Aviation Round-Up: 2nd November 2018

In November, airlines continue to plan and announce their summer 2019 flying programmes – including cutting routes and expanding into new markets. Take a look below at my top picks of all of this month’s route developments…


Routes News

WOW Air Axes Multiple US Destinations

WOW Air is the Icelandic budget carrier whose business model revolves around connecting passengers from Europe to North America. The airline has grown rapidly in recent years, although perhaps it appears that all of that growth was not sustainable.

WOW Air’s primary business model revolves around offering customer’s low fare travel between Europe and North America, connecting in the geographically well-placed hub of Reykjavik.

WOW Air will cancel its Reykjavik-St Louis route this coming January and will not restart its seasonal flights to Cincinnati and Cleveland. Additionally, the future of flights to New York-JFK and Dallas is uncertain. The airline has offset this reduction in its network, by introducing a new flight to Canada’s West Coast – Vancouver.

Hainan Airlines links China and Norway

At the China-Norway Business Summit, Hainan Airlines announced that it would be the first to link Oslo and Beijing non-stop in 2019. Detail on the equipment used or frequency for the new route is scarce – but it seems likely that Hainan Airlines will operate either the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Airbus A330 on its first Nordic connection. The new route continues Hainan Airline’s trendsetting attitude to the aviation industry – providing Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and others with their first connection to China’s capital in recent years.

Delta & Virgin Atlantic Expand in The Scottish Capital

Delta Airlines – in cooperation with its joint-venture partner Virgin Atlantic – have announced a second route to Edinburgh, joining existing flights to New York-JFK. From May 24th 2019, Delta Airlines will launch a new route from Boston Logan to Edinburgh, to be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft configured with 16 Business Class seats.

Delta Airlines owns a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic and the joint-venture has become a force to be reckoned with in the Transatlantic market.

This development means that Edinburgh will join Manchester in offering the only non-stop flights to Boston Logan from the UK, outside of London.

British Airways Launches London-Charleston Route

British Airways has announced yet another new pioneering route to the US, from its London base. The airline will launch a twice-weekly Heathrow-Charleston service, to be operated with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. Coupled with British Airways’ new route to Pittsburgh announced earlier this year, the airline will now offer 29 destinations in the USA – more than any other European airline.

Ethiopian Airlines Connects L.A. and Lomé

Since 2015, Ethiopian Airlines has had fifth-freedom rights to sell tickets for passengers travelling between Dublin and Los Angeles, as part of the wider Addis Ababa-Los Angeles flight. However, Ethiopian Airlines has recently stopped accepting reservations for the Dublin-L.A. flight, meaning that the airline was planning to alter the intermediate stop between Ethiopia and California.

Ethiopian Airlines’ Addis Ababa-Los Angeles route will now operate via Lome, Togo – replacing Dublin, Ireland.

The new flight will route via Lome, Togo and will continue to operate with Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. Consequently, Los Angeles will now have non-stop service to the continent of Africa, South America, North America, Oceania, Asia and Europe – putting it amongst a select group airports around the world.


Deliveries & Other Aviation Stories

Ryanair and Wizz Air Introduce Controversial New Baggage Policies

Two of Europe’s largest low-cost airlines have both initiated new cabin baggage policies, aimed at decreasing baggage related delays.

The changes in onboard luggage allowance are aimed at reducing delays.

Ryanair will limit non-Priority customers to just one small item onboard, with dimensions less than 40cmx20cmx25cm. They will be able to purchase a 10kg checked-bag for £8 at the time of booking, although it is important to note that this will have to be checked at the bag-drop desk. Priority customers will continue to carry one two pieces of onboard luggage.

WIZZ Air’s policy is broadly similar, but allows for a slightly larger small item onboard and allows non-Priority customers to purchase a 10kg checked-bag for just €7.

Etihad Airways receives first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

In the past week, despite their ongoing financial issues, Etihad Airways recieved its first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner – registered A6-BMA.

 

The aircraft will be configured with 304 seats in Economy Class and 32 seats in Business Class. Initially, A6-BMA will replace the Boeing 787-9 in operating flights from Abu Dhabi to Jeddah. Etihad Airways’ Boeing 787-10 will fly to Seoul Incheon from December 1st.


Get your next round-up of all the latest news, within the aviation industry, in two weeks’ time. 

Cobalt Air Grounds Flights & Ceases Operations

Cobalt Air, Cyprus’ largest carrier, will ground its flights from midnight tonight (Wednesday, 17th October 2018), after reports said it had failed to reach a deal with a major European investor.

Reports have suggested that the company has only €15 million its accounts, which are expected to be used to pay the employees of the company.

Cobalt Air will cease flight operations at midnight (local time in Cyprus).

The Cypriot Transport Minister, Vasiliki Anastasiadou, could neither confirm nor deny reports that the airline would be suspending flights.

In May this year, Cobalt’s CEO Andrew Madar was sacked by the airline and Cobalt Air posted losses in 2017. The Air Transport Licensing Authority (part of civil aviation) met with Cobalt officials earlier today for a meeting. This group has been monitoring the airline for a period, to ensure that Cobalt Air met all of its obligations for aircraft maintenance and payments such as employee salaries.

CO327 – currently en-route from London Heathrow to Larnaca International Airport – could prove to be the Cypriot carrier’s final flight, currently estimated to land in Cyprus at 00:10am.

CO327 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Larnaca could prove to be the airline’s final flight.

I flew with Cobalt Air between Manchester and Larnaca last year – I found the experience to be a fantastic blend between low-cost and premium, with enthusiastic and hospitable cabin crew. The airline also boasted what is arguably the most competitive intra-European Business Class of all the major carriers. This is one airline I am certainly sad to see go.

Cobalt Air’s fantastic Business Class in a 2-2 configuration, was one of the most competitive in Europe.

This is, of course, also a regrettable situation for all of Cobalt Air’s employees and the people of Cyprus – who will lose their largest national airline again after the liquidation of Cyprus Airways in 2015. The airline had ambitious growth plans and operated to 23 destinations this year. Unfortunately, those plans now stand little chance of being initiated.

Lufthansa Group Reveals Future Plans: Where Are They Headed?

The Lufthansa Group is arguably the largest and most influential grouping of airlines across Europe with the group’s three network airlines offering a network comprising of 263 destinations in 86 countries last year. Now, Lufthansa Group has revealed their growth strategy for the future and announced how they will be optimising their hubs and preparing for the 2019 season. Their goal? To increase quality and on-time punctuality across all of Lufthansa Group’s network airlines.

which airlines are part of Lufthansa group?

Lufthansa Group comprises of five airline ‘brands’ – three of these are referred to as ‘network airlines’ and two as ‘point to point’ airlines.

‘Network airlines’ are Lufthansa Group’s more traditional members: SWISS, Lufthansa and Austrian.

Network airlines offer connecting hubs and a premium onboard experience. These include:

  • Lufthansa German Airlines
  • SWISS
  • Austrian Airlines

The two remaining airlines are ‘point to point’ airlines. These airlines are designed to appeal to price-sensitive customers and tap into the growing direct traffic segment, with low-fare travel at its heart.

Brussels Airlines and Eurowings are the brands that make-up Lufthansa Group’s ‘point to point’ airlines.

The route network of the Point-to-Point Airlines is served from a total of eleven bases and in the summer flight timetable 2017 comprised 192 destinations in 62 countries. The airlines are:

  • The Eurowings Group (Eurowings, Germanwings and Eurowings Europe)
  • Brussels Airlines

Consequently, Lufthansa Group’s main hubs are Munich, Frankfurt, Zürich and Vienna. Notably absent is Brussels, which is home to Brussels Airlines, which is classed as a ‘point to point’ airline. Going forward, it seems as if Brussels Airlines will be more closely integrated to Eurowings – rather than the mainstream network airlines grouping. So what is Lufthansa Group’s plan to optimise operations in each of these hubs?

munich (muc)

Although ‘Lufthansa’ is most closely related to ‘Frankfurt’, the airline has decided to focus on and accelerate growth in Bavaria’s capital; Munich. Specifically, Lufthansa Group wants Munich to become a strategic hub for flights to Asia. Increased frequencies will be offered from Munich to Seoul and Singapore, Summer 2019 will see the first ever daily connection from Munich to Bangkok as part of this transformation. Additionally, the Frankfurt-Osaka flight will be moved to depart from Munich.

Munich has recently recieved more growth from Lufthansa, with A380s being transferred from Frankfurt successfully.

Five of Lufthansa’s Airbus A380-800s have already been transferred from Frankfurt to Munich. Lufthansa aims to transfer even more by 2020.  Three Airbus A320s are being moved from the Frankfurt hub to Munich to support the expansion of feeder traffic while three smaller Bombardier CRJ900s will be transferred from Munich to Frankfurt in exchange. The airline says Munich is a ‘five-star location’. As a result, the majority of Lufthansa’s first-class configured Airbus A340-600s will operate to/from Munich, rather than Frankfurt going forward.

Frankfurt (FRA)

Contrastingly, Lufthansa will be curbing its growth in Frankfurt, to improve on time performance. However, the airline is still growing. Eilat (Israel), Agadir (Morocco), Trieste (Italy) and Thessaloniki (Greece) are new additions to the flight programme from Frankfurt this year. Lufthansa is also expanding its footprint in the US. From 3rd May 2019, the airline will inaugurate its flight from Frankfurt to Austin, whilst terminating the Frankfurt to San Jose, CA route.

For 2019, there will only be low single-digit year-on-year growth at Frankfurt, which may come as a surprise, as the airport is Germany’s largest and one of the busiest across the European continent.

Zürich (zrh)
SWISS has been the recipient of a number of new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft recently.

Zürich has been growing moderately over recent times. As the home base of SWISS, the airport has grown as an attractive connecting hub. Now, however, the main focus will be on expanding European flights, rather than long-haul. For next year, this modest growth will continue and new routes will be added across Europe (Bremen has already been announced) but, given Lufthansa Group’s intentions, it is unlikely that SWISS will be flying any new long-haul routes soon.

Vienna (vie)
Vienna is Austrian Airlines’ home base.

Similarly to Zürich, Vienna will see moderate growth. Austrian Airlines will be adding new flights across Europe and is already increasing frequencies to destinations such as Athens and Kiev. This aims to strengthen Vienna’s hub status – given its strategic location in Central Europe, providing quick and easy connections from eastern Europe to the US and Canada. Austrian Airlines will continue to optimise its network in North America. Recently, for example, the airline has announced new services from their hub to Montréal – with Air Canada replacing services on the Vienna-Toronto route.

