Flying is slower now, than it was in 2008 – this is why

The aviation industry is constantly evolving, with faster, safer, smoother and more efficient aircraft. In recent years, you only have to look at the new aircraft models on the market to see the progress being made: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 (both of which are designed to revolutionise long-haul ravel) and the newest players in the short-haul scene – the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo. So why, in an age when air travel is more advanced than ever before, are airlines claiming that it takes longer to get from A to B than a decade ago? There is one simply answer. An industry-wide practice, known as ‘schedule padding’.

What is schedule padding?

An investigation by Which? has revealed that flight times this summer are up to 35 minutes longer than they were in 2008.

It’s clear that planes aren’t physically flying slower. In fact, in January of this year, Norwegian set a record for the fastest subsonic transatlantic flight recorded on a commercial aircraft – taking 5hrs13mins to fly from New York-JFK to London Gatwick. The journey was blocked at 6hrs30mins – a difference of 77 minutes between actual flight time and scheduled flight time. This meant that, although the flight left the States 24 minutes behind schedule, it still arrived 53 minutes ahead its allotted arrival time.

Planes aren’t physically flying slower – Norwegian set a subsonic flight-time record earlier this year.

This is the art of schedule padding: Norwegian was able to turn an initially delayed flight into a record-breaking one.

A different example is Aer Lingus’ flights from London Heathrow to Dublin. EI151, operating daily between London and Dublin, is blocked at a flight time of 80 minutes:However, the actual average flight time for this journey is 51 minutes, just under 2/3 of the scheduled time set by the airline.

Therefore, under normal circumstances, this allows Aer Lingus to leave London up to 29 minutes late, yet still claim to be on-time upon arrival in Dublin.

Who are the perpetrators and why do they do it?

According to flight timetables, approximately 76 out of 125 flights take longer now than they did a decade ago. According to the Which? study, EasyJet, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair are all guilty. The report found that British Airways’ flights from London to New York-JFK, Singapore and Bangkok all took 20 minutes longer this year, than in 2008.

According to their timetables, Virgin Atlantic’s London Heathrow to New York Newark flight is now scheduled to take 35 minutes longer than it did previously.

It will take you longer to get to Berlin this year, too: London to Berlin Schönefeld flights operated by both Ryanair and EasyJet took 10 and 19 minutes longer, respectively. And no, this can’t be blamed on Brexit. It is because airlines are becoming more savvy with their punctuality. Increasing the scheduled time for a flight gives them more margin for error and makes a delay less likely to cause a damaging knock-on effect throughout the day. Additionally, it allows them to bolster their punctuality ratings.

Last year, Hong Kong Airlines flew to the top of the punctuality league tables, with a whopping 94.8% of all flights being reported as arriving ‘on-time’. To begin with, the airline was praised until it emerged that they had simply extended flight times. To his credit, the airline’s vice chairman, Tang King-shing, was honest. He admitted, ‘We saw on-time performance was a problem, so we allowed extra time.’

Even though EasyJet and Ryanair both increased their flight times, they have still suffered a drop in punctuality since 2009.

Another potential reason is to avoid paying out compensation. Under EU regulation 261/2004, if you are delayed by more than two hours an airline has to provide you with:

  • two free phone calls, faxes or emails
  • free meals and refreshments appropriate to the delay
  • free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.

Compensation is even more costly if the delay in question is longer. If an airline allows itself more time to reach its destination, they are less likely to be delayed. Hence, they are less likely to have to compensate customers in any way.

Finally, one potential explanation could be that airlines are flying planes slower than they can actually fly. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair all suggested that this is something they do.

Ryanair suggested that flying planes at slower speeds allowed it to offer low fares to their customers.

The concept behind this is that airlines reduce fuel consumption, translating into less fuel use, cheaper operating costs and – for the consumer – cheaper tickets. This could be one potential upside of schedule padding for the average passenger.

Are there any excuses for schedule padding?

British Airways has said that routings to and from the Far East have had to be adjusted for security reasons, including the tragedy of MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine.

European airspace is also busier now than it was in 2008. Flight taxi times at congested airports, such as London-Heathrow have increased dramatically and airlines are clearly compensating for this.

It has also been argued that padding airline flight times gives customers more reliable indicators on which to plan meetings, onward transport or flight connections as a small delay wouldn’t necessarily cause disruption.

Conclusion

Schedule padding isn’t always a negative thing and, due to the reasons mentioned above, it isn’t always an airline’s fault. However, there are clearly ulterior motives for schedule padding and airline companies should be transparent with their customers about how long they’ll spend in the air.

