Etihad to offer onboard wifi by the end of this year

Etihad Airways is the latest carrier to jump onto the onboard wifi bandwagon. The airline’s chief executive, James Hogan, said: “I can tell you that Etihad will have two aircraft with operational onboard internet by December this year, and five aircraft by March 2012.”

Of the five aircraft equipped with the service, three will be the Airbus A330-300s operating between Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Munich and Paris.

“And, we are right at the point now of settling on a fleet-wide connectivity solution for the years to come,” Hogan added. 

The service will be available for all passengers, regardless of class of travel, although prices for the service have yet to be announced. 

Other carriers that have recently announced onboard connectivity offerings include Japan Airlines (see story here), set to roll out the service from mid-2012, and Qatar (see story here), which will equip its fleet of A350XWB with onboard wifi from 2013 onwards.

For more information, visit www.etihad.com

Alisha Haridasani

Accor opens second MGallery property in Bangkok

Hotel Muse Bangkok, the newest member of Accor’s MGallery collection of unique hotels, has opened its doors showcasing a mixture of French and Thai cultures.

The 174-room upscale boutique hotel, located on Langsuan Road near Lumpini Park, draws inspiration from the fin de siècle era in Europe and King Rama V’s era in Thailand during the late 19th century, which is reflected in its design and structure from the five cupolas roof to the interiors that feature both European and Asian touches.

The six room categories are named after Buddhist cosmology, starting with Jatu rooms, which measure 39sqm. The next level up is Dowadueng, Yama, Dusid, Nimman and, finally, the Paranim penthouse, which measures 216sqm and features a guest bathroom, king-size bed, sitting room and kitchen. Rooms across all categories are equipped with wired and wireless internet access and iPod docking stations. The hotel also has an outdoor swimming pool and gym.

The hotel has five dining outlets: Le Salon, Medici, Su Tha Ros, The Speakeasy and Wet Bar. For business travellers, Hotel Muse offers unique venues for meetings and events, including a boardroom in The Speakeasy bar and private dining areas at Medici and Su Tha Ros.

Hotel Muse Bangkok is the second hotel in the city that belongs to the MGallery collection after VIE Hotel. Being part of the Accor network, guests can earn A|Club points when staying at both properties. 

For more information, visit www.hotelmusebangkok.com

Alisha Haridasani

Hong Kong flights normal despite typhoon

Cathay Pacific said flights “to and from Hong Kong are currently operating as normal” despite Typhoon Nesat passing over the city and closing much of the territory this morning.

Currently, the Hong Kong Observatory has hoisted the Typhoon 8 signal, which means most offices, schools and the stock market are closed.  

The carrier is monitoring the situation and will be updating its website regularly.

According to the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) website, most other flights to and from Hong Kong have also remained unaffected.

Passengers bound for and from Hong Kong are advised to check their flight status before departing for the airport as the situation may change.

Typhoon Nesat is “expected to persist this morning,” stated the Hong Kong Observatory, and Typhoon 8 is expected to be in place for most of the day. The same storm hit the Philippines last Tuesday, triggering floods and killing 16 people. From the Philippines, Nesat moved  westward and is now on its way Northwest towards Hainan Island in China.

For more flight status updates, check your carrier’s website.  

Alisha Haridasani

China Airlines joins SkyTeam

China Airlines (CAL) is now officially the 15th member of global airline alliance SkyTeam.

The airline currently flies to 80 destinations worldwide and brings three new destinations to the alliance’s network: Okinawa and Miyazaki in Japan, and Surabaya in Indonesia. It also strengthens SkyTeam’s cross-straight operations as the airline flies to 20 major destinations in China, complementing the network of existing members, China Southern and China Eastern, and providing SkyTeam customers with an unrivaled choice of destinations in the Greater China region.

