BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

27 JANUARY 2020

The Business Travel News
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ON THE SOAPBOX SPECIAL: Tim Alderslade, Airlines UK

Previously with the Airport Operators Association, Tim Alderslade is chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for British registered airlines. The timing of these comments is appropriate. 

"The forthcoming 12 months are shaping up to be more than usually important for our industry, throwing the Airlines UK annual dinner this Wednesday evening, 29 January, into particularly sharp focus.

It is highly appropriate that the keynote speaker should be aviation minister Paul Maynard, who just this week embarked on the first round of the government’s programme to investigate regional connectivity with a visit to Liverpool John Lennon Airport (see this issue).

Connectivity is emerging as a highly-topical subject given the recent debate over Flybe and its future as Virgin Connect and will no doubt be up for discussion. Given that our annual event is the largest set-piece airline dinner in the UK, the speeches will give a clear idea of the road ahead with a focus on the state of aviation in our country as we enter another crucial year for the sector.

Our chairman, Jane Middleton, will open proceedings, setting out the priorities and areas of focus for the carriers from a policy and regulatory point of view. No surprise that sustainability will be front and centre, with the association asking for a “partnership approach” with government to ensure aviation can decarbonise and assist in the UK achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

With airlines due to start paying out tens of billions of pounds to fund carbon offsetting through the UN-backed CORSIA scheme – which will achieve carbon neutral growth from all international aviation from next year – Airlines UK is asking for government funding and support.

This will go toward developing sustainable aviation fuels, which could reduce emissions by up to 30%  and electric and hybrid electric aviation, which could achieve carbon savings of up to 24% by 2050, according to Sustainable Aviation.

Equally unsurprising, guests will find Brexit also on the agenda, with the future economic relationship negotiations due to start in the coming months. For the airlines, the two areas of focus remain market access and EASA participation.

On the former, the current freedoms of the air with EU reciprocity remain the headline ask and on EASA, UK participation – albeit with the caveat of not being a “dumb follower” of rules – is the request of both the government and the EU.

Other issues ripe for discussion include Air Passenger Duty (APD), in light of the recent announcement of a government review to be concluded in time for the March Budget, and the continuing demand by airlines for tough regulatory oversight of monopoly providers such as Heathrow and NATS.

As Jane Middleton puts it and will emphasise at the dinner, we are in an increasingly tough trading environment for airlines, and we need all our suppliers, in particular monopoly providers like Heathrow, to pare down on costs and adopt a mindset of achieving more for less.

“Furthermore,” she adds, “we must support the CAA’s critical role in protecting airlines and consumers from excessive shareholder returns and poor value for money.”

https://airlinesuk.org

777X first-flight success

The world’s largest twin-engine commercial aircraft, the Boeing 777X, took to the air for the first time on Saturday for its maiden test flight. Chief pilot Captain Van Chaney described the 3hr 51min sortie as “very productive”.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Stan Deal said: “"Our Boeing team has taken the most successful twin-aisle jet of all time and made it even more efficient, more capable and more comfortable for all.

"Today's safe first flight of the 777X is a tribute to the years of hard work and dedication from our teammates, our suppliers and our community partners in Washington state and across the globe."

Boeing says it expects to deliver the first 777X next year. The aircraft so far has won 340 orders and commitments from carriers including ANA, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Notable for its foldable wing, the aircraft is claimed to deliver 10% lower fuel use and emissions and 10% lower operating costs than the competition. It is powered by the all-new and advanced GE9X engine from GE Aviation.

■ The 777X will be one topic for discussion at the next Aviation Club lunch in London on 6 February with FAA administrator Steve Dickson as guest speaker (see this issue).

www.boeing.com

www.geaviation.com

All-party aviation group back in business

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation (APPG-GA) has officially re-formed after a brief hiatus for the general election and has held an inaugural meeting to re-appoint officers ready for the new parliament.

Chairman Mark Pritchard, who is MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire, said: “It is good to be back after the election period and I know members are keen for the group to pick up where it left off late last year." Former chairman Grant Shapps left the post on becoming secretary of state for transport in the new government.

Pritchard’s constituency is home to RAF Cosford and the Cosford Air Museum. He is also well connected to the airline industry through previous parliamentary work on the Transport Select Committee and other associated aviation groups.

He said: “It was fantastic to see several new MPs at our first meeting; it shows there is an appetite to continue supporting GA in the new parliament.

“I look forward to working with members to support the government’s objective of making the UK the best country in the world for general aviation.”

Agenda items are likely to include working with the General Aviation Awareness Council (GAAC), which last month issued a new report on what it said was the continuing threat to facilities for light aviation around the UK (BTN 16 December 2019), including Wycombe Air Park, below.

https://generalaviationappg.uk

www.rafmuseum.org/cosford

Big UK expansion for Lufthansa

A “substantial” extension of its UK route network this year by the Lufthansa Group will see the German carrier plus group members Brussels Airlines and Austrian Airlines offering more capacity north and southwest of England to Europe.

Travellers from Newcastle and Bristol will soon have access to one of the Lufthansa Group’s hubs in Frankfurt, Munich and Brussels and passengers leaving from London will benefit from increased services to Vienna and Munich.

The group said the capacity increase, in addition to the opening of two new gateways in Bristol and Newcastle, reflected growing demand for air connections from smaller regional ports.

The group this summer will provide 15% more flights from its hubs to the UK, with most of the growth across regional British ports but also including an expansion at Heathrow Queen’s Terminal (T2).

This will see 359 flights a week departing, continuing Lufthansa’s status as the biggest foreign airline group operating from the UK’s largest airport and offering passengers a wider and more frequent choice of 19 onward connections from the hubs.

As part of the Lufthansa Group’s continuing efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, 2020 will also see a continuation of its fleet renewal programme with new fuel-efficient aircraft consuming up to 25% less fuel than their predecessors.

www.lufthansagroup.com  www.lufthansa.com

www.austrian.com

www.brusselsairlines.com

Boeing controversy comes to Aviation Club

Last Saturday's (25 January) maiden test flight of the new Boeing B777X will provide another topical subject to be discussed at next month’s Aviation Club lunch in London, with the man in one of the industry’s currently most controversial jobs as guest speaker. (see also in the issue Further MAX delay to summer confirmed plus AND FINALLY.

Steve Dickson, administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is at the heart of the B737 MAX controversy and is expected to give some indication of when the aircraft will be allowed to return to service.

He now also has the pending arrival of the B777X, the world’s largest twin-engine passenger jet, to deal with as well as the wider issue of safety regulatory issues post Brexit.

As a former senior vice-president of flight operations for Delta Air Lines and a strong advocate for commercial aviation safety and improvements to the US national airspace system, Dickson is particularly well qualified to carry out his new job.

He was sworn in as FAA administrator last August after being confirmed for a five-year term by the US Senate.

Bookings are now open for the Aviation Club gathering, which is on 6 February at the new venue at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. It is also a curtain-raiser for the organisation’s 30th anniversary this year.

https://aviationclub.org.uk

www.faa.gov

www.boeing.com

Brize Norton in view for Air League

The next visitor event organised by the Air League’s Friends of Brize Norton group will be held at RAF Brize Norton on the afternoon of Wednesday 26 February, beginning at 14:00 and scheduled to finish at about 17:00.

Examples of each aircraft from the air transport (fixed wing) fleet will be on static display with a crew on board to show visitors round and answer questions.

There will also be demonstrations from the tactical medical wing, the fire section, the tactical air traffic section, RAF Regiment and RAF Police military working dogs, and more.

Brize Norton is the RAF’s largest station and is at Carterton OX18 3LX in west Oxfordshire.

Air League members are being emailed about the event and anyone wishing to attend should reply to the email by 30 January. Replies must include the applicant’s name, date of birth and nationality. Failure to state these details will result in the application not being considered.

Registration for a place does not guarantee attendance – applicants should wait for a confirmation email that will be sent after 31 January.

www.airleague.co.uk

??  www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-brize-norton

Conquering fear of flying

Britain’s smallest airline is to offer a free fear of flying course.

The Blue Islands Freedom to Fly session is open to the first 20 Channel Islands natives to apply, and you don't have to reside in the islands to qualify.

Blue Islands CEO Rob Veron said: “Previous courses in Guernsey and Jersey have been hugely over-subscribed, indicating many Channel Islanders have a very real and debilitating aversion to flying, so we are delighted to offer this again.

“The courses have changed the lives of many islanders and we have had amazing feedback, including someone who was able to travel see family in Canada for the first time in years and others for whom it meant they were simply able to get on a plane.”

