September 2017: Route Review

As we glide into Autumn, airlines are well and truly giving us some great excitement with route planning for next summer. Here’s my monthly pick at the most important news.

Route Launches: 

Norwegian – Yet again, Norwegian dominates the route review – with new services from London Gatwick to Denver and Seattle both launching this month. Both services are to be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and compete fiercely with BA’s current London Heathrow-Denver service and the plethora of carriers serving London Heathrow-Seattle. With Thomas Cook starting Manchester-Seattle services next May, one may ask, is the UK-Seattle market becoming oversaturated? The proof will be in the figures.

In addition, on 28th September 2017, Norwegian launched their new Gatwick-Singapore connection – the first long haul flight to be operated under the Norwegian UK subsidiary. This flight will also operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment, and marks the entry of Norwegian into the Singaporean market.

Norwegian operates their Boeing 787-9, equipped with Premium Economy on both new routes. Image: @londonspotter

Loganair – Loganair broke free from it’s Flybe alliance – starting it’s own services on September 1st. With the new services, comes the increase of Manchester-Glasgow flights to 6 a day, and a beautiful Tartan livery. What’s more, they’ve done all that without IndyRef 2

Route Announcements: 

United – After pulling back on the UK market, United has reinstated faith with the announcement of new services from:

  • Washington D.C. to Edinburgh (marketed cleverly by Edinburgh Airport as ‘Capitol to Capital’)
  • New York Newark to Reykjavik  & Porto
  • San Francisco to Zurich

All services will be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft, with the exception of Boeing 787-8 operated SFO-ZRH. The new European connections will begin next summer.

Air Canada – A transatlantic revolution is taking place, and for that we can thank the Boeing 737 MAX. The MAX opens up long thin markets for airlines to operate profitably; it’s why we are seeing routes such as Belfast to Providence, and Edinburgh to Stewart. Air Canada clearly didn’t want to miss out, and has announced services between Toronto & Shannon and Montréal & Dublin. This marks a massive vote of confidence in the Irish market for the Canadian flag carrier – as they will now serve three destinations from Dublin (Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal) and are the only foreign airline to offer a transatlantic destination other than New York, from Ireland’s second airport – Shannon.

Air Canada’s 737MAX render. Image: Air Canada

Delta – For Delta this month, it’s a very mixed story.

Firstly, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Next summer, Delta will cut two destinations all together – Moscow (SVO) and Stockholm (ARN). In addition, it will end service from Philadelphia to Heathrow (already announced) and Paris, suspending service from Newark to Amsterdam.

Now, on to the exciting route development news. Among the aviation community, it is widely seen that Delta is employing a rather different strategy than the other US airlines. Instead of expanding out of hubs, they are adding flights from smaller US markets to their main hubs of Paris and Amsterdam in Europe. Whilst in August, Delta announced a new Orlando-Amsterdam service, this month they went further. Delta will start a new 767-300ER service between Indianapolis and Paris in summer 2018, which will go on sale on the 23rd September. This will be the first transatlantic connection for Indianapolis – so, unsurprisingly, the route has been supported by subsides of $5 million, Indiana Business reports. They will also launch two new routes between Los Angeles and Paris/Amsterdam with Boeing 777-200LR equipment, adding to their joint venture partner’s (Air France and KLM respectively) frequencies. Finally, and perhaps the most surprising, is between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada (Azores). This makes Delta the only US airline to serve the Azores, and gives Delta two destinations in Portugal.

Of course, there is other less significant news and frequency changes but their is not enough room to report everything here.

Virgin Atlantic –  Virgin Atlantic will be increasing it’s operation at Manchester next year. They will be adding 40,000 seats to the market, with an additional 747 base. The new 747-400 will operate four-weekly services to New York JFK and three-weekly services to Atlanta. However, both routes are served daily, with the remainder being operated by the current A330-300 aircraft.

Next year, in peak summer, Virgin will offer 35 weekly transatlantic departures from Manchester, every week.

Icelandair – Iceland’s airlines just can’t stop growing. In fact, I may have to dedicate a whole blog post to them every month! This month, they announced services from their hub to Dallas/Fort Worth. Icelandair’s first venture into Texas will come in the form of a four-weekly, Boeing 757-200 service.

There is debate as to whether such rapid growth of tourism generated by the aviation industry in Iceland is sustainable.

In other news, they also filed the schedule for their 737 MAX services, which will operate to only Birmingham in the UK.

WOW Air – Yes, you guessed it. WOW Air also announced flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. This connection will operate thrice-weekly, but with a widebody aircraft – the Airbus A330-300. Both airlines are clearly trying to upstage eachother, but I fear it could end badly for both airlines involved. On a lighter note, more competition can only be good for the passengers!

British Airways – British Airways announced in mid-September that it’s London Heathrow to Austin route would be upgraded to a Boeing 747-400, from a Boeing 787-9. That’s a massive capacity jump – particularly for the high-yielding cabins – and shows how the 787 really can open up new markets, that can then be grown into a great success.

In arguably more exciting news, British Airways is launching service to the Seychelles in March 2018. The service will operate with Boeing 787-9 aircraft, on a two weekly basis. The interesting development here is that BA will operate this flight from Heathrow, rather from primarily Leisure-based Gatwick. This is clearly to optimise connection opportunities, around Europe and Transatlantic.

British Airways is another airline dominating the route development discussion at the moment. Image: @londonspotter

Cathay Pacific – After starting the route in 2015, Cathay Pacific has now confirmed it is axing it’s Hong Kong to Dusseldorf route from March 2018.

On the contrary, it will increase its services on the Barcelona and Tel Aviv  to Hong Kong connections – both of which operate with Airbus A350 equipment.

KLM – KLM will launch new service from Amsterdam to Fortaleza in Summer 2018, on a twice-weekly basis, with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. This will mark KLM’s third gateway into Brazil, and secures KLM’s position in the Latin American market.

Emirates – Emirates announced plans this month to launch a fourth-daily Dubai-Sydney service, operating with Airbus A380-800 aircraft. It will add more and convenient connections for customers, and an additional 6.846 seats per week in capacity. This, and expansion to the Brisbane service, means the UAE national carrier will serve Australia 91 times every week.

Emirates A380 leaving London Gatwick. Photo by @londonspotter

Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways stunned everyone back in May, when they announced the intention to launch Doha to Cardiff flights. This month, they opened bookings for the new route. It will be operated on a daily basis, with Boeing 787-8 equipment. Great news for Wales & Cardiff!

Garuda Indonesia – Garuda Indonesia transferred from London Gatwick to London Heathrow some time ago. Previously, due to the strength of the runway at Jakarta, they had to make a refuelling stop in Singapore. Now, it appears that has been resolved, as Garuda Indonesia will offer non-stop Jakarta to London services from October 31st. Frequency will remain the same, but with an amended schedule, as Garuda wants   “to boost connections from the UK to Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth), the Far East (Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) and China (Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai)”.

Royal Air Maroc – Before March 2017, Casablanca had never been served from Manchester before, but Royal Air Maroc came bursting onto the scene, offering a wealth of connections to Africa through their Moroccan hub. Now, they are increasing flights to 4-weekly from next summer; from a standing start, this route can widely be acknowledged as a great success.

Air France – Air France will be launching new service to Seattle and Taipei, after a hiatus from both markets. It will join KLM in the Taiwanese market and joint venture partner Delta in the Seattle market. Both services will operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and from Paris Charles de Gaulle.

The Air Berlin Saga: All You Need To Know

background: how did this happen?

On the 15th August, Air Berlin – Germany’s second largest carrier – filed for insolvency. Etihad – a key investor and shareholder in the airline – withdrew funding, and, after Air Berlin reported a loss of £713m in 2016, things weren’t going to get any better. This is widely due to an identity crisis at the heart of the airline. Whilst a sizeable chunk of their operation is for business travel – they offer a very competitive business product on long-haul routes to the US – most of it was centred around leisure. Air Berlin simply didn’t know who or what it wanted to be. There was no lounge facility suitable to compete with the full service airlines in Europe, lack of timed ‘banks’ for connections, and the indecision on whether to employ a low-cost or high-service policy on short haul. In addition, the calamitous situation with Berlin’s airports clearly didn’t help. The lack of connection convenience, available expansion, and facilities in the tired Tegel airport, hampered profitability and it still doesn’t seem Brandenburg will open soon. The German government issued a transitional loan, to try and keep the airline afloat; that money isn’t going far. So what’s happening and what’s the timescale? Read on…

Air Berlin-Etihad livery. Not ‘Moving Forward’ anymore. Photo by Markus Guntli.
when are routes ending?

In August, they announced that all long haul routes out of Berlin (specifically to Abu Dhabi, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco) would end on October 1st 2017, in addition to Dusseldorf to Boston. That date is nearing now, so much of Air Berlin’s A330 aircraft will be dormant from that point onwards.

In early September, Air Berlin began only selling ‘full fare’ economy class tickets on Dusseldorf’s long haul routes to the US. This is usually a sign of a flights being added into GDS or taken out. Whilst most Dusseldorf long-haul operations are still bookable e.g. DUS-JFK, they are selling at £2,166 for a return ticket. This is indicative that Air Berlin aren’t confident they will survive.

Then, even more cancellations were revealed by the airline. All of their Caribbean routes (Curacao, Cancun, Havana, Varadero, Punta Cana, and Puerto Plata) were to end by 25th September. That’s tomorrow.

So, in a nutshell, come winter, I imagine all of Air Berlin’s previously prestigious long haul network will be non-existent.

Air Berlin used to have a large network out of Berlin, in particular.
what should i do if i’m booked to travel on air berlin?

If you booked after 15th August, it’s likely you will have already been reimbursed if your route was cancelled. However, due to the complications of how Germany’s law works, if you booked before – you are not entitled to reimbursement.

If you are booked to travel on Dusseldorf’s long haul network, I’d be making alternative plans and fast. The routes are still open for reservation but the signs aren’t good.

Also, in late August, an Air Berlin flight out of Gothenburg was grounded and prevented for departing, as AB had defaulted on their payments to the airport authorities. This likely caused great inconvenience for passengers and, at extremely short notice. This is something to watch out for if it is replicated.

what will happen to topbonus members?

At first, it seemed TopBonus miles would continue to be collected and valid, with partners and Air Berlin. However, TopBonus has since filed for insolvency. Here’s an email our author, James, received regarding his membership:

topbonus filed for insolvency today.
This unfortunate development follows airberlin’s decision last week to file for insolvency.
Given airberlin’s current situation and the consequential impact on the frequent flyer program, topbonus was left with no other option.

The earning and redemption of miles remain suspended.
The account access to review your profile and miles balances and your topbonus membership remain valid.

We will keep you informed about further proceedings.

-Air Berlin TopBonus Email

who’s interested in inheriting air berlin?

All the bids are now in, and a decision will be made on who the airline is to be sold to tomorrow.

Lufthansa want to take over 90 planes. They are probably going to be very interested in taking over more share of the German aviation market, including high-yielding long haul services from Dusseldorf, and ceding the leisure routes to their ever-expanding Eurowings subsidiary.

EasyJet is trying their utmost to expand in Germany. They’ve issued a bid for 40 aircraft, to expand their short-haul network. They will also be able to gain valuable slots at congested airports throughout Europe such as Berlin, Palma and Munich.

There are many more insignificant bids, although I find this one interesting.

Niki Lauda/Condor – Niki Lauda (yes, that’s who Austrian airline Niki are named after!) and German Thomas Cook subsidiary, Condor, have submitted a bid. Niki Lauda wants to buy his formerly owned airline for €100 Million and Condor wants to take over 17 aircraft.

the conclusion

There’s no doubt that Air Berlin will probably never emerge from this tricky spot – atleast in it’s current entity. Just a day after the German elections, we will receive the news of who will own the majority of Air Berlin’s assets in the future and what path it will take.

 

 

Aer Lingus Regional ATR-72 Review

The ATR aircraft family is the fastest selling turboprop worldwide since 2005. With over 200 airline operators, these efficient turboprops impressively land and depart every 8 seconds! Stobart Air’s fleet comprises wholly of ATR aircraft, two smaller ATR-42 aircraft and 15 larger ATR-72 aircraft, operated on behalf of Aer Lingus Regional in Ireland, and, in the UK, Flybe. On 30th August, I had the pleasure of experiencing first hand, the comfort, efficiency and modernity of this aircraft and the close-knit Aer Lingus Regional family.

The Aircraft

Stobart Air’s ATR72-600 aircraft are some of the most modern in the skies. EI-FAW operated my first flight of the day, an aircraft just three years old. Contrary to the obsolete stigma that turboprop aircraft carried, they are – in reality – quiet, comfortable & efficient, helping the viability of ‘thin’ but vital connections between the UK and Ireland and developing secondary and tertiary airports. For example, 100 new routes are launched every year with ATR aircraft.

In addition, the aircraft helps Stobart Air operate profitably, with unbeatable economics for regional routes. Operating costs on the competing turboprop aircraft are 20% higher than then ATR while regional jets are at least 40% higher and, as my Captain, Shane, pointed out, an A320 aircraft simply taking off and banking used nearly as much fuel as our ATR aircraft would need for the whole flight from Dublin to Leeds Bradford.

Wingview approaching Dublin

The cabin was impressive and extremely spacious. The seats used were lightweight, but very comfortable and the legroom offered was adequate enough to stretch your legs straight out, thanks to the generous 31” seat pitch and slimline seats. The cabin also boasted the widest seats and aisles of any other regional aircraft, allowing the seats to have 18.6” of width. In terms of short haul travel, it was definitely one of the best cabins I have experienced, and enjoyed my journey in great comfort. It is configured in a 2-2 layout, accommodating 70 people and, like Aer Lingus Mainline, there is no business class cabin.

The comfortable and modern cabin of the ATR.

The cockpit is also one of the most technologically advanced I have seen, bringing the latest technology to regional aviation, the ATR -600 features a glass cockpit by Thales. In addition, being made in Toulouse, it inherits lots of similarities from the Airbus family cockpits.

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 Outbound – LBA-DUB

My outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 0855, however, due to highly efficient boarding, we departed 10 minutes earlier. Juan and Jakub did a great job of preparing the cabin for departure and issued a warm welcome to everyone on board. Then came the beautiful buzz of the propellers. Sat in seat 4F, I had an exceptional view of the wing, and as this was my first flight on a turboprop aircraft, I was very over-excited! The only thing to bear in mind when flying with Stobart Air is the food and refreshment selection is very limited – don’t expect hot food as the aircraft simply does not have the equipment or, for that matter, the time on such a short hop. Around 20 minutes ahead of schedule, we touched down in Dublin. Once on stand, I made my way up to the cockpit. Because of the ATR’s design, you must walk through a small corridor where cargo and hold luggage is held to get to the flight deck. The Captain and First Officer gave me a great explanation as to how everything works, and said they’d be heading to Bristol in 50mins. Sure enough, whilst walking through St. Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin, EI-FAW soared above me, with the crew I’d just met at the helm.

“Under the Wing!”

If I thought my outbound flight was good, I was in for a treat on the inbound sector!

 Inbound – DUB-LBA

1 hour prior to boarding, I was met by John Dillon – the Duty Manager for Stobart Air’s flights out of Dublin – who informed me that he would be able to get me out to the aircraft for a tour as soon as it arrived from Edinburgh. Whilst EI-FAS (my ride home) was on final approach, we made our way out to the remote stands, where the regional aircraft boarded. As this was my first experience of an airside tour, I was overwhelmed as I watched my aircraft arrive on stand. I boarded the aircraft to be met by Shane – the Captain for our flight home, who offered a full tour of the aircraft, and explained everything inside and out, in such a friendly and enthusiastic manner. I consider myself to be knowledgeable about aviation, but I learned so much from this tour. To be up close and personal with all aspects of the aircraft and the cockpit was amazing. As the other passengers boarded, I met Calvin and Catherine, the endearing cabin crew operating my flight, who went above and beyond to help their guests, clearly taking great pride in their work. They made every effort to ensure their passengers had a great flight; going to great lengths to make sure everyone was sitting with their travel companion – something you wouldn’t find any other airline doing! Thanks to their warm and helpful attitudes, and the overwhelming experience I had beforehand, this flight will go down as one of the best.

Conclusion

In conclusion, flying Aer Lingus Regional was a great experience. From the friendly faces of the crew, to the punctuality of the flights, it really accumulates to become an effective way to fly between Ireland and the UK, in addition to being able to connect to the US, from UK regional airports such as Leeds, Southampton and Newquay, utilising Dublin’s US Border Pre-Clearance facility. Stobart Air is ambitious about its future, welcoming Embraer 195s into its fleet from October this year which I will also be reviewing, and I am confident that this small, but charming airline will continue to prosper as it grows.

Aer Lingus Regional flies thirteen times per week between Leeds/Bradford and Dublin, with prices starting from £25 one way. For more information on fares and schedules and to book log on to www.aerlingus.com.

disclaimer: this trip was provided by Stobart Air

August Route Review

Another month has passed, and it’s time for August’s route review. I’ve decided to expand it slightly, including some important route announcements not touching the United Kingdom, but significant to the airline industry overall. This route review is PACKED, there is truly something for everyone, from every corner of the world.

Route Announcements: 

British Airways – BA surprised everyone in early August by announcing four changes to the US operations. 1 new destination will be introduced from May 2018 – Nashville (BNA). It will operate on a five-weekly basis, from Heathrow, with the Boeing 787-8 aircraft.

  • It will depart London (LHR) at 1545, arriving into Nashville (BNA) at 1850, as BA222.
  • BA223 will depart Nashville (BNA) at 2020, arriving into London (LHR) the next day, at 1030.

In addition, British Airways will become the first airline to operate the A380 on a scheduled basis into Chicago O’Hare. The morning service will be switched to the Airbus A380-800 from April 2018.

Finally, British Airways will increase their operations in the Philadelphia and Phoenix markets. London-Philadelphia flights will be increased, with an extra three flights per week, leaving the UK in the evening, operating with Boeing 787-9 equipment. This will mean that the London-Philadelphia connection is served up to four times daily. Phoenix, meanwhile, will see extra flights earlier on, with the Boeing 747-400 being the sole operator on the Heathrow-Phoenix route.

In addition to the above, in late August, BA announced even more Transatlantic expansion from London Gatwick. They will resume service on the London Gatwick-Las Vegas route, and begin service to Toronto Pearson. Both services will operate with the Boeing 777-200ER, with the Toronto flight having four classes of service.

BA have surprised everyone with their route announcements this month

Beijing Capital Airlines – Beijing Capital announced a plan to launch flights, with Airbus A330-200 equipment, from Qingdao to London’s Heathrow airport. The operational schedule states the route will operate twice a week as JD431/432.

Oman Air – Oman Air will operate their Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft on the Manchester route from November, 1st 2017. This is an increase in seats with just 6 months in operation. It is also an increase in product quality for Oman Air’s customers, with the 787 featuring Apex Suites in Business Class.

Qantas – As most aviation enthusiasts know, next March, Qantas will launch their new 787-9 flight between London-Perth. They are cutting their Melbourne-Dubai-London flight, in favour, of the Melbourne-Perth-London flight.

Now, however, Qantas will stop flying to Dubai all together. In 2013, they formed an extremely successful joint venture with Emirates, which allowed passengers to connect seamlessly from Qantas flights to Emirates’ vast network across Europe. Prior to this, in 2013, Qantas operated via Singapore. Now it looks like that routing is returning, with Dubai being cut and Singapore being reinstated (after a four year hiatus), due to a ‘strong Asian market’. One Melbourne-Singapore flight will be upgraded to an A380, designed to connect with the London service.

Despite this turnaround, Qantas CEO has reaffirmed his commitment to the joint venture between his airline and Emirates.

Qantas have announced that they will be going back to SIN after four years in Dubai

American Airlines – AA are making substantial changes to their route network for 2018, particularly to their East Coast hubs. They will be emphasising the former US-Airways base of Philadelphia and diminishing the scope of New York JFK. Three new routes will be added; Philadelphia to Prague and Budapest (operated by Airbus A330-200) and Chicago to Venice (operated by Boeing 787-8 aircraft), whilst they reinstate Philadelphia-Zurich. They are also cutting routes; Manchester & Zurich-New York JFK, one frequency on Paris-New York JFK and Paris-Boston. It’s another big drawback from the UK market, following their disastrous vanity project in Birmingham, but atleast American will continue to serve Manchester, with an increased Chicago operation (upgrade from 767 to 787-8 from March) and their steadfast Manchester-Philadelphia route. Virgin & Thomas Cook could run away with the large market from Northern England to New York if no competitor is added; I can’t envisage BA allowing one of the largest UK-US markets in their home country be ceded to their biggest competitor, so that may be one to watch. Read my review on AA’s A330 here.

Cathay Pacific – Cathay Pacific has been expanding a lot in recent years, but at a steady rate, they’ve launched Madrid & Barcelona, Manchester & Gatwick (both of which are now daily) and Dusseldorf. Now, they’re launching three NEW European destinations for next summer:

  • Copenhagen, Denmark – 3x weekly A350-900, Summer seasonal
  • Dublin, Ireland – 4x weekly A350-900
  • Brussels, Belgium – 4x weekly A350-900

It is also rumoured, however, that Dusseldorf will be cut, to accommodate Brussels, as AMS, BRU & DUS are very close together.

