Bmi on the up again

23 Feb 2006 by business traveller

Nigel Turner, CEO of Bmi has answered the airline's critics in emphatic terms this week. Speaking exclusively with Business Traveller, Turner hit back at critics – both in the media and a small but vocal core of Bmi's customers, who have found fault in the airline's new direction, first unveiled last year.

"Bmi is on the up again," he says. "We recovered last year and we're recovering more this year as we refine our business model."
The latest modifications to Bmi's offering came in January with the carrier introducing online check-in. "Online check-in has taken off," says Turner, "without any publicity we're now finding that three per cent of passengers check-in online and by the end of the year we reckon that 20% of passengers will be using this service."

The airline also has a new "fare families" price display where passengers can see all the different fares available on a chosen flight. The carrier's first business model launched in August last year was unpopular with many passengers, who resented the scrapping of business class on most short-haul routes to and from Heathrow and the loss of free food and drinks on most services within Europe. They also disagreed with Bmi's new policy of refusing to through-check baggage at Heathrow when passengers were travelling on separate tickets as a cost-cutting ruse.

Nigel Turner believes that the airline's motives have been misunderstood. "We surveyed our passengers and they told us what they wanted from a short-haul airline. Besides wanting to speed through the airport, they wanted an efficient, friendly, safe and punctual carrier. They also wanted choices, in other words the choice of whether or not to buy food on board."

"Food is no longer free, but for those who do want to buy food, there's now a wider choice. People assumed that we'd become a low-cost airline simply because we had stopped serving free food. But the differences between us and the low-cost carriers are immense, not least since 50% of our flying [short and long-haul] retains business class and we have lounges. We also give passengers the choice of whether or not you want to through check baggage depending on the ticket or tickets you buy. Through baggage checking costs money particularly when connections are missed and the luggage has to be sent on separately."

It is on punctuality that Turner is most proud. "We've invested millions of pounds in pre-planning and systems and I can now say our performance is head and shoulders above our main rival."

The changes haven't finished for the airline: "It's a competitive world so we will introduce the next business model in April with further enhancements allowing passengers to buy more frills." Though Turner said there were no plans for charging passengers for baggage checking for "the foreseeable future."

In other news, Bmi says it will scrap Heathrow to Milan Linate and Madrid from the start of the summer schedule because the once daily flights can't compete with rivals' more frequent schedules.

Bmi is also keen to start flights to Moscow. Bmi has received UK government approval but approval from the Russian end is also required and so far this hasn't been forthcoming.

A new three times a week Heathrow-Jeddah service gets under way on May 18. It will complement the existing Heathrow-Riyadh service. Both cities will be served by a B767 (leased from the Dutch airline) configured for business and economy class. The Premium (economy) cabin will be dropped from the Saudi services owing to lack of demand.

Other long-haul developments include the Heathrow-Mumbai service upgraded to daily from April with a new Heathrow-Doha link launched this summer in conjunction with Qatar Airways.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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