American Airlines to offer fully-flat business class seat

No sooner has American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection than it unveils plans for a fully flat business class seat on its forthcoming B777-300ER aircraft, to be launched on the airline’s London route.

The US carrier says it will take delivery of ten B777-300ER aircraft in 2012 and 2013, featuring a brand new fully flat business class seat featuring a 15.4-inch TV screen, a touchscreen remote control, and “a large tray table in addition to a work surface”.

AA says that all passengers in business class will have aisle access, although it is not yet clear how the seats will be configured – Business Traveller has requested more information on this, along with images of the new product, and will post both here when available.

In first class there will be an “updated and enhanced” version of the current Flagship Suite, with a fully flat six-foot, eight-inch bed with drop down armrests, a privacy divider, two universal AC power outlets, one USB outlet, two large tray tables and a 17-inch touchscreen TV.

Economy will also be revamped, with the seat featuring a “higher recline pivot, providing increased knee room”, and an articulated seat bottom “producing an innovative cradling motion to better distribute weight while increasing the recline angle of the seatback”. Every seat will also feature individual 110 volt AC power outlets and USB jacks for charging personal electronic devices.

The aircraft will also offer an economy “premium seat product”, with extra legroom and positioned in the forward portion of the cabin.

Other features include wifi capability throughout, a walk-up bar in the premium cabin, and an IFE system offering up to 120 films and more than 150 TV programmes.

AA currently offers an angled lie-flat business class product on its long-haul transatlantic services, while rivals Delta, United and Continental have all launched fully flat products in recent years.

For more information visit aa.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Thai MICE industry loses £60 million due to flooding

Thailand’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry has suffered revenue losses estimated at 3.32 billion Baht (£60 million) as a result of the country’s recent floods.

There were 24 events cancelled and 250,800 fewer MICE visitors due to the extent of the flooding. Eight international trade shows were also postponed, including In-cosmetics Asia 2011 and Thailand Franchise and Business Opportunity 2011.

At the same time, several key MICE areas were unaffected, including Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin and Had Yai.

“It’s important to note that many scheduled events have been completely unaffected,” says Akapol Sorasuchart, president of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau.

The Asia Pacific Gulf Summit, and events for Nokia Incentive Group and the Amway Group all took place during November.

There are also several large-scale events that will continue as planned in 2012, including the 2012 Rotary International Convention in May, which will bring in 30,000 visitors.

“Immediate short-term measures will focus on setting up a one-stop-centre to assist MICE travellers and facilitate the provision of daily updates to the industry and all stakeholders,” says Sorasuchart. “Our MICE industry should be looking up towards the end of the first quarter of 2012.”

For more information visit tceb.or.th.

Report by Rose Dykins

United and Continental granted single operating certificate

United and Continental Airlines have been issued with a single operating certificate, as part of the merger process of the two carriers.

While the news will not present any immediate changes from a customer perspective, it paves the way for the migration of the two carriers into a “single passenger service system” in the first quarter of 2012, at which point the two carriers will function as one airline.

The single operating certificate is a major milestone in the merger process, with the two carriers already having unveiled a single logo and aircraft livery (see online news August 12, 2010) , and plans to merge Continental’s One Pass loyalty scheme into United’s Mileage Plus programme (see online news September 21).

United Continental Holdings said that the two carriers went through “a rigorous 18-month process of aligning operating policies and procedures to obtain a single operating certificate from the FAA”, with over 500 employees working “to evaluate closely each pre-integration programme, process and operating specification from both airlines to determine the best choice for the new United”.

For more information visit unitedcontinental.com, united.com, continental.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Melia to open second London hotel in June

Melia Hotels International’s forthcoming Me London property, which was damaged by fire earlier this year, will now open in June 2012.

Designed by Foster and Partners and located at the corner of the Strand and Aldwych, the building suffered fire damage in June this year (see online news June 14).

In an interview with Business Traveller in September, Melia Hotels International CEO Gabriel Escarrer said that the property would open before the London 2012 Olympic games, and the group has now conformed a June opening date.

The 157-room Me London will combine the historic facade of Marconi House with a new Portland Stone building, and will feature a striking pyramid shaped lobby area, fitness and business centres, complimentary wifi throughout, a rooftop bar with views of Somerset House and the Thames, and a food and beverage offering from fashionable New York restaurant, STK House.

The hotel will join the Melia White House, located next to Regents Park, as the second Melia-branded property in the capital.

For more information visit me-by-melia.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Zest Air adds new China destinations

Filipino low-cost carrier Zest Air is operating new routes to China by mounting flights to Jinjiang and Chengdu. 

