Tuesday, 17 January 2012

China Southern trying to develop Guangzhou as a hub for flights to Europe

If you do a search for business class flights from Sydney to London or Paris, then inevitably, the cheapest will be a bunch of Chinese Airlines. For instance for flights Sydney to Paris (one stop) at the end of January 2012, airfares on Zuji are:
Good prices, lie flat, although not necessarily totally flat beds, make this sound attractive, but a search of Airline Quality suggests that language, food, entertainment, and possibly service are not that great. Australian Business Traveller reports that :

Speaking in Sydney, China Southern Executive Vice President He Zongkai said he aims "to make Guangzhou an ideal transfer hub between Australia and Europe", based not only on the launch of flights to London Heathrow but also increased flight frequencies for Guangzhou-Paris and Guangzhou-Amsterdam which kick in mid-year.
 Although Economy passengers report some pretty dire service, food, and no back of seat entertainment - most business travellers are more impressed:

Brand new A330's, on 2 of the legs a fully flat bed and on the other 2 legs a bed with a slight incline, slightly less comfortable but managed to get a good sleep. Service was very good although the language barrier was difficult at times. Food was good quality and plentiful. The entertainment system was technically excellent though the selection of English speaking films were limited. On arrival at Guangzhou I had a personal escort through the numerous customs and security barriers to the business lounge (basic but comfortable). Was not expecting this level of service or quality considering the price.
Oh, and be warned - both Chinese websites have some interesting literal translations into English, sometimes with compromised functionality.

 Source: Australian Business Traveller; Airline Quality

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why Qantas wants to set up a premium airline in Asia

In a telling article in the Business Section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Matt O'Sullivan gives a great insight into why Qantas thinks that a premium airline base in Asia could be a real earner:
The Asia-Pacific region eclipsed North America as the world's largest aviation market in 2009 by a few million people, notching up 647 million air travellers at 26 per cent of global passenger traffic.
By 2015, the International Air Transport Association is forecasting, travel within the Asia-Pacific will account for almost a third of the total. Although predicated on what happens in Europe and the US, the peak body for airlines is forecasting annual traffic growth of almost 7 per cent in the region by that year.
And - Qantas is talking to the leading lights of AirAsia about a partnership. They already have a working relationship - so its no surprise that the two CEO's: Alan Joyce from Qantas, and Tony Fernandes for AirAsia;  are chatting about a partnership based out of Kuala Lumpur. So with the downturn in Europe, a struggling USA, and too much competition on the trans pacific route, appealing to Asia's new nouveau riche is an obvious choice.

The trick will be for the Australian airline Qantas to beat the leaders in luxury travel already based in the financial hubs of Asia: Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, and Singapore Airlines in the city state of Singapore with an airline based in the non-financial hub of Kuala Lumpur in partnership with the struggling Malaysian Airlines.

To me and a number of industry insiders –  the cards appear stacked against Qantas.  Too much investment will be required in infrastructure (planes, training, lounges and limousines) over too long a period ( a year to set up, a year for certification, and any number of years for flyers to change their alliance loyalties), spread to widely (Asia is a big place - will it be KL to Beijing, or KL to Bali that will be the big earner for a premium airline?) And besides what does Qantas bring to the table that Asian airlines don't have who already lead the world in levels of service? Koalas? Miranda Kerr?

Friday, 13 January 2012

AirAsia - suspends flights to Europe - Paris and London

Air Asia X has announced cost cutting measures that will suspend flights from Malaysia to London and Paris and some Indian destinations:

The Malaysia-based airline cited global economic uncertainty, soaring taxes and higher jet fuel prices for the move, adding it would redeploy its fleet to profitable Asian and Australian routes.
AirAsia X, a unit of AirAsia, will cease services to Mumbai and Delhi from January 31 and March 22, respectively while routes to London and Paris will end on March 30 and March 31 respectively.
This will be a shock to some Australian passengers already booked on these flights.

The airline offered some stunning bargains in their version of business class  - which incuded angled lie-flat beds, with return flights to London via Kuala Lumpua costing around $3,000 - half the cheapest other business airfare.

The good news, is they are proposing to start flying out of Sydney next year from April (according to Australian Business Traveller)

Scource: SMH

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Scoot into these little outfits

Scoot airlines - lowcost offshoot of Singapore Airlines has launched these flight attendant uniforms - T-shirts and pants for boys, and dresses for girls. Just makes you want to start the women's liberation movement all over again.

Scource: Straits Times

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Travel agent trends 2012 – Its all about you

The USA Travelmarket report has some advice for 2012. In a world where we all have access to travel services via the internet, it is no surprise that the advice to Travel Agents is "Keep it Personal". Here is some selective advice from their recommendations:
  • Understand client lifestyles - personalise marketing to individuals
  • Keep communications one-to-one - personal notes, personal suggestions
  • Get educated - get experienced - personal knowledge and experience is valued by customers
  • Target family celebrations - people are gathering around milestone events like birthdays and anniversaries
  • Recruit your customers for life - keep in touch after their trip
  • Sell value - you need to provide a service, knowledge and experience over and above what customers can find online
  • Get in first - be proactive - in recruiting business and providing service
To read their complete list with quotes from industry players visit TravelMarketReport.com

Monday, 9 January 2012

Airlines generally in for a bumpy ride in 2012

There are a lot of dire predictions for the airline industry in 2012. Everything from pollposition.com survey that says only 43% of Americans plan to take a flight in 2012, through to negative predictions on profitability of airlines  on the Indian subcontinent.

The best summary I have come across is a little more optimistic:
  • Airlines are now unafraid to cut - they review flights and routes regularly and are unafraid to cut unprofitable ones
  • Chapter 11 - will facilitate cuts at American Airlines - to bring it back into profitability
  • Prices are likely to go up - perhaps because of oil prices, but there will be a fine balance in setting price to keep those middle seats filled, while window and aisle seats go to full-fare or frequent flyers
  • if the current airlines are too successful - new players with stars in their eyes and money in their wallets will believe, despite the odds that they have the true profitmaking formula
  • Europe down, Asia up - with the Euro crisis, European airlines are likely to feel the pinch. With China, India and other parts of Asia doing well - its low cost structure and repuatation for excellent service could see the further rise of the Asian airline
  • Decline in freight - this is troubline IATA (International Air Transport Association), as traditionally a decline in freight indicates a fall in overall activity
For a good overview - see travelmarketreport.com

Qantas passengers go bumpety-bump

QF32 - an A380 between London and Singapore struck severe turbulance in Indian air space about 3 hours out of Singapore. Some passengers were flung around the cabin as (according to passengers) the aircraft plunged 3 times.

The seriousness of injuries has not been reported, but any hospitalised passengers from the flight have already been released in Singapore.

It's pretty good that only 7 people were injured on a plane of this size, presumably out of their seats without their seatbelts fastened.

The seatbelt sign was on - and passengers were impressed by the reaction of flight attendents, and the personal explanation by the pilot in the cabin after the incident.

Sounds like cabin staff and crew dealt with this incident pretty well.

Note to self: always have your seatbelt on when seated

You can find more detailed reports of the incident at smh.com and travelblackboard

Thursday, 5 January 2012

LAN goes Gay, Gay, GAY!

LAN Airlines has just launched a specific gay and lesbian website:
"At LAN Airlines, we pride ourselves on the great diversity of our staff, our customers, and above all the great destinations that we serve. LAN has hubs in some of South America's best current and emerging LGBT destinations, including Buenos Aires, Santiago and Lima,"
You can find it at LANDiversity.com (how politically sound) I would have gone for LANQueer I think

Apple is about to take over the entire travel process from booking to airfares through to hotel arrival - iTravel

Patent filings in the USA reveal that Apple is planning an iTravel app using Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, which will take you from airline booking to airport ticketing, through security, onto the plane, help you with on-board entertainment, product purchasing, through the airport at the other end, and even to your hotel's check-in and other services.

You can find the full story at patentlyapple or a pretty good walk through at Australian Business Traveller, or try Tnooz.com - and especially the related posts about how Siri will assist Apple in world travel domination over Google!

Kevin May at Tnooz offers this little insight to the app as a travel industry gamechanger:
A single piece of functionality like iTravel pretty much puts the search, buy, and trip management (such as check-in, security) experience direct into the user’s hand through one entry point.
It would be attractive to many users and therefore significant amounts of travel distribution would start to go through such a device.
To be a part of that search and booking ecosystem is attractive to those involve, but not for those that are squeezed out.
It is now possible to imagine a digital travel sector dominated (even controlled) by just a handful of powerful players – those that run the devices and/or the distribution.
The final point to make here is that, once again, it will be the outsiders that disrupt the travel sector, not those already within it.
I think he has quite a point.

Virgin Australia to open refresh and remodel lounges – including Sydney

Australian Business Traveller reports that Virgin Australia is working on upgrading its Gold Coast, Sydney and Perth lounges.

The upgrade of the Sydney lounge is well overdue. It's currently looking dowdy and threadbare.  I think its currently a bit of a disincentive to frequent flyers and business travellers.