Aviation Round-Up: 23rd August 2018 – New Routes, Deliveries and More


Routes News

British Airways – Bound for Pittsburgh 

Britain’s Flag Carrier continues its rapid expansion in the US this month, with the announcement of a new connection between London-Heathrow and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. British Airways will operate 4x weekly services on a year-round basis, from 2nd April 2019. Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment will operate the new service, with 35 Business Class seats, 25 Premium Economy seats and 154 Economy Class seats.

British Airways has expanded rapidly in the US in recent years – to New Orleans, Austin, Nashville and Fort Lauderdale, just to name a few.

BA will face competition from WOW Air, Condor and Delta (whom all operate seasonal flights across the Atlantic) to Reykjavik, Frankfurt and Paris-CDG respectively. However, British Airways will provide Pittsburgh’s only nonstop connection to Europe throughout the year.

Qantas – A fifth International destination for the 787 Dreamliner

Qantas launched the first ever Aus-UK non-stop flight back in March.

Qantas’ 787-9 Dreamliner is set to be deployed on selected rotations from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to Hong Kong. This marks the fifth international destination for the Dreamliner, which currently operates the non-stop Perth to London flight. The Dreamliner will represent a significant upgrade for passengers on Australia-HK routings, as they will have access to the Australian carrier’s newest products in all cabin classes.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – Resumes flights to Boston

The Dutch national carrier has announced that it will be resuming flights to the US city of Boston, beginning in Spring 2019, from its Amsterdam-Schipol hub.

KLM’s new Amsterdam-Boston flight will be operated by a 292-seater Airbus A330-300.

The three-weekly services (KL617/618) will be operated by Airbus A330-300 aircraft, and will add to existing frequencies operated by KLM’s joint-venture partner, Delta. From July 2019, the service is planned to increase to four-weekly – with an additional frequency on Mondays.

Cathay Pacific – Opening a NEW U.S. Gateway

Cathay Pacific’s newest Business Class product, onboard the Airbus A350, in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Cathay Pacific will launch a new service to Seattle, beginning next Spring, from its Hong Kong hub. The flight will represent Seattle’s only connection to Hong Kong, as Delta recently withdrew its flight between the two cities and will be operated by the Airbus A350-900, featuring three cabin classes. The expansion means Cathay Pacific will now serve 10 destinations in North America.

Thomas Cook Airlines – Manchester Transatlantic Flights Tweaked

Thomas Cook Airlines has amended its summer 2019 schedules for its transatlantic flights from Manchester.

Thomas Cook will operate to 6 US destinations nonstop from Manchester in 2019.

The headline changes include an increase from 2 to 3-weekly flights on the recently inaugurated Manchester-Seattle route, and increases in flights to New York JFK and Orlando International. The airline will also resume a once-weekly flight from Manchester to Jamaica, choosing Montego Bay as its Jamaican gateway.

Wizz Air – A raft of new U.K. expansion

Following year of rapid expansion in the U.K. market, low-cost carrier Wizz Air has announced an additional five new routes.

Wizz Air has expanded rapidly from London Luton this year, with the launch of a new UK AOC.

The airline will operate daily services from London Luton to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and thrice weekly flights to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. From Liverpool, the airline is also initiating expansion – to the Romanian cities of Bucharest, Iasi and Cluj.

Jet Airways – Increases Manchester operation

Jet Airways has taken the decision to increase the frequency of its upcoming Mumbai-Manchester link – 3 months prior to its launch. One additional weekly frequency will be added, meaning the flight will operate five times per week. The Indian airline will operate an Airbus A330-200 on the route, in a two-class configuration.

Jet Airways’ new route will offer an economic boost to the North of England and will stimulate new business and leisure travel demand.

China Eastern – Gatwick gains Shanghai link

China Eastern will launch a new nonstop route to Shanghai Pudong to London’s second busiest airport – beginning December 7th. The new flight will operate on a thrice weekly basis, with Airbus A330-200 equipment. Gatwick’s CEO – Stewart Wingate – said the following:

”I’m delighted to welcome China Eastern to Gatwick and look forward to the start of this vital new link to Shanghai which, like London, is undoubtedly one of the world’s most important cities and business hubs”

-STEWART WINGATE, GATWICK CEO

Qatar Airways – Heads to Gothenburg, Sweden

LondonSpotter Author – Callum Johnson – reviewed Qatar Airways’ Boeing 787-8 Business Class earlier this year.

Qatar Airways has operated flights to the Swedish capital, Stockholm, for over 10 years and operates nonstop connections from Doha to Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. However, this year, Qatar Airways will expand further in Scandinavia, with the launch of a new nonstop flight to Gothenburg. The 5x weekly operation will inaugurate on 12th December, operated by Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner equipment. It is thought that the new route will provide easier connections from Gothenburg to the Middle East, Africa and Asia – with no competition from Qatar Airways’ Gulf rivals at present.


Deliveries

The last few weeks saw more Airbus A320neo aircraft emerge from factories in Hamburg and Toulouse, including Lufthansa’s first example adorned with the airline’s new livery. 