Etihad – More of a heads-up for spotters here, but Etihad will operate the A340-600 on the evening flight into Manchester between 20th and 23rd September, with the 787-9 operating between 23rd and 30th September. This could be one of the last times an Etihad A340-600 comes to Northern Europe so catch it while you can!

Finnair – Finnair announced brand new service to the Chinese city of Nanjing (NKG), operating thrice-weekly, with Airbus A330-300 equipment. This is significant as Finnair is one of the only European operators flying to Nanjing, and they offer a convenient ‘short-route’ to Asia, from Manchester, Edinburgh and London via Helsinki.

Finnair will operate Nanjing. Photo from @planespotter_hel.

Air Berlin – Now most aviation enthusiasts know the situation AB is currently enveloped in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this airline gone by October, most likely being bought out by competing airlines. They announced that all long haul routes out of Berlin would end on October 1st 2017, in addition to Dusseldorf to Boston. Although it may come as a surprise to some that they are dismantling Berlin before Dusseldorf, the calamitous airport situation in the German capital is a joke among European developers and has likely not helped at all – hampering expansion and profitability.

An interesting development is that one of Air Berlin’s flights on 29th August was stopped from departing from Gothenburg as they have not paid airport fees. If this pattern is replicated across other Air Berlin gateways, the airline could unravel much quicker than it already is.

They’ve already cut routes and frequencies for the winter 2017, although it seems wishful thinking to believe they’ll even survive that long in their current entity.

Air Canada – Air Canada continued it’s expansion out of Montréal, with a new service to Tokyo (Narita), from 1st June 2018, operating daily in summer and 3x weekly in winter. This adds to Air Canada’s previous Asian, European and African expansion in Montréal.

Later in the month, Air Canada announced three new routes out of Vancouver (Paris, Zurich & Melbourne) and the expansion of their London Heathrow route in the summer.

AC will operate Narita out of Montreal as of June 2018. Photo from @yul.spotting

Icelandair – This month we’ve seen massive expansion from Iceland. Icelandair will launch new flights between Cleveland (CLE) and Reykjavik (KEF), with their Boeing 757-200 equipment. The new services will offer a full service option transatlantic flight to Iceland, with convenient and quick connections to European major cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Manchester etc. In addition, Icelandair will debut a Berlin Tegel connection from their Icelandic hub this winter, adding to their already strong German network.

They also reaffirmed their plan to operate 767s to Manchester, in October, and between February and April next year.

WOW Air – On 23rd August, WOW “wowed” the world with massive expansion in the Midwest of the USA. They will launch 4x weekly flights from Iceland to:

  • Detroit from April 26, 2018
  • Cleveland from May 4, 2018
  • Cincinnati from May 10, 2018
  • Louis from May 17, 2018

With $99 starting fares to Iceland and $149 fares to mainland Europe, this is a great option for Americans visiting Europe.

They will also launch flights to London Stansted (STN) on a daily basis.

Although the expansion in Iceland hasn’t come without contention, with questions about the sustainability of tourism flooding the nation. It can’t be denied it’s good for consumers, with two airlines fighting to open new routes and gain market share. Here are all the new routes launching out of Iceland, announced this month:

Cobalt Aero – Cobalt – Cypriot start-up airline – announced two new services for the winter season, with Gatwick and Frankfurt being their newest gateways. They currently serve Manchester, Birmingham & Stansted in the UK.

 

Route Launches

August is a quiet month for route launches. The ‘summer’ season is well under way, with most services being operational by mid-August or “Peak Week”.

Norwegian – Norwegian launched their new morning service, flying out of Gatwick to New York’s JFK. The service departs between 0535 and 0700, depending on the day of travel, arriving you into the US early in the morning. They have also added an eastbound daytime service, departing New York at 1100, whilst existing services depart at 2300. The new timings (which I love) are urging Londoners to ‘discover New York in a day’. Sounds like a challenge I should take on!

I’ll be back next month with a summary of all of September’s new routes and I hope you enjoyed reading this month’s review.

American Airlines A330 Flight Review

 

After the American Airlines-US Airways merger, AA have inherited several Airbus A330s for their long-haul flights and indeed the Philadelphia hub. They now operate a sizeable range of transatlantic flights from Philadelphia including Manchester, London Heathrow, Munich, Frankfurt, Athens, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Glasgow and Barcelona. Throughout my journey to Pennsylvania, I was curious to find out:

  • How does American Airlines compare to British Airlines on transatlantic flights?
  • Has the “new” American identity shone through on these ex-US Airways birds?

Boarding & Departure

Upon arriving at our gate, at 08:50am we were called to board the aircraft. However, due to the aircraft’s late arrival from Philadelphia, boarding actually began at around 09:30am. My flight would be operated by N270AY, an Airbus A330-300, delivered to US Airways in March 2000.

My request to board the aircraft early was granted, and the boarding agents were very keen to learn more about my interest in aviation. I was met by Elizabeth, who was extremely kind and talkative throughout the flight, one of the best cabin-crew members I have encountered throughout my experiences. She allowed me to take as many pictures of the Economy Cabin as I wanted and then I was allowed to take some shots of the Business Class – formerly ‘Envoy’ cabin – and then speak to the Captain on the flight deck.

 

The Captain talked me through the routing, showing me the iPad, and was really nice and informative. It was a great experience in a widebody cockpit.

