Monday, February 20, 2017

Manchester Woos U.S. And Asia Markets With Long-Haul Flights And Lounges

The debate over Heathrow’s third runway continues to rumble on. Meanwhile, Manchester, 200 miles to the north, is starting to become a serious contender to the capital’s two main airports, especially when it comes to long-haul routes.

In 2017, there will be new flights to San Francisco from both Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook. In addition, Virgin Atlantic will also introduce flights to and from Boston. Cathay Pacific will increase flights to Hong Kong to five flights a week. Oman Air starts a new flight to Muscat in April.

Increased demand from business is one reason. Ken O’Toole, Manchester Airport CEO, says: “Manchester Airport is the gateway to the North of England. Home to great cities like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Hull, the airport offers easy access to these key business destinations.

“From tech start-ups to manufacturing and service industries, the Northern Powerhouse is thriving with more than one million private sector businesses operating.”

Emirates was the long-haul pioneer, starting twice-weekly flights from Dubai to Manchester in 1990 and now has three flights a day. Since the start of 2017, all flights have been on an A380 offering 517 seats in a three-class cabin configuration, with 14 private suites in first class, 76 flat-bed seats in business class and 427 seats in economy. Virgin Atlantic followed suit, with flights to Las Vegas. Within the US, it also flies to Atlanta and will introduce New York later this year too. American Airlines flies to Philadelphia year-round. United flies to Newark.

Etihad introduced flights to 2006 in Abu Dhabi. Cathay Pacific started in 2014 with a four-times weekly service to Hong Kong in a business, premium economy and economy configuration. Last year, Singapore Airlines started five times weekly flights to Houston, also with three cabins. All use a Boeing 777. Qatar flies to Doha.

Traditionally, long haul flights from Manchester concentrated on holiday routes, a decision that received a boost when Thomson introduced the Dreamliner aircraft which allowed the airline to reach destinations with longer flight times, including Mauritius and Phuket.

Thomas Cook, the UK’s other long haul holiday airline has, however, taken a different approach by also introducing flights to urban destinations such as New York, Orlando Miami, Boston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Although the offering doesn’t match the comfort levels of scheduled airlines, price can be enticingly low. For UK passengers, return flights from Manchester to Boston start at £329, and the premium cabin offers £559.

“Manchester Airport is our long haul hub because its significant potential for great quality leisure flying, especially long haul. It’s the UK’s third largest airport and is enjoying record growth, partly down to us establishing ourselves as the biggest carrier to the US. So it’s a natural fit for us as a leading leisure carrier because of our commitment to offering amazing destination in great quality aircraft at accessible prices,” says Ben Todd of the airline.

Business travelers, however, need lounges. While Emirates and Etihad have their own lounges; Etihad’s is decorated with signed memorabilia from Manchester City football team which is sponsored by the airline, British Airways, which concentrates - for the moment - on short haul routes and has new flights to Alicante, Malaga, Ibiza and Palma, the Greek island of Mykonos, Nice in the South of France and a weekly service to London City Airport this year, also has its own lounge.

Other airlines rely on private lounges. Virgin Atlantic’s customers get access to Escape, for instance. Newest is the 1903 which opened on February 1. Named after the date of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, it has room for 71 passengers.

(Sarah Turner - Forbes)

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