Aigle Azur’s Reinvention

New aircraft, a new image, new routes & new products on-board

Founded in 1946, Aigle Azur is the second-largest airline company in France. It benefits from a long rich history and celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2016. Every year, Aigle Azur transports almost 2 million passengers aboard its fleet exclusively composed of Airbus aircraft through nearly 300 scheduled weekly flights from its bases in Lyon, Marseille and Paris.

In August 2017, the airline instated Frantz Yvelin as their Chief Executive Officer – marking a change in leadership – and, simultaneously, another new chapter was opened with the arrival of a new shareholder, David Neeleman, from the parent company of Hainan Airlines – HNA.

Earlier this year, at a press conference in Paris, the airline announced its long-term reinvention with a host of developments, including new aircraft, a new image, new products onboard and new routes. Whilst Aigle Azur has long been prominent in its traditional Mediterranean markets, it is now expanding further afield. Last year, the airline launched new services to Beirut and Moscow and the airline will strengthen its position in the intra-Europe market this summer – with a new route between Orly and Milan and expansion of the existing Berlin connection.

Aigle Azur will embark on a new journey, with three new routes this year.

Building on this European expansion, the airline will launch new long-haul services from Orly to Beijing-Capital (beginning June 21st) and Sao Paulo-Campinas (beginning July 5th). Both services will operate on a three-weekly basis – although the latter will increase to five-weekly in September – with Aigle Azur’s new Airbus A330-200s.

France’s second largest carrier currently has twelve aircraft in its fleet (9x A320s and 1x A319) – but this is increasing to 12 with the arrival of two new A330-200s.

The refreshing yet classy identity of Aigle Azur

These new aircraft will operate the new services to Beijing and Sao Paulo and will reinforce current operations from Paris to Bamako, Algiers, Oran and Porto. In addition, these A330s will debut a new onboard product, divided into two classes, Business and Economy.

The new Economy class will feature VOD entertainment systems

The new Business Class will have fully-flat seats, a state-of-the-art on-board VOD-type entertainment system, mood lighting and access to Wi-Fi. Finally, the airline has unveiled a new visual identity, which includes a reimagined livery, which can only be described as refreshingly gorgeous. This is all part of Aigle Azur’s aim to compete with the best business class carriers and to ‘conquer new business opportunities’.

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As a growing carrier, the airline is also keen to form close  partnerships with airlines from around the world. Logically, Aigle Azur will codeshare with Brazilian carrier Azul – whose largest hub is in Sao Paulo-Campinas and will provide endless connections around Brazil for Aigle Azur’s customers – and the Chinese five-star carrier Hainan Airlines.

“This flight represents another milestone in the growth of Viracopos as a major hub of Azul. We are very excited about adding Paris to our ever growing domestic and international network. We will offer fast and convenient connections from all over Brazil to Paris.”

the chief revenue officer, Azul linhas aereas

Aigle Azur will also form a strategic and commercial partnership with Air Caraibes – a major client of Paris-Orly – and the Portugese flag carrier TAP.

Ultimately, seeing a regeneration of an airline is always interesting. Aigle Azur is sticking to its former markets faithfully but, also, expanding rapidly into unchartered territory for an airline of its size. Flying from Paris-Orly (an airport arguably more convenient for Business travellers travelling into Paris), with a variety of partners around the world and a globally competitive product, Aigle Azur is enjoying something of a renaissance.


A Compromise on Safety? Qantas adds seats on A380s, by deactivating Emergency Exits

The Australian national carrier, Qantas, has a remarkable safety record; no fatalities or hull losses in the jet era. This extraordinary record of pioneering safety achievements spans the airline’s 97 year history. In 2008, the Advertising Standards Agency challenged Qantas’ remarks that it was the world’s ‘most experienced’ airline. The carrier defended itself fiercely, listing 30 notable industry-leading achievements. I have a feeling that this latest development won’t go down as one of those symbolic actions.

Qantas launched the first ever Aus-UK non-stop flight last month.

After receiving the Airbus A380 10 years ago, the aircraft has become the backbone of the airline’s long haul fleet. In 2012, the airline announced plans to increase the seat count on its aircraft from 450 to 484 seats, by removing toilets and squashing in more seats. Last week, the airline announced its intention to become the launch customer for Airbus’ new ‘Cabin Flex’ programme. The initiative will deliver up to 11 more Premium Economy seats or 7 more Business Class seats. However, there’s a catch. In order to accommodate the new seats, Qantas will be deactivating emergency exits on the upper deck. Here’s how Airbus describes the new line-fit or retrofit solution:

A380 Cabin Flex makes extra space for additional seats  by allowing the upper deck “Doors-3” to be deactivated. The programme can bring up to 11 more Premium Economy seats or 7 more Business Class seats.

