Travel Talk

American Airlines is none too happy about Qatar Airways’ offer to buy a stake in the business, saying it was “unsolicited”.

According to Sky News, Qatar CEO Akbar Al-Baker told American CEO Doug Parker that he wants to acquire about 10 per cent of the airline’s stock, which would cost about $US2.4 billion ($AU3.2 billion).

Qatar said it plans to buy an initial stake of up to 4.75 per cent of American’s stock, before expanding to the full 10.

But Parker was not enthused with the gesture, and expressed this in a memo to staff.

“We aren’t particularly excited about Qatar’s outreach,” the CEO wrote.

“If anything, this development strengthens our resolve to ensure the US government enforces its trade agreements regarding fair competition with Gulf carriers,”

US carriers and Gulf carriers have been notoriously embroiled in a battle for years, with the Big Three US carriers – Delta, American and United – claiming the Gulf carriers of Qatar, Emirates and Etihad receive billions of dollars in unfair state subsidies from the government, which the Gulf carriers deny.

American, along with Delta and United, has pressured the US government to curb US flights by Gulf carriers, including Qatar, in the past, making this gesture from Qatar Airways rather surprising.

Qatar is in its own battle right now with neighbouring states as well as Etihad and Emirates, with Qatar travel banned in countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. The slim piece of airspace Qatar has left has impinged on its ability to fly its usual routes, however the carrier has fought back and launched a bunch of new destinations and a cheeky border-themed ad.

According to Sky News, Al-Baker and Parker met in secret in early June at an airline-industry conference in the Mexican resort town of Cancun.

Al-Baker is also known for making bold moves like this, having also bought into other airlines, including the parent of British Airways, a close partner of American Airlines.

According to Reuters, in his letter, American CEO Parker promised to continue American’s “full court press ... to stand up to companies that are illegally subsidized by their governments.”

He also said he found Qatar Airways’ proposed investment “puzzling given our extremely public stance on the illegal subsidies that Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have all received over the years from their governments.”

Qatar Airways responded on Twitter, saying, “We are glad to see American Airlines’ CEO Doug Parker’s perspective that he agrees with Qatar Airways’ belief that American Airlines is a solid financial investment.”

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways is one of the airlines targeted by the US in the laptop ban, along with Gulf rivals Emirates and Etihad, that prevents passengers bringing their laptops and large electronic devices onboard flights, citing security risks.

| A Travel Weekly release  ||  June 23,  2017   |||

 

Published in TRAVEL

It is becoming more and more evident that airlines must embrace technological innovations and digital channels to better communicate with their customers, and also to increase their onboard ancillary revenues.

One airline that is clearly committed to boosting its ancillary revenues, while taking advantage of the opportunities provided by digital developments, is Air New Zealand.

In an interview with FTE, Dianne Parry-Ernst, Manager Direct Ancillary Revenue, Commercial, Air New Zealand, outlines the airline’s proactive attempts to integrate the digital world into its ancillary and passenger communication strategy. “We have been examining the customer journey to identify stages where ancillary products have a limited presence and strengthening the retailing approach at these key points in order to increase customer awareness and offer customers the right product at the right time, via their preferred platform,” says Parry-Ernst.

For instance, in February the airline launched its own artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, Bravo Oscar Tango – Oscar for short – to improve customer communication. “We are also reviewing our customer communications, including content or help-based communications such as Oscar our bot, and when appropriate providing a path to purchase ancillaries,” Parry-Ernst adds.
Connectivity, pricing, distribution platforms and personalisation

While more traditional onboard sales channels hold little growth potential, Air New Zealand truly realises the benefits of a more digital approach. Ernst explains: “Connectivity, pricing and distribution platforms, along with personalisation, will be key to optimising in-flight ancillary sales. Digital developments enable customers to take advantage of the on-demand economy. Uber has a host of products developed to cater to this increasing societal trend.

“The on-demand customer segment is growing and these customers are increasingly making travel choices closer to departure as the digital ecosystem enables them to do so. Onboard last minute, personalised ancillary sales meet this growing customer need and in-flight Wi-Fi provides connectivity to the airline’s pricing and distribution systems, enabling real-time sales and fulfilment of in-flight ancillary.”

