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Airlines

Backwards is the new Forwards

We are heading into a new cycle in travel, it was once all about the internet and ‘low cost airlines’ flying to places you didn’t really want to go. That is changing though, and not really for the reasons which most people think.

Yes, the internet and low cost airlines are not going anywhere, in fact they continue to thrive, but what we are seeing is a revolution, a revolution which sees the customer as king once again which a revisit to the motto ‘The customer is always right’.

We can trace this back somewhat to the change of CEO at easyJet. When Andy Harrison left the company was in trouble. It was beginning to pick up a reputation for lateness, along with indifferent product which had been ridiculed by the customer, especially in the UK after the famous Airline programme on ITV followed their earlier beginnings. With Carolyn McCall onboard hot from the media industry, the customer was put right at the heart of what the company does.

Although still keeping the low cost structure elements which customers had been crying out for were slowly introduced.  Allocated seating was the big one, and at the time a big step being the largest low cost airline in Europe to introduce it. There were question marks if doing this would have an impact on turnaround times, but after a trial it was rolled out network wide. It now also adds revenue to the bottom line that to a higher take up of people purchasing seats than people taking up the ‘Speedy Boarding’ offer.

More recent changes have included a ‘beefed up’ business offering for regular flyers, and the introduction of a more generous two cabin bag allowance for easyJet Plus customers. The constant creation of routes from primary airports have really helped the business market, along with a more business-like and professional branding.

So well received has this new, more ‘premium’ push by easyJet that Ryanair has started copying those features. Under the ‘Always Getting Better’ plan they aim to shed themselves of the cheap and nasty airline of old to one which is cheap and cheerful. Like easyJet, Ryanair has reintroduced allocated seating on all its flights, and has a two cabin bag allowance throughout the aircraft, although the larger bags are limited to 90 per flight.

Following a change of philosophy through the winter, Ryanair started flying more through the usually unpopular winter months. These were not new routes, but beefing up schedules on routes which may appeal to business like London to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Milan and Athens. A push into primary airports like Barcelona El Prat, Rome Fiumicino, Brussels and Cologne have shown the commitment to this. A better website and digital offering is set to revolutionise how we book air travel bringing Ryanair back to the fore once again.

That takes us to the kings of central Europe, Wizzair. Today, the 19th May is their 11th anniversary which signals a new direction for the airline which brings them now in line with the two dominates in European point to point air travel. Wizzair has really grown with the migration within Europe since the borders have been relaxed, especially within Poland, Romania and Hungary.

Wizzair has long been the poor relation to the two, having only been created 11 years ago, well behind the curve of the established low cost carriers. It really went along the lines of the Ryanair model, connecting secondary or even teriarty airport, with a very low cost model often referred to as the ‘ULCC – Ultra Low Cost Airline’. It has even started charging for taking luggage onboard the aircraft, following the model seen in America by Sprint.

The 11th birthday is also a watershed moment for the airline, adopting some of the policies from easyJet and Ryanair, along with new branding which reflects a more professional approach.

In a press statement today, the airline said, “In its first 11 years, the airline has carried 90 million passengers, grown from a new airline platform to 59 aircraft with more than 380 routes in 38 countries. Focused on customer care since the outset, Wizz Air is also announcing a range of new enhancements aiming for a better customer experience.

“WIZZ undertook an initiative to rejuvenate its brand over the last few months and the launch of today’s refreshed brand and livery demonstrates the airlines’ continued commitment to provide a positive experience for its customers. The WIZZ brand now has a fresh, more vibrant, sophisticated look and feel and some of the initiatives being implemented.

József Váradi, Wizz Air Chief Executive, said: Over the course of the last decade, Wizz Air has had significant success in revolutionising an entire industry, and we have exceededour ambition to make reliable and affordable air travel available to everyone in Central and Eastern Europe as we extended operations all across Europe and beyond. The launch of our refreshed brand is another one of our many measures to constantly improve passengers’ travel experience. We are very excited to launch our new livery on both the A320 and our new A321. We remain focused on developing our pan-European network of routes and look forward to welcoming returning and new customers on board.”

