Bmi scraps business class in no-frills landing at Heathrow

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The Independent Online

The country's second-biggest full-service airline, bmi, confirmed yesterday it is to scrap business class seats on flights from Heathrow and turn the service partially into a low-cost operation.

The country's second-biggest full-service airline, bmi, confirmed yesterday it is to scrap business class seats on flights from Heathrow and turn the service partially into a low-cost operation.

The dramatic move is designed to stem continued losses on bmi's short-haul European services and lure passengers away from established low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet.

Fares on 80 per cent of bmi's scheduled services from Heathrow will start at £25 one-way but at the same time passengers will be charged for food and drink. This is the first time any Heathrow-based airline has offered a no-frills service.

The overhaul will be introduced in August and although bmi will revert to single class cabins, it will still offer three different fares on flights from Heathrow - "tiny", standard and premium - depending on the degree of flexibility and service passengers want. Those wanting the cheapest fares will have to book online. Those prepared to pay premium fares will be able to change their flight times at short notice, sit at the front of the aircraft and have access to bmi's business class lounges.

The changes will affect 16 of the 20 routes bmi operates from Heathrow. The four which will continue to offer a traditional business class service will be Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast and Brussels.

Nigel Turner, bmi's chief executive, said at least 20 per cent of seats would be available at the new cut-price fares although the exact percentage would vary from flight to flight. He said the changes would produce savings of more than £30m a year but declined to say how many job cuts this would result in among the 3,000-strong workforce.

Rival airline executives said bmi's new strategy could prove confusing for passengers who were not certain whether they were booking with a low-cost carrier or a full-service airline. But Mr Turner responded that the new approach would give choice and control back to passengers. The overhaul follows a six-month review by bmi which involved canvassing the views of 10,000 passengers.

Bmi has offered business class on flights from Heathrow for the past decade. Mr Turner said, however, that even though more than half of bmi's passengers travelled on business, the vast majority flew in economy class seats. Bmi hopes the change will get the number of passengers booking on the internet up from 33 per cent to above 50 per cent. Online booking rates for its low-cost subsidiary, bmibaby, are more than 90 per cent.

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