The head of bmibaby, Julian Carr, recently agreed to answer questions posed to him on this blog and via Twitter.
Julian's answers are below (for the passenger experience crowd, note Julian's final answers).
Q. Being from BHX myself, what plans are there to expand your already decent sized operation there? #4Julian
A. We have three aircraft based at Birmingham Airport during the summer months, and two during the winter. This works well for us at the moment, although we do believe BHX is a very good airport with a large local population. Further evaluation of growth in the region is always ongoing. bmibaby will remain at current aircraft numbers in 2011, although there could be growth in 2012 subject to finding the right route opportunities.
Q. If flybmi were to start a sister subsidiary would they call it BMI Toddler? :) #4Julian
A. bmibaby is 8 years old now, so we've already passed the toddler stage!
Q. What is the timeframe for starting fleet renewal, and will this be linked with other airlines in LH group?
A. The B737 classic works well for us, though obviously will need to be replaced in the future. I can't see this happening in the next few years, as they are still relatively young compared to the expected lifespan of a modern day aircraft. However, longer term we shall be having such conversations, and being part of the Lufthansa group it makes sense that we develop such work in conjunction with the wider group.
Q. Does BMI Baby intend to ever explore the use of @FlyBMI's freq. flyer program? I see the lack of it as a detractor #4Julian
A. We are currently part of the bmi Diamond Club frequent flyer program. Passengers can earn and use Diamond Club miles on our services. This is a global program with miles redeemable across the Star Alliance network, so we're rather happy with it!
Q. Are there any planes in BMI Baby's future to convert the 737 fleet to A320s for fleet commonality with @FlyBMI? #4Julian
A. Mostly answered in question 3 already, though whether we would specifically switch to Airbus operations would be a decision for a few years time. No current plans for this.
Q. As @FlyBMI is 'absorbed' into the @Lufthansa_de way of doing things, will this impact how BMI Baby operates? #4Julian
A. The main benefit for us is the ability to tap into a huge amount of good industry experience. LH has been around for years and is renowned for being a very good operator. Being part of this family now presents us with the opportunity to develop synergies where appropriate and work with them strategically. However on a day to day basis we are very much our own business, operate under our own Air Operator Certificate (AOC), and make our own decisions. So while part of a bigger group, we retain the quick and easy dynamics of a small business. We have the best of both worlds!
Q. Previously BMI Baby used to fly some routes that competed with 'mainline' carriers, will the #airline return to this? #4Julian
A. That depends on the route - ultimately the low cost offering is very attractive to the travelling public nowadays, and should we see an opportunity for a route that is suited to our model, then we would consider competing if we believed it was right for us. However, our focus will remainon flying from the UK regions / midlands, as it is unlikely that we would want to venture into competing on trunk routes from the London market (if that is what you were implying!).
Q. To follow up my last question on BMI Baby's routes...I truly miss flying BMI Baby on the @HeathrowAirport - CDG route! #4Julian
A. See answer to question 7! You should fly on our East Midlands to Paris service instead (EMA is 90 mins by train from central London!)
Q. Are there plans for fleet renewal & any expansion @cardiffairport??
A. I've pretty much addressed the fleet renewal question, so see above for this. With respect to Cardiff, it is an airport and region that is very much part of our leisure routes focus. Most routes from Cardiff are to "The Sun" and this is what seems to be most demanded by our customers. I believe there are more opportunities at Cardiff though, and would very much like to expand from there. While this may not happen in 2011, like our evaluations of BHX noted above, we shall of course seek to follow up opportunities for growth if we see the market interest.
Q. In light of the recent #SMairlines conference, how will @bmibaby_com work to increase sales & presence through social media? #4Julian
A. We totally believe in the value of Social Media. As you know we have our company twitter feed, my personal feed (which is 100% done by just me - which is why it might not be that frequent!!), and also now our Facebook page. We'll continue to develop these channels and have lots of aspirations to do more in this space. Keep watching!
Q. While its impossible 4 @bmibaby_com 2 compete with easyJet & Ryanair, what kind of niche does bmibaby have that makes it different? #4Julian
A. Our strategy is quite simple: Be good at what we do, and be more than just another low cost airline. While we need to operate an 'a-la-carte' pricing philosophy (pay for what you use, don't pay for what you don't use - which genuinely is the backbone to being able to offer low fares), we are putting serious effort into developing our service offering. I want us to be an airline that people actually enjoy flying with, and come back again and again. We are working hard to enhance our sales process to ensure we are more transparent and therefore easier to select the options you want. We are also recruiting currently for a new Head of Cabin Services, who will be instantly tasked with enhancing our in-flight service proposition. We are a small airline, with a very good crew, and a new management team that genuinely cares about offering a good product. We won't always get it right, but we are doing our utmost to create a good airline for you. "Putting the fun back into flying, baby!" (...just to keep the marketing team happy!)
