A long standing benefit of the Gold tier of the British Airways Executive Club is the grant of a “Gold Upgrade For Two” voucher to members who earn 2,500 tier points or more in their membership year.
This is often referred to as a GUF2 voucher. BA also grants two “Gold Upgrade For One” vouchers to members who earn 3,500 tier points or more – these can be used either separately or for two passengers in one booking.
These allow members of the Executive Club to upgrade a booking to the next cabin, eg from Club World to First Class. However, this is subject to availability.
BA has advised that from, today Monday 17 June 2019, the use of these vouchers has been extended to existing bookings, as well as new bookings.
To upgrade an existing booking with an upgrade voucher you will need to contact either BA or your travel agent. However, do bear in mind that as agents have only just been advised of this new benefit awareness may be limited. Upgrade vouchers can also take a few days to be processed as it requires manual intervention, so it’s recommended to allow plenty of time in advance of travel to request an upgrade.
There are restrictions on the use of upgrade vouchers and full details of the terms and conditions are at ba.com
Virgin Atlantic has ordered 14 Airbus A330neo aircraft.
The announcement was made today, Monday 17 June 2019, at the Paris air show.
It is intended that the 14 Airbus A330-900 aircraft will be delivered to the airline from 2021. They will operate at Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester and will replace Virgin’s current fleet of Airbus A330 aircraft.
Eight of the aircraft will be owned by the airline. Six will be leased from a third party lessor. Virgin also has options for a further 6 aircraft. The aircraft will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.
The Airbus A330-900 has a range of 7,200 nautical miles and is designed to accommodate 260-300 passengers.
Virgin Atlantic’s 49% shareholder Delta Air Lines has 35 of the aircraft on order. The aircraft is currently in service at TAP Air Portugal, which will have 19 of the aircraft in its fleet by the end of this year. Other airlines to have placed significant orders include Air Asia X which will take delivery of its first aircraft later this month.
Hello and welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 17 June 2019.
Is “Basic Business Class” on the horizon?
Over the past few years, most network airlines have introduced some form of “basic economy” long-haul fare.
The rationale for this was that low cost airlines such as Norwegian introduced fares that do not include, inter alia, a checked luggage allowance or free seat assignment. As many customers choose fares through price comparison sites, airlines believed that they have to offer a similarly competitive fare to capture these customers.
Like low cost airlines, these fares are offered based on the ability, whether the customer intended to or not, to up-sell at little marginal cost additional services after booking. It is intended to, at best, be revenue neutral.
Emirates confirmed last week that it is launching a new form of business class fare that does not include a car service to the airport nor lounge access. Seat selection privileges are also restricted and frequent flyer mileage accrual is also reduced.
This fare is not available on all routes and from a cursory scan of Emirates booking engine it does not appear to be available on any flights from London to Dubai.
Does this mark the start of the unbundling of business class?
This is not the first time airlines have discriminated between different groups of business class passengers.
BA requires Club World passengers who are not Silver & Gold members of the Executive Club to pay a fee to select a seat at the time of booking. Virgin Atlantic only provides a car service to the airport for passengers booking certain types of Upper Class fare. Indeed, business class was born out of airlines wanting to provide more to passengers buying full fare economy tickets.
Airlines have also got better at targeting different passenger groups – there are competitive Club World fares available for passengers willing to fly mid-week and book more than six months in advance.
It is a slippery slope if airlines start a full unbundling of business class. Airlines have always been fearful of business class passengers trading downwards, hence why so many took long to introduce premium economy – a stepping stone between economy and business class that Emirates does not yet have. The whole structure of airline fares and ground and onboard services is to encourage passengers to trade upwards.
Whilst price is a factor in securing business class passengers, there are many other factors too, namely networks and schedule, ground services and onboard product.
Successful business class products come from really understanding the needs of business passengers. It is this that led to valuable innovations such as fully flat beds, arrivals lounges and Fast Track immigration channels. If airlines start dismantling this – the clue is in the brand name most synonymous with business class “Club” – then it is a slippery slope downwards.