Lufthansa

German flag-carrier Lufthansa has recieved its first Airbus A320neo, featuring the airline’s reimagined livery in the past month.

The aircraft is registered D-AINK and becomes Lufthansa’s 11th example of an A320neo, marking the first new delivery of a short haul aircraft for the airline since November 2017.


Other Aviation Stories

American Airlines Makes Changes to ‘Basic Economy’

American Airlines will make its ‘Basic Economy’ product a little more bearable, with a new change coming into effect as of 5th September. Basic Economy fares will once again include the ability to take one carry-on bag onboard, free of charge.

American even offers basic economy, when flying Transatlantic.

American’s President claims this is about making basic economy more ‘competitive’, although this is clearly a climb down from the initial proposals for Basic Economy.

“Basic Economy is working well in the markets where we offer it, and we continue to see more than 60 percent of customers buy up to Main Cabin when offered a choice. Removing the bag restriction will make Basic Economy more competitive, allowing us to offer this low-fare product to more customers.”

-Robert isom, American airlines president

Sea-Tac Incident: Stolen Q400 Closes Airport Before Crashing

At 20:00 local time in Seattle yesterday, an empty passenger aircraft (operated by Horizon Air) was stolen and crashed by an airline employee.

Authorities said the man had made “an unauthorised take-off” late on Friday local time, forcing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close.

Seattle airport was forced to temporarily close; delays can be seen on numerous late-night departures from Sea-Tac.

Although unnerving, the local Sheriff’s Office said that the incident was “not a terrorist incident” and identified the airline employee responsible as a 29 year old man, local to the area.

Alaska Airlines – sister carrier of Horizon Air – has acknowledge the ‘unauthorised take-off’, as has Seattle-Tacoma Airport itself.

Two F-15 Fighter Jets were scrambled from Portland Airport to pursue the Bombardier Q400 aircraft. However, officials have confirmed that neither of the fighter jets were involved or had any role in the crash when the plane came down about an hour later in the south of Ketron Island – 30 miles south of Sea-Tac airport.

Why did the employee do what he did?

A conversation could be heard on a live-stream of ATC, between the air traffic controller and the employee – referred to as ‘Rich’ or ‘Richard’. Prior to the crashing of the 76-seater aircraft, Rich could be heard saying:

“I’ve got a lot of people that care about me. It’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it, until now.”

The air traffic controllers remained remarkably calm throughout, despite the deeply saddening situation unfolding in front of them. My thoughts go out to Richard’s family and friends affected by this.

What happens now?

The FBI have taken over the investigation of the distressing incident, according to a local police department. There is no doubt that tricky questions will be raised about how the employee was able to ‘steal’ this aircraft – the notion that, at one of the USA’s largest airports, a man can simply take-off with an empty aircraft is incomprehensible. Had this incident unfolded in a different way, it had the potential to cause mass loss of life.

Horizon Air’s COO Constance Van Muehlen made the below statement, late last night:

Flights from Seattle resumed around 90 minutes later, despite being temporarily grounded.

A321LRs will allow Aer Lingus to add TWO NEW Transatlantic Routes

Aer Lingus’ Chief Executive Stephen Kavanagh has, this week, confirmed that the airline will be deciding on two new North American destinations, from a shortlist of three possibilities. The Irish Times reports that two likely destinations are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Montréal – in addition to a possible destination in the Midwest.

Aer Lingus already offers connections from Europe to 13 US destinations, via its Dublin hub.

These latest plans for transatlantic expansion come after years of steady, yet sustained growth in the market. The carrier has expanded even more rapidly since IAG (the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and others) bought it – with new routes being added to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Hartford, New York Newark, Philadelphia, Seattle and Miami since 2015. Today, the airline serves 13 destinations in North America – but with a limited fleet of just 13 Airbus A330s and 5 leased Boeing 757s – the airline simply cannot expand any further with its current fleet.

Aer Lingus offers a competitive long-haul Business Class cabin.

However, next year, Aer Lingus will begin receiving its order of 12 Airbus A321LR aircraft, meaning the airline will be able to initiate a new raft of expansion – the first of which will be the two destinations shortlisted this year, beginning in July 2019, with seats on sale shortly after announcement.

The new Airbus A321LR aircraft open up a range of new possibilities for Aer Lingus. Initially, they will likely be used for Aer Lingus’ transatlantic flights from Shannon – replacing leased Boeing 757s – but the airline is clearly also ambitious in adding new “long and thin” flights to smaller North American markets which previously weren’t feasible with larger aircraft. Additionally, the airline may choose to replace Airbus A330s with multiple A321LR frequencies on shorter transatlantic jaunts, freeing up longer-range aircraft to operate to new destinations such as Denver, Dallas or Las Vegas, for example.