 

I then went back to my seat – 10A – which had a superb wing-view! Looking around the aircraft, I asked the flight attendant, “is this it?”. The reply came, “I was expecting more!”. The plane was around 1/3 full – a joy for the passengers as every passenger got atleast two seats for themselves and all the rows in the centre of the aircraft were being used as quasi-flat beds. I had the two window seats (A & B) to myself which was really great.

We took off from Heathrow at around 10:25am, and quickly got on our routing to Philadelphia.

Meal Service

As soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off, the meal service began. The choice? Shepherd’s Pie or Thai Vegetables. An inventive selection, which impressed me, rather than the usual “chicken or beef?”. I picked the Shepherd’s Pie option, which was delicious. The meal service came with a pretzel stick, a choice of beverages, a salad and a chocolate brownie. Further into the flight, ice cream was served, which was a nice touch.

Just before arrival into Pennsylvania, a small snack was served, which consisted of a pizza slice and a red velvet sponge.

Who won: BA or AA? American Airlines – we didn’t receive a second meal on British Airways.

Cabin

The Business Class cabin is in a 1-2-1 configuration, meaning direct aisle-access at every seat and a full flat bed:

The Economy Class cabin is in a 2-4-2 configuration (as is standard on the Airbus A330) and was very comfortable. The legroom was decent, and the recline was also very comfortable. My only criticism would be the IFE system, which was quite clearly outdated and insensitive. If this was improved, it would definitely beat BA’s 777 Economy Cabin.

Who won: BA or AA? British Airways, slightly.

Cabin Cleanliness/Cabin Crew

The cabin was spotlessly clean – even the lavatories. The cabin crew were also some of the best I have come across.

Who won: BA or AA? American Airlines.

Arrival into Philadelphia

Just before cabin crew were instructed to take their seats for landing, one of the male FAs quickly came to me and gave me an ‘Aviator Logbook’ including information about AA’s fleet, history and a logbook, of which the crew had signed. This was a really nice end to a great flight. The pilot executed a smooth landing and we arrived onto stand at 12:52pm, around 15 minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time.

So, back to the two main points, were there traces of US Airways? Yes, the cabin crew still wore US Airways aprons when serving meals and ice cream, the galleys and service trolleys were still branded US Airways. Overall though, the “new” American has been embraced on these birds.

And, finally, who would I choose: BA or AA? Having flown London to Philadelphia on both these airlines, within a year of eachother, I would choose American Airlines. The timings are more convenient, and my experience was much more personable on American.

Punctuality: 9/10

Cabin: 9/10

Meal Services: 9/10

Overall Experience: 9/10

How has everyone else’s experiences been on American Airlines?

The UK Electronics Ban is Being Lifted

In March 2017, the Electronics Ban made travel from the Middle East & Africa much harder for business people, as large electronic items had to be placed in the hold – although any policy that keeps our way of life safe has to be welcomed.

Airlines introduced initiatives, wherefore you could keep your laptop until your departure gate, helping to ease concerns over theft, but it still made working on the go inefficient for frequent business flyers. Both the United Kingdom and the United States introduced bans, presumably off shared intelligence, however the US ban included destinations that the UK ban did not (such as the UAE and Qatar), whereas the UK didn’t and vice versa.

Throughout July, the US electronics ban was lifted on an airline-specific basis, with Saudia & Egyptair being some of the last airlines to have the ban lifted. The United States then added additional security checks as a consequence and has now prohibited laptops being transported in the hold

Saudia’s flights from Manchester & London to Jeddah & Riyadh are still affected. Image from Boeing.

However, as of now the UK electronics ban remains in place, for most countries. On July 28th 2017, the ban was lifted for Turkish Airlines Pegasus departing out of Istanbul & Izmir to the UK. Then, on 4th August 2017, the ban was lifted for Thomas Cook flights from Dalaman, EasyJet flights from Bodrum and Amman Queen Alia Airport had it’s ban lifted with Royal Jordanian flights to the UK no longer affected.

Turkish Airlines posted the above, to inform passengers of the Electronics Ban being lifted.

These flights will, however, will be subject to additional tough security measures, including explosive trace detection and ‘enhanced surveillance’. Here is what the British Transport Secretary – Chris Grayling – had to say:

“Having looked carefully at the changes introduced in March, and working with our international partners and the industry on tough additional security measures, we can now lift the ban on electronic devices in the cabin on a small number of UK-bound flights from Istanbul and Izmir. The remaining restrictions will be lifted only when we are satisfied it is safe and proportionate to do so.

-Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary-

It sounds like the UK will be pursuing a country/airline specific drawback of the electronics ban, akin to the US.

Note that British flag carrier – British Airways – are still subject to the ban out of Jordan and Turkey, and so are flights from Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

British Airways is working with the UK government to get the ban lifted on it’s services.

British Airways said that they are ‘working with the UK government’ to ‘assess the security requirements in all of the countries where the UK government restrictions currently apply’.

I expect there will be more news regarding this shortly, however, for now, travelling with your laptop is becoming much more efficient.

What are your thoughts? Join the discussion with the tag #LONDONSPOTTERCOUK on your Instagram stories.

Featured image by CNN.

June & July 2017: Route Report

Here is my monthly summary of route development in the UK for June and July 2017. We are now well in to the summer season and approaching the main route development season for next year.

Route Launches

FlyOne – A Moldovan carrier launched the first connection to a UK airport outside of London, with a Birmingham-Chisinau route. The service will operate with A319/A320 aircraft.

