The Atlantic Update – Wednesday 15 August 2018

The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday morning at 06:00 BST, providing a weekly bulletin on developments on transatlantic travel between Europe and North America.

London Air Travel

BA OpenSkies Logo
BA OpenSkies Logo (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

Hello and welcome to the The Atlantic Update for Wednesday 15 August 2018. As it’s a relatively quiet news week in August, this edition has been dedicated to the imminent closure of BA’s subsidiary airline OpenSkies.

BA bids adieu to OpenSkies

In a little over two weeks, and just a couple of months after its tenth birthday, OpenSkies will operate its final flight between Paris Orly and Newark.

OpenSkies took its name from the Open Skies treaty of 2007 which liberalised the EU-US transatlantic air travel market. Hitherto, the operation of transatlantic routes was heavily restricted. Open Skies gave EU and US airlines the freedom to operate routes anywhere between the EU and the US.

Many European airlines took advantage. Air France launched a short-lived flight between London Heathrow and Los Angeles, dubbed “Loss Angeles” by then BA CEO Willie Walsh.

BA OpenSkies Boeing 757 Aircraft
BA OpenSkies Boeing 757 Aircraft (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

Under the codename “Project Lauren”, BA decided to launch a new subsidiary OpenSkies. The company had its own CEO, Dale Moss, a former BA Executive who returned to the group. It started with grand ambitions. The plan was to provide with the airline with at least ten reconfigured Boeing 757s from BA to operate flights from cities all over Europe to the US. Its launch was controversial and provoked industrial relations tensions with BA pilots who objected to the establishment of a new airline outside of their collective bargaining agreements.

On launch, OpenSkies was clearly aimed at the US market with its cabins branded “Biz”, which was effectively a reupholstered version of BA’s first Club World flat bed, and “Prem” (also briefly called “Biz Seat”) for premium economy and “Eco” for economy.

The branding and service style at the time of launch was quite distinct from BA. It borrowed very much from “boutique” premium airlines of the era such as Silverjet and eos. The intention was give the feel of a small airline, with just 82 passengers on board each flight, but with the backup and support of its parent, such as the Executive Club frequent flyer programme.

BA OpenSkies Biz, Prem, Eco Cabins
BA OpenSkies Biz, Prem, Eco Cabins (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

The airline launched with its inaugural route from Paris Orly to New York JFK on 16 June 2008. It soon acquired another French all business class airline, L’Avion. Whilst it was well received by passengers, later route launches between Amsterdam and New York and Paris and Washington were not successful. In early 2009, BA decided to sell what remained of its Boeing 757 fleet rather than transfer them to OpenSkies.

At launch, OpenSkies was the only significant means of expansion for BA. It had withdrawn all non-London flights from UK regional airports and significantly downsized at London Gatwick. With no imminent prospect of a third runway, there was no scope for growth at Heathrow.

However, BA soon turned its attentions elsewhere. In early 2011, BA merged with Iberia under the umbrella of International Airlines Group. It also finally, on its third attempt, secured a long sought after joint-venture with American Airlines. Most significantly of all, the acquisition of bmi in 2012 enabled substantial growth at Heathrow, much of which has been on transatlantic routes.

OpenSkies had been in limbo for some time with no evident plan to upgrade its fleet and in-flight product which, baring the addition of a BA Boeing 767, has remained the same since launch.

The service will effectively be replaced by IAG’s low cost airline LEVEL which will fly from Paris Orly to Newark four times weekly with an Airbus A330 aircraft from Tuesday 4 September 2018. La Compagnie will continue to offer an all business class from Paris to New York. However, the fact that IAG is replacing OpenSkies with low cost long-haul LEVEL points to the future direction of travel.

The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday at 06:00 BST. If you have any comments, suggestions or tips then please drop us a line at mail [@] londonairtravel.com

Travel Media & Technology Bulletin – Tuesday 14 August 2018

Our weekly bulletin on the latest developments in media and technology around the world, as published every Tuesday morning at 06:00 BST.

London Air Travel

BA First WiFi
(Image Credit: British Airways)

Hello and welcome to our weekly travel media and technology bulletin featuring the latest developments on media and technology around the world, published every Tuesday at 06:00 BST.

The Fox News Presidency

The symbiotic relationship between President Trump and Fox News has long been established.