Lufthansa group’s fleet plans

Lufthansa has a firm order for 34 Boeing 777-9X aircraft, to be delivered from 2020. Whilst these aircraft are designed to replace the airline’s ageing jumbo-jet fleet, Lufthansa Group has not decided how they will be distributed between network airlines. The group says that they will be making a decision based on each hub’s performance next year as to which airport the new Boeing 777X will takeoff from initially. Whilst the majority of the aircraft are almost certainly going to be a key component in Lufthansa’s core fleet, there is a strong possibility that some aircraft could operate under the ‘Austrian Airlines’ banner, given Austrian’s lack of long-haul aircraft on order and existing Boeing 777-200ER fleet. SWISS has recently replenished its fleet with new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft so it is unlikely that any of the new aircraft will operate from Switzerland for the foreseeable future.

We do know one concrete fact about the 777-9X, however. It will feature Lufthansa’s new onboard product, featuring direct aisle access to every seat for the first time in Lufthansa’s fleet in Business Class.

Lufthansa will offer a 1-1-1 configuration on some rows in Business Class, with this intelligent design. 

If the new aircraft are to operate for Austrian Airlines, this onboard product will represent a significant upgrade over the current experience.

conclusion

All in all, Lufthansa Group clearly has a robust strategy for the future and focusing on consolidation and improving punctuality in their largest hub -Frankfurt – can only be a positive thing for passengers. As previously, Berlin still remains woefully underserved by Germany’s national airline – although this is probably in part due to the constant delays in the opening of Berlin’s Brandenburg airport. Whilst Brussels Airlines could feasibly be a ‘network airline’ – with a fully-fledged Business Class product and a developed hub in Brussels – Lufthansa Group clearly anticipates further alignment with Eurowings as a low-cost carrier.


 

 

Primera Air Ceases Operations

Last year, Primera Air shook up the transatlantic market once again with a raft of new low-cost flights from Europe to the US & Canada with newly delivered Airbus A321neo aircraft.

Primera Air’s transatlantic flights were significantly disrupted by delays in the delivery of their new Airbus A321neo aircraft.

However, Primera Air’s transatlantic plans were hampered by delivery delays and shambolic management. Throughout this year, these issues have resulted in:

  • flights from Birmingham to Boston were cancelled before their launch
  • flights from Birmingham to New York and Toronto were cancelled soon after launch
  • flights from London Stansted were operated by a leased Boeing 757 aircraft for a short period
  • a myriad of flights cancelled, delayed and rescheduled from Paris-CDG
  • customers misled after flights from London were scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 737 NG aircraft, which would stop for refuelling in Reykjavik

The reliability of the airline has been appalling, and there has been no real strategy for sustainable growth throughout the airline’s foray into long-haul flying.

Primera had hoped to expand their operations further with the Boeing 737 MAX-9 – with flights already announced from Madrid, Frankfurt and Berlin. It is certain that those plans will not materialise now.

Primera Air continued with its rapid yet illogical growth strategy and, since this summer, has announced transatlantic flights from Berlin, Frankfurt and Madrid with Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft – to be delivered next year. These new routes were announced less than a month ago, with eye-catching fares Primera Air has become known for.

This rapid growth and lack of proper financing has proved too much for Primera Air. The airline will be filing for bankruptcy and ceasing operations in the next few hours. Primera Air and IATA codes PF and 6F have been suspended as of today, October 2nd, 2018. In a letter sent to employees of the airline, Primera Air’s Director of Flight Operations said:

Dear colleagues,

It is with regret I am reaching out to you all this dark day. We have just been informed that both Primera Air Nordic and Primera Air Scandinavia will file for bankruptcy tomorrow October 2, 2018.

Currently flights are operating as normally and OCC, Crewing and Travel are working on arranging travel home for crews who happen to on outstations.

Reasons I am sure are many but very high cost for the aircraft with corrosion last year as well as the delays of our new Airbuses lead to too high costs for wet lease and cancellations which in the end became too much for the airlines. Our owner was working on securing financing but was not able to in the end. This is what was stated during today’s staff meeting in the Riga office.

All the staff in the Riga office have been informed but official information will not be sent out until midnight by our owner.

Whilst this was an unofficial statement, the airline has since confirmed this to be the case in a press release on Primera Air’s website:

It is unlikely that the airline will secure financing at this late stage, so it is almost certain that Primera Air will cease to exist within the next few days – just like Monarch Airlines, a British carrier, did one year ago. This will of course have unfortunate impacts on Primera Air’s employees and passengers – who will now have to amend their travel plans going forward.


If you were scheduled to fly with Primera Air in the coming months, you are advised to visit www.primeraair.com for updates over the next few days.  Tour Operator passengers are advised to address their Tour Operators and Agents for further information and actions.

 

 

JOON ‘Season 2’: Six New Destinations for 2019

One year ago, Air France launched its next-generation flying experience: JOON. JOON is designed to appeal to millennials, attracting a ‘young, working clientele’ with a chic, unique brand and several on-board innovations such as USB ports and VR-headsets.

Launched in September 2017, Joon has carried more than two million customers in Europe and worldwide from the airline’s base in Paris-Charles de Gaulle. JOON’s fleet consists of Airbus A320s and A321 aircraft on its medium-haul network and multiple Airbus A340-300s on its long-haul network.

JOON is aiming to have 28 aircraft operating in its fleet, by 2020.

Air France anticipate that JOON’s fleet size will reach 28 by 2020 – so, one year on, where is JOON expanding to?