With Wi-Fi being available onboard, this opens more opportunities for airlines to offer targeted content and products to passengers. Indeed, some airlines have even expressed a desire to become the “Amazon of air travel”, by creating a platform for passengers to book not only flights, but also hotels, onward travel tickets, destination experiences and more relevant services.

Ernst highlights three key components when speaking about what shapes a successful “Amazon of air travel” experience: “Customer awareness and the airline’s positioning in the market, the airline’s ability to personalise the booking process and access to capital, partnerships and the organisational structure, and capability required to launch and sustain such initiatives.” She adds: “A few airlines have strong regional travel ecosystems and are accomplished travel retailers, however in the case of an “Amazon of travel”, consideration should be given to the global marketplace where the principal competition is likely to be the likes of Google, Facebook, and Uber, which are already taking action as they know they have a competitive advantage with customer reach, data and trust.”

Naturally, platforms such as Airbnb and Google can be seen as potential competition to the airline industry. However, Ernst believes that “given Airbnb and Google’s global reach, existing customer data, customer trust, and capability to innovate and transform, smart partnership strategies where each party brings benefits to the table are likely to create the most successful, customer-focused outcomes”.

Air New Zealand, indeed, offers customers a travel experience beyond flight and in-flight ancillaries, which includes a mix of accommodation, ground transport and destination experiences.

| A FutureTravelExperience release  ||   June 21,  2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL

Lufthansa Group will now enable secure and simple payments at the check-in counter, by introducing Amadeus Airport Pay. The new service, developed by Amadeus and Ingenico, will be available at more than 170 airports around the world.

Customers will be able to pay for ancillary services, such as excess baggage, with credit or debit cards, girocard payments and compatible digital wallets. Additionally, airline staff is able to initiate compensation payments using Amadeus Airprot Pay, for instance in case a passenger voluntary steps back from an overbooked flight.

“To bring secure and seamless payment options to our passengers to ease their individual and seamless travel experience is a core objective for Lufthansa Group,” says Kai Schilb, Head of Payment at Lufthansa Group Hub Airlines. “Amadeus Airport Pay enables our travellers to choose customised ancillary services for their flight while checking in or at the gate – securely and with a variety of payment options, and without the need for detours.”

The standard used by Amadeus Airport Pay solution is also fully compatible with PCI-DSS, a series of security standards defined by the payment card industry. By using a PIN method for the cards, fraud is prevented during the payment process.

Philipp Vetten, Head of IT Payment Projects at Lufthansa Group Hub Airlines, adds: “Besides, as an IT solution, Amadeus Airport Pay gives the Lufthansa Group full control over its payment infrastructure by enabling bilateral connections with a wide range of payment providers. We look forward to bringing this service to our airport check-in desks and ticket offices in more than 170 airports very soon.”

| A Lufthansa release  ||  June 14,  2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL

Auckland Airport will this evening welcome the first Sichuan Airlines flight direct from Chengdu, China. The new 13-hour direct service provides a seventh direct connection from Auckland Airport to a major Chinese city, and is the first to connect New Zealand directly to south west China.

While the Sichuan Province is traditionally famed for its dramatic landscape, spicy cuisine and for being home to the Giant Panda, its capital, Chengdu, is very much its modern face. Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport’s acting general manager – aeronautical commercial, says this first service to one of China’s major western centres is significant for both trade and tourism.

“Home to some 14.5 million people, Chengdu is one of western China’s most important economic centres and a key transportation hub. Therefore in addition to providing a unique cultural tourism opportunity for New Zealanders, this new route will open New Zealand to a broad new audience of Chinese travellers and support trade links between the two countries.”

“New Zealand now exports over $12 billion worth of goods and services to China a year, making it our second largest trading partner after Australia. The increased cargo capacity that Sichuan Airlines will provide between Chengdu and Auckland will enable further growth in the trade of high value goods between New Zealand and China,” says Mr Tasker.

In terms of tourism, the new service will add 81,000 seats a year to and from China, worth an estimated $102 million to the New Zealand economy.

Founded in 1986, Sichuan Airlines currently operates more than 240 routes, including long-haul services to Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States. This new Auckland route will be its longest direct flight yet, with the A330-200 featuring 24 business class flat-bed seats.

Whatever class of travel passengers choose, Sichuan’s General Manager for New Zealand, JC Shi, says they can expect to be thrilled by the authentic in-flight service.

“Sichuan cuisine is one of China’s four big cuisines, therefore we are delighted to bring the Sichuan flavour into the cabin. Authentic dishes such as hot pot, firewood chicken and barrel fish will be sure to delight and awaken the senses of first time visitors on board,” says Mr Shi.

The new direct service will operate year-round three times a week between Auckland Airport and China’s fifth busiest airport, Chengdu Shuangliu, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tonight’s inaugural flight is scheduled to arrive at 6.45pm.

| An Auckland Airport release  ||  June 13,  2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 13:57

Sichuan Airlines welcomed to NZ

Auckland is set to welcome Sichuan Airlines’ inaugural flight from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China later today, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

Sichuan Airlines will operate three direct flights per week between Auckland and Chengdu.

"New Zealand is in a strong position to attract airlines, with a liberal international air transport policy that allows most major airlines to operate services to New Zealand without restriction," Mr Bridges says.

"We have negotiated 60 new or amended air services agreements since 2012, and in that time period, the number of services Chinese airlines can offer each week under arrangements between our countries has risen from 7 to 59.

"New Zealand is an increasingly popular tourist destination for Chinese visitors. In the year ended March 2017, 404,384 Chinese visitors came here an increase of seven percent on the year before. Visitors from China spent NZ$1.45 billion, second only to the spending by visitors from Australia.

"This new Sichuan Airlines service is a reflection of the growing trade and tourism links between China and New Zealand, and it raises the number of airlines now operating from China to New Zealand from five to six.

"It’s great to see New Zealand further expanding its international connectivity, allowing people to get to and from Chinese provinces with greater ease. It is also a testament to the success of our International Air Transport Policy, which provides additional opportunities for these airlines," Mr Bridges says.

Published in TRAVEL

Emirates has partnered with BMW Group to provide a fleet of luxury automobiles for its complimentary Chauffeur-drive service for Business Class passengers in the UAE.

The new fleet, featuring BMW 520i Touring cars, is being rolled out progressively from now until the end of the year, as the previous fleet of cars is retired.

This fleet upgrade is part of Emirates’ ongoing investment in product and service both on the ground and on board. Emirates’ Chauffeur-drive service is a complimentary ground transfer service available to customers travelling in First or Business class, whisking customers to and from the airport for a seamless travel experience. The service is available in over 75 Emirates destinations worldwide.

The service complements Emirates’ worldwide lounge offering with seven located in Dubai International Airport’s concourses A, B and C, and 34 dedicated Emirates Lounges in other major airports across the globe. The airline recently introduced “pay-per-visit” lounge access, enabling Emirates Skywards members and their guests travelling on Emirates to enjoy the airline’s First and Business Class lounges at Dubai International Airport and abroad.

To complete the Emirates premium travel experience, new features have also been introduced on board. This includes the world’s first moisturising lounge wear in First Class, luxury blankets, skincare from organic brand VOYA and a new range of amenity kits from Bulgari.

| An Emirates release  || June 9,  2017  ||||

Published in TRAVELTALK
Sunday, 11 June 2017 06:58

How Qatar Airways can stay in the air

A 70-year-old international aviation law could save Qatar Airways from being completely grounded.

As reported by News Corp, Qatar Airways could save its international flights – that don’t include any of the countries its been banned by – thanks to one little loophole.

Earlier this week, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt all cut ties with Qatar, blocking movement between the countries, which included air transport. It also has prevented Qataris from transiting in airports of these nations.

As a result, Qatar Airways has suspended flights to these nations, while Etihad, flyDubai and Emirates have also stopped flights into Qatar. Yesterday, Qatar Airways responded to the ban in a statement provided to Travel Weekly and other media outlets.

The bans have resulted in the axing of about 100 flights a day, and the grounding of several aircraft. 

Continue to read full article   |||June 9, 2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL

Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) still expects to receive its first Airbus A350 XWB by the end of this year, but is no longer planning to put the widebody on Kuala Lumpur-Auckland routes, the carrier’s CEO said this week.

Talking with ATW on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Cancun, MAB CEO Peter Bellew said the first A350 was supposed to be delivered in October. But the aircraft has seen some delivery delays because of supply chain issues, particularly with seats and cabin equipment. Bellew joked that he still expected a 2017 delivery, but it would probably be “just as we pop the champagne at midnight on Dec. 31.”

MAB will initially put the A350 on London routes. By the end of April, the plan is to have four aircraft delivered and MAB will make a decision by end of June on new long-haul routes. Auckland was considered, but Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways now both operate to the New Zealand city. “Yields have gone to the dogs, so we are looking at Europe, the Middle East or Asia for the A350,” Bellew said.

Bellew noted that load factors on its London service—currently operated with the Airbus A380—consistently averaged 80% this May versus about 40% for the same month last year.

“We lowered fares a bit, but we also did a sponsorship deal with [English soccer team] Liverpool FC,” he said. “We needed to make an impact on our international brand. Football is very popular in Asia and Liverpool FC is the number one or number two supported team in Asia.”

The sponsorship, which Bellew said was “not as expensive as you’d think,” scrolls current fare prices in Thai, Mandarin and other languages around the soccer field during premium league games. Bellew said the uptake of those fares has been well worth the sponsorship.

| A Malaysian Airlines release  ||  June  8,  2017  |||

Published in TRAVEL

Auckland Airport announces new aeronautical prices for next five years and $1.8 billion infrastructure investment to support the continued growth of New Zealand travel and tourism

· Strong growth – passengers up 26% since early 2014 and the number of international airlines up 61% in past 22 months

· Strong investment – currently investing $1 million in aeronautical infrastructure every working day. Now announcing a $1.8 billion aeronautical capital expenditure programme for the next five years

· Reasonable prices - in real terms, over the next five years average annual international passenger charges will reduce by 1.7% and domestic passenger charges will increase by 0.8%. A runway land charge of $1.19 (excluding GST) per passenger from the start of the 2021 financial year once construction of the second runway is confirmed

“In the 50 years since Auckland Airport opened, how New Zealanders travel and where we travel to has changed significantly. At the same time Auckland’s airport has evolved and grown from only several hundred thousand passengers in 1966 to over 18.7 million this year,” says Auckland Airport Chief Executive, Adrian Littlewood.

“Much of that growth has happened in only the last few years, with our passengers growing 26% since early 2014. At the same time the number of international airlines has grown significantly, with a 61% increase in only the last 22 months.”

“This passenger and airline growth has helped to fuel New Zealand’s recent tourism boom and bring real economic growth to our cities and regions. It has also helped to make travel much more affordable and provided more travel options for Kiwis.”

“At Auckland Airport, we are responding to that growth by currently investing over $1 million in aeronautical infrastructure every working day. To continue the transformation of our airport, today we are announcing a plan to invest around $1.8 billion in aeronautical infrastructure by 2022.”

“Today’s announcement is the result of a 17-month consultation with airlines and the airport community on the form and function of our future aeronautical infrastructure. It is also the result of a parallel year-long consultation process with airlines on investment plans, operations and pricing.”

Some of the key infrastructure projects planned for delivery at Auckland Airport between 2018 and 2022, include:

· expanding and upgrading the international departure experience;

· providing three more contact gates for international aircraft, such as the A380 and B787;

· building a new domestic jet terminal joined onto the existing international terminal;

· improving the international arrival experience by expanding the border processing area and public arrivals space;

· upgrading the international check-in area; and

· investments in public transport, roading and walking projects.

“As a result of this significant investment in infrastructure over the next five years, there will be better and faster passenger journeys through and around our airport. The experience within the terminals will be more intuitive and relaxing, and transferring between domestic jet and international flights will be faster and more efficient.”

“Setting aeronautical prices for a five-year period is a complex process involving a range of specific charges. We believe that the prices we have announced today balance different views and are in the best interests of travellers and New Zealand.”

“For the next five years, in real terms, our average international passenger charges will reduce by 1.7% each year and domestic passenger charges will only increase by 0.8% per annum. Given the scale of the planned investment this is a great outcome for travellers.”

