Categories
Airlines

With A Little Personality

Travelling can be somewhat of a dreary affair, almost like reading from a script its the same thing over and over again. You notice this the more you travel and when something hits you out of the ordinary, it really does add to your overall experience.

Having travelled with easyJet for many years, it used to be the case it was like travelling with a family. It was an atmosphere that was filled with humour and fun, and with the move to go upmarket it has been sadly lost.

Returning to British Airways has been a revolation, bringing both personal service and human touches which do add to the customer experience – this is either in Club or Economy, I travel in both and appreciate the merits of both.

This week while travelling back from Seville, I had one of those moments. It is not often I record the speech of one of the pilots before take off, but this one was an exception, and I’m sorry I didn’t catch the whole thing as it was extremely funny – here covering all the points but didn’t sound like a machine reading from a script!

So here he is – First Officer Tom Andrews livening up the troops pre-take off!

Categories
Luxury Holidays

Monte Carlo or bust?

Well, once again I went off on one of the outstanding British Airways Club Europe offers from London’s Gatwick Airport, this time to the South of France and the majestic city of Nice.

As always, my trip was somewhat of a speedy one – not given that January is the busiest time in the travel industry. I knew that I could make it work though, and booked myself the Radisson Hotel in Nice, close to the airport as a convenient base. There seemed to be a conference going on there, but otherwise it was extremely quiet there, as did the rest of Nice.

I’m not sure if I could recommend the Radisson sadly though. It is just a little too far out of the centre of Nice for it to be great as a city break, and the beach outside makes it no good either for a sunbathing holiday. The rooms are nice enough and breakfast very nice but expensive, something you would want pre-purchased into the price.

The main ambition of the trip was to get to Monte Carlo, which is very easy by train from the main station in Nice. It is a scenic journey along the coast, and takes about 20 minutes. If it wasn’t raining it would have been beautiful and would look great in the summer. The convince of the train brought me out into Sainte Devote.

So with that – I went on to walk the famous Formula One track, somewhat smaller than you think and see on television. The tunnel especially is a lot more of a curve than you expect. Anyway – here is the track!

Walk a little outside the usual areas and it feels like you are walking into a upmarket village going about their day to day things. The scenery doesn’t disappoint though, with some spectacular views and you can see why it is a favourite for training of many sports stars.

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I returned to the airport with thanks to the Menton-Monaco-Nice Airport bus service, although very expensive at €22. I was in fact the only person on the service, so going direct to Terminal 1 at Nice Airport and very early for my flight home with the journey taking less than 30 minutes.

If you have a little time to spare, this is certainly worth the visit when in Nice.

Categories
Airlines

Upgauging and Densification

There is a trend in the aviation industry at the moment. How can we get more people on our aircraft?

There are two easy answers to that one, either fitting more people into the same space or having larger aircraft.

We have seen this on long haul – no longer is it all about the legroom, but the seat width. Emirates, really the pioneers of this even with its ‘luxury’ tag started putting 10-abrest on the 777, when most other airlines had settled on 9. A raft of carriers has followed suit including KLM, Air France, American, Air Canada and now Swiss. Other aircraft types are not immune either from the tight space in Economy, with the 787 now seen with common 9 abreast seating, and even the A380 demoed with an astonishing 11 abreast.

This does nothing for the passenger experience, and in some cases the passengers health. It could also explain the upsurge in Premium Economy, giving more legroom and a wider seat, along with more ‘upgraded’ features such as meal and beverage options.

Short haul isn’t immune either, with airlines once again trying to get as many seats onboard an aircraft as possible. The first step we have seen with British Airways and the new Pinnacle seating across the Airbus short haul fleet, bring their aircraft just two rows from a full ‘charter’ configuration. Helped in part by a new thinner and lightweight seat, it has also seen a dramatic decrease in legroom for those passengers in Club Europe, who no have the same as Euro Traveller (economy).

The next step, as announced at the end of the year, is that the smaller A319’s will be slowly phased out in favour of larger A320’s and A321’s, providing more seats on each aircraft. Here we area predominately talking about Heathrow where slots are more difficult to obtain, especially on major trunk routes with multiple rotations. Any extra slot that is suitable for long haul development will be looked at.

The British Airways fleet at Gatwick is really a different animal. Some would say it is the ‘runt’ of the litter, given casts off from the big brother up the road at Heathrow. It has recently taken delivery of the ex-bmi A319’s which don’t have containerised holds for baggage and have a higher density cabin any way, and leased A320’s mainly coming from low-cost airline WizzAir or TAM in Brazil. These are even higher density catering the mainly leisure routes Gatwick caters for, and therefore competing against the likes of easyJet, Norwegian, Monarch and its own sister brand Vueling.

With these new aircraft deliveries, the difference between the IAG airlines will be made even smaller. They will have the same engines and avionics, the cabin will the same – apart from the seats and a few other small changes.