This year’s two-day course is at Guernsey Airport on 14-15 March, delivered by Blue Islands’ flight training team and behavioural change coach Mo Harford-Bury. Attendees spend one day in the classroom followed by an experience flight on day two.

Veron added “Fear of flying can have an adverse effect on peoples’ lives to a point where they are not able to enjoy experiences that others take for granted. We’re out to change that.”

For more information and to apply, go to the website below. Closing date is 9 February.

www.blueislands.com/freedom

EasyJet gains from Cook collapse

A good start to the new year was reported last week by easyJet, which said it had benefited from the Thomas Cook collapse in September and had seen revenue increase by almost 10% in the first quarter of its financial year.

Other factors included rival airlines cutting capacity, strong demand for air travel, good results from the Berlin operation and a rise in ancillary sales along with introduction of a new car-rental link-up with Car Trawler.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren said it was “a strong start with continued positive momentum”, with an improvement in revenue per seat which has been driven by self-help revenue improvements initiated by the airline.

"Cost per seat is in line with expectations, helped by our Operational Resilience programme which has not only improved overall customer satisfaction in the quarter but also enabled us to manage our costs”, he added.

Lundgren also hailed a successful relaunch in November for easyJet holidays fuelled by customers looking to benefit from what he called the airline’s “unrivalled flexibility, great value and handpicked hotels".

Group revenue was £1.45bn for the three months to the end of December, £1.1bn of it from passenger revenue. Ancillary revenue rose 10.8% to £301m, with easyJet now expecting a first-half loss lower than the £275m loss in the first six months of 2019.

www.easyjet.com

Four Seasons Madrid sets opening date

After a seven-year restoration programme involving a collection of seven historic buildings, the new Four Seasons Hotel Madrid, the first property for the brand in Spain, has set 15 May as its opening date.

Regional president for hotel operations Simon Casson said: “Madrid is having its moment, and Four Seasons is at the centre of it with our owner partners OHL Desarrollos and Mohari Hospitality and our all-star team sharing our vision.

“With a soaring grand lobby welcoming guests at its heart, the hotel is looking forward to offering the highly-personalised Four Seasons experience in an extraordinary setting in a vibrant city.”

The property is in the Centro Canalejas, also home to 22 Four Seasons private residences and the Galería Canalejas luxury shopping mall, and features 200 rooms and suites including a triangular Royal Suite with double-height ceilings and historic details.

Other elements include more than 1,400sq m (15,400sq ft) of flexible function spaces, including the glamorous oval Sol Ballroom, which between them can  accommodate business meetings and social events for up to 500 people.

There is also a four-level spa retreat with a sky-lit indoor pool and sun terrace looking out across Madrid’s rooftops. The spa will be the largest in the city, offering eight treatment rooms plus a salon and 24/7 fitness centre.

www.fourseasons.com

Further MAX delay to summer confirmed

Official confirmation of a continued delay in the Boeing B737 MAX re-entering service came from the manufacturer last week in a public statement on the behind-the-scenes activity taking place to solve the crisis.

Boeing noted it had previously emphasised it was the FAA and other global regulators that would determine when the aircraft returned to airline schedules but its own best estimate was the “ungrounding” of the MAX would begin “during mid-2020”.

The company said it was making the statement “in order to help our customers and suppliers plan their operations” and “the updated estimate is informed by our experience to date with the certification process”.

It added: “It is subject to our ongoing attempts to address known schedule risks and further developments that may arise in connection with the certification process. It also accounts for the rigorous scrutiny that regulatory authorities are rightly applying.”

Boeing said returning the MAX safely to service was the company’s number-one priority, and it was confident it would happen.

It added: “We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 MAX has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public.”

(See also AND FINALLY  in this issue).

www.boeing.com

LOT-Condor deal threat to IAG

In a new twist to the Thomas Cook story, one of the failed holiday company’s subsidiary airlines, Condor of Germany, has been acquired by the Polish aviation group PGL, the owner of LOT Polish Airlines.

Thomas Cook collapsed four months ago (BTN 23 September 2019), but Condor survived after obtaining a €380m bridging loan from German state bank KfW, which will now be repaid. Observers are saying the new deal could set up PGL as a rival to IAG and the Lufthansa Group.

LOT operates more than 120 routes, with a fleet of 80 aircraft including 15 Boeing B787 Dreamliners. The airline carried more than 10m passengers last year. Condor has a fleet of more than 50 aircraft and carries more than 9.4m passengers a year to some 90 destinations.

