E-Jet Express: Flybe E195 London-Dublin Review

Entering a crowded market is never an easy task – the London to Dublin route has over 50 flights every day, all with carriers already established on the route. In fact, 4.5 million passengers travelled between the British & Irish capitals in 2015, making it the busiest air route in Europe. But in October, Flybe launched services from London Southend – offering a completely different proposition to carriers already in the market. With a three-daily frequency, flying from Southend with Flybe is more relaxing, comfortable and convenient for a whole host of people living in Southeast England and London. So is this the best way to cross the water to Ireland?

The departure lounge at Southend is strategically located next to the departure gates, with the passenger in mind

At around 14:00, the gate was called for my flight to Dublin. The six gates at London Southend Airport form a horseshoe shape around the departure lounge, meaning my departure gate was literally steps away.

My aircraft was the sole Embraer E195 operating for Stobart Air – G-FBEF – which they received in November, and dated back to 2007. Despite being 10 years old, the aircraft’s exterior is aesthetically pleasing and modern, and that doesn’t change when you step onboard. The cabin is configured in a single-class configuration, offering 118 Economy Class seats. The purpose of the Embraer 195 is to straddle the boundaries between a regional and a mainline market – offering better economics to regional carriers who want a regional aircraft. This makes the E195 the perfect aircraft for Stobart Air to expand its route portfolio with, and to launch a trunk route such as London-Dublin.

With jovial crew member Donantinou on hand to greet passengers, my initial impressions of the cabin were positive. The seats had lots of padding, making them very comfortable and easy to relax in – rather than more modern slim- line alternatives. The entrance to the aircraft was spacious and the cabin had a very airy feel – with extremely large eye-level windows (up to 30% larger than most other aircraft) to let in lots of natural light. Although the seats were provided lots of comfort, with ample legroom for the short hop across the Irish sea, they had a low seat back with no headrest. This is a minor point, but one to consider, as one may want to take a travel pillow with them for extra comfort.

The E-195 seats 118 passengers, in a single class configuration

The benefit of a 2-2 configuration is not to be underestimated. The “Double-Bubble” fuselage concept is a shape derived from overlapping two ovals to form a four-abreast cross section. The widest point of the upper oval is at the passenger’s elbow level, maximising personal space and allowing for wider seats and aisles than larger aircraft. The lower oval is widest in the baggage and cargo hold which boosting space for your luggage. With no dreaded middle seat, easy access to onboard facilities such as overhead lockers, and lots of headroom – this concept makes the Embraer a winner with passengers and superior to many mainline cabin standards. This configuration is also highly beneficial for companies too, with fast boarding and deplaning, allowing for quick turnaround times.

Flybe uses the same ‘Café Air’ onboard refreshment service on all flights, but included some hot food options on this route – something that wasn’t available on my ATR flight from Manchester.  Prices were not unreasonable for short-haul low cost flying.

Deboarding G-FBEF in Dublin

The crew – Gerry, Sharon & Donantinou – were very pleasant throughout, and I spoke to Donantinou several times during the flight. He kindly let me stay onboard after disembarkation to take some pictures of the empty cabin and he shared his thoughts with me about his career and enjoying his work aboard the Embraer.

Our routing took us north of the M25, over the Cotswolds and the valleys of Southern Wales before making the trip over the Irish sea. We arrived into Dublin ahead of schedule, at 15:45 and I visited the cockpit – which sports fly-by-wire technology.

Conclusion

This flight had a more personable feel to those mainline and ultra low-cost carrier flights, all to familiar on UK-Dublin sectors. It proved to be more relaxing, quick, easy and comfortable than any other flights I’ve taken – from the punctuality, to the relaxing cabin and ease of London Southend airport. If you are looking to fly from London to Dublin in an effortless and calm manner, look no further from Flybe’s express across the water.


Minimalistic and Marimekko: Finnair revamps Business Class

Finnair is well known for its minimalistic Scandinavian aura – both on the exterior and interior of its aircraft. Finnair is also proud and renowned for supporting Finnish products; some of its aircraft are even adorned with prints from the iconic Finnish design house Marimekko.

Finnair’s aircraft and cabins have a minimalistic feel. 

Finnair already has an industry-leading reverse herringbone Business Class product on its Airbus A350 aircraft, but this will be redesigned with new cabin textiles and amenities, including new seat covers, and pillows, blankets and chinaware with prints, to be introduced from February 2018.

Finnair will keep its Reverse Herringbone seat in Business Class.

My first impression is that the new cabins are uniquely stunning – replicating the simplistic nature of Scandinavian interior design and landscapes. However, what’s interesting is reading into what Finnair’s Head of Cabin Design – David Kondo – had to say. The cabins draw on two major themes:

  • Nordic Interior Design, aiming to show a ‘fresh and modern aesthetic that is inspired by Nordic homes’
  • Nordic Landscapes, conveying ‘snow and birch trees’ and also the changing face of seasons and light.

    The grey and white colouring is intended to reflect Nordic landscapes.

David Kondo continues, saying ‘Our lives are busy and our time is limited, and the time flying is time just for you, so the aim is for the cabin to be very calm and understated’. The green patterned Marimekko print will also be replaced with a deep blue print, called Kaivo or ‘well’.

I find this concept an interesting one; I love the clean aesthetics of the design and the philosophy behind it is understandable. However, some passengers may find this sterile and unwelcoming – which is the exact feeling airlines want to avoid.

