27 APRIL 2009

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Air New Zealand doubles upgraded cabin

AIR NEW ZEALAND, one of the first airlines to offer a premium economy cabin, is to is to double the number of seats on offer for its entire eight-strong Boeing 777-200ER fleet.  With the first aircraft already in service work on all the 777s will be completed by mid-June.  At the same time the airline has added more legroom, with seat pitch increased to 41in (104cm) from 38in (97cm).  Also added is a self-service bar area for customers travelling in premium cabins.  Passengers in Pacific Premium Economy are offered business class food, beverages and amenities.  The upgrade is the third in two years, with ANZ twice increasing the number of premium economy seats available on its 747-400s, now up to 39. www.airnewzealand.co.uk/on-the-plane/premium-economy

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Boeing takes important step forward

BOEING has taken an important step forward with the completion of the first set of wings for its new 747-8 freighter. The 135ft (41.2m) structures incorporate the latest aerodynamic technologies to fly farther and more efficiently.  The advanced airfoil provides improved overall performance and greater fuel capacity.  Boeing has also revised its production schedule for the aircraft, which features the same engine and cockpit technology as the 787, with first deliveries of the freighter model moving from late 2009 to the third quarter of 2010.  Lufthansa, the only customer so far for the passenger variant, expect to have their first aircraft ‘online’ during the second quarter of 2011. www.boeing.com

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Embraer completes successful week at LCY

EMBRAER has completed a successful week of test flying and handling at London City Airport with the E190.  The 98-seat aircraft is now well on course for UK certification by the end of the year.  The smaller Embraer 170 is already certificated for LCY and British Airways CityFlyer plans to commence operations with this aircraft in October 2009.  The introduction of the Embraer E-series aircraft is vital for the future of the East London airport with its current mainstay, the BAe 146/RJ series, now out of production.  The Embraer 190 performed the steep approaches at London City with the use of a software solution developed on the existing fly-by-wire system, delivering better flight qualities and control, reduced pilot workload, less weight and reduced maintenance costs.  The aircraft’s range from London City is over 800nm (1,500km), covering all current routes served by the airport, plus more distant important European cities including Barcelona and Lisbon.  www.embraercommercialjets.com.br

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Hebridean finds new owner

HEBRIDEAN CRUISE LINE, which was in administration (see AERBT 23 April 2009) has been acquired by All Leisure Group plc, the operator of Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery.  Hebridean’s 50-passenger Hebridean Princess will fit in very neatly as a boutique operation with All Leisure’s fleet which includes Discovery (700 passengers) and Minerva (400 passengers). Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and Hebridean offer destination-led cruises to a number of countries and are focused on the market for mature passengers while another company within the group, Discover Egypt, offers package holidays to Egypt, including cruises and excursions on the River Nile.  New Chairman of Hebridean Island Cruises is Lord Sterling, who held a similar position at P & O/Princess before its acquisition by Carnival. www.hebridean.co.uk

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Mi-Vox offers walking tours

MI-VOX walking tours are now on sale in the UK.  Launched at last November’s World Travel Market there are 25 popular destinations in the UK available, with more to follow.   Complimenting rather than replacing the traditional travel guides the self-paced tours are much the same as audio books, and pre-loaded on an MP3 player.  They come with a pair of earphones and earphone splitter, so that two people can enjoy the tour.  A map and battery are also included.  The tours cover the history and architecture of the destination and allow visitors to navigate a city on foot in a way tourists would not normally see it.  Prices range from UKP18.99 to UKP28.99 and are available on www.mi-vox.com.

