SIA favours Heathrow over Manchester

SIA is set to increase capacity at Heathrow in favour of Manchester cuts. The airline will
reduce its Manchester-Singapore route from a daily to a five times a week B777-200
service with effect from November 5.

It means
there will no longer be a Tuesday or Thursday flight out of Singapore or a Wednesday or Friday service back
from Manchester.

SIA was
unavailable for comment but the cuts are believed to be related to the economic
downturn and the need to better optimise the extra seats which the carrier will
soon be providing out of Heathrow.

It means
that Mancunians wishing to fly to or from Singapore on days when there is no
non-stop service will be offered connections through Heathrow with alliance
partner Bmi.

The extra
seats from Heathrow will be offered from September 20. They are being
made available through the use of the A380 superjumbo every day on flight SQ321
departing London
at 2205 and on inbound daylight flight SQ318 departing Singapore at 1245. Until then
the A380 will operate these services up to four times a week.

Existing
A380 flights SQ317 at 1155 from London and SQ322
at 2330 from Singapore
remain unchanged.

SIA is one
of the most important Asian carriers flying out of the UK. Besides serving Singapore, its flights provide dozens of onward
connections both within Asia and on to Australasia.

For more
information go to singaporeair.com.

Report by
Alex McWhirter

Malev quits long-haul

Hungarian
airline Malev is set to drop all long-haul services from Budapest in favour of
flying closer to home. 

The move,
related to oil prices, has already led to the dropping of Bangkok
and will see both New York and Toronto (its sole
remaining long-distance destinations) scrapped in the coming months.

The carrier
will instead concentrate on expanding its network within Europe and especially Eastern Europe. In a
statement Malev blames “the rising cost of oil and the general world economic
slowdown” for the moves.

The
carrier’s remaining two B767s (which operate Malev’s long-distance routes) will
be withdrawn from service as they are now uneconomic to operate.

Notes
Malev, “Due to rising kerosene prices, the operational cost of flying Budapest-New York-Budapest with a B767 is
US$49,000 more than a year ago. This major hike in expenditure makes it
completely unviable for an airline the size of Malev to operate long-haul
services economically.”

Malev’s
last flight between Budapest and Toronto will depart on September 21 with the final service
to New York leaving Budapest on October 25.

Commenting on the move Doros Theodorou, Malev’s UK country manager said:

“This step has been taken as we look to the
future of focusing on where our strengths are, and that is our European network, primarily connecting West to East Europe and vice versa. This will not
stop us from offering our customers a global network which we can do through our
Oneworld partner airlines.”

Malev is
the sole carrier flying non-stop between Budapest
and Toronto but there are plenty of indirect
links via Frankfurt, London Heathrow, Paris CDG
and so on. An alternative non-stop
carrier for Budapest-New
York would be US
airline Delta.

For more
information go to malev.hu.

Report by
Alex McWhirter

Zoom drops Gatwick-JFK link

Zoom Airlines
will cease flying between London and New York on October 31, a result of high
fuel prices and increased competition on the route following the Open Skies
agreement.

The Canadian
carrier launched the Gatwick-JFK service in June last year, but has had to
contend with the soaring price of oil over the last twelve months, and airlines
such as Delta starting New York flights from Heathrow, a result of the Open
Skies agreement earlier this year.

In a statement Jonathan Hinkles, Zoom Airlines’ managing director, said: “We have decided to concentrate on our new routes –
linking London Gatwick with San Diego and Fort Lauderdale for Summer
2009. This will mean that we are, unfortunately, ceasing services between
London Gatwick and New York JFK from November 1, 2008. We have not taken
bookings for any New York
flights after this date and so no customers’ travel plans will be affected by
the move.

“Although we’ve
carried over 80,000 passengers on the route since its launch last year, a
combination of recent high fuel prices and an excessive increase in other
airlines’ seat capacity to New York
with the advent of Open Skies has led to our decision to redeploy the aircraft
onto more profitable routes.”

Hinkles said Zoom
remained “fully committed” to its services from the UK
to Canada and Bermuda. The carrier launched its schedule for summer
2009 earlier this week, with additional flights from Manchester including a
twice-weekly non-stop service to Toronto, and a second weekly flight to
Vancouver. Zoom will also add a Thursday non-stop flight between Glasgow and
Vancouver (complementing its current Sunday service via Calgary).

From Gatwick the
airline will add a third weekly non-stop service to San
Diego from June 2009, an extra direct Saturday flight to Fort Lauderdale, and a non-stop Sunday service to Ottawa for summer 2009.

