More details of Lufthansa’s budget brand are emerging. Although full details will be revealed at the official press conference in Cologne next week (see online news November 27), we can now reveal that the timescale for the transition from full service to budget operation will be one year.
In an interview with Business Traveller, Christian Schindler, Lufthansa’s director for the UK and Ireland, explained that existing non-hub Lufthansa services (those flights not serving Frankfurt or Munich) would be converted to the Germanwings style of service starting next January.
The first route, a domestic Nuremberg-Hamburg link, has been announced (see online news November 26), with remaining routes to be converted in stages during 2013.
It is also possible that the Germanwings name might disappear. “The branding and livery are yet to be confirmed,” Schindler told Business Traveller.
One surprise is that the new carrier will continue to operate its 30-strong fleet of CRJ900 commuter jets, although the routes may be switched. It’s a surprise because, until now, budget airlines have thrived by operating workhorses such as the B737 or the A319/A320 family.
Lufthansa said this was all to do with giving its budget brand project a better image and providing better service than the typical low-cost operation.
Schindler said: “We must offer passengers an attractive product. We need to keep our existing passengers. We don’t want to see them going elsewhere.”
Business passengers paying the higher fares are likely to be allocated preferred seating, be offered a snack and drink and qualify for free baggage check. But passengers buying the cheapest tickets will, as at present with Germanwings, have to pay for these amenities.
Many questions are still to be answered. How might the Lufthansa budget brand stack up against British Airways on a route such as London-Berlin? Will the difference in price and service justify taking Lufthansa over BA? Will those Lufthansa passengers paying high prices or holding top-tier frequent flyer programme status still qualify for their usual perks?
Germanwings is not a member of Star Alliance so that could present another problem – not so much with European travellers but for members of Star Alliance Gold who are visiting from, say, Asia or the US, and who take flights outside the Lufthansa hubs. They will expect the same Star benefits – expedited check-in, lounges, higher baggage allowance – that they receive from Lufthansa. Will this happen?
And on the prickly subject of Berlin’s new airport, Lufthansa said that all of its facilities were ready to go once the new Brandenburg facility – the opening of which has been postponed three times – was ready for business.
“Our main focus at Berlin is maintaining the stability of our operations at Tegel,” Schindler said. “Tegel [the city’s main international airport] is operating beyond capacity [because of the delayed opening of Brandenburg] but we are managing to operate a regular, punctual operation. It’s working well.”
All in all, UK business remains healthy. Schindler was pleased that the relatively new Aberdeen to Frankfurt route was proving a hit. “Eighty per cent of the passengers flying out of Aberdeen are making onward connections over Frankfurt. The service is popular with the oil business. We have a selling point in that we operate the A380 between Frankfurt and Houston.”
All told, Lufthansa departs from two London airports – Heathrow and City – and five in the regions – Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
But there have been cutbacks. Lufthansa has suspended its London Gatwick to Frankfurt route until next summer, while London City to Munich has been scrapped altogether because, Schindler claimed, “We see reduced demand from business people as the banks are now more concentrated in Frankfurt and Zurich.”
On the long-haul scene, Lufthansa confirmed that a premium economy product remained under serious evaluation (this is something we reported in April last year) with a decision expected soon.
Passengers who have flown the carrier’s brand new B747-800 aircraft have provided positive feedback. Although some may question Lufthansa’s decision to order 20 of these aircraft, the carrier maintained that they were intended for flagship routes that, for various reasons, could not accommodate the A380.
In addition, the B747-800s are fitted with Lufthansa’s newest products in all three classes. Business Traveller’s Michelle Mannion flew in the new business cabin on the Frankfurt-Washington DC route in October and reported:
“While Lufthansa’s new seat doesn’t offer the same degree of privacy as some of its competitors, and the ‘V’ configuration [seats are angled towards each other in pairs] and lack of aisle access for all may not please everyone, it is a big step up from its previous angled lie-flat product – the B747-8 was also a pleasure to fly.”
For the full review see the December/January issue of Business Traveller magazine or click here.
Visit lufthansa.com for more information.
Report by Alex McWhirter