‘inventorying’, and then the personal IFE systems about 30
minutes later. This may be necessary for the flight crew, but for anyone
watching a film it is very frustrating. Touchdown was extremely hard, but we
quickly taxied to our gate, which was about a 10-minute walk from security.

Verdict: American Airlines’ new
business class is a workmanlike product, which serves its purpose in allowing
travellers to sleep on night flights and work during day flights, but
reinforces the divide between carriers which offer fully-flat beds and those which do
not. In the latter group are many big names (Air France, KLM, Lufthansa,
Emirates) but on the competitive routes out of the UK, point-to-point flyers
may well choose another airline. Where American comes into its own is with the
depth of its connecting schedules from the new JFK Terminal and of course
connecting flights from its Dallas and Chicago hubs.

Contact: americanairlines.co.uk.

Tom Otley

BA sells GB franchise to Easyjet (CORRECTION)

British Airways is to sell its GB Airways franchise to Easyjet for just over £100 million.

The news means Easyjet will soon account for just under a quarter of all slots at London Gatwick (GB’s main hub). It also sees BA ending its final UK franchise agreement, with  Scottish regional carrier Loganair also terminating its franchise (although a codeshare will remain in place until October 25, 2008) and Bmi’s takeover of Bmed becoming official at the weekend.

The purchase of GB Airways will see Easyjet operate 28 of its routes from Gatwick, as well as another six from Manchester. GB also owns four daily Heathrow slots, although these will not transfer to Easyjet.

Commenting on the news British Airways CEO Willie Walsh said: “UK franchises have outlived their purpose. Easyjet has made an offer to buy GB Airways and this has enabled us to end the franchise agreement early.”

It is thought that GB’s interest in moving towards a more low-cost model, with paid for catering, was partly behind BA’s decision to exit the franchise. GB currently operates routes out of Gatwick to destinations such as Gibraltar, Malta, Corfu and Nantes, as well as several routes already served by Easyjet from Gatwick including Faro, Innsbruck and Marrakech, suggesting that there will be some rescheduling of services once Easyjet formally takes over.

For more information visit gbairways.com, ba.com, easyjet.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Correction: As stated below by one of our readers, GB Airways has in fact been sold to Easyjet by The Bland Group, resulting in the termination of BA’s franchise with GB.

Radisson SAS to open in Jersey

Hotel chain Radisson SAS opens its latest UK property, The Radisson SAS
Waterfront Hotel in Jersey on November 1.

The four-star hotel will be the only property on
the island to have views over the marina and direct access to the beach, and is
one of the first international chains to locate in Jersey. Until now, apart from
the three-star Best Western, Jersey has mainly been home to individual
guesthouses and hotels.

The Radisson SAS Waterfront hotel will have 195
bedrooms equipped with flatscreen LCD TVs and air-conditioning, five meeting
rooms, business centre, restaurant and bar, 386sqm of health facilities
including fitness centre, sauna and treatment rooms, and free high-speed
internet access will be available throughout the premises (as with all Radisson
SAS hotels). Said Hamish Reid, general manager of the Jersey Conference
Bureau:

“With several multi-million pound investments,
Jersey is experiencing growing popularity in the meetings market with over 300
UK events each year choosing Jersey as their destination. The Radisson SAS will
combine the service, expertise and space tailored to business travel and will
add a new option for events in the 200-delegate market, helping to grow the UK
and European markets for the Island.”

Business travellers will find the east wing of the
hotel designed to accommodate them, while the west side will be devoted to the
main public and leisure areas.

For more information visit jersey.radissonsas.com.

In other news the Rezidor Hotel Group, owners of
the Radisson SAS brand, has announced that its forthcoming Bordeaux property
will form part of the luxury Regent portfolio of hotels. It had originally been
planned to reopen the former Grand Hotel of Bordeaux as a four-star Radisson SAS
property, but following extensive restoration the decision has been made to
market the hotel as a five-star Regent property.

