6 FEBRUARY 2012

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Airport policy questioned

Justine Greening, the new UK Transport Minister was grilled by Andrew Neil on BBC1 Sunday Politics yesterday (5 February), defending his accusation that as an MP representing a constituency on the Heathrow flight path she was somewhat biased.  “All MPs are interested in transport,” she said.  It seemed to be an uncomfortable interview!

Evading a question regarding stated government policy that there would be no new runways in the South East her retort was that Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted would not be expanded.  As to the Boris Thames Estuary suggestion we will have wait until the Government’s Aviation Review is published on 31 March.

Mr Neil offered some figures regarding flights to China. 

At the present time there are 4,639 annual flights from Germany; 2,979 from France and 2245 from the Netherlands.  London lags behind with just 1,579.  She said that Phase 2 of HS2 high-speed railway would eventually include Heathrow, the original plan being dumped.  Ms Greening emphasised that the Heathrow Express will connect up, presumably with an interchange at Paddington.  This of course will mean a stop inbound and outbound for the high speed trains.  Mr Neil did not appear impressed and said that it would not happen in his lifetime. www.dft.gov.uk

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bmibaby’s mystery buyer

Lufthansa has confirmed that terms for the sale of bmibaby have been agreed.  Whoever the mystery buyer is has not been announced, opening much speculation within the industry.  The intended sale comprises 100% of the shares of low-cost subsidiary of bmi, which itself has been sold to British Airways, subject to Competition Commission approval.  The bmibaby deal is non-exclusive and includes all assets and liabilities used in the bmibaby business including the 14-strong Boeing 737 Classic fleet, the existing route network and the continued employment of the existing staff.

It is envisaged that the legally binding transaction documents will be signed in the first quarter of 2012 and the completion of the transaction would occur shortly after this, subject to regulatory approval.

The new potential owner would continue to use the existing brand name for an interim period.  The currently published summer 2012 schedule would continue.

bmibaby’s head office will remain in the Midlands and the airline continues to operate from its three existing bases in the UK: East Midlands, Birmingham and Belfast City. 

bmi and the buyer have agreed not to disclose any financial aspects of the planned transaction. www.bmibaby.com

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Gatwick launch for Hong Kong Airlines

Hong Kong Airlines has confirmed 8 March as the launch date for its daily non-stop service between London and Hong Kong.  Three brand new Airbus A330-200s featuring a unique all Club Class seating configuration will operate on the route.  Each of these aircraft will showcase two premium cabins: ‘Club Premier’ and ‘Club Classic’.  Both Clubs have been created to deliver the airline’s signature service with wi-fi, a sky bar and state-of-the-art entertainment system.  A limousine service is provided (Club Premier only).  The first aircraft has already been delivered.

Also arrived in Hong Kong is the initial (of 30 in total) Airbus A320 to operate within Asia.

The A320 aircraft will serve routes linking Hong Kong to destinations in mainland China, and North and South East Asia. 

The fleet enhancement is a strategic move in support of the airline’s continued network expansion and enhances Hong Kong’s position as a leading international traffic hub.  Hong Kong Airlines is 45% owned by the parent company of mainland China’s fourth largest carrier Hainan Airlines. www.hongkongairlines.com

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Norwegian places massive aircraft order

Low-cost airline Norwegian has staggered the airline industry with the largest purchase of aircraft in European history.  The order consists of: 22 Boeing 737-800, 100 Boeing 737-Max8 and an option for another 100 Max8, a commitment for 100 Airbus A320 plus options for 50 Airbus A320neo.  Presently the airline, founded in 1993, operates an all Boeing fleet of 62 737s.  On order are six Boeing 787s, with the first due 2013.

Speculation is rife as to why the North Europe-based carrier requires this large number of aircraft. Its typical leisure destinations are in Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East, and are served once a day or less.  Norwegian's longest route is from Oslo to Dubai, a distance of 3,200 miles, which is also the second longest scheduled 737 route in the world.

CEO Bjoern Kjos has predicted more airline collapses in Europe this year and said the airline stood ready to plug the gaps.

