Tag Archives: London Heathrow

Merry Christmas, From Your Aviation Queen: A Love Letter To Heathrow Airport

2044910106_3b9e1b0a41_zOne of my favorite movies is “Love Actually,” released in 2003.  You can read the Internet Movie Database post for details about the movie.  I really love how all the romantic stories are put together, but my favorite parts are the beginning and the end.

Both were shot in London Heathrow Airport and show a wonderful collage of people greeting each other in the arrivals area.  I listened to director/writer Richard Curtis’s commentary on that scene.  He just parked a camera there for a few weeks and edited it down to the collage.  I actually spent Christmas 1998 in London and got to see this play out as I waited for my luggage and my friend.


I am a frequent traveler and one of my favorite thins to do is to watch people showing the love to those arriving and departing.  One time on a trip to Miami in 1985, a very enthusiastic Haitian family mistook me for a loved one. I was startled for a moment, but I still tear up to this day when I remember how loved I felt by these complete strangers until the mix-up was fixed.

And I know a lot of people just hate Heathrow Airport, but I’m not one of them (I’ll be there tomorrow).  My family moved to England in 1970 when I was six years old.  We landed at Heathrow, and I thought it was the most magical place on earth.  Fast forward to 1995, when I flew into the airport to cover the Farnborough Air Show, and I was still transfixed.  I love the proper British accents doing the announcements. I love the myriad shops (Harrods and Boots, to name a few) where you can pick up a piece of the UK.  And I especially love all the airline liveries from around the globe, especially flag carriers you don’t always see in the United States.

I practically fall into a swoon when I think about my time in British Airways’ T5 terminal (you can see my pictures on Flicker).  Yes, there were issues building it.  Yes, the airline was embarrassed when a baggage snafu marred the grand opening (attended by Queen Elizabeth, no less).  But the pieces are in place, and it has become one of my favorite terminals — right up there with Singapore’s Changi Airport, San Francisco’s international terminal and Seoul, South Korea’s Incheon Airport.

So wherever you go during the holidays , I hope you feel the love of the season.  Take a second to let the magic of the airport sink in, and enjoy this video of the closing scene of “Love, Actually.”


Best Of Aviation Queen: Aviation Queen’s Top 10 Favorite Airports For Shopping

Last week, the “Today” show website’s travel section included an article polling writers for Sherman’s Travel on their favorite airports for shopping.  I have been to –and shopped in — more airports than I care to remember, so I thought I’d share my top 10, in no particular order.

  1. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – I could spend my life in this airport, and I think they designed it like that on purpose.  I have bought everything from tulip bulbs to sunglasses.  It’s also a great airport to pick up that last-minute souvenir you forgot to get when you were actually in Amsterdam.  The prices are fair, so you don’t have to feel like you’re being ripped off.
  2. London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5 – I know, I know: everyone calls this place a shopping mall with an airport terminal attached.  That said, I really enjoyed the shopping. Heathrow is known for its alcohol tastings and they have great duty-free liquor selections.  I switched from Tanqueray 10 to Bombay Sapphire gin after a tasting at Heathrow.  And the selection at Harrods is pretty good.
  3. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — Back in November 2006, the facility rebid its retail concessions contract (my Towers and Tarmacs blog post on that is here), that brought in a bounty of new stores, including Sean Jean, Kiehl’s, Ermenegildo Zenga and Lather, among others.  And Hartsfield was the first airport to get ZoomSystems’ vending machines, which at the time sold Apple iPod products.
  4. JFK Airport JetBlue Terminal 5 — I just love the feel and design of this terminal.  And the shopping is pretty good too.  I’m a BIG fan of the Harmony Pharmacies, which sell over-the-counter drugs, beauty/cosmetics and will fill a prescription.  I went a bit nuts in Japan’s Muji store, which sells everything from travel accessories to office supplies.  I just love the shrink-wrap tshirts that are compressed into a cube that fits nicely into a carry-on bag.  I could spend hours in the Techshowcase looking at the latest in geek toys.
  5. Pittsburgh International Airport — Back in the day when it was still a hub for US Airways, the facility decided to go all out and revamp its retail concessions.  I bought shoes for the man at Johnston & Murphy and toys for my godchildren at Creative Kidstuff. They also have a Clinque store and the fabulous Pajama Shop.
  6. Orlando International Airport — The airport for amusement park central has stores from Disney, Sea World and Universal Studio.  It also has beauty/bath store Lush (a favorite from my time spent in London), the Kennedy Space Center store, Harley Davidson and Swatch watches.
  7. Incheon International Airport — a girl could lose her MIND in this airport.  The airport authority went all out to attract all the major luxury brands to the facility, including Channel, Burberry, Christian Dior, Missoni, Guess, Max Mara, Dunhill, Nina Ricci, Givenchy, Calvin Klein and  Samsonite, among others.
  8. Changi Airport — see Incheon.  Plus a bonus — if you go to the Singapore Visitors Center in any terminal and you have at least 5 hours to kill, you can get a FREE 2-hour colonial or cultural tour.
  9. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – I know this one is a surprise, but I like the shopping choices in this airport.  The Authors Bookstore is not to be missed, and there’s a nice balance of national and local brands.
  10. Vancouver International Airport – I had to include this airport.  I just love The Gourmet Shop and La Cava del Cigarro, which sells gourmet foods and has a great selection of cigars.  Although not shopping per se, Vancouver also has the Plaza Premium Lounges, which features a place to nap, eat and shower.

