26 OCTOBER 2009

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BA fully opens T3 lounge

BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) oneworld Galleries Lounge in Heathrow T3 is now fully open following the move of BA flights and those of partner airlines.  Overlooking the apron it is a bright and airy place of solitude with access back to the busy main duty free sales area if required.   All the amenities of the similar T5 facility are available including a separate First Class area.  Refreshments are provided as is an Elemis Spa, particularly useful for transferring passengers. www.ba.com

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Cheapflights tests cabin entertainment

CHEAPFLIGHTS.CO.UK, which claims to be the UK's leading flight comparison website, has taken a look at the electronic systems of 25 major airlines.  Recent buzz surrounding in-flight wi-fi and mobile connectivity has not led to a massive roll out of the technology, according to its research.  In this issue of AERBT Lufthansa is re-launching in mid-2010 a similar product that was actually introduced in 2004.  The new BA system at LCY seems to be less than reliable, whilst Ryanair has already installed in-flight phone systems on 50 aircraft.  Bmibaby, easyJet, Flybe, Jet2.com and Ryanair do not have TVs on the back of seats, while Monarch offers them in Premium Economy.  Thomsonfly provides TVs free of charge on some flights.  Among full-service carriers, Virgin Atlantic lives up to its reputation for providing one of the most comprehensive interactive systems, while the researchers were also impressed with facilities aboard British Airways and Cathay Pacific flights. www.cheapflights.co.uk

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Dubai Airshow only weeks away

DUBAI AIRSHOW opens on 15 November amid strong predictions that the Middle East region will lead the aerospace industry's economic recovery.  Within the Middle East region's commercial aviation market, Airbus has predicted that international air passenger traffic will grow 6.6% over the next decade, making it the world's fastest-growing region for aviation.  It added that the number of aircraft serving the region would almost triple by 2028.  Likewise Boeing too has asserted that air travel in the Middle East is stronger than in most global regions, reporting that the market is valued at US$300bn over the next two decades, with a requirement for more than 1,700 commercial jets.  Dubai Airshow is expected to attract up to 900 exhibitors from nearly 50 countries, plus some 50,000 visitors, an overall 10% increase over the previous event in 2007.  Middle Eastern companies expected to make up some 25% of all those exhibiting. www.dubai.aero

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Garuda back to Europe

GARUDA INDONESIA, reputably a much revised airline, is to resurrect its once very popular Amsterdam to Jakarta service.  The Dutch have many links with Indonesia, once part of its colonial empire.  From 1 June 2010, Garuda will re-open the service operating on a daily basis via Dubai.  The route will be served by A330-200s seating 36 passengers in Business Class and 186 passengers in Economy Class.  The front section will offer fully flat seats.  Garuda Indonesia is represented in the UK by Gatwick-based Flight Directors. www.garuda-indonesia.com www.flightdirectors.com

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Knock Airport expands

IRELAND WEST AIRPORT, formerly known as Knock, has opened a new terminal which can handle up to 1.5m passengers per year.  The terminal is part of an €11.5m (US$17.1m) expansion of the airport’s facilities.  The airport is 34 miles south of Sligo and 50 miles north of Galway.  Currently Aer Arran, Aer Lingus, bmibaby and Ryanair operate out of the airport to a variety of destinations.  Knock was opened 22 years ago and currently has an annual throughput of more than 600,000 passengers a year.  The airport authority says numbers have grown by 13% over the past two years. www.irelandwestairport.com

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Maldives to gain Holiday Inn

HOLIDAY INN RESORT KANDOOMA is to become only the second of the eponymous brand in the Republic of Maldives when the existing hotel is re-named on 1 November 2009.  Holiday Inn recently opened a property on the main island of Malé.  The new 160-room resort is built on Kandooma Island in the South Malé Atoll, which lies 35km south of Malé International Airport, via a 40 minute speedboat ride or a short Twin Otter flight.  Kandooma Island is a favoured tropical isle because of its close proximity to many excellent dive sites.  Sports and recreational facilities at the resort include the Dive Centre, Kandooma Kids' Club, full spa services at the COMO Shambala Spa and three radio channels with resident radio DJs.  Guests can also enjoy activities such as dolphin watching, windsurfing, snorkelling, guided kayak safaris, and underwater hockey. www.ihgplc.com

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Tony Tyler at the Aviation Club

CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS Chief Executive Tony Tyler was the guest of honour at London’s Aviation Club last week.  In a robust speech he remained “cautious” about the prospects of the aviation industry seeing any sustained pick-up in the near future.  Acknowledging the fact that Cathay Pacific and other airlines have seen stabilization in the summer months of this year, Mr Tyler questioned whether this was seasonal or structural.  “This is traditionally a good time for us on both the premium passenger and freight fronts.  And we are seeing that this year,” he said.  “But whether it heralds a return to greener pastures remains to be seen.  We’ll have a better idea by the end of the year”.  In a far ranging speech he noted that China would have 45 new airports in the next two years and upgrade 40.  He wants a third runway for Chep Lap, said that the days were gone when manufacturers could charge $385 for toilet role holders available for $55 elsewhere and would not be drawn on 787 or A380, neither of which Cathay have on order. www.cathaypacific.com

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COMMENT: Goodbye absent landlord

Gatwick Airport has been sold by Ferrovial, its Spanish owner, to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), an independent $5.64bn investment fund, which already owns London City Airport. 

For the most part the airlines have welcomed the move, Ryanair (naturally) rushing out a statement, and also Flybe, although for reasons that AERBT does not understand easyJet Chief Executive Andy Harrison called the ownership “a monopoly”.  All airports are a monopoly of sorts and that is why there is a regulatory system!  Virgin Atlantic was more cautious noting that Gatwick was somewhat larger than City.

The breakup of BAA has been mooted by the airlines since it was created in 1966, even more so from the time of Maggie Thatcher’s privatisation 1986, which also shaped the future for Stansted.  In 2006 Grupo Ferrovial paid £10bn for the seven BAA airports (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Southampton and Stansted) a purchase frowned upon by most in the British airline industry.  “Absent landlords” would not work said many.  “Would the French allow the British to control Charles de Gaulle?” was a question raised.

Gatwick is a gamble for GIP.  In 2019 the airline is free of restrictions allowing for the building of a second runway, although planning permission would also be required.  The railway station is a mess and requires complete rebuilding  and the new owner must be aware that no capital anywhere in the world has ever properly supported two full international airports.  Newark (New York) only works due to Continental, Orly (Paris) because of French colonial links and the flights supporting that heritage, whilst in Moscow Sheremetyevo now only has Aeroflot as a major international carrier, the privately run Domodedovo Airport currently the popular gateway.

It would seem that BAA has rushed the deal through in order to announce it as the Competition Commission is considering an appeal following its March ruling that it must sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports.  The thinking must be with the South London operation disposed of the Commission may go lightly on them.

One has to ask the question where does Ferrovial see the future?  Madrid pulls the strings.  Last year British journalists were asked to fly down for the day to hear various pronouncements.  The general opinion was that this should have taken place in London.  Instead of a joint statement the Spanish company jumped in first with what was a very public leak.  Do they really understand the way the British work or is this symbolic of how Europe will be in the years to come.  A serious case of an absent landlord either getting it wrong or being advised badly.

The strong argument is that the last three years have not been a success BAA wise, the various investments long planned, including T5, the Gatwick North bridge and Stansted’s terminal extension.  Terminal East at Heathrow, or whatever it is now called, has now been delayed until after the Olympics.  With planning permission for that development gained last year more questions regarding this hold-up should have been asked of the airport owner.  They have got off lightly.

We wish GIP every success with Gatwick.  As to Ferrovial they really do need to get their act together.  Madrid it not the place to run their UK airport investment.  It truly needs to be hands-on here in Britain.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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CAA passenger survey

CIVIL AVIATION AUTHORITY (CAA) has published the results of its 2008 Air Passenger Survey, which questioned over 200,000 departing air passengers about their travel patterns at the five London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City) as well as at Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter and Manchester airports.  For almost every airport surveyed in both 2007 and 2008, for both business and leisure travellers, annual passenger income has dropped (only leisure passengers at Luton and Manchester recorded small rises).  London City was the only airport surveyed where business passengers, at 56%, were in the majority. This compared with 34% at Heathrow, an airport which saw 1.2m fewer business passengers in 2008 than 2007.  Only 20% of passengers were travelling on business at Exeter and 19% at Manchester, which was down 1% on 2007.  Both Luton and Stansted showed growth in the proportion of business passengers of around 1% at each airport. www.caa.co.uk/surveys

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Chicago welcomes Etihad

JAMES HOGAN, Etihad Airways Chief Executive, and members of the airline’s senior management team have hosted a high level gala reception in Chicago to celebrate the launch of Etihad’s flights to the famed “windy city”.  Etihad Airways began flights to the US city of Chicago at the beginning of September 2009.  The initial three flights per week service will be doubled at the beginning of November and then move to a daily service for the beginning of 2010. Flight time is 15hrs 20mins operating a three-class Airbus A340-500. www.etihadairways.com

