UK Government explores lower rates of Air Passenger Duty for English regional airports

Amongst the many announcements by the Chancellor George Osborne in today’s summer budget, the Government has announced a consulation whereby regional airports in England may be able to offer differing rates of Air Passenger Duty.

This follows the earlier devolution of Air Passenger Duty to national governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and concerns that regional airports may be at a competitive disadvantage.

This may be achieved through either devolving the power to set rates of Air Passenger Duty to local authorities or for differing rates of duty to be set by Central Government. An alternative option proposed is to provide aid to regional airports.

Whilst any reduction in Air Passenger Duty would be welcomed by the aviation industry we suspect that many airlines will argue that the measure is insufficient and that duty must be reduced further to enable the UK and, specifically London Heathrow, to compete against other aviation hubs in Europe and the Middle East.

Furthermore, whilst many regional English airports such as Manchester and Birmingham have been growing their international links, particularly to the Middle East, this is unlikely to result in a significant rebalancing of aviation capacity between London and the English regions.

That said, the measure may attract more long-haul airlines to English regional airports, particulary to operate “pop-up” routes during the peak summer season, such as Virgin Atlantic’s summer seasonal flights between Belfast and Orlando.

The full consultation can be viewed online. Any interested parties are required to respond by Tuesday 8 September 2015.

Virgin Atlantic cuts 500 jobs. But what happens next?

Virgin Atlantic has announced it is to cut 500 jobs. This follows the suspension of many long-haul routes and the closure of its “Little Red” short-haul operation at London Heathrow. What does mean for the airline, now 49% owned by Delta Air Lines?

London Air Travel » Page 92

Virgin Atlantic aircraft at London Heathrow

The big aviation story today has of course been the release of the Airports Commission report on the expansion of airport runway capacity in London and the South East.

A cynic might therefore wonder whether it was no coincidence that Virgin Atlantic chose to announce in the past 24 hours that it is to cut 500 jobs, all of which will be from back office roles.

A company choosing to make itself more efficient through reducing management and administrative posts isn’t in itself that noteworthy. Indeed, it’s been a fact of corporate life for many decades.

However, in the context of Virgin Atlantic a reduction of 500 posts is significant.
Continue reading “Virgin Atlantic cuts 500 jobs. But what happens next?”

Air Canada Rouge to launch London Gatwick – Toronto from 19 May 2016

Air Canada Rouge operates London Gatwick – Toronto on a summer seasonal basis.

London Air Travel » Page 92

Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767-300 aircraft
Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767-300 aircraft (Image Credit: Air Canada)

Air Canada Rouge, the leisure subsidiary airline of Air Canada, is to launch summer seasonal flights from London Gatwick to Toronto Pearson airport from 19 May 2016.

Flights will operate up to 7 times weekly.

Air Canada Rouge also flies between Toronto and Manchester and Edinburgh on a summer seasonal basis.  Air Canada’s domestic rival WestJet also announced this month that it is to fly between London Gatwick and as yet unspecified destinations in Canada in summer 2016.

Air Canada Rouge flights will be operated by a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft with 24 Premium rouge seats in a 2-2-2 configuration and 256 rouge seats in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Passengers travelling in the Premium rouge cabin have lounge access at the airport, a complimentary checked baggage allowance, complimentary food and drink and free use of a tablet for in flight entertainment.

Passengers travelling in the main rouge cabin have complimentary food and drink and can download an app to watch in flight entertainment on their smartphone or tablet. There is no seat back in flight entertainment.

We have no direct experience of Air Canada Rouge but we would offer the observation that 280 seats is a very dense seating configuration for a Boeing 767. By contrast, an Air Canada Boeing 767 with a traditional business class cabin has 211 seats. Such a dense configuration will have an impact on not only in seat comfort, but also at boarding, access to overhead locker space and washrooms etc.

Flights will be on sale at Fly Rouge from 2 July 2015.

Update: Here’s the timetable with convenient timings for the leisure traveller to maximise their holiday time.

Flight AC1925 Depart London Gatwick 12:00 – Arrive Toronto Pearson 15:00
Flight AC1924 Depart Toronto Pearson 22:10 – Arrive London Gatwick 10:15

Update (2): This route has been suspended from the 2018 summer season.

Virgin Atlantic “Up In The Air” will premier Tuesday 7 July 2015

“Up In The Air”, the long-awaited three part behind the scenes documentary at Virgin Atlantic, will premier in the UK on ITV at 9pm Tuesday 7 July 2015. The documentary is produced for ITV by The Garden Productions.

London Air Travel » Page 92

Virgin Atlantic aircraft at London Heathrow

“Up In The Air”, the long-awaited three part behind the scenes documentary at Virgin Atlantic, will premier in the UK on ITV at 9pm Tuesday 7 July 2015.

This follows recent behind the scenes series at Heathrow by both the BBC and ITV (“Airport Live” and “Britain’s Busiest Airport”) and “A Very British Airline”, a behind the scenes look at British Airways by the BBC.

The documentary will cover Virgin Atlantic’s quest to recover from four consecutive years of financial losses with the delivery of its new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the airline’s 30th birthday celebrations and the recruitment of new cabin crew.