In their second summer season, JOON will serve another 6 destinations across Europe, the Caribbean and South America. In Europe, JOON will operate Air France’s existing flights to Manchester (UK), Stockholm (Sweden), Prague (Czech Republic) and Madrid (Spain), with Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 equipment, offering up to 212 seats, all starting in Summer 2019.

JOON’s route network has grown consistently since the airline’s creation last year.

Saint Martin in the Caribbean will also receive the next-generation travel experience that JOON offers, whilst Quito – in South America – will be an entirely new venture for Air France from Paris-CDG. JOON’s flights to both of these inter-continental destinations will be operated by Airbus A340-300 aircraft.

Although Air France’s short-haul Economy product is competitive, JOON brings a host of extra benefits to passengers flying on these routes, including:

  • Individual USB ports, for recharging
  • Complimentary drinks and a range of gourmet snacks, available for purchase
  • Access to JOON’s entertainment system – YouJoon.

YouJoon will enable customers to access in-flight streaming, on their own smartphone, tablet or laptop. Once on board, they will be able to connect directly to the Joon login portal and choose from a wide range of TV series, animated series, Web TV and kids’ programmes. YouJoon also offers customers the opportunity to browse a range of magazines and newspapers – innovations that simply aren’t available on legacy airlines on the majority of intra-European flights.

Although JOON is simply a spin-off of Air France, the modern on-board product rivals that of many European legacy airlines.

Another benefit of flying with JOON over EasyJet or Ryanair, for example, is the fact that you can still access all of Air France’s onward connections through Paris-CDG and – when flying Business Class – you can also access Air France’s Business Class lounges.

Essentially, JOON is Air France’s swanky little sister – offering a more up-to-date flying experience. In a world where our lives increasingly revolve around technology, JOON’s onboard product is a refreshing change for European travellers, allowing every customer to stay entertained, refreshed charged up whilst in the air – yet still offering low fares.

Aviation Round-Up: 22nd September 2018

As we slide into Autumn, airlines are rushed off their feet – planning new additions and making difficult cuts, in preparation for the Summer 2019 season. Take a look at my top picks of the most recent developments in aviation…


Routes News

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines bets on Las Vegas

The Dutch National carrier – KLM – has added an 18th North American destination to its portfolio. By summer 2019, the airline will offer three-weekly flights from Amsterdam to Las Vegas – utilising Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment seating 294 passengers on-board (30 World Business Class seats, 45 Economy Comfort seats and 219 Economy Class seats). The new route will initially launch on a twice-weekly basis in June 2019, before expanding to three-weekly on 2nd July 2019.

KLM will fly its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to Las Vegas, Nevada – beginning summer 2019.

As a result of slot restrictions at KLM’s home airport – Amsterdam Schipol – the airline will have to make adjustments to its current route network to accommodate this new flight. From 29th March, KLM’s flights to Monrovia and Freetown will cease to operate – launched only in 2017. The airline says that, under normal circumstances, the route would have been allowed more time to grow but believes its slots can be utilised more profitably on a different route.

Air France ventures to Dallas-Fort Worth and Quito, Ecuador

KLM’s fellow SkyTeam partner, Air France, is also developing its flying programme for Summer 2019. The airline will be launching flights to two-new long-haul destinations.

Unlike KLM, Air France will not be using its state-of-the-art Boeing 787 aircraft to facilitate this year’s expansion

Air France’s 13th US destination – Dallas Fort-Worth – will be served from Paris CDG, beginning 31st March 2019. The new route will be operated with the airline’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft, with five-weekly flights in peak season, configured with three cabin classes.

Air France has also announced services to a new South American destination – to be operated by its subsidiary, JOON.

Air France subsidiary, JOON, will operate the new Paris-Quito route, with Airbus A340-300 equipment.

The new Paris CDG-Quito service will operate three-times weekly with Airbus A340-300 equipment, with 30 seats in Business Class, 21 in Premium Economy and 227 in Economy Class. This new development means that Air France will join European partner’s KLM in operating to one of the world’s highest altitude cities – the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

Aer Lingus launches 2 NEW North American destinations

Aer Lingus has confirmed that it will launch services to both Minneapolis and Montréal next year, after a month of rumours. Both routes will operate on a daily basis, launching in July and August 2019 respectively. Whilst the airline’s new route to Minnesota will be operated by leased Boeing 757-200 aircraft, the new Dublin-Montréal flight will be operated by newly delivered Airbus A321LR aircraft.

Aer Lingus offers a competitive Business Class on its widebody aircraft. This will be replicated on the airline’s new Airbus A321LRs. (Image Credit: independent.ie)

These latest plans for transatlantic expansion come after years of steady, yet sustained growth in the North American 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.

The new routes to Minneapolis and Montréal will take Aer Lingus’ destinations in North America to 15.

With 12 Airbus A321LR aircraft on order, the future looks bright for Aer Lingus – who are likely to take advantage of the aircraft’s qualities and launch more “long and thin” routes to destinations that simply weren’t feasible with larger aircraft such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Air Belgium goes seasonal with Charleroi-Hong Kong service

Air Belgium has confirmed that it will temporarily pause its flights from Brussels South-Charleroi to Hong Kong, effective from 1st October through to March 2019 – after operating for just one season. The airline says that the pause is due to the ‘non-respect of contractual terms’ by one of Air Belgium’s major commercial partners.

Air Belgium launched flights earlier this year, amid delays to its original launch date

The airline, however, reiterates its commitment to continue operations after this pause and its ambitions to launch services to Mainland China destinations such as Zhengzhou.


