Hongkong International Airport launches dining promo

Hongkong International Airport has launched its “Ho Ho Sik” (“Very delicious” in Cantonese) promotion aimed at further raising its profile as a dining hub. In previous surveys, travellers have consistently cited the facility for the quality and variety of cuisine served on its premises.

About 50 restaurants and food outlets located in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, landside and airside, have joined the airport-wide initiative with discounts, complimentary food and drink among other special offers. The HKIA has set up a dedicated website at www.hohosik.hkairport.com that provides travellers and other airport  users with information. The site lists all participating F&B outlets with their corresponding offers and signature dishes. Newly opened F&B outlets at the airport such as Red Lantern (Southeast East Asian); Sorabol (Korean) and Super Super Congee (Chinese) are participating in this dining promotion.

The Ho Ho Sik Campaign runs until December 31.

For more information, visit www.hohosik.hkairport.com

Liu Hongzuo

Air India suspends bookings after sickness “strike”

Air IndiaAir India (AI) has suspended its domestic ticket booking system until October 15 and cancelled several flights after nearly 250 executive pilots reported sick for several days running.

The pilots’ action is effectively a strike against AI’s management plans to cut senior pilots’ pay by up to 50 percent and has left AI’s operations in chaos, with thousands of passengers left stranded across its network. Talks between unions and AI management have foundered.

With a daily capacity of 35,000 seats, Air India’s share of the country’s domestic market has been estimated at around 17 percent of all flights. The suspension of AI ticket sales has already seen demand and prices shoot up on other carriers, the Indian media has reported that on some domestic routes, prices have already risen by almost 300 percent from the pre-strike period.

Air India offices in Hongkong were not answering calls when contacted by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific.

For further details, see www.airindia.in

Liu Hongzuo

FAST TRACK: Seven Asian airports with rail links

BANGKOK


Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link

After encountering numerous delays, the 28-km Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link is set to start a trial run on December 5 with official opening being eyed for early 2010. The airport train system will have two lines. The first  line is the non-stop Express Service that will connect the airport to the city air terminal at Makassan in Central Bangkok, where arriving visitors can take other ground transportation to the city or transfer to the MRT Blue Line.

The second line is the Commuter Service (also called the City Line) that will serve local residents from the eastern suburbia of Bangkok. The City Line will have eight stations, two of which provide an interchange to the MRT Blue Line and the BTS Sukhumvit Line.

Fare: A one-way ticket is expected to cost THB150 (US$21.95) for the Express Line and from THB30 to THB50 (US$4.40 to US$7.32) for the Commuter Line. Travellers will enjoy complimentary rides during the opening month.

Frequency: TBA

Travel time: 15 minutes via the Express Service and 27 minutes via the Commuter Service

Operating hours: TBA


BEIJING


Beijing Capital International Airport – Airport Express

The Airport Express of the Beijing Subway started operations on July 19, 2008. The 28.1-km light rail link has stops at Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport. Passengers can alight at either Sanyuanqiao or  Dongzhimen Station. Both stations serve as an interchange to Lines 2, 10 and 13 of the the Beijing subway.

Fare: One-way fare costs CNY25 (US$3.70)

Frequency: Approximately every 15 minutes

Travel time: It takes 20 minutes to travel to Dongzhimen Station in central Beijing, which is considered one of the most important transportation hubs in Beijing. From the station, you can take the bus, train, subway or mini-van to get to your destination.

Operating hours:
The first train departs Terminal 3 and Terminal 2 at 0621 and at 0635 respectively. In the evening, the last train departs from Terminal 3 and 2 stations at 2251 and 2310 respectively.


HONGKONG


Hong Kong International Airport – Airport Express

The Airport Express provides high-speed train ride to Central located in the Hongkong Island, with stops at Tsing Yi and Kowloon in between. All Airport Express stations offer free porter services and shuttle bus connections to major hotels and transport interchanges.