My list only includes airports that I’ve actually seen and experienced.  I know there are plenty of others out there, so what did I miss?

– See more at: http://www.aviationqueen.com/aviation-queens-top-10-favorite-airports-for-shopping/#sthash.4OsrFKKX.dpuf

How Airlines And Airports Show The Love

Yes, kids, I am a hopeless romantic who just loves Valentine’s Day.  I’m not a flowers-and-jewelry kind of girl, so the man had the fog light on my luxury vehicle fixed to show his love.  Airports and airlines like to show the love to their best customers, and there’s nothing better than being comfortably nestled in a premium lounge.

Back in November 2008, I flew to London to take an insider’s tour of British Airways’ flagship Terminal 5. I didn’t get to take pictures, but I remember almost everything. Part of the tour was a visit (and use of) the Arrivals lounge and the first and business class departure lounges.  I took full advantage of the  Arrivals lounge, taking a shower, getting my clothes pressed and shoes shined and having a lovely breakfast in the Concorde dining room.

And it was even better on the departures side.  You can read my story on airport lounges (including my time in T5) in the February 2012 issue of Airline Passenger Experience magazine here (it’s free, but you must register to see it).  Suffice it to say that I still have dreams about my time in those lounges at London Heathrow.

When I last went to the Bahamas in 2004, there were photos and renderings of the new terminal at Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport, but the actual experience wasn’t much to write home about.  Fast forward to now, and check out this article from our good friends at the Jaunted blog on the Graycliff Divan Airport Lounge in the departures area of the airport.  You have to enter through a gift shop, but past that there’s an indoor and outdoor lounge with food, drinks and a smoking area.

Food/beverage concessionaire SSP consistently has some of my favorite airport concepts.  And I’m really digging their latest one — enhancing the wine experience at London City Airport. The fun begins with weekly wine tastings every Wednesday, hosted by sommelier Ben Mulvaney and supported by Bars Manager Anthony Stanley. Passengers will be able to sample some of the world’s finest wines, learn of their origin and recommended food pairings, and receive complementary tasting notes.  And travelers can now taste the world’s best wines without having to shell out for a full bottle thanks to a new Enomatic machine at the airport’s newest restaurant, City Bar & Grill.

I’ll end my offering my picks for the top five airline lounges I’d kill to visit.  Enjoy!

  1. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London Heathrow. I had the chance to visit this lounge back in the late 1990s, and it was fabulous then. But since then, the 12,000 square foot facility has been completely redone.
  2. Emirates First and Business Class Lounges, Dubai International Airport. I had no clue until I interviewed Nate Vallier on his experiences in these lounges in the February 2012 issue of Airline Passenger Experience magazine here (it’s free, but you must register to see it).
  3. Singapore Airlines Lounge, Changi Airport. Who wouldn’t want to sit in the world’s best airline’s world’s best lounge, located in the world’s best airport?
  4. Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt Airport.  I flew on the German flag carrier in May 2001 on my way to Munich to do a story on the now-defunct Fairchild Dornier. The lounge was wonderful, but this is another carrier that has stepped up its airline lounge game since I was last there.
  5. ANA Lounge, Narita Airport.  This place is a foodie’s delight, with a sake bar, a monthly featured donburi (rice bowl) and a noodle bar. Plus the lounge features personal rooms.

So what did I miss? What are some of your favorite airline lounges?