The hotel is due to open by the end of 2007, and
will feature 150 rooms and suites, combining “the classical style of the XVIII
and XIX centuries with modern eclectic luxury and state-of-the-art technology”,
as well as a 1,000sqm spa. The Regent Bordeaux will join properties in Berlin,
Shanghai and Singapore among others to receive the Regent moniker.

For more information visit regenthotels.com.

Report by Jenny
Southan


Geneva Kempinski hotel reopens

The Grand Hotel Kempinski in Geneva has officially reopened after two years of renovations.

Designed by local architects Tjca, the refurbishments started in 2005, and took place in two stages. “The aim was to make the lake the reference point of all public areas and to blur the border between building and water,” said a spokesperson for Kempinski Hotels.

According to the hotel group, designers have carefully coordinated the colour scheme to make guests feel welcome and relaxed, with burgundy and beige velvet furnishings and touches of pale blue used in the public areas.

The opening comes a few weeks after Le Richemond hotel – acquired by The Rocco Forte Collection in 2005 – reopened its doors to the public after a major face-lift (see online news September 26).

The Grand Hotel Kempinski is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva and has 380 rooms and 43 suites – all with modern amenities including satellite TV and wifi Internet access – ten function rooms, a 630sqm ballroom, a luxury shopping arcade featuring an art gallery, deluxe jewellers and fashion boutiques, indoor salt-water swimming pool and sauna and wellness and fitness areas.

A restaurant, lounge, bar and maritime-styled terrace can be found side by side on the second floor. But while each venue is independent of one another, guests can order from any of the menus, making ‘Floortwo’ a more unusual dining concept.

Opening rates at the Grand Hotel Kempinski start at £187pp per night. For more information visit kempinski-geneva.com.

Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva
19, Quai du Mont-Blanc
CH – 1201 Geneva
Tel: +41 22 908 9081

Report by Jenny Southan

Blue 1 launches economy extra class on Stansted-Helsinki route

Blue 1, a
subsidiary of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is adding an economy extra class to
its London-Helsinki route.

The Finnish
carrier now operates the premium economy class on several of its routes out of Finland, including Amsterdam,
Barcelona, Berlin,
London, Milan, Paris, Rome and Zurich, and is aiming to encourage business travellers who
might otherwise travel to Helsinki
from Heathrow with either BA or Finnair. Blue 1 scrapped its traditional
business class offering in favour of the economy extra service earlier this year.

The economy
extra service includes flexible tickets, fast track check-in, dedicated cabin
space and complimentary food and beverages during the flight. Members of SAS’
Eurobonus frequent flyer loyalty scheme also benefit from 50 per cent more
points when flying in economy extra.

Blue 1
plies the Stansted-Helsinki route with a daily service, departing London at 2040 and arriving in Finland
at 0135, with the return leg leaving Helsinki
at 1855 and arrving back into Stansted at 1955.

For more
information visit blue1.com.

Report by
Mark Caswell

Centralwings adds new winter routes from Manchester

Polish low-cost airline Centralwings has announced that from October 28 it will
be extending its network from the UK to offer flights from Manchester to Krakow
three times a week, and Warsaw four times a week.

Centralwings is also introducing a new route
between Edinburgh and Poznan (three times a week).

The new flights are in addition to Centralwings’
existing services from London Stansted to Warsaw, Gatwick to Warsaw, Krakow and
Wroclaw, and destinations in Poland from Dublin, Shannon and Cork.

Budget airline Ryanair does not currently run a
service to Poland from Manchester or Edinburgh, and Easyjet only fly Edinburgh
to Krakow, so Centralwings’s new routes will be filling a gap in the market,
particularly for people travelling from the north of the UK.

The Polish airline promises competitive prices for
its new routes – flights from UK airports start at £3.99 – but passengers can
expect a fixed charge of £19.89 each way (including tax) to be levied on top.

For more information visit centralwings.com.

Report by Jenny Southan