18 FEBRUARY 2019

The Business Travel News
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COMMENT: Travel Technology Europe - Also at Olympia

With a growing number of stories on the uses of high-tech in our industry emerging each week, it’s a good time to catch up as the Travel Technology Europe (TTE) expo arrives in London this Wednesday and Thursday, 20-21 February, at Olympia. It runs in parallel with the Business Travel Show.

An eve-of-show poll is emphatic that tech in general and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular are set to dominate in 2019, with increasing investment in chatbots, automated content and machine learning. If some or all of those terms, and some which follow, are unfamiliar, you’ll be aware of the problem.

The TTE survey found AI is the technology travel industry professionals are “most excited about” going into 2019, thanks to the opportunity it offers for more interaction and personalised solutions. When asked which specific AI technologies travel companies were planning to invest in over the next 12 month, chatbots topped the list at 36%, followed closely by automated content (35%), machine learning (32%) and voice recognition (29%).

TTE advisory board member Paul Stephen, CEO at digital marketing specialist Sagittarius, said the results reflect the growing recognition that personalisation and tailored experiences are key within travel. “Customers will not tolerate generic, irrelevant marketing,” he said.

“Through the use of chat, voice and machine learning, a traveller can look forward to a more interactive and relevant conversation with travel brands that have recognised that, to be successful, they need to embrace these emerging technologies now.”

TTE show director David Chapple noted that while technology presented many opportunities for travel brands when it comes to matching consumers to their perfect product, it is not without its challenges. “Behind the scenes, travel professionals are still struggling to find the right systems to help them to fulfil customer desires, with booking / reservation systems and payment systems cited as their most significant technological ‘challenges’,” he points out.

On the bright side, he says, both the opportunities and challenges presented by technology have prompted travel companies to increase their tech budgets, with the survey showing 59% are planning to spend more in 2019 than they did in 2018 – 34% of respondents indicated they were willing to spend in excess of £100,000, compared to 18% in 2018.

“Talk to anyone in travel marketing and they’ll all agree their job these days is to deliver travellers with ‘experiences’ – the creation of which relies very much on understanding customers better so that they can be offered tailored, relevant product,” Chapple says.

At least the trend, he adds, is in the right direction: “It’s really exciting to see travel brands embracing AI technology and putting plans in place to implement it within their organisations, as opposed to viewing chatbots or virtual assistants for example as passing fads”.

TTE features a number of sessions on AI, including ‘The Art of the possible – innovation in AI and Machine Learning’, with panellists from ETOA, Inspiretec, Musement and Sonata Software discussing the ways in which these technologies are being deployed in the travel industry at the moment.

The heavyweight nature of the show is emphasised by the list of more than 80 speakers, including experts from Microsoft and Google Assistant delivering keynote sessions. Microsoft’s Andrew Baxter will be sharing insights on how to ‘do technology like a boss’, while Nicolas Dussart from Google Assistant will discuss the use of ‘conversational UI in the traveller’s journey’. The third keynote session, ‘Women in tech: it’s about time’, will be delivered by Sharon Moore MBE, IBM's chief technology officer for travel and transportation.

Following attendee feedback, the keynote sessions have been staggered so visitors can attend them all if they wish, while expert speakers in other meetings will address the hottest topics affecting the travel technology sector today, the Internet of Things, data and personalisation to NDC, cyber security, voice technology and more.

The conference programme also includes a series of ‘Tech Huddles’ on specific subjects hosted by speakers from companies including AirGateway, Unbabel, Stackla and Crowdriff for up to a dozen attendees each to share ideas and learn from the experiences of other users and suppliers.

The full conference agenda is at

A flybmi rescue mission begins

Loganair yesterday stepped in to secure three key air routes from Aberdeen to Bristol, Oslo and Esbjerg after East Midlands-based British Midland Regional, which operated as flybmi, announced late on Saturday it had ceased operations and was filing for administration. Both companies are of part of Airline Investments Limited (AIL), whose major shareholders are Stephen and Peter Bond.