Guest Post: Air India Is At A Crossroads

Editor’s note: kids, your Aunt Benet is taking the day off.  We’re going to do a post that’s a bit different.  Our guest blogger, Steven Frischling, of the Flying With Fish blog, offers a look inside Air India, which was recently rejected for membership in the Star Alliance (the best alliance in the world, in my opinion). Despite its obvious assets, the flag carrier continues to flounder in a highly competitive global market.  Fish explains how this happened and how the carrier might be able to turn things around.  Enjoy!!

Air India is an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum with all the potential in the world … yet it keeps tripping over its own feet.

As Air India is licking its wounds of rejection by Star Alliance after a three-and-a-half year courtship, the airline has installed the former Ministry of Aviation Joint Secretary Rohit Nandan as its new Chairman & Managing Director, a step in the right direction … if Air India can go in the right direction.

It is easy to point out Air India’s flaws, there are many, and many seem nearly insurmountable, but on paper Air India has unlimited potential to be a strong and successful airline. A brief look back in Air India’s history reveals that the airline was once a world-class airline, viewed by passengers and the industry as a top-tier airline to be emulated.

Air India’s reputation as a highly respected airline can be traced to the roots of another airline, Singapore Airlines. Early in Singapore Airlines’ history, the now Five-Star airline turned to Air India for consultation on establishing a superior customer experience. Based on initially on Air India’s model, Singapore Airlines is now renowned for its stellar customer experience and Air India has become renowned for its inferior customer experience.

Somewhere between October 15th 1932 when Air India first took to the skies and now the airline lost its way. The airline’s problems are frequently blamed on the Government of India, however the government has been in control since August 25th 1953. It is hard to overlook it now, but it was a Government owned Air India that became the envy of all airlines around the world on June 11th 1962 when it became the first airline in the world to opera an all jet aircraft fleet.

So … forget mismanagement and labour issues, ignore the estimated daily operating losses of US$4,794,520, put aside last years US$1.75-billion fiscal losses, pretend Air India didn’t just become the first airline in history to be rejected from an alliance it was invited to join and don’t factor in the fact that the airline is bloated and woefully compartmentalized …  just for a moment focus on the future and what Air India has to offer its passengers, its employees and of course its nation.

Airline hubs follow the same motto of retail shops, Location, Location, Location and Air India’s hubs in Mumbai and Delhi are geographically situated in ideal locations to be strong global hubs for international connections, as well as handle the substantial traffic to, from and within India.  Air India competes day in and day with Gulf rivals in the UAE and Qatar, this competition isn’t only for global traffic, but passengers traveling to and from India, many of whom are from India.

If Air India can wage a campaign, back up by its staff’s actions to win back its domestic passenger base and cap its leak to directly competing airlines, the financial implications for the carrier are significant. Good customer service should be a priority, but good customer service pushed as a brand initiative to win back the lost masses, offer short- term and long-term benefits.

Any airline with its sights set on a global market requires a sizable fleet. While many of Air India’s direct competitors are first building their fleets, Air India already has a sizable fleet in place and existing order to significantly increase the fleet’s size.  Air India’s fleet of 99 current aircraft range from the Airbus A319s to the Boeing 777s (200LR and 300ER variants) with every potential capacity gap covered in the middle, as well as three more Boeing 777-337s joining the fleet and an additional 27 Boeing 787-837s.

The Boeing 787s are scheduled to begin joining the fleet before the end of 2011.  An advantage in Air India’s favour is the age of its fleet, averaging 9.5 years old, their fleet has a lot of life left in it before aircraft must be replaced, reducing future fleet expenses and lowering potential MRO expenses for older aircraft.

From a domestic tactical stand point Air India is better suited that its Indian rivals for moving passengers where they need to go through its 15-year-old regional airline, Air India Regional inherited from Indian Airlines during the merger if the two airlines. Air India Regional may be small, with just 11 aircraft, a mix of ATR-42s and CRJ-700s, with an additional 14 A320s joining the fleet in the near future, but unlike its domestic competitors, Air India already has its foot in the door with regional service and the ability to expand this service with a relatively low investment into the subsidiary.

Along with Air India Regional, Air India has attempted to fend off low-cost carrier competitors through Air India Express, a wholly owned subsidiary. Air India Express’ fleet of 21 Boeing 737-800s makes the airline competitive, especially if it can differentiate Air India Express from the rest of Air India, while leveraging its network and operations to feed its mainline international traffic.   Air India Express has had some difficulty separating itself from Air India, but the low-cost carrier has begun to challenge a rival low-cost carrier in the UAE, Air Arabia, by establishing an Air India Express base in Dubai.  Many Indian travelers choose UAE based airlines over Air India, so this move is a small step in the right direction for Air India as a whole company to seek to regain some of the passengers they are bleeding to competitors.


