Hotel Indigo to debut in Sydney

Hotel Indigo Sydney Central

Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) has announced plans for its first Hotel Indigo property In Sydney.

The 168-room hotel will be located in Sydney’s Haymarket district (home to the city’s Chinatown), next to the heritage-listed Corporation Building and close to Central station.

Schedule to open in 2021, Hotel Indigo Sydney Central will feature an exterior “grand artwork” celebrating the hotel’s location, with facilities including a restaurant, café, bar, five suites, a gym, and rooftop events space.

The Sydney property is the third Hotel Indigo under development in Australia, joining the forthcoming Hotel Indigo Brisbane Fortitude Valley and Hotel Indigo Melbourne Docklands.

Meanwhile in the UK, IHG has opened a new property in Durham, close to the city’s cathedral and castle, and within walking distance of Durham rail station.

The 83-room property is housed within the grade-II listed ‘Old Shire Hall’ on Old Elvet. The building was formerly the administrative headquarters of Durham University, and the hotel’s academia-inspired rooms feature the university’s official colour purple.

Facilities include a 24-hour gym, free wifi, an 840 square foot meeting space, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill, Rotunda Bar, and Tinderbox Espresso Bar.

This year the Hotel Indigo brand is set to open European properties including Hotel Indigo London – 1 Leicester Square, Hotel Indigo London – Aldgate, Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and Hotel Indigo Stratford-upon-Avon.

ihg.com

Spirit executives tout international routes and improved service

Spirit Airlines

Buoyed by strong profits and improved reliability, US based low-cost Spirit Airlines is eyeing an international expansion.

In an interview with The Points Guy, Spirit’s incoming CEO, Ted Christie, said that the airline’s international operations have been “somewhat underdeveloped” in recent years. “We’re starting to move more to international,” he said.

On March 22, 2018, the airline launched new routes between Fort Lauderdale and Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Cap Haitien, Haiti. Spirit also has announced new service from Fort Lauderdale, to the Caribbean island of St Croix beginning in May 2018.

Christie said that the airline wants to grow its operations by about 20 per cent in 2018, both in leisure destinations like Orlando, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Fort Lauderdale, and gateway cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Houston.

Spirit recently hit the 90 per cent mark for on-time arrivals, but still ranks poorly in terms of customer complaints. Christie tied the high level of complaints in 2017 to problems related to protests by the airline’s pilots, which included sick-outs, work slowdowns, and the threat of a strike.

Outgoing Spirit CEO Robert Fornaro promised “dramatic improvements” in customer satisfaction scores in 2018, but said Spirit’s pay-as-you-go business model would not change.

“We’re going to fix the things where we don’t deliver on our promise,” he said. “We are targeting leisure customers and very price-sensitive business people, not corporate customers.”

“When a guest enters into our airplane they have certain expectations of what they’re going to see and what they’re going to feel and how it’s going to perform,” said Christie.

“It’s our job to deliver on that. And that may not be the same product you would expect when you walk on board Emirates, Delta or United, but we must be routine and consistent in the way we deliver it.”

spirit.com

American Express opens Melbourne lounge

American Express Lounge at Melbourne Airport

American Express has opened its second lounge facility in Australia, located in the Satellite Level Departures area within Terminal 2 at Melbourne airport.

The 2,800 square foot lounge features food and beverage including a barista coffee service, wifi, computer and printing facilities, local and international newspapers and magazines, and flight information screens.

The new facility is located next to the Plaza Premium lounge (which also opened this week), with which it shares bathroom facilities. There are currently no shower facilities, but it is understood these are being added and will open later this year.

The new Melbourne lounge joins the existing facility at Sydney airport, located next to Gate 24 within the International Departures area at Terminal 1.

Both lounges are open daily between 0600 and 2300, for eligible American Express cardholders. Platinum and Centurion cardholders get unlimited access, and can take two guests in with them.

The lounges are part of the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which includes over 1,100 lounges across 120 countries – more information on the collection can be found at americanaexpress.com/findalounge.

americanexpress.com

Delta Biometrics enables fingertip lounge access

Delta biometric scanner

Delta Sky Club members in the US now need nothing more than a fingerprint to gain entry to the carrier’s lounges across the country.

The airline has rolled out biometric entry at all 50 US Sky Clubs in a partnership with Clear, which uses fingerprint scans as part of its airport security pre-clearance programme.

Rather than presenting a membership card or boarding pass at the Sky Club entrance, Clear members can identify themselves by placing two fingers on the touchpad of a biometric reader.

Sky Club members who are not currently in Clear can register for Delta Biometrics for no charge by visiting a Clear kiosk, located in 14 Delta Sky Clubs. Note that you must be a US resident or permanent citizen to register.

Club members also can get discounted rates on Clear enrollment, while Delta’s Diamond Medallion member benefits include complementary Clear registration.

“From unlocking our phones to entering the workplace, more and more people have the option to use biometrics as a form of identity verification for daily activities,” said Delta Chief Operating Officer Gil West.

“Having that option is quickly becoming an expectation that we are working hard to meet through this programme.”

Delta debuted biometric entry at its Sky Clubs at Washington Reagan International Airport and Atlanta’s Hatfield-Jackson International Airport last year. Biometric readers are also in use for boarding at Reagan and for Delta baggage check at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

delta.com

Air Belgium’s loyalty programme will have a standardised accrual rate

Air Belgium business class

Startup airline Air Belgium plans to offer travellers a frequent-flyer programme that rewards customers with standardised accrual rates regardless of the class of travel they choose, CEO Niky Terzakis told Business Traveller in a recent interview.

According to Terzakis, members will get a flat percentage of the fare they paid back as “credit”, no matter whether the ticket they purchased was a cheap fare or an expensive one.

The system, which will be called Buy The Way, would see the airline do away with the common practice among airlines of awarding miles at varying percentages based on the “fare class”, where premium classes generally accrue more points than economy class tickets, as does paying full fares as opposed to discounted ones.

“In our case it will be simple – it will be a percentage of the fare you paid, irrespective of the class you are. You paid for a cheap ticket; it’s a percentage of that cheap ticket. You paid for an expensive ticket; it’s a percentage of that expensive ticket.”

Exactly what that percentage will be, Terzakis was reluctant to divulge at this stage. However, he did state that the programme overall will be designed to make redeeming much easier for travellers, highlighting his own experiences whereby, despite travelling the world and accruing “millions of miles”, he says he’s never been able to redeem a ticket.

“Our loyalty programme is going to be unique in the sense that, we looked at and considered all the big alliance airlines’ programmes, and only about 25 per cent of travellers are able to redeem with them,” said Terzakis.

“About 20 years ago, the loyalty programme used to be one of the first decision-making elements for travellers. Nowadays it’s more like the fifth, after things such as schedule, price and comfort. One of the reasons for this is that the loyalty programmes are complex, no one knows exactly what they get, and the redeeming is made impossible.”

Air Belgium has already begun partnering with “a global brand” to develop a facility whereby travellers can spend their accrued credit on goods and services.

“You could, of course, eventually buy back your ticket or an upgrade, things like that, but essentially we don’t have a network so we’re thinking that people should be able to spend their money the way they want.”

The “credit” members get from purchasing tickets can be Euro or Hong Kong dollar-driven, Terzakis added. Air Belgium plans to launch its inaugural service in the latter-half of April this year, flying between the lesser-known Brussels South Charleroi Airport with Hong Kong International Airport four times a week.

The startup carrier has four Airbus A340 aircraft in its fleet, formerly operated by Finnair, which it has set up in three classes – business, premium economy and economy. According to Terzakis, the airline aims to be a full-service carrier offering fares between 25 and 30 per cent lower than what is currently available on the market.

Air Belgium is not the only airline launching new routes between Brussels and Greater China, however. Hainan Airlines began flights to the city from Shanghai in October last year, and earlier this month launched another service to the city, from Shenzhen.

Meanwhile Cathay Pacific launched its first non-stop flight to Brussels from Hong Kong just last week.

airbelgium.com

More changes ahead at Heathrow Express

Heathrow Express

In recent weeks Business Traveller has brought you information about how surface rail connections to London Heathrow are to change.

Now news has appeared in the railway press that the operation of Heathrow Express (the premium train linking Heathrow with Central London) will be taken over by Great Western Railway (GWR).

Ever since it started operations in the 1990s Heathrow Express has been an anomaly. It is not part of the National Rail network (although it runs along National Rail tracks for most of the time) and it is managed and owned by Heathrow Airport.

Indeed Heathrow is responsible for its setting the tariffs.

The other major news is that today’s comfortable, quiet and speedy Siemens-built trainsets are to be withdrawn from service by the time GWR takes over.

At the time of writing it is unclear whether the original and fine trainsets will be scrapped or whether they will be deployed elsewhere on the National Rail network.

It means when GWR takes over it will be using its new Electrostar trains. A sub-fleet of 12 trainsets will be set aside for Heathrow Express duties.

These are to be modified to provide first class accommodation, high-speed wifi, additional luggage racks and onboard entertainment.

The modified trains will set Heathrow Express apart from the Elizabeth Line which, as we reported, will be extended to the airport in December 2019.

No prices are available for Heathrow Express from December 2019 but they will be “competitive” with Elizabeth Line we were told by the operator.

Some readers wonder how Heathrow Express will be able to compete.

But as we noted the latter will be a dedicated airport service with standards to match.

It must be noted that Elizabeth Line, while less expensive to use, will be a multi-stop service and, judging by the initial photos, it will offer less onboard comfort.

It’s really designed as a high-capacity service running between the capital’s suburbs in the East to those in the West.

It is also confirmed (as we have already noted in previous news) that ticket barriers are being installed at London Heathrow and London Paddington. These will accept Oyster cards and contactless payment.

The barriers at Heathrow come into use during May. The ones at Paddington are to follow in September.

heathrowexpress.com

SpiceJet adds Leh to its network

SpiceJet

SpiceJet has added Leh as the 46th domestic destination on its network. Flights between Delhi and Leh begin May 1 onwards.

The service will operate between Terminal I D at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport and Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport of Leh. 

The low-cost carrier will deploy its Boeing 737-700 aircraft on the route. SG 121 will take off from Delhi at 0605 and reach Leh at 0725. The return flight, SG 122, will take off at 0755 and reach Delhi at 0910. 

Leh, a popular hotspot offering picturesque mountains and lakes, is located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

SpiceJet has announced a limited period special introductory all-inclusive one-way fare of ₹3,999 and return fare of ₹7,799 applicable for bookings made on a first come first serve basis. 

spicejet.com

SpiceJet has added Leh as the 46th domestic destination on its network. Flights between Delhi and Leh begin May 1 onwards.

The service will operate between Terminal I D at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport and Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport of Leh. 

The low-cost carrier will deploy its Boeing 737-700 aircraft on the route. SG 121 will take off from Delhi at 0605 and reach Leh at 0725. The return flight, SG 122, will take off at 0755 and reach Delhi at 0910. 

Leh, a popular hotspot offering picturesque mountains and lakes, is located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

SpiceJet has announced a limited period special introductory all-inclusive one-way fare of ₹3,999 and return fare of ₹7,799 applicable for bookings made on a first come first serve basis. 

spicejet.com

Air New Zealand is heading to Chicago

Chicago

Air New Zealand is adding Chicago to its list of North America destinations with new non-stop flights between Auckland and Chicago O’Hare International Airport set to take off on November 30.

The new service will fly three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, taking approximately 15 hours when departing Auckland and just over 16 hours when leaving Chicago.

Air New Zealand will be flying its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the route. Back in October 2017, the airline took delivery of its new-look Dreamliners that feature an increased number of premium seats over its previous Dreamliners, most notably an increase in Business Premier from 18 to 27 seats and premium economy from 21 to 33 seats. This aircraft made its international long-haul debut on the airline’s Auckland-Houston route back in December.

“We expect the addition of Chicago to our network to be an attractive option for Kiwis wanting to explore the city or head on to other North American destinations,” said Christopher Luxon, CEO of Air New Zealand.

“As well as being great for travellers, this new route is good news for New Zealand, as we expect it to contribute around NZ$70 million annually to our economy and we know that more than 50 per cent of spending by US visitors to New Zealand is done outside the main centres. We’ll be working alongside our colleagues at United Airlines to grow the route and visitor numbers in both directions.”

Travellers flying into Chicago with Air New Zealand will be able to connect onto codeshare flights operated by United to more than 100 destinations across the US.

The full schedule for the new service is as follows:

Flight No. From To Departs Arrives Days Dates
NZ26/UA6728 Auckland (AKL) Chicago (ORD) 2010 1615 Wed, Fri, Sun Nov 30, 2018-Mar 8, 2019
1715 10 Mar, 2019-29 Mar, 2019
NZ27/UA6727 Chicago (ORD) Auckland (AKL) 1910 0630+2 Wed, Fri, Sun Nov 30, 2018-Mar 8, 2019
2010 Mar 10, 2019-Mar 29, 2019

The launch of Air New Zealand’s new Chicago service also coincides with partner United Airlines’ extension of its seasonal Auckland-San Francisco route, which will become a year-round thrice-weekly service as of April 2019. United began flying the route using its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft back in October 2017, which notably feature its new Polaris business class seats.

That said, the B777-300ER will only operate the Auckland-San Francisco route from November to March. Between April and October, the route will be flown using the B777-200ER.

Business Traveller reviewed United’s Polaris business class seats on the airline’s San Francisco-Hong Kong route last year.

Flight review: United B777-300ER Polaris Business

airnewzealand.com; united.com

GoAir and IndiGo receive engines from P&W

A320neo with Pratt and Whitney engines

There is good news for frequent flyers — the 14 A320neo aircraft that were grounded due to faulty Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines, are in the process of receiving replacement engines from the American aerospace manufacturer.

Of the 14 grounded aircraft, 11 are from IndiGo and three from GoAir, thereby affecting 47 and 18 flights respectively. On receiving the new engines, both budget carriers have started flying the temporarily stalled routes again.

National news channel NDTV quoted the joint directorate general of Director General of civil Aviation (DGCA), Lalit Gupta: ”Both the airlines (IndiGo and GoAir) have started getting pre-450 serial number engines from P&W.”

When the problems occured, P&W president Robert F Leduc had said that engines of the grounded aircraft would be replaced by April end.

goair.in

goindigo.in

There is good news for frequent flyers — the 14 A320neo aircraft that were grounded due to faulty Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines, are in the process of receiving replacement engines from the American aerospace manufacturer.

Of the 14 grounded aircraft, 11 are from IndiGo and three from GoAir, thereby affecting 47 and 18 flights respectively. On receiving the new engines, both budget carriers have started flying the temporarily stalled routes again.

National news channel NDTV quoted the joint directorate general of Director General of civil Aviation (DGCA), Lalit Gupta: ”Both the airlines (IndiGo and GoAir) have started getting pre-450 serial number engines from P&W.”

When the problems occured, P&W president Robert F Leduc had said that engines of the grounded aircraft would be replaced by April end.

goair.in

goindigo.in

There is good news for frequent flyers — the 14 A320neo aircraft that were grounded due to faulty Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines, are in the process of receiving replacement engines from the American aerospace manufacturer.

Of the 14 grounded aircraft, 11 are from IndiGo and three from GoAir, thereby affecting 47 and 18 flights respectively. On receiving the new engines, both budget carriers have started flying the temporarily stalled routes again.

National news channel NDTV quoted the joint directorate general of Director General of civil Aviation (DGCA), Lalit Gupta: ”Both the airlines (IndiGo and GoAir) have started getting pre-450 serial number engines from P&W.”

When the problems occured, P&W president Robert F Leduc had said that engines of the grounded aircraft would be replaced by April end.

goair.in

goindigo.in

First look: Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner regional business class

Singapore Airlines Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

Singapore Airlines’ first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft landed at Changi International Airport on Wednesday March 28, 2018 sporting an all-new regional business class seat product.

This is the first B787-10 to be delivered to an airline, and is set to take off in May serving the airline’s Osaka route followed by Perth later that month. However, travellers will be able to experience the aircraft on select regional routes in April – notably Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur as the airline deploys the aircraft for crew training purposes.

The rolling out of a new regional business class product, called the Stelia Opal, is a significant step for Singapore Airlines, particularly following the unveiling of its new Airbus A380 business class seats last year. The airline’s regional business class product – currently equipped on its A330s and pre-retrofit B777s – has noticeably fallen behind its brethren and today the old regional business class product is one of its oldest seats.

Travellers may not have to wait too much longer to see these seats replaced by the new Stelia Opal seats, however. Speaking to Business Traveller, Marvin Tan, senior vice president of product and services at Singapore Airlines, said that the A330s and B777s featuring the older products would slowly be replaced with newer aircraft featuring the upgraded seats.

“I don’t know exactly when it will be when all the replacements will happen, because we have this airplane [the B787-10] and we also have the A350 medium-haul planes,” said Tan. “I don’t have a date for that, but it’s our objective for these two aircraft to form our regional fleet.”

As for future destinations for the aircraft, Singapore Airlines has been coy about which routes will next see the aircraft.

“Eventually it will be on all our medium-haul routes but of course we have to take a look at capacity,” Tan added. “This aircraft is 337 seats, while our A330s are 285 so you’ve got quite a jump there. For regional routes, we have to be quite nimble about it. So depending on demand maybe for certain flights we will bring in the Dreamliner and other flights we will bring in the other aircraft.”

Overall, Singapore Airlines has 49 of the new Dreamliner on order making it the largest operator of the aircraft in the world.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? 

Configuration

Business Class on board the new B787-10 Dreamliner features a total of 36 seats (economy has 301 seats and comprises the airline’s new economy class product that debuted on its A380s last year).

One of the two most notable improvements over the old regional business class product is the layout – a staggered, forward-facing 1-2-1 setup meaning all passengers now have direct aisle access. The staggered pattern means that the solo seats alternate between being slightly closer to either the aisle (odd number rows) or the window (even number rows) – so if you’d like a bit of extra privacy, aim for the solo seats on the even numbered rows.

Meanwhile the centre seats are either closer to the aisle or their neighbours. Seats do have a divider that can be raised and lowered, though never to the point that they form a sort of double bed, as seen with the bulkhead seats on Singapore Airlines’ new A380 business class products.

Fully flat bed

The second major improvement the seats bring is a fully flat bed. When reclined, the bed extends 76 inches and unlike some of Singapore Airlines’ other business class products, the footwell is directly in front of the seat rather than off to the side. This favours travellers who like to lie flat on their back rather than on their side, as is the case with its other, newer business class products.

At 6 foot 5 inches (195cm), I found the space to be slightly snug, though I’m definitely an extraordinary case. An unforeseen issue with my height was also that, when fully reclined, my weight was on the “back” part of the seat rather than the ‘bottom”, such that when I tried to return to the upright position the seat wouldn’t budge. After shifting a little, I found that standing up was best.

If you’re tall and want to maximise the space you have in the footwell area, I’d definitely recommend choosing one of the bulkhead seats, which have noticeably larger spaces for your feet. Travellers looking for more width can push down both armrests to get a bit more space.

Seat controls are all electronic and light up when pressed, making it easier to adjust the seat in the dark.

In-flight entertainment

Just below these seat controls is the removable control pad for the seat-back screen, which measures 18 inches (the same as the new A380 business class screens) and about 3 inches larger than the current regional business class seats. These controls aren’t essential, however, as the screens are all touchscreen and also can be pointed down to allow for better viewing while your seat is reclined.

The IFE system also uses the new myKrisWorld system that enables Krisflyer members to set preferences and also continue films from where they left off when transiting across different flights.

Additional features

Located above the seat controls is a small side table and a cubbyhole with a sliding door, behind which is a reasonably deep storage space as well as two USB and one power socket. Just next to this space there is also a hidden vanity mirror, which can be extended out.

Storage beneath the seat in front is sizeable, though unlike the A380 business class seats these haven’t been developed with space for carry-on luggage, which still needs to be placed in the overhead bins. Otherwise, storage space isn’t as extensive as Singapore Airlines’ other business class seats.

The tray table slides out from the seat in front and can fold out to provide a large space for either dining or working.

Singapore Airlines also aims to add near-field communication (NFC) readers to each of its seats, a feature it introduced with its new A380 seats across all classes. Currently the aircraft does not have these installed on the B787-10, as Singapore Airlines has yet to land on an actual use for them, though they will be added in future as part of measures to “future-proof” the aircraft. 

Verdict

This is a massive improvement over Singapore Airlines’ existing regional business class product, which has been calling out for a revamp for some time. The design and shape are much more in tune with the airline’s other business class products, giving the carrier’s product offerings a far greater sense of consistency. While it feels a bit smaller and certainly has fewer bells and whistles than business class seats on the airline’s other aircraft, for a regional product it is a strong proposition with fully flat beds and direct aisle access for all travellers.