Flybmi said its action had been “unavoidable” after the airline had faced difficulties including increases in fuel and carbon costs. A spokesman said the latter had arisen from the EU’s recent decision to exclude UK airlines from full participation in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The airline said these issues had undermined efforts to move into profit. Current trading and future prospects had also been seriously affected by uncertainty created by the Brexit process, which had led to an inability to secure valuable flying contracts in Europe.

It had also led to a lack of confidence around bmi’s ability to continue flying between destinations in Europe, while the flybmi situation mirrored wider difficulties in the regional airline industry which had been well documented, the company added.

Flybmi operated 17 regional jets on routes to 25 European cities and had 376 employees based in the UK, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. The airline carried 522,000 passengers on 29,000 flights in 2018.

The CAA was swift to issue advice to passengers on what to do next, while pilots’ union BALPA regretted it had had no prior warning or information from the airline. General secretary Brian Strutton, said: “The collapse of flyBMI is devastating news for all employees. Our immediate steps will be to support flyBMI pilots and explore with the directors and administrators whether their jobs can be saved.”

A380 production to end

The finale to the super-jumbo era was signalled last week after Airbus said it would end production of its four-engine double-deck A380 in 2021. The widely-expected announcement followed a decision by Emirates to reduce its A380 order book.

Airbus said that following a review by the airline of its operations and in light of developments in aircraft and engine technologies, Emirates was reducing its A380 order book from 162 to 123 aircraft.

The manufacturer continued: “Emirates will take delivery of 14 further A380s over the next two years. As a consequence, and given the lack of order backlog with other airlines, Airbus will cease deliveries of the A380 in 2021.”

Airbus noted however that Emirates had decided “to continue growing” with its newest generation, flexible widebody aircraft, ordering a fleet of 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft.

Airbus CEO Tom Enders said: “The A380 is not only an outstanding engineering and industrial achievement. Passengers all over the world love to fly on this great aircraft. Hence today’s announcement is painful for us and the A380 communities worldwide.

“But, keep in mind that A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come and Airbus will of course continue to fully support the A380 operators.”

American and BA plan JFK move

Plans for a joint transfer of operations to Terminal 8 at New York JFK Airport have been unveiled by American Airlines and British Airways, with the two investing $344m (about £260m) in the facility over the next three years to prepare for the move in 2022.

Terminal 8 (below) is a major hub for the oneworld alliance and is managed by American, which is the building’s largest airline and the third largest at JFK. Other oneworld carriers in T8 include Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qantas and Qatar Airways.

American and BA say moving under the same roof will allow them to offer “enhanced service” between New York and London, further strengthening the two companies’ Atlantic Joint Business partnership.

BA will move from its current operation in Terminal 7 in what American president Robert Isom said would be a “win-win” for passengers and staff, adding: “Co-locating with BA will allow our customers unprecedented convenience and flexibility between New York and London.”

The $344m investment in T8 will cover improvements including the addition of five widebody gates, four widebody hard stands, enhanced baggage systems, new lounges, premium check-in space and upgraded concessions and retail options.

Another airport goes contactless

Contactless bank cards, mobile devices and Oyster cards will all be accepted on the Heathrow Express service between London Paddington and Heathrow Central from tomorrow, 19 February. It follows a similar plan for Luton Airport announced last week (BTN 11 February).

For the new service, ticket barriers have been installed at Heathrow and Paddington platforms 6 and 7 to integrate the route into the capital’s Tube, rail and bus network, where half of all pay-as-you-go journeys are now made using a contactless card or mobile device.

Using contactless payment or Oyster costs the same as a peak or off-peak express single, depending on the time of travel, and is not included in daily or weekly fare capping.

The best value Heathrow Express fares, including return tickets and advance fares from £5.50 each way at weekends, remain available online or via the Heathrow Express app.

Customers travelling in Business First Class can also use contactless or Oyster by touching-in and purchasing an upgrade from the on-board team. Business First includes wider seating, work tables and free magazines and newspapers.

Heathrow Express and Transport for London (TfL) have also installed new multilingual ticket machines at Heathrow allowing passengers to buy, top up or refund Oyster cards up to £10.