Fare: Single-journey tickets on the Airport Express to Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hongkong cost HK$60 (US$7.70), HK$90 (US$11.60) and HK$100 (US$12.90) respectively

Frequency: Trains run at 12-minute intervals

Travel time: 24 minutes to Hongkong Station in Central

Operating hours: 0554 to 0048

KUALA LUMPUR


Kuala Lumpur International Airport – KLIA Ekspres

Often referred to as ERL by the locals, KLIA Ekspres began operations on April 14, 2002. The carriages are equipped with washrooms, overhead and tiered racks for luggages. Special wheelchair seat compartments are also available on board.

Fare: MYR35 (US$10) for one-way and MYR70 (US$20) for a round-trip ticket

Frequency: Note the hour of your arrival as trains operate every 15 minutes during peak hours (0600 to 0900 and 1600 to 2200 from Mondays to Fridays) and every 20 minutes during off-peak hours. After midnight, trains depart from the station every 30 minutes.

Travel time: 28 minutes to KL Sentral, Malaysia’s largest transit hub where passengers can transfer to six rail systems such as KL Monorail, Kelana Jaya Line and Ampang Line.

Operating hours: 0500 to 0100


SHANGHAI


Shanghai Pudong International Airport – Shanghai Maglev Train

Launched on January 1, 2004, the Shanghai Maglev Train (also known as the Shanghai Transrapid) claims to be the first commercial high-speed maglev line in the world. The line runs 30km from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road station on the Shanghai subway line 2.

Fare: CNY50 (US$7.32) for single trip, CNY80 (US$11.70) for a round trip. VIP seats cost double

Frequency:
Every 20 minutes

Travel time: Eight minutes, compared to a bus ride of 40 minutes to the same location

Opening hours: 0645  to 2140

SINGAPORE


Changi Airport – Changi Airport MRT Station

Opened on February 8, 2002, Changi Airport Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station is the rail link between the main commuting MRT network and the airport. It provides a cheaper and more convenient alternative to visitors on a tight budget. Be warned though, there is a lack of convenient storage space and you may have to contend with the commuting crowd beyond Tanah Merah MRT
station, especially during peak hours.

If you are emerging from Terminals 2 or 3, Changi Airport station is a short five to seven minutes’ walk away. Passengers arriving at Terminal 1 have to take the SkyTrain to Terminal 2 to reach the MRT station. Similarly, those arriving at the Budget Terminal have to take a shuttle bus to Terminal 2.

Fare: Approximately S$2.70 (US$1.90) (inclusive of a refundable S$1 deposit)

Frequency: The trains from Changi Airport station operates at an average frequency of 12 minutes

Travel time: Around 27 minutes to get to City Hall, part of the central business district of Singapore

Operating hours: First train runs at 0531 from Mondays to Saturdays and 0559 on Sundays and public holidays. The last train connecting to a city-bound train departs Changi Airport station at 2318

TOKYO


Narita International Airport

The direct JR Narita Express (NEX)  offers more comfort and faster travel time into the city, but passengers need to book in advance.  The other option is the East Japan Railway (JR East) service that is more affordable but not advisable for travellers with heavy luggage.

Fare: 2,900 Yen (US$32) on the NEX. 1,000 Yen (US$12) by normal rail system.

Frequency: NEX operates every 30 to 60 minutes, while the JR East runs more frequently during the day with the longest interval at every 20 minutes during off-peak times

Travel time: Around 60 minutes on the NEX and about 75 minutes and more on the JR East link

Operating hours: NEX operates between 0512 and 2130 while JR East link runs between 0745 and 2230

Liu Hongzuo and Jarrel Tan

Iceland Express announces New York route

Low-cost carrier Iceland Express will commence flights from Reykjavik to New York’s Newark airport from June 2010.

Flights will operate four times per week using Boeing 757 aircraft. It’s the first transatlantic service for the Icelandic carrier, and puts the airline in competition with rival Icelandair, which also operates a daily service from Reykjavik to the Big Apple (although Icelandair flies into New York’s JFK airport).

