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Pakistan airspace re-opens to commercial flights

Pakistan airspace open
Clearing the airs -- the impact immediately after Pakistan closed its airspace.

Pakistan re-opened airspace to all civilian aircraft Tuesday, allowing airlines no longer forced to re-route aircraft to save time and money.

Thousands of flights were delayed or canceled by the closure in February by Pakistan of its airspace for commercial flights after tensions escalated with India.

The trigger was an Indian air strike against what it claimed was a terrorist training camp in Balakot.

The attack, in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian soldiers, prompted Pakistan to shoot down an Indian fighter jet and brought the two nations close to war.

READ: Boeing says no plans to change name of 737 MAX

Pakistan said at the time it airports would only be used for “military purposes” until the airspace is reopened for commercial activities.

Pakistan airspace lies directly in the path on the major air route between southern Asia and Europe and many flights are already at the limit of their range – particularly in the northern winter with stronger headwinds.

Flights were diverted south of Pakistan across the Arabian Sea putting more pressure on the heavily used corridor and costing airlines tens of millions of dollars.

Indian airlines were particularly hard hit and reportedly lost almost $US80m due to the closure.

India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted: “After cancellation of NOTAMs by Pakistan and India in the early hours today, there are no restrictions on airspaces of both countries.

“Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief to airlines.”

With Pakistan’s airspace closed and tensions with Iran prompting warnings that airlines could be shot down, United Airlines announced this week it was extending the suspension of flights from the US to Delhi and Mumbai until October 26.

Airlines have been more sensitive to flying over conflict zones since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was taken down by a Russian-made missile over Ukraine five years ago.





Lufthansa to boost A380 services from Munich

Lufthansa Munich A380
Photo: Lufthansa

Lufthansa will split its A380 fleet evenly between Munich and Frankfurt from summer 2020, operating the superjumbo from the Bavarian city to two new destinations.

The addition of two A380s will see the fleet based in Munich increase to seven, matching the seven Lufthansa superjumbos based in Frankfurt.

Passengers will be able to enjoy the popular double-decker planes on five routes from Munich.

The new A380 routes will see the superjumbo fly to Boston and serve San Francisco year-round.

READ: Why American Airlines needs to lift its customer service.

Also, on the A380 flight schedule for summer 2020: Los Angeles, Beijing and Shanghai.

The airline currently operates the A380 to Los Angeles, Beijing and Hong Kong.

The 1019/20 Winter Schedule will see it fly San Francisco, Miami and Hong Kong   (until December) and Shanghai from January.

“Since last March, the A380 has been operating very successfully from Munich,’’ Deutsche Lufthansa executive board member Harry Hohmeister said.

“A few weeks ago, we welcomed the millionth A380 passenger on board in Munich. Our customers and our crews love the A380 experience. “

Lufthansa’s A380 sports eight first-class seats, 78 in business, 52 in premium economy and 371 in economy.

The lower deck houses economy and premium economy seats while business class and first take up most of the upper deck.

The A380 has proved a popular aircraft with passengers, mainly because of a tendency by airlines to configure them as their flagship product.

However, they were not so popular with airlines because of higher operating costs compared to the new fuel-efficient twin-engine jets.

A decision by Emirates to take just 14 more aircraft and to swap the remainder of its order for A330s and A350s sounded the death knell for the big plane earlier this and resulted in Airbus announcing a decision to end production.

READ: Airbus to end A380 production as Emirates swaps orders.

The last A380 is set to roll off the production line in Toulouse, France, about the end of 2021.



Boeing says no plans to change name of 737 MAX

Boeing MAX rename
The rebranded planes. Photo: Woody's Aeroimages/Twitter

Boeing says it currently has no plans to drop the MAX name from its latest generation of Boeing 737s  after photos emerged on twitter of a rebranded Ryanair aircraft.

The images prompted a flurry of speculation about a potential name change and show a Ryanair plane in Seattle with the 737 MAX logo replaced with 737-8200.

Boeing 737-8 and  737-9 are an alternative nomenclature for the 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 and had already been used in documentation from the US regulator.

Ryanair has orders for 135 737 MAX 200 versions of the plane, which have 197 seats, plus options for an additional 75 options.

The photos appear to explain why Ryanair chief executive  Michael O’Leary would not commit to keeping the “MAX” brand in an interview last week with AirlineRatings’ Andreas Spaeth.

Ryanair may not be the only airline aiming to take this course: IAG boss Willie Walsh also refused to commit to the MAX moniker.

READ: Boeing boost as IAG confirms MAX plans, Ryanair says it wants more planes.

What appears on aircraft livery is a matter for the airline and the US manufacturer referred questions to Ryanair.

“Our immediate focus is the safe return of the MAX to service and re-earning the trust of airlines and the traveling public,’’ it said.

“We remain open-minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans at this time to change the name of the 737 MAX.”

The MAX brand has been damaged by the global grounding of the fleet in the wake of two fatal crashes in less than five months as well as publicity surrounding a series of investigations into the aircraft’s certification.

A number of commentators, most notably US President Donald Trump, have suggested that Boeing should change the name of the MAX.

Trump tweeted in April: “If I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name.”

Although MAX operators have signaled they will seek compensation from Boeing for the grounding, many have remained supportive of the aircraft.

Boeing is currently working with regulators to get approval for software and training changes aimed at preventing a repeat of the two tragedies.

It remains unclear how long the approval will take and two US airlines, United and American, recently extended cancellation of MAX services through to early November.

Once the grounded aircraft have been cleared to fly, Boeing will face the challenge of explaining to the public what has been done and why it is safe to again fly on them.




Jetstar tight-lipped about Sri Lanka

Jetstar Sri lanka

Aussie carrier low-cost carrier Jetstar is playing it coy over suggestions it is flying to Sri Lanka.

The carrier, which offers long-haul flights to a number of Asian destinations, was tight-lipped when approached about reports in the Sir Lanka’s Daily News that the Australian High Commissioner there had said it was poised to start services to the island.

‘We are always reviewing our network for opportunities where there is demand but we have nothing to announce at this stage,’’ a spokesman said.

SriLankan Airlines currently operates flights between Melbourne and Colombo and Australian High Commissioner David Holly was quoted as saying the carrier was also expected to operate flights to Sydney soon.

It said more than 4000 Australian tourists arrived in Sri Lanka, mostly by air, in June.

Sri Lankan is a codeshare partner with Qantas.


Why American Airlines needs to lift its customer service

American fail after-sales
Photo: American Airlines

Airlines aren’t renowned for their after-sales service — the Internet is replete with tales of woe —  but a recent personal experience shows American Airlines needs to significantly lift its game.

An attempt to book an exit row seat that should have taken minutes took several weeks and the repercussions were spread out over a month, longer than it took Apollo 11 to fly to the moon and back.

It involved three Web attempts and half a dozen phone calls, triggered the suspension of my credit card and saw American at various times over more than a month deny me access to more than $A2000 in credit.

And that’s before we get to issues about changes in currency and attempts to gouge more money.

The Australasian region is blessed with three well-regarded international carriers so flying with a US carrier is never a decision taken lightly.

Yet with a new era of increased co-operation between Qantas and American dawning, an upcoming trip to the States seemed a good opportunity to test out the US carrier’s mettle.

There was also intelligence coming out of the US that traditional carriers there had improved from the aerial greyhound bus services into which they’d deteriorated.

American wasn’t the cheapest option but its extensive network was the one that best served my multi-stop itinerary.

READ: American joins United in canceling MAX flights until November.

The US carrier’s Boeing 787-9s have nine-across seating and its website says economy seat width drops as low as 16.2 inches, something a reasonable person would assume violates several human rights conventions.

The problem is that it’s not clear to which seats this applies, and American’s customer service people didn’t seem to know.

The rest of the seats are a still tight 17.2 inches, pretty much the standard with 787s,  with a 31-inch seat pitch.

I’m a big guy, slightly taller than American boss Doug Parker, and even the standard economy seat looked uncomfortable for such a long flight.

Surprisingly, there is no charge to reserve some international economy seats on American (kudos there) so my travel agent and I locked in standard aisle seats in the initial booking.

My hope was I could use Qantas points to upgrade but when this turned out not to be the case, I decided to pay the “tall person tax” and buy extra legroom seats, called Main Cabin Extra on American, for the long trans-Pacific flight.

American fail after-sales
In search of the lost exit row seat – American’s main cabin. Photo: American.

Problem number one was getting caught in a currency soft-shoe shuffle.  Although the ticket prices were in Australian dollars and we were still on the Aussie website, the ancillaries came in US dollars.

That was not entirely clear; the website simply said $129 for the Sydney-LA leg and being an Australian website I’d assumed that was in AUD. However, this turned out to be $A182.

The fact I’d inadvertently booked more Main Cabin Seats than I could arguably afford became immaterial when the transaction failed.

‘We were unable to process your product selection below,’’ a pop-up said. “You have not been charged and your itinerary remains unchanged.’’

When I tried it again, it failed again and produced the same message.

By this time alarm bells were going off at my bank and they suspended my card after some apparently dodgy company in Phoenix, Arizona, placed two pre-authorizations —  where they lock off funds pending a transaction —  in quick succession.

This is obviously one of those cases where “you have not been charged” has a different meaning in American than it does in English and meant the airline prevented me from accessing almost $A1700 on my credit cards for more than two weeks. For a failed transaction.

It was at this point that I discovered while talking to the bank that the prices had been in US dollars and the cost much steeper than I’d assumed (take note Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).

After reassuring the bank that American’s Arizona operation was not some offshoot of the Cosa Nostra, I waited two weeks to get my credit access back before being silly enough to have another go.

A reduced attempt to book fewer seats only saw the carrier cheerfully block another $522 from my credit card with the same result.

A customer service rep told me the reason I couldn’t use the website was because I had booked through a third party.

While I pondered the strange logic of that proposition, she also told me I would have to pay a penalty to relinquish the free seat that had been reserved for me before, of course,  adding: “Thank you for flying American”.

Off I went to the travel agent, who rang her special phone line twice before being told there was indeed an $80 penalty — it was not clear whether that was Australian or US dollars — for changing the seat over the phone. This was in addition to the $US129 cost of the exit row seat.

I get a tad annoyed with this kind of rip-off, despite admonishments from my wife, and my initial reaction was to drop the whole thing.

But after mulling it over,  I took the view that I was not the party at fault here and insult should not be added to injury.

My travel agent agreed and went to bat for me again, thankfully finding a sympathetic soul (more kudos) who agreed with our argument and put through the transaction without the penalty.

A receipt would be with us in a couple of hours, he said. Not entirely unexpectedly, nothing happened.

My travel agent rang a fourth time and was assured the seats were confirmed and the transaction had gone through.

There were a couple more phone calls before a receipt finally turned up almost two weeks after the transaction.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, American is still preventing me from accessing $A522 it blocked almost three weeks ago. The bank says it should have cleared after 10 working days so more phone calls are imminent.

Compare and contrast American’s approach with Royal Caribbean’s response relating to a US  cruise

Not only do you book a cruise in Australian dollars but all additional options on the site are clearly marked as being in AUD and the receipt comes through in a matter of minutes. Happy customers go on their merry way.

Maybe American’s Doug Parker could a get a couple of his people to slip over to the cruise company and see how it should be done.




Melbourne Airport passengers hit new high in 2018-19

melbourne Airport record month
Photo: Melbourne Airport.

Melbourne Airport welcomed a record number of passengers in the 2018-19 financial year as numbers grew almost 2 percent to 37.4 million travelers.

Overseas visitors helped drive a 5.3 percent rise in international passengers at Australia’s second-biggest airport compared to 2017-18  and offset soft domestic passenger growth of 0.4 percent.

More than 11.4 million international passengers passed through the airport with the top five nationalities listed as China/Hong Kong, New Zealand, India, United Kingdom and the United States.

READ: Australian domestic airline growth flat in May

Australians also seemed willing to pack up their troubles in the old kit bag with local passport holders heading overseas through Melbourne rising by  5.9 percent in 2018-19.

The airport also welcomed two new carriers in the 12 months — Cebu Pacific and Air Vanuatu — to bring the total number of carriers to 36.

“The growth in the international market is phenomenal, rising by more than five percent on the 2017/18 financial year, which clearly demonstrates the popularity in overseas travel and strength in Melbourne as a tourism destination,m’’ Melbourne Airport chief executive Lyell Strambi said in a statement.

“We are also seeing growth diversify into markets such as India, Canada and the Philippines, which is really exciting for our operation.”

However, the airport’s numbers for June were less rosy.

Flat international passenger growth and a fall in domestic numbers pushed Melbourne Airport’s overall growth into the red compared with June 2018.

Overall passenger numbers for the month were down 1 percent to 2.9 million as domestic numbers fell 1.4 percent compared to the same month a year ago.

Weak international passenger growth of 0.1 percent failed to offset the domestic fall.

Strambi said expanding the airport’s international network was a priority.

But how the airport intends to grow has become a subject of debate in Melbourne after management revealed in June a surprise decision to put a new runway development on hold as it considered switching directions.

It had been planning since 2013 to build a new east-west runway but said it was now looking at a north-south runway that would less susceptible to delays due to wind.

A new completion date two years later than anticipated has prompted fears of congestion at the airport and the direction change has alarmed nearby communities.

“Due to a number of factors which have changed over time, we have undertaken a planning review over the last six months to assess whether east-west remains the preferred option for the third runway that we announced in 2013,’’ Strambi said in a statement issued at the time.

“Our review provides strong evidence to suggest the north-south parallel could now provide a superior outcome in terms of availability, capacity, long-term investment profile and community impacts.”

The airport boss said it was important to note no decision to change the direction of the runway.

“Instead, we will enter a period of technical consultation with our airline customers, the federal government, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders to inform our final decision,” he said.




Australian domestic airline growth flat in May

domestic airline growth
Perth Airport accounted for almost four in 10 charter passengers in May.

Australian domestic airline growth remained relatively flat in May amid growing doubts about the national economy and uncertainty over the federal election.

The number of passengers on regular public transport flights grew by just 0.4 percent, to 4.88 million, and year-to-date figures were similarly lack-luster.

Capacity growth was weak but still managed to outstrip a 0.2 percent growth in traffic as measured in revenue passenger kilometres.

As a result, the load factor fell from 78.2 percent in May to 77.4 percent, according to figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics released Monday.

The languid growth comes after July airfare figures showed business class tickets fell 11 percent compared to July 2018 to the lowest level in more than five years.

Restricted economy fares rose compared to July 2018 while best discount fares were down by almost 2.6 percent.

READ: Virgin frequent flyer stake up for sale.

Analysts have attributed the low premium fares to the impact on travel of a lack of business confidence.

The May domestic traffic figures show there was some growth in passengers on the nation’s busiest trunk route, Sydney-Melbourne, but numbers fell on Brisbane-Sydney and Brisbane-Melbourne.

Traffic between Canberra and Sydney fell 8.9 percent, largely due to the election on May 18.

Other routes to see notable falls included Brisbane – Darwin (down 10.3 percent), Darwin – Perth (down 9.4 percent) and Alice Springs – Darwin (down 8.7 percent).

Those to see big increases included Newman – Perth (up 10.6 percent), Sydney – Townsville (up 9.7 percent) and Armidale – Sydney (up 9.6 percent).

There was a 3 percent increase in aircraft trips in May, to 58.400, and one sector that did see solid growth was fixed-wing charter.

Charter operators carried 239, 300 passengers in May 2019, an increase of 5.9 percent compared to May 2018.

Perth Airport accounted for 39 percent of all charter passengers in Australia.

Cargo was also soft, with movements falling 0.6 percent compared to may 2018 to 41,100 tonnes.





Premium economy: time for a new take?

premium economy new take
Photo: Lufthansa

Premium economy is at a pivot point in its development, with new seats offering more space and privacy unveiled and in the airline seat maker pipeline this year.

It’s not beyond time: this cabin hasn’t really changed beyond the 37-38” pitch and 19-20” width in which it was created almost simultaneously in the early 1990s by Virgin Atlantic and EVA Air.

And that’s odd. Premium economy is the most valuable real estate on the plane, as numerous airlines have confirmed.

it’s just a little bit more space than in economy class, but most airlines will be charging between 1.5-2.5 the cost of economy class travel for the slightly better seats.

READ: Singapore Airlines’ effortless Paris a one-stop winner.

It’s a lot less space than business class, for sure, but definitely not the 4-5x multiplier between economy and the pointy end of the plane.

So why haven’t we seen more developments?

To my mind, it’s about cannibalization. With even premium airlines still selling angled lie-flat seats as business class, there hasn’t been enough clear blue water between these and a big comfortable premium economy recliner.

Indeed, when Air Canada picked up some used A330s with angled lie-flats, it decided to sell them as premium economy rather than business, given that its modern standard is a fully flat bed with direct aisle access in business class.

HAECO’s new Eclipse seat, with its angles, staggers, and Z-bed-style recliner, is one of the new exceptions starting to power forward from the premium economy peloton. This sort of idea is a big step in the mid-cabin space.

Premium economy new take
Eclipse’s stagger takes passengers’ shoulders out of alignment, improving seat width. Photo: HAECO

But airlines could also innovate in new ways that don’t have anything to do with designing new seats: it could be about new services.

Some of that might be soft product: British Airways recently upgraded its offerings with new amenity kits including a Scaramouche and Fandango lip balm, a new set of cocktails, new quilt and cushion, and a slightly fancier feel to the cabin drawing on the design language used in the pointier end of BA’s planes.

Many airlines have a lot of room for maneuver here: Lufthansa’s premium economy is basic on the seat and very light indeed on the pizzazz, with the only visible difference being that the very same oven-splattered economy class doggy-dish dinners are served in reusable china bowls rather than in plastic or metal trays.

But there should also be ways to upgrade the experience of connecting passengers. It’s a very rare airline where short-haul connections to and from long-haul premium economy get anything more than bog-standard economy class seats.

This is a big opportunity, especially here in Europe: can airlines do something interesting in creating a short-haul premium economy product — perhaps just regular economy with the middle seat free and a complimentary beverage — either as part of the deal, as a perk for frequent flyers, or indeed as an ancillary revenue product?

Similarly, can they sell access to their lounges?

Obviously, they won’t want to cannibalize their business class revenue, but increasingly we’re seeing “ticketed only” sections or subsections of premium lounges that aren’t available to guests who are there thanks to their frequent flyer status — or even entirely separate lounges.

Whether it’s a relaxing stay before or after a short-haul connection or the chance to shower and change clothes around a long-haul flight, this isn’t some kind of revolutionary idea.

But it takes imagination, it takes courage, it takes a proper dose of realism and it takes the willingness to stand out from the crowd.

It’s almost ten years since the last time an airline experimented with something new in premium economy, in the shape of Air New Zealand. Is it time to try again?

American joins United in cancelling MAX flights until November

Boeing MAX 737
Photo: Boeing

American Airlines has joined United Airlines in extending the cancellation of 737 MAX flights through to November.

United announced last week that it was extending cancellation through to November 3, affecting about 2100 flights during September and 2900 in October.

READ: Boeing boost as IAG confirms MAX plans, Ryanair says it wants more planes.

“We are continuing to work through the schedule to try and swap and upgauge aircraft to mitigate the disruption caused by the grounding of the MAX,” United said in a statement.

“We continue to automatically book affected customers on alternate flights. If we are unable to place them on a different flight, we will proactively reach out to try and offer other options.”

American on Sunday said it was extending cancellation of MAX flights through to November 2, affecting about 115 flights a day.

“American Airlines remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in coordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft this year,’’  the airline said on its website.

“ We are in continuous contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other regulatory authorities.”

The airline said the extension meant customers and staff could more reliably plan upcoming travel.

“Our reservations and sales teams will continue to work closely with customers who are impacted by these cancellations,’’ it said.

Both airlines have been unable to fly their 737 MAX aircraft since they were grounded in March in the wake of two fatal crashes in less than five months.

Boeing has been working on a fix to flight control software that would prevent a recurrence of the tragedies, but it is not clear when it will get regulatory approval.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told AirlineRatings last week getting a dependable timeline of the MAX return to service was now a priority.

”We don’t have that much faith in the dates given by Boeing,” he said. “At the moment they say it’s the end of September.”



Qantas transcon: Cheerful, not too expensive and reliable as clockwork.

Qantas transcon. Cheerful, not too expensive and it’s as reliable as clockwork.

That is the daily Qantas transcontinental flights from Perth Australia to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Almost without a hiccup, Airbus A330s and Boeing 737 shuttle back and forward across the country in a seemingly endless conga line.

Cost? My flight, QF762, from Perth to Melbourne and return was $816.20.

I booked in April for a July 6 flight returning on July 9.

READ: Singapore Airlines Paris one-stop a winner.

Take-off was effortless as we had about 150 school children onboard our A330 and it afforded me a great opportunity to get some excellent take-off vision of Perth Airport and the city in the early morning light.

Not long after takeoff it was breakfast and we opted for the omelet in the cardboard box.

Must confess, really can’t get excited about the cardboard box, but understand the dynamics of cost efficiency, etc, and it is certainly better than what you offered in the domestic flight in the US, which is next to nothing.

Once you get over the “cardboard thingy”, the omelet was very nice and with a strong cup of coffee your appetite is satisfied.

Still, it would have been nice to have a muffin perhaps to finish off.

Flight attendants were super obliging and before we knew it the captain announced our approach to Melbourne.

All in all, efficient but would love a muffin to round off breakfast.

Our return was a little better.

We had row 26 A and B.

We chose a pasta box and that came with cheese and biscuits plus wine for free.

The pasta was really quite good and filling.

And to finish off a Twix Ice Cream that would win me over every time.

Flight Attendants on the return service QF653 were outstanding with repeats on the wine as well as the cheese and biscuits.

What else could you ask for?












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