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SAS in dramatic passenger traffic fall

SAS, the airline of Denmark, Norway and Sweden says that its monthly passenger traffic fell by 16.7% March to March.  Year on year the load factor declined 9.9 percentage points to 64.5%.  The loss making airline plans to cut capacity by 18% during this year and the next, with six aircraft being taken out of service at this time.  By comparison, during the same period, BRITISH AIRWAYS saw a13% decrease in premium traffic and 6% in economy passengers with a load factor decrease of 6.4 points, versus last year, to 72.7%.  Preliminary figures released by the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) showed that its member airlines carried a total of 11.2m international passengers in March, 10.8% fewer than in the same month 12 months back. www.sas.com

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Virgin America expands

VIRGIN AMERICA, the fast expanding Californian-based airline last week arrived at John Wayne Airport, Orange County, south of Los Angeles.  Anaheim, and Disneyland, is just 12 miles away.  Scheduled services, initially to San Francisco start on Thursday 30 April.  The indefatigable Sir Richard Branson was on hand to welcome the first proving flight, although it could be described as a ‘guest appearance’, US Federal law forbidding any major foreign involvement in the running of the carrier.  Launched in August 2007, Virgin America combines attractive fares with a host of innovative features aimed at reinventing air travel.  Already launched on over half its fleet, by June 2009 the carrier will be the first US airline to offer in-flight internet on every route.  Operating A320 aircraft First Class and Main Cabin is offered.  The airline serves Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, and from 30 April Orange County. www.virginamerica.com

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COMMENT: Air Passenger Duty - What a mess Mr Chancellor

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”  That was the message that the Chancellor failed to put out during last week’s budget speech.  Not a single mention of the increases in Airport Passenger Duty (APD) he himself had announced last November, 12 months ahead of implementation.  A very, very embarrassing silence.  Chancellors do not admit mistakes.  The opportunity was there to rejuvenated Britain’s airports and airlines and remove this most unfair of taxes.  

It is going to get worse.

If you thought times were grim as a common citizen under this present government, as an air traveller you might find yourself walking.  It would seem that Downing Street wants to destroy one of the UK’s most successful industries, the air transport business.  Unless there is a complete rethink, or a change of government, by the end of 2010 London and Heathrow will no longer be the hub of the world’s airlines.  The long-term consequences for the country, and its capital city, will be serious, and far far greater than the modest income, by government standards, that the taxes bring in.  Less people will fly, fares will go up to compensate, and more will choose to bypass London.  Frequencies will be reduced and staff most certainly be laid off.  

The government of the Netherlands has announced that it will scrap its airport tax as part of an overall economic support plan to encourage airlines to re-route.  Go via Amsterdam is the call.  We are doing the opposite.  

Besides the APD increase, some holiday visa charges have reached horrendous levels.  For a South African couple from Cape Town coming to Britain on holiday with two children the minimum government charges they will have to pay is UKP600.  To this must be added the cost of flights and their stay.  No wonder Paris is booming as London dies.  We should be flying the flag for the Olympics.  They will be with us at the most for six weeks.  To really benefit we should for the next three years be showing visitors how London is being rejuvenated.  We are doing the opposite, financially scaring would-be tourists away.

The actual APD figures are produced below.  You just have to sit back and take them in.  Previously air passengers were not taxed.  Nor were rail users, and of course they are still not, the same situation going for passengers on long distance coaches and ferry patrons.  

Blame for the initial levy must be apportioned to the airlines who should have seen it coming and failed to lobby at the highest level.  You have to wonder, when Lords King and Marshall led the industry, and Sir Michael Bishop was at his prime, would it have happened?

For flights up to 2,000 miles (which effectively means Europe) the economy class tax will go up 10% in November and a further 10% 12 months later, or 20% in two years, giving a one way charge of UKP12.  With the fees for using the terminal your flight will cost something in the order of UKP25 before boarding the aircraft (dependent on the airport).  Business class passengers will pay UKP24 APD.

If the capital of the country you are visting is up to 4,000 miles (which includes Montreal, Washington and Tel Aviv), the fee will be UKP60 economy/UKP120 premier classes by the end of next year and if you are going a really long way, say to Buenos Aires or Hong Kong non-stop the charge will be a colossal UKP85/UKP170.  But not for Hawaii USA - see Washington.  And it has to be assumed that a minister or civil servant, naturally flying First Class, must have taken a walk around the aircraft and discovered Premium Economy.  Sir Humphrey, or whoever, would have rubbed his hands together.  “These people need to pay a supplement too.”