"I think there will be lots of opportunities in Europe in 2012 because there are too many airlines that have way too old fleets to be profitable with the oil prices of today," said Kjos, a former fighter pilot and mystery novel writer. www.norwegian.no

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Patrick Shovelton

Clearly not so well known to a younger generation, Patrick Shovelton (92), who has passed on, was the epitome of a genial English gentleman, concealing a very sharp brain and tough negotiator.  It was Shovelton who led the UK team with the negotiations on Bermuda 2, the transatlantic airline pact of 1977 with the United States, which led to British domination of some very lucrative air routes. 

Charterhouse and Oxford were Patrick’s route into World War II and the Army where he finished up as a Major and into the Ministry of War Transport.  His Civil Service career included spells in Transport and Consumer Protection.  As Vice Chairman of Maersk (UK) he was involved with the Brymon Airways investment which led to the short-lived Birmingham European Airways.  Even in his latter years he was a keen single figure handicap golfer.  His wife, Dame Helena, is the Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation.  She has chaired both the Citizens Advice Bureau and the National Lottery Commission.

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SAS re-launches Shanghai

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is to re-introduce a Copenhagen – Shanghai service on 2 March, initially on a five times per week service and into Pudong International Airport.  The route will be served by an Airbus A340-300, offering 245 seats in a three-service class set up of Business, Economy Extra and Economy.  Flight time is just over 10 hours.  The airline also operates to Beijing on a daily basis with a similar aircraft, the schedule being one hour less.

Whilst the airline’s main hub is at Copenhagen (Kastrup) in Demark its headquarters are close by Stockholm (Arlanda) in Sweden.  Currently the airline operates 198 aircraft to 176 destinations in more than 30 countries.  It made a working profit in 2010 but took a serious hit, said to be around US$250m, with the collapse of Spanair in which it was a shareholder. 

The SAS Group is partially owned by the governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, with a 21.4%, 14.3% and 14.3% ownership, respectively.  The remaining 50% are held by private owners with only one (7.6%) significant stake.  The company is listed on the Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen Stock Exchanges.

SAS is a founder member of Star Alliance. www.flysas.co.uk

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TripAdvisor reviews questioned

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled TripAdvisor’s claim that all reviews on its website are genuine is misleading.  The ad watchdog was responding to complaints from interested parties. 

The claims were essentially that the website does not verify the reviews and therefore cannot prove that they are genuine.

TripAdvisor told the ASA that consumers placed a high level of trust in the site, as demonstrated by its continued growth since it was founded 10 years ago.

The company added that no review site could guarantee to be 100% free of fraudulent content, but said it used “advanced and highly effective fraud detection systems” and dedicated “substantial resources” to identifying and minimising any non-genuine comments.

ASA also noted that while TripAdvisor allowed hotels a right of reply to negative reviews, it considered that a hotelier’s response in itself would not go far enough to alert consumers to non-genuine content.  The implication seems to be that whilst a product could promote itself by way of a third party, exactly the opposite could take place too. 

The ASA has told TripAdvisor not to claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared on the site were from real travellers. www.tripadvisor.co.uk www.asa.org.uk

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ON TOUR: The Business Travel Show Tuesday-Wednesday 7-8 February 2012

Business travel providers and organisers will this week be hotfooting it to Earls Court 2 for the annual Centaur-organised Business Travel Show and its sister Travel Technology Europe.  The location is ideal with the Piccadilly Underground Line from Heathrow (or Kings Cross/St Pancras for Eurostar), or DLR and District Line (via Tower Hill) from London City adjacent. 

With 200 world-class suppliers, 6,000 of the industry’s elite buyers, a high-class and detailed conference programme and unrivalled networking opportunities, a visit to west London really is a must.

Exhibitors from the airline industry include Star Alliance, Air Astana, airberlin, Arik Air International, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Finnair, Flybe, Gulf Air, Hong Kong Airlines, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Oman Air, South African Airways, TAM Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, United Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. 

About 30 hotel and hotel groups are exhibiting, ranging from the stand-alone St Pierre Park in Guernsey, through Premier Inn/Travelodge, to 5-star outlets typified by the magnificent St Ermin’s Hotel, near Victoria – London, and now part of the Accor Group.

The Business Travel Show also hosts a high quality free-to-attend conference programme which, if last year is anything to go by, will feature packed out quality seminars, invaluable case studies, lively panel sessions and exclusive buyer-only master classes.  Tightly packed over the two days, and involving both shows, there are just over 50 presentations.  Visitors may find it difficult in deciding which one to attend.