“We believe Aucklanders and New Zealanders recognise the need for long-term planning and development of critical aviation infrastructure. In the next five years, we will take significant steps on the path to opening our second runway which we currently expect to be required in 2028. We will also be working hard with Airways New Zealand and the airlines to increase the capacity and productivity of our existing runway and will also be designing and securing the required planning permissions. Based on an opening date of 2028 we expect earthworks to start around 2020 or 2021. If the construction of the second runway is confirmed, we will introduce a runway land charge of $1.19 (excluding GST) per passenger at that time.”

“Auckland Airport’s new prices for the 2018–2022 financial years will target a return on investment of 6.99%. In setting our new prices we are conscious of the needs of our customers as well as our regulatory and investor responsibilities and the formal Commerce Commission review which now occurs as a matter of process. We believe our new prices are fair and reasonable given the significant investment we are making in long-term infrastructure, and our charges remain only a small fraction of the overall cost of travel. The average domestic charge will be well below average for Australasian airports and our international charge will continue to be middle of the pack compared with other airports around the world served from Auckland Airport.”

“As we continue to build the airport of the future over the next five years, it is critical that all the agencies and organisations operating at Auckland Airport cooperate to ensure customers continue to have a great experience while development takes place. As part of our aeronautical pricing consultation, the airlines and Auckland Airport have also agreed to work together on looking for ways to continuously lift service standards and on managing the ongoing planning and delivery of infrastructure.”

“Our five-year pricing and infrastructure plan announced today balances the needs of passengers, the airport community, the tourism industry, our investors and the airlines. Implementation of Auckland Airport’s 30-year vision is now well underway – providing thousands of jobs and driving economic growth. It will ensure that the airport continues to connect Auckland with New Zealand and New Zealand with the world,” concludes Mr Littlewood.

| An Auckland Airport release  ||  June 8, 2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL

Although Kiwi trade phones have been ringing hot in the wake of the diplomatic brouhaha in the Gulf and London terror attacks, travel from New Zealand is unlikely to be ruffled by the two world events.

The Maldives, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar Airways, effectively suspending all Qatari planes to the seven Middle East countries. The crisis came at the time Europe was reeling by a terrorism attack in central London, which took the lives of seven people.

The House of Travel and Flight Centre say a flood of customers have been asking how the events will impact on travel. However, at this stage, it is unlikely to make an impact. Qatar, which entered the Kiwi market in Februay, says its flights to and from Auckland will not be disrupted by the crisis.

Accordingly, House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas says the company has adopted a wait-and-see attitude ‘It is unknown at this stage how far the situation will go and what it will mean. It is too early to say what impact it will have if any on travellers going to Doha and further into Europe.’

Flight Centre says it is unlikely travellers from New Zealand will be affected by the announcement. It will be business as usual for those flying Qatar Airways to Doha and on to Europe unless they were calling in on one of the seven countries laying down the ban.

It also advises the company will monitor the situation, and its travel experts across the country will be kept informed of updates.

Meanwhile, House of Travel and Flight Centre say they are not aware of cancellations being made following the attack in London. And it appears hardy Kiwi travellers will continue to travel to the UK and Europe during the high season. ‘At this stage bookings are still coming in since this attack as well as the one in Manchester earlier this month,’ says Thomas.

‘If this is not followed up quickly by more acts of terror, we expect bookings to remain in their normal pattern.’

Nonetheless, House of Travel is keeping an eye on the situation, mindful that England is holding its Business as usual for Kiwi trade in spite of turmoil on the international stage snap election tomorrow. He advises travellers to keep an eye on government travel website Safe Travel and to stay vigilant. ‘Kiwis are resilient so I don’t think at this stage it will impact. It seems more an isolated incident and so bookings will continue as normal.’

Flight Centre says it has about 5000 customers in the UK and a couple of thousand are due to travel over the next week.

The UK and Europe is a top destination for our customers at Flight Centre and the last couple of years have seen this consistently increase year on year. This year has so far been no exception and we don’t  anticipate this will change,’ a statement from the company states.

| A  TravelMemo release  ||  June 7,  2017   |||

Published in TRAVEL
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