The new lounge will use a similar design to that employed in Melbourne and Brisbane. ABT suggests that they may be able to update without closing the lounge, with an opening slated for the end of the year

Perth gets and expansion for another 100 pax as an interim measure until the new pier for Virgin opens in 2014.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Qantas - mass pilot redundancies ?

The Australian Financial Review today (4 Jan 2012) reports that Qantas may perform its first every round of mass redundancies of long-haul pilots - if international operations continue to hemorrhage money. The AFR bases this view on:
  • information that 150 long haul pilots have taken up a company offer of leave-without-pay and taken up temporary positions with competitor airlines
  • reduced flight hours available to pilots because of cutbacks in numbers of international flights
  • an extimated excess of 400 pilots 'in the next few years if incoming aircraft are deferred or diverted to other business units such as the growing Jetstar franchise . . .'
  • New Boeing Dreamliner aircraft will not go to Qantas International - unless returns improve
  • Alan Joyce - Qantas CEO has not ruled out pilot redundancies
An unnamed pilot suggest that Qantas might end up with only enough pilots to staff 14 A380's for its international operations.

Qantas through its spokesperson counters that offering leave-without-pay when they have an overcapacity of pilots is a common practice amongst international airlines.

The comments by Andrew Cleary are worth reading. In essence he suggests that lack of investment by Qantas to expand its international operations while competing airlines as well as partner airlines steal market share is at the heart of the problem.

Airplane crashes up – Fatalities down

The number of aircraft accidents for 2011 rose to 37, compared to 26 in 2010.

However, the number of fatalities actually fell to 515 comapred to the average for the decade of 777.
The reason for the high fatal accident figure and the contrastingly low number of casualties is the relatively large number of regional aircraft involved, mostly turboprop aircraft, and the small number of big jet fatal accidents. The number of casualties per fatal accident was just below 14. The worst accident of the year involved an Iran Air Boeing 727-200 domestic flight that crashed in January near Orumiyeh killing 77 of the 105 people on board.
Scource: FlightGlobal.com

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fares between Australia and USA – Up or Down?

The Sydney Morning Herald today reports that the increased number of flights since 2009 when Delta and Virgin Australia entered the route has kept fare prices low. However there seem to be two schools of thought on where fares will head in the future. Here are the reasons why:
  • Spare Capacity on Qantas
    Qantas is now making money out of the route, and not making money out of the 'Kangaroo Route' to Europe. It will cut its flights to Europe from 5 a day to 3 from April, so it could try to gain market share by scheduling more capacity between Australia and the USA
  • Only 10% of seats vacant
    Qantas, Virgin, Delta and United are all running at between 87% and 92% capacity on the trans-pacific route currently according the government figures
  • Australians Love the USA
    We love going to the USA, because Australians can get to the west coast in one 14 hour flight, instead of 2 legs to Europe usually taking about 24 hours
  • Low US Dollar
    Hotels, internal flights, not to mention fantastic retail shopping in almost every category is extremely attractive for Australians because of the better-than-parity exchange rate
Some analysts say that the 10% average vacant capacity is enough to absorb expected increases in bookings, while others suggest that Qantas might make a play to dominate the route as it has done traditionally. It also has the advantage of running the newer, quieter, roomier, and more fuel efficient A380. The other factor is the new approved alliance between Virgin Australia and Delta, which might lead to more efficiency. The SMH reports that Virgin made a profit on the route last financial year, after making losses.

My bet is that Qantas will make some kind of play to increase its market share on the USA route. Remember they need to restore confidence in their brand after the grounding the airline in 2011 as part of their their strike breaking strategy. They have the spare capacity, and they already seem to be using price as a means to regain customers on other international and domestic routes.

Tipping - around the world

Tipping is always and area of dispute. How much and on what grounds? Just for service, or only for good service. Below is a guide - which unfortunately completely ignores South East Asia, but is heavy on Europe and the America's: (click on to embiggen)

Source: mint.com

Virgin Australia up - Qantas passenger numbers down

Nothing to see here.

In the month after the grounding of Qantas (November 2011), its passenger numbers fell by 1.3% and Virgin Australia's rose by 3.7% across domestic and international - international rose by 5.1%

The test will be over the next 3 to 6 months to see if those trends continue, or flatten out. Updates when more statistics available.

Alan Joyce - board rewards grounding Qantas

New Years eve saw the reporting of the vesting of Qantas shares to the value of approx $600,000 with Alan Joyce as part of his short term incentive rewards payments.