This then brings the question of the ‘Space Flex’ interior. Vueling has already committed to this, and do actually have a couple of aircraft flying the configuration. It is the latest space saving method of getting more seats on the aircraft. It involves moving the toilet at the very back of the aircraft and moving them into the rear bulkhead (where you would currently find a galley – and therefore reducing space for the cabin crew which wont be popular on long flights). If you are going to mix and match the aircraft across the currently four airlines – then you would imagine that British Airways would have the same.

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The race to get more seats on the aircraft isn’t just something IAG are doing, it has already been started by the low cost airlines – Ryanair committing to a 200 seat 737-8MAX and easyJet will be getting 186 seat A320’s next year as well, including retrofitting their existing fleet.

We are now in a time of, if you are travelling – be it in Economy or Business, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you are going to be paying for less space. The race to the bottom as really taken hold and is sad that it has gone this far.

Categories
Adventures Luxury Holidays

The Venice before Christmas

This trip to Venice was somewhat unplanned. I say unplanned as it booked via an extremely advantageous airfare with British Airways at relatively late notice for me. Advantageous I hear you say, that’s a bit of a strange word to use, but having recently flown on the last ever 737 flight from Gatwick I was on the lookout for somewhere to go, although maybe not as quickly as I was expecting. Just as it would happen, British Airways launched a quite amazing flash sale – £150pp return in Club Europe to a number of destinations in Europe from Gatwick.

There were quite a number of destinations to choose from including: Seville, Malta, Nice, Marrakech, Verona – but I seemed to have an attraction to Venice. So that was booked, upon the fare rules which meant a two night stay – coming back on Christmas Eve Eve (Which I now believe is a day!).

So, the train it was down to Gatwick – which worked well, leaving at an amazingly early time in the morning for the departure time at noon. It would mean that I could spend a little bit of time in the Terraces lounge, which is closing in January for the last time. Things will be changing at the North Terminal for British Airways passengers in 2016.

The flight was slightly delayed, although not until we actually boarded the aircraft. We actually boarded at the same time as the Captain, who was very jovial! It was an Air Traffic delay because of the French, so we left stand on time and taxied out, holding outside the new extension to the South Terminal for about 45 minutes.

The hotel I had chosen was the Carnival Palace, and it was convenient that it was on the Water Bus route into the city, but not much more. It was so far out that I actually got lost on Tuesday and for anyone who knows me knows that I rarely get lost!

That even I went out for a walk in the city, which amazingly for December was quite warm despite the fog which had descended over Venice. It at least gave me time to get my bearings.

A full day on Tuesday meant a visit to the Mainland and the ‘town’ of Mestre. I wanted to see what their Christmas Market was like, but I left disappointed back to the train station. The rest of the day was spent walking around the cobbled streets of Venice. I even found a restaurant I liked the look of, but boy could I find it later – NO!

Wednesday meant a return back to Marco Polo Airport, and this time I took the bus from Piazzale Roma. At €8 it is half the price of the Water Bus, and was actually quicker overall, stopping right outside the door rather than trooping across the car park.

The fog was still not good though, sitting in the lounge with a fantastic panoramic view over the apron it would have been great on a clear day – alas, not today and in fact I think it was getting worse, not better. British Airways once again were impeccable, and a great way of rounding off the short stay in Venice… Now ready for the next one!!

Categories
Airlines

Finding the pinnacle

Until this year it had been a long time since I had travelled frequently with British Airways, but this year has seen me renew my assoiciation with the national carrier.

It started with the determination to fly on the 737-400 before the type was retired. I had wanted to do this for a while, for one reason or another it wasn’t possible. A trip to Delft was the ideal opportunity to fly on the age old aircraft, flying from Amsterdam to London’s Gatwick Airport.

What you have to remember with the older aircraft is that they were still flying around with the former generation interiors, with large leather seats and the convertable business class at the front – a concept which has since been dropped.

Instead we have a new concept, which has been rolled out over the majority of the Airbus short-haul fleet, and a new seat ‘Pinnacle’.

If you sat the front of the old 737’s you would have noticed the expansive legroom:

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Yes, flying short haul in Europe could have given you more legroom than most long haul carriers – a whopping 34 inches. Pure luxury if you ask me, and the airline seems to think so to. The new Airbus interiors have substantially reduced legroom at the front of the bus, and therefore for the Business customers too, to a more normal 30-31 inches.

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The seat is OK. Yes, it looks very luxurious in dark blue leather with fine detail stitching with the familiar British Airways wings retaining the previous generation look, but it just isn’t the same. Combined with the reduction in legroom, the thinner seat seems less comfortable and might not be what you would want on a five hour maximum flight to somewhere like Sharm El Sheikh or the Canaries.

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However, this is the way of the industry. British Airways has to counter the advances of easyJet and Ryanair by adding more seats to their aircraft in order for them to lower the airfares. }

To an extent it has worked, you still have the premium feel, just with less legroom and for the majority of the routes you fly to in Europe which take no more than a couple of hours it is just fine. When you start pushing the boundaries, that is where the problems are going to start.

Categories
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

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?

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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.