Business

Sunday 24 September 2017

Business Travel: Iberia offering more frills without paying Business Class premium

An artist’s impression of the rooftop area of The Ned in London
An artist’s impression of the rooftop area of The Ned in London
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

The former sick man of Europe, Spain's Iberia, has become something of the star performer - outshadowing even sister airline Aer Lingus - in Willie Walsh's International Airlines Group (IAG).

In a turnaround faster than a Ryanair jet rushing to catch a slot, the former underperformer has boosted performance times, management culture and the bottom line of profits.

Now it's just unveiled its long-haul Premium Economy offering, with its new seats a decent 19" wide with a 37" seat pitch in a 2-3-2 configuration, compared to 18.1"/31" and the 2-4-2 in normal Economy. So why is this important? It's all economics.

Businesses might not want their executives jet-lagged and unproductive after a 10-hour flight in Economy - but nor do they want to fork out 10 times that seat price for the frills of Business Class. That's where Premium Economy (not a new idea, but a growing one) comes in. As well as more backside space, there's a better recline on the seat, priority check-in and boarding, as well as the allowance of an extra suitcase.

Iberia's new class is only on a handful of routes for now (Madrid to New York, Chicago and Bogota), but that will extend to Mexico City (a big plus for Irish businesses, with its connectivity) from June. Iberia is following in the jet stream of American Airlines, which is rolling out Premium Economy across its long-haul fleet, with similar perks to Iberia's offering.

■ KLM is to fly direct from Amsterdam to San Jose, Costa Rica. It's the latest push by European carriers to open up access to Central and South America, and another plus for Irish travellers. KLM currently serves San Jose via Panama, with the direct Dreamliner service starting up on October 31.

■ Norwegian Air, which commences flights from Ireland to the US this summer, is in flying form at the moment. Speaking in America during the week, senior executive Lars Sande was trying hard to keep in the smiles - and fears that the new Trump administration, under US union pressure, would try to derail the low-cost operation haven't panned out.

Indeed, Sande had noted that White House spokesman Sean Spicer had even talked up Norwegian, adding: "That was more or less what we were hoping for, so we weren't surprised." And he added: "We are doing exactly what Trump asked. We are buying American aircraft, and we are hiring American crews to fly these routes. And the number of seats sold has been just great, both from the US and the Irish and the Scottish sides.

"This is definitely something that our customers want. And it gives those regions easy access to the UK and Ireland, but also vice versa."

Interestingly, he also talked about the plans to work with Ryanair to transfer passengers from the Irish airline's European networks onto his own transatlantic services. "That might happen within the next three months," Sande said. "We'll keep on with the discussions until we find a way going forward together."

■ Here's a hotel option - if you're lucky enough to have a travel manager who doesn't look too closely at what you're costing him or her.

London is soon to get what's being billed as a revolutionary business hotel, The Ned. Bang in the middle of the City (the Bank of England is a three-minute walk), the €450m development is aiming to be a cut above your normal bland corporate offering.

It will boast seven public restaurants; a private members' club; three bars; a rooftop pool; six meeting and event spaces; and other frills including a fitness club and spa.

And The Ned - rooms from €292 a night - is aiming to mix business with pleasure, pitching at the creative set as well as the grey-suited traveller.

"Nobody wants to stay in the same boring business hotels with the same restaurant menus and the same ugly awnings," said Jack Ezon of Ovation Travel, whose company books at least 30,000 corporate room nights in London annually. "You want a cool place with a great vibe."

And if you want to impress clients, there's the private club membership (€1,750 a year) which gives access to private restaurants, a hammam and the rooftop areas with view over St Paul's Cathedral.

Will business become a pleasure? We'll soon see, with The Ned opening for business next Thursday.

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