The President is known to be an avid viewer of its morning show “Fox & Friends”. Many of his tweets can be traced back to Fox News “talking points”. Trump is also known to speak regularly to Fox host Sean Hannity who, every weekday evening, begins his show with an exhausting display of mental gymnastics in a monologue of some grand conspiracy involving Hillary Clinton.

The relationship between Fox News and the Presidency traces its origins even further. The founding CEO of Fox News, the late Roger Ailes, was an advisor to President Nixon and knew how to harness the power of television.

Now a former Fox News executive, Bill Shine, as Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications is producing Trump’s image as how Trump sees the Presidency: a TV show where its all about image, ratings and a simple narrative of winners and losers. (Seattle Times) (The Washington Post)

On a related note, on Thursday 16 August 2018, more than 100 US newspapers will publish an editorial criticising Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. (CNN Money)

The Tyranny Of Clickbait

We’re sure anyone reading this is familiar with the concept of “clickbait”.

Websites are heavily dependent on click-throughs from Google searches and social media, and many digital journalists paid according to clicks. This means there is no press release so ordinary that cannot be given the appearance of a major revelation with a clickbait headline: “This will surprise you/melt your heart”. “This is what happened…” “Here’s why…” The irony of course is when a website has a major exclusive, it simply shouts it.

Not only is it patronising to readers and disrespectful of their time, it is tiresomely predictable. Everybody is doing it. As The Drum notes everybody following the same rules is stifling creativity.

In the words of ad agency BBH, when the world zigs, zag.
Continue reading “Travel Media & Technology Bulletin – Tuesday 14 August 2018”

Monday Briefing – 13 August 2018

Welcome to our weekly Monday Briefing on the main developments in air travel in London and around the world, as published every Monday morning at 06:00 BST.

London Air Travel

Ryanair Aircraft
Ryanair Aircraft (Image Credit: Ryanair)

Hello and welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 13 August 2018, summarising the main developments in air travel over the past week, and a look to the week ahead.

Trouble At Ryanair

As has been widely reported, Ryanair faced the biggest single act of industrial action in its near 35 year history last Friday.

Trade unions representing pilots of five countries (Germany, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium) undertook industrial action, leading to the cancellation of over 400 flights. Ryanair was caught off guard in Germany by pilots giving only 48 hours’ notice of industrial action.

Politico has a good primer on the background to the dispute. In essence, pilots at Ryanair bases around Europe wish to be employed under contracts recognised under local employment law and benefit from better employee protection, rather than contracts recognised Ireland.

Ryanair has withstood knocks before and is no stranger to public opprobrium. It launched its “Always Getting Better” initiative when even institutional investors were questioning its approach of effectively putting tripwires in front of customers. It survived mass cancellations last year when it couldn’t roster enough pilots. However, it will have to be able to live with trade union recognition in perpetuity and that requires it to find long term solutions and not short term fixes.

Ryanair has earlier this year signed a recognition agreement with the UK pilots union BALPA. However, there is no immediate prospect of any industrial dispute between BALPA and Ryanair’s UK pilots. If there was, there is a relatively lengthy ballot period and notice of industrial action required.

Trouble At Jet Airways

The Financial Times reports that Jet Airways has delayed indefinitely the release of its latest financial results. This is whilst it is “exploring sources of funding [as a] priority”.

Airlines in India have been grappling with a double whammy of rising fuel prices and a weakening local currency. Jet Airways is 24% owned by Etihad which has not indicated any sign being prepared to recapitalise Jet Airways.
Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 13 August 2018”

British Airways’ Seating Policy Explained

Our guide to selecting a seat on British Airways operated flights and when you can select a seat for free or for a charge.

London Air Travel

BA World Traveller Cabin, Boeing 777-300 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

If there’s one subject that can cause more angst before a flight than anything else, it’s seating.

Once upon a time, seat selection was largely confined expressing a preference for a window or an aisle seat. If you were lucky at the check-in desk you might score an exit row.

With the proliferation of online seat maps and third party reviews, it’s now fruitful ground for airlines to harvest revenue. Some passengers can live in blissful ignorance about where they will be seated. Others can’t bear it.

This is an attempt to explain BA’s seating policy. The whole subject is worthy of a PhD thesis. It is based on BA’s own published seating policy, as well as personal experience, anecdote, and a degree of suppoistion.

