In a wide-ranging interview with Air & Business Travel News, British Midland International (bmi) CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer shared further details on the future of bmi and its Diamond Club mileage program.
What is the vision for bmi?
The vision is for it to be a top quality product, to be embedded in the Lufthansa group and Star Alliance, for it to be contemporary British and covering all the UK regions, so not only London-centric but the whole of the UK, that’s it in short. And keeping in mind our heritage, an international focus, but not forgetting the heritage of BMI – so we call it British Midland International. In this all three of the airlines have a specific role to play. BMI International is out of LHR. Regional serves the regions and more and will serve over water routes to continental Lufthansa hubs, and BMI Baby we want to keep so we have a foothold in the UK low cost carrier market as the UK is predominantly low cost, as part of our complete offering, just as Lufthansa has German Wings.
So BD will not be going away anytime soon…
What’s the vision with Europe? You talk of not wanting to fly into “unfriendly” territories?
Flying to continental Europe we will fly into the hubs of Lufthansa group and Star Alliance. The reason is the onward connectivity to the respective networks. Unfriendly territories don’t have that, so we had to restructure the network and withdraw from Paris and Amsterdam, on top of that they are very short routes and the high fixed cost structure at London Heathrow is such that you need longer routes to recover the cost of taking off and landing there so you shift over to longer routes such as Berlin and Vienna, and other routes which will follow.
A Star Alliance-centric route map makes sense, but it is sad to see BD cut back on its European network, giving British Airways a chance to increase its dominance ex-LHR (and its prices).
Any plans for long haul to North America from London Heathrow?
North America is the missing link in our network. There is a logical big traffic flow for the Middle East to North America and London Heathrow is a preferred gateway and transit point, so it would be very logical to add North America, but we only want to go North America when we feel strong enough, have the right product and have sufficient preparation time. We don’t want a trial and error policy as has been the case in the past. If we go there with our own aircraft it will be embedded in the bigger entity and cooperation that Lufthansa has with North American carriers.
I never took the opportunity to fly on bmi when they served Las Vegas and Chicago, but I’d love for them to return to North America. The "premium economy" cabin on their A330s was like a domestic first class product and bmi gold members received six upgrades each year that could be used on these routes to jump from economy to premium economy.
There is a concern amongst Diamond Club members [bmi’s frequent flyer programme] that they will lose out when the programme joins or is merged with Miles & More
First of all let me say I have stated in public that a roadmap has been agreed upon for the integration of Diamond Club into Miles &More, however this will not come as a surprise and we will give enough notice that the miles earned for our members are rewarded in terms of a transfer. From my experience in the past [at Austrian Airlines], I have been through this transfer of frequent flyer programmes and at the end the passengers appreciated very much the value of Miles & More which is the leading Frequent Flyer Programme globally. We will naturally make sure that the status earned is respected, so no one should worry they will lose their status. We will also take care that the branding is preserved. The bmi branding and the way we communicate with our members will remain specific and uniquely British. It will not be a big conglomerate.
This is reassuring. While we still don’t know what is in store for the future of Diamond Club, Prock-Schauer suggests that we might see a transfer bonus when miles migrate from Diamond Club to Miles & More. We still don’t know whether bmi Gold members will receive Senator status on Lufthansa for two years or only one.
You have now unveiled the new mid-haul seating. Do you have any further plans?
On the A320 family aircraft we will improve the nine mid haul A321 aircraft we have and the two A320 aircraft that we use for mid-haul routes, and then we will have new seats throughout the fleet.
Do you mean new seats or just new cushions?
New seats, but it will be a seat bought from our parent company which enables us to standardise to the current Lufthansa standard. The whole thing will be branded in the new brown leather seats so we have a uniform setup in our fleet and all the aircraft will be painted in the same livery by the beginning of 2011.