The so-called ‘enhancement’ is clearly attractive for airlines. Airbus predicts that there will be a Return on Investment (RoI) in just one year. The cabin-flex option is available to be fitted on new aircraft on delivery or retrofitted onto existing aircraft.

Our author, James, reviewed Qantas’ A380 Economy product earlier this year

Qantas have no plans to receive any more A380s – instead continuing to operate the 12 double-deckers already in their fleet. We don’t know yet whether Qantas will simply install seats in front of the exit doors – which is bound to be confusing for passengers, especially in an emergency – or just cover them up.  Furthermore, the press release never mentions safety. It is widely known that the maximum evacuation time for an aircraft on fire is just 90 seconds. Does the removal of these exits have an affect on that?

Will the cabin-flex option have an adverse effect on safety?

Although the cabin-flex option is attractive for airlines, it certainly isn’t for passengers. With no reassuring message on safety in Airbus’ press release, Qantas need to clarify this immediately, instead of profiteering from extra seats.

Aegean Orders up to 42 A320neo aircraft, worth $5bn

In one of the largest investments by a private Greek company since the financial crisis in 2010, the Greek national flag carrier – Aegean Air – has selected its long-term fleet replacement. Valued at $5bn, the airline will proceed with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus, for up to 42 aircraft within the A320neo family.

Aegean Air currently operates an all-Airbus fleet, so it should come as no surprise that the Greek carrier has opted to continue, in the interests of commonality. Specifically, the airline will order 30 members of the A320neo family (with at least 10 of these being placed for the larger A321neo, with options for further conversions). Of course, the MoU suggests the airline will eventually order 42 aircraft, so Aegean Air has options for twelve more planes.

Aegean currently operates 46 A320ceo aircraft – SX-DGZ is seen here in Manchester.

The final agreement with Airbus is estimated to be reached in June 2018 and will, of course, allow Aegean to increase capacity with new routes and more frequencies but also (in the longer term), replace their current fleet. In 2017, Aegean’s fleet consisted of 46 Airbus A320 family aircraft, along with 12 turboprops operating under the name of their subsidiary – Olympic Air, so this order could theoretically replace most of Aegean’s fleet in one swoop. Interestingly, however, Aegean has not named an engine supplier and has initiated negotiations with both engine manufacturers (CFM International or Pratt & Whitney).

“Today marks the beginning of new period of growth and development for AEGEAN. With the investment in new generation Airbus A320neo aircraft, we strengthen our competitiveness and provide a platform that empowers our people to further improve service to our passengers as well the, important, first impression we provide to visitors of our country.”

-mr eftichios vassilakis, vice chairman of Aegean air
Aegean Air’s current network, originating from Athens.

Aegean currently only operates flights within Europe and the Middle East, but clearly, the new aircraft, with increased range capabilities of additional 600 to 1,500 km (equivalent to 1 to 2 hours of extra flight hours), will enable the airline to expand further. Perhaps Aegean will be looking to emulate it’s neighbouring airlines such as Turkish, to create a hub in its Athens base. Traces of this approach can already be seen, as Athens acts as a connecting point for the Greek islands and Aegean now fly to destinations in the middle East such as Kuwait and Tehran. With aircraft such as the A321neo, the airline may be looking to launch flights to destinations such as Dubai, India and deeper Africa from it’s Athenian hub.

Ultimately, the order is important news for Aegean and Greece on the whole. The largest private investment in Greece will no doubt also bring benefit to the Greek population – with increased connectivity, comfort and tourism from their national carrier.

Air Belgium gets off to a flying start: Brussels-Hong Kong ON SALE and LAUNCHING 30th April

Air Belgium as a brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. With this reincarnation, it is intended to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of Brussels Charleroi Airport to Hong Kong – the only European carrier currently offering the prospect of a direct connection between Greater China and Belgium. Yesterday, Air Belgium took its biggest step yet on the road to inaugurating its Brussels-Hong Kong flights. In this article, we analyse Air Belgium’s plans for the future, frequencies, schedule and onboard service.

Air Belgium’s Airbus A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium). The airline now has two Airbus A340-300 aircraft: OO-ABA and -ABB.

In February, we recieved more information about Air Belgium’s business model. They aspire to have excellent customer service, with three classes of travel – including Economy, Premium & Business class. Economy Class will be configured in a 2-4-2 configuration, Premium offering a 2-3-2 set up and Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, staggered between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2. Once on board, the airline says its guests will be ‘immersed in a Belgian atmosphere’, with a broad supply of Belgian products. In Economy & Premium Economy, passengers will have the choice between two menus and Business Class travellers will be able to choose from three.

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Moving forward, the airline will offer a brand new Business Lounge at Brussels South-Charleroi airport. As of early 2019, customers will be welcomed in a brand new, dedicated premium terminal. Upon arrival, Premium and Business class travellers can drop their bags, complete the security check and continue to the luxury lounge. The airline even aspires to offer a car-plane transit time of just 20 minutes within this premium terminal.

Air Belgium’s A340 will be configured with four rows of Business Class, three rows of Premium Economy and the middle and rear portions of the aircraft will form the Economy class cabin.

Yesterday, Air Belgium took its biggest step yet on the road to launching flights. At 9am, on the 3rd April, Air Belgium opened its reservation platform. Air Belgium has confirmed that it will inaugurate its new link between Brussels and Hong Kong on the 30th April 2018, becoming the first European airline to link Belgium and the Far East directly. The airline will offer four non-stop services each week, leaving Brussels on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and leaving Hong Kong on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Under the IATA code of ‘KF’, the airline’s flights will be numbered KF851 and 852. The schedule will be as follows:

  • KF851 Leaving Brussels (CRL) at 1400, arriving Hong Kong (HKG) the following day at 0730, local time.
  • KF852 Leaving Hong Kong (HKG) at 1030, arriving back in Belgium at 1715.

Additionally, Air Belgium has further ambitions to connect Brussels to further destinations in China from this summer. Tickets to Hong Kong can be booked on, and will become available on Global Distribution Systems (GDS) and other travel agencies – such as Skyscanner – in the coming weeks.

Air Belgium continues to tap into a niche in the Europe-Asia air market and will no doubt revolutionise the experience of flying intercontinental, with a breath of fresh air, with a completely Belgian approach. With big ambitions, the airline will need to establish itself as a new force in the aviation industry quickly. However, with competitive products, three cabin classes and frequent services. the patriotic Belgian carrier is off to a flying start.

Route Review: March 2018 + Route Development Of The Month

This month sees the start of the summer 2018 season and with it a raft of new flights. Along with some last minute announcements for the summer, the route development season is also heating up for the winter. This month saw the first ever direct link between China & Edinburgh/Dublin announced, for a mid summer launch, amidst other important announcements. See my pick of the month’s most important developments below:

This month’s Route Developments

Air New Zealand – Complementing Air NZ’s existing flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, the New Zealand national carrier will launch ultra-long haul non-stop services from Auckland to Chicago O’Hare. The new service will be operated by one of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and will begin on 30th November 2018, operating with the following schedule:

NZ26 Auckland-Chicago departing 8:10PM arriving 4:15PM [Wed, Fri, Sun]
NZ27 Chicago-Auckland departing 8:10PM arriving 6:30AM (+2) [Wed, Fri, Sun]

Air New Zealand’s other US routes are operated by the airline’s Boeing 777s.

Virgin Atlantic – After pulling out from the Cape Town market a couple of years ago, Virgin is expanding its Johannesburg operation (with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft). In this coming winter season, the airline will double its existing daily services to twice daily. Although the airline will continue to have a notable absence in its South African network (namely Cape Town), the new flight will offer more convenient connections onwards from Jo’Burg to the Cape.

Focusing on Virgin’s transatlantic operations, the airline will operate all 7 of their weekly Manchester-New York JFK flights with Boeing 747-400 equipment from late-May 2018, as part of its summer schedule that Callum wrote about earlier this week.  This represents an unprecedented hike in capacity from last summer – when the airline operated all of these daily services with an Airbus A330-300.

Delta Airlines owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic

Thomas Cook Airlines – Thomas Cook continue their expansion out of Manchester with a flight to Jamaica. Following the increase of their US flights from Manchester (specifically the addition of a Manchester-Seattle route from May this year), the airline will return to the Jamaican market with a route to Montego Bay. It will begin in Summer 2019, operating with Airbus A330-200 aircraft on a weekly basis. It will face competition from TUI UK – a more established carrier in this particular market.

Hainan Airlines – Last month, we broke the news on the possible addition of direct flights from Beijing to Ireland and Scotland. In mid-March, China’s only five star airline made a move on is expected expansion. In addition to its new London Heathrow operation and existing Beijing-Manchester services, Hainan will launch a 4-weekly Airbus A330-300 flight from Beijing-Edinburgh & Dublin. Both airports will receive non-stop services from the Chinese capital, as it will operate twice-weekly as a PEK-DUB-EDI-PEK routing and twice-weekly as a PEK-EDI-DUB-PEK triangle. The new flight is expected to boost the Scottish economy and attract more business to the area. The question is: will Hainan commit even further to the market and announce the expected new Guangzhou to Manchester route? Only time will tell.

