Bmi to launch routes to Norway and Morocco

Bmi will use aircraft freed up by the scrapping of its London-Glasgow service to serve new routes to Marrakech, Casablanca, Bergen and Stavanger from this April.

The carrier will operate daily flights from Heathrow to the Norwegian cities of Bergen and Stavanger from April 1, with a four-times weekly service to Casablanca starting also starting on April 1, and three-times weekly flights to Marrakech commencing on April 2.

Bmi will be the only carrier serving Bergen from Heathrow – Norwegian and SAS both operate flights from Gatwick. On the Heathrow-Stavanger route Bmi currently codeshares with SAS, with Norwegian again operating the route from Gatwick.

Air Maroc is currently the only airline serving Casablanca from London (from both Gatwick and Heathrow), but Bmi will join a growing list of carriers flying between London and Marrakech. BA recently announced it would begin flights from Gatwick on March 27 (see online news November 8, 2010), and Easyjet also serves the city from Gatwick, while Ryanair flies from London Luton and Air Maroc (and its subsidiary Atlas Blue) operates from both Gatwick and Heathrow.

The flights will be operated with A319 aircraft configured for economy and business, with fares starting from £99 to Stavanger, £99 to Bergen, £149 to Marrakech and £199 to Casablanca. The full schedules for these new routes are detailed below.

In other news Bmi is to operate its A320 aircraft on three of the four daily Lufthansa services from Manchester and Birmingham to Frankfurt, starting March 27. The Lufthansa-subsidiary says that the aircraft are being “fully refurbished and will offer a full service Business Class and Economy product according to Lufthansa standards”.

At least some of the A319 and A320 aircraft being used on the above routes have been made available by Bmi’s decision to scrap its London Heathrow-Glasgow route from March 27. The carrier said the move had been made “Due to the recently announced increases by BAA in domestic passenger charges at London Heathrow by more than 50 per cent”. For more information see online news January 31.

Visit flybmi.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Bmi schedules to Norway and Morocco


Qatar plans daily Brussels services

Qatar Airways doesn’t intend to waste any time upping its new Doha-Brussels services to daily.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony for its new five-a-week services at Brussels Airport on Monday, CEO Akbar Al Baker said the increase to daily will be “very soon”.

The service is being operated by an Airbus A330 with up to 30 seats in business class.

Belgian Premier Yves Leterme spoke glowingly about the Gulf carrier and said the new route would further foster two-way trade, adding Belgium is the biggest buyer of Qatari gas and its companies are actively involved in dredging and infrastructural projects in the Gulf.

Brussels Airport Company CEO Arnaud Feist said the new service would offer outbound Northern European travellers greater access to Middle East and Asian Pacific markets – accentuated by the sight of an Etihad aircraft parked nearby.

The Gulf airline, marking its 98th route and third in Europe this month, was flanked by two F16 fighter jets from the Belgian Air force as a complimentary gesture on approach, and it will soon join the 100 club with new services to Stuttgart (March 6) and Aleppo (April 6).

To promote the launch, Privilege Club members earn 6,000 bonus Qmiles for every return trip to and from Brussels when flying business class, or up to 3,000 Qmiles flying economy, for travel before April 30.

For more information visit qatarairways.com.

Report by Dominic Ellis

ANZ’s £5,000 Skycouch

There was much excitement when Air New Zealand (ANZ) unveiled its Skycouch seating a year ago. At last, it seemed, here was an airline smart enough to offer a lie-flat economy class seat at what was expected to be a value-for-money price.

Skycouch sees three economy seats converted into a 61-inch long flat bench complete with a sheet, two blankets and two pillows. ANZ claims there is enough space for either one or two adults or two adults and one child.

Our forum readers praised ANZ’s innovation. It seemed they believed that when one passenger booked Skycouch he or she would get to sample the lie-flat advantage of business class but at much less cost. (Click here to read the forum string.)

Typical of reader postings was the one from “LuganoPirate.”  He wrote: “Business Traveller have a look at this photo which I think shows the seat in a very attractive light and could even tempt me, a seasoned first and sometimes business traveller.” (Click here to see the image on the airliners.net forum.)