BA’s seat selection policy in context

It’s complicated to explain. This because the policy is a patchwork that has been progressively modified for more than ten years according to changing, and often conflicting, priorities:

a) To encourage the use of online check-in before getting to the airport
b) To reward/incentivise Silver & Gold members of the BA Executive Club
c) To raise revenue from seat selecton fees
d) To create a new tier of “basic” economy fares with relatively limited options

Why do airlines charge for seating?

Put simply, extra revenue.

It is the “sweet spot” of ancillary revenues for airlines. Bar the initial IT expense, it costs nothing for airlines to provide. All those extra fees go straight to the bottom line.

BA’s policy in very simple terms..

Silver and Gold Executive Club card holders can choose a seat for free at the time of booking. However, some seats are restricted to Gold card holders until 72 hours before departure or when online check-in opens 24 hours before departure.

Bronze Executive Club card holders can choose a seat for free 7 days before departure.

Blue Executive Club card holders and non-members can choose a seat for free when online check-in opens if you have not already paid for a seat. The main exceptions are “basic” economy fares where, unless you are prepared to pay for a seat, it will be allocated for you.

Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers also benefit from the above privileges.

On long-haul flights prices start from around £20 one way in World Traveller. Here is an example seat map for BA flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK to show indicative pricing:
Continue reading “British Airways’ Seating Policy Explained”

The Atlantic Update – Wednesday 8 August 2018

The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday morning at 06:00 BST, providing a weekly bulletin on developments on transatlantic travel between Europe and North America.

London Air Travel

Hudson River Park New York
Hudson River Park New York (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

Hello and welcome to the The Atlantic Update for Wednesday 8 August 2018, providing a weekly bulletin on developments on transatlantic travel between Europe and North America. The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday morning at 06:00 BST.

Norwegian wet leases HiFly Airbus A380

As has been widely reported in aviation circles online, Norwegian has, since Friday 3 August 2018, wet-leased a second-hand HiFly Airbus A380 to cover one of its daily flights from London Gatwick to New York JFK (DI7015 / DI7016).

Few would ordinarily complain about travelling on a former Singapore Airlines Airbus A380. However, there is one big problem.

Due to the number of Airbus A380 flights scheduled to arrive at New York JFK Terminal 1 at the same time such as Air France AF10 from Paris Charles de Gaulle and Emirates EK205 from Dubai and Milan, its departure time from Gatwick has been changed from 17:05 to 21:05. This means arriving at JFK at around midnight, which clearly scuppers any chances of late night drinks in Manhattan.

Worse still, for passengers travelling from New York JFK to Gatwick the inbound flight is delayed until past 03:00, by which time many will have been without a hotel room for over 15 hours.

Affected passengers do have the option of rebooking to an alternative flight. However, do bear in mind the alternative flight (DI7013) departs Gatwick at around 05:30-06:30 in the morning. The timing is brutal in terms of both getting to Gatwick in the early hours of the morning and trying to stay up for the rest of the day on arrival in New York.

Third party databases are currently showing the wet lease in operation until Wednesday 15 August 2018 at the earliest.
Continue reading “The Atlantic Update – Wednesday 8 August 2018”

Travel Media & Technology Bulletin – Tuesday 7 August 2018

Our weekly bulletin on the latest developments in media and technology around the world, as published every Tuesday morning at 06:00 BST.

London Air Travel

BA First WiFi
(Image Credit: British Airways)

Hello and welcome to our weekly travel media and technology bulletin featuring the latest developments on media and technology around the world, published every Tuesday at 06:00 BST.

Sky Wars

The long-running battle for ownership of Sky in Europe should reach a head this week.

Fox and Comcast have been locked in a bidding war for Sky after Disney launched a now successful bid for the entertainment assets of Fox. The deadline for Fox to launch a counter bid to Comcast expires this Thursday.

The New York Times reports on Disney’s advanced plans to launch its own streaming service dubbed “Disneyflix”. It is expected that as part of this Disney will remove much of its own content from Netflix.

Comcast it has to be said does not have the best of reputations in the US. We’ve experienced at first hand its broadband network outages. It also owns NBC which let go of journalist Ronan Farrow who had been working on one of the biggest stories to break in Hollywood – the expose of Harvey Weinstein. NBC News has also faced questions over its own workplace culture which led to the firing of Today Show presenter Matt Later last year.