In addition to this, Finnair will be reforming its onboard dining – creating a more flexible on-demand system – with a wider range of options. A seasonal menu will be introduced for both cabins, with Swedish chef Tommy Myllymäki creating the menus for Business Class and top Finnish Culinary Team will create meal options for Economy class. The winter menu, introduced with the product’s rollout, will be followed by seasonal menus for summer and autumn. Drawing on Finnair’s commitment to local cuisine and customs I alluded to earlier, they will also introduce Finnish tradition of “Kahvikutsut”  – a coffee serving with seven different treats – for long-haul flights departing Asia in the morning.

The product will be rolled out from February – intially on flights to Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai.

Overall, I really love Finnair’s approach to branding and customer experience and this redesign reaffirms that unique, but likeable brand profile.


Featured photo courtesy of Joona, @planespotter_hel.

Lufthansa Unveils Luxurious New Business Class

Over the years, European Airlines have began to lag behind in terms of onboard luxury. Whilst once at the forefront of glamour, airlines such as British Airways have declined in terms of reputation but, simultaneously, Asian and Middle Eastern airlines have jostled for position to be the best airline. Now, Lufthansa and Air France both offer 2-2-2 Business Class seating on their A380 and British Airways’ Club coffin seat divides opinion massively.

The refreshing news is, that between 2020 and 2025, when Lufthansa take delivery of their new Boeing 777X aircraft, they will offer a brand new Business Class experience. When they made the decision to eliminate First Class from their new flagship aircraft, it became clear a Business Class revamp was in order.

Lufthansa’s new Boeing 777X

Lufthansa has now publicly revealed their new cabins for the 777X aircraft, and there is now doubt; it is a huge improvement over their previous product in terms of hard-product.

Lufthansa’s New Business Class offers direct-aisle access from every seat.

Each seat has the luxury of direct-aisle access, and the rows will alternate between a 1-2-1 configuration and a 1-1-1 configuration. This will arguably make it the most spacious Business product in the sky. The cabin evokes a feeling of El Al’s 787-9 cabins or United’s Polaris seats, however there is one major difference. This cabin is much less dense – El Al and United have a 1-2-1 configuration on every row, whereas Lufthansa has opted to create perhaps the most private, spacious ‘throne’ seat from any airline. As an aviation enthusiast, perhaps I’d even be willing to give up that coveted window seat, to experience this!

Lufthansa will offer a 1-1-1 configuration on some rows in Business Class.

What’s even more impressive, is that Lufthansa will make a range of changes to its soft product, too. Specifically, they will introduce from 2018:

  • Mattress Pads in Long-Haul Business Class
  • ‘Sleeping Sweaters’ on request
  • New Blankets, which are ‘lined but still light’

I’m really pleased Lufthansa are making big strides with their onboard experience – the only down side of this announcement, is that we will have to wait for atleast another 5 years to experience it.

Singapore Airlines Unveils Luxurious New Cabins

For months, Singapore has had the aviation industry excited. With so many disruptive new Premium products introduced by airlines, such as Etihad’s Residence and Qatar’s Q Suites, Singapore Airlines needed to re-establish its place at the forefront of the market. As part of this, Singapore Airlines is unveiling new Suites, business, premium economy, and economy products. Recently, you could say Singapore has been ‘teasing’ us with videos and pictures showing different aspects of the suite. Here is one such of those videos, released on the launch of the new cabins:

Singapore air first class suites

This is how Singapore Airlines describes the new Suites in their press release:

With six Suites tucked spaciously within the front cabin of the upper deck, customers will experience a sense of exclusivity and intimate privacy aboard the A380. Behind its artistically-designed sliding door lies a personal oasis complete with lavish furnishing and finishes. Each Suite is furnished with a separate full-flat bed with adjustable recline and plush leather chair, enabling customers to lounge comfortably in the chair or rest in bed without the need to convert the bed from a sitting position. For couples travelling together, the beds in the first two Suites of each aisle can be converted to form a double bed. Each seat is fully adjustable using an electronic control side panel which can accommodate a variety of sitting and lounging positions. The swivel capability of the chair with recline up to 45 degrees provides added flexibility for dining and relaxation. Each Suite also has a full-sized personal wardrobe, customised handbag stowage compartment, amenity box lined with soft leather, specially designed carpet and a feature wall with mood lighting – all exquisitely crafted to give a touch of luxury and intimacy.

Singapore challenged Etihad with their individual suite, here. Creating a ‘Residence-Style’ experience, which certainly looks exclusive and luxurious.

The Individual First Suite

One possible disappointment is that Singapore won’t be offering onboard showers, such as Emirates, but rather two lavatories including a smaller ‘standard’ suite (although this looks anything but standard to those who fly Economy!). Then, they will offer a larger lavatory, including a dressing table.

Singapore Airlines’ New Lavatory

Continuing with their tradition, Singapore will again offer double-beds. In this product, the second row of the suites will convert, offering two seats and a double bed.

Singapore’s Duo Suites

One fault of this seems to be that there is no space for a couple to dine together, unlike on Etihad. This is of course a minor issue, but when comparing the products, this could be a game-changer.

Singapore air new business class

Singapore will offer cocoon style seats, again, with individual seats by the window:

Singapore’s New Business Class

Whereas in the centre of the cabin, they will offer a convertible double-bed. This is a game-changer in Business Class, and looks like the ultimate luxury for couples on business. However, does this deter people from paying that extra money for Suites Class?

Centre Double Seats on Singapore’s new Business Class

Singapore will debut their new cabins on the five new A380s they will receive over the next couple of years. The first route will be Singapore to Sydney – from 18th December 2017 – although I find it hard to believe London will be far behind.

Although this offering is underwhelming for some, I think that this, coupled with Singapore’s renowned in-flight service, will help the airline to reposition itself as the leader of the market once again.