The conference programme’s keynote speaker for 2012 is Richard Quest.

His address ‘Richard Quest – Tales of a Road Warrior’ will see him talk about business travel from the traveller’s perspective, including personal anecdotes collected during his two decades of globetrotting.  In his busiest year, Quest travelled more than 350,000 miles and was on the road for 300 days.  Quest will also forecast economic projections for 2012 and reveal how they will likely impact on the travel industry.

Other highlights include a Forecasting Forum panel debate on the Tuesday (7 February), which will give buyers a valuable insight into how travel costs are likely to change over the next 12 months, revealing whether they should expect to pay more or less for air, hotel and other travel items by the end of the year.  This forum will be moderated by the ITM’s recently-appointed CEO Simone Buckley and speakers include Prashanth Kuchibhotla, American Express Business Travel, Sarah Makings, KPMG and Jonny Shingles from Egencia.

Also on Tuesday, a panel debate on the distribution revolution – good or bad news for travel buyers?  With some traditional airlines consulting TMCs about selling tickets through channels that bypass the GDSs, while some low-cost carriers are embracing GDSs for the first time, the panel will debate what all the changes mean and who will be the winners and losers.

On Wednesday 8 February, a sustainability buyer masterclass will allow travel managers to swap best practices on how to be green, whether they are operating an established green travel programme already or planning to introduce an environmental dimension for the first time.

Running alongside the Business Travel Show is its sister event Travel Technology Europe.  Around 60 exhibiting companies specialising in a wide range of travel technologies, from booking and reservation systems, network infrastructure and hardware, to mobile, social and web design, will feature on the floor plan for 2012.

This year’s event will include a host of new visitor features including Tech Launch Pad where visitors can meet the hottest new talents in travel technology and source the market’s latest technology solutions; Innovation Hot Spots where suppliers will showcase particularly cutting edge innovations and the Business Travel Technology Zone – a brand new area located between Travel Technology Europe and the Business Travel Show featuring leading corporate travel tech suppliers and the debut of the Business Travel Technology Theatre.

The unrivalled education programme, which is a cornerstone of the Business Travel Show, is also prominent in Travel Technology Europe.  The programme features global brands at the Travolution Theatre, TTE Travelport Live Theatre and new for 2012, the Business Travel Technology Theatre.

Speakers include Teletext Holidays and seeyourtravelagent.com whose presentation I Can See Clearly Now reveals how the internet is becoming a moving image medium and what this mean for travel businesses.  Other sessions focus on cloud computing, how to expand overseas, web analytics and data feeds and real-time pricing.

To register for a free visitor pass and gain access to both events visit www.businesstravelshow.com.

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ON THE SOAPBOX: Tom Jenkins of ETOA says Visas are a bureaucratic pantomime too far

Tom Jenkins is the Executive Director of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), which represents tour operators and their suppliers at European level. 

Before taking the reins at ETOA, Tom held a number of senior management positions at American Express.  His CV includes Thomas Cook and Equinox Travel. 

The travel industry is recoiling from another assault from the Chancellor regarding Air Passenger Duty (APD).

Whilst the loudest shrieks are coming from the airlines and the major outbound operators, the damage hits inbound operators too.  As London is often sold to long-haul visitors as part of a European tour, it has just about managed to retain its status as the main entry point into Europe but that is changing.  Flying in and out of London would seem a good economic option, especially for a UK and Ireland tour.  The £300 APD for a family from Beijing says otherwise.  Thus the Government gives potential visitors another reason to drop the UK.

But be of good cheer.  This is what governments do for you; especially when governments need money.  Bullies remove dinner money from small children because they can and because they like spending the cash.  They do not modify their behaviour from impertinent notions of morality, decorum or sense.  ETOA will be opposing APD out of principle, but not armed with much hope.

However, there is a scandal where we do have a hope of modifying behaviour, and that lies in the area of visas.  Few countries impose visas with grace and elegance.  Obtaining a visa is usually an experience where the host nation displays its bureaucratic self with teeth, claws and added dust.  Processing visas is manifestly not a fun job, a burden which is freely shared with the customer.