Heathrow Expansion Consultation
Heathrow will launch a statutory consultation on the expansion of airport tomorrow, Tuesday 18 June.
This follows an earlier consultation exercise this year. The significance of this exercise is that its fundings will be incorporated into a final proposal to the Planning Inspectorate next year.
After a period of public examination, the Secretary of State will then make a decision whether to grant a Development Consent Order which will encompass most of the authorities required to construct the third runway. This process is expected to take at least 18 months.
The consultation will cover four areas:
Heathrow’s preferred masterplan for expansion, including the layout of the new north west runway (CGI image above) and supporting airport infrastructure, as well as the pace of expansion in the number of flights.
How the airport will operate with a third runway such as how it will alternate flights between the three runways, a possible ban on scheduled night flights, and how additional flights may operate before the third runway opens.
Heathrow’s assessment of the impact of expansion on the environment and local communities
Heathrow’s plans to mitigate the impact of expansion in areas such as air pollution, carbon and noise.
US airlines have never been known for topping lists of the best airline lounges in the world.
With operations largely focused on domestic flights in the US, where typically only First and business class on select premium transcontinental routes offer lounge access, US airlines have primarily offered membership club lounges with relatively limited food and beverage.
However, there are signs of improvement. With growing international long-haul networks and a need to offer comparable service to joint-venture partners in Europe and Asia, US airlines have been raising their game.
United has been rolling out its “Polaris” lounges. American Airlines has also been rolling out its “Flagship” lounges. These are available at Chicago O’Hare Terminal 3, Dallas Fort Worth Terminal D, Los Angeles Terminal 4 and New York JFK Terminal 8. Further lounges are due to open at London Heathrow and Philadelphia.
American also has a Flagship lounge on Concourse D in the North Terminal of Miami International airport, which is the subject of this review.
Lounge location and access
The Flagship lounge is located near Gate 30 on Concourse D in the North Terminal, with one of American’s two Admirals Clubs in the terminal.
The lounge can be accessed by Oneworld Emerald & Sapphire cardholders and international First and business class passengers. When you arrive at the lounge complex entrance you’ll be handed a laminated card to access the Flagship lounge upstairs.
Note if you’re flying on BA to London Heathrow from Concourse E you can also use this lounge instead of the Oneworld premium lounge on Concourse E, albeit with quite a walk to the gate.
To the lounge itself, and a quick tip that applies to almost any large airline lounge.
In lounges, passengers naturally gravitate towards the bars and where they see food. If you want peace and quiet, and don’t want to have to listen in on others’ conference calls, just head in another direction.
If you immediately turn left on entering the lounge you will find plenty of largely unoccupied seating areas:
British Airways’ Glasgow lounge re-opens on Sunday 16 June 2019.
The lounge has been closed for refurbishment since Sunday 2 June 2019. There are no pictures of the refurbished lounge yet.
The lounge has been refurbished by Glasgow based design agency Graven, who designed the original lounge. BA says:
“The lounge will have a more contemporary luxurious feel whilst also considering sustainability. Much of the furniture has been refurbished using our latest wool blend fabrics. Premium materials and finishes have been added, together with new bespoke decorative lighting, designed and made in the UK.”
London Heathrow – Miami is a good illustration of the vagaries of flying BA.
BA operates three return flights a day, all now with a Boeing 747 so passengers should know with confidence to expect. Right? Well, not quite.
It’s perfectly feasible that three groups of passengers all taking different BA flights on the same day could each report different experiences.
The reason being that only some of the 52 Club World seat aircraft that serve this route have been fully refurbished with new in-flight entertainment systems. Some have had just a light interior refresh. Others have not been refurbished at all in ten years due to their imminent retirement. And you’ll only know what you’re getting once you’ve stepped on board the aircraft.