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Etihad to Sri Lanka

ETIHAD AIRWAYS of Abu Dhabi is to resume flights to Colombo in Sri Lanka, starting in January 2010.  The airline will operate four services a week to Colombo.  The resumption of flights follows the recent end to the civil conflict in Sri Lanka and is likely to provide a boost to the tourism sector and to the wider economy as a whole.  July and August 2009 already witnessed a 30% increase in visitors to the pretty island compared to the same period last year, and the Sri Lankan government is now targeting 2.5m visitors a year by 2016.  With this route Etihad will, from January, serve 58 destinations.  The timing of the flights has been carefully scheduled to facilitate onward connections from a number of key destinations on the airline’s network, including London, Moscow and North America. www.etihadairways.com

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Gatwick help for BA passengers

BRITISH AIRWAYS passengers flying from Gatwick now have an extra travel benefit – the option to check in hold bags on all flights the day before departure.  Previously customers were able to check in bags if their flight departed before 15:15 the next day, the service proving very popular.  It has been extended to allow passengers to check in luggage between 16:00 and 22:00 for all BA flights scheduled to depart the following day.  There are no other changes to the current process and customers should continue to drop their bags at the appropriate Fast Bag Drop desk in Zone D. www.ba.com

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London 2012 open for viewing

LONDON 2012 is now really beginning to take shape with the outline structure of the main Olympic stadium virtually complete and the shell of the impressive swimming pool complex at a very interesting stage, a massive structural steel skeleton ready for cladding and completion.  AERBT was privileged last week to take a tour with the House of Lords London Committee, a knowledgeable group ready to ask detailed questions.  The site has now been opened for a series of one hour free tours on a Saturday and Sunday which are highly recommended, and already very popular.  For those unable to book or make the tour The Greenway from Pudding Mill Lane on the DLR offers a fine overview of the whole Olympic Park.  To book your place on a tour phone 0300 2012 001 www.london2012.org.uk

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Manchester Airport body scanner

MANCHESTER AIRPORT has introduced a body scanner.  These sometimes controversial pieces of equipment are being used more and more around the world, and perhaps predictably have provoked rumblings from human rights groups who have their own axe to grind and are impervious to security issues.  Security staff at the airport have been banned from using the new equipment whilst legal advice is being sought regarding the scanning of minors.  Hopefully the legal fraternity will pronounce that the responsible use of “see through” apparatus will not create fears of paedophilia. www.manchesterairport.co.uk

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ON TOUR: South Wales and the Brecon Beacons

If you think times are hard, think again.  Life for the mining community was brutal 150 years ago.  Until 1840, prior to a House of Commons investigation, children as young as six worked deep underground in total darkness for up to 14 hours a day, six days a week.  Brutal is probably not a strong enough word to describe conditions.  They were inhuman.  Slaves had been freed by Wilberforce in 1807.

Your Editor is fortunate that he has visited many World Heritage Sites including the Great Wall of China, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the Pyramids, and of course natural phenomena such as the Niagara, and the even more impressive Iguassa falls.  The Big Pit, the National Coal Museum in South Wales, is in its own way, just as impressive as any of the foregoing.

Going underground was the highlight of the visit, safety paramount, the site considered as a working colliery and subject to all the rules and regulations that have been incorporated over the years.  Typically smoking materials, battery powered watches and cameras are banned.  A helmet and miners lamp is compulsory.  You descend 300ft in a cage squashed together with 17 others, just like those coming on a shift 100 years ago.  Surprisingly it is not scary.  Perhaps the total confidence of your group leader, an ex-miner helps.  And it is patently obvious how grim the conditions must have been.  It can be pitch black, the roof is often very low, and the water is flowing.  The mine was finally closed in 1980.

If the actual mine is the focus of the visit what you see above ground level is just as interesting.  The bathhouse was not introduced until the 1930s.  Prior to that innovation miners went home to be scrubbed by their wives in a tub.  A mining gallery offers the latest in audio visual presentations and an exhibition of modern mining equipment.  Don’t expect a spotlessly clean exposition of Victoriana, such as seen at the Science Museum Kensington.  What you see is a restored pithead as it was, rough and ready, a working part of the industrial revolution. 

The Big Pit sits next to the village of Blaenafon, which in 2000 achieved World Heritage status as the best preserved example of an industrial town anywhere in the world.  All the main elements of a coal and iron town remain: the ironworks, coal mine, steam railway, the workers' houses, school for the children of the workers, church, Workman’s Hall, tramroads and links to the canals.

Please note that the National Coal Mining Museum for England, in Wakefield, also provides underground tours, in both cases for free.