PGL president Rafał Milczarski said the group intended to develop Condor’s “iconic” brand in Germany and also introduce it to other markets in Europe. He welcomed Condor employees to the PGL family and “to help build one of Europe’s greatest aviation groups”.

Condor CEO Ralf Teckentrup added: “We are pleased our airline has gained through the PGL and LOT stable experienced and dynamically developing partners who will secure the future of our business.”

www.lot.com

www.condor.com

Nashville date for Virgin Hotels

The fourth and latest US property in the Virgin Hotels portfolio is due to open in Nashville in May with 262 rooms, known as Chambers, including suites. It follows hard on the heels of the company’s arrival in Dallas (BTN 4 January).

Part of Nashville's Music Row neighbourhood, the hotel will offer a total of 9,000sq ft of flexible meeting and events spaces, multiple dining and drinking outlets such as the brand's signature Commons Club, and a rooftop lounge with pool.

The Commons Club flagship bar and restaurant is designed to feel like a “members-only” experience but open to all, with a specially curated entertainment and music programme.

The roof of the 14-storey building will feature another brand trademark, the Pool Club, giving guests the chance to relax and swim with views across Music City and indulge in light snacks and cocktails.

As with Virgin Hotels’ properties in Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas, the Chambers have two distinct spaces separated by a sliding door.

One area, the Dressing Room, combines the hallway and a dressing area with full vanity, makeup desk, an extra-large shower with a bench, and a roomy closet.

Through the privacy door, the Lounge contains Virgin Hotels’ patented lounge bed, a red Smeg mini-fridge, yoga mat, pedestal table and built-in window seating.

https://virginhotels.com/nashville

New regional expansion for Eastern

New services between Teesside International Airport and Belfast City, Dublin, London City, Cardiff and Southampton beginning in March have been announced in a regional expansion by Eastern Airways.

The six-times-weekly Belfast flights mark a return to Northern Ireland for the carrier, which becomes Belfast City’s sixth airline partner. Airport commercial director Katy Best said: “Improving connectivity to and from Northern Ireland is of the upmost importance to the region.”

In further developments, Eastern will also operate a seasonal service between Teesside and the Isle of Man and increase the number of flights to Aberdeen.

Managing director Tony Burgess said: “Eastern Airways is one of the longest serving airlines to fly from Teesside International serving the critical corporate oil and gas market with flights to Aberdeen.

“We are now strengthening our ties with the airport to bring enhanced connectivity to some new city destinations for business and leisure travellers and we are continuing to look at how we can further develop our network for all regions.”

Kate Willard, partnership development director at Stobart Aviation, which operates Teesside International, added: “There is tremendous opportunity for continued growth at Teesside International and we continue to be committed to its success.”

www.easternairways.com

www.teessideinternational.com

www.stobartgroup.co.uk/divisions/aviation


Northern airports in connectivity review

Aviation minister Paul Maynard has launched a tour of UK regional airports as part of the recently-announced Regional Air Connectivity Review, starting with Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

The review was launched by the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of measures to support regional connectivity across the UK, which ministers say will ensure people in all parts of the country benefit from prosperity and economic growth in the future.

The DfT says it intends to work closely with the aviation industry, local regions and devolved nations to identify how it can support connectivity, starting with meeting the CEO with the Liverpool visit as a start.

Maynard described the airport as “a thriving hub for regional connectivity", adding: “The connectivity review will work to understand how we can level up the country and strengthen local airports to drive economic growth.”

Airport chief executive John Irving said: “We are an important regional gateway benefiting the economies of the areas it serves. However it can only realise its true potential with improved connectivity to help to boost the region’s economy.”

■ Elsewhere, Leeds Bradford Airport has announced plans for a three-storey 34,000sq ft new terminal building this spring in a bid to reach net zero targets by 2023. It replaces a former application which was approved last year.

www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-transport

www.liverpoolairport.com

www.leedsbradfordairport.co.uk

Norwegian cuts baggage allowance

Passengers buying the lowest fares on Norwegian have lost some of their luggage allowance or are facing higher charges after the airline last week changed its policy on hand baggage. The airline is also reported to have dropped lounge access to PremiumFlex passengers.

Norwegian said the luggage move was to ensure all passengers had a smooth, comfortable flight that departed on time. Under the new policy, each customer, regardless of ticket type, can take one under-seat bag to be stored under the seat in front.