Deliveries & Other Aviation Stories

Shanghai Airlines receives Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Shanghai Airlines – subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines – has recieved its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, registered B-1111.

B-1111, Shanghai Airlines’ first Dreamliner, will operate flights from Shanghai to Chengdu, Beijing, Japan and Korea.

The aircraft is the 100th Boeing-manufactured aeroplane in their fleet, powered by General Electric GEnx-1B engines. Shanghai Airlines is expected to operate the aircraft from Shanghai to Chengdu, Beijing, Japan and Korea.

Delta’s first Airbus A220 makes an appearance

Delta’s first Airbus A220-100 has emerged from the paint shop at the final assembly line in Mirabel, Québec.

Delta Airlines is the largest customer of the Airbus A220 series and is the first US airline to operate the aircraft.

The airline has 75 of the Airbus A220 series aircraft on order – the most of any airline – and is the first US airline to operate the variant. The aircraft will carry out its maiden flight in Autumn, before being delivered to the airline next year.

First Airbus A380 for All Nippon Airways takes flight

ANA’s first Airbus A380 “Superjumbo” has taken flight, before it is deployed on the Tokyo-Honolulu sector early next year.

ANA’s first Airbus A380 made its maiden voyage from Toulouse to Hamburg.

The first of three Airbus A380s for the Japanese airline on the orderbook, is now awaiting painting of its livery and installation of cabin products in Hamburg, Germany.

As previously reported on LondonSpotter, ANA has planned a series of special liveries for its Airbus A380 aircraft and will install fully-enclosed First Class suites onboard.

ANA’s three special liveries, to be painted on the Airbus A380 “Superjumbo”

The liveries represent the main elements of the Hawaiian islands, depicting either sky, ocean or sunset – respectively named Lani, Kai and Ka La.


Get your next round-up of all the latest news, within the aviation industry, in two weeks’ time. 

Air Baltic A220-300 Economy ATH-RIX-LGW Review

This is a guest review, written by George Delfas, detailing his experience onboard Air Baltic’s new Airbus A220-300 aircraft. 


In early September, I flew with Air Baltic on their new A220-300 aircraft
to return to the UK, following my holiday in Greece. Air Baltic operate a wide
network of flights to major cities across Europe, as well as many seasonal
holiday destinations utilising their fleet of modern A220-300s and
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s – in addition to ageing B737-300 and 737-500 aircraft which are slowly being phased out and replaced.

My flight was from Athens to Riga, and then onwards from Riga to London
Gatwick. Both flights were operated by the A220-300, making for a very
pleasant experience – thanks in part to their modern cabin product and low noise emissions.

I arrived at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at 22.00, with five hours to wait as my flight wasn’t until 03.15am.

Landside at Athens airport was very noisy, with many people coming and going and cleaning taking place, so I went through security after 45 minutes. Athens airport security was a pleasant contrast to the chaos of the check-in area – there was no queue whatsoever – and I was airside in just over 1 minute,
although this may have been due to the time of night. The gate
area was almost completely empty given the time of day, but an
impressive array of cafes remained open for an airport with only 2-3
flights departing from the ‘B’ gates between 00.00 and 05.00, with a wide
range of food available for purchase. There was a large quantity of
seating at the gates, however loud music was played preventing me from
getting any proper sleep. Thankfully, this was switched off at 1am.

At 02.50 we began boarding from a gate with a bus to take us to the
remote stand where YL-CSA (Air Baltic’s first ever A220-300, delivered
in November 2016) was waiting to take us to Riga. I boarded the plane
through the front door, was met by a friendly crew member and entered the
aircraft to find it lit with cool, pale coloured lighting with soft, relaxing
boarding music.

Boarding YL-CSA in Athens

We departed from Athens at 03.33, 18 minutes behind schedule, with an
estimated flight time of 2hours and 50minutes. After the seatbelt signs
had been switched off, the crew came around with the passengers’ pre-
ordered meals. They then brought the trolley service through. This sold a
range of snacks which could be bought on board at fairly reasonable
prices comparable to other airlines offering a similar service. The service
was fast, but I imagine that on busier flights during the day the service
could take a long time, with only one galley at the rear of the aircraft to
serve the entire economy cabin (the other galley at the front was
exclusively for business class passengers).

The cabin was very spacious, with each seat having a fantastic width of
18.5″and 32″of pitch making for a very comfortable flight.

The Economy Class product on the Airbus A220

The seats reclined sufficiently, with the seat base moving forward as well as the back reclining so as not to squash the legs of the person behind you. I thought this was a clever solution to this all-to-common issue. It is worth bearing in mind, that even the back row had room behind it to allow the seats to recline. The overhead bins were also enormous, and dropped down from the ceiling allowing easier access for shorter passengers. The tray tables had a sleek design which fitted neatly into the back of the seat in front of you, but were released by a slightly fiddly metal catch which you had to slide rather
than turn to release the table. This was, however, not a major issue.

The only major downside to the economy cabin was that out of the two toilets
on board, one was exclusively for the business class passengers, which
left just one lavatory for the entire economy class cabin of around 135 people,
leading to queues. There was at least one large window in each row,
allowing all passengers to see out even if seated on the aisle and allowing
a huge amount of natural light into the cabin.

Above each row is a small screen which displays the safety briefing and a
map during the flight. There is no other IFE, and no WiFi on board.
Adverts were played on the screens during the taxi, despite it being 03.30,
which was incredibly annoying, especially as the sound was played
loudly throughout the aircraft.

