12 OCT 2012: Anytime an opportunity arises to talk shop with a CEO, I’m there. So when Marcin Piróg, the relatively new CEO of LOT Polish Airlines, flew into town last week, admittedly via Air Canada (that’s due to the Star Alliance network in which LOT is a member), to release details on the state-owned airline company’s latest plans, I was ready.


First things first. On February 1, 2013 LOT Polish Airlines introduces direct flights from Toronto to Warsaw on the airline’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

How times have changed.

Olden Days


Forty years ago, this same route was serviced by those Soviet clunkers, the IL-62 aircraft which was later replaced in the nineties by the Boeing 767s.

It was fitting the announcement of the snazzy new jets occurred on October 5, 2012 – which aptly coincided on the 40th anniversary of LOT’s first direct Trans-Atlantic service. The route was Warsaw-Toronto.

Biz Trips

The next big zinger is business travel. I got it first-hand from company brass that attracting business in more ways than one is a mega-whopper focus. “Show me where the companies in Toronto are?” smiled Tomasz Dakowski, LOT Polish Airlines sales director as we stood by the lakeshore outside the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland’s residence with the city skyline ahead. No slacker, Tomasz’s last stint was introducing the multinational telecommunications company Orange to Poland.

“We want to fly daily where ever we are if it makes sense. especially for business people. This is going to happen already in the summer of 2013 with daily flights to Chicago, New York and Toronto,” said Marcin to a small group of journos from the local trade press and various European-Canadian media.

Admittedly LOT is spending - a lot - to refurbish its fleet. In the process, Europe’s youngest, most modern airline will become the first European airline to possess the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Future expansion is planned when LOT takes delivery of the 787 Dreamliner on November 2012. A total of 8 aircraft will join the fleet.

LOT has even jumped the queue, beating British Airways. Marcin pointed out BA will have the 787 jets by the end of 2013.

The Track Record

What gives?

LOT’s no wall flower when it comes to firsts. In the past, the Polish airline company became the world’s first operator of the Embraer 170 in 2004, so it is not the first time explains Marcin “that we are the launch carrier for a new plane.”

What’s with the mega global aircraft maker Boeing hitching its star onto a wee Eastern European national airline?

That’s easy. Marcin confidently assured us that LOT has a good relationship with Boeing going back 20 years when LOT replaced its old Soviet-made fleet with the shining new Boeing 767s.

The other point is arguably corporate ego. “Boeing is very happy because we are the only airline with no Airbus in Europe so they wanted to give us this advantage of being first.”

Dreamliner

After watching a video presentation about the new jet I could confidently report this plane undoubtedly will be an aviation game changer.

Not only will you get lighter seats, more bulkhead and a menu selection with Polish cuisine, but the airline has cannily been divided into three sections: Elite Club, Premium Club and Economy, giving all classes reason to take careful consideration.

In Premium for instance, terry towels, fresh cut flowers will await you in the restroom. Plus this 21-seat section will make a good alternative for business passengers who might not be able to cough up dough for the spacious Elite Club seats and will be a smart alternative for leisure travellers who wish to have some more space compared to the economy class section.

Slick seats, in-board entertainment options, up to five mood lights for dinner, evening, day, and landing and blinds with touch-screen technology are some of the state-of-the-art aircraft installments.

Cabin Pressure

The other is the air quality and that’s due to the cabin pressure engineering. Remember those long hauls when you’d arrive after a 10-hour flight feeling jet lagged, fatigued and groggy? To boot you wanted to chug back a litre of water because you felt so dehydrated.

Inside the current planes, Marcin says you feel like you were walking on the highest mountain in Poland at the altitude of 2500 metres. But with Dreamliner’s highly sophisticated electronics and additional devices Marcin says, “You will experience something totally different. It feels like 1800 metres... You will not have this fatigue after walking off a long trip on top of that you will have cleaner air and higher moisture.”

The LOT Polish Airlines CEO observes other aircraft currently have 10 percent moisture levels. “With Dreamliner you will get up to 25 percent moisture.”

Emissions

Fuel costs are another huge concern.

But the lighter composite 787 jets have literally reinvented the whole manufacturing process. Tom Cogan, Director of Airplane Product Development, explained in the video how these composite high strength fibres which are imbedded in resin are so strong that a half-inch square can take the weight of 15 cars without even breaking.

With lighter aircraft comes fuel savings and greater reduction in emissions. Just think by using less fuel the company will save money at the pumps and the environment won’t suffer as much.

Now all your earth-friendly clients with second thoughts on air travel can rethink that trip and head to Warsaw, Poland.

Warsaw: Hub + Spoke

This hub and spoke strategy, Marcin is confident, will help foster increased traffic to the growing Asian markets plus to other European hubs as LOT in May introduced a Warsaw-Beijing direct route with serious plans to add other Asian destinations like Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai in the future.

Domestic transfers have not been a pain either. LOT’s track record exceeds the current 30 percent industry transfer standard reaching a 40 percent transfer rate in Warsaw.

“We want to make sure people in Poland have a nice connectivity. We have 30 minutes connecting time which is the best score in Europe... In most cases you don’t wait more than one hour in Warsaw when you connect.” Marcin anticipates with the new 787’s this transfer rate will trickle over to long haul connections too.

Revival Man

Marcin knows a thing or two about flailing industries. He resurrected an old beer company when it was in trouble morphing it into Carlsberg. “Today it has 20 percent market share worldwide but when I took it over 12 years ago it was only 4.5 percent market share and losing money.”

Prior to accepting the role as LOT’s CEO, Marcin had a brief stint reviving Poland’s biggest retail chain Ruch SA, a newspaper-magazine distributor and a public company.

“That was quite fast I was there for four months – the government couldn’t sell it for 20 years. They said can you help us? It was much faster than I expected because after three months I was able to fix the business and identify an investor who just bought it within 4 months.”

LOT’s future


Ironically the man who admits he likes to build strong organizations and enjoys challenges “big ones that look like the mission’s impossible,” the mission is possible.

He’s made Europe’s youngest fleet become the most modern. LOT has been lauded the best safety record from IATA; best quality record by Star Alliance and of course there’s the growth.

“With the highest growth for the first six months the European industry grew by 3.5% and our growth was 14% in the same market. It demonstrates we can catch up,” he smiles.

If all this sounds like a sales pitch you wouldn’t be wrong. LOT is for sale. Marcin reveals an impish smile and asks, “Is it a good time to sell LOT? I don’t know if it’s a good time to sell LOT but I know for sure it’s the best time to buy LOT.”



Note: There’s a special introductory Premium Club fare of $1375.55 ($959 base fare + $342.76 YQ +$73.79 taxes) valid now through Dec 15, 2012 for departures Feb 1- Jun 15, 2013. Fare is subject to availability.





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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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