Hainan’s economy product on the A330

Cobalt Air – Amidst rapid expansion (most recently with the announcement of a new London Heathrow-Larnaca flight), Cobalt Air will enter the Greece-UK market, with a new service from London Gatwick to Athens. A new twice-weekly service from London’s Gatwick Airport to Athens on Tuesdays and Saturdays, effective Saturday 31st March, 2018. Launch fares are available to book now from £49.00 one way. The new Athens service will be the second London Gatwick route for the carrier, alongside its existing six times a week Gatwick to Larnaca service. Both routes are operated with Airbus A320 aircraft , with a business and economy class cabin. Although Cobalt already flies from Athens to both Larnaca and Paphos, this will be the first route to Northern Europe originating in the Greek market and marks a major development in Cobalt’s business.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration, will be available between London and Athens.

Loganair – Loganair will inaugurate flights from newly renamed ‘Carlisle Lake District’ airport on June 4th this year. They will operate services to London (Southend) – as a partner of Stobart Air, who own both Carlisle and Southend airports – Dublin and Belfast. Cumbria is a notoriously tricky place to access, so with the development of Carlisle’s airport and a link to London, hopefully this marks the beginning for a tourism boom in the Lake District.

 Lufthansa- The German national carrier will remove it’s mainline long haul services from the German capital. Back in Autumn of 2017, Lufthansa resumed its long awaited services from Berlin-Tegel to New York JFK. Then, the plan was to transfer them to Lufthansa’s low cost subsidiary, Eurowings, by March 2018. However, it now transpires, that with the start of the summer schedule, Lufthansa will axe the route all together. Lufthansa’s CEO claims the route was unprofitable and the current timings appealed to low-yielding leisure travellers, rather than the business travellers the airline needs to run the route profitably.

Qatar Airways – Qatar already flies to Manchester, Heathrow, Birmingham, Edinburgh & Cardiff, in the UK, but earlier this month, they announced a resumption of services to London’s Gatwick airport – following a seven year hiatus. CEO Akbar Al Baker said the reason for withdrawal was the lack of transfer traffic, after all the US carriers moved to London Heathrow following the Openskies EU-US agreement. Today, Al Baker says they now have an increased feed from IAG partner British Airways. The services are expected to operate with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment, on a double daily basis to begin with.

Raj flew Qatar Airways back in February (the A350-1000 from Toulouse and the A380 from DOH-LHR)

NEW Route Development of the Month

Here, I’ll pick what I think is the most important and exciting route development of each month. This month, the most significant announcement was Hainan’s first ever non-stop services from Beijing-Capital to Edinburgh and Dublin. In 2016 Hainan pioneered Manchester’s first ever Mainland China connection and, two years later, they’ll do the same to another secondary city in the UK and Ireland’s capital.

Edinburgh will now be connected to China via a regular scheduled flight.

The new connection promises a boost in tourism, investment and a new momentum in the Scottish and Irish economies. In addition, for us aviation enthusiasts, the new flight is expected to have fifth-freedom rights between Edinburgh and Dublin, hopefully meaning that there’s a new short-haul widebody route on the horizon. See how myself, Raj and the LondonSpotter team fly wide-body aircraft intra-Europe in our earlier post.

Featured photo courtesy of Mackenzie Waddell (@fl36zero)

Air Belgium recieve their Air Operating Certificate; will launch flights in April

Air Belgium as a brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. This time, it is designed to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of Brussels Charleroi Airport to Hong Kong – the only European carrier currently offering the prospect of a direct connection between Greater China and Belgium. Flight will be bookable via SkyScanner.

Last month, we recieved more information about Air Belgium’s business model. They aspire to have excellent customer service (even offering a premium terminal, with a car to plane transit time of 20 minutes, moving forward), with three classes of travel – including Economy, Premium & Business class. Economy Class will be configured in a 2-4-2 configuration, Premium offering a 2-3-2 set up and Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, staggered between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2.

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On Tuesday, Air Belgium obtained its Air Operating Certificate – commonly known as AOC. Mandatory for all airlines, the air operator’s certificate has been provided by the Direction générale Transport aérien (DGTA), the body in charge of the supervision and the regulation of airline transport in Belgium. The air operator’s certificate demonstrates the capacity of the airline to guarantee safe and responsible airline transport.

This is a huge step in Air Belgium’s journey to realising its vision – offering non-stop, consumer friendly services – based around the philosophy of offering a ‘fresh approach’. A booking facility is estimated to open on Air Belgium’s website within the next few days and the first flight (pioneering the non-stop connection between Charleroi and Hong Kong) is currently estimated to take off on the 16th April 2018.

What’s more, the airline has big ambitions. When asked about the airline’s routes, Air Belgium’s CEO said: “Assuming there is no further delay at Airbus, we will start flying to Hong Kong about four times a week. We plan on increasing this to six flights a week by the fall of 2018. And we’ll be serving six other destinations on the Chinese mainland as of May 2018.” (Airline Geeks)

Air Belgium’s Airbus A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium)

As Air Belgium finalises its fresh approach, obtaining its AOC and launching the schedule of their flights, I am confident that they will pitch their airline as a breath of fresh air, tapping in to a niche in the Belgian aviation market. By mid April, Air Belgium’s patriotic Airbus A340-300s will be traversing continents and establishing themselves as a new force in the Europe-Asia air market.

BA/AA’s Race To The Bottom: Basic Economy Transatlantic

British Airways is also to eliminate centre tray-tables in Club Europe

Over the past few years, US airlines have been introducing basic economy on domestic routes – in a bid to compete with the increasing range and flexibility of low cost carriers like JetBlue, Spirit Airlines & Southwest. American introduced basic economy early last year — they first rolled it out in 10 markets, and then over the summer they rolled it on virtually all domestic flights. The idea behind basic economy is to offer lower fares in a bid to attract customers from other low cost airlines and customers can choose regular economy if they want to continue with the status quo. In reality, basic economy replaced regular economy prices, and the fares for the economy service they offered previously simply increased. I’m all for flexibility – passengers selecting only what they need on any given flight – but the US airlines took their customers for granted.

Now, American Airlines and their oneworld partners will implement Basic Economy on long-haul routes. As of April 1, 2018, transatlantic oneworld airlines (American, British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia) will begin to offer basic economy fares. For British Airways, this comes as the latest episode in a string of cutbacks and changes – following the appointment of ex-Vueling CEO Alex Cruz as British Airways’ Chariman and CEO.

So far – out of all the oneworld Partner airlines – only American Airlines has given great detail about what Basic Economy on transatlantic flights will look like. According to their press release:

Boarding: Trans-Atlantic Basic Economy customers, including those originating with a domestic leg, will board in Group 8. Elite customers and eligible AAdvantage® credit card members will continue to receive Priority or preferred boarding even when purchasing this fare.
Carry-on Bags: The carry-on bag allowance for all international Main Cabin fares, including trans-Atlantic Basic Economy, is one personal item and one larger carry-on. This is unchanged from international Main Cabin fares today.
Checked Bags: Regular Main Cabin fares will continue to include one checked bag for free. A new fee will apply for the first checked bag on trans-Atlantic Basic Economy.
Connections: Customers flying on a domestic Basic Economy leg connecting to a trans-Atlantic Basic Economy ticket will travel under the rules of the international ticket, including the carry-on bag allowance.
Inflight experience: Regardless of whether they are traveling on a Basic Economy fare or a regular Main Cabin fare, all Main Cabin customers will have the same experience.
Seat assignments: Free seat assignments are made automatically when customers check in. Customers flying trans-Atlantic Basic Economy can purchase a seat assignment at any time.
Tickets: Non-refundable. No same-day flight change or same-day standby.

Here is a table which shows the differences in a visual format:

A visual representation of the changes.

Overall, the introduction of Basic Economy is meant to give passengers more flexibility – but in reality will increase the prices of regular economy fares and serve as another example of BA cutbacks on passenger service in recent years.

What do you think about basic economy on transatlantic flights? Get in touch on social media. 

british airways are diluting an already poor club europe

In other news, British Airways will also be eliminating it’s central tray tables (between two regular economy class seats) in Club Europe. British Airways’ upcoming A320neo and A321neo aircraft won’t feature these tables on the middle seats in business class. British Airways has 35 of these aircraft joining their fleet starting this year (including 25 A320neos and 10 A321neos), and they’ll be used to replace some of their older Airbus narrowbody aircraft. The middle seat will still be blocked – but simply designated for ‘Your Space’ – a concept currently employed by Lufthansa and others.

The Club Europe seats British Airways now offers on domestic flights (specifically, out of London Gatwick)

This is clearly an attempt to make it easier for the airline to adjust the size of its Club Europe cabin – depending on the demand on a particular route. But this is another example of British Airways cutting corners at the expense of passenger comfort. I recently flew on Cobalt Air, between the UK and Cyprus. Their business class offers 40″ of seat pitch, a spacious 2-2 configuration and a dine-on demand menu.

A sharp contrast; Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class

All in all, its unsurprising to see British Airways implementing these new cost-cutting measures. Their short haul fleet will only offer 29″ of seat pitch moving forward, without recline – and we all remember the introduction of the M&S BOB menu… Ultimately, however, customers can show their dismay with their wallets, and take their custom elsewhere – to airlines like Cobalt or Qatar who are revolutionising travel in their own particular field.


