Thomson Dreamliner arrives in the UK

Thomson Airways today became the first UK airline to take delivery of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The state-of-the-art aircraft arrived at Manchester airport from Seattle around 1130 before Thomson MD Chris Browne, dressed all in red, disembarked and waved to the collected press.

This was the first time Browne personally received a plane delivery, stating that this one felt particularly special.

Thomson B787

Thomson B787

She was the first to disembark the B787 and told Business Traveller, with a laugh and a wink, than she enjoyed her “Branson moment”.

Speaking from onboard the aircraft Browne said: “This is as good as it gets. When you spend nine years working on it and you get to finally bring it home, it’s a great experience.”

The aircraft will now embark on a set of test flights, including one down to Newquay tomorrow, and will then fly on 47 selected short haul routes to Majorca and Turkey from Gatwick and Manchester, before launching long haul services on July 8.

Thomson has a total of eight Dreamliners on order, with the next one arriving tomorrow and a third before the end of the summer.

The first commercial routes will be from Manchester to Florida and Glasgow to Cancun, both starting on July 8. Phuket will follow in November and Mauritius and Puerto Vallarta will launch in 2014. The aircraft will eventually operate out of London Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands and Glasgow airports.

Thomson’s Dreamliner is configured in two classes – Premium Club and Economy Club – and is capable of carrying 291 passengers, 47 in Premium and 244 in economy. Premium customers receive a 23kg baggage allowance and receive a four-course meal, with a choice of entree and complimentary alcoholic drinks.

Thomson B787

 Thomson B787

The catering concentrates on a “taste of Britain”, according to Carl Gissing, director customer service at Thomson Airways. There will also be World Kitchen choices offered to celebrate Thomson routes, such as Thai green curry on the upcoming Phuket service. Thomson has also agreed to a new partnership with Starbucks to offer hot drinks on board.

Economy passengers receive a three-course meal without a choice of entree (vegetarian meals are available to pre-order) and soft drinks, hot drinks and wine are complimentary with dinner, but other drinks are charged. Baggage allowance in economy is 20kg.

All seats are blue leather and Premium Club class offers a pitch of 38 inches, configured 2-3-2 and located at the front of the aircraft. Economy Club is 3-3-3 with a seat pitch of 33 to 34 inches, with plenty of knee space.

In-flight entertainment (IFE) is audio visual on demand (AVOD) in both classes and provided by Panasonic. The 9-inch touch-screens pop out of the left hand armrest for Premium passengers and economy passengers have a smaller 7-inch touch-screen seat back monitor.

There are currently no plans to offer internet capabilities on board but passengers can plug in and also charge personal devices via seat back USB ports. The screens all offer a crisp picture quality and up to 35 channels of visual content, including recent film releases, as well as games and music.

Other features of the aircraft include the largest windows in the sky, which are electronically dimmable, and mood lighting throughout the cabin.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both have Boeing Dreamliners on order.

For more information visit thomson.co.uk.

Report by Scott Carey

Renaissance Johor Bahru Hotel opens its doors

Marriott International has opened the Renaissance Johor Bahru, its seventh property in Malaysia.

The new hotel is located in Permas Jaya, close to the city centre of Johor Bahru. Part of the up-and-coming Iskandar Development Region, this new Marriott is the latest in a growing number of hotel openings, including Traders Puteri Harbour (see story here). The property is a short drive from the Eastern Dispersal Link, which leads directly to the Singapore border, and the North South Highway, which provides a connection to the rest of Malaysia. 

The Renaissance Johor Bahru Hotel has 345 rooms, all equipped with 42-inch flat screen televisions with satellite channel access.

Inside, guests can choose from one of four restaurants and bars, including the all-day dining restaurant Café BLD; Wan Li Restaurant which serves contemporary Chinese fare; confectionary outlet The Chocolate Cake Company; and the R-Bar. Other leisure facilities include an outdoor swimming pool and fitness center.

For more information, visit www.jbrenaissance.com

Alex Andersson

TAP Portugal ups weekly Manchester to Lisbon flights

TAP Portugal is adding an extra three flights a week between Manchester and Lisbon.

The current service of seven weekly flights will increase to ten from June 1.

The move means TAP Portugal will now provide 80 flights each week between the UK and Portugal.

At the end of last year, TAP announced a “commercial cooperation” agreement with Emirates that included a reciprocal codeshare agreement and the linking of the two carriers’ frequent flyer programmes (see online news, December 2012).

The agreement allows passengers to purchase single tickets for connecting TAP Portugal and Emirates services, as well as enabling members of the TAP Victoria and Emirates Skywards loyalty schemes to earn and redeem miles when flying on either carrier.

For more information, visit flytap.com.

Report by Graham Smith

Radisson Blu at Manchester Airport undergoes £10m revamp

A £10 million refurbishment project has begun at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Manchester Airport.

The hotel, which originally opened in 1998, is being completely overhauled in three phases.

The first, and largest, phase is already underway and will be completed this year. It will see the transformation of the hotel’s reception and lobby area, restaurant and bar, 120 business class bedrooms and suites, and the airport’s largest functions and events area, including all 27 meeting rooms.

Radisson Blu Manchester Hotel new lobby

The large-scale project will touch all core elements of the property over the next two years.

The hotel’s restaurant will double in size with three unique zones and boasting panoramic airport views.

Richard Moore, Carlson Rezidor, area vice president UK & Ireland, said: “This is an exciting time for the hotel and we are delighted to be able to put such a considerable amount of investment into this flagship property.

“The level of detail in the design and the thought processes behind the food and drink concept will create a real destination for our guests and the airport community.”

For more information, visit radissonblu.com.

Report by Graham Smith

JAL to add fun character to in-flight meals

From tomorrow, Japan Airlines (JAL) will start serving in-flight meals in a package adorned with the popular Japanese character Kumamon.

This new meal service will be in operation until August 31, in premium economy and economy class on routes from Narita, Tokyo to New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, London, Paris and Frankfurt. Passengers on Helsinki flights, meanwhile, will be graced by the cuddly character boxes starting July 1. 

 

The cute packaging will contain a meal consisting of noodle soup with vegetables and Kumamon custard cake, among others things.

This fun in-flight meal innovation comes one month after JAL introduced remote meal ordering service in business class (see story here).

For more information, visit www.jal.com/

Valerian Ho

Korean Air launches codeshare agreement with Czech Airlines

Korean Air is poised to launch a codeshare agreement with Czech Airlines on June 1 for the Incheon-Prague route.

As reported earlier (see story here), Korean Air recently acquired a 44 per cent stake in Czech Airlines, and the deal included increased codeshare agreements and improved connection schedules.

Korean Air already flies to Prague on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Under the codeshare agreement, Korean Air’s “KAL” code will appear on Czech Airlines-operated flights on the same route on Tuesdays and Sundays, thus offering passengers six flights a week to choose from. The codeshare flight will depart at 1245 and arrive in Prague at 1650.

Eventually, Czech will add a service on Thursdays on this route in order to make the flight a daily service.

From Prague, passengers can connect onwards to other European cities since Korean Air already codeshares on Czech-operated flights to 17 cities, including Frankfurt, Rome, Paris and Munich. 

For more information, visit www.koreanair.com

Alisha Haridasani

Singapore Airlines orders 30 B787-10Xs

Singapore Airlines has become the first carrier to place an order for Boeing’s 787-10X jet, it was revealed today.

The airline has ordered 30 of the “stretched” Dreamliners for delivery in the 2018-19 financial year. The deal is conditional upon Boeing formally launching the B787-10X programme.

SIA has also agreed to purchase 30 more Airbus A350-900s for delivery in the 2016-17 financial year.

That deal includes options for 20 more, options which may be converted into orders for larger A350-1000s.

The combined value of the two deals is more than $17 billion.

Goh Choon Phong, Singapore Airlines CEO, said: “Today’s aircraft orders are among the biggest in Singapore Airlines’ history, helping to ensure that we retain our industry leading position.

“These new aircraft will provide opportunities to grow and renew our fleet and enhance our network, benefiting customers by offering more travel options and the latest in-flight cabin products.”

Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB is the sole engine type for the A350-900. An engine selection for the B787-10Xs will be made at a later date.

The agreement with Airbus is SIA’s third for A350-900s, lifting to 70 the number of firm orders in place for the aircraft type. They are intended for use on medium and long-range routes.

The B787-10Xs are intended for use on medium-range routes.

The new orders will lift to 126 the number of firm aircraft commitments SIA has in place with Airbus and Boeing.

For more information, visit singaporeair.com.

Report by Graham Smith

Frankfurt ‘number one airport for delays and cancellations’

Passengers are more likely to suffer delays and cancellations at Frankfurt airport than at any other airport in the world, according to compensation statistics.

Frankfurt has generated the most claims for delayed arrivals, followed by three British airports – Manchester, Stansted and Gatwick – over the last nine months, it is claimed.

Dusseldorf Airport comes in fifth place for delays, followed by Tegel (Berlin) at six, Antalya (Turkey), at seven, Barajas (Madrid) at eight and Birmingham at nine. New York’s JFK airport rounds out the top ten.

The research was carried out by Refund.me, a service provider which helps passengers claim their right to monetary compensation for flight delays, cancellations, diversions and missed connections.

Refund.me revealed the list of airports after analysing data from users of its online widget and mobile app who had suffered the most inconveniences eligible for compensation.

The organisation also found that passengers suffered the most flight cancellations at Frankfurt, followed by Franz Joseph Strauss (Munich) in second place and Charles de Gaulle (Paris) in third.

Gatwick follows close behind in fourth place, with Schiphol (Amsterdam) in fifth, Copenhagen in sixth, Dusseldorf in seventh, Heathrow in eighth, Barajas (Madrid) in ninth and Manchester Airport in tenth.

Tokyo, meanwhile, topped the list of the world’s most on-time airports with 92 per cent of flights in April operating with no more than a 15 minute delay, followed by Munich (90 per cent) and Seattle (87 per cent).

Earlier this month, Frankfurt announced that it intends to proceed with a third terminal to cope with future growth (see online news, May 17). Airport operator Fraport plans to open this new Terminal 3 in 2020.

To read about whether you are one of the estimated 400,000 people flying in and out of the UK each year who are entitled to claim compensation for delays, click here.

For more information, visit Refund.me.

Report by Graham Smith

JAL to roll out new seats on its B767-300ERs

Japan Airlines has announced it will install new business and economy class seats on its two-class Boeing 767-300ER as part of its ongoing upgrade scheme.

Nine of JAL’s fleet of 32 B767 aircraft will be retrofitted with the new seats.

The new business class – called JAL Sky Suite II – will be fitted with 24, instead of the current 30, fully flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.

JAL Business Class

Each seat offers a bed length of up to 78 inches/200cm and a width of up to 20 inches/52cm, making it slightly longer than the new business class seats on the B777s but also slightly narrower. Seats also consist of a 15.4-inch touchscreen inflight entertainment system, USB ports and universal power outlets.

The new economy seats, dubbed JAL Sky Wider and fitted in a 2-3-2 configuration, offer an increased pitch, which will go from 31 inches/79cm to a maximum of 33 inches/86cm. Seats will also feature a 10.6-inch touchscreen TV, USB ports and universal power outlets.

Tokyo Narita-Vancouver will be the first route to be operated by an upgraded B767, which is scheduled to launch in December this year. Eventually, the nine B767s with the new seats will operate select long-haul Southeast Asian and Honolulu routes. 

JAL economy class 

JAL began its upgrade scheme by reconfiguring its fleet of B777-300ERs last year (see story here).

For an in-depth feature of new business class seats, stay tuned for “Pushing the premium envelope” on P36 of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific’s June 2013 issue. For more information, visit www.jal.com/en.

Alisha Haridasani

Ryanair ‘may have to reduce Aer Lingus stake’

Ryanair may be forced to reduce its stake in Irish airline Aer Lingus, the Competition Commission has said.

The CC, which has been investigating the impact of Ryanair’s 29.8 per cent stake in Aer Lingus, is concerned that the shareholding could be reducing competition on UK to Ireland routes.

It said that it had provisionally decided that the shareholding gives “Ryanair the ability to influence the commercial policy and strategy of Aer Lingus”.

The commission could force Ryanair to sell all or part of its shareholding in Aer Lingus as well as introducing other “safeguards”. It will submit its full report on the issue on July 11.

Ryanair, which failed in its third attempt to take over Aer Lingus earlier this year, condemned the CC’s verdict as an “unfounded claim” and added that European Commission had concluded that competition between the two airlines had “intensified” since 2007.

But the CC said that Ryanair’s shareholding “obstructs Aer Lingus’ ability to merge or combine with another airline to build scale and achieve synergies to remain competitive”.

CC deputy chairman Simon Polito, who is chairman of the Ryanair/Aer Lingus inquiry group, said: “Our provisional view is that Ryanair’s shareholding is likely to weaken its main competitor on routes between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

“Whilst not giving it control over the day-to-day running of its rival, Ryanair’s minority shareholding can influence the major strategic decisions that could be crucial to Aer Lingus’s future as a competitive airline on these and other routes.

“We were particularly concerned about Ryanair’s influence over Aer Lingus’s ability to be acquired by, merge with, or acquire another airline. We thought it likely that such a combination would be necessary to increase Aer Lingus’s scale and achieve synergies to allow it to remain competitive in future.”

Aer Lingus welcomed the CC announcement and said it would continue to “assist the investigation into the anti-competitive effects of Ryanair’s minority shareholding”.

Ryanair said that it would appeal any decision by the CC to force it to reduce the stake in Aer Lingus. The airline is already appealing against the EC’s decision to block its latest attempt to take over Aer Lingus in February.

Chief executive Michael O’Leary said: “This provisional decision by the UK CC is bizarre and manifestly wrong.

“The CC’s finding that Ryanair’s shareholding obstructs Aer Lingus’ ability to attract other airlines was disproved by Etihad’s purchase of a 3 per cent stake and the evidence submitted by other large EU airlines, which confirmed that Ryanair’s shareholding was not a barrier to other airlines acquiring a stake in Aer Lingus.”

For more information, visit competition-comission.org.uk and ryanair.com.

Report by Rob Gill