Let’s take a look at one early morning departure from London Heathrow Terminal 3:
After a quick check-in at a reasonably busy Heathrow Terminal 3 for an early morning, it’s to the lounge.
It’s received wisdom that any passengers flying Oneworld from Terminal 3 with lounge access should head to either the Cathay Pacific or Qantas lounges.
However if you want to download reading material from PressReader at the airport you need to use the BA lounge WiFi. A couple of tips: you do need allow for a generous amount of space on your device and a good amount of time to download as it does take more than a few minutes.
To boarding, BA has for some time been using the grouping system for boarding aircraft. One weakness is that the relative numbers of passengers eligible for Group 1 boarding can vary widely by route. As Miami is an American Airlines stronghold, there are a lot of Oneworld Emerald cardholders eligible for Group 1 boarding on this route.
Hello and welcome to the The Atlantic Update 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.
The Death of the New York “Power Lunch”
New York’s Four Seasons restaurant closed for the final time yesterday, Tuesday 11 June.
The Four Seasons restaurant originally opened in 1959 in the Seagram building in New York. After a difficult start, it became the ultimate symbol of the New York “Power Lunch”, a term coined in 1979 by former Esquire editor Lee Eisenberg.
The point was not the food, but to do deals over elongated lunches in its Grill Room and to see and be seen amongst Wall Street deal makers, editors from Conde Nast, TV news anchors, fashion designers and politicians.
The Four Seasons left the Seagram building in 2016 – its contents were sold for over $4m at auction – and reopened last year on East 49th Street. Times have of course changed. Expense accounts are not what they were. Profligacy is frowned upon. Formal lunches are an anathema to Facebook and Google who now occupy vast swathes of New York real estate. Deals are not done over lunch but at informal meetings and over Skype.
Also in New York:
Uber has announced plans to launch “Ubercopter” which will offer helicopter rides between Manhattan and New York JFK from Tuesday 9 July 2019. Trips will cost in the region of $200-$225. Access will be restricted Platinum or Diamond Uber Rewards users. You also won’t be able to take checked luggage with you. This is the wrong solution to Manhattan’s poor links to JFK – what it needs is direct rail line.
The Museum of Modern Art closes temporarily on Sunday 16 June 2019 for a $450m remodelling. The museum will reopen on Monday 21 October 2019. It promises free access to ground floor galleries, improved traffic flows between floors, additional space for permanent collections and better representation of artist diversity. (MoMA)
It’s conventional wisdom that New York is best avoided in summer due to the stifling heat. However, the markedly more relaxed atmosphere as locals leave for the summer does have its attractions. There are also many free film screenings in Bryant Park,Hudson River Park and many other New York City parks.
Whereas London spreads outwards, Manhattan simply goes up higher. New York’s skyscraper boom. (New York Times)
Citylab on the nostalgic escape offered by the newly opened TWA Hotel at New York JFK. (CityLab)
Also of note this week:
One of the very few bright spots in rail travel in America are Amtrak’s Acela trains which operate between Boston, New York and Washington. CBS News takes a look inside Amtrack’s next generation train which will enter service in 2021. (CBS News)
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
A couple of weeks ago we reported that BA had introduced a new pricing structure for seat selection charges on the main deck of Club World.
BA has introduced a new set of six price points for selecting a seat, and these are detailed here.
It was expected that further changes would be forthcoming for the Upper Deck. BA has today, Tuesday 11 June 2019, implemented a new pricing structure for the Upper Deck of the Airbus A380. This has a relatively marginal different configuration of 2-3-2 rather than 2-4-2 on the main deck. Window seats also have storage bins.
Using a flight to Vancouver as an example, there are now separate charges for seat pairs by the window and lower charges for the centre seats. All of these Upper Deck seats were previously priced at £105. Now the centre seats attract a lower, albeit very modestly so in the grand scheme of things, price of £95 to select a seat.