Cobalt Air Business & Economy Airbus A320 Flight Review

Featuring Cobalt Air’s New Airbus A320 Business Class & Economy Cabins

At 0920am, the gate was announced, and I made my way to the boarding area. After already completing one five-hour rotation from Larnaca, my aircraft was enjoying some well-earned rest on the tarmac. Cobalt Air flies to Manchester year-round and has done since 2016. In the winter season the route operates twice a week and, in summer, increases to three-weekly. Having been met by the dispatcher at check-in, I was able to take some photos of the empty cabin before the rest of the guests boarded and have a chat with the cabin crew.

5B-DCY sitting on Manchester’s apron at Terminal 1.

As I stepped onto the aircraft, my initial impression was that the cabin looked airy, comfortable and welcoming. It was also modern, fitted with Recaro seats which offer adjustable headrests and a substantial recline. Although a minor detail, the boarding music enhanced the relaxing and tranquil atmosphere onboard; as the flight was not full – boarding was done in an orderly and efficient manner, without being chaotic.

the cabins:

My Cypriot chariot for the outbound flight – 5B-DCY – is one of 6 aircraft in Cobalt’s fleet and is fitted with 12 Business Class seats in a 2-2 configuration and, as with all Airbus A320 aircraft, economy class was fitted in a 3-3 configuration and began in Row 4, with 144 seats. Obviously, the bulkhead seats were very comfortable; the rest of the Economy seats offered 30” of seat pitch, adjustable headrests and substantial recline. All of the Business Class seats offer a 40” seat pitch and lots of width – with a foot rest and several seat controls, allowing you to find a comfortable position. On my inbound flight, I flew on one of the airline’s Airbus A319 aircraft which are configured in an all-economy class setup with 144 seats. Cobalt received this A319 (5B-DCU) in November 2016 and had a much more dated cabin, but equally comfortable.

The Economy Class cabin. All economy class seats offer adjustable headrests and substantial recline.
business class: cobalt shines above its competitors

The new Business Class – introduced in December 2017 – is where Cobalt really shines above its competitors. British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and others offer an Economy Class setup, with a blocked middle seat. Whilst this is convenient for the airline and easy to amend depending on the load of a flight, for passengers, it offers little to no more comfort than those sitting at the back of the plane. Contrastingly, Cobalt’s Business Class looks more like a short-haul premium product you’d find in Asia or a US airline’s domestic ‘First Class’.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration.

For longer flights, this really does offer all of the comfort you would need. When flying in Business Class, guests will experience several amenities offered by the airline which make the experience more seamless and tailored around you:

• Express Check-In Lanes & Priority Boarding
• 2x 20kg Baggage Allowance
• Dine On-Demand Menu (just ask a crew member when you are ready to eat!). Of course, when flying on a Business Class ticket, you receive a full complementary meal service. If you are on a flight when you can simply upgrade to the seat, you will have the same food choices as economy passengers.

Cobalt’s Business Class offers 40″ of seat pitch onboard.

The full Business Class service is currently only available on routes to Gatwick, Heathrow, Athens, Abu Dhabi & Moscow – but I found you can upgrade to the cabin on other flights for just €75, without the additional benefits. This offers an attractive proposition for business travellers and, if I were to travel regularly between Europe and Cyprus/Middle East on business, I would undoubtedly choose this Business Class product over Cobalt’s other competitors. I simply cannot credit Cobalt enough for the introduction of this “proper” Business Class and its introduction reveals the pioneering and innovative attitude at the heart of the airline.

The comfy recliner seats also had all the amenities you’d expect for Business travellers; large tray tables, a power port and lots of space.

It’s also interesting to note that Cobalt is also now offering connections through their Larnaca hub. For example, you can now book flights from Manchester through to Tel Aviv & Beirut – providing a more comfortable, seamless and relaxing alternative connecting through the modern and simplistic airport of Larnaca, in comparison to other major European airlines with often chaotic and confusing hubs.

onboard service: reflecting cyprus

The Out of the Blue menu included Grilled Chicken, honey and mustard wraps, halloumi and lountza (a Cypriot meat), baguettes and a variety of Primo Gusto Pizzas. There was also a range of alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, hot drinks and the obligatory Pot Noodle selection. The prices were quite reasonable – in line with most other airlines – and the airline accepts both British Pounds & Euros onboard. Although I was impressed by the menu, as the airline makes the transition from a low-cost carrier to a full-service operator with the introduction of a designated Business Class cabin, I would like to see complementary beverages and snacks available, or at least at a lower price – especially on longer flights such as mine from Manchester & London to Cyprus.