Both Pittsburgh and Montréal are within the published range of the Airbus A321LR.

With this logic, it would make sense for Aer Lingus to launch flights to Montréal – taking the number of destinations they serve in Canada to 2, following the successful growth of their Toronto operation since 2014. Pittsburgh is also a destination seeing growth from IAG at present, with British Airways recently announcing service to London. In the Midwest, many have speculated that Aer Lingus could be eyeing service to Minneapolis or Detroit – both of which are within the theoretical range of the Airbus A321LR.

Going forward, it is clear that Aer Lingus will have many new opportunities for growth with the forthcoming arrival of new Airbus A321LR equipment. Although the two shortlisted destinations will be the start of that new wave of expansion, they certainly will not mark the end.

Aeroméxico Crash: 97 Injured, All Passengers Survive

An Embraer E190 – operated by Aeroméxico Connect – has crashed shortly after take-off from Guadalupe Victoria International Airport, in Durango State.

All 103 passengers & crew onboard the ill-fated AM2431 flight have survived the incident, but 97 are understood to be injured. Aeroméxico’s Chief Executive has said that the Captain sustained injuries and is ‘being operated on’, although the injuries were not life-threatening.

The aircraft was headed on a 477-mile journey from Durango-Guadalupe Airport to Mexico City, when the incident occurred.

XA-GAL was bound for Mexico’s capital – Mexico City – when the accident occurred.

The identities and nationalities of those on board are currently unknown, but – thankfully –  all passengers were able to put a safe distance between them and the aircraft before it caught fire.

The reason for the crash remains unclear, although several witnesses have suggested that the weather could be to blame for the tragedy. State Governor José Rosas Aispuro said the plane was hit by a gust of wind, forcing the plane into a sudden descent. He suggested that the left wing of the Brazilian-manufactured plane scraped the ground, then the engines came off.

The airport operator, Grupo Aeroportuario Centro Norte, said that early data corroborates this version of events – saying that the plane had departed during a heavy hailstorm. One passenger said that a strong air current hit the aircraft, causing the Embraer 190 to drop to the ground at around 16:00 local time, yesterday.

Aerial imagery shows the extent of the incident. Image: AFP

A fire, which began after the crash, was put out – according to Civil defence spokesperson Alejandro Cardoza, and there were no burn victims.

Nobody was hurt in the fire that ensued after the initial impact of the crash.

The aircraft involved was registered XA-GAL, was manufactured in Brazil 10 years ago and has operated under the Aeroméxico brand since 2014. Both the airline and aircraft manufacturer have good safety records, with Aeroméxico’s last incident involving a passenger fatality taking place in August 1986. XA-GAL came to rest about 380 meters past the runway threshold and 320 meters past the paved end of the runway, slightly to the left of the extended centreline.

In a statement, Aeroméxico said that they ‘deeply regret’ the events and regard yesterday as a ‘terrible day for the Aeroméxico family and Mexico at large’. Embraer have dispatched a team of investigators to the site to determine what went wrong.

Emergency Services carry survivors away from the burning wreckage, as crew members console eachother. Image: Associated Press

The crew, at this point, can only be praised for their handling of the situation, with all 4 crew and 99 passengers escaping alive. I wish everyone involved a quick recovery and express my support for family, friends and loved ones of those who are injured.

For relatives and loved ones affected, a telephone helpline has been established: +52 (55) 51 33 40 59 from Mexico and 1 866 205 4084 from abroad.


Featured Image: Associated Press

Ryanair Strikes: 600 Flights Cancelled, 300 Staff ‘Threatened’ With Sack

600 Ryanair flights are cancelled today, after a planned strike by cabin crew over pay and conditions is carried out. Employees have long expressed anger at their working conditions, and Ryanair has been hit by several separate strikes this year.

Ryanair’s Dublin Headquarters

Five unions said they would support a call to strike for Ryanair cabin staff in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Italy for two days this week, forcing the Dublin-based airline to cancel approximately 600 flights. The Spanish USO and Sitcpla have led the charge against Ryanair and, after holding meetings with representatives from the airline on Tuesday, said the strike was ‘unavoidable’. Unions want Ryanair to give workers the same conditions as their own employees and want staff to be employed according to the laws of the country they work in, rather than the Republic of Ireland. The strikes are causing unprecedented disruption for passengers, as Unions walk-out in the midst of the busiest summer holiday period.

What has been Ryanair’s response?

Ryanair have hit back fiercely, following the strikes. The airline has threatened to sack 100 pilots and up to 200 cabin crew over the issue. These potential job cuts come as Ryanair plans to cut its winter Dublin-based fleet from 30 aircraft, to just 24.

Ryanair has threatened to reduce its Dublin-based fleet from 30 to 24 aircraft.