Flight times and fares have not yet been released, but bookings will be available online “from early next week”, and it’s likely the carrier will time the new flights to enable connections from London to New York via Reykjavik.

Iceland Express currently flies from London Gatwick to Reykjavik, and is due to reinstate services from London Stansted to the Icelandic capital from this November, as well as commencing flights from Birmingham to Reykjavik in summer 2010.

For more information visit icelandexpress.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

How the other half live

Click here to view the official in-flight guide for BA’s Club World London City – New York flights.

WAIT !

It will appear in a very small format.

Left click on the image once. To zoom in, press the Control button and ‘+’ on a PC, or the Apple button and ‘+’ on a Mac.

Business Traveller will be publishing a full review of the new service later this week.

For more information visit ba.com.

BA launches LCY-JFK flights

The inaugural, all-business class flight between London City Airport and New York JFK launches today (Tuesday September 29), and prior to the 1250 flight BA’s CEO Willie Walsh, chairman Martin Broughton and Richard Gooding, chief executive of London City Airport spoke to the press about their hopes for the new service.

The double-daily flights – which are served with an Airbus A318 aircraft (the largest aircraft type currently allowed to use London City airport) – require a 45-minute refuelling stop at Shannon on the outbound journey.

As previously reported on businesstraveller.com (see online news September 15) BA is promoting the stop as an advantage since Shannon now has full Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, meaning passengers can enjoy full pre-clearance at the airport, allowing them to effectively arrive in the US as a domestic passenger, thus avoiding the infamously-lengthy US immigration process. Speaking with Business Traveller, commercial director Robert Boyle
said,

“We’re very confident that the new service will be well received, particularly by anyone who works in this part of London. Clearly the timing isn’t great, it’s a difficult environment, but I think people will look back and say that was a very clever time to launch it just as people are beginning to get back out and start to see people.”

Boyle said that forward bookings were as expected, and emphasised the importance of positive feedback from early travellers.

“The first few flights are reasonably full, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell. The target market is the business traveller and those trips are booked one to two weeks ahead, so I think it will be one of those services which is really sold by word of mouth.”

The launch flight bears British Airways’ most prestigious flight number, BA001, formerly used by Concorde. Customers on the new service will be the first BA passengers to be able to send emails and texts, and use the internet via an in-flight mobile communications service provided by OnAir. The airline is also touting a 15-minute check-in, very different from Heathrow’s 45 minutes.

The new service features 32 fully-flat beds in a cabin specially designed to feel spacious and contemporary. To see a seatplan of the aircraft, click here. As first reported by businesstraveller.com (see online news September 14), the in-flight dining has been developed in partnership with Roast restaurant, based at London’s Borough Market, to draw upon their expertise in creating menus that feature the best of British produce and regional specialities.

Passengers arriving into London City will also be able to enjoy complimentary Health Club access at the London Marriott, West India Quay to freshen up before heading into their office or continuing their journey. For the first time at London City, customers are also able to use kerbside check-in for their flight to New York.

The new service launches with a daily return service on September 29, except Saturday (London City airport is closed from 1240 on Saturday to 1100 on Sunday), increasing to two a day from mid-October.

  • BA001 departs LCY at 1250 and arrives JFK at 1715. BA002 departs JFK at 1830 and arrives at LCY at 0715 the following day.
  • BA003 departs LCY at 1600 and arrives at JFK at 2025. BA004 departs JFK at 2150 and arrives at LCY at 1025 the following day.

Lead-in fares on the new British Airways London City – New York flight start from £1999.60 return (including taxes, fees and charges), and to celebrate the launch of the service, the airline is also offering semi-flexible fares from £3705.60 (normal fare of £4056.60) return and fully-flexible flights from £5326.60 (normal fare of £5835.60) for flights booked by October 16 for travel by October 31, 2009. 