This follows news of the airline’s announcement to expand its network earlier this year (see story here). Routes to Chengdu and Jinjiang will begin from December with the Airbus A320. 

This is also the second addition of destinations to China by a low-cost carrier this month. On November 24, fellow low-cost carrier Jetstar added the Chinese state of Beijing to its portfolio (see story here).

Flight schedules for Zest Air’s services to China are as follows:

Route

Flight No

Time

Day of operations

Date of operation

Manila (MNL) – Jinjiang (JJN)

Z22062

1300 – 1520

Monday, Thursday, Saturday

With effect from December 22

Jinjiang (JJN) – Manila (MNL)

Z22063

1600 – 1820

Monday, Thursday, Saturday

 

Route

Flight No

Time

Day of operations

Date of operation

Kalibo (KLO) – Chengdu (CTU)

Z28066

1805 – 2230

TBC

With effect from December 16

Chengdu (CTU) – Kalibo (KLO)

Z28067

2330 – 0355 +1

TBC

With effect from December 12

For more information, visit www.zestair.com.ph/

Tiffany Sandrasageran


Gatwick takes measures to ease Border Agency strikes

Gatwick airport says it has “robust plans” in place to keep delays at minimum during today’s UK Border Agency strikes.

The industrial action, which could affect incoming passengers on international flights, is part of public sector strikes over planned changes to pensions, with up to two million workers expected to take part in strikes across the UK.

As of 1000 Gatwick said that “Passengers have been passing through the border zones as normal with no delay”, adding that “We have just got through our first busy peak with no disruption to the inbound flights and no knock-on effect to the outbound flights”.

To help reduce the effects of any disruption the airport says it has “reconfigured both our airside terminals to provide significantly more space and seating for arriving passengers”, with “hundreds” of staff and volunteers on hand to provide assistance.

Gatwick has set up seated reception areas with games, activities and TV screens showing films, and food and refreshments will also be provided to delayed passengers.

The airport said that “We recognise that today is not going to be easy and arriving passengers will be met with queues at immigration but we are determined to make it as comfortable as we can for passengers”.

For more information visit gatwickairport.com.

Five boutique-style properties in Hong Kong’s Western District

The Western District of Hong Kong Island, generally defined as west of Aberdeen Street, was once referred to as an “old neighbourhood” in fast-growing Hong Kong. Whereas the adjacent Central District – the most historical commercial hub of the city – is constantly being renewed, areas such as Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town seemed to have stood still in time, with buildings looking considerably older and many businesses being decade-old family-run operations.

That remained true for almost two decades despite the opening of the Sheung Wan Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station in 1988. But as Central became saturated and increasingly unaffordable, new businesses began to move west in recent years. And with the MTR’s West Island Line extension set to be completed by 2015, gentrification of the district has accelerated.

That can be seen in the number of hotels opening in the area. Properties by major chains include four-star and 245-room Courtyard by Marriott Hong Kong, opened in 2008, and Traders Hotel Hong Kong (by Shangri-La), which took over a property that was once a Novotel in August last year. But what is more interesting is the growing number of boutique-style hotels in the district, especially Sheung Wan. We have inspected five of them:


CENTRAL PARK HOTEL
263 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan; +852 2850 8899; www.centralparkhotel.com.hk  

When did it open? 2005
How many rooms? 142, in five categories, namely city view, garden view, executive city view, executive garden view and executive suite
How big are they? From 19 sqm to 38 sqm  
How is it like? The lobby, although small, is quite posh with its big crystal lamp, red couch and modern art pieces. The décors of the rooms are very modern with neutral colour tones such as beige and grey. They all have flat-screen TVs, either 14-inch or 21-inch, depending on the room type. All but one of the rooms features only standing showers. Garden view rooms look out to the Hollywood Park, which is considerably nicer than looking at buildings close up. 
Transport: Sheung Wan MTR station is 15 minutes’ walk away. On Hollywood Road, you will have no problems getting a cab. There is a free shuttle service from 7am-7pm, dropping guests off at sister properties Lan Kwai Fong Hotel and The Mercer (see below), as well as Hong Kong Station for the Airport Express. 
Rates: Standard rooms are HK$1,000 (US$128) and up and a suite starts from HK$2,000 (US$257)

Other pluses:

  • Décor rather swish for a small property, including many commissioned pieces in the lobby, and a “birdcage” created out of video projection
  • 24 TV channels including BBC, CNN and CNBC
  • The executive suite has a kitchenette and iPod docking

The minus:

  •  You have to pay for breakfast (HK$99/US$13) and wifi (one-day package costs HK$120/US$15)

 

LAN KWAI FONG HOTEL
3 Kau U Fong, Central; +852 3650 0000; www.lankwaifonghotel.com.hk  

When did it open? 2006
How many rooms? 162, in six categories called city view, mountain view, harbour view, deluxe city view, deluxe harbour view, and harbour view suite
How big are they? From 19 sqm to 39 sqm
How is it like? This incorporates Chinese elements into its interior. Chinese furnishing and a porcelain vase display mark the waiting area, and in the room you will find Chinese antique-style closet and doors, and jade plagues hanging by the bedsides, believed to help one sleep. All rooms have iPod docking and half of them have bathtubs, regardless of the room type. All of them have flat-screen TVs, some are connected to DVD players or equipped with ports to show photos or videos directly from your memory cards. 
Transport: You are only 10 minutes walk from the heart of Central. But as this hotel is a sister hotel of Central Park, you can take the same shuttle bus to the Hong Kong Station for the Airport Express, which is a little far if you are with luggage.
Rates: City view rooms are HK$1,500 (US$193) and up and a harbour view suite starts from HK$4,000 (US$514).

Other pluses:

  • All rooms have rain shower and iPod docking
  • The suites have balconies, one looking at the harbour on one side and the mountain
  • BreeZe Lounge offers Italian cuisine and an outdoor ambiance, while Celebrity Cuisine offers Michelin-star Chinese cuisine
  • A small gymnasium

The minus:

  • You have to pay for wifi (One-day package HK$120/US$15)

 

SOHOTEL
139 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan; tel +852 2851 8818; www.sohotel.com.hk 

When did it open? 2008
How many rooms? 37, in four categories: Standard, Superior Double  Superior Twin and Junior Suite 
How big are they? The standard room is about 10sqm, and a junior suite goes up to about 25 sqm. 
How is it like? Although small, every one of the rooms is well equipped with a 29-inch LCD wide-screen TV, in-room safe, minibar and high-speed Internet access. There is a lot of contrasting of red and black, and the property’s signature floral motif is seen on the wall, as it is in the public areas. The junior suite is defined, other than the size, by a king-size bed, suede couches, black-and-white floral carpeting, a large impressionist painting, and more upscale bathroom amenities including bathrobes. 
Transport: The Sheung MTR station is five to 10 minutes’ walk away. Taxis are in abundance in this area, and a cab ride to Central takes about five minutes and costs about HK$25 (US$3.2)
Rates: Standard rooms start from HK$1,000 (US$128) and suites from HK$3,000 (US$385) per night.

 Other pluses:  

  • Complimentary breakfast of simple a-la-carte items such as noodles, sandwiches, omelettes and oatmeal
  • 24-hour room service
  • Free wifi throughout the building, with each password supporting multiple gadgets
  • On 6/F, where breakfast is served, there is a small wood-decked outdoor space ideal for hanging out, especially among smokers
  • Two free internet computers at the lobby for those who don’t have a laptop with them
  •  

 The minus:

  • The air-conditioning system did not seem to ventilate very well and some of the rooms had odors
  • Limited numbers of channels on TV, with CNBC, ESPN and National Geographic but no CNN and BBC.

 

THE MERCER
29 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan; +852 2922 9988; http://themercer.com.hk

When did it open? April 2011
How many rooms? 55, including 10 deluxe rooms, five premium rooms and 40 one-bedroom suites
How big are they? From 32 sqm to 53sqm
How is it like? The décor throughout the hotel is swish and modern, with rooms showcasing luxury trimmings such as quilted leather headboards, Simmons mattresses, flatscreen TVs, DVD player, iPod/iPhone docking and Tarocco bathroom amenities from Italy.
Transport: This property is only a few minutes’ walk away from the Sheung Wan MTR station and within walking distance from Central.
Rates: Deluxe starts from HK$2,000 (US$257) and one-bedroom from HK$3,000 (US$385)

Other pluses:

  • Free breakfast (1/F)
  • Free wifi with one password supporting multiple gadgets
  • Free minibar (water, soft drinks and beer)
  • Kitchenette with microwave and coffee machine (Premium and above)
  • 24 hour gymnasium
  • Outdoor swimming pool

The minus:

  • The couch in the living room of the suite looks posh but is rather uncomfortable

 

DORSETT REGENCY HONG KONG 
18 Davis Street, Kennedy Town; +852 2655 5555; http://dorsettregency.com  

When did it open? August 2011
How many rooms? 209, in seven categories from standard to executive harbourview suite
How big are they? From 21 sqm to 47 sqm
How is it like? This hotel boasts “Victorian style”, in a modern interpretation. The elevators, lined with black glass and tiles, pleasantly smell of pomegranates. Baroque-style chairs, sheer lampshades, leather-lined walls and soft textured furnishing in the room provide a soothing environment. On some floors, the room number plate, doorbell and “do not disturb” light are quirkily designed to look like the top of a vintage suitcase. 
Transport: Kennedy Town is the westernmost district of Hong Kong Island, which is not yet reachable by the MTR. The hotel provides a complimentary shuttle bus service to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, Hong Kong Station (Airport Express) and Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. To take a taxi to Central costs about HK$40 (US$5)-HK$50 (US$6)
Rates: Standard rates from US$150

Other pluses:

  • Free wifi
  • Free buffet breakfast with usual items such as
  • Twenty-four analog TV channels and 11 digital channels
  • iPod/iPhone/iPad docking in all rooms
  • Cellini features fine-dining, which is still lacking in this district
  • Poolside lounge offers a great place to hang out
  • Notebook/iPad rental service

The minus:

  • The view of this part of the harbour is still nice during the day, but at night you can’t really see anything

 

Reggie Ho

    Business Traveller Asia-Pacific 2011 Silent Auction enters second phase

    Bidding in the first phase of the Business Traveller Asia-Pacific and China 2011 Silent Auction will end today at 2359 GMT.

    The second phase of the auction will begin on December 1 at 0001 GMT and will last through to December 31, 2011.

    Bidders can choose from up to 300 unique airline and hotel packages sponsored by the hospitality industry.

    Proceeds from the Silent Auction, now in its sixth year, will be directed to the Chi Heng Foundation, a charity devoted to bettering the lives of AIDS-impacted children and youngsters in China.

    To snatch up the best prizes, visit www.businesstraveller.asia/auction

    Arik Air to recommence Abuja-London route

    Arik Air will restart daily flights between Abuja and London Heathrow on December 12, following the cancellation of the route at the end of the summer schedule (see online news October 10).

    The Nigerian carrier will operate the route using new-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft fitted with 126 economy seats with a pitch of 34 inches, and 16 business class cradle-style seats.

    Arik Air dropped its Abuja-London route on October 29 – at the time a reason was not given, but in a statement the carrier now says this decision was taken “due to a number of extraneous factors including operational considerations to support the regional programme ahead of the airline’s launch to new destinations in Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali on December 6”.

    Flights will depart Abuja at 1135, arriving at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 1705, with the return leg leaving London at 2145, landing back in Nigeria at 0510.

    The “new” flights will add to the carrier’s existing daily service between London and Lagos. Arik Air says that the route “gives Nigeria a total of 14 of its 21 agreed frequencies, with both the UK and Nigeria governments having entered in to negotiations to find a solution to accommodate the requested increase”.

    For more information visit arikair.com.

    Report by Mark Caswell

    UK government to go ahead with APD hike

    Today’s Autumn statement by the Chancellor states that APD rates “will increase from 1 April 2012, as set out at Budget 2011”, with the extension to flights taken on business jets also set to go ahead.

    Chancellor George Osborne did not make mention of Air Passenger Duty in his actual speech, but a look at the section on Indirect Taxes in the full statement on the HM Treasury’s websites states that:

    “Air Passenger Duty (APD) rates will increase from 1 April 2012, as set out at Budget 2011. The Government will also proceed with the extension of APD to flights taken aboard business jets, effective from 1 April 2013.”

    The statement adds that more details will be set out in the Government’s response to the APD consultation on 6 December 2011. It means that travellers will be subjected to a double-inflattion rise of around ten percent, with this year’s rise having been held back to co-incide with next April’s hike.

    In response four of the UK’s major airlines have released a joint statement again calling for APD to be abolished.

    Carolyn McCall from Easyjet, Willie Walsh from IAG, Michael O’Leary from Ryanair and Steve Ridgway from Virgin Atlantic jointly said:

    “In the cause of UK economic recovery, Air Passenger Duty (APD) is an own goal – and the Chancellor has just scored another one. By increasing this tax by double the rate of inflation, he is further deterring inbound tourism and foreign investment, and choking off yet more job opportunities for young people.

    “APD has no international parallel and has already cost the UK economy 25,000 jobs – that is what the Government should focus on.

    “We call for the Chancellor to commission an independent study of APD’s overall economic value. We have no doubt this would confirm that APD’s negative impact on UK GDP significantly outweighs its revenue benefit for the Treasury.

    “This tax must be abolished.”