The A220’s signature overhead panel screen – showing onward connections from Riga.

30 minutes before landing in Riga, information on connecting flights was displayed on the screens, allowing you to see whether your next flight was on time, and which gate and concourse in the airport it was departing from saving you time once you had disembarked. This struck me as a nice touch.

Despite a horrible whining noise when the engines were started in
Athens, the rest of the flight was very quiet once cruising at 38,000 feet,
and noticeably quieter than an A320.

We landed in Riga at 06.19, 16 minutes ahead of schedule, following a
beautiful approach over foggy pine forests into a very, very foggy airport.
Disembarkation was through an airbridge on to concourse C.

Boarding YL-CSJ in an extremely foggy Riga.

Riga Airport is very small and easy to navigate, so it should have been a couple of minutes to reach Gate C9 for my onward flight to Gatwick. However,
there were huge queues for passport control to reach the boarding gates
for extra Schengen flights, meaning that I arrived at the gate after
boarding had started. The queue to board moved fast, and I was soon
walking out across the tarmac to my aircraft for this flight, another A220-
300 (YL-CSJ, Air Baltic’s second newest A220 delivered in July 2018).

The flight departed at 07.52, with an estimated flight time of 2hours
20minutes.

Departing over Lativa’s misty pine forests

Once we reached our cruising altitude of 40,000 feet, the
meals for those who had pre-ordered them were brought around. I had
ordered pancakes with fruit juice for breakfast, which arrived in a box,
and was warm.

The meal was nicely and neatly presented, in a compact box

The pancakes were very tasty, and came with fresh fruit
and a croissant and jam. Many options were available to choose from
when booking your flight online, including many traditional Latvian
dishes, ranging in price from €9 to €29, with options for specific dietary
requirements.

The breakfast meal, served onboard my RIX-LGW flight.

The crew were efficient and friendly, but were quite
reserved and didn’t make too many announcements, which was – at least in my opinion –  a good thing.

I won’t describe the cabin again, as the aircraft was the same type as
before, but Air Baltic have made some small changes to the cabin from
the earlier A220-300 models, with small improvements such as the seats
having a plastic back with a pocket that doesn’t bulge into your knees as
much when items are placed into it all helping to make the flight more
enjoyable.

We landed at Gatwick at 08.22, 18 minutes ahead of schedule, after
enduring possibly the most bumpy landing I have experienced which
even drew a sarcastic round of applause from many of the passengers,
and disembarked through an airbridge into the South Terminal.

Leaving YL-CSJ behind at London-Gatwick.

Bottom Line: 
Overall, my experience with Air Baltic was fantastic and I would
definitely fly with them again. They have the prices and service of a
budget carrier, but their cabin product, meal choices and noise levels on
the A220-300 is way above their rivals such as easyJet or British Airways
and provides fantastic comfort even for overnight flights.

Spain’s worst Business Class? | Air Europa Review

After my arrival into Malaga with Aer Lingus, I found myself with just 50 minutes to connect from one side of the terminal to another. Luckily for me, when I arrived at my gate there was a Primera Air Boeing 737 still waiting for the final few passengers to arrive, meaning my flight to Madrid would be delayed.

UX5049 Malaga – Madrid:

Finally the 737 pushed back and departed for Billund. The gate staff changed the signage over to Air Europa, and invited all Sky Priority + VIP passengers to come forward for boarding, so I did. I had my mobile boarding pass scanned and I was told to walk down the corridor and wait for a member of staff to direct me. It was only when the whole flight was waiting in the corridor that a member of staff came and lead us to a bus that would take us to the aircraft. So much for my priority boarding…

As we drove across the airfield, the plain white ATR 72 came into view. Today’s flight was being operated by Swiftair and not Air Europa themselves. Much like my Iberia flight from Ibiza to Mallorca. As the doors to the bus opened, the rush of passengers to the aircraft steps began, but not before larger cabin bags were tagged and placed into the aircraft hold.

Whether sitting in Business Class or Economy, the legroom on this aircraft was extremely disappointing…

After boarding I settled into “Business Class” seat 17A; I noticed that for other than an inch or two of extra legroom, this seat was no different to the others on-board. Even without my hand luggage underneath the seat, it was a very tight squeeze to attempt to stretch out. The seat width was the same as the Canaryfly ATR, because of this, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I fully understand that unlike their jet engined counterparts, regional propellor aircraft aren’t as gifted with vast amounts of space. However, despite this I have seen many airlines create a dedicated Business Class cabin on aircraft Including the ATR family.

One of the two crew on-board, who’s names I forget, offered myself and the other three passengers in Business a glass of Orange Juice or Water to drink prior to our departure. I chose the Orange Juice and also accepted the anti-bacterial face wipe offered that I believe substituted for a hot towel. Once boarding had been completed the crew introduced themselves by making several announcements in both Spanish and English. The engines of the turbo prop started up and we began our taxi to the runway.

Welcome drinks, not quite as extravagant as a certain other Spanish airline…

Upon take off from Malaga, we climbed out over the Mediterranean Sea then turned towards the mainland. Once the seatbelt signs had been deactivated, the crew came around to clear the rubbish from the welcome drinks. Offering another selection of drinks, I chose a Coca-Cola and folded down the tray table to begin writing up the Aer Lingus review on my laptop. Only, when it was all of the way down, It rested on my lap and left me with no space whatsoever. After resting my drink on my laptop (being very careful not to spill it), they offered a selection of newspapers that had become very creased from sitting in one of the overhead lockers. Declining this, I was offered my in-flight meal.