Continue reading “Travel Media & Technology Bulletin – Tuesday 7 August 2018”

Monday Briefing – 6 August 2018

Welcome to our weekly Monday Briefing on the main developments in air travel in London and around the world, as published every Monday morning at 06:00 BST.

London Air Travel

IAG & Norwegian
IAG & Norwegian

Hello and welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 6 August 2018, summarising the main developments in air travel over the past week, and a look to the week ahead.

Has IAG really given up on Norwegian?

IAG released its half-year results last week. As did Air France-KLM and Lufthansa.

Much of the press picked up on comments by IAG CEO Willie Walsh that it planned to sell its shares in Norwegian if talks don’t move forward, which they have yet to do. Does this really mean IAG has given up on Norwegian?

Don’t bet on it. Whilst IAG is unlikely to make a hostile take-over bid for Norwegian, it can be said with confidence that it has been studying for Norwegian for quite some time. Regardless of what happens with its shareholding, I would suspect IAG will sit this one out.

Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic

Air France-KLM Virgin Atlantic joint-venture (Image Credit: Air France-KLM)

Two weeks ago, we reported on proposals for Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic to operate a combined transatlantic joint-venture with Delta.

Air France-KLM has confirmed that the planned launch date is 1 April 2019. Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic are to also explore co-operation on non-North Atlantic routes. This is a logical progression of Air France-KLM soon becoming a shareholder in the airline. It would help Virgin Atlantic compensate for its lack of non-North American routes. Assuming it goes ahead, together with reciprocal frequent flyer recognition, this would help Virgin and Air France-KLM become a much stronger competitor in the UK market, particularly in UK regional airports.
Continue reading “Monday Briefing – 6 August 2018”

International Airlines Group 2018 Half-Year Results

IAG has released its financial results for the first half of 2018.

London Air Travel

International Airlines Group - Aer Lingus, BA, Iberia, Vueling
International Airlines Group

International Airlines Group, the parent company of Aer Lingus, BA, Iberia, LEVEL and Vueling, has yesterday, Friday 3 August 2018, released its half-year results for 2018.

The numbers contain few surprises. IAG reported an operating profit of €1,115m, compared to €950m for the previous year.

Air France-KLM reported a first half operating profit of €228m compared to €553m for the previous year. Lufthansa Group reported an operating profit of €967m compared to €987m for the previous year.

There are familiar themes for airlines in Europe, namely increased fuel prices and intense irritation at disruption caused by Air Traffic Control delays.

Such is the importance of expectations, IAG’s share price actually fell after its results were announced, whereas Air France-KLM’s increased as revenue held up in spite of prolonged industrial action at Air France.

IAG also provided an update in its presentation to analysts on a number of current issues. Arguably, it is more interesting for what wasn’t said, rather than what was said:

IAG & Norwegian

There is no progress at all to report on IAG’s bid for Norwegian.

IAG CEO Willie Walsh indicated that IAG would sell its shareholding in Norwegian as it has no intention in being a long-term minority investor.

That said, I would not infer that this means IAG is going to give up on Norwegian easily. Whilst Willie Walsh has said he would not countenance a hostile take-over bid, I expect IAG will sit this one out for a while.
Continue reading “International Airlines Group 2018 Half-Year Results”

Why I Ignore Hotel Loyalty Programmes

Why it is a relief to not to chase hotel loyalty scheme points and a mistake to choose a hotel on the basis of its loyalty programme.

London Air Travel

Public Hotel New York City
Public Hotel New York City (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

There’s an interesting feature on the cover of the latest edition Bloomberg Businesweek.

It concerns Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels Group. It happened in 2016. However, it has taken nearly two years for Marriott to combine its frequent guest programme with that of Starwood. The new combined programme will launch later this month.

It seems that the thorniest issue behind the transaction was not both sides and their armies of lawyers agreeing the terms of the deal or combining reservation systems, but their respective frequent guest programmes. Every single development in this regard has been carefully scrutinised by members on tenterhooks that their beloved benefits may be lost.

Put simply, who should be entitled to a free breakfast under the new programme!?

The article gives a good understanding of the workings of hotel loyalty programmes and the sometimes absurd lengths, known as “mattress runs” (it’s nowhere near as interesting as it sounds..), some members will go to climb the ranks of the programmes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of some frequent guest programmes and enjoyed their benefits, principally late check-outs. But none have compelled me to be slavishly devoted to one hotel programme and I have been happy to let membership lapse.