I liked the fact that the airline was inventive with its menu choices – reflecting aspects of the country it represents. The crew also oozed typical Cypriot hospitality and were very personable, genuine and polite. Celine (the cabin manager) and indeed the rest of the crew were jovial and welcoming – especially so to the children onboard. Also, Cobalt being a Cypriot airline, I was able to use some of my Greek language skills with the cabin crew. Celine even commented that my Greek was ‘amazing’ – but I shrugged off the comment, being the modest person that I am!!

Cobalt claims to be ‘the favourite airline of the Cypriot people’ and, speaking to the locals, it seems to be so. Many believe Cobalt harvested the best of the now defunct national carrier – Cyprus Airways – then modernised it and instilled ambition. The airline is also growing rapidly, adding routes to London Heathrow, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Mykonos, Geneva and Abu Dhabi from its Larnaca hub this year. It appears that Cobalt Air is also committed to improving the medium-haul travel experience more generally. The airline has recently signed an agreement with Bluebox Aviation Systems to offer wireless streaming of in-flight entertainment to passengers onboard. Bluebox provides wireless content streamed to passenger devices in any aircraft cabin, including film, TV, audio, games and other digital content accessed through any web browser. The device can be stored in overhead lockers and each box’s single swappable and rechargeable battery offers the equivalent of delivering 15 hours of streamed video content to 50 passengers simultaneously. Yet again, this is an example of another area where Cobalt have distinguished themselves from their competitors.

my conclusion: cobalt are unique

Overall, Cobalt are a unique airline; in the words of the CEO Andrew Madar, “not LCC, not legacy, just Cobalt”.

Cobalt is certainly a hybrid carrier. With a business class of this calibre, it is clear that the airline is making a transition from low cost to full service carrier.

Medium-haul flying is often argued to be the most uncomfortable and tiring; 4-5 hours on a narrowbody aircraft, with no entertainment, poor legroom and lacklustre food. However, Cobalt seem to be committed to improving medium haul flying – whether that’s from the introduction of a spacious new Business cabin, to the friendliness of the crew. As they grow, with big ambitions for the future (including working intensively on a business plan so as to connect China, Africa and the US with Cyprus), I am certain that their ‘small airline, one big family’ feel won’t wear away. Despite big ambitions, Cobalt continues to put Larnaca back on the map as a regional air hub and contributes massively to the Cypriot economy.

With massive growth and big ambitions for the future, Cobalt is putting Larnaca on the map as an aviation hub of the future.

I hope that more people across Europe can turn their back on traditional holiday airlines and business carriers and sample a little slice of Cyprus in the sky. Flight bookings can be made on Cobalt’s website or here!

Disclaimer: This trip was provided by Cobalt Air, but I was not pressured to express specific opinions in any way. All the views expressed are fully my own and if you would like to ask me any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

The Alitalia Killer? Meridiana is Now Officially “Air Italy”

Meridiana has a long history. Headquartered in Olbia, the company was established under the name of Alisarda on 29 March 1963, with the aim of promoting tourism to the island of Sardinia. In 1991 the name was changed to Meridiana. Following a merger with charter carrier Eurofly and the acquisition of the charter company Air Italy, the airline became the most important Italian player in international leisure flights.

Meridiana uses Boeing 737 aircraft to operate its extensive network of internal Italian flights – their business model will soon be changing.

After the 49% acquisition of Meridiana by Qatar Airways – in December 2017 – it was announced that their growth would be focused towards new domestic, medium-haul and long haul destinations from Milan Malpensa. This represented a major strategic shift for the airline – as previously it focused on leisure flights and niche routes (such as their famous Naples & Palermo to New York operations). Furthermore, in February of this year, a new corporate identity was presented and the company was rebranded as Air Italy. 

Air Italy’s new corporate identity.

Today, aviation history was made. Air Italy was born – under the historic Meridiana “IG” flight code. The first long haul flight of the new airline, IG3254, departed this morning at 2am from Milan Malpensa airport to Zanzibar, while the first domestic flight – IG1111 – from Olbia to Rome Fiumicino left the Costa Smeralda airport at 7am.

The planned interior of Air Italy’s A330s

The integration of the operating structures of the two carriers in the new Air Italy will deliver a better and more efficient organisation focused on two main bases; Olbia for short-haul flights and Milan Malpensa for international and intercontinental flights. The current fleet of B737 and B767 aircraft will maintain the Meridiana livery until they are phased out, while from next spring 3 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 5 Airbus A330-200 will join the fleet with the new Air Italy livery.

Unfortunately, with every new development in this industry, their is always a farewell. Recently we’ve waved goodbye to KLM’s Fokker fleet, United’s 747 and many more. Coinciding with the launch of the new Air Italy, came the exit of I-SMER, the last of the 18 MD80 aircraft, that for over 30 years, formed the backbone of Meridiana’s fleet. Airport and airline employees waved off the MD80 from Olbia earlier this week in an emotional farewell – not just to the aircraft, but also to the much-loved and quintessentially Italian Meridiana brand.