For more information
visit flyzoom.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Openskies to switch to two classes

BA’s Openskies
subsidiary is to drop its economy seating in favour of an expanded premium
economy cabin, just months after launching the airline with a three-class
product.

The carrier,
which currently flies between Paris Orly and New York JFK (with an
Amsterdam-New York route also due to launch on October 15) says it is
responding to “strong and growing customer demand for high value premium
offering”.

It will replace
the 30 economy class seats onboard its 757 aircraft with 12 new Prem+ seats,
increasing the premium economy cabin to 40 seats, and in turn reducing the
total capacity of the aircraft to 64 seats.

Features of Prem+ include a 52’ pitch,
140-degree recline, and two power sockets, while the carrier’s business class
cabin (Biz) has 24 six-foot long fully-flat beds, and an la carte meals and
wine service.

Commenting on the change Dale Moss,
managing director of Openskies said:

“From the very beginning, Openskies was
built with a spirit of experimentation and creativity and a passion for
listening to our customers. Since our launch, we have had a tremendously
positive reception to our Prem+ service. By offering business class comfort without business class costs, Prem+ compares
very favorably with what our competitors offer as business class. We’re thrilled to expand our Prem+ offering
and focused on continuing to be flexible and responsive to our customers’
needs.” 

BA bought French all-business class carrier
L’Avion earlier this month (see online news July 2) and says it will integrate
the carrier into its Openskies service. This latest move will close the gap
between the products offered on the two airlines, and it will be interesting to
see if BA opts to reconfigure the L’Avion 757 aircraft (which currently offer
90 business class seats) with the revised two-class product on Openskies.

For more information visit
flyopenskies.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Air Asia to go ahead with London-Malaysia launch

Record fuel
prices will not scupper plans to launch budget flights from London
to Malaysia,
Air Asia’s boss has pledged.

Kuala
Lumpur-based Air Asia revealed plans to sell flights from Stansted to the
Malaysian capital under the Air Asia X brand earlier this year, aiming at
business as well as leisure travellers.

A Christmas
launch was targeted, but Tony Fernandes, Air Asia founder and group chief
executive, said problems sourcing a suitable aircraft had led to a slight
delay.

“The earliest
will now be next March and the latest, June. We were hoping to start in
November or December,” he said. A team is currently in final talks at Stansted.
“We are 90 per cent there,” said Fernandes.

Air Asia X has
sourced an Airbus A340-300 on which it will carry 386 passengers, including 58
in a premium economy cabin. This will have inclined flatbed seats with a
50-inch pitch.

Economy fares
were originally set to be around £300 return, but Fernandes admitted the oil
price meant this was now more likely to be about £350.

Air Asia X plans
to price its premium economy section against Malaysia Airlines’ full fare
economy ticket. Passengers in both classes will have to pay for food.

Air Asia
believes it can risk launching the London
service despite the economic uncertainty. Unlike Oasis Hong Kong Airlines,
which collapsed earlier this year, Air Asia has been operating for seven years
and already carries 22 million passengers – 7 million more than Malaysia
Airlines. Air Asia X already flies to China
and Australia from Kuala Lumpur.

“I have taken
the view that one of the best times to expand is during a period of flux,” said
Fernandes.

Air Asia X, in
which Sir Richard Branson owns a 20 per cent stake, is bringing its sponsorship of
Manchester United to an end and will instead use the Virgin connection to
publicise its UK
launch next year.

Its parent
company is also targeting business travellers by expanding on trunk routes
between Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

It flies seven
times a day to Bangkok
and hopes to expand its Kuala Lumpur-Singapore service from two to eight a day
when an open skies deal comes into force in December.

“Our target is
15 times a day, there is a huge market,” Fernandes said.

For more information visit airasia.com.

Report by Gary Noakes

Starwood announces Element Abu Dhabi

Starwood Hotels
has announced the debut of its long-stay Element brand outside North America, a
new-build property in Abu Dhabi due to open in 2011.

The hotel will
feature 270 “extended-stay units”, and will be located in Capital Centre, a mixed-use development around 20 minutes from the city centre and 15 minutes
from Abu Dhabi International airport.

A spin-off from
the group’s Westin brand, Starwood has placed particular emphasis on green
construction and design techniques for the new Element concept (see online news
April 22). The brand recently opened its first property in Lexington, Massachusetts,
with around 20 hotels under development across the US and Canada, including New
York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Toronto.