Episode 1 – Tuesday 7 July 2015

In episode one we meet the team at the Virgin Atlantic base in Crawley, preparing for the airline’s 30th birthday event. Richard Branson, who founded the airline when he was just 34, is making a rare appearance.

Although the airline is celebrating its staying power in a notoriously fickle business, times have been hard recently, with finances up and down and often millions in the red. Whilst he hasn’t been involved in the day to day running of the airline for more than ten years, Richard Branson is still the face of the brand. He says: “Fortunately, I’ve been in the airline business long enough to know that you have tough years and good years. (We’ll still be around in 30 years) as long as we keep reinventing ourselves and keep ahead of the crowd.”

With a small fleet of 38, some of Virgin’s planes have been in service for around 20 years. The airline is hoping that its route back into profit lies in their five billion pound investment of new fuel efficient Dreamliner planes, which will eventually replace half its existing fleet of older gas guzzlers.

Certifying Engineer Paul, says: “This (plane’s) design is 1980s, over 25 years old. So the computing power in your smart phone is easily a match for this. If you can keep your aircraft age young, then you can always stay in the game.”

The first Dreamliner is on the production line and Customer Experience Design Manager Nik Lusardi is off on an unusual shopping trip to the Boeing factory in the States, where he will select passenger seats and most importantly – the swanky cabin loo. The pressure is on to get Nik’s upper class seats, which cost around £100,000 each, tweaked, tested and fitted into the Dreamliner in time.  

After a recruitment freeze of two years, Virgin is finally hiring cabin crew again, and over 2000 people apply for a job in just 48 hours. Jonathan, part of the Cabin Crew Recruitment team, says: “The golden question, ‘What are we looking for?’ I guess it’s that natural enthusiasm, that natural warmth and friendliness. I’ve always said, you’re either naturally a Virgin Atlantic Crew Member or… maybe it’s not for you.”

The modest £12,500 starting salary hasn’t put off 58-year-old grandmother Katrine, who is hoping to fulfill her life long dream to become a ‘trolley dolly’. Katrine says: “It’s what I’ve been wanting to do for 25-30 years, and I feel the time is right. That’s why I haven’t gone for it before, I had young children so I couldn’t give 110% to the role at the time. It’s time for me now… touch wood!”

We follow the new recruits through training, styling and their eventful first flights to Cancun and Dubai. With delays, turbulence and passenger sickness, will their training have equipped the fledgling cabin crew with everything they need to make their first flights a success?

Episode 2 – Tuesday 14 July

In episode two, we follow the team launching the airline’s new Vivienne Westwood designed staff uniform. It’s the first new uniform in 15 years and Annie has the responsibility of fitting out thousands of staff from all over the business – some love the tight curves but not everyone is convinced by the new look.  

Rebe, Mim and Helen, Virgin Atlantic’s very own style team, are putting together a glossy style bible for company staff, which lays down the law on everything from hair and make up, to how to wear the new uniform. They want airline staff to be the magazine’s models, so hopefuls fly in to Crawley from as far afield as India and San Francisco to compete in Virgin’s Top Model competition. Rodrigo, who admits to having a lot of ‘work’ done has flown in from a transatlantic shift to take part in the competition, but will his sharp suit and hand painted contact lenses be enough to land him a modeling spot? 

Meanwhile the pressure is on to get Virgin’s new Dreamliner plane delivered on time from Boeing – any hold up could cost the airline millions in lost revenue. Designer Nik is doing the final touches to his cabin lighting which have cost more than the Blackpool illuminations to develop and install and we meet the team in Heathrow’s upper class lounge, whose job is to keep Virgin’s highest paying customers happy, whether whisking them through check in or directing them to the jacuzzi. 

As ever, the warehouse boys back in Crawley offer their own down to earth insights into the airline’s fortunes and misfortunes and play their own part in the uniform launch. 

Episode 3 – Tuesday 21 July

Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Atlantic when he was just 34, is still the face of the airline and we meet him in Florida as he shoots a range of adverts for the brand. It’s a chance for Meigan, the airline’s new Director of Communications, to meet her boss for the first time, and a surprise lies in store for her. As Virgin Atlantic turns 30 the company is thinking ahead to its future. But how will an airline based on youthful exuberance cope with middle age? Reuben is Head of Customer Experience, responsible for and everything to do with how the airline looks and feels. His big job is to oversee the company’s new TV ad campaign, the first in 2 years and he has the tricky job of combining Virgin’s cheeky and sexy past with its maturer years – without being boring. Nailing this idea in a new advert isn’t easy, and the ad shoot in Budapest has its ups and downs. 

After seven years of waiting, the team at Virgin Atlantic are finally about to get their hands on their new Dreamliner plane. Designer Nik and cabin crew trainer Matt Whip are amongst the crew flying the new plane back to the UK. On the flight home Nik discovers that his new lighting has an unfortunate side effect on the crew blouses, while back at Heathrow Chief Exec Craig and his senior team find the welcoming party doesn’t run as smoothly as expected. 