On the other hand we have seen the larger, what we would now describe as legacy carriers going the other way. British Airways has taken the hold bag off its cheaper European fares, along with charging for seats across its entire network, unless you check in 24 hours before departure. Lufthansa is in the depths of relaunching their low-cost airline as Eurowings, which will see them also compete in the low-cost long haul market along with Condor in Germany, and also Norwegian and Thomas Cook in other markets in Europe.

A good old fashioned message of giving the customer what they want at a decent price is always going to win over the even sharpest of critics, and sometimes revisiting the past is key to success in the future.

Image via Bjorn

Categories
Airlines

La Compagnie – Means Business

There are sometimes when you feel like you have deja vu. Now is one of those times. The concept of a long haul airline, providing a low cost business class product across the Atlantic is one that we have seen before, and fail.

La Compagnie though comes with something different, the benefit of hindsight and the backing of some of the best people in the business, with inspiration from some the very best within the industry. The airline started a new route this week, flying from Luton airport in Bedfordshire to Newark, just outside of New York, the second route in its portfolio after a successful Paris launch.

The airline is the brainchild of Frantz Yvelin, who is no stranger to the world of ’boutique airlines’ having founded L’Avion, an airline of a similar concept which was acquired by British Airways and merged into their ‘Openskies’ project, which also flies out of Paris to the US.

Using money that he got from the Openskies sale, Yvelin went on to create what was then called DreamJet, the working title before it became La Compagnie he found talent from all areas of aviation including Air Canada and Jet Airways. Using inspiration from Michael O’Leary at Ryanair, he has created a new style airline with just 74 seats onboard a 757-200, which in chart configuration would seat over 230 to give an affordable business class product aimed squarely at small to medium sized companies, and those on leisure trips looking for a nicer way of travelling.

We have been here before though. The last time that we saw low cost business class only airlines fly all three of them failed in close succession. Silverjet in fact flew the very same route that La Compagnie will be flying, Luton to Newark. There are differences though. Silverjet aimed to do things differently and had their own private terminal at Luton airport, while La Compagnie will be sharing the main terminal, although guests will have access to the Aspire lounge before the flight. SilverJet also flew the much larger 767-200 catering for 100 guest onboard their aircraft, with just 74 onboard the 757 of La Compagnie.

It failed though in the recession with the reduction of travellers combined with the high fuel price which put to an end for all the independent low cost business class only airlines at the time in the UK. Only British Airways was able to make the concept work bringin back the BA1 callsign for a business class only service from London City Airport on A318 aircradft which need a stopopver in Shannon. Although that doesn’t sound great it does mean that you preclear US customs in Ireland saving time on the arrival.

Time will only tell if this can work, history says that it cant.

Categories
Airlines

When easyJet does business, British Airways does leisure…

Since deregulation of airlines in the mid 90’s, the ‘new’ airlines have often been as second rate, a different kind of animal that the established carriers everyone became reliant upon. However, the tide is turning and the budget carriers are now becoming the animal in the industry.

Ryanair has been the pioneer in flying you to the places you don’t really want to fly to, many miles from your final destination point. Frankfurt Hahn, Dusseldorf Weeze, Barcelona Gerona, Venice Treviso, Glasgow Prestwick are all great examples of airports sometimes 100’s of kilometres away from the advertised city. At the same time other airlines were popping up, but finding it difficult to capture the business clientele with a ‘no frills’ and basic service, just getting you to the destination you needed to get to. easyJet even in the early days offered services to Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Amsterdam, although sometimes had a reputation that it was just for stag and hen parties.

They started then muscling in on the ‘charter’ airlines, fitting the niche of high volume traffic to leisure destinations at first in Spain such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma, before branching out to Italy, Portugal, Malta, Croatia, Greece and Turkey. This has been the mainstay of low cost traffic over the last 15 years, but now the tide is starting to turn, and these former budget options are gaining ground on business traffic with a softer and more approachable attitude.

easyJet started the ball rolling with allocated seating, as well as a more business friendly options such as appearing on GDS systems and easy to chance flight reservations, which are helpful when arriving to an airport early. Ryanair followed this summer, going down the same paths as easyJet did with the allocated seating, more business friendly routes, appearing on GDS systems and combine it with a less harsh approach. Starting with it’s key bases, in the case of easyJet that is London Gatwick, Milan Malpensa and Paris Charles de Gaulle the schedules have been designed to appeal to the business traveller, with multiple rotations available per day – Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam are all good examples, with further important European links such as Brussels and Strasbourg also linked to the UK capitol. Ryanair has also gone down a similar path in Dublin and London Stansted, their two biggest bases fleshing out the rotations to primary airports – again Barcelona being popular, but also strengthening the ties to Ireland, Rome, Athens and Scotland.

