Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Encaminhamento (free flights to Flores!)

Between Germanwings in the French Alps and then Air Canada at Halifax NS, it's not been a good week for that ubiquitous workhorse of the skies, the humble Airbus A320.

But the one pictured below isn't being sprayed by fire trucks because it's on fire or anything but rather as a celebration of the first easyJet flight to the Azores which landed at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel on Sunday, 29 March.

And the first Ryanair flight will arrive at PDL on Wednesday:-

That picture is clearly a photoshop because the mountain in the background is on the island of Pico which is nowhere near Ponta Delgada. You see Pico flying out of Horta on Faial and for anyone who gets queasy about airliners flying too close to mountains, here's a photo to give you the squitters:-

Oops, sorry! Wrong picture! This is the one I meant:-

That's one I took of Pico viewed from a passing TAP Airbus minutes out of Horta.

Anyway, easyJet will be flying LIS-PDL three times a week initially with the frequency increasing from June (see here) while Ryanair will be flying twice daily LIS-PDL six days a week and will also have less frequent flights from PDL to Porto and London-Stansted (see here).

But as well as the advent of easyJet and Ryanair, our own local airline, SATA (shortly to be rebranded as Azores Airlines, I gather), has introduced a new scheme called encaminhamento.

That's one of these words that I know what it means but there isn't an English word for. Caminho is the Portuguese for a path or a track: if it helps, re-encaminhar is the word for "forward" in the context of e-mail so encaminhamento would translate as "sending you on your way" or similar.

Anyway, what this means in the context of air travel is this. There are only three Azorean islands (Sao Miguel, Terceira and Faial) with direct flights to the continente. So, if, like us, you live on one of the other six Azores, you have to get a connecting SATA flight to your point of departure for the mainland. Encaminhamento is the concept that that connecting flight is now free.

Photo credit Paulo Santos

Another way of expressing encaminhamento is that SATA's fares to (and from) Lisbon are now the same from all islands in the Azores. And this applies whether you're a resident or a tourist: the only qualification for your free flight to, say, Flores, is that you spend less than 24 hours on the island where you initially landed from the continent.

And crucially, it's not just SATA's fares that have been equalised: you get your free onward ticket to Flores (or wherever) on SATA even if you arrived from the continent on easyJet or Ryanair!

Corvo Airport - photo credit Markus Mainka

Will we actually benefit from the advent of the low cost airlines and encaminhamento?

I'm awfae' cynical (can you believe that?) and find it hard to believe you ever get anything for nothing. Are Ryanair and easyJet actually any cheaper? In our experience of flying to the UK from Lisbon, TAP or British Airways can often be equally competitive with Easy/Ryan once frequency and timing of available flights are considered.

And within the Azores, unless the Azorean Government (which is devolved (autonomous) within Portugal like Scotland in the UK) has upped SATA's subsidy, presumably the prices of flights from PDL to LIS have had to increase to pay for the now free flights from FLW (et al) to PDL, to the detriment of those who already live in PDL. Bear in mind that the population of the six Azorean islands which don't have direct flights to Lisbon is only 15% of the total so perhaps the marginal increase to give that 15% a boon is hardly noticeable to the 85%.

SATA is wholly owned by the Azorean Government and only exists with public subsidy to maintain "lifeline" links to remote islands. In this, SATA is identical to Caledonian MacBrayne, the state owned shipping company which serves the islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Photo credit - Finlay Oman
The Scottish islands differ from the Azores in that, being closer to the mainland, a far greater percentage of passengers (and their cars) travel on the ro-ro ferries which also carry the cargo. And although everyone loves to hate Calmac, the very mention of privatisation or even allowing a private sector competitor on to the scene brings down a shit-storm of abuse.

But the Scottish Government recently introduced a new fare scheme called "Road Equivalent Tariff" (RET). This is that the fare to take a vehicle on a Calmac ship should be the same as the cost of driving it the same distance as the ferry crossing. And that passenger fares be the same as a bus or railway ticket of equal length.

RET has indeed resulted in an across the board reduction of shipping costs in Scotland. So perhaps I need to park my cynicism and view encaminhamento as another example of an imaginative approach to rationalising fares on lifeline services and reducing them at the same time.

Vamos ver. It's an interesting question whether that translates as "Let's see" - which implies an open mind - or "We'll see" which implies a closed mind. Or as we Scots say "Aye, right."



Marisa Fagundes Pereira said...

It´s more like: we shall see... (said the blindman and never saw anything) :)

Kathie said...

Any word whether a similar forwarding (or routing?) program will be implemented on BOS-PDL and (in summer) BOS-TER routes for those flying between the US and the six less-populous islands? Azor-Americans have been lobbying SATA for it for a long time.

Kathie said...

Encaminhamento = continuation, in this context?

(Old joke: How many translators does it take to change a light bulb? It all depends on the context...)

Kathie said...

Follow-up to a post from a couple years ago.

"Paul Heiney's journey in memory of his sailor son":

The rescue boat is from Santa Cruz das Flores, but IIRC he was brought in to Lajes.

Neil King said...

Kathie, the pilot cutter's port of registry is SCdF but it's based at Lajes and that's where PH was towed to.

I think the picture is taken off Costa do Lajedo at the south west corner of Flores about half way round in the tow between Faja Grande and Lajes. It shows how difficult it is to tow in that kind of sea because the rope will keep snapping. (Or if the rope doesn't snap, it will pull the fitting it's attached to out of the deck.)

In fact I can't see a rope joining the yacht with the cutter and I wonder if what we're seeing here is the cutter reversing up to PH's yacht to re-establish the tow - I think the chap in yellow is about to throw a rope which the two guys in blue are poised to catch.

Deepest respect to the Lajes pilotos!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog but the picture of Lubitz is in bad taste. Would you have done that if somebody close to you had been on that flight?