Effective immediately CAL passengers will be able to redeem miles on services operated by the alliance’s member airlines and vice versa. Member airlines include: Air France, Delta Airlines, Korean Air, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Alitalia, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Kenya Airlines, KLM, TAROM, and Vietnam Airlines. While, Garuda Indonesia, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Middle East Airlines and Aerolineas Argentinas are expected to join the alliance soon.

In celebration of becoming a member airline, and to reflect its new corporate identity as a SkyTeam member, CAL unveiled a refreshed brand image that integrates its famous Plum Blossom and Chinese seal as displayed on one of the airline’s Boeing 747-400, that also includes the SkyTeam livery. The airline is currently in the process of repainting its fleet in the new livery as well as updating all signage and marketing materials.

To further cement its identity as a global airline, CAL president, Sun Huang-Hsiang commented that the airline is now working on introducing fully flat beds in business in the next 1-2 years in line with many of the member airlines, currently the incline is 160 degrees. The airline is also considering removing first class (in the next two years) due to the moves by some other airlines to focus more on business class passengers.

It is also in talks with Air France to establish a non-stop Paris-Taipei route but no further details were available.

Chairman of the alliance, Leo van Wijk said that CAL’s membership will add value for passengers, as Taipei will serve as an additional Asian hub, and touched on the importance of Taiwan as a key business destination in Asia.

Chang Chai-juch, CAL’s chairman noted that joining the alliance is part of the airline’s strategy for increased international growth and profitability. “China Airlines is the first Taiwanese carrier to join a prestigious international alliance and we anticipate a much wider reach for our business.” The airline expects a 1 to 7 per cent increase in revenue and a 0.05 to 1 per cent reduction in costs as a result of membership and is “cautiously optimistic” about the coming year despite global financial issues.

According to a SkyTeam executive, CAL has now set the bar high for other airlines wanting to join the alliance, passing all the necessary steps needed for membership in record time. Airlines need to successfully comply with 18 categories and 89 requirements to become a member, including IATA certification on flight safety.

For more information, visit www.china-airlines.com or www.skyteam.com

Vicki Williams

China Southern set for A380 delivery on October 14

China Southern will become the first Chinese carrier to take delivery of the Airbus A380 next month, with the official delivery ceremony set for Friday October 14.

The event will take place at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, with China Southern chairman Si Xianmin in attendance to take delivery of the carrier’s first superjumbo, nicknamed The Pearl of the Sky (China Southern’s frequent flyer programme is called the Pearl Sky Club).

The carrier will then operate its the A380 on its Beijing-Guangzhou route from October 18, before switching to the Beijing-Shanghai route from October 27 (see online news September 12).

In July China Southern confirmed it will offer a three-class economy, business and first class layout on its A380 aircraft, offering a total of 506 seats (see online news July 27).

For more information visit flychinasouthern.com, and for a comparison of the six airlines currently operating the A380, click here.

Report by Mark Caswell

Emirates to boost US network in 2012

Dallas and Seattle are the next US destinations to be served by Emirates.

According to news agency Bloomberg, Emirates president Tim Clark confirms that the Gulf-based carrier will launch daily flights from Dubai to Dallas, Texas on February 2 with Seattle on the West Coast following on March 1.

And, of course, the latter is convenient for Vancouver, across the border in Canada. These new services are now available for booking on emirates.com.

Emirates is utilising a three-class long-range B777-200LR with some of the carrier’s newest premium products for both routes including suites in first class.

Flying time between Dubai and Dallas is 16 hrs and 20 mins while Dubai-Seattle taking 15 hrs and 20 mins. Timings for the return flights are roughly one or two hours less. 

In his Bloomberg interview, Tim Clark hinted that Emirates wishes to add further US cities to its route network. These include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington DC. But no timescale is available as to when any of these destinations will come on line.

The announcement of these two cities, let alone the other US possibles, will not sit well with Europe’s flag-carriers who currently capitalise on the voluminous passenger flows between the Middle East, Asia, Africa and North America. 

Until now the comprehensive North American networks operated by the likes of British Airways, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa has given them the edge over the likes of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

But for how much longer?

For more information visit emirates.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

China Airlines joins Skyteam

China Airlines has officially joined Skyteam at a ceremony in Taipei, becoming the 15th airline within the alliance.

The carrier – which commenced direct flights between London and Taipei last year  (see online news January 11, 2010) in competition with privately-owned Eva Air (which flies via Bangkok) – also becomes the fifth Asian airline within Skyteam, joining founder member Korean Air, Chinese carriers China Eastern and China Southern, and Vietnam Airlines.

As part of the inauguration celebrations China Airlines also unveiled the first B747-400 to fly in the Skyteam livery.

China Airlines operates a total of 224 daily departures to 80 destinations, and will add three new cities to the Skyteam network – Okinawa and Miyazaki in Japan, and Surabaya in Indonesia.

For more information visit skyteam.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Etihad and Vietnam Airlines to begin codeshare pact

Etihad Airways has entered a codeshare agreement with Vietnam Airlines, which will start on October 30.

Etihad passengers will be able to connect from Bangkok to onward destinations in Vietnam where the carrier does not currently fly, such as Hanoi, while Vietnam Airlines passengers will be seamlessly connected to the Middle East via Bangkok.

The UAE-based airline currently operates a double daily service to Bangkok, the first of which departs Abu Dhabi at 0840, arriving in Bangkok at 1805, while the second is a night flight, departing at 2140 and arriving in Bangkok at 0705 the following day.

The first return leg departs the Thai capital at 0835, arriving back in Abu Dhabi at 1200, and the second return flight departs at 2035, touching down at 0005.

Meanwhile, Vietnam Airlines also operates double daily services between both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok.

Recently, Etihad also launched enhancements to its loyalty programme, which are set to come into effect from October 9 onwards (see our previous coverage here).

For more information, visit www.etihadairways.com or www.vietnamairlines.com.vn

Alisha Haridasani

Five new technologies that enhance the airport experience

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in its August special report that in order to embrace the exponential growth in travel demand, particularly in Asia, “capacity has to be built in all parts of the network to avoid bottlenecks”, referring to the importance of investing in airport infrastructure and innovative technologies to streamline departure and arrival procedures. Below are five airports that are staying ahead of the curve:

AMSTERDAM AIRPORT SCHIPHOL: BAG DROP

The air terminal ran a trial of the automatic bag drop services back in 2008, in partnership with Air France-KLM. Following a successful pilot run, the technology was rolled out in staggered basis from 2010.

How it works: Instead of heading to a counter to drop off their bags, passengers simply have to scan their boarding passes on a reader. The boarding pass can either be printed on a standard paper or it can be an electronic format saved on a mobile device. Upon reading and confirming all information, the machine prints out an adhesive bag label that passengers need to affix onto their bag handles. Once ready, the machine automatically weighs the suitcase, checks that it is labelled correctly and then sends the bag over the conveyor belt for loading. Finally, the machine will print out a baggage tag for the passenger to keep.

How many: Ten have been installed with another 12 units to be operational by February next year for passengers flying on KLM and SkyTeam partner carriers.

www.schiphol.nl

 

HELSINKI AIRPORT: DOCUMENT CHECK

Helsinki Airport, which is a major transit hub between Europe and Asia, has installed electronic border control kiosks to streamline immigration procedures. These are currently available only to European Union citizens, who comprise 60 percent of passengers travelling through the Finnish capital.  The electronic border control kiosks considerably reduce the time spent going through immigration at the airport.

How it works: The passenger simply needs to place his or her passport on the electronic biometric reader, which scans the information as well as captures the image on the document.

How many: There are a total of 20 passport check kiosks: ten for passengers entering the Schengen area and ten for those departing.

www.helsinki-vantaa.fl

 

INCHEON AIRPORT: SELF-BOARDING GATES

Since 2004, Incheon Airport has been upgrading its operations by rolling out a “U-Airport” framework that seeks to automate almost all passenger touch points. The first part of this framework that was installed was a self check-in service in 2004, and then in 2008, the airport installed electronic biometric boarding gates.