Until now ANZ has kept everyone guessing on pricing. My colleague Jenny Southan who attended an ANZ media briefing in Auckland last December reported back that Skycouch  would be “priced at the equivalent rate of 2.5 standard economy seats.”

But now the cat is out of the bag. ANZ has just revealed the real price of Skycouch and readers will be dismayed to discover that it is not the bargain for one passenger that had been anticipated.

Amazingly anyone booking a return Skycouch ticket (for one person) between London and Auckland in the December peak period will pay £4,882 which is substantially more expensive than the business class fare (for one person) of £4,369, let alone premium economy which costs £2,774 at that time.

Even when flying at a less busy time, such as next May, one Skycouch passenger would be paying £3,084 which, although slightly cheaper than business class at £3,304, is far costlier than premium economy at £2,134.

When asked to comment, an ANZ spokesperson told Business Traveller that “Skycouch is dynamatically priced based on forecasted demand for each sector.”

“We never promoted Skycouch as a business class replacement even though some commentators may have suggested this. Our promotional material portrays couples and families using Skycouch.”

I pointed out to ANZ that when one passenger attempts to book an economy class ticket he or she is then invited to upgrade to Skycouch where there is a photograph of a single traveller occupying the bench. In reply, the spokesperson says, “We have never promoted Skycouch for one person, however it does exist if someone looks for it.”

Skycouch will debut on the Auckland-Los Angeles-London route in a couple of months’ time. Initially it will appear on ANZ’s new fleet of B777-300ERs operating flights NZ 1 and NZ 2. The first flight out of Heathrow will be on April 2.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the new seating, see Jenny Southan’s report from December 2010.

For more information visit airnewzealand.co.uk.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Bmi to axe London-Glasgow route

Fans of Star Alliance will soon have no representative on the key London to Glasgow route.

In a move which will not come at a total surprise to many people (see online news January 17) Bmi has now announced it will end flights between the two cities with effect from March 27.

It means that British Airways will be handed a monopoly on the Glasgow to London Heathrow route which provides Scottish travellers not just with access to London but also with a multitude of connections to destinations further afield.

Bmi blames the route’s demise on the higher airport fees which will soon be levied on domestic passengers at Heathrow. 

It is also understood that Bmi has been suffering monthly losses of £1 million on the London-Glasgow service which it is currently serving with up to seven flights a day.

Point-to-point travellers still have alternatives in the shape of BA (to Heathrow, Gatwick and City) and Easyjet (to Luton, Stansted and Gatwick). There is also a Ryanair service linking Glasgow Prestwick with Stansted.

It would appear that Bmi will redeploy freed up aircraft along with its Heathrow slots to launch new services to Casablanca, Marrakech, Bergen and Stavanger. For more information see online news January 31.

For more information visit flybmi.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Four Seasons London at Park Lane reopens

The Four Seasons London at Park Lane has reopened following a two-year refurbishment programme that has seen rooms reconfigured, public areas completely revamped, and a rooftop extension added housing new spa facilities.

The reconfiguring of guestrooms means the hotel’s room count has actually been reduced to 192, with an entire floor dedicated to suites, of which there are now 45 one, two and three-bedroom options (up from the previous 20). These now include a one and two-bedroom Grand Suite category, offering a conservatory and outdoor terrace, as well as a dining area and living area with fireplace.

New dining concept Amaranto is described as “a series of three flow-through spaces united by one simple idea: that guests can choose when and where they want to dine, without restriction on seating times or particular menus”. Moving the hotel’s restaurant and bar to the ground floor means there is now a dedicated entrance to Amaranto, while more space has been freed up for meeting rooms on the first floor.

Dining facilities include a conservatory space and private garden for outdoor eating, a wine wall focusing on Italian wines (all 250 of which are available by the glass), and Italian-inspired dishes by executive chef Adriano Cavagnini and restaurant chef Davide Degiovanni.

          

The hotel’s spa and fitness centre, previously housed within the basement of the property, has been moved into a new top floor extension with floor-to-ceiling windows and a lounge alternating between a spa café during the day and events space at night. Note though that the spa facilities are not yet open, with Four Seasons saying that they are “coming soon”.

