First direct flights from Belfast to Brussels ready for take-off at city airport
LEADING Belgian airline Brussels Airlines is poised for take off at George Best Belfast City Airport this month, filling in a 15-year "blank spot" in the skies over Ireland, Christian Schindler, regional director of the Lufthansa Group, said yesterday.
Flying into Belfast for a media briefing ahead of the inaugural flight on March 27, Mr Schindler said it was an important 'first' for the billion euro airline and had been prompted by the growing Ireland-Brussels traffic which last year totalled 428,000 passengers.
With three per cent of those passengers originating from Northern Ireland and the emergence of Belfast as a major conference and business hub - alongside a growing tourist market - Mr Schindler said the airline, part of the Lufthansa group and Star Alliance member, was "extremely happy" to "fill in the white spot" on the aviation map.
Starting with five flights per week on regional RJ 100 aircraft, almost 1,000 seats will be available with starting fares from £80.
Despite competitive pricing, Mr Schindler - responsible for the group's UK, Ireland and Iceland operations - was keen to point out the airline was "not a budget airline" but a instead a "hybrid, no-compromise" carrier for the next generation of flyers.
"Brussels Airlines is pretty unique in that good and personal service come as standard," he said.
"No matter what package you choose, you will have free check-in and free snack and drinks on board.
"Today's travellers want choice and that is why we have introduced a number of packages including three economy options - 'Check and Go', 'Light and Relax', 'Flex and Fast' - and the 'Bizz and Class' for business passengers.
"In the old days, flying was something special and and then it went the other way - low cost with nothing at all. Today all types of people fly for all types of reasons and with all types of budgets, so the future lies in choice and accommodating everyone."
In addition to direct flights between the two cities, the airline chief highlighted the new 'state of the art' Loft lounge at Brussels Airport and ease of connectivity for passengers flying on to other destinations with Lufthansa.
These include Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia and France - particularly Lyon where Northern Ireland fans can land this summer via Brussels for "a very attractive" £126 round ticket.
While anticipating a "crazy month" in June with the European referendum -"uncertainty always impacts on travel as do exchange rates" - Mr Schindler said, irrespective of the result, people would continue to fly between Belfast and Brussels, home to over 2,000 international companies and famous for its "beers, chocolates and signature dish of mussels and French fries".
For visitors flying the other way, Brussels Airlines was "actively promoting" Northern Ireland as a tourist destination, with a particular focus on fly/drive holidays and leisure trips encorporating visitor attractions, the Giant's Causeway, Titanic Belfast and Game of Thrones tours.
The new flights will depart from Belfast each Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoon - and could be a forerunner for other Lufthansa routes in the future.
"We are continually reviewing our network and aren't ruling out other direct flights from Belfast," Mr Schindler added.
"We will look at the numbers connecting to other European cities from Brussels and base any future decision around that."