How it works: Passengers scan their passport at the boarding gate, eliminating the need for boarding passes altogether. The machine scans the information and compare it against the passenger manifest to ensure that he or she is on the flight, before the gate opens automatically. The scanner also eliminates manual passport check before boarding is set to commence. The self-boarding gate has a non-proprietary system that can connect to multiple passenger systems used by different airlines

How many: There are several of these automated gates installed at three separate boarding gates at the moment, diminishing the need for queueing up, with more to be rolled out eventually.

www.airport.kr/eng

MUNICH AIRPORT: INFOGATE

Earlier this year, Munich Airport rolled out an enhanced version of the standard information counter. InfoGate eases navigation and enables passengers to ask questions for more specific help if necessary.

How it works: The Infogate is a large life-size touchscreen that enables users to connect with an information service representative via videoconferencing for a real-time dialogue at times when passengers have specific needs or unique questions. The airport has also installed a second type of InfoGate called the Interactve InfoGate, which has the touchscreen function sans the videoconferencing feature. It is designed to dessminate information about airport services such as shopping and dining.
How many:
 As of now, six InfoGates and 17 Interactive InfoGates have been implemented. 

www.munich-airport.de/en

 

QANTAS: NEXT-GENERATION CHECK-IN

In 2009, Qantas announced it would revolutionise passenger airport experiences with the introduction of its Next-Generation Check-in. The programme replaced all Qantas Frequent Flyer cards – or Q Cards – and luggage tags (Q Bag Tags) with a smart card and a smart permanent baggage tags so that check in, luggage drop and boarding can all be enhanced together. As of now, this service is only available on domestic flights.

How it works: For the smartcards to work, Qantas has installed Q Card readers that use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, enabling the user to check in just by touching their card on the readers. Once check-in is complete, an SMS is sent to the passenger and the Q Card then doubles up as a boarding pass at both the automatic bag drop kiosks and the boarding gate. At the automatic bag drop counters, users just need to scan their Q Cards and their Q Bag Tags before they can be on their way, therefore eliminating the need for boarding passes and baggage labels altogether.

How many: Currently the services are available at all major domestic airports in Australia, including Perth, Sydney (T3), Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra as well as 21 other domestic airports. Each airport has a varying number of kiosks.

www.qantas.com.au

For an in-depth analysis of the Airports of the Future and what new technologies to expect in the coming years, view our previous coverage here

This list is not exhaustive and there are other advanced technologies now being used in other airports. Please feel free to add to our list in the comments box below.

Alisha Haridasani

UK cuts APD on long-haul flights from Northern Ireland

Air Passenger Duty has been slashed on long-haul flights departing Northern Ireland, as the UK government attempts to address competition for services from Dublin.

Until now economy tickets on Continental flights from Belfast to New York (the only long-haul service from the Northern Irish airport) have been subject to £60 in APD charges, with business class fares subject to a £120 fee. This compares to a charge of just €3 for flights departing from Dublin.

But from November 1 the APD on these flights will be reduced to that equal to short-haul services – £12 for economy flights and £24 for business class routes.

There had been fears that Continental would drop its Belfast-New York route, but a statement from the Treasury Press Office said that the service will now “continue to operate, maintaining Northern Ireland’s vital economic air link to North America, and Northern Ireland will gain a fresh opportunity to develop other long-haul routes to the rest of the world”.

The release said that Northern Ireland’s airports operate in “unique circumstances within the UK”, adding that “the land border with the Republic of Ireland, with its differential rates of air passenger tax had threatened to make long-haul flights from Belfast uneconomic”.

In recognition of this The Treasury said it would now launch a process to devolve aspects of APD to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Report by Mark Caswell