London City has released a promotional video showing the A318 aircraft arriving into the airport, including images of the plane’s interior (see below). Business Traveller will be publishing a full review of the BA A318 seat offering and flight service later this week.

For more information visit ba.com.

Report by Tom Otley

Olympic Airlines becomes Olympic Air

Greek carrier Olympic Airlines has effectively ceased to exist from today (September 29), as the airline moves into private ownership under the name Olympic Air.

The loss-making state carrier has been bought by Marfin Investment Group (MIG), and is being relaunched as Olympic Air, with a slimmed-down network and new aircraft.

Olympic Air has launched a new website at olympicair.com, although online bookings are not yet possible. The website states that the new carrier will launch on October 1, with 20 domestic routes, and the following ten international destinations, on which economy and business class services will be available:

London, Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, Bucharest, Larnaca, and Sofia

The carrier says it will commence operations with a fleet of 24 aircraft, which will rise to 32 by spring 2010 as it takes delivery of new Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, as well as new Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 planes.

The airline plans to codeshare with Delta on flights to New York from early October, and is finalising codeshare agreements with Air France (between Greece and France, as well as to Montreal from March 2010), and Etihad (between Greece and Abu Dhabi, South Africa and Australia).

A new frequent flyer programme has also been created – the Travelair Club. Olympic Air says that “in recognition of their loyalty, frequent passengers of the former Olympic Airlines who participated in the Icarus programme will be rewarded by Olympic Air with miles of the newly created Travelair Club”.

For more information visit olympicair.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Buzzroam cuts roaming rates by 80 percent

An innovative GSM Sim card technology, promising frequent travellers lower overseas phone rates, is now available in Asia-Pacific.

Global Roaming Solutions, the provider of the technology in Asia, recently started operations in Hongkong, launching its online storefront at www.buzzroam.com

The company offers Buzzroam SIM cards, each loaded with an international number to which travellers can forward their existing mobile numbers, saving up to 80 percent in roaming calls.

“International firms can make significant savings on their bottom line,” said Stuart Cloete, managing director of Global Roaming Solutions. “The average business user roaming abroad for three to four days could easily spend over HK$1,000 (US$129). With Buzzroam, that could be reduced to as little as HK$120 (US$15).”

  • The “Start Buzzing Package” costs US$25, which includes a free US$10 calling credit. The SIM card works on all phones made in the last four years.
  • Users activate their SIM card through the Buzzroam website. They create an online account through which they can also buy airtime to top up their SIM card using credit card or Paypal. Buzzroam SIM cards have no expiry date so travellers can keep them for use in other overseas trips.
  • The SIM can also keep up to four mobile phone numbers, enabling travellers to have a local contact number in their destination that they can furnish local business partners and customers. Buzzroam has a supply of local numbers from more than 50 countries, including major Asia-Pacific cities such as Australia, China, Hongkong, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore.
  • Travellers can choose a local mobile number from the Buzzroam website and assign it to their SIM card. The number is activated within 30 minutes. Getting a local number costs US$4 and is valid for one month.

“The benefit of being able to assign a local number to your card is that your callers can pay local rates and you are able to forward your own mobile number to the local number – meaning you never pay international roaming rates while using your own mobile number,” Cloete told Business Traveller.

Global Roaming Solutions is looking at teaming up with convenience and retail stores in Hongkong to distribute Buzzroam cards. For now, travellers in the region can buy the SIM card online. Estimated delivery time is two working days within Hongkong and approximately five working days to other Asian countries. Japan and South Korea use WCDMA 2100 systems and therefore need to have a phone compatible with that system for the SIM card to work.

For details, visit www.buzzroam.com

Gigi Onag

Hotel Indigo marks Hongkong for second Asian stop

Hotel Indigo Hong Kong

Indigo, the lifestyle-oriented brand of IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group), has identified Hongkong as its second Asian location, following Shanghai.