Despite these threats, the airline has had to concede that there will be more strikes this summer, as the airline is not prepared to give into ‘unreasonable demands’. The President of Spain’s Sitcpla union remained undeterred saying that the ‘threat’, in ‘Ryanair’s style’ didn’t frighten the workers at all.

What disruption is it causing to passengers?

Unsurprisingly, the unions have coordinated the strike in the interest of causing as much disruption as possible.

Passengers who are affected will be notified by email or by text regarding their flight and full refunds or alternative flights will be offered to those caught up in the shambles. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have urged all passengers to seek compensation under European air passenger rights regulations. Ryanair say that strikes are ”extreme circumstances’ and therefore they will be rejecting any EU261 compensation claims.

BA CityFlyer Economy Flight Review

In 2017, British Airways returned to the UK regions, with the announcement of new flights to a range of holiday destinations from Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol – to be operated by BA’s wholly owned subsidiary, CityFlyer. Initially, I was sceptical: BA has long treated the English regions with contempt whilst airlines like Thomas Cook and Virgin Atlantic have thrived “up North”. However, last December, British Airways yet again increased its presence with new flights from Manchester to Dublin (adding to Aer Lingus’ frequent services) and Florence and expansion of existing connections to Ibiza, Malaga and Palma. Naturally, I was keen to try out the new flights and sample the “Jungle Jets” that solely make up BA CityFlyer’s fleet. I was not disappointed…


Flight Profile:

British Airways 4474: Manchester (MAN)-Dublin (DUB)

Aircraft: Embraer 190, G-LCYY

Seat: 15D (Euro Traveller)


Manchester Airport – Check-in/Lounge/Boarding

Manchester Airport is in the midst of a much-needed £1 billion investment, with the transformation project already under way in Terminal 2. Whilst Terminal 3 (host to most OneWorld partner airlines at Manchester, including BA, AA and Iberia) will be improved in the coming years, for now the terminal remains overcrowded and small. Despite this, Manchester Airport is making great strides to improve the experience with a string of new cafés and bars and a new ‘adults only’ Lounge.

‘The Nook’ is a swanky bar located in Terminal 3, providing a good example of MAG’s improvements in the terminal.

British Airways’ Lounge is located on a mezzanine level, looking down into the main terminal. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to be treated with the lounge experience on this trip, although I hope to try it out soon. Boarding began promptly, at 09:25 – as my aircraft, G-LCYY, was towed onto stand and was carried out according to group numbers.

The Aircraft: Where should I sit?

The cabin is upholstered with blue leather, and grey armrests. Every seat looked extremely comfortable and well-padded – a nice change from the modern ‘slim-line’ alternatives more widely used by airlines in this day and age.

This Embraer 190 can seat up to 98 passengers, in a 2-2 configuration.

Initially, I was struck by the sheer amount of legroom that this aircraft boasted – with a 34″ seat pitch! The comfort was truly unrivalled for a short flight across the Irish sea and the amount of legroom was unwavering throughout the entire plane. I was seated in row 15 – in the rear portion of the aircraft – and I was able to stretch my legs out straight in front of me with ease. Every seat also had a recline of 6″, and an abundance of seat width (specifically, 18.5″) and a large tray table, that would easily accommodate any laptop to work on the go. I simply can’t emphasise the comfort of this regional aircraft enough and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone choosing between BA CityFlyer and a rival airline.

34″ of pitch on an intra-Europe flight? Yes, please.

With this generous layout, CityFlyer’s Embraer 190 has a capacity of 98 passengers, in a 2-2 ‘double-bubble’ configuration. The “Double-Bubble” fuselage concept is a shape derived from overlapping two ovals to form a four-abreast cross section. The widest point of the upper oval is at the passenger’s elbow level, maximising space and allowing for wider seats and aisles than larger aircraft. This makes the E-Jet family a winner with passengers and with airline companies. 

The ‘Double-Bubble’ fuselage concept maximises passenger comfort. A big plus!

Business Class was broadly similar to the rest of the aircraft and, for a short intra-European flight, I would highly dissuade anyone from upgrading to Club Europe; Economy Class seats were equally as comfortable. It is still beneficial, however, to sit at the front of the cabin, for swift disembarkation and quick refreshments service (especially on a 40 minute flight).

The Flight

Unfortunately we incurred a delay on departure from Manchester Airport. Single runway operations meant that congestion blocked our pushback from Terminal 3. However, communication from the pilot was prompt and informative. Soon enough, we had broke through the typically thick blanket of British cloud and set course for Dublin.

Wingview: G-LCYY soaring over the Irish sea.

The flight itself was rather uneventful and only took around 25 minutes in total – meaning the crew had no choice but to carry out the onboard service efficiently and quickly. A task which they fulfilled with ease.