Capital Centre is
being dubbed as a “micro city” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, and once complete
will feature six hotels (Starwood’s Aloft brand will also make an appearance in
2009), residential and serviced apartment blocks and a marina.

The complex also
houses the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the first phase of which has
already been completed, and which will eventually feature over 55,000 sqm of meeting
and conference space, as well as food courts, retail outlets and 2,000 sqm of
serviced office space.

For more
information visit starwoodhotels.com/element and capitalcentre.ae.

Report by Mark
Caswell

Continental joins flat-bed brigade

Continental Airlines is set to join the ranks of
carriers offering fully-flat seating, with the launch of its new BusinessFirst
product.

Unveiled at the NBTA Convention in Los Angeles
yesterday, the new seat extends to 78 inches in length and has a maximum width
of 25 inches (with the armrests lowered). Other features include a privacy shell
and dividing screen, enhanced storage space and upgraded IFE, including a
15.4-inch seatback screen and iPod dock.

The seat has been two years in development and was
designed by BE Aerospace with input from Continental customers. Larry Kellner,
the carrier’s chairman and CEO, said: “We didn’t
just take US-based frequent flyers, we looked at this globally, because we do a
lot of our business offshore. We redesigned this seat four or five times as we
went through the cycles.”

Continental had intended to launch the product on
its fleet of 787 Dreamliners (25 firm orders, several more optioned), but due to
production delays at Boeing it will now start by retrofitting its 777s. The
first aircraft with the flat-beds will be in service by autumn 2009, and the
product will then be rapidly rolled out across Continental’s 777 and 757 fleets.
(The beds on the 757s will be a couple of inches
shorter than those on the 777s.)

Airline executives stressed that, thanks to the
innovative design of the new product, the number of BusinessFirst seats on its
aircraft would remain constant despite the switch to fully-flat and there would
be no jump in seat prices. Kellner said: “Beyond lie-flat, the biggest thing that came up from our corporate
customers was you’ve got to make sure you stay price-competitive.”

Continental operates 777s from Heathrow to its hubs
in Houston and Newark, and 757s on the Gatwick-Newark route. Some of these
routes are also served by 767s, configured 2-1-2, and here the wait for
fully-flat will be longer, as the new seat can’t be fitted on these
planes.

For more details, go to
continental.com.

Report by Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker

Pictures of the new Continental fully-flat product

Continental

Continental

Continental

Continental

Continental

Emirates A380: The lowdown

Emirates unveiled its A380 today, and aside from the headline-grabbing showers in first class, what’s new? Tom Otley climbed on board

Economy class

This takes up the whole of the lower deck – 88 rows in a 3-4-3 configuration, making a grand total of 399 economy seats. It doesn’t look too crowded, mainly because there were no passengers on board as we were given a tour, but also because of the mood lighting, the fibre-optic star-effect lights in the ceiling, and the larger windows letting in a sunny Hamburg afternoon. All seats have Emirates’ AVOD in-flight entertainment system “ICE”.

Seat pitch is 32-33 inches, width is 18 inches, and recline is six inches, with an extra one inch “due to seat articulation”. The seats also have individual laptop power.

At the back, up the stairs, and into the bar area for business class.

Business class

Starting from the rear (since this is the way we walked), the bar area is a good size, although it might get crowded if more than a few of the 20 rows of business class passengers (1-2-1 configuration) decide to stretch their legs. Through into the first cabin – there are bassinet attachment points in both of these two business class cabins, so no certainty on one of these being child-free. The seat plan shows the configuration more clearly than I can hope to describe (click here to view), but here goes…

It’s an unusual configuration and what you notice immediately is that every other row has no walkway. If the seats are close together, there is one, if not, they don’t. The problem with flat-bed seating, of course, is how you recline and extend the seat to fully-flat without having several feet of dead space between the rows.

British Airways has a yin-yang configuration, with half the seats facing backwards, while Virgin goes for a herringbone layout and Etihad staggers the seating. What Emirates has done is arrange for the feet to extend under the side table of the row in front, meaning the next row has to be sitting to one side.

For those seats pressed together, there is an optional divider which rises between the seats, although whether people will realise they are booking seats so close to one another (or so far apart if they want to travel together) will be a challenge for the airline to manage for the first few months. For those who are further apart, it would be difficult to hold a conversation, assuming they wanted to.

The seat has several pre-set positions, laptop power, your own minibar replenished with drinks during the flight and a good-sized table for working and eating.

