Monday 17 December 2018

Basic, frilly or Business? It's all change over the Atlantic

Delta’s new Basic Economy service, which kicks off from Ireland to the States in April
Delta’s new Basic Economy service, which kicks off from Ireland to the States in April

Mark Evans

Back in the old days, choosing a transatlantic fare was simple. If you were lucky enough to work for a company with big wallets, you went business. If you were a startup, or had a tight spending policy in your organisation, it was the back of the bus for you.

Now with competition from Norwegian on flights across the Pond, it's not so simple - but there is a variety of options for every budget.

Basic Economy is a trend with US airlines, domestically and internationally, with passengers often foregoing even simple Economy frills like blankets and pre-assigned seats. The advantage? Lower fares.

Aer Lingus itself got in on the act, with its Saver fare well received by travellers, many of them frequent fliers, who want to rein in costs.

You won't get a blanket, headphones or check-in bag, but you do get a carry-on bag (up to 10kg) so it's handy for a fast turnaround in the States.

It's been little heralded, but Delta is also entering the bargain basement market. Its Basic Economy services commence from Dublin on April 10. It's got one advantage over Aer Lingus in that your first checked-in bag will be free, but there are things to be aware of.

Your seat won't be assigned until the gate, tickets are not changeable, you'll board in the last zone at the airport, and you're not eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades, even if you're a member of the SkyMiles frequent flyer programme.

On the flip side, Delta's doing things differently in Shannon, where it will have Premium Select, which is a Business/Economy hybrid, offering amenity kits, better food and drinks, and fast-track boarding and security access. The airline told the Sunday Independent that it has no plans at present to introduce this class to Dublin.

Premium Economy is being rolled out too on rival United Airlines. Here the opposite applies: it probably won't happen in Shannon Airport, because it uses smaller Boeing 757 aircraft, but it will happen at Dublin, where the larger Boeing 777s fly.

An aviation source told this column that it's "too early to tell" where Dublin will "fall on the fit out timeline", with other markets more likely to get it first. The airline is also rolling out its Polaris service, an improved Business Class product with direct aisle access from every seat.

As reported in this column, Air Canada has brought a Premium Economy cabin to its Dublin/Toronto service, with seats offering a seven-inch recline, and extras including two free checked bags and priority check-in.

And American Airlines, which flies from Ireland to Philadelphia and Charlotte Douglas in North Carolina, has its own Premium Economy service which kicks off to Philadelphia on January 15 and starts on the latter route on May 4.

American Airlines is the only US-bound carrier offering Premium Economy - for now - but believes that it's given it a niche with business travellers, as many company travel management contracts allow travellers to use it instead of Economy.

***

Speaking of Norwegian, the airline told this column that while it's primarily leisure-focused - the recent day trip shopping trip from Dublin to New York hogged the headlines recently - it will target the corporate sector.

Its chief commercial officer, Thomas Ramdahl, told this column that it aims to "grow to becoming the leading long-haul carrier in Ireland" and its current services from Dublin, Cork, Shannon and Belfast are "just the beginning of our Irish expansion".

The key, he believes, is frequency, with more flights from cities in Ireland to "give customers more choice and flexibility with their travel plans to the major business hubs on the US east coast".

As part of this, it's doubling the number of flights between Shannon and Providence to four a week, and will add a third weekly flight to Stewart Airport in New York ahead of plans to add a second daily service from Dublin to New York this spring.

He believes that "with more choice and flexibility, business travellers from Dublin, for example, will have opportunities to fly to the USA and back in a day", and expects a jump in inbound business traffic from the States too.

"We are upgrading the long-haul passenger experience which will have significant benefits for Irish business travellers," Ramdahl said.

The budget airlines is starting the rollout of free wifi - a rarity in the skies - on its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on Irish transatlantic routes.

Sunday Indo Business

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