Onboard Service

When travelling on British Airways mainline, the onboard service consists of a buy-on-board M&S menu. With CityFlyer, this isn’t the case. Even on a flight as short as mine, the cabin crew immediately got to work and served every passenger with a complementary drink and snack – choosing from biscuits, popcorn, crisps, Diet Coke, Tonic Water and many more.

A small, but welcome touch – all guests still receive complementary drinks and snacks on BA CityFlyer.

Granted, this is a small touch but adds to the experience and makes short-haul flying feel that little bit more luxurious.

The Verdict – A Fantastic Way to Fly

British Airways CityFlyer offers one of the most comfortable and convenient short-haul products in Northern Europe, with 34″ of seat pitch and many of its radiating from London City Airport. Barring a small delay due to congestion at Manchester, the flight, aircraft and crew were faultless and, if flying from the UK Regions to a holiday destination such as Palma or Ibiza, there certainly is no other rival that comes close to matching the comfort of BA CityFlyer.


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NEW London-Antwerp Route Flight Review

Belgium is one of the most important countries in the European Union. Whether your reasoning is because of the beer, chocolate and waffles or the political epicentre of Brussels, there is no doubt that Belgium is a premier destination for business and tourism. The U.K. is Belgium’s fourth largest import and export partner and up to 1.8m British nationals visit the nation every year.

Yet surprisingly, barring Brussels, the nation offers poor connections to Britain, by plane. There is no low-cost connection between Brussels’ main airport and London and it is notoriously difficult to reach the tourist hotspot of Bruges by air. However, this year, that has all changed. Flybe triggered the raft of new air connections to the Flanders region of Belgium, announcing even more expansion from its highly successful London Southend base.

Flybe’s inaugural flight to Antwerp recieved a water cannon salute.

In March, Flybe inaugurated the new four-weekly service connecting the British capital with Antwerp – the only British airline to do so. Its not just London that is now connected either, as Flybe offers convenient connections via the seamless Southend Airport to Manchester, Dublin and Glasgow.

The route was launched with great fanfare, encouraging all customers to #BeMoreBelgian. London Southend’s CEO, Glyn Jones, posed with the airport’s attempt at baking the world’s largest Belgian Bun!

The world’s largest Belgian bun was a novel idea for an inaugural ceremony, but went down well with the passengers nevertheless.

I decided to try out the new connection for myself and see how simple and easy it was to fly from Antwerp to London’s Best Airport.

THE FLIGHT: ANTWERP TO LONDON SOUTHEND

Antwerp Airport is like stepping back in time (in a good way). The miniscule check-in area and landside bar with terrace all make for an enchanting experience – overlooking the apron. Being a small airport (serving just over 273,000 passengers in 2017), it was quick and easy to traverse.

There are very few facilities once airside, apart from a café and a small lounge – so don’t plan on spending extensive amounts of time duty-free shopping. I was able to try out the “lounge” for myself, which consisted of a room with blacked-out glass doors, adjoining the main departure lounge. It had all the amenities you would expect: a range of beverages (including a coffee machine and alcoholic options), comfy seating, charging points and modern, slick furnishings. Additionally, any lounge guests could ask for complementary sandwiches or snacks from the café in the main airside area. Whilst undoubtedly small, the VIP Lounge offered a weirdly luxurious experience – like waiting for your flight in the sanctuary of your own private room. It was probably as close as I was ever going to get to the luxury of LAX’s Private VIP Terminal!

As you’ll know from my previous articles, I love turboprops and the experience of flying in a small aircraft. The stereotype that propeller aircraft are old-fashioned, slow and loud couldn’t be further from the truth.

EI-FSL was just over 1 year old, and offered a modern and airy cabin, with comfort comparable, if not superior to any other mainline aircraft you’d find across Europe.

EI-FSL is just 1.9 years old – as a result, the cabin is sleek and modern.

The ATR also boasts the widest seats and aisles of any other regional aircraft, allowing all passengers to enjoy 18.6” of seat width. Personal overhead panels were also available, with reading lights, fresh air nozzles and a call button, which were surrounded by ambient blue mood lighting. The cabin was configured in a one-class configuration, in a 2-2 setup, seating 70 people. 

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The flight summed up all the qualities I love about flying on a small aircraft, with Flybe – efficient boarding, on-time departure, friendly crew and a comfortable cabin. You simply don’t get a similar relaxed and straight-forward experience when flying with a low-cost carrier, in my experience.

Landing in Southend Airport is a pleasure, as usual, with unparalleled levels of efficiency and a modern terminal building – you can be out of the airport and onboard the 53-minute train into central London in minutes.

London Southend Airport is small, but modern and full of all the amenities you’d expect. I wrote a full article on the airport’s history and growth last year.

The best way to get to and from Antwerp? Certainly easier, quicker and more relaxing than driving to Brussels Airport, catching a ferry from Ostend or getting the train.