Busy agenda for rail summit

Current and future developments with Transport for London (TfL), the HS2 project and allied topics will be on the agenda for a one-day UK Rail Summit conference on 13 March at 15 Canada Square, London E14 5GL.

Taking as its theme ‘Rethinking rail delivery: Coordination, strategic direction and capacity growth’, the gathering will hear a keynote address from rail minister Andrew Jones, followed by deputy mayor of London for transport Heidi Alexander and Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines.

Subjects up for discussion include improving Network Rail performance, why HS2 is a key element of the UK’s transport strategy and what can be done to deliver a railway able to offer good value fares while keeping costs down for taxpayers.

Other items on the agenda include working partnerships between operators and Network Rail, whether there should there be more rail devolution for TfL, strategies across the UK for devolved railways and delivering more widespread smart ticketing.

The summit takes place against a background of the UK having the fastest-growing railway in Europe with one of the best safety records but with recent challenges posed by growth resulting in criticism from passengers and politicians and calls for renationalisation.

Daks over Normandy again

The UK government is being urged to lend financial support for what could be the last aviation event of its kind when a formation of World War II aircraft return to Normandy this year to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

More than 35 DC3/C47 Dakota transport aircraft (Dakota was the RAF designation) will fill the skies over south-east England and northern France between 2-9 June, recreating the air assaults that supported the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.

The anniversary event forms a key part of commemorations spearheaded by the Imperial War Museum (IWM), with the UK’s All-Party Group for General Aviation (APPG-GA) calling for ministers to back the project, called Daks Over Normandy.

After meeting with the organisers, APPG chair Grant Shapps said: “This extraordinary event will be a spectacle the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a generation and probably won’t ever be seen again.

“It is important young people today are able to see these aircraft flying so they can get some glimpse of what it would have been like for young people who went off to do it for real 75 years ago.”

The formation will be the largest assembly of flying Dakotas since the war. The aircraft will be at IWM Duxford between 2-5 June before moving to Caen Carpiquet Airport in Normandy until 9 June. (See also ‘AND FINALLY’ in this issue).

Delta A220 enters service

US aviation entered a new phase this month and Delta Air Lines a new chapter in its 90-year history with the Airbus A220-100, known formerly as the Bombardier C Series, going into revenue service with its first American carrier from New York LaGuardia.

Delta area vice-president for sales Chuck Imhof said: “We have big plans for this aircraft. It will be an integral part of our future domestic fleet and will deliver an experience our customers will look forward to every time they fly."

Highlights of Delta's A220 include a state-of-the-art interior with a total of 109 seats – 12 in First Class, 15 in Delta Comfort+ and 82 in what Delta calls its Main Cabin.

Other features include seat-back screens, 2Ku wi-fi and among the widest seats of any narrowbody aircraft plus high-capacity overhead bins, extra-large windows and full-spectrum LED ambient lighting.

Delta's A220 is the latest investment in a fleet modernisation programme that aims to replace 20% of older, less-efficient aircraft by 2020. The airline took delivery of the first last October and has 40 on order, with 28 expected to arrive this year. The larger A220-300 will begin deliveries to Delta next year.

EasyJet's high-tech bag scanner

A hand scanning feature that uses new 3D-augmented reality technology to scan cabin luggage and show if it falls within maximum cabin bag dimensions is being offered to passengers on the easyJet app in what is claimed to be a UK airline first.

EasyJet says the new technology has been introduced to offer customers an easy way to check their hand luggage to give them peace of mind before they travel to the airport.

The new app feature, developed with Travelport, uses Apple’s ARKit 2 technology and is available initially on iOS. The augmented reality technology is combined with customers’ smartphone cameras on iPhone 6S onward.

The scan itself provides an on-screen 3D box which, when combined with the phone’s camera, sizes the cabin bag and indicates whether it fits within the maximum dimensions.

EasyJet head of digital experience Daniel Young said: “We are constantly on the search for ways to improve the travel experience we offer our customers when flying with us and this new technology is a perfect example of that.

“We continue to place innovation at the heart of our industry-leading mobile travel app to give our customers the tools they need to take stress away from the airport experience.”