EasyJet – EasyJet have launched additional services for their summer programme from Manchester, including Dubrovnik and Granada.

Norwegian – Norwegian launched it’s long anticipated transatlantic routes with the Boeing 737MAX aircraft. UK wise, they launched flights from Belfast and Edinburgh, with routes from the latter to Hartford, Providence and New York Stewart Airport.

Norwegian’s very nice celebratory cake! Image from anna.aero

Saudia – Saudia began their seasonal Riyadh-Manchester connection on 23rd June 2017, operating twice-weekly, with their brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. This route opens up more connection opportunities and new business ventures, building on strong UK-Saudi diplomatic relations. This makes Saudia’s overall Manchester operation daily (5x weekly Jeddah/2x weekly Riyadh)

Saudia’s opulent Dreamliner now operates into Manchester daily. Image from Boeing.

Route Announcements

British Airways – British Airways have been making some big changes this July.

They have cut Bergen, Stavanger and Paris Orly from London Heathrow, instead relocating their Orly connection to London City.

In addition to this, they announced new routes from London City to Reykjavik (amongst others) and Manchester to Chambery/Salzburg, to commence on December 16th 2017, continuing their northern Cityflyer base into winter.

They have also made several changes for the winter 2017 season, to their long-haul operations. Some of the most significant include the 787-9 replacing the 747-400 on the Heathrow-Beijing Capital route, increases to double-daily on the Las Vegas route, and the 747 operating to Tel Aviv, once a week!

In addition, British Airways will be using the 787-9 on the Heathrow-Madrid route. A great short-haul European widebody jaunt!

BA’s First cabin. Photo from Londonspotter

Ryanair – Ryanair’s long anticipated Ukraine routes have been suspended – thanks to a dispute with the Ukrainian aviation authorities, they will no longer be able to launch flights from Kiev or Lviv.

United – As I wrote about last month here, United have had a drastic change of plan in the UK regions. Glasgow and Shannon to New York Newark have been made seasonal and Birmingham’s New York connection has been cut, ending on the 5th October 2017.

However, whilst retreating from regional UK operations, they are adding a new Denver-London route, competing against British Airways. The service will operate with Boeing 787-8 aircraft. It will operate seasonally – from 24th March to 26th October.

Thomas Cook – As I wrote about a couple of days ago, Thomas Cook announced a new Manchester-Seattle route. Read more here.

American Airlines – American have announced that they will be rostering the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner on the Manchester-Chicago O’Hare route from June next year.

China Airlines – China Airlines have announced a resumption of flights to the UK market, with four-weekly services from Taipei (TPE) to London Gatwick (LGW). The flights will operate with the airline’s Airbus A350-900XWB, from 1st December 2017.

The Airbus A350 of Taipei-based China Airlines. This is the 100th A350 to be manufactured and delivered. Take a look at more recent deliveries in Raj’s monthly review! Photo from Airbus.

Primera Air – Scandinavian carrier, Primera, is entering the transatlantic market with routes from Paris, Stansted and Birmingham (partially filling the void left by United). They will operate from Stansted and Birmingham to New York Newark on a daily basis from May 2018, and to Boston Logan on a four-weekly basis from June 2018, operating with brand new A321neo aircraft. The services will have evening departures from the UK, a rarity from regional UK airports, and operate year-round. The aircraft will feature power ports and Wi-Fi, but lunch could cost you up to $70!

Primera Air’s render of their new A321NEO aircraft. Photo from Primera Air.

Norwegian – Norwegian, in addition to announcing several new transatlantic routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle, announced a new route from London Gatwick to the Argentinian city of Buenos Aires. The services will be Norwegian’s first to South America, from February 14th, 2018, on a four-weekly frequency. Norwegian will also create an Argentinian subsidiary to offer domestic feeder services within Argentina.

Watch out, Aerolineas Argentinas!

Hainan Airlines – Hainan Airlines, who already serve Manchester-Beijing, have applied to serve the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou from Manchester. We will wait and see for any development on this front, but at least we are now seeing the beautiful Kung Fu Panda 787s in Manchester

Thanks for reading this month’s route review by me, Ethan! Have any thoughts on these routes? Get in touch by social media and tag your instagram stories with #LONDONSPOTTERCOUK to join the dicsussion!

 

Featured image by Gatwick Spotter on Instagram

NEW ROUTE: Seattle Calling from Manchester

Thomas Cook are the largest long-haul carrier flying out of Manchester. Of course there are others with a sizeable presence such as American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, but Thomas Cook really are a prized possession at the Northern Hub. Manchester Airport even refers to them as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ on Twitter.

In recent years, they have embarked on mass route development, and now offer many long haul routes from Manchester which generally increase year-on-year. In summer 2017 they will be offering the following routes to the US, with many more to Mexico and the Caribbean:

  • New York JFK
  • Boston-Logan
  • Orlando International
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Las Vegas
  • Miami

And if that isn’t enough, beginning 27th May 2018, Thomas Cook will offer 2x weekly flights between Manchester and Seattle. Flights will operate on Thursdays and Sundays, with the Airbus A330-200 aircraft. As it currently stands, there will be some flights operated with Thomas Cook’s own A330 aircraft and others operated by A330s that Thomas Cook leases for the busy summer period.