For a typical family of four at the back of the aircraft flying to the Caribbean, Kenya, South Africa or Thailand next winter, the APD charge will be UKP300.  Some operators will find it cheaper to fly via an intermediate point than operating non-stop, environmentally a mistake.  If this family are flying via Heathrow from a regional point they may have to pay APD twice.

It does appear that this government does not understand economics and the free market principals.  It also has no appreciation of what is happening to the airline industry.  Our story (see below) relates to SAS and its loss of traffic.  Next British Airways?  

Alistair Darling was a popular and thoughtful transport minister.  On one occasion he was pelted by a person opposed to aviation.  Some of the most senior persons in the industry were quick to wipe him down and ensure that the press conference continued.  One wonders if they would be so fast to assist the Minister now!

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airbus delivers to Swiss

AIRBUS has delivered the first of nine A330-300s to Swiss International Air Lines, known as Swiss, the successor to Swissair, the former national carrier.  Swiss, now part of the Lufthansa Group, inherited a rather motley collection of mainly out of production aircraft.  Powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 772B EP engines, the airline's A330-300s are fitted with a three-class layout offering 183 seats in economy, 45 business class and 8 First Class.  Swiss is part of a three-hub system integrating Zurich with Frankfurt and Munich. www.airbus.com

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Clickair introduces fare booking initiative

CLICKAIR, the Iberia spinoff in the process of merging with the loss making Vueling, has introduced a new booking initiative.  Called ‘Lock your Fare,’ in simple terms this means when making a booking once the enquiry is confirmed the ticket price is held for a period of either 24 or 72 hours.  When organising travel every member of a group can share information about the trip without having to worry about the price varying once they have decided on a destination and a specific flight.  In order that travellers do not forget about the expiry of the price ‘protection’ period, the system automatically sends an email to users alerting them to the imminent expiry four hours prior to the end of the period.  Clickair is the only low cost airline to operate into Heathrow.  It flies to 45 destinations in Spain, Continental Europe, the British Isles and North Africa with a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft. www.clickair.com

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Etihad boss in tour de force

ETIHAD boss Australian James Hogan was in fine form when he spoke to the London-based Aviation Club of Great Britain last week.  He noted that the new terminal had opened at Abu Dhabi expanding capacity to 12m, emphasising that aviation development was a key element of Plan 2030, a long-term urban framework scheme.  In the next five years the Gulf state is investing USD200bn in various infrastructure projects with a target of 2.7m hotel guests a year by 2012.  Attractions include Formula 1, the FIFA World Club Championship, European Tour golf, the  Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.  Etihad and its success was clearly his priority and he reminded an attentive audience that the airline recently won the 2009 Skytrax awards for best business class airline worldwide.  As he put it “not bad for a carrier that did not exist six years ago.”  An ebullient Mr Hogan said that in spite of very difficult times Etihad continued to grow and has targeted revenues of USD3bn in 2009.  A partnership with Qantas focused on Abu Dhabi as a hub from Europe to Australia and New Zealand.  The airline offers twice daily flights out of Heathrow and a seven-day week operation from both Dublin and Manchester. www.etihad.com

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JetBlue in international expansion

JETBLUE AIRWAYS is continuing its international expansion with an application to introduce flights between New York and Barbados.  Subject to government approval the carrier will introduce a daily non-stop all year round Bridgetown – JFK service on Thursday 1 October operating 150-seat Airbus A320 aircraft.  The A320 offers travellers complimentary seatback television programming including free first-run movies, and, it is claimed, the most legroom in coach (economy) of any US airline.  Free snacks and soft drinks are also provided.  Barbados is one of 12 international locations on JetBlue's growing route map.  The airline flies to more than 50 destinations throughout the Americas.  JetBlue will also begin a new service to Jamaica on Thursday 21 May. www.jetblue.com

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OAG highlights airline slowdown

OAG schedules database for April has revealed that airlines worldwide will operate 6% fewer flights in the month compared to the same period in 2008, with seat capacity reduced by 3%The total number of scheduled flights operating in April 2009 is 2.3m with an overall seat offering of 287m.  For Europe, the number of flights operated is down by 8% with a 7% drop in seats.  Interestingly traffic to and from Europe is less affected with a marginal drop in frequency and in capacity.  The Middle Eastern region continues to grow and reflects a big upward trend yet again with a 15% rise in capacity to and from the region.  The world's largest market, North America, has a drop in capacity of 8%.  It should be noted that these figures show the number of seats offered and sectors flown, the airlines normally listing passengers carried and revenue miles. www.oagaviation.com

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Titan Airways to get Boeing 767-300ER

TITAN AIRWAYS, the Stansted-based charter specialist, is to introduce a Boeing 767-300ER in December.  It will join a fleet that includes four Boeing 737-300s including an all Business Class version; four BAe 146-200s; two Boeing 757-200s and a King Air 350.  Several of the aircraft are QC (quick change) enabling utilisation for either passenger or freight transportation.  Titan is celebrating its 21st Anniversary this year.  Founded by Managing Director Gene Willson in 1988, the airline has grown from a small air taxi operator to one of the most prestigious charter airlines in Europe, employing more than 200 personnel operating 24/7, 365 days a year. www.titan-airways.co.uk

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ON TOUR: Chicago

Chicago has a reputation.  Whether it be “The Windy City”, or the home of gangsters and their molls, it is noteworthy.

Let us deal with these two accusations first.

Yes Chicago is a windy city, sitting exposed on the west side of Lake Michigan, virtually an inland freshwater sea, 307 miles long by 118 miles across.  In the winter the cold currents are blown in from Canada whilst for the summer it has to contend with the prairie winds, hot and sometimes sticky.  Visit Chicago in the spring and the fall.  At these times there is a temperate climate and the long flat avenues and waterside paths make for easy walking.

Chicago also conjures up memories of gangsters and their molls, epitomised by the superb musical of the same name, and many a film with the Oscar winning The Untouchables, starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, perhaps the best of the bunch. 

Chicago is the home town of the American President Barack Obama and is a lead contender for the 2016 Olympics.  From Heathrow there are up to ten non-stop services a day including American Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the much improved United Airlines.  American also flies from Manchester daily.  Immigration and customs at O’Hare, arguably (with Atlanta) the world’s busiest airport, is quick and friendly, and the 24-hour CTA train will get you downtown in well under 30 minutes for just USD2.  In fact it is best to buy a bus and train pass.  Three days travel is only USD14, great value.  Even allowing for the new dollar/sterling rate Chicago is cheap (except for the live theatre which can be horrendously expensive).

Chicago has as massive selection of hotels as one would expect in any international city.  Most of the downtown area is easily walkable and safe and budget accommodation is available.  AERBT chose to stay at the Amalfi, very much in the centre of things and close by the Chicago River.  With 350 bedrooms it is boutique by American standards and offers spacious rooms, free internet, an excellent self-service continental breakfast on each floor (which you can take back to your room) and a courtesy happy hour in the early evening including a light buffet.  Wine, beer and spirits were being downed in large quantities.

The city of Chicago only dates from 1833, the metropolitan area home to just under ten million making it the third largest conurbation in the United States.  In 1871 a fire destroyed the entire business district.  One result being the world’s first skyscraper using a steel skeleton construction. 

AERBT will always recommend a bus tour as a way of getting to know quickly a destination on arrival.  Tips can be picked up and suggestions made.  Chicago is no exception and one can add the popular river/lake trips which start in April once the ice disappears.  We joined a bus and walking group organised by the Chicago Architecture Foundation which took in the University (founded 1891 and host to 82 Nobel Prize laureates to date), the Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as the massive Art Deco buildings of the jazz age in the central area.  Chicago is a world leader in terms of architecture which continues to this day, the waterfront, viewed from the lake, extraordinary.  Presently the three tallest in the city (and the western hemisphere) are the Sears Tower, the Aon Center (previously the Standard Oil Building) and the John Hancock Center.