EC clears Virgin / Air France-KLM deal

The bid by Air France-KLM to acquire 31% of Virgin Atlantic was approved last week by the European Commission (EC), clearing the deal of competition concerns. Delta Air Lines already owns 49% of Virgin with Virgin Group controlling the remaining 20%.

The EC said it found no concerns with the purchase under the EU Merger Regulation after considering whether the deal would limit competition in the market, even though it acknowledged it would produce overlaps on some direct and indirect flights.

The commission noted this applied mainly on routes between the UK and North America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean and between continental Europe, Ireland and North America but said this would not raise competition concerns.

This was because the four airlines involved were not close competitors and they continued to face “significant competition from other carriers” on these routes. The EC said it was also unlikely the combined slot portfolio would have a negative effect on passengers at Heathrow and Manchester.

The EC investigation covered the potential effect of the Air France-KLM deal on the market for passenger flights, cargo air transport services, and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.

Expedia launches luggage guide

An interactive airline luggage allowance guide designed “to help people shopping for flights to really discover which one is best for them” has been launched by the travel technology company and booking site Expedia.

The company said: “With snow falling and temperatures plummeting around much of the UK in the past few days, many people are looking to beat the chill by booking a holiday.

“With so many airlines dropping their prices to compete for extra custom, finding the right flight, not to mention dodging hidden charges, can be easier said than done.”

A spokesman added: “Passengers using Expedia’s updated 2019 luggage guide can check at a glance the size, weight, and quantity of luggage offered by 41 of the world’s leading airlines.

“Users can specify size, capacity and hold luggage weight and can also filter the airlines, making it easier than ever to choose which flight is really offering the best value for money.”

The new guide is likely to be one of the talking points later this week at the annual Mid Wales Tourism Conference, when keynote speaker will be Expedia Group director of market management in the UK and Ireland Irene Roberts.

The event is at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells on Friday, 22 February.

Heathrow woos business

A record number of organisations are to be invited this year to work with Heathrow to explore new global markets and supply chain opportunities after the airport announced 11 locations set to host a series of Business Summits.

Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said the events, organised in conjunction with the Department for International Trade and regional chambers of commerce, will host more than 50 of the airport’s top suppliers in the largest summit series yet.

The gatherings will give hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to one-on-one appointments with suppliers and professional trade advisers to give them a chance to cement relationships and forge new connections with some of the UK’s largest suppliers.

The 11 summits will cover each nation and region of the UK, beginning with the South West region on 20 March at Saltash followed by the East of England meeting on 4 April at Newmarket.

Other venues in chronological order are North East, 3 May, Newcastle; North West, 23 May, Blackburn; East Midlands, 14 June, Nottingham; and Wales, 4 July, Cardiff.

After a summer break, the series moves to Northern Ireland, 17 September, Belfast; Scotland, 10 October, Edinburgh; Yorkshire and Humber, 24 October, York; and West Midlands, 7 November, Stoke-on-Trent; ending with the Flagship Summit on 28 November at Heathrow.

Inflight Virtual Reality on Iberia

Passengers between Madrid – New York and Madrid – Tel Aviv will shortly be testing a new on-board entertainment option after Iberia and the Inflight VR company joined forces to incorporate virtual-reality (VR) technology on some of the airline’s fleet.

Second-generation Pico VR devices will be available to rent on the two daily New York Airbus A350-900 flights, and on the daily Tel Aviv A330-200 service, enabling viewers to experience 3D content in games, films, city guides and documentaries.

Inflight VR managing director Nikolas Jaeger said: “Virtual reality has a great potential and can change the passenger experience. The viewer is no longer a mere observer but can explore the city being visited or simply relax before arrival.”

Iberia digital transformation director Ignacio Toval added: “We learned about  Inflight VR through IAG’s start-up accelerator programme Hangar 51and have been working together to develop a VR solution that offers a new passenger experience.”

Iberia and Inflight VR have entered into a six-month trial agreement. The companies will decide whether to expand the service to other medium- and long-haul Iberia routes when the results are known.

BTN plans to test the new service in the near future.

LOT expansion at Budapest

A new hub for European services is being opened this summer at Budapest Airport by LOT Polish Airlines in what officials described as a significant commitment to the future of the Hungarian gateway’s network development.

A member of the Star Alliance, LOT has confirmed it will base one aircraft and add two further routes from Budapest to become one of the main hub airlines at the airport.

Beginning 12-times-weekly operations to both Brussels and Bucharest from 2 September, LOT’s high-frequency service will utilise the carrier’s three-class Embraer E195s.

The airline said the services would target mainly business passengers wanting to travel between the capital cities as well as onward connections, including the carrier’s pivotal long-haul routes to New York and Chicago from Budapest.

LOT’s latest services join its existing long-haul flights to New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare plus multi-daily, high-frequency services to London City Airport, Warsaw Chopin and Kraków.

CEO Rafael Milczarski said: “LOT continues to grow in Budapest as we announce more new direct flights to important cities in Europe and the world. After London City, it will be time for services to Brussels and Bucharest, the capitals with so far under-served connections by a full service airline.”

More action on hidden disabilities

A network-wide hidden disabilities scheme offered to passengers at no extra cost has been launched by Virgin Atlantic to ensure the airline provides extra help to passengers and others who may need it without them having to ask.

An airline spokesman explained: “Hidden disabilities may not be instantly recognisable, but can significantly impact a person’s life and often means that preparing for a flight can prove a stressful situation.

“Currently 22% of the UK population has a disability and 74% had a disability that is hidden. Although not everyone with a disability flies, this means many people may be travelling in discomfort or avoiding travelling due to the stress that flying may create.”

Passenger accessibility manager Geraldine Lundy added: “The Hidden Disabilities scheme is one of a series of initiatives Virgin Atlantic plans on introducing to help those with disabilities to overcome any key challenges they may face.”

The scheme involves a specially-designed symbol which can be worn as a pin badge or tucked discreetly in a passport or used as a bookmark and alerts trained Virgin Atlantic staff that extra assistance may be needed.

MPs urge action on APD

MPs from across the political spectrum have come together to form a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to urge the government to cut the rate of Air Passenger Duty (APD), the highest tax of its kind in the world.

Noting the levy is more than double that of the UK’s largest European trading rival, Germany, members of the group say a cut would “allow the UK to compete on a level playing field with our European counterparts, boosting tourism, trade, jobs and growth”.

Group chairman Henry Smith MP, whose constituency includes Gatwick, said: “As the UK leaves the EU and looks to forge a new identity as a global nation, it is critical we have a tax system that reflects that. A significant reduction in the APD would signal the UK is open for business.”

A spokesperson for the Fair Tax on Flying campaign said: “A cut is long overdue and many MPs across parliament recognise it would significantly boost the connectivity of UK airports and dramatically improve the competitiveness of UK airline routes.”

Olive oil tasting at 35,000ft

An airline and an airport broke new ground last week by jointly hosting the first known airborne olive oil tasting session followed by a presentation of the product to journalists and others in a special lounge at Heathrow.

The tasting, part of a promotional campaign by the marketing body Aceites de Oliva de España, took place on an Iberia Airlines Airbus A321 from Madrid to London, with the follow-up demonstration at the Olive Oil Lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

The sessions were led by Alfonso Fernández, who explained the importance of the oils in the Mediterranean diet, while Teresa Perez of the marketing organisation praised Iberia’s role in promoting internationally their role in healthy eating.

Iberia brand and marketing director Gemma Juncá said: “At Iberia we regard ourselves as ambassadors of Spain, its culture and gastronomy and olive oil is a major part of that heritage.

“It plays a fundamental role in our Mediterranean diet and it is included in the menus we offer on board. With this tasting session at 35,000ft, we hope to promote a healthier diet among our customers and the general public.”

The Olive Oil Lounge is part of the “Let’s Make a Tastier World” campaign co-funded by the EU Olive Oil World Tour. Similar lounges are being installed in airports throughout Europe.

Ryanair wins compensation appeal

The Court of Appeal last week ruled in favour of upholding the policy by Ryanair of communicating with, and paying EU261 compensation directly to, consumers. Ryanair welcomed the decision.

The court dismissed an application by the legal firm Bott & Co Solicitors to indemnify it for any fees it cannot recover from customers who have been paid compensation directly by Ryanair.

Lord Justice Lewison said Ryanair’s claims procedure “enables a passenger to claim compensation with a minimum of effort”, endorsing a London High Court decision last year.

This stated that “Ryanair has established a straightforward and easy-to-use process for its passengers to make their flight delay compensation claims, either online or by correspondence, without the assistance of a third party”.

Ryanair urged customers with valid EU261 compensation claims to submit their claims directly to the airline and avoid what it termed “claims chaser” firms, who it said can deduct more than 40% of a €250 claim in fees.

“Customers with valid claims who claim directly from Ryanair will receive 100% of their EU261 compensation entitlement without the deduction of these excessive ‘claims chaser’ fees,” the airline added.

Ryanair established a dedicated team last year to process valid claims within an industry-leading period of 10 working days.

Star Alliance-Skyscanner boost

A new-look website claiming to offer improved functionality on multi-carrier itineraries for users has been unveiled by Star Alliance following a partnership agreement with travel search engine Skyscanner.

Star, which claims to be the world’s largest airline group, says the move means travellers visiting the website can search for flights, view airfares and book them directly with its member airlines.

This feature is claimed to be easily accessible alongside the lounge finder, flight status and other journey-related services. It utilises Skyscanner’s fare search, linking directly to the alliance’s member carrier websites for purchase.

The website is designed to complement the individual websites of Star’s 28 member airlines and is available in nine languages. Star says the site is also more user-friendly and provides shorter paths to its most popular features across desktop and mobile devices.

Director digital and e-services Jeremy Drury said: “With more than 18,800 daily flights to 1,300-plus airport destinations in 193 countries, our alliance now offers coverage to 98% of the world.

“By introducing the ‘carrier fare search’ feature, made possible through the Skyscanner partnership, we are responding to feedback to enable our members’ frequent flyers to book easily with Star Alliance member airlines and enjoy Star Alliance benefits.”

The economy in focus at ACI talks

Global economy shifts and the urgent need for infrastructure investment form the background to discussions at the Airports Council International’s 11th annual Airport Economics & Finance Conference in London from 12-14 March.

Organisers say the event, at the Radisson Blu Portman Hotel, will also reflect “the ever-changing landscape of air transport” under the theme ‘Paradigm Shifts in Infrastructure Development & the Airport Business’.

The formal part of the conference opens on 13 March with dedicated presentations by three ACI directors-general – Angela Gittens of ACI World, Olivier Jankovec of ACI Europe and Patti Chau of ACI Asia-Pacific.

Key topics under discussion include the ‘fork in the road’ on the eve of Brexit; the state of the airport industry in Europe, Asia-Pacific and at global level; and economic regulation in the era of airline consolidation and airport competition.

Also on the agenda are sessions on roadmaps to manage scarce capacity and the economics and politics of airport slots; competing for passengers – route development and incentives; and crafting concession agreements in foreign countries.

ACI World will also publish the preliminary 2018 world airport traffic rankings, while the conference will again be preceded by a special ACI-World Bank Symposium on 12 March.

Tinkler dismissal by Stobart ‘lawful’

The dismissal of former chief executive Andrew Tinkler by the Stobart Group, owner of Southend Airport, was lawful, a judge ruled on Friday. Tinkler had contested the sacking.

Judge Russen QC said Tinkler had breached his contractual and fiduciary duties in four ways, the first by agitating among major shareholders for the removal of the chairman and criticising the board’s management.

He was also said to have shared a confidential budget for a wood-burning incinerator the company owned with Edinburgh Woollen Mill boss Philip Day; and written to shareholders, copying in all company staff, urging them to remove Ferguson.

In the fourth breach, Tinkler was said to have orchestrated a letter from members of the firm’s executive leadership team and an employee petition in his support.

The judge also found four Stobart directors – Ferguson, chief executive Warren Brady, non-executive director John Coombs and non-executive director Andrew Wood – had breached their duties.

This occurred when the four transferred more than 5m shares from the company’s treasury to the employee benefit trust which were then voted in support of Ferguson’s re-appointment to the board at the company’s annual general meeting.

Stobart had also claimed Tinkler had launched an unlawful conspiracy to topple the board, but the judge ruled against this.

ON TOUR: Brooklands Hotel

On the eve of a visit to Brooklands Museum, BTN editor Richard Cawthorne samples its next-door-neighbour hotel.

The first thing you notice about Brooklands Hotel is its size and striking architecture, a bold, modern, white concrete-and-glass statement building with a touch of Art Deco that is continued inside, along with reminders of the famous race track that forms part of the background.

I was here so I could have an early start for a visit the next day to Brooklands Museum, a short walk away, and its historic car and aircraft collections. It was also a chance to see the equally-popular Mercedes-Benz World, though time did not permit a proper exploration. It was, however, another clue to the look and standard of the hotel – when you have Mercedes as a neighbour, you have a certain style to live up to.

One of the big selling points for the hotel is that many of the rooms overlook the Mercedes-Benz World racetrack. It’s a direct link to motoring history, since the property itself was built nine years ago on the Soloman Straight of the Brooklands circuit and its generous use of glass in the picture windows, especially in the range of what are called ‘super suites’, gives a lavish view of the layout.

Other acknowledgements to the past come in the form of spark plugs turned into works of art, lightshades resembling car headlights and – for aviation fans, in a nod to Brooklands’ other major claim to fame – a row of stylised aircraft propellers leading to the bar.

Overall, it is a major operation. Opened with 120 bedrooms claimed to be some of the largest of any UK hotel, it added another 11 four years ago while renaming four of the super suites in honour of racing legends. Those thus recognised are Kay Petre, Noel Pope, Selwyn Edge and Percy Lambert.

BTN occupied the Percy Lambert Suite, a huge space which true to its billing offered views of the Mercedes-Benz World track and featured a large decked terrace with outdoor furniture. Other features included a king-size bed with 100% cotton linen, separate living room and bedroom, dining table and chairs, free wi-fi and a large TV with a range of in-room entertainment services. I also enjoyed the walk-in rain shower and separate bath, bathrobe and slippers and free Pecksniff's toiletries.

Similar standards were evident throughout the hotel, including the AA Rosette-awarded 1907 restaurant, named for the year the Brooklands racetrack opened, where executive head chef Adam McLaren produces menus he describes as classical cooking with a modern interpretation. His starters of goat’s cheese and roasted beetroot salad, then crab and crispy noodle salad, followed by duck and passion fruit glaze with various exotic accompaniments, went down very well.

Other mod cons at Brooklands Hotel include the luxury BSpa with a newly-added Sunlight Therapy room, plus treatment rooms, outdoor hot tub, a meditation room and special areas for guest relaxation. There is a gym on the ground floor and the hotel also boasts extensive multi-purpose conference and event spaces.

Packages featuring a hotel stay combined with admission to the adjoining attractions are also available, including the Brooklands Museum Discovery Break and the Mercedes-Benz World 4x4 Driving Experience.

For an account of BTN’s visit to Brooklands Museum, see BTN 17 December 2018.

Christmas book review


AND FINALLY: Mother Reilly’s Cardboard Aircraft

The retirement from the Royal Air Force of the Panavia Tornado has reminded the BTN editorial team that when the aircraft was conceived during the early 1970s it was called the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA).

It did not take long for some wag in the RAF to give it a nickname: “Mother Reilly’s Cardboard Aircraft”.

This was a far better title than that given to the Lockheed Starfighter ("Flying Coffin") or another Lockheed enterprise, the C5 Galaxy, called FRED by those close to the project for “Fantastic Ridiculous Economic Disaster”. 

“Jump Jet” for the Hawker Harrier was perhaps the finest aviation nickname of all time, as it said what it did. The Douglas C47 (Dakota), mentioned in this issue, attracted for some unknown reason the title “Gooney Bird”. 

Other contributions (see below) might be published.

The aircraft still flies on with the German, Italian and Royal Saudi Air Forces.

Well done Tornado and all those who built, supported and flew her!