Q. Are we likely to see investment at Cardiff? I'm sure it is time to bring lost passengers back over the severn bridge?
A. Pretty much answered in question 9, although I do agree too many people go across that pesky bridge! In time we want to grow our network from Cardiff to offer a wider range of routes. However for 2011 we will focus on our current network, and do our best to entice people to fly from their local airport.
Q. Is @bmibaby_com going to build bases out of UK or will they focus on building up services from the current hubs/bases? #4Julian
A. The short term plan will be to focus on the current bases. However that doesn't mean that we wouldn't consider another UK base in the future, if the right opportunity presented itself.
Q. Will @bmibaby_com compete with its parent, @flybmi on any routes or will they take over unprofitable routes including bmi Regional? #4Julian
A. It makes no sense for us to compete with bmi or bmi regional. However as a group we need to ensure the most suited airline to the route is the one that operates. Such group collaboration and development of synergies will feature moving forward.Q. When are we likely to receive some positive news for the Cardiff base? We have seen many promises and neglect and after a reduction in based units from 3-2 aircraft ti was believed that this winter was looking promising. However it now turns out that many flights have now been cancelled for W10. What is being done to bring passengers back over the Severn Bridge from Easyjet and Ryanair at Bristol?
A. I've pretty much covered this in earlier questions, though I do agree that we are losing too many people to Bristol. Cardiff is a great local airport and is quick and easy to use. We do find that most demand from the airport is for 'sunshine' routes, and as such our flights are orientated in this way. Because these sun routes are our main focus, it does mean there is less flying in the winter, although we will retain our core program during the winter months. I would like to grow from Cardiff in the future, and assuming we can find the right opportunities this could occur in 2012.
Q. Any plans for starting a connection from EMA-FRA or MUC? As a customer from Lincoln I currently have to drive two hours to get a flight from MAN or BHX.
A. EMA-MUC (Munich) started on 17th September. We are starting EMA-CGN (Cologne) on 31st October. Frankfurt is not currently in the plans although that's not to say we wouldn't in the future if we felt the demand was there, and it fitted into our network well.
Q. Julian, there are suggestions that bmibaby is looking at developing charter operations to support independent tour operators in th UK. Is this is serious consideration or is it pure conjecture?
A. We currently work with a number of smaller (and larger) tour operators, where some seats are sold on our scheduled services to these partners. We are very much open to offering a full charter service (where the whole aircraft is sold to tour operators), and have done so in the past - for example we flew to Brescia in Italy all winter last year for a tour operator. We have good relations with the travel trade and intend to continue such. If you have some capacity needs then let's talk!
Q. Is bmibaby every going to make CWL a viable option to BRS? Although it is hard to compete with the likes of easyjet and Ryanair, the market for CWL definately exists! There are a number of routes currently not served from CWL which are multiple daily services from BRS. Passengers want to travel from CWL, however the options are just not there and never really have been. To make CWL a viable option and change customer's perception of the airport will certainly need a great deal of investment, so are you prepared to commit?
A. We are very much committed to Cardiff, and it's fair to say that we would like to be bigger in CWL than we already are. I do expect and intend that growth in Cardiff can and will occur over time. We have had to be prudent in our approach last year and this year, and had to contract slightly in CWL due to some fleet consolidation that we undertook. However this is not a sign of lack of desire for the Cardiff market, and at the moment we are focusing on flying the best network we can from Cardiff with the two aircraft we have there.
Q. How is bmibaby working to improve the passenger experience (from check-in until baggage claim)?
A. I spoke above about being focused on developing our customer service experience. This is a key priority of the new management team. We are improving our online sales steps to make it easier and simpler to book. We are working with our airport service teams to understand how we can improve the experience pre-flight. We are about to employ a new Head of Cabin services who will be tasked with developing our in-flight service offering. We have also increased the amount of time we dedicate to training our front line staff in customer service from this winter. Also, myself and the management team work on the shop floor on a routine basis to ensure we are seeing and experiencing first hand the service we offer. In all, we want to be an airline that our customers enjoy flying with. We are also very much focused on providing a good level of on time performance and reliability, which is one of the most important elements of the experience to the customer - in 2009 we were the UK's most punctual low cost carrier, something we will always strive to achieve.
Q. Does Julian envision offering in-flight entertainment and/or connectivity, and if so, what types are under study?
A. If we are talking about in-flight movies etc, then no. Ultimately such an offering is expensive to provide, and we need to keep our costs as low as possible to keep the fares low. I do not see much demand for this sort of offering on short European routes - our passengers prefer low fares. We do offer 'enterplanement' on occasion though, which is where we invite an artist / special guest to 'entertain' our customers - we have had in-flight massages, opera singers and comedians so far!
(Picture above from garland canon's Flickr photo stream)