Route News Stop Press

• American Airlines is launching a daily Dallas–Beijing service on 7th May.

• Iberia is returning to Cuba on 1st June with a five-times weekly Madrid–Havana service. New services to Medellin and Cali are launched on 3rd July.

• Iberia Express is launching flights from Heathrow to the Canary Islands at the end of March, with a thrice weekly to Tenerife (North) and four times a week to Las Palmas.

• Kenya Airways is adding Hanoi as a stop on its service to Guangzhou from mid March.

• Royal Air Maroc is launching a thrice-weekly service to Abuja and Malabo from Casablanca on 13th February.

• SAS is launching a five-times weekly Stockholm–Hong Kong service on 10th September.


Route News Stop Press

May’s route news from Inside Traveller is available here. Below are some further items that missed the editorial deadline:

• Air India will launch a daily service to Italy from Delhi on 6th June, serving both Rome and Milan (Malpensa) using a triangular routing.

• CityJet is launching two new services from Cambridge on 12th May. Eleven weekly flights will be operated to both Amsterdam and Dublin.

• Emirates is launching a daily Dubai–Brussels service on 5th September.

• FlyBe is launching a Birmingham–Newquay service on 16th May. The route will be operated daily during the summer, with reduced frequency at other times. the airline has also announced the launch of a new operation at London City on 27th October, with multi-daily services to Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Exeter and Inverness.

• Pakistan International is cancelling its twice weekly Islamabad–Leeds/Bradford service on 15th May.

• Qatar Airways is introducing the A380 to its Heathrow schedule from 17th June.

• SAS is launching a six-times weekly Stavanger–Houston service on 20th August, using a Privatair Boeing 737 in all-Business Class configuration.

Ryanair’s charm offensive

You cannot help but have noticed that following their recent profit warning, Ryanair have been working hard at softening their image.

They have started a Twitter account (no doubt with some poor intern chained to a computer-screen in a basement), they are improving telephone access for people who need help, they will start to accept AmEx cards, the dreaded captcha is being removed from their booking page, they appear serious about making their press releases less aggressive and – most surprising of all – they offered free refreshments to journalists at a recent press conference. Michael O’Leary finally seems to have worked out that his hard-man image is doing more harm than good.

Ryanair are also clearly a little concerned about their position in the market. It was interesting that they mentioned that bookings for the autumn were not quite as good as they might be. This is a major time for business travel and it is this sector that Ryanair are particularly anxious to attract.

Whilst a more mature approach is welcome, I am not sure that they have really understood the problem. Ryanair is simply too expensive for what it offers.

EasyJet make less than £6 per passenger and Ryanair have been making close to £14. Whilst there is scope for easyJet to improve their margins, they are most unlikely to ever get close to Ryanair’s levels which are far higher than most other airlines. In the last few years, Ryanair have been gently increasing the cost of their fares and extras which has made the problem worse.

If you are flying from Liverpool to Poznan, you really do not have a choice. However, on routes where there is some competition, such as from many UK cities to Dublin or from London to Spain, Ryanair is often more expensive than other airlines. This seems to be especially the case for tickets booked closer to departure, which a businessman might use – a vital area for airlines because these are obviously the most profitable.

Quite simply, if Ryanair are only going to be £5 or even £10 less than Aer Lingus, easyJet or even BA, people will avoid them. Their reputation is such that a sizeable number of people will not use them at any price but, people in the middle, who shop around and know how to compare fares with all the extras they need included, are not going to rush to Ryanair unless there is a worthwhile saving. Ryanair have worked on the principle that if they behave in a cheap and nasty way, people will believe they are cheap. Yet they are making substantially more per passenger than other airlines which suggests they are neither cheap nor good value on many occasions.

The airline really only has two options if it wants to put matters right. They can extend the current charm offensive to a complete re-branding of the airline to make it genuinely passenger-friendly. I imagine such a move would be horrendously difficult and expensive and it would take a very long time to change people’s perceptions. The only other option is to actually do what they say they already do – and that is to offer prices that are lower than the competition.

Their figures show they have plenty of scope.


A not entirely comforting thought

When you fly with a large airline (I’m thinking BA, Emirates or United large – though the principle may apply to smaller airlines too), don’t let the friendly bonhommie and warm interaction between members of your cabin crew fool you into thinking that they’re all bosom buddies. Actually, the chances are that they’re meeting each other for the first time.

This slightly disconcerting thought was highlighted a few years ago in Drew Whitelegg’s Working the Skies, but now sociologists are now asking why, despite frequently being total strangers, your cabin crew acts so well as a team. Well – and we can be re-assured by this – it’s all down to the training. Apparently the predictability of safety procedures and galley rules provide a framework for social interaction that instantly creates a team-building effect. And while this odd combination of shared-task team-building and the anonymity of strangers may occasionally give rise to excruciatingly personal conversations between crew members (the sort that only occur with people you’re never going to meet again), it’s a testament to quality of their training that cabin crew don’t let the fact they’ve never met before stop them from doing a pretty good job most of the time.


Route News Stop Press

The latest route news from Inside Traveller is available here. Below are some additional items that missed the editorial deadline:

• Aegean Airlines has cancelled plans to operate a Larnaca–Gatwick service this summer. A daily service had been promised.