 

What is extraordinary about this new arrangement is that the seats have a different pitch depending on whether you choose an inner seat or an outer one. The stats are as follows: seat pitch is 39 and 48 inches, which extends to form 70 to 79-inch lie-flat beds. What that means is that if you go for an outside seat, you get more legroom both for sitting and sleeping, while the inside seats have less. Just how Emirates will sell both types of seat for the same price remains to be seen, yet it is doing so at the moment.

I spoke with Terry Daly, Emirates’ divisional senior vice-president of service delivery, about this, and he said the difference was necessary because of the design of the seat. As for how it would be sold, he said that he didn’t think it would make any difference because the seat is so long anyway (ie: even in its shorter form).

On the matter of pricing, note that although Emirates is not charging a premium for flying on the A380, you will find the aircraft is on the most expensive flight on a route (whether that is New York from August, or London in December).

 

First class

As you’d expect, there are sliding doors on the suites (which are more like cabins, really, but that terminology would be confusing). Inside, there is a fully-flat bed, lots of space, a giant TV and a real sense of privacy once you shut the door. What’s more, first class passengers have access to showers at the front, either side of a stairway down to the exit and straight off the plane. It’s difficult to give much detail on the showers since this was the one thing not being demonstrated with the plane being on the tarmac, but since I’m on the delivery flight tomorrow to Dubai, I will hopefully find out more, if they let me through the curtain.

 

Marriott announces Renaissance Zurich City West

MarriottThe five-star Renaissance Zurich City West is to be built in the rapidly developing district of Zurich West, with an opening slated for January 2011.

The new-build hotel, which will be located in the Mobimo Tower on the site of the former Coop shopping complex, will feature 300 rooms and suites over 11 floors, executive levels with views of the city and lake, and a 24-hour executive lounge on floor 14. There will also be a fitness zone and wellness area on the 14th floor, a restaurant on the ground floor, and a bar and outside terrace.

The hotel will benefit from 1,050 sqm of meeting and events space including a large ballroom which will be divisible into three smaller rooms, a junior ballroom, four conference rooms and an executive boardroom.

The property, which will be run by SV Schweiz, will be the fourth Marriott-branded hotel to open in the city, following the Courtyard by Marriott Zurich North, the Marriott Renaissance and the Zurich Marriott Hotel.

The former industrial area of Zurich West is within easy reach of the airport, accessible within 15 minutes by car or ten minutes on the S-Bahn train to Hardbrucke Station from the airport or the city centre. The suburb is seeing numerous new developments and is a hot bed of art and culture.

Stefano Alborghetti, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott, said: “Zurich West is seeing less industry and more building of flats and offices. The area is developing like Broadway and the West End in that it’s very trendy and has lots of nice restaurants, good music, theatres and entertainment.”

For more information on Zurich see the “Easy Living”feature in the May 2008 issue of BusinessTraveller and for a Tried and Tested review of the Courtyard by Marriott ZurichNorth click here.

For more details visit marriott.com.

Report by Jenny Southan

AMS expected to become Kingfisher’s European hub

It looks certain that high fuel costs will
force Kingfisher to drop plans to operate non-stop between India and the US. Instead Kingfisher is tipped to
make Amsterdam
its European hub and operate these (and possibly other services) with a stop en
route.

The privately-owned Indian airline had been
planning to fly non-stop with Airbus A340-500s between Bangalore
and San Francisco with another service to New York (see online
news July 15). Services were expected to start in the coming months.

But as Business Traveller has previously
reported (see online news, June 9) the cost of operating very long-haul flights
like these (Bangalore-San Francisco, for example, is a flight distance of
between 7,600 and 8,500 nautical miles) with A340-500s is uneconomical in these
days of costly oil. That’s because the extra weight of the fuel means that an
airline has to burn fuel just to carry fuel.
It means such flights are now unprofitable unless most, if not all passengers
are seated in first or business class, and it’s not clear whether flights
between India and the US are yet able to support such a configuration.

So instead, Kingfisher is expected to serve New York and San Francisco
by way of an en route stop in Amsterdam.

According to reports in the Indian business
press, government approval is being sought by Kingfisher to operate further
routes from India to Amsterdam with onward
connections either with itself (Kingfisher) or with Dutch airline KLM and
members of its fellow Skyteam alliance.

A similar set-up is currently being operated by
rival Jet Airways at its hub in nearby Brussels. Kingfisher was unavailable for comment, but an
official announcement is expected soon. Visit flykingfisher.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter