Since Bmi launched thrice weekly non-stop flights from London Heathrow to the Saudi capital of Riyadh on September 1 the carrier has seen strong bookings in both standard and premium classes. It now hopes to add a further thrice weekly service to the port city of Jeddah by Spring 2006.
Currently Bmi is the only British carrier flying into Saudi Arabia following the withdrawal of British Airways earlier this year for commercial reasons. BA had latterly been routing its services via Kuwait (where the crew were based for security reasons) and this had pushed up costs and led to unattractive scheduling. In a part of the world where loyalty is so important, BA's decision to pull out wasn't popular with the Saudis.
Bmi has been welcomed with open arms. Riyadh has limited air connections to Europe and this means that seats are in short supply. At busy times passengers must route themselves to Europe via Bahrain or Dubai which adds hours to the journey time.
Bmi is operating wide-bodied A330s configured for business, premium economy and regular economy. Business class gets a six across (2-2-2) layout with conventional seating offering 60 inches of legroom and a 160 degree recline. Premium Economy is basically the same seating as in regular economy deposed eight across (2-4-2) with 38 inches of legroom as against 32.
But Bmi's seat configuration isn't ideal for the Saudi market. There's no first class (in a part of the world where there's still a good demand) while Saudi travellers aren't familiar with Premium Economy which they also regard as too expensive in relation to the cost of business class. Says Bmi's CEO Nigel Turner, "we do have a different product to what BA was offering but we do have the best crew in the world and they do make passengers feel more comfortable."
However, Bmi will need an extra plane to serve both Riyadh and Jeddah (the single A330 currently used also covers Mumbai) and the carrier indicates that this aircraft may be reconfigured for the Saudi market.
Flights currently depart Heathrow every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 09.35 returning from Riyadh at 00.40 the following day. From November 1, the flights will be rescheduled to leave at the same times every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday returning from Riyadh on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Return fares start at £230 in economy class including taxes and charges. Premium economy costs £1,624 with business class priced at £1,962. For more information go to www.flybmi.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter