Monday Briefing – 11 February 2019

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Virgin Atlantic aircraft at London Heathrow

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 11 February 2019.

Virgin Atlantic

2019 is shaping up to be a significant year of change at Virgin Atlantic.

It’s a largely symbolic move, but when Virgin and Delta finally receive regulatory approval (subject to ongoing protests by JetBlue with eyes on slots in London) to combine their transatlantic joint-venture with Air France-KLM, Virgin Group will cede control of the airline – something Sir Richard Branson said he would never do.

Delta will become the single largest shareholder with its existing ownership of 49% of the airline, with Air France-KLM owning a 31% stake.

When Delta acquired its stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2012, this prompted a significant changes to its non-US route network at Heathrow.

And we’re starting to see signs of new changes. Yesterday, Virgin confirmed it will launch London Heathrow – Tel Aviv from September this year.

Like Virgin moving Las Vegas from Gatwick to Heathrow next month, this is likely to be driven by the need for better quality revenue on Delta and Virgin’s transatlantic routes at Heathrow.

When the combined transatlantic joint-venture launches, Virgin will not only benefit from joint-marketing by Air France-KLM, but also access to detailed passenger data on its traffic flows, so expect more changes.

SAS Launches Stansted – Copenhagen

If anyone was to compile a list of the top strategic failures of airlines, or warning signs of airlines in trouble, selling off Heathrow slots would be at the top.

The temptation is understandable. In 2008, keen to secure access to Heathrow in advance of EU – US Open Skies, Continental paid a record $209m for four slot pairs. It’s a relatively easy source of cash.

However, all the evidence points to the fact it never solves underlying problems. There is a long list of failed or still troubled airlines that sold off Heathrow slots (Alitalia, bmi British Midland, Cyprus Airways) but to no avail.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines is to transfer one of its six daily return flights to Copenhagen from Heathrow to Stansted from Monday 8 April 2019. It’s not yet clear what will happen to the slot, or whether this is the start of a broader transfer. SAS still retains a substantial presence at Heathrow. However, the more it cuts its schedule, the less competitive it becomes against a rival with ample slots at Heathrow to respond.

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Monday Briefing – 4 February 2019

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“British Airways – Made By Britain” (Image Credit: Park Pictures / Ogilvy / Wavemaker for BA)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 4 February 2019.

Famous Faces

What did you make of BA’s “Made By Britain” ad?

The centenary requires delicate handling. For it to work, it has to resonate with the travelling public at large, and not merely aviation aficionados and brand loyalists.

A blockbuster ad out of nowhere full of self-congratulation would not work – this is BA’s first major brand campaign in over five years – and it’s wise to start seeding the centenary into the public consciousness not talking about itself.

However, a campaign celebrating its home nation does of course take place against a background of huge political and economic uncertainty over the coming months.

Speaking to The Drum BA’s Head Of Brands and Marketing Hamish McVey said: “We’ll leave politics to the politicians. We’re focusing very much on the story we want to tell in this moment in time, which is confident one about Britain and what it means to be part of modern Britain today.”

“Events”, however, may have different ideas.

Boeing 787 Issues Continue

Staying with BA, it looks like Boeing 787 issues are continuing at the airline.

Blanket cancellations have returned to Heathrow – Doha, just two months after the route returned to normal following an eight month hiatus.

BA will also continue to wet lease an aircraft from Air Belgium for the foreseeable future, with it covering Newark from April.

Norwegian’s Financial Results

This Thursday all eyes will be on Norwegian as it releases its annual results.

This has been brought forward by a week, after it revealed it is to raise funds from its shareholders through a rights issue. Norwegian has already indicated that it will report heavy losses.

Key will be comments from its auditors on its ability to continue to trade as a going concern. Investors also await progress of its plans to manage its still aggressive expansion of its fleet.

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Monday Briefing – 28 January 2019

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Norwegian Boeing 787 aircraft.
Norwegian Boeing 787 aircraft (Image Credit: Norwegian)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 28 January 2019.

What’s Next For Norwegian?

Shortly before Norwegian began long-haul operations at London Gatwick, IAG CEO Willie Walsh spoke at a university business school event.

When asked about Norwegian’s plans for low cost long-haul, Wille Walsh was convinced that Norwegian’s approach wouldn’t work.

Whilst there may ultimately be a market for low cost long-haul, Norwegian’s approach was wrong. The Boeing 787 was the wrong aircraft. And Willie did not see the point of charging for meals on long-haul flights.

It’s not often that Willie Walsh admits to being wrong, but he has accepted that passengers have taken to the concept of low cost long-haul, at least when their flights are operating on time. IAG has of course launched its own low cost long-haul brand, LEVEL.

Last April, IAG announced it had acquired a stake in Norwegian with a view to acquiring the airline. After informal offers were rebuffed, IAG confirmed last week that it will not make a bid for the airline. Norwegian’s share price subsequently fell by 20%.

There were some big prizes for IAG in buying Norwegian: A significantly increased presence at Gatwick; a new region for the group in the Nordics and an increased reach for the Avios currency through the Norwegian Reward frequent flyer programme.

However, there would be challenges. Given the number of overlapping city pairs between IAG airlines and Norwegian, regulators would have demanded that slots be forfeited. Any attempt to add Norwegian to the transatlantic joint-venture would have been strongly resisted by competitors.

As for Norwegian, it will announce its results for Q4 2018 on Thursday 14 February. The latest published fleet plan shows that it plans to take delivery of 21 new aircraft this year, including 5 Boeing 787-9 aircraft and 16 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

There are yet further substantial deliveries planned for 2020 and 2021, including 22 Airbus A321 Neo Long Range aircraft. Norwegian maintains that all aircraft deliveries in the first half of this year are fully financed. The next financial results will inevitably be scrutinised closely.

Qantas – Project Sunrise

Before Qantas launched non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Perth, it made much of the fact that it was looking at every aspect of the in-flight experience for ultra long-haul travel.

It has partnered with Charles Perkin Centre at Sydney University to research passenger needs. So far on London to Perth flights, changes have been largely evolutionary such as in-flight menus and cabin lighting.

Qantas also continues, under the codename “Project Sunrise”, to study potential aircraft orders from Airbus or Boeing for non-stop flights from London to Sydney from 2022. A decision on an aircraft order should be made by the end of this year.

Qantas has released the top five suggestions from passengers from its research:

– Provide “sense of separation” experiences where passengers can be social but then “zone out” with either virtual reality relaxation zones, audio mindfulness experiences, or through the broader inflight entertainment.

– Spaces to do gentle exercise/stretches, promoting circulation and comfort.

– Wireless, noise cancelling headsets

– Innovative cabin designs across the entire aircraft, considering both seat and non-seat spaces to focus on a broad range of traveller needs including comfort, sleep, dining, entertainment and state of mind.

– An inflight cafe offering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including wine, fresh juices, herbal teas and tisanes and mocktails along with snacks including dips with vegetable sticks as well as “treat foods”.

Any scepticism as to how many of these come to fruition is justified. Before airlines took delivery of the Airbus A380, there was much hype about the potential for onboard gyms and casinos that never materialised. Any space on the aircraft not dedicated to seating is lost revenue that has to be compensated for.

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Monday Briefing – 21 January 2019

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Aer Lingus Airbus A320
Aer Lingus Airbus A320 aircraft (Image Credit: Aer Lingus)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 21 January 2019.

Flybe and Connect Airways

The more you read about the deal between Flybe and Connect Airways, the more you wonder if those in the consortium know what they have let themselves in for.

There was an unexpected twist last week when Flybe plc circumvented the requirement for shareholder approval for its sale by agreeing to sell the trading subsidiaries of Flybe plc to the consortium, leaving Flybe plc effectively a shell company.

Now one major Flybe shareholder, Hosking Partners, is threatening legal action to block the transaction, albeit legal proceedings have not yet been instigated. (Sky News)

Virgin has had its fingers burned before. In the late 1990s, Virgin acquired EuroBelgian Airlines to launch a new low cost airline, Virgin Express. A subsequent flotation was hugely unsuccessful and the airline merged with what was then SN Brussels, later to become Brussels Airlines.

Aeromexico’s “DNA Discounts”

By now you’ve no doubt seen the AeroMexico’s “DNA Discounts” ad where the airline dives head first into the US Border Wall debate.

Brands have normally adopted a conservative with a small c approach to geopolitical and social issues. However, Nike and Gillette have found that the amount of free social media coverage and distribution is a price worth paying for threats of a backlash and boycotts.

The agency behind AeroMexico’s ad is Ogilvy, who also work for BA. Would we ever see a similarly provocative ad from BA or Virgin on Brexit? Probably not. The safety net for AeroMexico is that the people mocked in the ad were unlikely to travel with the airline in any event.

Cathay Pacific “You Asked Us” Series

Cathay Pacific has launched a nicely animated “You Asked Us” video series.

This video covers Cathay Pacific’s fleet decisions, such as its preference to offer a higher frequency of five Boeing 777-300 flights on London Heathrow – Hong Kong, instead of operating three Airbus A380s carrying the same number of passengers.

Kuwait Airways Returns To Baker Street

One of the last vestiges of the pre internet travel era is the city centre airline ticket office.

In spite of high demand for commercial property and soaring prices, there are still a good number dotted around London.

On Baker Street, you’ll find offices for Air Algerie and China Eastern. Elsewhere, there’s Eva Air in Euston and Thai Airways in Mayfair. Many, such as Korean Air in Piccadilly, have closed.

An always busy Kuwait Airways office closed on Baker Street a couple of years ago and is now occupied by a boxing club. However, the airline is now due to return in a new unit across the street which is now being fitted out.

Who knows maybe one day an airline will follow Apple and Samsung and launch a fully fledged “experience” store on the high street.

Etihad Holidays At Paddington

Etihad Holidays is launching, to use marketing speak, an “activation” at Paddington station this week.

Designed to promote the new Etihad Holidays website, from Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 January, the “sci-fi, steampunk style” activation will feature Etihad’s “Holiday machine” with prizes, including a chance to win a free trip to Abu Dhabi.

The general rule with these type of events is it’s worth stopping by, if you have the time when passing through.

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Monday Briefing – 14 January 2019

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Flybe and Virgin Atlantic
Flybe and Virgin Atlantic

Welcome to our first Monday Briefing of the year for the week beginning 14 January 2019.

Flybe & Joon

Two weeks into 2019 and two airline brands will at the very least start to disappear this year.

Air France-KLM confirmed that it is consulting with trade unions on folding its millennial brand Joon back into Air France.

Last Friday, the Connect Airways consortium compromising Cyrus Capital, Stobart Air and Virgin Atlantic have bid a mere £2.2m for Flybe.

For Virgin Atlantic, whose historical forays into the world of short-haul travel have been very brief, this is a small commitment of capital. However, it is going to be a big commitment of management time and its brand reputation when the main airline is still struggling to return to profitability. As the Flybe route network is reshaped to fit Virgin’s long-haul network, it is inevitable there will be some fall out.

The takeover itself is far from certain. Shortly after publication, according to Sky News, Flybe is expected to announce to the stock exchange that Andrew Tinkler has acquired a stake in the airline of approximately 10%. This could disrupt the consortium’s attempts to secure shareholder approval for the deal.

Apropos of nothing, Andrew Tinkler was unceremoniously sacked as Chief Executive of Stobart Group in June last year amid claim and counter-claim about misconduct and boardroom plots.

Disruption Advisory

Significant disruption is expected to flights departing from Frankfurt on Tuesday 14 January 2019 due to planned industrial action by security staff.

Industrial action is also taking place at Bremen, Dresden, Hamburg, Hanover and Leipzig/Halle.

BA is allowing passengers due to depart from Frankfurt to change to alternative dates this week. Lufthansa has also implemented a similar flexible rebooking policy.
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Monday Briefing – 10 December 2018

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Monday Briefing Montage

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 10 December 2018.

At the risk of being proved wrong, news tends to thin out in the run up to Christmas so this is our last Monday Briefing for 2018. It will return on Monday 14 January 2019.

2018 has been a tough year for the industry.

The oil price remains volatile. Primera Air and Cobalt Air have failed. Flybe is searching for a buyer. WOW air is scrambling to secure new financing. Etihad is shedding itself of aircraft, lounges and routes.

There are still questions over Norwegian. Last week, it reported a fall in its load factor from 83.7% to 78.8% year on year as revenue growth did not keep up with capacity expansion of more than a third.

Alitalia somehow stumbles on regardless.

2019 will be no less an eventful year.

Indeed, before it has even begun we know to expect:

– BA’s Centenary Celebrations

– BA and Virgin Atlantic both introducing the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft and new Club World and Upper Class cabins respectively.

– easyJet launching a new frequent flyer currency.

– JetBlue possibly announcing new transatlantic routes from Boston and New York to London.

– Qantas confirming whether it will launch non-stop flights from London to Sydney.

– Virgin, subject to regulatory approval, launching a new combined transatlantic joint-venture with Air France-KLM; and relaunching its frequent flyer programme.

– WestJet introducing the Boeing 787 with its first international business class cabin at Gatwick.

The one thing you won’t be seeing is Crossrail as this is now expected to be delayed until 2020.

Buckle up, it’s going to be quite a ride!

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Monday Briefing – 3 December 2018

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

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WestJet's Christmas Miracle
WestJet’s Christmas Miracle (Image Credit: WestJet)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 3 December 2018.

‘Tis The Season….

The release of an annual Christmas film from the world’s major airlines, and indeed some airports, is now a firm fixture in the travel calendar.

The pioneer of this was WestJet with its annual WestJet Christmas Miracle. And not to be outdone it has now published what it promises will be the first of no less than 25 videos to be released every day up to Christmas Day.

You can keep up with all films with WestJet. In terms of other airlines, expect a flight to Lapland soon from SWISS and possibly a New York themed film from BA.

Joon Jettisoned?

Le Figaro reported this week that Air France-KLM’s CEO Benjamin Smith is poised to take the axe its nascent “millennial” brand Joon.

There is some credence to this. Benjamin Smith is on the record that he thinks Air France-KLM has too many brands, which include Hop! and Transavia, and should be more focused on Air France and KLM.

Most commentators in the industry do not understand what Air France is trying to achieve with Joon. And if they don’t, it’s unlikely passengers do.

Ostensibly, Joon is aimed at millennials with cabin crew in casual attire and white trainers serving their passengers smoothies. It is progressively taking over some short and long-haul routes from Air France.

Leaving aside the baselessness of the entire concept of millennials, it’s hard to understand what it is about Manchester or Madrid that merits them to be served by Joon, and for Lisbon and Milan to be served by Air France.

One of the more bizarre aspects is the claim to be “Also An Airline”. There’s little point in an airline pretending to be a lifestyle brand when there are others that can do that much better.

What is really happening is Air France employing cabin crew on different contracts, whilst the aircraft remain with Air France and are operated with Air France pilots. “Twin brand” strategies are of course nothing new. Qantas has used it very successfully with Jetstar. As does Air Canada with Air Canada Rouge. However, there’s always been a very clear delineation between brands and it’s no panacea for avoiding structural reform in the parent.

With Air France due to dispose of some Airbus A380s, Benjamin Smith is clearly not afraid to overturn decisions of his predecessors. This is of course subject to political influence from the French state which owns 23% of the voting rights in the group.
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Monday Briefing – 26 November 2018

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

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British Airways Boeing 767-300 G-BNWP Pictured 1999
British Airways Boeing 767-300 G-BNWP Pictured 1999

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 26 November 2018.

Who Wants To Buy An Airline Like Flybe?

Speculation over the future of Flybe accelerated last week.

Mark Kleinman of Sky News, one of the most consistently reliable sources of business scoops, revealed that Virgin Atlantic is actively looking at a bid for the airline. This was confirmed by both sides.

For an airline that has always attempted to exude glamour and has had only brief forays into the world of short-haul in its near 35 year history, short-haul regional flying is a world away from Virgin’s Clubhouses and Upper Class bars. We take a look at why Virgin may be interested in Flybe here.

The Sunday Telegraph also reported that according to “aviation sources” IAG is a front-runner to buy Flybe. Do bear in mind that, based on the track record of the Sunday papers, “aviation sources” could be anybody.

It is also hard to reconcile this with IAG’s historical approach of buying airlines that either buttress its existing hubs or have strong leadership positions at their own hubs.

Its airlines have also shown little relatively interest in regional airports. Both Aer Lingus and Iberia rely on franchise partners for regional flights. Indeed, Aer Lingus has actually scaled back from UK regional airports. It will also be recalled that BA sold its troubled “BA Connect” regional business to Flybe ten years ago and since disposed of a stake in the airline. IAG of course also has its sights set on Norwegian, which is exactly the sort of “transformational” deal it pursues.

BA Retires The Boeing 767

BA finally retires its last two remaining Boeing 767 aircraft today.

The last two remaining aircraft will fly from Heathrow to The Ministry Of Defence in St Athan. It completed its last passenger flight last night, BA663 from Larnaca, arriving at London Heathrow Terminal 5 at 22:34.

BA’s press photographer flew out to catch the final flight from Heathrow landing in Larnaca, so pictures of the final flights should be available shortly.

In other fleet news, BA took delivery of its first Airbus A321 Neo aircraft last week. This is the first of 10 to be delivered to the airline over the next two years.

BA CityFlyer is also wet-leasing a former Virgin Australia Embraer E190 from Stobart Air, with a dedicated business class cabin.

Frequent Flyer Programmes: Up In The Air

2019 is a potentially interesting year for frequent flyer programmes.

In the UK, the field is dominated by the BA Executive Club and its Avios currency. However, a number of BA’s rivals are starting to make moves.

easyJet has confirmed it is to launch its own frequent flyer currency next year which members will able to redeem for as yet unspecified rewards.

Virgin Atlantic is to also spin-off its Flying Club frequent flyer programme in to a separate legal entity and launch a new loyalty programme which will partner with Air France-KLM.

Back to BA, at some point it is expected to revamp the Executive Club with the possibility of Avios awarded according to the price of the flight and dynamic pricing of reward flights.

BA Returns To Doha

In what must be the longest streak of cancellations without suspending a route, BA returns to Doha this Saturday 1 December after a break of 8 months.

Flights had been cancelled to release aircraft due to maintenance checks on the Boeing 787 fleet. It seems Doha has been spared further cancellations as BA is to continue to wet lease an Airbus A340 from Air Belgium to cover one return flight to Dubai until late March 2019.

Also of note this week:

Air France is to cut its Airbus A380 fleet in half as five aircraft will be returned to lessors. Expect this to be the first of many fleet changes under new leadership from Ben Smith. (Les Echos)

Finnair continues its retrospective to mark its 95th birthday, looking back at pilot uniforms. (Finnair)

The FT interviews Flybondi CEO Julian Cook on breaking into the Argentina’s domestic market. (Financial Times)

Late Post Publication Updates:

[Reserved for updates during the day.]

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Monday Briefing – 19 November 2018

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

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Flybe Bombardier Dash 8 Aircraft
Flybe Bombardier Dash 8 Aircraft (Image Credit: Heathrow Airport)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 19 November 2018.

Flybe’s Dash For Cash

Flybe released its half-year results last week.

Its profit before tax fell 54% to £7.4m. Revenue fell 2.4% to £409.2m following cuts in capacity and net debt increased 40% to £82.1m.

The all important number however is cash. As at 30 September 2018, the airline has £70.6m of cash compared to £101.3m in the previous year. £16.4m of this is deemed “restricted cash”. Flybe has had to provide partial collateral to two companies that handle its credit and debit card transactions. This may rise and fall in line with seasonal sales patterns.