• British Airways is launching a weekly Heathrow–Las Palmas service this winter.

• Bulgaria Air is launching a four-times weekly Sofia–Budapest service on 24th June.

• Cubana is resuming its service to Brazil in mid July, with a weekly Havana–Sao Paulo service using Ilyushin Il96 aircraft. The airline last served the route in 2004.

• Germania is launching a twice weekly Gatwick–Pristina service on 6th July.

• will launch services from Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester to Fuerteventura next April.

• Palestinian Airlines has resumed operations, with a twice-weekly Al-Arish–Jeddah service.

• TAP Portugal is launching two services at the end of October, from Lisbon to Tangier (five times weekly), and Boa Vista (twice weekly).

• Thomson Airways plans to operate weekly services from Gatwick to Mauritius and Puerto Vallarta from May 2014. Both services will be operated by Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

• United is launching a weekly Newark–St Lucia service on 13th July.

Has Richard Branson done everyone a big favour?

The argument over the removal of Virgin from the West Coast line is regarded as another government bureaucratic blunder but, if lessons are taken from this, the affair might just save us all a great deal of time and money.

When the railways were first privatised, the awarding of franchises was a fairly informal affair. It was not quite down to a few figures scribbled on the back of a packet of cigarettes, but a very long way from the current system which involves scores of economists and statisticians producing figures for months on end. One person involved at the time pointed out that the old system was no worse than the hugely more expensive and time-consuming system in use now because they both seemed to produce a similar number of successes and failures.

Governments (both Labour and Conservative) are terribly anxious to promote “open and accountable government”. That sounds laudable but when it costs tens of millions of pounds to make a decision that has no more chance of being the right one than a system that cost peanuts, it is fair to ask if the money is being wasted.

The new “scientific” methods used to award government contracts of all sorts have one major flaw. Since they are all based on millions of figures being in-putted into spreadsheets, they are bound to contain inaccuracies – however professionally the work has been done. Government contractors realise that virtually any decision could be open to legal challenge but, until now, no one has taken the fatal step. They realise they all have other contracts to win and lose and arguing over one will cost money, delay matters and do no one any good. Best to play the game, move on and hope the next contract comes your way.

Had the Department of Transport just worked on the “back of the fag packet” method, they could have chosen First simply on the basis that they were offering a better deal. It is fairly hard to argue with that logic. By hiding their decision behind mounds of paper and computer print-outs, the Department has simply provided losing parties with all the ammunition they need to contest the decision. If every government contractor followed Virgin, it is quite possible that no government contract would ever be awarded by any department!

Is there a hope that the government will learn that the flaw in the rail franchise award was not civil servants making errors but the process itself?

That could lead to faster and much, much cheaper decision-making in the future.


September’s competition

Our picture competition for September is now online – have a look here. This month’s picture is not very taxing and the prize – a £50 Amazon voucher for the right answer – is easy pickings, so enter today!

Lufthansa’s sexy new toy

I am not a regular aircraft anorak. Most new types leave me cold. Airbus has become very good at producing aircraft which are efficient but soulless and even the new A380 does not make me enthusiastic. Boeing seems to be in a competition with itself to produce yet longer versions of its 777 flying-tube and the 787, for all its technical wizzardry, still seems rather like a 767 with go-faster stripes.

But there is one new aircraft I have to admit to finding genuinely exciting. Boeing’s new version of the jumbo, the 747-8, has genuine style and character both inside and outside. Unfortunately, it looks as if Lufthansa will be one of the few passenger airlines to buy it. The airline has decided that the specific characteristics of the aircraft make it ideal for routes with a higher Business Class demand so it will be flying on some of their more lucrative routes.

This video shows the making of nine individual ad campaigns on one day. Whilst it is meant as a behind-the-scenes look at a photo-shoot, it actually gives a better feel of the aircraft than some that have been shot to deliberately showcase it.

Another marketing triumph…

… again, from Kulula Air (mentioned before in despatches).

Route News Stop Press

This month’s route news from Inside Traveller is available here. 

Here are some late additions that missed our editorial deadline:

Aerolineas Argentinas will launch a thrice-weekly Buenos Aires–Sydney nonstop service on 1st July. Its existing Buenos Aires–Auckland–Sydney service will be cancelled, marking the end of the airline’s service to New Zealand.

Air Moldova is introducing a Chisinau–Dublin summer service via Frankfurt on 19th June, operated once weekly until 4th September.

British Airways is launching a six-times weekly London City–Venice service on 17th September.

Kenya Airways will increase its Nairobi–Mumbai service from daily to ten weekly from mid May.

SAS is resuming its Oslo–Prague service on 30th August, to be operated twice weekly. It was last operated in 2006.

Turkish Airlines launches a three-times weekly service to Kigali on 16th May, operated as a triangle route with Entebbe, and on 17th July launches a four-times weekly service to  Abidjan, oprerated in a triangle with Accra. The existing service to Accra will increase to daily at the same time.

United Airlines launches services from Washington Dulles to Manchester and Dublin this summer. Both destinations will however see a cut in United’s services from Newark, leaving the overall frequency of service by the airline unchanged.