The only way to interpret this is that the Qantas Board is rewarding their CEO for shutting down the airline and costing them $70 million. Yeah, yeah, I know all the arguments about what the strike action was costing them in lost revenue and future bookings, but it still doesn't change the fact that it was not just Alan Joyce who wanted the grounding, but the whole board. Any criticism of Qantas should be firmly focused on the Board, not just the CEO.

Quality Hunters - Finnair Triumph or Farce?

Over the last few months, Finnair in conjunction with Helsinki Airport has employed - 'Quality Hunters' to come up with new ideas to improve the offerings of the airline and the airport.

In October, they hired 7 Quality Hunters to travel the world and seek out fresh ideas on quality and how to improve air travel and the airport experience.
They sent them around the world and tight and exhausting schedules, and had each one specialise in a different area like 'On the Move', Business Class', 'Shopping' and 'Services' . . .
“We are thrilled with the quality of ideas we have received, and our intention is to relay the benefits of the project to our passengers by putting into practice as many ideas as possible as soon as we can”, says Johanna Metsälä, Customer Experience Manager at Helsinki Airport.
You might be thrilled Johanna - but I'm not.

Wished you had been selected as one of the quality hunters?

Don't be so sure. They all complained in the nicest possible way about the travel schedule, and although blogging enthusiastically, all the content and photos look strangely desparate as they search for something that is noteworthy.

I think that the overwhelming reaction is one of:  meeehhhh. Most of these suggestions are so white bread bland that you could have thought of them if you were mid-flight falling asleep, or spent a couple of hours researching online what other airlines/airports are doing.

Have a look at some of the things they came up with:

The Good:
  • an intermediary seating class between economy and business - premium economy for Finnair - such an innovation for the airline industry!
  • Asian fusion menu at airport and in-flight - like no other airline or food outlet has never discovered the delights of Asian cooking
  • A place for Art and Performance - the Art part of this is good, its static, and can occupy if you have a boring wait in the airport.  The performance aspect - see 'The Ridiculous' below
  • Fresh food mobile unit -  they had to send people round the world for that idea?
  • An airport app - such an innovation - like no other airport/airline has though of this?
The Bad:
  • Meat free Monday (yawn)
  • Continue having 'Quality Hunters' - this is not actually a bad idea - its just that it is soooooooo obvious
The Ridiculous:
  • Magazine and book swap - yeah, like the retailers in the airport are going to support that one!
  • Boarding bracelet with a chip -  just what passengers want to be wearing the whole flight - so they can pretend they are at a rock concert?
  • A place for Art and Performance, as one comment goes: " I don´t think I would ever go that far to plan my trip around the stage program. . ."
  • Bring Finnish nature to the airport - I thought this would mean small cute furry things at the check-in , but they actually mean putting up birch tree wallpaper, and having sounds of the forrest, and maybe even make the airport look like a sauna!
This is a selection from the top 10 or so suggestions.  I don't know what this whole exercise cost Finnair and Helsinki Airport, but I'd say they have 'done' their money.

Here are my suggestions for the airport and the airline, and I have never been on/to either:
  • more leg room
  • more comfortable seats (airport and airline)
  • better service
  • more value for money
One thing I do really like about the Helsinki airport website is their guide for what to do if you have 1, 2, 3 or 4 hours for your flight at the airport

Monday, 2 January 2012

Why I like Virgin Australia . . . at the moment

After being a very loyal Qantas customer, my allegiances are on the move, and they currently reside with Virgin Australia.


Because they:
  • matched my status with another carrier
  • gave me 2 free passes into their club
  • gave me 2 more even though I had used up the previous free ones
  • let us take a whole bunch of bags as hand luggage that we thought would need to be checked-in to the hold
  • delayed a flight by 5 minutes on NYE to let on a missing passenger. The passenger was extremely grateful, apologetic, engaged with passengers and staff, and made a point of thanking the pilot on arrival
  • upgraded me & partner on a flight to Ballina
  • let us use the lounge again, even though another set of free passes had expired
This is not the cheap, service free, grumpy airline staffed by service-denying teenagers of a few years ago.

Does Flying suck?

This website might keep you amused: flying-sucks.com
The site hasn't been updated for a while - but strangely a lot of what it covers still applies.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The asymetry of airline and passenger responsibilities

"If I showed up an hour late for my flight, I might be able to rebook on another one, but United would charge me $150 for the change. But the airline can be as late as it likes or cancel the flight altogether and face no penalty."
Len Burman at Forbes makes some observations about the asymetric nature of responsibilities that airlines take on for themselves, and the responsibilities they expect from passengers.