A tray of peculiar looking sandwiches was presented to me, two choices, Chicken or Ham. Choosing the latter, I opened it to find it was quite simply ham on a tomato bread. Talk about fine dining! I was also given a small packet of salted nuts and later offered a bag of ready salted potato chips. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting selection in the world, that’s for sure.

Attempting to take a working lunch didn’t go as planned…

No In-flight Entertainment is offered, so anyone planning to travel with on the ATR best pack a book otherwise you could be in for a very boring and uncomfortable flight. To pass the time, I cursed myself for not choosing to take the Renfe First Class service from Malaga to Madrid’s central train station. At least I would have had a large reclining leather seat, warm meal and most importantly, a cool air conditioned cabin. 

Much to the relief of I imagine most people that had booked into this ‘Business Class’ service, the city of Madrid came into view and we began to make our approach. The crew passed through the cabin to collect any rubbish that was lying around and then took their seats for landing.

I have to be completely honest, this isn’t at all what I had expected when booking onto a Business Class flight with Air Europa. The quite frankly disappointing seat space available and very basic food options that were offered, really leave me wondering if the nearly £200 I paid for this 1 hour 30 minute flight was worth it. The only saving grace for my experience was the crew. They were fantastic from take off to touch down, and honestly couldn’t do enough for you.

EC-MIY, the aircraft that flew me from Malaga to Madrid

Many reading this may be quick to point out that, as I mentioned, it was not Air Europa that operated this flight. It is however, the airlines choice to allow fare paying passengers to fly in a Business Class that is no different than the economy product offered.

My advice to anyone thinking of flying Business on a Air Europa service operated by Swiftair would be this; don’t do it. Save yourself the disappointment and discomfort and fly with Iberia instead.

Low-Cost Indian Airline IndiGo launching flights to London

In January 2018, IndiGo  – India’s largest passenger airline – began to seek regulatory approval to operate flights from New Delhi to London, Paris, Madrid and Hong Kong. Now, it looks like IndiGo’s aspirations may be one step closer to reality.

The budget carrier, whose operations revolve primarily around short haul flights within the Indian subcontinent, has reportedly secured a slot at London Gatwick airport from the beginning of 2018’s winter season.

IndiGo has secured slots at London Gatwick – one of the world’s busiest single runway airports.

IndiGo is planning to launch the new route with its Airbus A321neo aircraft, scheduled for delivery this November, which will be configured with over 200 seats, sources say.

However, there is  an added complication. IndiGo does not have any Airbus A321neoLR aircraft on order – the variant other airlines such as Primera have used to facilitate their foray into long-haul flying. Instead, the budget carrier has only ordered the standard A321neo, which offers significantly diminished range. This, coupled with a dense seating configuration, means it is clear that IndiGo will not be able to operate its new Delhi-London service non-stop.

Istanbul has been proposed as a potential refuelling stop for IndiGo’s new route to London. Under this scenario, the airline would be able to carry passengers between Delhi and Istanbul –  in addition to passengers bound for Gatwick.

Due to the range of the Airbus A321neo, IndiGo would have to select a refuelling stop en route from Delhi to London – Istanbul is the favourite.

However, routing via Istanbul would add around 200 miles and inconvenient extra travel time, when compared to rival’s Delhi-London flights. It is also uncertain as to whether the airline would have fifth-freedom rights to carry passengers solely between Turkey and the British capital, removing an opportunity to top up revenue.

Regardless of whether IndiGo launches flights this winter, a new trend of low-cost Indian airlines setting their sights on Europe is evident. Rival to IndiGo, SpiceJet, has previously voiced its ambition to launch long-haul budget flights to Europe and has preemptively secured slots for Delhi-Manchester flights on numerous occasions.

Other low-cost airlines – both from India and elsewhere – are voicing their ambitions to launch low-cost, long-haul flights from India.

Additionally, Singapore Airlines subsidiary – Scoot – wants to operate its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners on Singapore-India-Europe routes, utilising fifth-freedom rights (the freedom that allows airlines to fly from their home country to a second nation and then carry passengers from there to a third nation).

“We can look at Singapore-Delhi/Mumbai/Chennai/Kolkata-Europe/Gulf flights. We can fly to places like Zurich, Paris, Manchester (not London), Abu Dhabi and Bahrain”

-indian manager of scoot, Bharath Mahadevan

 

Of course, Air India and Jet Airways would be badly affected by the advent of low-cost, long-haul flights. The cost structure of both airlines is simply too high to compete with fares offered by the likes of IndiGo and their profit margins would likely be slashed. For low-cost airlines, the road to long-haul flying could be fraught with challenges too – Primera’s disastrous transatlantic launch proved this. However, with LCCs controlling more than 65% of India’s domestic market, the trend towards budget flights to Europe is unstoppable.

Featured image: Devendra Kulkarni

EXCLUSIVE Interview – Can Britain’s Worst Airport Improve?

Last week, London’s Luton Airport was named as the worst UK airport for the third year running. In an annual passenger satisfaction survey by Which?, just 35% of passengers said they were satisfied with the experience of travelling through London Luton. It is understood that some 521 passengers were asked about their experience at London Luton, between April and May of this year. Passengers were asked to rank aspects of the airport experience such as toilets, bag drop queues, staff, shops and seating. Luton Airport scored one star in all of these categories.

can Luton’s fortunes be turned around?