Flybe has given warning that its ability to trade as a going concern is dependent on card handling companies not demanding additional collateral and it carrying out certain asset sales to raise cash. One of these is the sale and leaseback of its aircraft hangar at Exeter airport for £5m. This was subsequently announced last week. The airline is also being advised on cash flow by the professional services firm KPMG.

The airline has also officially confirmed that it has put itself up for sale. It is unlikely that any buyer would be another airline group. BA sold its former “BA Connect” regional business to Flybe more than 10 years ago. It has since divested of a 15% stake in Flybe. Air France-KLM sold CityJet five years ago. And Lufthansa would not want to repeat its experience with bmi. It can be said with confidence that these groups will have already been approached privately.

That said, there are a lot of parties with a vested interest in the future of Flybe. Of 19 scheduled departures from Exeter airport today, just 1 is not operated by Flybe. Flybe also has dominant positions at Cardiff, Norwich and Southampton airports.

All airlines ultimately depend on cash flow from forward bookings and credit from suppliers. Speculation in itself is not helpful. It would be remiss not to also acknowledge the human impact of any airline failure. The sensible measures that apply to any airline ticket purchase, namely using a credit card and having adequate travel insurance, should not deter anyone from booking with any airline.

On a related note, easyJet announces its annual results tomorrow and should provide an update on recent initiatives in the areas of easyJet Holidays and its loyalty programme.

Black Friday

Of all the American imports into the UK, Black Friday makes the least sense.

The story behind Black Friday is well known. This Thursday is the Thanksgiving Holiday in the US. Black Friday is the equivalent of the UK’s Boxing Day sales and, legend has it, the day that US retailers go into the black. This Friday is of course not Boxing Day in the UK. It’s an ordinary working day. Most people haven’t neither the time nor inclination to plow through scores of e-mails from online retailers and airlines which are more of an irritation than anything else. The vast majority of efforts are also pretty half-hearted.
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Monday Briefing – 12 November 2018

Welcome to our weekly briefing on air travel in London and around the world, published every Monday at 06:00 GMT.

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Edward Bair, Home For Christmas
Edward Bair, Home For Christmas (Image Credit: The Mill for Heathrow)

Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 12 November 2018.

Christmas Films

And so it begins. Heathrow has released its third annual Christmas film, once again featuring Doris and Edward Bair.

You may well be thinking these ads are being released earlier this year. And that’s because they are. Two weeks in fact. With so many concurrent campaigns from consumer brands and retailers it is harder to cut through and easier for viewers to gloss over them all. There are of course only so many variations of the theme of Coming Home For Christmas that can even the brightest minds at the best ad agencies can come up with.

That said, Heathrow has to be given credit for how much it has improved its image that it can even run such a campaign. Consider this news clip from December 2010, which is akin to something from The Day Today. Demonstrating a complete lack of preparedness for winter weather and dysfunctional relationships with airlines, Heathrow was claiming the airport was operating normally after BA cancelled its entire flying programme, just as the airport was on the cusp of closure for days due to snow.

Finnair Celebrates 95 Years

Finnair celebrates its 95th anniversary this month.

The airline was founded as Aero O/Y on 1 November 1923. It has been known as Finnair since 1968. In recent years it has gained a niche as gateway to Asia with nearly 100 flights a week to the region. Taking advantage of its geographical location to offer fast connections between Europe and Asia, it has extensive coverage of China and Japan. It is also known for its close partnerships with Finnish design house Marimekko. Finnair also considers itself the official airline of Santa Claus.

Whilst Finnair has done better than most small European airlines to carve out a niche and remain financially strong, it has indicated a desire to play a part in European consolidation. However, there are no indications that the Finnish Government is willing to sell down its stake which would certainly be a condition of any bid from the likes of IAG.

Finnair’s in-flight magazine “Blue Wings” takes a look back at the airline’s history in the first of a five part series. (Finnair Blue Wings)

On a Christmas theme, Finnair is also offering special direct flights from Gatwick to Ivalo on Thursday and Sunday from Thursday 13 December 2018 until Thursday 28 March 2019 and Kittilä on Tuesday and Sunday from Sunday 16 December 2018 until Tuesday 26 March 2019.
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