THE DESTINATION: ANTWERP

A place where the Belgian stereotypes ring true: Chocolate, Waffles & Beer. A fantastic combination!

The new Flybe connection from London Southend makes it easier than ever to get to Antwerp and what could be a better excuse to explore the typically Belgian city? Modern architecture in the relaxing waterside Eilandje neighbourhood harmonises with the beautiful old town, where the scent of Belgian waffles drifts through the cobbled streets. The city is just waiting to be explored and I hope that the new flights will allow more people to discover the best-kept secret of Belgium.

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Disclaimer: I was invited onboard one of the first flights from London to Antwerp; the trip was provided by Flybe on behalf of Stobart Air. Views expressed are entirely my own.

SKYTRAX 2018 World Airline Awards: Who are the winners and losers?

Today in London, SKYTRAX held its annual World Airline Awards ceremony, which involves 20 million travellers voting on over 335 airlines across the globe, deciding which airline deserves titles ranging from ‘Best UK Leisure Airline’ to ‘Best Business Class’. Airlines often use SKYTRAX ratings as massive marketing tools, so it is important to know: who are the winners and losers of this year’s awards?

Winner 1: Singapore Airlines – wins ‘World’s Best Airline’

Taking the most prestigious award is the Singaporean carrier – SIA. The airline has won the ‘World’s Best Airline’ title three times previously, but not for over a decade, as airlines such as Qatar Airways and Emirates swept past them in terms of luxury and innovation.

The SKYTRAX CEO said a real ‘wow’ factor for Singapore Airlines was consistency and the airline scored highly in ‘product and service’. Singapore Airlines also won the separate titles for ‘Best Airline in Asia’, ‘Best First Class’ and ‘Best First Class Seat’.

Winner 2: China Southern – wins ‘Most Improved Airline’

The Guangzhou-based airline has won the ‘most improved’ award, an accolade Saudia won last year. This award goes a long way in determining the success of an airline and is a significant source of pride for the airline, as it jumps from 23rd to 14th in SKYTRAX’s 1-100 airline league table.

Loser 1: Etihad Airways – drops 7 places in airline league table

Etihad Airways has found itself plummeting in SKYTRAX’s 1-100 airline league table, from 8th place in 2017 to 15th place this year – behind the likes of China Southern, Swiss, Qantas and EVA Air.

Etihad Airways has recently announced a massive restructuring plan.

This comes amid a stringent restructuring of the airline and cost cutting measures (such as increased fees for seat assignments) in order to steer the airline through its financial woes.

Loser 2: US Airlines – no airlines from the USA picked up a headline award

No US airline has left with a major award from SKYTRAX this year, as Air Canada pick up the coveted ‘Best Airline in North America’ award, Air Transat take ‘World’s Best Leisure Airline’ and WestJet get the ‘Best Low-Cost Airline in North America’ title.

WestJet 737MAX cabin (Photo by WestJet)

American Airlines, United and Delta all took home a single award each for ‘Best North American First Class’, ‘Best North American Business Class Lounge’ and ‘Best North American Business Class seat’ respectively. No US Airline made the top 10 in the world.

From a UK perspective – TUI UK, British Airways and EasyJet are all winners

British Airways collected the award for ‘Best Cabin Crew in the UK’, despite Virgin Atlantic beating British Airways in the overall league tables. EasyJet was named the ‘UK’s Best Low-Cost carrier’, whilst TUI was voted the ‘UK’s Best Leisure Airline’.

British Airways was awarded ‘Best Cabin Crew in the UK’

Across Europe, Lufthansa was the only airline to make the top 10 (having recently been awarded the five-star ranking by SKYTRAX), Aegean retained its title as ‘Best Regional Airline in Europe’ and Air France won ‘Best First Class in Europe’ for its La Premiere product and several awards for their culinary excellence.

Aegean retained its title as ‘Best Regional Airline in Europe’ for yet another year.

Japan Airlines recieved a five-star rating from SKYTRAX

Whilst separate from the awards ceremony, it was also announced today that Japan Airlines has gained a five-star ranking putting it on a par with its Japanese counterpart All Nippon Airways, which already holds the five-star title.

JAL boasts spacious seats in Economy Class with some of the widest in the industry.

JAL becomes the 11th five-star airline around the world with this announcement, and I’m sure the ranking is one Raj would corroborate from his recent reviews of the airline’s Boeing 787 product.  

“Japan Airlines has worked extremely hard over the last 5-years to truly transform their product and service experience for customers. Without doubt, JAL are now delivering some of the best standards of inflight seating and IFE hardware, and this has been well paired with staff service quality that continues to increase in appeal for both the domestic and International markets.”

skytrax ceo on jal’s five-star ranking

Overall, SKYTRAX ratings provide a good idea of how airlines across the globe are performing on an annual basis, but airlines are allowed to promote voting for themselves so results can be skewed. Additionally, the five-star rankings are not decided by votes from the public – however I think that JAL thoroughly deserves the accolade, considering its 2-4-2 seating arrangement on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Economy Class and Apex Suites in Business Class.