Airline and hotel loyalty programmes are not the same

When it comes to flying, there is a logic of choosing to align yourself with one of three airline alliances to accrue frequent flyer benefits.

There is an assurance of flying with an airline in an alliance that there isn’t with booking large hotel groups.

In air travel, there is much scope for things go wrong. As customers of Primera Air and Norwegian have learned, for small airlines there are little means to recover from aircraft availability issues. When flying on a large airline, there is the assurance of the back-up it has through the size of its fleet, its network and its joint-venture and alliance partners. This isn’t so much the case with hotels. The only time I could genuinely see a need to stick with a large chain is when staying in a destination where you need to be confident of hotel security and its support should you have problems.
Continue reading “Why I Ignore Hotel Loyalty Programmes”

The Atlantic Update – Wednesday 1 August 2018

The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday morning at 06:00 BST, providing a weekly bulletin on developments on transatlantic travel between Europe and North America.

London Air Travel

Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh (Image Credit: British Airways)

Hello and welcome to the The Atlantic Update for Wednesday 1 August 2018, providing a weekly bulletin on developments on transatlantic travel between Europe and North America. The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday morning at 06:00 BST.

BA launches Pittsburgh. What’s Next?

BA continues a steady expansion of its North Atlantic route network at London Heathrow with the launch of Pittsburgh from April 2019.

This follows a methodical approach of announcing one new route a year to cities not served by a direct route to London or, in some cases, Europe. Previous new routes include Austin, San Jose, New Orleans and Nashville.

Austin has, judging by recent capacity increases, been very successful. San Jose has been subject to targeted cancellations during Boeing 787 groundings. It is too soon to judge New Orleans or Nashville.

It is no secret that a lot of US airports would love to secure a direct link to London. Some have been meeting with BA for many years. Airports have offered BA a package of incentives such as deals on landing fees and revenue guarantees.

It is likely that there will be 1-2 further new routes. BA has actively avoided launching routes already served by Delta at Heathrow. Being the sole operator of a route to London does give the airline pricing power in the market. So that excludes Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland and Salt Lake City.

The expansion will end at some point, but there are still candidates for new routes such as Indianapolis, Kansas and St Louis.

US East Coast Weather Disruption

Storms are forecast in the New York airport area due to over the next couple of days.

Delta has issued a weather waiver for passengers due to travel today. There’s broad New York airport advice from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

New York on Los Angeles. Los Angeles on New York.

It’s always interesting to read how your “home” city or country is covered by international media outlets.

Sometimes you learn cold hard truths. If you want to understand how Brexit is actually progressing you need to read the European press. Sometimes it can be gloriously wide-eyed. Or plain inaccurate.

The New York Times has attracted considerable criticism for an article on quiet spaces in Los Angeles by novelist Reif Larsen. It has been criticised by readers for its factual inaccuracies and its attitude towards Latino culture in Los Angeles.

However, the New York Times has also published a more thoughtful article on the prospects of success for an estimated $100billion high speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Urbanize.LA has also published a useful primer on the geography of Los Angeles County, which comprises some 88 cities, in comparison to New York.

KLM launches Amsterdam – Boston

KLM has announced it will fly to Boston three times weekly from Sunday 31 March 2019.

This will complement the twice-daily service of its joint-venture partner’s Delta. (KLM)

Also Of Note This Week

Flying to Cape Cod (London Air Travel) and the Florida Keys. (London Air Travel)

American Airlines has launched a new TV advertising campaign highlighting its “Flagship First” international service. (AdAge)

American Airlines has changed its “basic economy” fare for US domestic flights. From Wednesday 5 September 2018, this will include a carry on bag allowance. (American Airlines)

Delta has announced a new route from Detroit to San Jose from Thursday 15 November 2018. (Delta)

United has announced a new daily service from Washington Dulles to Miami from Wednesday 19 December 2018. (United)

WestJet has reported a second quarter loss of CAD$20.8 million citing increased fuel prices, competitor capacity and threatened industrial action. (WestJet)

Late Post Publication Updates:

The Atlantic Update is published every Wednesday at 06:00 BST. If you have any comments, suggestions or tips then please drop us a line at mail [@] londonairtravel.com