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way, targeting the SME market with its 16-seat Premium cabin. Given Norwegian’s success – it originally fitted 35 premium seats to its widebody Boeing 787-9s, but now offers 56 – there is clearly a demand, although what proportion comes from business travellers is unclear. The more this type of product enters


the market, the more price pressure on traditional carriers, which prompts them to strip back their basic economy offering. Aer Lingus, for example, believes it strad- dles both sectors with its basic economy Saver Fares. It offers connections through Dublin from across Europe, which brings it a huge potential transatlantic market attracted by lower fares and the bonus of US immigration pre-clearance in Ireland. An Aer Lingus spokesperson says: “We do not see ourselves in the same market as


Norwegian Air offers 56 Premium seat in its widebody Boeing 787-9s


The game-changing A321LR


Primera Air’s chief executive Hrafn Thorgeirsson believes the Airbus A321LR is a “game-changer” for the low-cost transatlantic market. But what makes the aircraft so special? According to Airbus, the plane – a new variant of the A321neo – has the longest range of any single-aisle passenger aircraft, able to fly routes of up to 7,400 km. As a result, it claims it is ideally suited to transatlantic routes, allowing airlines to tap into long-haul markets that were not previously accessible with single-aisle aircraft. In March, it made a record-breaking test flight from Mahe in the Seychelles to Toulouse, France – covering 8,797 km in 11 hours.


airline to long-haul using the 787. Next year, the first of ten of these aircraft enters service, with the airline’s first business cabin of 16 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 layout. There’s a promise of more choice with


more direct routes at cheaper fares on these new aircraft. This will doubtless be attractive to SMEs, but will the corporate traveller embrace the idea? Some think they will, but only over time.


compete with the growth of the budget carriers and their lower cost base. These include Lufthansa Group’s Economy Light fare and Virgin’s new three-tier approach. Charlton believes business travellers will


always opt for flexibility – which basic fare categories do not offer – and adds that the confusion of sub-brands is often “something only marketers understand”. She adds: “We have little call for restricted fares, but we


“Business travellers can expect to pay less to fly less comfortably to a wider range of airports and to get less in the way of extras”


them [the low cost airlines], however, we have a comparable product. Our market is price and service, but we frequently have the lowest price on the Atlantic. “We think that if you want a blanket in


the middle of the night and it costs 15-20 bucks, it leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction.” Expect more secondary North Ameri-


can cities to be on the Irish carrier’s route network from 2019. “We look for city pairs that have demand


on both sides,” says the spokesperson, who cites Hartford as an example of “a big business city where people did not want to travel the extra two hours to JFK”. The new narrow-body variations will


carry on a revolution that properly started with the Boeing 787, which, Norwegian will tell you, consumes 36 per cent less fuel to fly the Atlantic than comparable aircraft. The revolution is spreading, with Canada’s Westjet another carrier about to hurry along its transition from domestic budget


BUYINGBUSINESSTRAVEL.COM “There’s quite a balance between custom-


ers’ needs and where they are travelling to versus their views on working with new carriers,” says Jessica Gallimore, Capita Travel and Events’ head of proposition – air and ancillary services. She adds that clients are now well used to the likes of Easyjet and Wizz Air, and younger staff may have experienced long-haul budget carriers during gap years. However, Jennifer Charlton, Amer-


ican Express Global Business Travel’s vice-president, supplier services, EMEA, disagrees. “They [low-cost carriers] are not a major disruptor at this point,” she says. “They are well below one per cent of our transatlantic distribution. What customers really want is frequency and convenience.” She adds that there is some nervousness about the stability of some new entrants. She is also sceptical of the impact on business travel of the new economy fare categories legacy airlines are offering to


have seen a pick-up in premium economy. Instead of down-trading from business, people are up-trading from economy.” Long term, having more airlines, more


fuel-efficient aircraft, more fare categories and increased competition for the cheaper seats can only be a good thing. Business travellers, especially SMEs, can expect to pay less to fly less comfortably to a wider range of airports and to get less in the way of extras. With 20 years of budget short- haul flights behind us, many will shrug their shoulders and view it as progress.


BBT July/August 2018 51


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