What do you think about SKYTRAX’s 2018 Airline Awards?

Aviation Round-Up: 16th July 2018 – New Routes, Deliveries & More


Routes News

EasyJet

One of Europe’s leading low-cost carriers has announced a raft of expansion from the UK, beginning this winter. The new winter services will add 358,200 seats to EasyJet’s network, with over 248,600 of these being to and from the UK. Within the expansion, EasyJet has announced its 1,000th route – a new connection from Manchester to Bordeaux. The airline is also expected to open a new route from Manchester to the Greek city of Volos next summer, following the great success of its Gatwick connection (which I broke the news of last year).

Taking delivery of new aircraft such as the Airbus A320NEO (above), enables EasyJet to expand into new markets with existing equipment

The expansion will involve new routes from London, Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool and includes what EasyJet calls its ‘largest ever expansion’ from Manchester, with new routes from the airport to Faro, Barcelona, Lanzarote, Bordeaux and Innsbruck.

“The launch of these 16 new routes across the UK provides our passengers with even more amazing destinations across Europe for both holidays and business travel.’

-sophie dekkers, uk country director

Shenzhen Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines has opened reservations for a new route from its base in Shenzhen to London’s Heathrow airport. The flight will operate with two-class Airbus A330 equipment, on a thrice-weekly basis. This latest route comes amid rapid expansion of flights from China to the UK, following an agreement last December to increase the number of permitted flights per week between the UK and China to 150.

United Airlines

Following great fanfare in October 2017, United will drop its Los Angeles to Singapore route in favour of relocating the US gateway to San Francisco. An additional daily frequency will be added between the tech-hub of San Francisco and Singapore, meaning United’s will offer morning and evening connections on the ultra-long haul route.

Qatar Airways

Raj flew on Qatar’s Airbus A350-1000 delivery flight earlier this year. Passengers originating in Edinburgh and Manchester can now enjoy the Airbus A350 experience, when flying Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways have recently substituted the Boeing 787-8 for their newer Airbus A350 XWB equipment on the Doha-Edinburgh route, a change which will now be replicated this winter in Manchester. Two of up to three daily flights on the Doha-Manchester sector will be operated by the Airbus A350-900XWB, representing a capacity increase. Meanwhile, overall frequency will increase to 18-weekly flights – a figure expected to increase further to thrice-daily next summer.


Deliveries

This month saw more Airbus A350 recipients receive their new equipment, and EasyJet recieved their first Airbus A321Neo. 

Philippine Airlines

The Philippino national carrier has become the 19th airline around the world to operate the Airbus A350, after its first of six aircraft were delivered. The airline will primarily use the aircraft for routes to Europe and New York JFK, with the inaugural passenger flight currently scheduled for October 28th from Manilla to London.

Philippine Airlines’ first Airbus A350 was delivered from Toulouse to Manilla earlier this week.

The airline’s Airbus A350 is configured with 295 seats in total, with three cabin classes to choose from. Business Class will offer fully-flat seats with direct aisle access in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration. Similarly to other Airbus A350 operators, Premium Economy has a 2-4-2 configuration and Economy Class offers a minimum of 18″ seat width, in a 3-3-3 setup.

EasyJet

EasyJet has recieved its first Airbus A321Neo aircraft, which will make its debut later this month on flights between London Gatwick and Faro.

 

The aircraft is set to have 235 seats, a 30 % hike in capacity from an Airbus A320 and a 50% increase from an Airbus A319. EasyJet’s first Airbus A321Neo is registered G-UZMA and will provide extra capacity from slot-restricted airports, such as London Gatwick and significantly reduce fuel consumption per seat. Airlines such as Wizz Air have already taken the plunge with higher-capacity equipment, taking advantage of lower costs and higher seating capacity on trunk routes.


Other Aviation Stories

Etihad Airways begins charging for seat selection

The Abu Dhabi based carrier is about to embark on a radical restructuring, aiming to resolve the financial difficulty the airline finds itself in. This latest development is an example of the cost-cutting that will have to be implemented in order to turn the airline’s fortunes around.

Etihad is bracing itself for a radical restructuring, announced earlier this year.

Etihad Airways has begun charging for seat assignments in Economy Class for all flights after 15th July 2018. Whilst the airline previously charged for ‘Preferred Seats’ and seats towards the front of the cabin, fees will now be incurred when selecting any Economy class seat – regardless of fare class. The charges are already being implemented on tickets already issued, though passengers will still be able to select seats for free, from 24 hours prior to departure.