There is more than enough to do in Chicago for both adults and children to easily occupy a week.  American and international cuisine is available en masse at sensible prices and entertainment and music is offered in abundance.  It is synonymous with Louis Armstrong and at the other end of the scale the world famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  The Navy Pier, served by a free trolley ride, caters for old and young alike, and includes 50 acres of parks, promenades, gardens, shops, restaurants and attractions.

The Field Museum is a magnificent massive neo-classical building on the Chicago waterfront dating from 1921.  The words of its incorporation very fairly sum it up:  “Dedicated to accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of objects illustrating art, archaeology, science and history."  It is the home of Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil yet discovered.  Sue is 42 feet long, stands 13 feet high at the hips and is 67 million years old.  There are permanent exhibitions, such as “The Ancient Americas” and time linked ones.  Up until the end of October “Real Pirates” is on display.  Children are catered for with the Crown Family Playlab and the Underground Adventure.

The Field Museum is part of what is known as the Museum Campus which also includes the Shedd Aquarium, at one time the world’s largest, containing 25,000 fish in five million gallons of water.  It adjoins Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum with its two full-sized theatres.  Sports fans will also be interested in the nearby and controversial Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears American football team with a capacity of 61,500.  Jack Dempsey fought Gene Tunney here in 1927.

The Art Institute of Chicago is without doubt one of America's premier fine art museums.  It is especially known for its extensive collection of Impressionist and Old Master works with more than 30 paintings by Claude Monet, including six of his Haystacks and a number of Water Lilies.  On display are important pieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, including Two Sisters (On the Terrace), as well as Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers and The Basket of Apples.  At the Moulin Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is another highlight, one of many.

Lincoln Park, once again on the waterfront, has over 20 million visitors each year, making it second only to Central Park in New York City.  The wealth of green space afforded by Chicago's parks is further augmented by the Cook County Forest Preserves, a network of open spaces containing forest, prairie, wetland, streams, and lakes that are set aside as natural areas which lie along the city's periphery, home to both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Brookfield Zoo.  The clean and efficient public transport system takes you to all the venues.


Cloud Gate on the waterfront in Millennium Park is British artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above.  A 12-foot-high arch provides a 'gate' to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives.  Your Editor in Chief and his wife could not resist having this picture taken on a very cold January day.

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Air France takes premium economy route

AIR FRANCE has taken the increasingly popular way forward by introducing a premium economy cabin.  Called Premium Voyageur this class will gradually be phased in on Air France’s entire international long haul network on flights operated by Boeing 777s, Airbus A340s and A330s.  Premium Voyageur is characterized by 40% additional space, what was 40 economy seats now 22 of the new class.  Key to the investment is what the airline calls the first specially designed premium economy shell seats 18.9in (48cm) wide, with a 123° seat back recline.  Wide leather 3.9in (10cm) arm rests enable passengers to place their elbows without bothering their neighbours.  Seat pitch is 38in (97cm) and a 10.4in (26cm) ‘on demand’ TV set-up is offered.  Various enhancements are provided but the meal service is the same as in economy, with aperitifs and Champagne.   www.airfrance.com

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AUC Chief Executive wins prize at AERBT launch

AUC (Air Transport Users Council) Chief Executive Simon Evans was the delighted winner of a prize draw at the highly successful AERBT (An Executive Review of Business Travel) launch party last week, hosted by Holiday Inn, at their much re-fashioned London – Bloomsbury property. Simon was presented with a model of the just about to fly Boeing 787 Dreamliner by UK Communications Director Nick West.  Clearly it will have pride of place at the Holborn headquarters of the UK's consumer watchdog for air travellers.  No doubt Airbus are on their way with an A380 and just like the Boeing model, in a very neutral company paint scheme. www.auc.org.uk

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Crowne Plaza hotels open in Paris and London