It’s every av-geeks dream to visit the Boeing Factory in Seattle and now, with a comparable product to other full-service airlines, Thomas Cook offers much better value than the one-stop competition

The services will:

  • Leave Manchester (MAN) at 1210, arrive Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) at 1340.
  • Leave Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) at 1540, arrive Manchester (MAN) at 0845 the next day. 

What is interesting about Thomas Cook’s growth at Manchester is the amount of transfer passengers they are receiving. Many passengers are connecting through Manchester, using Flybe’s regional network, which has lead to the marked turn away from the purely tourist market, and following Condor’s model serving destinations such as Seattle. It is also exciting for Manchester, as Seattle is only served from MAN outside of London throughout the UK and the tech links between the two cities are prominent.

Thomas Cook’s CEO – Christopher Debus – said:

“We are proud to be continuing our expansion to the USA by launching Seattle as a new destination next year. Our German Condor operation has served Seattle for many years and the year-round service has been really popular with our passengers. We work closely with partner airlines, such as Alaska Airlines, based in Seattle is an important partner offering our customers even more choice to the likes of British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska and Hawaii.”

Manchester Airport’s Managing Director  – Collette Roche – said:

“To secure a direct route to Seattle is further testament to the role Manchester Airport plays in the North and UK as a whole. We have grown the number of seats on sale to US destinations at a greater rate than any other UK airport this year. This is hugely positive news for the 22m passengers in our catchment area – which spans from Scotland to the Midlands and Merseyside to Yorkshire, and the millions of people a year who connect to our long haul network from locations across the UK and Europe.”

There are still some gaps in Thomas Cook’s schedule for their A330 aircraft, and widely tipped is a Manchester-Tampa route, so we will have to wait and see. But what is certain is that Thomas Cook has shown Manchester can be made into a long-haul hub for the North and other airlines are following.

Is anyone excited about Thomas Cook’s expansion at Manchester? Do you think they will continue to expand? Get in touch via the comment section below or social media to have your say.

Featured photo from ethanegcc Instagram.

United Airlines: Drastic Change of Plan on the UK Regions

Over the last couple of years, much has happened to disrupt the transatlantic market. The so-called ‘Trump Slump’, the effect of last June’s Brexit vote on the value of the Great British Pound, and much more. There have been casualties, such as American’s Birmingham-New York JFK route, but it is fair to say no carrier has taken such a drastic u-turn on operations in the UK Regions as United.

Earlier this year, United announced that it would axe it’s Belfast-New York flights – which were Northern Ireland’s only link to the US – and it’s Newcastle-New York flights wouldn’t be returning for the summer season. This left Newcastle and Belfast without a link to the US.

Shortly afterwards, United announced that the Manchester-Washington D.C. route wouldn’t be returning for this summer.

If you thought the drawback was over, you are mistaken.

Three new routes are now casualties of United’s misfortunes.

Birmingham-New York Newark is ending on 5th October 2017. United had served this route for 20 years, up to daily, and most recently with Boeing 757-200 aircraft. Following American axing their transatlantic link to Birmingham, they are left with just one link to the USA; TUI’s 787 service to Florida. A poor state of affairs for an airport that serves the UK’s Midlands region. Poor financial performance was cited as the reason to axe the route.

“We have regretfully taken this decision because of the route’s poor financial performance. We will contact customers with bookings for flights beyond this date to provide refunds and re-accommodate where possible.”

-United

In addition to this, United’s Shannon-New York Newark route will go seasonal, resuming in March 2018 and their Glasgow-New York Newark route will take an even bigger break, resuming in May 2018.

So is this an ideological change for United – only wanting three UK gateways, MAN, LHR & EDI – the effect of low cost airlines such as Norwegian and WOW encroaching in on traditional markets, or the geopolitics of 2017? One thing’s for certain, this change has left some UK airports in a tricky position, in terms of their connections across the pond, and it remains to be seen whether this is the end of the cutbacks for United.

What do you think? Will more United UK routes get the chop? 

Photo by Michael Ward (Planespotter.net)

El Al Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner: A Dramatic Improvement in Onboard Product

Over, the last week, Israeli national carrier – El Al – has announced it’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner cabin interiors. Considering the previous onboard product, this is a massive improvement and the new cabins are actually competitive and aesthetically pleasing.

It also seems the El Al Dreamliner aircraft will also have a modified livery, which is slightly more eye-catching:

Business Class will be in a 1-2-1 configuration and, whilst in a similar setup to United’s new Polaris seat, is not the same hardware. It provides direct aisle access to every passenger and is an immense improvement to the previous product.

El Al will also introduce Premium Economy. It will be in a 2-4-2 configuration, with 38″ seat pitch. This will help El Al compete with Cathay Pacific’s A350 product on the Tel Aviv-Hong Kong route.

The Economy cabin will be in a 3-3-3 configuration, with 31″ seat pitch. Although not the most spacious seat, it looks extremely modern with large IFE screens and a clean, bright look.

Apparently, the first route will be London-Tel Aviv (beginning in Autumn 2017), with Newark-Tel Aviv and Hong Kong-Tel Aviv to follow. The choice of routes is interesting, as El Al faces direct competition on both of these routes. United recently announced it would deploy its new Boeing 777-300ER (with Polaris seats) on this route and Cathay Pacific recently began Airbus A350 service to Israel, from their hub in Hong Kong. Perhaps, for El Al, this is about taking back market share from the airline’s home market with a more competitive product and, thus, deploying their new kit on the most competitive routes from Tel Aviv.

All pictures courtesy of El Al Israel.