However, Luton is embarking on am ambitious redevelopment project (work which may have negatively impacted on this year’s survey results), designed to enhance accessibility and modernise the airport. Therefore, on the 80th Anniversary of London Luton Airport, our Editor – Ethan Chandler –  had the chance to interview Kimberly Kennedy, Head of Terminal Operations at Luton to find out whether Britain’s worst airport can turn around its fortunes, with its upcoming redevelopment plan.


Ethan Chandler: You are investing £160m into improving the London Luton Airport experience for your travellers. Can you briefly outline what changes you are implementing within this programme?

Kimberly Kennedy: London Luton Airport’s £160m redevelopment is nearing completion. This is the single largest investment in our history, and will increase annual capacity to 18 million passengers. As part of the transformation, LLA has more than doubled the retail and dining space in the terminal to offer passengers a greater variety of choice.

An overview of the changes LLA are making to the airport, due for completion in 2026.

Since the start of 2018, more than 30 new stores have opened at the airport, including Chanel, Hugo Boss and Oliver Bonas. A new boarding pier containing eight new boarding gates. In addition the redevelopment has delivered a new dual carriageway access road, a multi-storey car park, re-modelled coach and bus interchange, new taxiway extension, additional aircraft stands and a larger security hall.

30 new stores have opened at LLA just this year, including Hugo Boss and Chanel.

Work has also start on the DART (Direct Air Rail Transit) that will replace the current shuttle bus between Luton Airport Parkway station and the terminal, with a journey time of less than four minutes. This is expected to be in service by 2021.

EC: Luton Airport is 34 miles from Westminster and the centre of London. How will you work with Govia Thameslink and the Government to deliver faster services to the capital and what are you doing to improve the passenger experience when travelling between Luton Airport
Parkway and the airport terminal?

KK: LLA is already really well served by rail, but is the only London airport without an express-style rail service. This is why we are calling for four fast trains per hour to call at Luton Airport Parkway (LAP) station under the new East Midlands rail franchise. The change could be made through a simple timetable change which requires no capital expenditure. A more frequent train service would reduce the journey to central London to under 30 minutes and would encourage more passengers to travel to the airport by rail, cutting congestion and emissions on local roads.

EC: This year Luton Airport has seen more expansion with new flights with Wizz Air to Athens, Bari, Larnaca and more, with direct services to Tallinn, Eliat, Verona, Grenoble and Tromsø yet to launch​. What steps is the airport taking to cope with additional passengers in key areas like the security hall and how will Luton Airport ensure ample seating capacity and dining options for all customers?

KK: As part of the current transformation, we have expanded the terminal building, which includes increasing the number of seats available for passengers and providing a greater variety of shops and restaurants. More seats will be added in the main departure lounge this year. Across the airport we now have 18 food outlets (the same number as Stansted) these include, Bella Italia, Oriel Grande Brasserie and The Smithfield pub and kitchen.

LLA’s newest eatery – the Smithfield Pub.

We have also changed the layout of the terminal to make it simpler to navigate for passengers. The security area has been relocated downstairs and the number of security lanes has increased, while new equipment has sped up security checks.

EC: In recent months, London Stansted has gained new long-haul flights to Dubai and to key cities in North America. Does Luton Airport have ambitions to gain long-haul flights in the near future and, if so, which destinations and airlines are being targeted?

KK: We are always considering new ways to improve our passengers’ experience, which includes planning new routes and offering a greater choice of destinations. However, there are no immediate plans to introduce new long-haul flights from the airport and our core business will always be low-cost flights to Europe.

LLA’s focus will remain on low-cost flights to Europe, rather than branching out into long-haul services.

EC: So do you view low-cost flights to the US as a concept that could work from London Luton, given the tide of low-cost transatlantic flights we have seen launched from the UK in recent years?​

KK: There are no immediate plans to introduce this service. However, we are always listening to what our passengers want and this may be something we consider in the future.

EC: In a Which? survey in 2018, London Luton scored just 35% for customer satisfaction and was named the worst airport in the UK. Luton scored low in categories for range of shops and food outlets and toilets; some called it ‘chaotic’ and ‘crowded’. Going forward, how will the redevelopment programme address these issues and transform Luton into one of the UK’s leading airports, rather than one of its worst?

Which? polled 521 of its subscribers who had travelled through the airport between May 2017 and May 2018, just 0.003% of all passengers in that period. During this time we’ve undergone a period of significant change, investing £160 million redeveloping the airport to increase capacity and
transform the passenger experience. In the first six months of 2018 alone, 1.2 million passengers responded to our customer service tracking, 70 per cent of whom told us they were happy with their experience. As we near the end of our transformation we’re proud to have recently opened 30 new shops,
restaurants and additional toilet facilities. We’ve added close to a thousand new seats throughout the terminal and doubled the size of our security search area.

The airport has made a priority of ensuring security is a smooth and efficient process.

Evidence of our focus on improving the passenger experience is paying off, as we were recently voted the best airport in London in survey comparing objective data.

Our advice is people should come and experience LLA for themselves.

EC: Thank you. I’m pleased to say I’ll be taking your advice and travelling on Wizz Air’s inaugural flight to Tallinn in September. I look forward to seeing the positive changes LLA is making.


Thank you to the team at LLA, who granted me this Q&A with Kimberly Kennedy. Photos courtesy of London Luton Airport.