The hotel’s interiors have been designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon (responsible for Four Seasons projects in cities including Paris, Florence, Geneva and Washington DC), and include “dark French marble, classic timbers and rich red upholsteries” throughout Amaranto, while guestrooms feature “pale sycamore or walnut wall cladding, doors and cabinetry that replicate traditional Jaguar car dashboards with their intense shine”.

          

The remodeled triple height atrium features an “Art Deco-inspired scrolled balustrade, rosewood treads and deep red velvet panels to the walls”, as well as a monochrome frieze constructed from 110 panels of sculptured plaster. 

The revamped Four Seasons London at Park Lane is just one of a number of new and refurbished properties in the capital.

The Savoy reopened its doors late last year after a £220 million refurbishment project, while W London will open on Leicester Square on February 14. 

The Corinthia Hotel London is also now taking reservations, while the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London will open on March 14, and the boutique Eccleston Square Hotel will follow suit in Pimlico later this year.

The Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill is to undergo a “multi-million-pound” refurbishment of all guestrooms over the next few months, and Guoman’s Charing Cross hotel is nearing the completion of its project to add a new Executive Wing.

For more information visit fourseasons.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Priority Pass launches iPhone and iPad app

Priority Pass, the global independent airport lounge provider, has launched a free software for iPhones and iPads users aimed at keeping business travellers informed about its facilities.

The application uses the phone’s GPS system to locate the nearest Priority Pass lounge. It also lets members to better prepare for their trip through a search function that let them to find a Priority Pass lounge in their destination.

Members’ profiles are also stored on the app, alongside their favourite or recently visited lounges.

The new service can be downloaded here.

Alisha Haridasani

BA relaunches On Business website

The carrier has redesigned the website for its SME loyalty programme, and as part of the relaunch is providing free advertising for a “selected group” of its corporate clients.

The website, which can be found at ba.com/onbusiness, now gives SMEs access to their On Business account, destination guides and tools for travel all in one place.

To coincide with the relaunch BA is providing free advertising for “a selected group of small and medium business”, with Newgate Clocks in Shropshire the first to benefit.

BA says that its On Business scheme saved its members over £13 million on flights last year. Employees points are pooled into one account which can then be redeemed against flights, upgrades and accommodation at Marriott hotels.

For more information visit ba.com/onbusiness.

Recent BA news:

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific goes digital

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific now has a digital version on Zinio – an internet newsstand and bookstore. Readers can buy the digital version, which allows them to view the entire magazine on PCs, Mac s or iPads.

They can buy each digital issue separately or subscribe for a year and receive 10 issues.

Upon purchasing the digital issue, readers can zoom into each page of the magazine to read text and view images. They can also buy back issues.

To preview or subscribe, click here.

Alisha Haridasani

Marriott hotels in Bangkok offer spending credit

Marriott Hotels in Bangkok are offering free credit for extra spending when staying at participating hotels until March 31, 2011.

Guests receive THB1,000 (US$32) credit for each night’s stay up to a maximum of THB3,000 credit (US$96) for three nights. This can be used at restaurants and spas or for laundry services.

The participating hotels include:

  • JW Marriott
  • Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel
  • Courtyard by Marriott
  • Marriott Executive Apartments Mayfair
  • Marriott Executive Apartments Sathorn Vista
  • Marriott Executive Apartments Sukhumvit Park

Marriott Rewards members will still receive points on room rates during this promotion.

When booking online, guests should quote the following promotional code: D58

For more information, visit www.marriott.com

Alisha Haridasani

HK authorities urge citizens to avoid all travel to Egypt

The Hong Kong government has raised its outbound travel advisory on Egypt from “Red” to “Black” – the highest warning level – today as civil protests continued to spread across major cities, and now has spilled over to tourist locations.

This warning labels travel to Egypt as a “severe threat” and instructs citizens to “avoid all travel”. It also urges travel agents to compensate travellers who have travel insurance.

This is the sixth day of protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year long reign and the death toll has now risen to a 100 people. Despite heavy military presence in urban area, the soldiers are not intervening.

Alisha Haridasani