Once it has landed the team has only have a few weeks to get the plane ready for going into service. The Dreamliner flies a different altitude to their older planes, which makes food and drink taste different to the discerning passenger, so Reuben has the all important job of selecting the sparkling wine with the right amount of bubbles for the new altitude.

Also in the episode we also meet the team at the customer complaints centre in Swansea, who are dealing with customer’s increasingly high expectations – and the occasional caller who thinks Richard Branson might be available for a chat. Back in the warehouse in Crawley, Tom is thinking ahead to his own future, with possible retirement on the horizon. The team on the ground at Heathrow reveal some of the stranger things that customers have tried to bring onto a plane, and a Dreamliner launch in Atlanta keeps Richard Branson and the Virgin Atlantic team on their toes.

Full details are available from the ITV Press Office.

“Up In The Air” is produced for ITV by The Garden Productions.

Cathay Pacific re-opens The Pier First Class lounge in Hong Kong

London Air Travel » Page 92

Cathay Pacific has long been known for its highly regarded portfolio of lounges at its hub at Hong Kong International airport.

These lounges comprise The Bridge, The Pier, The Wing, The Cabin and The Arrival.

The airline has today reopened the first class lounge at The Pier.

Continue reading “Cathay Pacific re-opens The Pier First Class lounge in Hong Kong”

WestJet to launch transatlantic flights from Gatwick

London Air Travel » Page 92

WestJet Boeing 767 aircraft
WestJet Boeing 767 aircraft (Image Credit: WestJet)

Canadian airline WestJet has announced it is to launch transatlantic services to Canada from London Gatwick in spring 2016.

The airline has yet to confirm which routes will be served (though Toronto seems an obvious choice) or any scheduling, pricing and product information, other than to say flights will be operated by Boeing 767-300 aircraft.

This will be welcome news for London Gatwick which has lost a number of transatlantic airlines to Heathrow over the past few years. It will undoubtedly use this as a case for a second runway at Gatwick.

What happens at Heathrow after Virgin Atlantic Little Red closes?

Virgin Atlantic’s “Little Red” flights from London Heathrow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh will end on Saturday 26 September 2015. Until another airline bids for the slots, they will revert back to British Airways.

London Air Travel » Page 92

Airbus A320 aircraft in Virgin Atlantic “Little Red” livery

Virgin Atlantic’s “Little Red” flights from London Heathrow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh will end on Saturday 26 September 2015.

These flights were operated with slots forfeited by British Airways as a consequence of the takeover by its parent company, International Airlines Group, of bmi.

The trustee appointed to oversee the release of these slots did re-advertise them. The deadline for applications was 2 April 2015.

In the absence of any announcement to the contrary, we can only deduce that no bidder has come forward. This means that the slots will revert back to British Airways.

It also cannot be a co-incidence that BA has just announced an additional 7 flights a week from Sunday 25 October 2015 to Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Milan–Malpensa airport, Zurich, Geneva, Newcastle and Edinburgh. In addition, BA will add an additional 4 flights a week to Manchester.

Finally, it’s worth noting that holders of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles can redeem their miles for Virgin Little Red flights from 7,500 miles. Flying Club members can also earn bonus miles on Little Red flights before it closes.

Emirates Heathrow lounge closed for refurbishment until October 2015

London Air Travel » Page 92

Emirates’ lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3 is currently closed for refurbishment until October 2015. The lounge closed on Monday 8 June 2015.

In the meantime, eligible passengers can use the British Airways Galleries Lounge.

However, BA has said access to its lounge for Emirates passengers will not go beyond 12 October 2015. The reason for this is that BA will begin to move some long-haul flights from Terminal 5 to 3 in October which will obviously increase demand for the lounge.

“Union Pearson Express” launches in Toronto

London Air Travel » Page 92

Union Pearson Express Train Pearson Airport Station
Union Pearson Express Train Pearson Airport Station (Image Credit: Union Pearson Express)

One of the many things that are often lacking at airports in North America is a direct rail link from the airport to downtown.

Toronto is one city to gain such a link with the launch of the Union Pearson Express on Saturday 6 June 2015.

The new service will link Terminal 1 of Toronto’s main international airport, Toronto Pearson, with its main downtown railway station (Union Station), every 15 minutes with a journey time of 25 minutes on an elevated rail track. A return fare for an adult is CAD$53 (roughly £28).

Continue reading ““Union Pearson Express” launches in Toronto”

easyJet provides a glimpse into the future with its Innovation Day

London Air Travel » Page 92

easyJet held its “Innovation Day” today at Milan Malpensa airport.

The airline has outlined a series of innovations under consideration to improve the operating efficiency of the airline and improve the passenger experience.

These include the use of automated drones to perform visual inspections of aircraft (video below), the use of 3D printing to produce spare parts, virtual reality technology in cabin crew training, and (in partnership with Airbus) the use of real-time flight information to predict aircraft maintenance requirements.

Passengers affected by disruption will also be able to book hotels (paid for by easyJet) on a new easyJet smartphone app.
Continue reading “easyJet provides a glimpse into the future with its Innovation Day”