It isn’t to say that the two of them are moving away from leisure traffic, they are just reducing their reliance on it. Having more business traffic through the winter months will help utilise otherwise empty aircraft flying around the European skies. Building where it makes sense on leisure traffic seems to be the name of the game – especially noticeable in the Greek market which is only available through the summer months.

British Airways has always been the king at Heathrow, linking to all the major capitals of Europe with multiple frequencies. Strong in Spain thanks to the partnership with Iberia, but also Nice, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Athens, Rome, Milan, Vienna, Budapest – all are served from the biggest airport in the UK. Gatwick has historically been the leisure airport. BA used to work with franchise partner GB Airways, who flew to all the usual points in the Med and Canary Islands, before it was sold to easyJet. However, over the last couple of years British Airways has made a comeback to the leisure market and it’s not just from Gatwick.

Heathrow firstly has seen an increase in charter traffic with the likes of Mark Warner and Sardatur acquiring aircraft over the weekend, a quieter time for traffic for the airline. This has led them to launch their own services that mainly cover ‘upmarket’ destinations such as Santorini, Mykonos, Ibiza, Gran Canaria and the recent addition of Krakow which has been timed to perfectly fit the weekend crowd.

The trend can also be seen at Gatwick, with the airline going head to head on the ‘budget’ carries on the traditional leisure routes. Malaga, Faro, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Paphos, Naples, Dubrovnik, Malta and next year Funchal, Dalaman, Bodrum and Kos.

So while the likes of easyJet and Ryanair are going after the cost conscious business traveller, British Airways is going after those who want something that is perceived to be nicer when travelling on their own holiday.

The battle is well and truly on. Who will you choose?

Categories
Airlines

British Airways: One Monarch to rule them all

British Airways was once the darling of the UK skies, flying from around the UK to domestic, European and International destinations. Deregulation happened, and the low cost airlines eroded the market for the flag carrier at regional airports retreating to London, and specifically its home hub at London Heathrow.

After years of decline, routes at Gatwick were also restructured, firstly offloading franchise operator GB Airways to easyJet, who did a lot of leisure flying for British Airways, and then outsourcing ground operations to reduce cost to compete with the likes of easyJet who are dominant at Gatwick.

Slowly rebuilding British Airways at Gatwick now has a very leisure orientated route network flying to destinations such as the Canary Islands, Italy, Greece, the Algarve, Southern Spain along with short business and domestic routes such as Jersey, Dublin, Amsterdam and Scotland.

One of British Airways’s challengers at Gatwick is Monarch, who also have a leisure focus programme. Facing another restructure, Monarch has been loosing money for a number of years and new management has been brought in to turn the former holiday airline into a European low cost airline.  Of late, Monarch has been an airline that has lost direction, with having a charter operation, long haul arm as well as having the now dominant scheduled business.

Things are changing though for Monarch, and with the prospect that more funding will not be forthcoming hopes rest on turning things around with a new portfolio of routes, and dropping bases such as East Midlands with a fewer number of aircraft.  A new aircraft order for 30 737 MAX 8 aircraft will kickstart the change for the carrier, changing from a near all Airbus fleet. Fail, and the predators will be circling.

Ok, so how could the two be couple together?  Many have speculated that IAG owned Vueling would make a good substitute to British Airways mainline at Gatwick in a effort to save cost. That hasn’t happened and in fact the airlines actually compete on the London Gatwick to Barcelona route head –to – head.

Both British Airways and Monarch have a similar route portfolio at Gatwick, both operating to Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Faro, Malaga, Alicante, Ibiza, Palma, Nice, Barcelona, Venice, Verona, Dubrovnik, Larnaca, Paphos, next year you can add Dalaman and Heraklion to that list. With such a cross over, the slots would be a very lucrative win for British Airways, fighting back against easyJet, now the dominant airline at Gatwick.

The slots could then be used to counter the fight posed by easyJet, launching new routes currently flown by Monarch like Funchal, Sharm El Sheikh and Antalya, strengthening current schedules and new destinations.