Vice-president product management Cecilie Nybø Carlsen explained: “Those who don’t need any additional hand baggage can choose the LowFare ticket at no extra cost.

“Those wanting an additional overhead cabin bag can do so at a small additional cost before departure or choose a different ticket type when booking.” The price of an additional overhead cabin bag is between £5 and £9, depending on the flight.

Carlsen noted most Norwegian aircraft carried 186 passengers but had space for only about 80 overhead cabin bags.

She added: “With the new policy in place, our goal is that boarding will be smoother for our passengers, we can avoid spending time rearranging carry-on baggage in the overhead lockers and help ensure our aircraft depart on time.”

www.norwegian.com

Party time for points collectors

If you struggle to get your head around the intricacies of frequent-flyer and hotel-loyalty programmes, you would probably have found the answers at London’s Marriott Grosvenor Square hotel last week.

The occasion was the UK's biggest annual frequent-flyer party, organised by the Head for Points website and sponsored by Marriott Bonvoy, with more than 500 collectors of miles and points in attendance.

A large number of airline and hotel executives were also present, keen to get direct feedback from travellers on what they do and don't like about their loyalty programmes.

For many guests, it was a good opportunity to share their interests in air miles and hotel points with other people who knew what they were talking about, with no risk of the other persons’ eyes glazing over.

Key topics of conversation included which were the best European cities to pick up cheap long-haul Business Class tickets, the best current travel credit card sign-up bonuses (and ways of 'manufacturing' spend on to those cards) and the most luxurious branded hotels at which to redeem points.

The event included a raffle which raised more than £4,600 for Orbis, which operates a flying eye hospital in developing countries and is dedicated to treating 'avoidable' blindness.

www.headforpoints.com

https://gbr.orbis.org/en

www.marriott.co.uk

Robot parking moves forward

The future of robot parking for passengers’ cars at airports is about to take a big step forward at Lyon-Saint Exupéry in France, where a trial in place for a year is to be extended this summer to cover four times more spaces.

It follows an agreement between Stanley Robotics and Vinci Airports, which runs Lyon and has a majority shareholding in Gatwick. A similar test programme was launched at Gatwick last year (BTN 1 April 2019).

The Lyon deal will see the robotic car park expanded from 500 spaces to 2,000 in what the companies claim is a world first.

Passengers book a parking space on the Lyon Airport website, drop their vehicles in one of 28 dedicated cabins, then reach the terminals via a shuttle service located nearby. The robots then pick up each car and park it in the secure parking lot.

On returning from a trip, passengers recover their vehicles from one of the cabins. Stanley Robotics and Vinci Airports plan ultimately to offer more than 6,000 parking spaces.

Vinci Airports chairman Nicolas Notebaert said: “We pursue an ambitious industrial strategy to benefit passengers at all 46 of our airports and Lyon has followed it in exemplary fashion to become one of our three centres of excellence customer experience."

www.vinci-airports.com

www.lyonaeroports.com

https://stanley-robotics.com

Stansted growth plan setback

Plans for the expansion of Stansted suffered a setback on Friday when the local council’s planning committee ignored a previous recommendation to approve the developments.

In doing so, the committee also ignored an open letter to local residents from airport CEO Ken O’Toole asking for the plans to be allowed to go ahead and saying extensive independent assessment of the application showed it “would create no significant harm … with regards to air quality, carbon, noise or transport.”

The plans called for two new taxiways and nine new hangars to allow the airport to grow the number of flights it could handle from 227,000 to 274,000, equivalent to a maximum of 43m passengers a year.

Stansted officials stopped short of announcing an appeal, although one is considered likely, but said the airport was "naturally disappointed" and would consider next steps.

A statement added: “We have listened to local communities to put forward an application that delivers the benefits of growth and a comprehensive package of mitigation measures.

"The committee has chosen to consciously ignore the recommendations of not only its own officers but also the additional advice it commissioned at significant cost to the taxpayer from independent technical experts and lawyers.

"The conclusions of this advice were clear that there should be no impediment to granting approval.

www.stanstedairport.com

www.uttlesford.gov.uk

Technology takes the stage

Back for its 17th year, Travel Technology Europe (TTE) moves into London’s Olympia on 26 February for two days. The event is co-located with the Business Travel Show and a free entry badge gives access to both gatherings.