Think of the plight of a prospective tourist to Britain who resides in a country where a visa is required.  They have to fill in a form in English, and only English, a form which asks such illuminating questions as, “Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?”  Then they must submit a ream of personal documentation on different areas of their life; spend money travelling to a visa centre for an interview to be quizzed about why they want to visit the UK (could it be they are asking themselves the same question at this point?); have their fingerprints taken (a process normally associated with criminality); and pay £76 per person for a one in ten chance of having their application rejected.

The guide to supporting documents helpfully advises that they do not make any payments for accommodation, travel and so on until they have received their visa, but this is followed by the suggestion that a travel confirmation and hotel booking confirmation could be useful supporting documents.  A tedious, tiresome process decorated with absurdities.  According to one Middle-Eastern travel agent, the UK makes an "applicant feel that they are doing him a big time favour just by considering his application".

When we surveyed our members in 2010, we discovered that the UK is the worst destination in Europe for handling visa applications (beating France and Italy to claim the “top” spot).  According to travel agents in the origin markets, over 20% of people gave up on their trip to the UK when confronted with the visa process.  This is more than 300,000 visitors, who would have brought in £500 million of revenue.  But who cares about £½ billion in lost revenue?  It serves them right for being foreign.  And for wanting to come here.

That this process is nonsense cubed does not mean that reform will take place.  Being nasty about immigrants is no longer cool, but there is an open season on tourists.  Britain has the most obnoxious process.  It demands the most extraordinary levels of personal information.  And it insists that this is somehow better than a Schengen visa.  But the amazing aspect of this is that – despite the fact that we charge more than most countries for a visa – in some cases the Government even loses money in issuing them.

In these straightened times, it is this last incompetence that gives us hope.  APD brings the Government much needed money; the current visa regime is leaking cash.  So there might come a time when this laboured insult to our customers, this process which puts the "little" into Britain, becomes a bureaucratic pantomime too far.

As an industry we shall continue to struggle with the Government on APD; but we may ultimately have more to gain by winning the argument on visas.

Tom Jenkins
www.etoa.org

Editor’s Note.  Please see Korean Airways in this issue.  Korea is Visa less on entry, and the UK reciprocates.  Is that why the route is booming?

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American Express research published

With the Business Travel Show starting tomorrow (Tuesday 7 February) exhibitor American Express has published its latest research under its American Express Global Business Travel banner.

Analysing nearly 100 travel policies of global, multinational, and mid-sized companies, the survey shows less than one-third of these companies overall have updated their travel policies within the last year.  According to AMEX oversight can leave companies exposed to losing hard-earned corporate negotiated rates, and more importantly, may put travellers at unnecessary risk.

It was noted that only 12% of travellers considered security.  80% did not address reimbursement of ancillary fees such as checked bags, reservation change fees, or other for-purchase services offered at hotels and car rentals.  Only 35% of smaller companies require an agency to book hotels, compared to 85% of global operators.  70% of companies do not provide specific guidelines to travellers on when it makes sense to book airfares through a non-preferred supplier if the ticket price is less expensive.  None of the travel policies addressed the use of mobile applications.

Anthony Drury, Head of UK, American Express Global Business Travel, said: “The world is changing at such speed that failing to review and revise policy regularly will undoubtedly prove to be an expensive mistake.” www.americanexpress.co.uk

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English airports and London 2012

VisitEngland, the national tourist board, last week held a seminar for representatives from airports across England from Manchester to Newquay, to discuss the important subject of welcoming visitors ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The first of its kind, the discussion group was opened by the Minister for Tourism and Heritage, John Penrose MP, and was hosted at Gatwick Airport’s Sofitel Hotel.

Since 2009, 15 airports across England have undertaken a ‘Welcome Audit and Improvement Plan’ process, which reviews the visitor’s journey throughout the airport from booking, to arrival and departure.  Several airport representatives attending the seminar shared details of improvements made following the results from their Welcome Audits.  Outcomes included greater collaboration with local travel operators to improve onward travel links, partnering with destination management organisations to offer enhanced visitor information onsite and customer service training projects.

The event was part of VisitEngland’s Welcome Airport project, which aims to ensure that visitors’ first and last impressions of England’s airports are as positive as possible by bringing together airport operators and their supporting partners, and highlighting best practice. www.visitengland.com

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Heathrow film demystifies three-letter word

Much of the debate around the lack of aviation capacity in the UK rightly focuses on the need to provide it at a single ‘hub’ airport.  Heathrow is the UK’s only true ‘hub’ airport and BAA has developed a short animated film explaining what a hub is and why this type of airport is important to Britain.

The film puts in plain words why connecting to destinations via a single hub airport is the most efficient way for airlines to operate.  It also sets out why transfer passengers are vital for supporting the frequency of flights needed for business, trade and economic growth.

BAA's Commercial Director, John Holland-Kaye, said: "Hub might be a simple three-letter word but it’s a key part of aviation strategy.  Understanding the importance of hubs is vital if we’re to make successful decisions about the future of aviation capacity in the UK.

"Heathrow brings huge benefits to the UK economy because of its hub status.  But whilst we decide what to do about our lack of aviation capacity, rival hubs in Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam are adding routes and increasing investment.  Jobs and economic growth are being lost to our European rivals – as this film makes clear." http://hub.heathrowairport.com

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Oneworld’s busy week

With the grounding of state controlled Malev Airlines and Kingfisher postponing its entry it has been a difficult week for the oneworld Alliance.  However on the positive side Europe’s sixth largest carrier, airberlin, joins from 20 March together with, as an affiliate, Austrian carrier, Niki. 

Not unexpected, Malev ceased flying 31 January.  oneworld put on a brave face noting that all but five of the 53 destinations on the Malev route network are served by member carriers.  Budapest-based Wizz has come in quickly with new services, whilst Ryanair says that it will base four aircraft in the Hungarian capital.  Just about 30 routes are up for grabs, but clearly many of them are not viable.

With regard to Kingfisher, Chairman Vijay Mallya said: "In light of the many priorities centred around Kingfisher Airlines' recapitalisation efforts, we felt it prudent to defer our entry into the alliance for a little while.  This will allow us the opportunity to focus on the issues at hand and we look forward to being part of the oneworld alliance very shortly.

airberlin serves more than 160 destinations in 40 countries.  It is a lead airline for the new Brandenburg/Berlin (Schönefeld) International Airport due to open 3 June 2012. www.oneworld.com

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Qantas takes wi-fi to Australian skies

Supplied by Lufthansa Systems, Qantas has launched its Q Streaming in-flight ground-breaking entertainment system.  Fitted experimentally on regular Boeing 767-300 Qantas passengers are able to enjoy over 200 hours of on demand movies, television and radio programmes, streamed direct to a wi-fi enabled device.  This is an even greater choice than what is currently available on the airline’s international flights.  Initially, the trial will involve tablets provided by Qantas.  The plan is to offer the service on passenger-owned devices at a later stage.

The innovative infotainment system is based on Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect, a wi-fi network comprising an on-board server and five access points distributed throughout the cabin.  As no wiring is required, the system is much easier to install than regular IFE systems.  It can be integrated during regular maintenance checks and without additional downtime, saving up to 50% in installation costs compared to legacy systems.  Moreover, the elimination of wiring and data distribution hardware can lead to weight savings of nearly half a ton for a Boeing 767-300.  This reduces annual fuel consumption by around 20 tonnes per aircraft, while operating and maintenance costs can also be greatly reduced. www.lhsystems.com www.qantas.com

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Stansted must be sold

The UK Competition Appeal Tribunal, which includes legal specialists and industry experts, has rejected an appeal by BAA Ltd to overturn a Competition Commission judgment that London’s Stansted Airport must be sold.  Two years ago BAA disposed of Gatwick in advance of being forced to do so, and now has elected to sell Edinburgh as part of the ruling.   

BAA claimed there had been material changes since the 2009 decision when the economic outlook was better and the throughput of Stansted was at least 30% higher.  It also argued that it was not reasonable to consider Stansted as serving the same market as Heathrow, given that the airport was dominated by one carrier (Ryanair) with 80% of the passenger throughput.

A BAA spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by the decision of the Competition Appeal Tribunal which we will now carefully consider before making any further statements.” www.baa.com

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United Airlines completes Economy Plus upgrade

North Atlantic travellers between the United States and Europe flying on United Airlines Boeing 757 services now have the choice of three cabin classes.  The airline has completed a major upgrade project of the former Continental Airlines Boeing 757 fleet introducing an Economy Plus product featuring six inches more legroom.  Some 41 aircraft were involved.

