Tag Archives: BMI

British Airways is NOT Ninety Years Old

Much as I’m sure British Airways are keen to promote themselves in these difficult times, I do think celebrating their ninetieth birthday today is a bit rich.

The actual anniversary today is of the first scheduled international flight from London to Paris, run by a company called Aircraft Transport and Travel. The company had been formed several years earlier in 1916, and had flown a proving flight across the channel on 15th July.

The connection to the modern day British Airways is pretty convoluted (although they are glossing over that in the press release). Aircraft Transport and Travel ceased flying three years later in 1921 along with the other British airlines that had formed in protest at the government subsidies their French competitors were receiving. They were then acquired by a private air hire company to form Daimler Airway, which in 1924 merged with three other early airlines to form Imperial Airways.

British Airways Ltd was formed in 1935 and was in competition with Imperial Airways until the government nationalised both companies and merged them into the British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1939.

BOAC was demerged into three separate corporations in 1946, and then remerged in 1974 to form British Airways that was subsequently privatised in 1987 to bring us to the company as it is today.

So as far as I’m concerned British Airways is either twenty-two or thirty-five, depending on whether you count from privatisation, or from when the present company was formed. Celebrating ninety years is like someone celebrating on their great-grandfathers birthday because they contain some of the genetic material passed down through their parents. Indeed given that we’re not even celebrating on the date of the formation of Aircraft Transport and Travel, it’s a bit like having a party on the day your great-grandfather first walked…

Really, this should be a celebration for the whole British airline industry, where alongside British Airways we also have BMI (British Midland) and Virgin Atlantic, and also EasyJet, who in terms of passenger numbers are now the largest British airline. Certainly if you look at the league table, from our beginnings with the first international scheduled service, we still make a significant contribution to the industry, which certainly can’t be said about many other industries that were born in the UK.

Flying

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First off, a bit of good news to all of our friends who have got one of my moans over about the past week about the complications of trying to book our next trip to Canada – you’ll be pleased to hear that we’ve now actually booked a trip, so no more moans – well at least not about this! 😀

The problem has been trying to find a reasonably priced flight that fitted in with when we wanted to go. Now there are two competing airlines flying the London to Calgary route I foolishly assumed that it might make the fares more competitive – no such luck, Air Canada were doing their usual mickey take on prices, and the new competition, British Airways were coming back with fares of over £2000 return for both of us to go over on the dates we wanted. I then moved onto Canadian Affair, who are usually pretty good, but they are still running their winter schedule when we were looking, and the only options they had were some seats on a Monarch flight, which whilst it is cheap is a 29“ seat pitch which whilst it is fine for Beth would be torture for me, or a couple of their once a week Air Transat flights that would have significantly cut the length of the trip.

Anyway, the breakthrough came when I tried looking up flights into Edmonton rather than Calgary. In the past it’s not really ever been an option – certainly the only times I’ve flown into Edmonton it has involved a plane change at Calgary, and a trip on the little turbo-prop service that shuttles backwards and forwards between the two cities. However now, alongside the twice daily service to Calgary, Air Canada have added a daily service into Edmonton – and significantly at a rather cheaper cost than the equivalent trip into Calgary.

At this point the vagaries of how airlines actually work out their flight costs really starts to get confusing. Looking at the seating plans for the Edmonton flights, they don’t look any less full than those into Calgary – the journey to Edmonton is marginally shorter granted, but in the grand scheme of things not by much, but the cost of the tickets we were being offered was noticeably less than what was being offered into Calgary. Actually if you really want to confuse yourself, try coming up with a reason why it’s cheaper to fly to Toronto and then on to Calgary than take the direct flight – longer flying time, more fuel used, but still cheaper.

Having got some idea of the costs I then tried to put together the best deal – and discovered that since their take-over by Air Transat, Canadian Affair are really not keen on booking flights with Air Canada – and that was after we’d been through the usual routine over my insisting that we needed to book the car rental with Hertz. (For the reasons why, check out this post about car rental companies and their definitions of â€?off-road driving“.) Thankfully I’ve now discovered that Opodo, unlike Expedia and Travelocity do have a deal with Hertz so I can build a reasonable package with them without too much trouble.

The one final oddity when we were booking on Opodo was down to the BMI codeshare on the flight – as usual the same physical flight was listed twice at different prices – however even more odd, the BMI version of the flight had only four seats left, whilst the Air Canada version had availability marked as â€?good“ – indeed if you look at the flight using the Air Canada reservation system online the flight is only about half full. I’m guessing that there are only a limited number of codeshare seats available – although as it’s all going through the same booking system I can’t imagine it’s too difficult to allow any of the seats on the plane to be sold through any of the codeshare partners.

Anyway all of that aside, after a bit of comparing, we’ve eventually opted to fly in and out of Edmonton on Air Canada for this trip. Even including the cost of the car rental and a hotel for the first night we are there it still worked out cheaper than flying into Calgary!

The Fastest Way to Brussels

You can always rely on Ryanair and it’s charismatic boss Michael O’Leary for some entertaining news stories. After discriminating against disabled passengers by charging them for a wheelchair, winding up the green lobby and sitting right at the bottom of the pile as the worlds least favourite airline, today it lost out in another battle over one of it’s adverts, this time claiming that it in a comparison with Eurostar it was the fastest and cheapest way to get from London to Brussels.

In order to make this comparison, they compared the time it takes the train to get from London to Brussels, with the time for their closest route, which flies from London Stansted airport 30 miles north-east of London to Charleroi Airport 28.75 miles from Brussels. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the comparison of both time and cost were misleading because the comparison did not include the time and additional cost to get to and from Stansted or Charleroi.

The response from Ryanair was typical – they said that time and costs involved in getting to an airport or railway station were irrelevant as they applied to both modes of transport – they also said that “no stupid rulingâ€? could hide the success of the airline.

Not surprisingly, I don’t agree – if I’m wanting to go somewhere, the time taken for the whole journey is the most important, as is the convenience of the schedule. Last year when I went on a day trip to Brussels I made exactly that decision. For a start, Ryanair didn’t get a look in – flying from pretty well the opposite side of London to somewhere miles outside Brussels it was a non starter. We did consider the Eurostar, but that lost out because to get to the terminal we needed to spend an hour on South West Trains to get there and back. In the end, thanks to our close proximity to London Heathrow, and the much closer location of the main Brussels Airport to the city compared to Charleroi where Ryanair arrive, we opted for a BMI flight instead.

The basis of the Advertising Standards Authority ruling is that comparing the time from central London to central Brussels is a fair comparison – in which case the Eurostar wins easily as it’s only a short hop on the respective city metro system to the terminal rather than a much longer and more expensive journey out to the airport. Put simply, they are saying that the only fair way to compare is to pick a start and end location and compare the whole journey. Having said that, Ryanair would probably pick Stansted and Charleroi and add the time to get to each airport to the time for the Eurostar

Eurostar originally uploaded by Boxley.

Day Trip to Belgium

I’ve just got back from a day trip to Belgium, Brussels to be precise. I went over on business, alongside one of our sales guys, as our company is joining in with a EU funded project looking at RFID solutions, and this was the kick off meeting.

As you may have gathered from the end of my posting yesterday, this was all organised pretty last minute in terms of the flights, so the cheapest flights I could get where a premium economy ticket going out, and the slightly cheaper (well about £4 cheaper) restricted business ticket on the way back.

This was the first time I’d flown on the BMI premium economy ticket, and considering that it is more expensive than a restricted business ticket, if you don’t need the flexibility in the ticket, I’d rather go for the cheaper business ticket. From the point of view of travel perks, the only perk you get over and above regular economy on a short-haul flight is that you can get into the business lounge. However that proved to be a mixed blessing this morning anyway. Firstly the whole of the air conditioning system throughout Terminal 1 seemed to be having problems, so the BMI lounge had a couple of portable air conditioners, and some fans, but really was just generally warm and muggy. Coupled with that, the lounge is above one of the gates, which is fine if you could access all of the BMI gates – but you can’t. My flight was on a totally different pier, and when I left the lounge to go to catch my flight I was directed through flight connections – apparently the only way to get to the other pier is to spend another ten minutes waiting around to have your bags searched again, because the security staff won’t allow you back into the departures hall to get to the right pier.

Anyway, onto the premium economy experience on the plane. BMI is not not providing any food, or any drinks for free to economy passengers. It’s still complimentary for business passengers, but they charge anyone in the economy cabin, even if you’re paying for the premium economy ticket. The drinks and food aren’t exactly cheap either – what I’d describe as captive market pricing, so you’re looking at £1.50 for a cup of tea. Now fine, if you’re opting for the cheapest fare possible, you expect them to squeeze every extra penny out of you, but bear in mind that my premium economy ticket cost more than someone sat in the business class cabin on a restricted ticket was paying.

The scheduled journey time from Heathrow to Brussels is about an hour, it transpires that about half of this time is actually to cover the sitting around at Heathrow, as the flight itself only took 35 minutes. Coming back you are in the air for 50 minutes, the difference in time being the time you are stacked waiting to land at Heathrow. When I arrived at Brussels I had a couple of hours to kill waiting for my colleague to arrive on his flight from Birmingham. Frustratingly thanks to a massive thunderstorm at Birmingham airport, his flight was late arriving.

Having said that, Brussels airport is not too bad as a place to have to sit around and wait. According to a couple of signs it won a competition as the best airport in Europe a couple of years ago – certainly it is a nice manageable size, and quite easy to find a quiet spot to sit down.

Once my colleague arrived, we had the choice of how we were going to get into the city. Taxis from airports are always expensive, and Brussels is no exception, apparently the fare is around €30 to get in to the city. Having said that, unlike our own Heathrow Express, which costs the best part of £1 a minute for the journey, the Belgian equivalent is just as quick, but considerably cheaper. It cost just €11 for the two return tickets into the city.

The nearest station to the meeting was the Central station, which according to the city map I had printed out was under 1km from the hotel. It was also incidentally, 1 stop on the Brussels Metro. As we had a good half-hour to go, we thought we’d walk, I had the city map, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. Unfortunately, since I initially thought we’d come out of a different exit than the one we actually used, we actually ended up going the slightly scenic route, having gone about five minutes walk in the wrong direction, however we made it to the meeting on time.

After the meeting, after getting lost earlier, we decided to give the metro a try, which even at rush hour proved to not be too much of a problem. The metro is relatively modern – at least compared to a lot of what we have in London, and was quick and clean. Interestingly, whilst London is now filled with ticket barriers, there aren’t any on the Brussels system. You can buy your ticket, and there are machines to validate it, but ultimately there is nothing to stop you just walking on to the train without paying. I’m not sure whether they don’t have a problem with fare dodging, or whether they just aren’t bothered, but certainly everybody seems to be trusted. After our go on the Metro, we even managed to get on a train back at Brussels Central going to the airport too!

Anyway, on the way back, I was on a restricted business ticket, so I got a little bit more space, but more than that a very nice snack meal and drinks – and if I’d paid a little bit more I could have been sat two rows behind in the packed economy cabin…

So the one final question, was whether it was a better choice to fly rather than take the Eurostar, which was what I was going to do before my colleague had to come down from Birmingham. To be honest, although getting to Waterloo is pretty tedious, and indeed the whole process will get even more so when the Eurostar services relocate next year, the journey time is pretty comparable once you’ve factored in all the sitting around. Granted the actual travel time flying is less than half of the Eurostar, that doesn’t factor in all the waiting time all the way through the process going through the airports. We’ll have to see if we have to go for another meeting in Brussels, but I’ll certainly give the Eurostar a good look next time around.