Delta takes delivery of its first B737-900ER

Delta Air Lines has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737-900ER today.

The carrier has 100 of the 180-seat aircraft on order. Each jet will have 20 seats in First Class, 21 in Economy Comfort and 139 in Economy.

Delta plans to place the first few into service from early November, with initial routes to be flown between Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Tampa and San Francisco.

Delta B737-900ER

Delta B737-900ER

John Wojick, senior vice president of Global Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said: “The 737-900ER is a great fit for Delta’s fleet. It provides best-in-class efficiency, economics, reliability and passenger comfort that Delta needs for its fleet renewal initiative.”

The new B737-900ERs are primarily replacements for the airline’s fleet of 183-seat Boeing 757s.

They are equipped with onboard wifi, while each seat comes with a video monitor, 100v ADC socket and USB port.

Passengers can now make reservations to fly on the first of Delta’s B737-900ERs, although these might be subject to change.

Indonesian carrier Lion Air was the first airline to deploy the B737-900ER. It received its first in 2007 and now has 68 in service and orders for 90 more.

delta.com

Graham Smith

Easyjet to fly from Bristol to Reykjavik and Marrakech

Easyjet is launching two new routes from Bristol Airport to Reykjavik and Marrakech in December.

The budget carrier will operate an Airbus A319 with 156 seats on both routes and expects to carry “over 55,000” passengers in total during the first year.

Flights to Reykjavik will start on December 12 and operate on Thursdays and Sundays. The service is south-west England’s only connection to Iceland.

The Marrakech route starts two days later on December 14 and will also be twice-weekly, running on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Ali Gayward, commercial manager for Easyjet, said: “We are pleased to announce two new routes for Bristol Airport today offering exciting new holiday destinations for people across the south-west.

“The new flights went on sale this morning and we expect to carry around 55,000 passengers in the first year thanks to the broad appeal of Iceland and Morocco.”

Last week, Easyjet announced it will launch 15 new routes from Hamburg after it opens a base in the German city next spring (see news, September 26).

easyjet.com

Graham Smith

BA to deploy B777 on Jeddah route

British Airways will deploy a Boeing 777 on its Heathrow to Jeddah route next year.

The change, which comes into effect on March 31, will result in an additional 250 seats each week. The route is currently served by a B767.

Passengers will be able to travel in First or Club World.

BA configures its B777 with 14 suites in First, 48 fully flat-bed seats in Club World, 40 seats in World Traveller Plus and 124 seats in the World Traveller economy.

Paolo De Renzis, BA’s area commercial manager, Middle East and Central Asia, said: “It is our aim to offer our Saudi travellers the very best in-air experience possible, and our new First cabin brings classic British elegance with attention paid to every detail every step of the way.”

To read a review of a BA flight on a B777 from Chengdu to London, click here.

ba.com

Graham Smith

Lufthansa trials first class overbooking

As you will have read in September’s historical Snapshot page, airline overbooking today is as rife as it was in 1990.

Airlines overbook to counter the “no show” factor which can lead to planes departing with empty seats and hence loss of revenue.

But most overbooking occurs in economy and business class. Many, if not most, airlines consider it taboo to overbook their first class cabins — they dare not risk upsetting their most important and influential customers.

Yet this is seemingly a risk which German national carrier Lufthansa is now prepared to take.

Lufthansa has begun trialling a first class overbooking policy on selected routes to “better utilise the high priced luxury class”, according to news magazine Der Spiegel.

Examples of the services in question are those departing Frankfurt for certain destinations such as New York, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Miami, Sao Paulo and Singapore.

According to Der Spiegel, where there is an overbooking situation Lufthansa passengers are told by prepared statement that: “Technical problems in our booking system have led to an extremely rare case of simultaneous reservation assumptions. My colleagues are already busy trying to find an optimal solution so that such cases are excluded in the future.”

Since the trial started, says Der Spiegel, Lufthansa claims it has not left any first class passengers behind.

But if a first class passenger on an overbooked flight does end up getting downgraded, he or she will not be happy seeing as the majority of Lufthansa’s fleet does not provide flat bed seats in business class.

Lufthansa said in a statement: “Since July, we have been testing controlled overbooking of our first class in order to further improve occupancy in this class.

“There is the possibility to overbook by two seats only until 30 days prior to departure. This leaves us with room to still react during these 30 days and to offer alternatives to our customers.

“The ongoing test has shown that with this procedure we were able to improve occupancy and at the same time avoid overbooking of our first class. Since the start of this trial in July there hasn’t been any case in which we had to rebook customers into another classes.”

lufthansa.com

Alex McWhirter

Fairmont inks deal for a Hangzhou property

FRHI Hotels & Resorts has signed a deal for a new Fairmont property in Hangzhou with Hengli Management, a subsidiary of Zhong An Real Estate, based in Zhejiang in the Yangtze River Delta, China and a listed company on Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Slated for a 2017 opening, Fairmont Hangzhou will feature 300 rooms, five dining outlets, a health club and swimming pool, a signature Willow Steam Spa, and more than 3,000 sqm of meeting and banquet space. The project will also include 180 Fairmont Serviced Residences.

The new Fairmont will be part of a three-phase RMB6 billion (US$981 million) project called Hangzhou International Office Center (IOC), located in Qianjiang Century CBD, the city’s newly developed area along the south bank of Qiantang River designed to offer large scale meeting and convention venues, Grade A office towers, high-end residences and commercial and retail spaces. The hotel will share Plot 1 with class A office spaces; Plot A2 will feature service apartments, a six-storey large scale shopping mall, Hong Kong Victoria Kindergarten, library, cinema, and boutique supermarket; while Plot A3 will be offer more serviced apartments in 250-400 sqm, 240-400 sqm and 50-100 sqm.

The main building of the project, when complete, will be the tallest skyscraper in Hangzhou at 330 metres.

Known as one of China’s most scenic cities, Hangzhou is home to the famed Unesco-listed West Lake, peppered with temples, pagodas and gardens. Many famous literary works from ancient China are said to have been inspired by this site. Other well known points of interest include Solitary Hill, the Tomb of General Yue Fei, the Six Harmonies Pagoda and the Ling Yin Temple. For an Inside China report on Hangzhou, click here.

Fairmont Hangzhou will join the luxury brand’s growing China portfolio that includes Fairmont Peace Hotel (see review); Fairmont Beijing; Fairmont Yangcheng Lake; Fairmont Nanjing (opening this year); Fairmont Chengdu and Residences, China (2014); and Fairmont Taiyuan (2016).

www.fairmont.com

Reggie Ho

Norwegian grounds B787 until further notice

Norwegian Air has grounded a B787 Dreamliner after the aircraft was left stranded in Bangkok with hydraulic pump failure.

The budget carrier, which has to date received two of the eight B787s it ordered, has demanded Boeing fix the aircraft, which will now be flown back empty to Stockholm.

Norwegian’s spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Neilsen told the Seattle Times the plane “has not been reliable enough and passengers had been subject to too many delays”.

The airline had believed the fuel-efficient B787 would make low-cost, long-haul succeed in a market where others had failed, as we report in the new October 2013 issue of Business Traveller.

But its first two B787s delivered from Boeing have proved troublesome, leading to flight delays of hours or even days.

Embarassingly, a recent VIP launch party in Bangkok for the carrier’s new route, which was to be attended by Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos and other senior management, had to be cancelled at the last minute because their B787 was grounded in Scandinavia with technical issues.

All of which leads to Norwegian’s drastic step of grounding the newest of the two B787s after the aircraft in question was stranded in Bangkok

It’s akin to the situation where an unhappy car buyer returns his new vehicle to the dealer and refuses to take it back until all the faults are rectified.

Reports in the Scandinavian media suggest that since May, Norwegian’s ontime performance on its two B787-operated long-haul routes (to New York and Bangkok) has fallen to just 49 per cent.

Norwegian had rostered its two B787s intensively with short destination turnaround, but airline experts believe that Norwegian was naive to expect that a new and revolutionary plane type would deliver almost perfect reliability from day one.

Meanwhile, Norwegian has again been forced to charter in a replacement plane from Portuguese carrier Hi-Fly. But the aircraft in question, a fuel thirsty A340, is not designed (as Air AsiaX discovered) to operate low-cost, long-haul so the bills will be mounting.

It is unclear whether or not Boeing will pick up the tab for the latest disruption. Quoted by Reuters, Boeing said the repairs “will be fixed in a matter of days”.

Be that as it may, Norwegian can ill afford any service disruption on its Bangkok routes as the competition grows by the day.

As Business Traveller reported in July (see news, July 26), the Gulf carriers are moving into Scandinavia and are, by the time Norwegian’s ancillary fees are included, undercutting the budget carrier on price.

norwegian.com

Alex McWhirter

First look: Crowne Plaza renews focus on business travellers

Crowne Plaza has unveiled plans to help business travellers increase their productivity when staying at its hotels.

The innovations, which are being trialled at three Crowne Plaza Hotels in London, Rome and Brussels are the result of a wide-ranging survey of business travellers across nine countries, and are part of the development of the Crowne Plaza brand aiming to make it “the number one destination for business travellers”.

I went along to the London City property to have a look at the trial, with a walk around of the hotel with general manager Anthony Worrall.

Crowne Plaza London City

The Crowne Plaza here has always been an impressive property since it opened in 2003, and it has certainly been a test bed for new ideas – it has three restaurants / bars and several of these have gone through many name changes and different concepts in the past decade.

The great challenge for city centre hotels is to encourage guests to use the food and beverage outlets within the hotel, and listening to the frequent travellers has encouraged the brand to come up with a “breakfast on the go” concept, allowing business travellers too busy to go to the restaurant for a sit-down Continental breakfast (£15.95 at this hotel) or full English breakfast (£22.95) to choose from a Box option which can be pre-ordered to the room or picked up from reception (£11.95), and has lots of healthy options along with drinks.

There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into this – especially how if a business traveller orders the box for the morning, instead of knocking on the door a note is slipped under the door informing the guest that the box is ready. There is a station on wheels downstairs in the lobby which is wheeled out in the morning for those wanting to make a quick getaway so they can just choose what they want and then leave.

The breakfast option is only one element in what the brand is calling “Energy Essentials” (well, that’s what brands do, come up with these sub-brands or labels). Other parts include an excellent run station by the lobby lifts with towels and route maps for those wanting to go for an early morning run.

I first saw this idea a decade ago in the hotels round Central Park in Manhattan, and since then in some of the Park Lane, London properties, but it would work well in many hotels in other locations, and for this property close to London’s Embankment, it is perfect for runs along the Thames – there are several suggested routes, and they can be combined for longer runs.

In addition, the hotel has also provided complimentary water and fruit around the hotel, and has put in what it calls a Fast and Fresh menu, meaning freshly prepared menu items. An example of this is one of the new restaurant concepts – an Italian, a little like Carluccios, which as well as offering simple Italian food also has a deli-counter from which you can order food to go (or just to eat in your room if you want to work).

Crowne Plaza London City deluxe room

Redesign: A deluxe room in the hotel

The work element has also been catered for. All the rooms (and meeting rooms) now have new “charging boxes” allowing the charging of various smartphones without the need for travellers to bring their own chargers (or if they forget to bring them). All guests also now have access to secure WIFI printing in three locations: business centre, club lounge (if you have a club room) or the reception.

At the moment there is no charge for the printing, though since it’s a pilot I suppose if people start printing out 20 or 30 page documents, it will bring in some kid of fair use policy. Note that internet is charged for at the hotel (£15 for 24 hours, including an entertainment package through the in-room entertainment system), but internet access is free for the top tiers of IHG’s Reward programme, and this will be further extended in coming months to all members of IHG Rewards (for the new story on that, click here

The Crowne Plaza pilots have been developed in response to research undertaken by Crowne Plaza owner IHG which revealed that business guests would like a more personalised service, geared towards their priorities, values and work schedules.

This has become the defining philosophy of the brand, at least in these hotels, since a flat screen TV behind reception shows each element of the trial, and has the new phrase “Focussed on your success”, providing a reason for your expense department to approve a stay at the Crowne Plaza over sister brands such as Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. As the promotional literature has it,

“These guests [i.e.: us] are career-focused and look to their hotel to make it easy for them to be at the top of their game professionally…. The pilots have been developed to meet these needs and accommodate guests who increasingly see their hotel experience as an integral factor in the success of their business trip.”

Interestingly this pilot comes after the Holiday Inn brand has done its own “reimagining” of what the new breed  of business travellers (hopefully, us) want from hotels (for a pdf of the research report, click here.

So for instance if you want to see Holiday Inn’s new ‘Open Lobby Concept’ you can go along to the London Brentford Lock. It is based on the idea that there is a new group of business travellers who don’t necessarily require the needs of a traditional 9-5 business men and women but who require more of a coffee-house style environment to work in. 

Crowne Plaza London City

Crowne Plaza has dome a similar thing with its Lobby (now called “The City Lounge”) as have the new generation Mercure properties (I reviewed one of these a few weeks ago, click here for a review.

In the Mercure there were lounging seats in The Library and The Study (formerly what would have been called the lobby), which were fine for a drink, but perhaps less convenient for a business meeting. The Crowne Plaza’s The City Lounge would be better for business, and its booths can be booked, so it is used both by non-guests and guests according to GM Anthony Worrall. For once I think the lack of laptop power in this space is an advantage, since it stops people taking up residence for the day and becoming proprietorial about their space. Again, I’ll post a picture of this when I receive it. In the meantime, this image is from the hotel’s website

For a review of the property (from 2008) click here.

IHG currently has 83 Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe with a further 11 in the pipeline. You can read some reviews of very new and impressive Crowne Plazas in Asia, here.

ihg.com/crowneplaza

Tom Otley

Eurostar plans Amsterdam service in December 2016

Amsterdam Canal

No sooner had we concluded that Eurostar might postpone through running to mainland Europe (online news) came news that the firm would in fact launch a new route to Amsterdam.

Eurostar says that the earliest date the route would start would be December 2016 and then the schedule calls for just two trains per day.

Services would be operated by the latest 900-seater Siemens e320 trainsets which would take roughly four hours for the trip.  No timings are yet available.

Eurostar says that after leaving London St Pancras the trains would call en route at Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport before arriving at Amsterdam’s Centraal station.

The Schiphol stop is interesting. Why?  Because it means that UK-originating Eurostar passengers intending to fly from the Dutch airport will avoid paying APD.  That is, of course assuming that this unpopular tax is still applicable in three years’ time.

The London-Amsterdam route is currently used by three million travellers a year with the vast majority taking the plane. Eurostar’s service is sure to capture leisure travellers but what about those of you who are travelling on business ?

One disadvantage of taking the train from the UK is our one hour time difference.  It means that an executive boarding a 0700 hour Eurostar in London would not reach Amsterdam until noon which may prove too late. On the other hand, the one hour saving on the way back works in the traveller’s favour.

Assuming there are no technical glitches with the e320s (these won’t enter service before 2015) there are problems ahead with UKBA procedures for UK-bound passengers.

Under existing rules the UKBA insists that a secure area for passport checking and baggage screening is provided. It is unclear whether or not there is sufficient space (in the new stations) to provide the relevant screened off areas.

If not then the Amsterdam-London train would have to stop in Brussels or Lille where passengers would disembark for UKBA formalities.  This could add more than one hour to the journey when you consider the time it would take to screen a maximum of 900 passengers.

Eurostar.com

Alex McWhirter

IHG to open three UK Holiday Inn hotels

Intercontinental Hotels Group has announced the opening of three new Holiday Express properties in the UK.

Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Airport and Holiday Inn Darlington – North A1M, Jct.59 are scheduled to open in spring 2014, with Holiday Inn Express London – Ealing following a year later.

The 80-room Darlington property will feature “numerous” meeting rooms, a gym, bar and restaurant.

The 95-room Edinburgh and 75-room London Ealing hotels will both have a “Great Room” combining the hotel reception and bar, breakfast room and seating for guests.

All are opening under franchise agreements.

Robert Shepherd, IHG’s chief development officer, said: “These investments in the Holiday Inn brand family reflect its success not only in Europe, but also globally as the brands continue to appeal to both investors and consumers in an increasingly competitive hotel market.”

Earlier this week, IHG announced it is to open a new Crowne Plaza property in central London (see news, September 25).

ihg.com/holidayinn

Graham Smith

Earn Avios when booking Heathrow Express tickets

Heathrow Express has teamed up with Avios to allow members to earn points when they buy train tickets online.

The new partnership enables British Airways Executive Club members and UK members of the Avios Travel Rewards Programme to collect up to 400 Avios when buying Heathrow Express tickets on heathrowexpress.com/ba or heathrowexpress.com/avios.

Avois balances will automatically be credited within 21 days from the booked date of travel.

There are four earning levels:

  • 100 Avios per adult standard single ticket purchased
  • 200 Avios per adult standard return ticket purchased
  • 200 Avios per adult business first class single ticket purchased
  • 400 Avios per adult business first class return ticket purchased

Keith Greenfield, managing director at Heathrow Express, said: “Thousands of customers know Heathrow Express is the smarter way to travel between Heathrow and central London and now they can benefit from this further by collecting Avios points.”

Nick Pilbeam, drector of new markets and business development at Avios, added: “Collecting between 100 and 400 Avios by simply travelling with ease and convenience between Heathrow and central London means members are rewarded for savvy purchasing and travel habits, boosting their Avios balance for their next trip away.”

heathrowexpress.com, avios.com

Graham Smith