Despite the sad farewell to Meridiana, Air Italy has big plans. Beginning from

May 2018, Air Italy will add new domestic routes from Milan to Rome, Naples, Palermo, Catania, Lamezia Terme scheduled for connection to its newest long-range destinations including New York, Miami and Bangkok (starting in September 2018). Its network also includes direct international flights from Milan Malpensa to Accra, Cairo, Dakar, Havana, Lagos, Mombasa, Moscow, Zanzibar and, from its Olbia hub, year-round scheduled services to Rome, Milan Linate and seasonal ones to a wide range of domestic and regional destinations.

Flights on Air Italy can now be purchased here.

What do you think about Air Italy’s branding? Get in touch with us on social media!

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Route Review: February 2018 – Ryanair Slashes Glasgow Base

The summer season is starting in just under a month. This inevitably means an influx of new routes and services for the summer season. Whilst some airlines are rounding up their announcements for the summer programme, others are gearing up for launches in the upcoming winter season. In this article, I round up my favourite route development stories of the month.

Ryanair – Ryanair will increase their new route from Manchester-Belfast International from once to twice daily. Following its initial launch in March, the route will increase to twice daily at the start of the winter season in October.

However, in more significant news, Ryanair will be closing its 1-aircraft base in Glasgow (GLA). It will reduce its presence from 23 routes to just three and up to 300 jobs could be lost in the city because of the move, with a potential fall in around 500,000 passengers. Ryanair’s COO blames the “weaker Glasgow market” and the effects of Brexit on Scottish tourism. However, Ryanair will transfer five routes to Edinburgh – hosting 45 routes from the capital in Winter 2018. To me, it seems like a convenient excuse to blame Brexit – then transfer your operations across the Scottish Lowlands to a city still affected – both by APD and by Brexit. It is more likely to be as a result of dissatisfaction on behalf of Ryanair with the fees or service of Glasgow – especially as they remain committed to their nearby Prestwick base.

AeroMexico – The Mexican national carrier is expected to increase its London Heathrow-Mexico City operation in April. From April 2nd, AeroMexico has scheduled its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to operate the route on Mondays and Thursdays; perhaps giving Heathrow spotters the chance to see the intricate Quetzalcoatl livery, which adorns one of the -9 aircraft.

Cobalt Air – The start-up Cypriot national carrier is expanding at a rapid rate. In January, the new route to London Heathrow was announced – meaning the airline now flies to three London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick & Stansted). Additionally, it looks like the airline will also be adding a second destination in Germany – launching a Larnaca-Dusseldorf operation from May 3rd, complementing their present Frankfurt flights.

Emirates – From June 2018, Emirates will launch a new flight to Auckland – this time routing via Denpasar (Bali). The new service will also have fifth freedom rights for the Bali-New Zealand sector.

Air Malta – The Maltese flag carrier has launched a new partnership with London Southend. As I wrote about on Tuesday, the new service will operate to three destinations – Catania in Sicily, Cagliari in Sardinia and to the carriers Maltese base in Valetta. In total, this will mean Southend Airport gains 7-weekly flights and a new airline, from May 4th 2018.

A new partnership will allow Southend to grow even more.

Air Italy – In 2017, Meridiana launched its new transatlantic services from Milan Malpensa- to operate using A330 aircraft. This month, as the airline was rebranded to Air Italy by Qatar Airways – they announced an additional new route to Bangkok. The airline is turning its focus away from its previous bases of Palermo and Naples, and instead trying to take some of the market Alitalia previously dominated for business flights to and from Milan.

Meridiana uses Boeing 737 aircraft to operate its extensive network of internal Italian flights – their business model will soon be changing.

El Al – El Al Israel are also expected to launch flights to Manchester, from their base in Tel Aviv Ben Gurion. The flights will operate on Thursdays and Sundays with Boeing 737-800 equipment. It is currently unclear whether the flights will be operated by El Al, their UP subsidiary or another chartered airline. Although not formally announced by the airline, the flights are bookable on Tel Aviv Airport’s website, beginning on the 1st July.

Up by El Al at Berlin (Credit to @ber.spotter on Instagram)

Rossiya Airlines – Rossiya Airlines to operate the Saint Petersburg-London Gatwick service under Aeroflot flight numbers from the 25th March 2018, once daily, with A319 equipment.

Air Europa – The second largest Spanish legacy carrier will operate some short haul flights with its newest widebody equipment. Air Europa will operate the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner from Madrid to London Gatwick & Amsterdam (12th & 19th May and 28th April respectively)

That’s all from me this month. I’ll be back next month with more route development updates for you all.

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