Among topics to be aired is the question whether AI and voice retain their crowns as the tech destined to have the biggest impact on the future of the industry, or whether 2020 will herald a change in focus to more emerging, transformative technologies.

The show will also for the first time host Phocuswright Battleground: EMEA, with six start-ups pitted against each other for the chance to compete in Phocuswright Summit: EMEA in Amsterdam later this year.

Visitors will be able to watch competitors demonstrate the newest ideas in travel technology in front of an uncensored and often ruthless panel of judges.

There will also be three keynote sessions across the two days of the show, led by IBM’s European leader of industry and cognitive solutions, Thierry Gnych, on the AI debate as companies embrace machine learning and other AI technologies.

Registering as a visitor for TTE gives access to both days of the show, a personalised online diary tool to pre-arrange appointments with exhibitors, 90-plus innovative travel and marketing technology providers, 42 conference sessions.

www.traveltechnologyeurope.com

www.businesstravelshow.com

Which? rates cruises

“Predictable ratings up to a point”. So says Malcolm Ginsberg, editor-in-chief of Business Travel News, commenting on Which? magazine’s cruise review, published today. 

Something of a cruising aficionado, having first “cruised” to Australia when he was nine as a ‘£10 Pom’, he now has been to sea on at least 30 ships. 

“In spite of nearly sinking one of its cruise liners last year, Viking comes out tops – remarkable”, he says. “There are two obvious omissions. Crystal, reckoned by most people in the industry as the best, and Carnival-owned Costa, with 16 ships,  another line with a dubious past”. 

“The Which? average daily passenger rate is misleading. The prices given are for main-season Mediterranean cruises with no flights. Hardly representative. Most British passengers embark at Southampton and some big discounts are available. Some include tipping and excursions, and others not. The same goes for drinks. Douglas Ward’s annual Cruising and Cruise Ships is an excellent alternative, but he does not attempt to compare prices as offered by Which?” 

Business Travel News' monthly cruise review is next Monday. Watch out for a sensational story up with the times!

www.which.co.uk

World's largest Fairfield to open in Makkah

A landmark deal to open the world’s largest Fairfield by Marriott Hotel in the growing religious destination of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, was signed last week between Marriott International and hospitality company Nahdet Al-Mashaer.

Building work on the property, which will have 2,600 suites and will be the Fairfield brand’s first in the Middle East and Africa, has already begun, with a completion date in 2023.

Chief development officer, Middle East and Africa Jerome Briet said: “We are thrilled to be working with Nahdet Al-Mashaer to create a distinctive Fairfield by Marriott to serve the Holy City of Makkah.”

The hotel will occupy five towers in the Al Naseem district close to the Grand Mosque. Suites will have separate areas for working and sleeping and amenities will include free hot breakfast and coffee, a fitness centre and a lobby market open 24/7.

The property’s public spaces and lounge areas are expected to feature the Fairfield brand’s “Modern Calm” aesthetic, which embraces open layouts, multi-functional space and natural light.

The Fairfield by Marriott brand currently has more than 1,000 open hotels in the US, as well as Latin America, Mexico and Asia.

https://fairfield.marriott.com

FLYING AT THE FRONT END: Emirates

With Sir Tim Clark confirming his forthcoming retirement (see BTN 6 January) a trip to the Dubai Air Show seemed a great opportunity to fly “Up Front” on the iconic Airbus A380, he the saviour of what is undoubtedly the finest mode of air travel.  Alison Chambers reports.

I am sitting comfortably in seat 17D on the 09:00 Airbus A380 (EK008) London Heathrow – Dubai, looking forward to this 7hr 30min flight enormously.   I chose a day service and Emirates because it offers the optimum schedule from London, as well as what I consider the best inflight product.

The Emirates lounge at Terminal 3 is stress free. The space is light and comfortable, its flexible seating suits a mix of family and business flyers, with relax and work areas, a big selection of international newspapers and magazines.  It offers shower facilities too for LHR transit passengers.  I enjoy a mango smoothie, fluffy omelette and cherry tomatoes, washed down with fresh coffee before boarding.  The range of food is extensive to cater for global tastes and the champagne is open and chilled to suit all time zones.

Business and First Class suite passengers board directly from the lounge, and as soon as we are settled with hand baggage stored in the generous overhead bins we are served champagne and soft beverages. Downstairs, and boarding at the same time, are the majority of travellers virtually unbeknown to us, or visa versa.

