Exclusive: Lufthansa update

More details of Lufthansa’s budget brand are emerging. Although full details will be revealed at the official press conference in Cologne next week (see online news November 27), we can now reveal that the timescale for the transition from full service to budget operation will be one year.

In an interview with Business Traveller, Christian Schindler, Lufthansa’s director for the UK and Ireland, explained that existing non-hub Lufthansa services (those flights not serving Frankfurt or Munich) would be converted to the Germanwings style of service starting next January.

The first route, a domestic Nuremberg-Hamburg link, has been announced (see online news November 26), with remaining routes to be converted in stages during 2013.

It is also possible that the Germanwings name might disappear. “The branding and livery are yet to be confirmed,” Schindler told Business Traveller.

One surprise is that the new carrier will continue to operate its 30-strong fleet of CRJ900 commuter jets, although the routes may be switched. It’s a surprise because, until now, budget airlines have thrived by operating workhorses such as the B737 or the A319/A320 family.

Lufthansa said this was all to do with giving its budget brand project a better image and providing better service than the typical low-cost operation.

Schindler said: “We must offer passengers an attractive product. We need to keep our existing passengers. We don’t want to see them going elsewhere.”

Business passengers paying the higher fares are likely to be allocated preferred seating, be offered a snack and drink and qualify for free baggage check. But passengers buying the cheapest tickets will, as at present with Germanwings, have to pay for these amenities.

Many questions are still to be answered. How might the Lufthansa budget brand stack up against British Airways on a route such as London-Berlin? Will the difference in price and service justify taking Lufthansa over BA? Will those Lufthansa passengers paying high prices or holding top-tier frequent flyer programme status still qualify for their usual perks?

Germanwings is not a member of Star Alliance so that could present another problem – not so much with European travellers but for members of Star Alliance Gold who are visiting from, say, Asia or the US, and who take flights outside the Lufthansa hubs. They will expect the same Star benefits – expedited check-in, lounges, higher baggage allowance – that they receive from Lufthansa. Will this happen?

And on the prickly subject of Berlin’s new airport, Lufthansa said that all of its facilities were ready to go once the new Brandenburg facility – the opening of which has been postponed three times – was ready for business.

“Our main focus at Berlin is maintaining the stability of our operations at Tegel,” Schindler said. “Tegel [the city’s main international airport] is operating beyond capacity [because of the delayed opening of Brandenburg] but we are managing to operate a regular, punctual operation. It’s working well.”

All in all, UK business remains healthy. Schindler was pleased that the relatively new Aberdeen to Frankfurt route was proving a hit. “Eighty per cent of the passengers flying out of Aberdeen are making onward connections over Frankfurt. The service is popular with the oil business. We have a selling point in that we operate the A380 between Frankfurt and Houston.”

All told, Lufthansa departs from two London airports – Heathrow and City – and five in the regions – Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

But there have been cutbacks. Lufthansa has suspended its London Gatwick to Frankfurt route until next summer, while London City to Munich has been scrapped altogether because, Schindler claimed, “We see reduced demand from business people as the banks are now more concentrated in Frankfurt and Zurich.”

On the long-haul scene, Lufthansa confirmed that a premium economy product remained under serious evaluation (this is something we reported in April last year) with a decision expected soon.

Passengers who have flown the carrier’s brand new B747-800 aircraft have provided positive feedback. Although some may question Lufthansa’s decision to order 20 of these aircraft, the carrier maintained that they were intended for flagship routes that, for various reasons, could not accommodate the A380.

In addition, the B747-800s are fitted with Lufthansa’s newest products in all three classes. Business Traveller’s Michelle Mannion flew in the new business cabin on the Frankfurt-Washington DC route in October and reported:

“While Lufthansa’s new seat doesn’t offer the same degree of privacy as some of its competitors, and the ‘V’ configuration [seats are angled towards each other in pairs] and lack of aisle access for all may not please everyone, it is a big step up from its previous angled lie-flat product – the B747-8 was also a pleasure to fly.”

For the full review see the December/January issue of Business Traveller magazine or click here.

Visit lufthansa.com for more information.

Report by Alex McWhirter

Business Traveller December / January edition now live

Subscribers to the print version of Business Traveller can access the edition online before everyone else.

All of our special reports and destination features are uploaded to businesstraveller.com each month, and the December 2012 / January 2013 edition has now gone live.

Subscribe to Business Traveller today, and as an added bonus you’ll receive up to 2,000 Avios, as well as a 20 per cent off subscription rates. For more information click here.