Lastly … what is an airline without a route network?

Air India’s route network is a significant positive factor in the airline’s potential to survive, grow and regain its place amount top-tier carriers. Air India’s current route network includes more than a dozen Gulf Region destinations and 24 international destinations on five continents, in addition to its extensive domestic route network. In addition to the airline’s current destination, Air India has extensive unused fifth freedom rights between Europe and North America and elsewhere in the world. Granted, in some instances Air India made a wise decision to reduce or eliminate its fifth freedom flights, such as its New York (JFK)London (LHR) flights, which was usually a full flight, the options to revive certain routes may prove to be lucrative to the airline.

Along with Air India’s unused fifth freedom routes, the airline posses many dormant route authority options. As Air India adds additional long haul aircraft to its fleet the flexibility to revive previously popular routes, such as from the west coast of the United States, advance Air India ahead of its domestic competitors, as well as a number of its regional competitors in terms of providing non-stop or one-stop service to destinations other are not serving directly.

Now, outside of the passenger side of things, Air India has many options, many of these options are through joint ventures. One example of Air India’s joint venture financial potential commences operations in 2013, when Air India is scheduled to open its new 50 acre MRO facility in Nagpur as a joint venture with Boeing.  With MRO outsourcing being a highly competitive and profitable business unit for other airlines, this joint venture can be very successful provided the airline’s management and the Government stays out of its business.

All Air India has to do now is the hard stuff … restructure everything about how the airline operates, build harmony among its staff, develop a single corporate brand personality and completely restructure the airline. The up side to all the hard stuff is that once Air India finds its path to success, it already has everything it needs to leave its competition in the dust.

While many see an airline on the path to ruin … I see an airline that needs to find a way to tap its unlimited potential.

Happy Flying!

-Steven Frischling

Flying With Fish


Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

It was another fun week in aviation, which made it really hard for me to narrow my picks for the week down to five.  But I did, so here goes!

  1. Usually airline employees learn about cost-cutting measures via an internal company memo. Very rarely are they asked for suggestions on how cuts should be made. Which is why I really enjoyed this story — Alaska Asks Employees How To Cut Costs — written by my Aviation Week colleague Lee Ann Tegtmeier. “Since Alaska Airlines created the suggestion box for fuel ideas in 2008, it has generated millions of gallons of savings for the airline,” she writes.
  2. I am a BIG John Cusack fan.  I will watch ANY movie he’s in good or bad.  I felt obliged to watch “Pushing Tin,” which offered what can only be described as a creative picture of the work done by air traffic controllers.  Scott McCartney’s Middle Seat Terminal blog in the Wall Street Journal offers a much better picture of the work air traffic controllers do.
  3. I’m originally from California.  I still have friends and family there, and I’m always hearing about the latest budget cuts the state is enforcing to close a mind-blowing, nearly $10 billion (yes, with a B) budget gap. And in classic trickle-down economics, cities are being forced to share in the pain. The city of Los Angeles went to the Board of Airport Commissioners for cuts, and the $400,000 Travelers Aid Society budget was cut, ending services at Los Angeles International Airport after a 61-year run, reports the LA Times.
  4. I really enjoyed this piece on MSNBC from my airport soul sister Harriet Baskas — Q&A: What to do about overhead bin hogs. As a regular traveler, I’ve seen travelers get downright nasty about getting that overhead bin space. It seems to be much worse on airlines charging bag fees.
  5. Back in the mid- to late 1990s, I traveled the world — a lot.  I used these trips to buy adult beverages at duty-free shops around the globe for my cabinet at home.  I switched to Bombay Sapphire Gin after a tasting at London Heathrow Airport.  At one point, the cabinet was filled with alcohol purchased outside the country.  I’ve bought other items, which is why this USA Today article — Are airport duty-free stores still a bargain? — caught my eye.  The short answer is yes — depending on where you go and what you buy.

Earlier this week, CNN ran two separate columns on badly behaving children on airplanes.  Writer L.Z.  Granderson was blunt in his article, Permissive parents: Curb your brats.  And our good friend Brett Snyder — the Cranky Flier — writes about how business travelers can avoid the pitfalls of families traveling with children in Summer travel: Watch out for amateurs.  I’m the mother of a five-year-old, and I couldn’t agree with these two gentlemen more.

Last — but not least — we have a short version of Strange But True Aviation News.  Next week, I’ll be on vacation deep in the heart of Texas. But I’ve asked a few of my friends to do guest posts for me. I hope you enjoy them!!