With the reconfiguration, the aircraft have 16 flat-bed seats in BusinessFirst, 45 in Economy Plus and 108 in Economy.  The aircraft principally operate between New York/Newark and Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Berlin, Birmingham, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Manchester, Oslo, Paris, Shannon, Stockholm and Stuttgart, and between Washington/Dulles and Amsterdam and Paris.

Unlike other upgraded economy products (the US airlines have for the most part dropped the ‘coach class’ title), United only offers much more comfortable seating, passengers getting the same meal service and having to pay for wine and alcoholic drinks. 

The airline will install satellite-enabled in-flight internet service on its aircraft beginning later in 2012. www.united.com

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AND FINALLY: Tough economic times

Sign in a restaurant window: "Eat now – Pay waiter."

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Following a call for strike action from 6 to 9 February made by several unions, Air France says it is doing all it can to limit the impact.  The airline will directly inform its customers of cancellations, delays and or postponements.  However it emphasises that travellers, in their own interest, supply contact details whether that be mobile phone number or email address at www.airfrance.com

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Birmingham gets daily Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is making a further commitment to the Midlands by increasing flights between Birmingham and Istanbul from five flights a week to daily services from 25 March.

The move will give business travellers better choice and flexibility to meet in Istanbul, and will provide more onward connectivity from Birmingham than ever before.

Over the last year, more and more people have been using Istanbul Ataturk Airport, on the European side of the Bosphorus to connect onwards with the airline’s over 190 strong route network, benefitting both business and leisure travellers.

Martyn Lloyd, Head of Air Service Development, from Birmingham Airport, said, “Turkish Airlines began services from Birmingham in 2008 and has offered a vital service for Birmingham and the Midlands, whilst increasing passenger numbers year by year.

“However, business travellers need both choice and flexibility and we have worked in partnership with Turkish Airlines to secure a daily service from the end of March.  We’re therefore delighted with this development to give our business and leisure community even more choice for long haul connectivity from Birmingham.”

Turkish Airlines will operate two-class Airbus 320 and Boeing 737-800 on the route. www.turkishairlines.com www.bhx.co.uk

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Finnair to Chongqing

Chongqing is to become Finnair’s fourth Chinese destination in early May, adding to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, the airline has confirmed.  It will be the first European carrier to offer a direct service between the city, said to be the world’s largest urban conurbation and Europe.  Finnair’s UK flights from both Manchester and Heathrow will connect to the Chongqing flight in Helsinki. 

Chongqing, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, is also one of southwest China’s main transport hubs, with good connections to the rest of the country and South East Asia.  The city’s main exports include motorcycles and aluminium; Chongqing is also rich in natural resources, including coal, natural gas and mineral deposits.  Situated at the fertile intersection of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, the area is also an important agricultural producer of rice and fruit – and is famous for its oranges.

Flight time is 8hrs 30mins with a two-class Airbus A340 four times per week. www.finnair.com

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Korean Airways at Gatwick

Gatwick Airport has welcomed Korean Airlines to the South London airport in a joint reception ahead of the carrier's 29 April introduction of a three times per week Seoul service.

Highlighted was the airline's China connections at Seoul.  There are 21 cities currently linked.  UK Sales Manager Peter Barron emphasised that the airline's services to Australasia are proving to be extremely popular.  ”It’s a very logical route via Seoul, with good connections for business and leisure passengers,” he said. “Gatwick opens up a whole new market for us.”

The airline flies to Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne plus the Pacific Islands of Guam and Nandi.  With a morning (10:30) departure the new service perfectly complements the carrier's long-established daily Heathrow operation (20:05) and with an 05:35 arrival provides for excellent network connections.  In the other direction travel from Australia and New Zealand takes place within a single day.  Leave Sydney at 07:55 and you will be in Gatwick at 22:55 (all times local).

A Boeing 777 will offer eight First Class, 28 Business and 225 in Economy.  Korean has already taken delivery of its initial Airbus A380 and with it the world’s first airborne Duty Free showroom.  On order is the “all new” Boeing 747-8i. www.korean.com

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Paris hotel for Mövenpick

London may not yet have a Mövenpick.  The Swiss-based hotel operator says that it is active with partners in securing a site, but a Paris operation is on its way.  CEO Jean Gabriel Pérès has confirmed that contracts have been concluded to manage the former Courtyard by Marriott in the Neuilly business district.  Now being sold as a Mövenpick the hotel will continue to be open throughout a floor-by-floor renovation to be completed in 2014.  It is the 100th Mövenpick, which can trace its heritage back to 1948 and an ice cream product by the same name (now owned by Nestlé).

Next to the prestigious American Hospital, the hotel is a 10-minute walk away from the Bois du Boulogne.  The hotel enjoys a fitness centre, underground parking for 180 cars and a secluded garden offering a sanctuary of calm in the capital.  There are also 20 meeting rooms offering a total space of 1,100sqm.  The multi-million-Euro renovation of the hotel will increase the number of rooms to 282 including 29 suites. 

All rooms and bathrooms will enjoy a complete remodelling and be brought up to the standards required by Mövenpick.  Unlike most competitors, the Zurich-based operation specialises in fully operating the hotel property, the site owner/backer a measured investor. www.moevenpick-hotels.com

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Record domestic flight for United Airlines

Washington (Dulles) to Honolulu non-stop is the star new route to be introduced next summer by United Airlines as it fully gets into stride with the Continental merger completed. 

Flown by a Boeing 767-400 the flight time is likely to be around 10 hours plus, making it probably the world’s second longest domestic flight, just less than United’s own Newark to Hawaii service.  At around 4,800 miles it is 150 miles short of first place, but somewhat longer than the Moscow to Vladivostok route at 3,998 miles.  United is the biggest carrier between the mainland US and Hawaii, connecting the Aloha State with eight mainland cities, as well as Tokyo, Guam and Majuro.  It is also the largest airline with domestic and international services from the nation’s capital.

United also plans to add seasonal services to popular summer travel destinations from Denver, Houston and San Francisco. www.united.com

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SWISS unveils new culinary delights

Part of the Lufthansa Group, Swiss International Air Lines, will be introducing “SWISS Traditions” on 22 February for passengers on European services.  A new culinary concept, the fare is centred on a series of classic Swiss dishes, which will be supplemented by further delights associated with particular Swiss traditions and cultural events.

In future, Business Class travellers on the airline’s European services will be offered classic and popular Swiss dishes that are prepared from original recipes using quality regional ingredients, such as a typical mushroom risotto of Canton Ticino or a Bündnerplatte featuring Canton Grisons’ famous air-dried beef.

In addition to these classic Swiss dishes, SWISS guests will be treated to a range of further in-flight victuals that have their origins in well-known Swiss national and cultural events.  Every eight weeks, the carrier will feature a new event of this kind on selected flights.  The cycle will begin with February’s focus on Basel’s loud and colourful “Fasnacht” carnival, for which in-flight guests will be offered such local specialities as Basler Mehlsuppe (flour soup), Käsekuchen (cheese tart) and Basler Läckerli mousse. www.swiss.com

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Vueling expands following Spanair demise

Following Barcelona-based Spanair’s grounding on 28 January, Vueling, also with the Catalonian capital as its headquarters, is set to capture a significant part of the failed carrier’s domestic and European traffic.

Speaking to media in Barcelona, Vueling CEO Alex Cruz announced that the airline will add a total of 33 new frequencies to its existing network including up to 14 daily flights between Madrid and Barcelona, nine to Bilbao and eight to Seville and Palma (Mallorca).

Vueling already flies to 72 destinations in Continental Europe, the British Isles, North Africa and the Middle East.  Initial plans before the Spanair situation called for new routes as of 25 March from Barcelona to Copenhagen and Stockholm, four times per week.  Given the new circumstances, these plans have been brought forward and augmented to the tune of 11 weekly flights to each of these Scandinavian airports, effective immediately.

New routes to Berlin and Hamburg, previously flown by Spanair, will also operate from 25 March.  From Bilbao flights will operate to Tenerife (three times weekly), Las Palmas (twice weekly) and Lanzarote (twice weekly).  Five or more Airbus A320s are likely to be added to the current fleet of 43 aircraft. www.vueling.com

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