On the main deck of this flight, seat selection charges range from £79 to £105.
Note that these changes only apply to passengers making new bookings. Passengers with existing bookings will not see any changes. Seat selection charges will also vary by route. At present, pricing of the much smaller Upper Deck of the Boeing 747 appears to be unchanged.
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.
US Customs & Border Protection Data Breach
The US Customs & Border Protection agency announced on Monday evening that photographs of passengers travelling into and out of the United States have been stolen in a data breach.
The source of the breach is a malicious cyber-attack on a federal sub-contractor. It is not known how many travellers have been affected or precisely what other data has been stolen.
This development comes amongst increasing scrutiny of the use of facial recognition technology at airports and concerns over the de facto opting in to the use of this technology and awareness of passengers’ rights to opt out.
Also of note this week:
Amazon has long talked, particularly in the run up to the Christmas shopping season, about deliveries by drone. At its re:MARS conference in Las Vegas last week, Amazon unveiled its latest design for a drone – a fully electric drone that can deliver packages weighing up to five pounds within a 15 mile radius. (Amazon)
On a related note, Microsoft has announced its new Xbox console codenamed “Project Scarlett” will debut at the end of 2020.
The BBC, facing considerable public scrutiny at the moment but is performing well creatively, brings a 1943 report from the Berlin Blitz to life through Virtual Reality. (BBC)
The founders of Quibi (short for “Quick Bites”), a new short-form mobile video streaming service, have confirmed launch date of April 2020, priced at $4.99/$7.99 a month with or without adverts. (Variety)
Our weekly Travel Media & Technology Bulletin is published every Tuesday morning at 06:00 BST. If you have any comments or suggestions, please e-mail us at mail [at] londonairtravel.com
Airbus is widely expected to unveil its Airbus A321XLR aircraft, the latest variant of its largest single range aircraft. Bloomberg reports that American Airlines is considering this as a replacement for the Boeing 757. It is claimed Airbus A321XLR would be capable of flying from American’s principal hub in Dallas Fort Worth to Central Europe – where its presence is weak due to the lack of Oneworld alliance partners.
In the UK, American currently uses the 757 aircraft to fly seasonally from Edinburgh to Philadelphia. American has cut its presence at UK regional airports, notably Manchester, and this may help it reinstate previously suspended routes.
IAG has also been cited as a potential purchaser, but is likely to want to see how the Airbus A321LR performs for Aer Lingus first.
On an Airbus related note, every month it publishes an updated list of aircraft orders and deliveries.
Based on the update for May published last week, BA has reduced its orders for Airbus A320neo aircraft from 25 to 22 aircraft and increased Airbus A321neo aircraft from 10 to 13 aircraft. Based at London Heathrow, the Airbus A321neo has a capacity for 220 passengers, compared to 180 for the Airbus A320neo.
Staying with BA and Airbus, BA’s first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft emerged in its full Chatham Dockyward livery in Toulouse last week. The airline has not yet confirmed the exact delivery date to London Heathrow and will do so when Airbus gives one months’ notice. You will be seeing more of BA’s Airbus A350-1000 in production as Title Role Productions (who produced “British Airways: 100 Years In The Sky” for Channel 5 last year) have been filming in Toulouse for a forthcoming TV series recently.
The Boeing 747 Centenary Flights That Weren’t
There was a blip last week in what has so far been a well choreographed year of BA centenary celebrations.
BA has removed from its schedules three Boeing 747 flights to Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle on the day of its centenary, Sunday 25 August 2019.
BA described as coverage of these flights as “speculation”, a common form of non-denial denial. What exactly has happened behind the scenes isn’t known. However, the airline may have been deterred by negative coverage – written by some who really should know better – of the environmental impact.
UK Bank Holidays
The Government has announced that the next early May Bank holiday will be moved from Monday 4 May to Friday 8 May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Alas, Prime Minister Theresa May did not feel inclined to give the UK an extra public holiday as parting gift.