This month’s packed issue includes:

  • A report on protecting yourself from credit card fraud
  • A round-up of the latest luxury gadgets to blow your budget on
  • A look at the emerging South Korean city of Songdo
  • Four hours in Vienna
  • A look at how new airline tie-ups will affect the hop to Australia
  • Our frequent traveller makes plans to go AWOL on New Years Eve
  • A report on open access rail firms
  • Eating out in Hong Kong
  • A round-up of diets to aid weight loss on the road
  • Meeting options in Berlin
  • A look back at the iconic Concorde
  • Destination reports on Mumbai, Val d’Isere and the Western Cape

Plus we review Lufthansa’s new fully flat business class product on board the carrier’s B747-8, as well as Qatar’s new Dreamliner business class seat, El Al’s business class product, and the Comfort One offering on Thalys’ rail service between Brussels and Amsterdam.

If you are already a subscriber to Business Traveller, simply log in here (using the email address attached to your subscription), then click on the archive button on the navigation bar for full access.

If you are unsure of your log in details, or have any problems accessing the archive as a print subscriber, click here to send us an email.

Premier Inn opens largest UK property at Gatwick

Premier Inn has officially opened its largest UK property this week, with the 630 room hotel located at Gatwick’s North Terminal.

The new build property is located directly opposite the terminal, next to the Sofitel hotel, with the airport reached by taking a short walk through the passenger drop off area.

Room 333 is also significant in that it is the brand’s 50,000th room, and even has a special gold plaque outside the door.

This is one of a nine openings by the budget chain in the Greater London area planned before the end of 2013, including the recently opened Premier Inn on Leicester Square.

Patrick Dempsey, managing director at Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants said: “Reaching 50,000 rooms across the portfolio is a great achievement that we are very pleased with. Our growth across Greater London is particularly exciting as it means we can offer even more people a great night’s sleep in the best locations and we look forward to opening many more over the next few years.”

Bookings are open at premierinn.com and each room (averaging 21.4 sq m) caters for up to two adults and two children (aged 15 and under) and includes an en-suite bathroom, a king size bed, TV with Freeview, tea and coffee making facilities, and 30 minutes of free wifi access (24 hour access costs £3), as standard.

The hotel also offers all you can eat breakfast for £8.25 each, with kids under 16 eating free when one adult orders. There is a Costa coffee franchise in the lobby near reception, as well as the main bar and restaurant, Thyme, which serves pub classics and pizza.

This property does not currently have the new noise meters installed though, as the scheme is still on trial (see online news November 27).

For more information visit premierinn.com.

Report by Scott Carey

Ryanair to launch Stansted-Strasbourg route

Low-cost carrier Ryanair will launch a three times-weekly service from London Stansted to the seat of the European Parliament from April next year.

The new route will launch on April 2, with flights departing on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

There are currently no direct, non-stop flights between the UK and Strasbourg airport – Air France has previously served the city from London City airport as recently as 2009.

Ryanair also flies between Stansted and Karlsruhe / Baden-Baden airport, located around 25km north of Strasbourg in Germany.

The carrier will also launch flights between Strasbourg and Porto from next March.

For more information visit ryanair.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Air Canada poised for major Asian expansion

Air Canada (AC) has embarked on an international flight expansion, which it describes as the “most far-reaching in our 75-year history”.

The carrier announced yesterday that flights from Canada to Asian cities such as Beijing, Seoul and Narita Tokyo would increase. It also revealed the start up of a thrice weekly Toronto-Seoul service on June 2, 2013, using a B777-300ER, which complements the existing Vancouver-Seoul run. This means that AC will be providing daily flights to the Korean capital from two Canadian hubs.

Also in June, the Toronto-Beijing service will be enhanced with three weekly flights, bringing the total to 10 a week; four extra flights will be added to the Vancouver-Beijing route for a total of 11 weekly departures, including a new late-night service; and Calgary-Tokyo Narita will go daily with two extra weekly flights in May. A B777-300ER has been assigned to the first two services, while the latter service will utilise a B767-300ER.

Of the North American carriers, which include Delta, United, American and Continental, AC has been the least aggressive in capitalising on the ever-prospering fortunes of the Asia-Pacific region. It has only seen profit in one out of the past six years, according to industry reports.

This latest move, aviation experts say, reflects the new world market thinking that Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are the best sources of yield recovery.

Air Canada is also planning to launch a thrice weekly Toronto-Istanbul service, operating a B767-00ER aircraft.

For more about Air Canada, visit www.aircanada.com

Margie T Logarta

Finnair to begin direct Hanoi route

Finnair will be starting a three-times-weekly, direct service to Hanoi in Vietnam on June 14. 

Initially, the plan is to only operate the flight until October 27, “But our target is to increase frequencies and expand the season in the future,” Manti Väätäinen-Pereira of Finnair Communications says.  

“We think it’s going to be [popular for] both business and leisure… it is a growing economic center, which fuels business travel,” said Väätäinen-Pereira. Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million, and is a hot spot of higher education and research and development in the region. The Vietnamese capital is forecasted by PricewaterhouseCoopers to have the world’s fastest growing economy between the years 2008-2025. 

The move is part of the airline’s strategic focus on Asia, initiated in 2010 (see story here) – which aims for Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to become a transit hub for flights between Asia and Europe, citing a geographic advantage since flying over the top of the earth’s curvature allows for shorter services between the two continents. From Helsinki, Finnair offers connections to more than 60 European destinations.

Chief executive Mika Vehviläinen says: “this is yet another important step for Finnair toward our long-term goal of doubling our Asian revenue by 2020.” Other Asian routes Finnair serve from the hub include Chongqing (see here), Bangkok, Beijing, Delhi, Hong Kong, Nagoya, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo.

For more information visit www.finnair.com

Alex Andersson

Qatar Airways plans Athens-New York route

Qatar Airways is set to launch flights between Athens and New York next year, according to reports in the Greek media.

Daily newspaper Kathimerini reports that the carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker announced plans for the new route at a press conference in Athens, celebrating eight years of service from Doha to the Greek capital.

There is no official confirmation of the route on the Qatar Airways website, and Business Traveller has contacted the airline for more information, but it looks likely the service will operate on a Doha-Athens-New York routing, making use of fifth freedom rights.

US carrier Delta currently operates summer seasonal flights from New York to Athens, between May and October.

For more information visit qatarairways.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Motel One gears up for UK debut

German budget hotel group Motel One will open its first UK property before the end of the year, located on Edinburgh’s Market Street next to the city’s mainline Waverley rail station.

Motel One first launched in 2000 with budget properties located close to German motorways, but has since refined its concept to focus on prime city centre locations across Germany, including eight already open in Berlin.

The group also has two hotels in the Austrian cities of Salzburg and Vienna, with a second Salzburg property set to open before the end of the year.

The brand is also gearing up for expansion into the UK, with the 208-room Motel One Edinburgh Royal set to open “before New Year’s Eve”, and a second Edinburgh property under development on Princes Street opposite the city’s luxury Balmoral Hotel and above an Apple retail store.

Further UK hotels have been signed in Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow, along with two London properties – one in Tower Hill and the other in Whitechapel.

Similar to budget offerings like Premier Inn and Ibis (brands which the group’s marketing spokesperson Ursula Schelle-Muller said Motel One would be competing against in the UK), the concept is simple – a good quality bed (with egyptian cotton sheets), reading lamps, a monsoon shower, a desk, TV, a rail to hang clothes, and, well, that’s about it.

Guests should not expect room service, mini bars or safes, nor will the hotel offer a gym, restaurant or meeting space.

But attention has been taken with design elements, particularly in the One Lounge public area, where the Edinburgh property will feature the group’s signature Arne Jacobsen egg chair – in this case furnished with Motel One’s very own tartan design. A bar will also offer a range of snacks and Scottish whiskies.

Guests can expect fixed rather than dynamic pricing, with a simple £69 one-person room rate for the Edinburgh property (excluding some peak periods), a £15 supplement for a second guest, and £7.50 per person for continental breakfast. Room sizes across the group average around 16 sqm, and free wifi is also included throughout the property.

The Edinburgh hotel is housed within two listed 16th and 18th-century buildings, in a prime location overlooking Prince Street Gardens and close to attractions including Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.

Motel One currently has 40 properties in operation, and Schelle-Muller said this would rise to around 60 by 2015, with other properties either signed or under construction in cities including Frankfurt, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Brussels, Prague, Warsaw and Amsterdam.

For more information visit motel-one.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Korean to suspend Gatwick-Seoul route

Having launched its new Gatwick route earlier this year, Korean Air (KAL) has now decided to suspend operations during the off-peak winter season.

A spokesperson for KAL explained that a good proportion of traffic on this three times a week service comprises Asian group tourists * who fly into London but return with KAL from another city in mainland Europe. There is less demand for European holidays during this period.

KAL says its last flight of the winter from Gatwick will be on January 12 and that it will resume the service on April 27 in time for the busier summer season.

Flights will continue to operate at the same flight frequency and with the same aircraft type, a B777-200 configured with eight first, 28 business and 210 economy class seats.

But perhaps one factor in KAL’s decision for the winter suspension is the fact that there will be much more capacity on the route from next Sunday when British Airways will be returning to Seoul after an absence of over 10 years.

BA’s five times a week service to Seoul begins on December 2. It will be operated out of London Heathrow with a B777-200.  

For more information visit koreanair.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

* As an aside, it’s interesting to note, as we regularly write in Business Traveller, that Asian tour groups visiting Europe are smart enough to arrive first in the UK then fly home from mainland Europe to avoid our highest rate of APD.