Hotel Indigo Hongkong QRE in Wanchai will open in 2012 with 150 rooms and will feature “a design storyline driven by the area,” Keith Barr, IHG managing director, Greater China, told Business Traveller. “The sense of place will be so strong, a customer would know he couldn’t be staying anywhere else (but Hongkong).” The hotel is along Queen’s Road East (hence QRE in the name) in a neighbourhood that is undergoing vigorous revitalisation.

Despite the positioning as a “branded boutique chain”, no two Indigos are the same. But all properties would leverage on the global marketing strength of IHG and its most recognisable product tiers, InterContinental and Holiday Inn, Barr explained. “There are customers who like the boutique hotel experience but cannot find the consistency in the cities they visit. Indigo will provide that.”

With the Indigo user described as “someone wanting something different and distinct from the traditional five-star or four-star experience”, Barr did not expect InterContinental or Holiday Inn to migrate in large numbers to the new product, although some trial stays could not be discounted. Indigo’s price point, he added, would be between the InterContinental and the Crowne Plaza, another of IHG’s products, known for its strong meetings bent.

Indigo Shanghai on the Bund, located at the historic Pier 16, is poised to open next year before Expo 2010 Shanghai China kicks off on May 1. At press time, there were 28 Indigos (27 in the US and one at London’s Paddington Station) operating. Future Indigos in Asia-Pacific will likely open up in Tokyo, Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne.

For more details on the chain, visit www.ihg.com

Margie T Logarta

Luton Hoo adds dedicated meetings venue

Luxury five -star hotel Luton Hoo celebrated the official opening of its dedicated meeting venue at the weekend, with two full days of events including falconry, clay pigeon shooting, archery and helicopter rides around the estate, culminating in a sit down banquet for 170 guests on the Saturday night.

Ten years in the planning, and the final £20 million of a total £100 million spend on Luton Hoo, Warren Weir is a purpose-built brand new meeting venue with five function rooms, hospitality lounge, 84 bedrooms and suites and its own leisure facilities including a snooker room, 18 metre indoor swimming pool, whirl pool and fitness studio with Technogym equipment. 

The addition of Warren Weir now means there are three separate hotels set in the 1000 acres plus of Capability Brown landscaped gardens, from the main Grade-1 listed, Sir Robert Adam-designed house (where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip spent their honeymoon in 1947), through to the country club in the Grade II-listed stable-block with its 18-hole championship golf course and now Warren Weir.

Transport between the main house and Warren Weir, which is a walk of 15 minutes through the grounds, is provided either by electric carts or London Taxi cabs with personalised number plates. The style of the new conference centre is art and crafts on the exterior, with wooden balconies and steeply shelving roofs, while the interiors are modern but traditional in style, with dark wood furniture, rooms named after local birds and with a site which overlooks the River Lea, water meadows and willow trees.

Warren Weir has 61 bedrooms, 21 Junior suites and two suites, flat screen TVs, heated bathrooms floors and mirrors and wifi access throughout. There are five individual function rooms catering for up to 300 delegates and car parking for up to 140 cars on site.

To show the capability of the venue, and also to wow the many meeting and events organisers invited for the weekend, 24-hours of activities were arranged, including a black tie gala dinner with entertainment provided firstly by drumming group BassToneSlap who managed to get the normally world-weary event organisers accompanying them on percussion instruments, then a firework display over the 60-acre lake before a band kept the entertainment going until the early hours of Sunday morning.

Luton Hoo was bought by Sir Julius Wernher in 1903 and once displayed his collection of art, including the largest collection of the works of Carl Faberge outside the Royal Collection of the British Monarchy. Since 2007 it has been a luxury hotel, part of the small UK-based hotel group Elite Hotels which also owns Tylney Hall, Hampshire, Ashdown Park, East Sussex and The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne. It is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Visit elitehotels.co.uk/lutonhoo

Report by Tom Otley