CROWNE PLAZA, part of the InterContinental Hotel Group, has opened new properties in London and Paris.  The London – Kensington hotel, a former Holiday Inn, has been the subject of a UKP8m remodelling which retains the building's Victorian façade contrasting with a very contemporary interior.  The new 162-room Crowne Plaza includes 31 club rooms, 20 split-level suites, all offering exclusive club lounge access.  The 328-room Crowne Plaza Paris République is the fifth Crowne Plaza in France and the second in Paris, alongside the Crowne Plaza Paris Champs Elysées.  Built in 1865 during Napoleon III's reign, the building boasts the classic Parisian Haussman-style exterior and an historic inner courtyard.  Its '10 Bar' offers views directly onto the République square while its new '10 Restaurant' serves French cuisine under the direction of chef David Desplanques, formerly of Robuchon and Ducasse.  It is just three stops from the Gare du Nord Eurostar terminal. www.crownplaza.com

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Geneva is added to ex-USA destinations

GENEVA has become the latest European destination for United Airlines.  The Star Alliance carrier introduced last week a new five times per week route between Switzerland’s second city and Washington-Dulles.  Reconfigured four-class Boeing 767-300s are used for the service featuring the airline’s very well received new premium cabins, including lie-flat beds in Business Class, 15.4in personal television screens, and more than 150 hours of video entertainment options.  United is the sole carrier offering the route. www.suitedreams.united.com

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London buses get technology link-up

LONDON’S 8,000 strong bus fleet has completed an upgrade which ensures that every vehicle has the iBus 'next stop' announcement facility.  With the system passengers know exactly where their bus is and what the next stop and final destination will be.  It is very effective for both those with hearing or sight difficulties and has also proved useful for passengers concentrating on reading whilst on a bus.  There should be no excuse for missing a stop.  iBus uses a combination of technologies, including satellite tracking and GPS data transfer that can pinpoint the precise location of all of London’s buses.  It also provides improved radio communications for drivers and allows bus controllers to improve performance and reliability. www.iBus.com

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PremiAir introduce London helicopter shuttle

PREMIAIR has introduced a helicopter shuttle between Biggin Hill, Farnborough, Gatwick, Luton, Oxford and Stansted, all popular business jet airports, and the London Heliport at Battersea.  Flying in an AS355 four-passenger Twin Squirrel prices for a one-way flight start from UKP1,695 (plus VAT) from Biggin.  Battersea Heliport is owned by von Essen Group, who are building a five-star hotel on the site.  PremiAir has also announced that it is preparing to become the first European member of the Global Executive Helicopter Network, effective 1 May 2009.  Administered by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation-owned AAG Global, this entity is the helicopter industry’s newly established worldwide network of international executive helicopter operators. www.premiair.co.uk   www.aagglobal.com

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United Airlines to bump fat passengers?

UNITED AIRLINES may require bumped large clients to purchase two seats on a subsequent flight, matching the policy of some other American carriers according to newspaper reports.  Under the new policy, obese passengers – defined as unable to lower the arm rest and buckle a seat belt with one extension belt – will be re-accommodated, at no extra charge, to two empty seats if there is space available.  If, however, the plane is full, the passenger will be refused boarding.  They can upgrade to the larger First or Business Class seats, if not already taken.  To guarantee travel the only way to fly is to purchase a second ticket, at the same price as the original fare, on the next flight.  This policy could open up a can of worms.  The Canadian Transportation Agency last year ordered three airlines to accommodate passengers "functionally disabled by obesity‚" at no extra charge.  Air Canada fought the decision but it was upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court. www.chicagotribune.com

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HAPPY TALK

Last week AERBT (pronounced Air BT) hosted a launch party at the spendid Holiday Inn Bloomsbury.

The following was received the next morning from a very highly respected and important member of the travel industry.

"Had a senior moment last night.  I was so focused on the tube situation and getting a different line home it was not until I changed trains at Bromley South that I knew I should have been somewhere else.  All the very best with AERBT."

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