These could also be snapped up by other airlines, including easyJet who would have an even more safe number one position at Gatwick, or Norwegian who’s footprint is growing in the UK market along with its long haul operation.

I would suggest the big plan should be different though, the boldest since British Airways set up GO, their low cost airline and acquire Monarch Airlines.

Gatwick has a different market to Heathrow, British Airways are clearly targeting the leisure traveller, and have been pioneers in cost reducing initiatives such as charging for bags and seat reservation charges.  As these have worked at Gatwick, they have infiltrated the route network at Heathrow bringing the same benefits to the consumer.

But what if Gatwick was different, and was set out on it’s own plan, on a similar way GO was 15 years ago. Firstly the British Airways name would disappear from short haul from Gatwick, although British Airways would remain the brand for the long haul, but still leisure routes.

Using the heritage of the airline, I would suggest Speedbird as the name, a nod to years gone past, with a new branding featuring the old BOAC emblem. You could keep the British AIrways uniform, along with the new interior which will be featured in the refurbished aircraft coming to the airline at the end of the year.

A stronger airline at Gatwick would help their fight against easyJet and Norwegian, and put the airline on an equal footing to its rivals. A new route portfolio, including the leisure routes featured now, along with new routes that have both a business and leisure focus like Lisbon, Munich, Prague along with seasonal routes such as Mykonos, Santorini, Kefalonia, Bastia, Olbia.

I’m surprised that the British Airways brand has survived so long at Gatwick, and not morphed into the low cost airline it should be.

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Adventures

Iceland – Something for a Winter Weekend

Ever since easyJet launched the new Luton to Reykjavik service, I have been looking forward to my little pre-Christmas jaunt to Iceland.  Thanks to easyJet flying up to four times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday) travelling to Iceland has never been cheaper, and I wanted to see the main winter attraction – the Northern Lights.

Arriving at 11am from Luton on a cold Tuesday morning, I arrived into Keflavik Airport on a clear winter’s day.  The transfers to town are extremely well organised, there are two main excursion and transfer companies, Iceland Excursions and Reykjavik Excursions. For my little trip I used Reykjavik Excursions, and they have the benefit of having free wifi on board all their coaches.  They also have two levels of transfers to and from the airport, the standard which only takes you as far as their coach station near Reykjavik Domestic Airport, and an upgraded version which drops you off at your hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, The Icelandair Hotel Marina, which is brand new and in the up and coming Marina district of the city, it couldn’t give you any more of a welcome to Scandinavia. It has a quirky modern design, and a bar which would rival those of the most desirable in the centre of town, it really is the trendy hangout location.

Having the afternoon to myself, I decided to have a look around the city. It reminds me of a large ski resort, lots of small independent shops interspersed with some really nice restaurants.  The weather can be really cold, hence why walking & skating on the local lake seems to be a favourite pastime.  Although I was out for a good 4 hours, I was really surprised at how late it got dark, at least gone 4pm, which is what we are used to in the UK at this time of year.

That evening I went straight for the main event, the Northern Lights.  Again I went for the cheaper bus option with Reykjavik excursions, and with the tours they pick you up from the hotel as standard. To my surprise there were actually 5 coaches going, mostly filled with Japanese students! At 9pm the coaches left, and we headed inland. It took about an hour to get to our final destination, somewhere near the rift valley and the old parliament. It only took about half an hour in sub-zero temperatures, but the Northern Lights did come out – not at their brightest, but at least I did see them. Due to the travelling time I didn’t get back to the hotel until gone 1.30 am, so you really do need to plan your trip carefully.

The next morning, really early I departed on the Golden Circle tour. With Reykjavik Excursions they have the added bonus of travelling to a Tomato factory, where they use the geo-thermal heat to grow tomatoes all year round. The next stop was Gullfoss and the amazing waterfall, and then on the nearby Geysers, one of the iconic stops on a visit to Iceland. Due to the time of the year everything was really icy, so although the tour was supposed to finish at 4.30, it was nearer 6pm actually arriving at the hotel due to the coach having to put show chains on for quite a bit of the journey.

Going to Iceland in winter is something that I could really, really recommend, and it will surprise you. Out of anywhere I have been in the world, I could say that it is the most unique and interesting place you could ever imagine.