My seat is spacious, in attractive polished light cedar wood grain, with soft lighting and my own mini-bar of soft drinks.  The 76-place Business cabin is spaciously designed in a 1-2-1 layout; seat pitch a generous 44in, extending to 78in in flat-bed layout.  Up front is First complete with showers.  Emirates know its passengers multi-task, so complementing the extra large 23in HD LCD seat back IFE screen, each seat has a stored ipad too. I have writing to do, send Instagram messages to the family, watch the whole boxset of Big Little Lies Series 2 and at least one of the new movies.

Emirates IFE, branded ICE, offers 4,500 channels of on-demand entertainment including many boxsets you never get time to watch at home. Eight live channels of sports and international news feature, including CNN, BBC World and Sky News. A Reuters ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen.

Emirates leads in inflight evolution. For example, it made a world first in December when it live-streamed the BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet at the same time as its network TV launch, airing on 176 of its aircraft over six Sundays at 18:15 London time.

The IFEC has been passionately overseen by VP Customer Experience Patrick Brannelly for 28 years. Under his guidance Emirates was the first airline to install TV screens in every seat. The extra big screens on the A380 arrived in 2015.  Connectivity is by SITA OnAir, accessed easily by touch screen and seat number. I paid just under £20 to use wi-fi on my own device. The service was good, but there where pockets where connectivity dropped out.

“Inflight connectivity is now a basic demand,” concedes Patrick Brannelly, noting every flight Emirates operates is now wi-fi connected with over a million passengers connecting every month – equivalent to 25% of customers.    “Our passengers want to remain connected at all times, which is why we’ve invested well over $200m on connectivity so far, possibly much more. The existing satellites keep passengers connected throughout the flight, except over the Pole, but new ones may also offer that in the future.” 

With more A350s and B787-9s arriving from 2023 Emirates will have even more options from potential connectivity partners.  (It selected Thales for the B777X.  In two years OneWeb, with its own low earth orbit satellites will bring in ultra-fast broadband including on the polar routes from the outset, opening up a whole new frontier in IFEC including NetFlix subscriptions and iCloud applications – Ed.)

Back in my comfortable seat the personal storage is excellent.  I passed on the attractively presented continental breakfast of seasonal fruit, yoghurt and breads, and for lunch enjoyed the smoked salmon timbale, with seared tuna and avocado, followed by a delicious malwani chicken and coconut curry with buttered rice.  Anything with salted caramel is a hit for me and the cheesecake, not too sweet, was delicious. Meals are served on Royal Doulton china, with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery.  There is an excellent selection of sommelier selected wines and the hospitable inflight attendant was attentive, advising passengers which would be best for his/her selected choices.  After an excellent three course meal digestifs were offered.

The pièce de résistance is the glamourous Onboard lounge, situated at the rear of Business Class.  On a par with anything found on a wide-bodied business jet, it offers two chill out sofas and bar stools, a 55in LCD screen showing the aircraft’s position and views from external cameras.   Ambient lit, the cool curved bar is tended throughout the flight.  Business and First Class passengers can enjoy miniature sandwiches, fresh fruits and cakes – as well as a Martini or two.

Sir Tim retires from the airline this June after a 35-year tenure. Undoubtedly he has played a massive contribution to Emirates’ success and helped turn Dubai into a global hub.  His first aviation job in 1972 was with British Caledonian (BCal) which coined the phrase – ‘Flights so good, you don’t want to get off.’  I’d apply that to Emirates Business Class.  Many of us will miss his informative chats on the IFE too.

www.emirates.com

AND FINALLY: Another Boeing invention

Boeing is known for its innovations, but its use of the Queen’s English is not one of its strengths.

It has invented the word “ungrounding”. It is not in Webster's Dictionary, considered to be the US equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, which also does not mention the verb.

A MAX press release issued last week by Seattle does fails to give a firm date when the aircraft might be “ungrounding”, that is, back in the air operating revenue flights.

No doubt for an important announcement it had to pass muster of the PR department, then the legal team, and finally the Board. It must be the most expensive new word in history.

“Ungrounding” to BTN means the opposite of “grounding”, sadly the current fate of the latest Boeing.

Hopefully the FAA administrator Steve Dickson will explain more when he talks to the Aviation Club at the RAC in a couple of weeks. Please see BTN 20 January.