The Breckon Beacons

If the visit to the Big Pit at Blaenafon was the highlight of a short 48-hour interlude into South Wales what went before and after was just as interesting.  Blaenafon is 150 miles from central London and 50 miles from the M5.  Readers will note that Wales charges £5.50 to enter the country across the Severn Bridge (against £1.50 for the QEII across the Thames estuary which is free at night).  It costs nothing to leave Wales however.

The Brecon Beacons National Park was established in 1957 and covers 519 square miles stretching from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the east.  It encompasses the ranges confusingly named the Black Mountains (in the east of the park, on the border with England) and the Black Mountain (in the west).

Most of the national park is moorland, with some forestry plantations, and pasture in the valleys.  In 1966 the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre (four miles from Brecon) was opened to better enable visitors and tourists to interpret the area.  It is in a delightful setting some 1,100 ft above sea level offering stunning views of Pen Y Fan the highest mountain in South Wales.  A 45-minute walk across the moor along well beaten paths takes you up to Twyn Y Gaer and the remains of an iron age fort.  The Black Mountains and the Usk Valley can be seen.  If the weather is OK the views are terrific.

The centre provides information, very experienced help and assistance, and a well provided shop.  There is a small exhibition and short video presentation plus a café/restaurant sourced from local suppliers.  All very neat and tidy.  Children and families are catered for in a well tended large field suitable for informal games.  Admission is free but there is a modest car parking charge.  Overnight accommodation, camping and caravanning are not provided for actually on the site.

Activities in the park include walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse riding, as well as sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and fishing its rivers and reservoirs, rock climbing, hang-gliding, caravanning, camping and caving.  The Taff Trail also passes through the Beacons on its way from Brecon to Cardiff.

Due to its remoteness and the weather, the park is used for military training. The Special Air Service (SAS) is known for holding especially demanding selection training exercises here such as the Fan dance (exercise).  The infantry regiments of the British Army all train at Sennybridge, where NCO (non-commissioned officers)  selection also takes place.

Brecon and Hay-on-Wye

AERBT managed short visits to both Brecon and Hay-on-Wye, little market towns and totally different. 

Brecon has a small but very interesting Cathedral dating from 1093, a fascinating museum of local history incorporating an electronically driven full size model of the Assizes Court complete with Welsh translator, and a traditional High Street.  August sees the popular annual Brecon Jazz Festival.  Concerts are held in both open air and indoor venues, including the town's market hall and the recently opened 400-seat Theatr Brycheiniog.

Hay is even tinier than Brecon but is world famous due to the book festival inaugurated in 1988 and now sponsored by The Guardian newspaper.  It draws a claimed 80,000 visitors over ten days at the beginning of June to see and hear big literary names from all over the globe.  All the year round some 30 bookshops ply their trade, and there is also an “honour” offering in the grounds of the castle remains with a huge variety of publications.  Some very expensive orignals, 500 years old and more, can be seen in some of the more upmarket outlets.

Felin Newydd House

AERBT’s stay in the Brecon Beacons was hosted by Felin Newydd House, essentially a private home gone commercial.  It can be best described as a country pile and is set in breathtaking surroundings with 50 glorious acres at your disposal.  You hire for the day or overnight.  It is ideal for a family group, wedding, private party, or executive gathering. There are nine double guest-rooms very comfortably furnished, a huge country kitchen, massive dining room, drawing room, morning room, library and billiard room.  All have style.  A 21st century Victorian home.

The property sits on the edge of the National Park on the A470 less then ten miles from Brecon and 30 miles from Hereford.  What is supplied is a furnished house and a maid service for breakfast.  Everything else is extra but ready and organised by prior arrangement.  There is a superb wine cellar (and the reasonable prices are all noted).  A housekeeper/cook and butler are available.  You can cook meals yourself or visit the local eateries.  Nearby the The Felin Fach Griffin is a tiny award winning contemporary restaurant.  Small receptions can be held within the house and larger functions can be accommodated in a marquee on the lawn (maximum 150 guests).

The excellent web site shows every guest-room and gives some idea on cost.  It has been a family home for many years and is run by the owners.  This personal touch is seen everywhere. 

 “Please take your shoes off when going upstairs,” says the sign on the grand staircase in the impressive entrance hall.  And the back staircase has the same instruction!”

  It is not off putting.  You just get used to it.  After all it is your home for the period.

Felin Newydd House = www.countrypad.co.uk
www.breconbeacons.org
www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit
www.world-heritage-blaenavon.org.uk
www.hay-on-wye.co.uk
www.brecontown.co.uk

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Accor develops new brand

PULLMAN is a name perhaps not familiar to the current travelling generation but was the signature brand of many first class train carriages around the world for a long period (as Hornby train set users will testify).  It is now making a comeback under the aegis of its registered owner the International French hotel group Accor.  An upscale lodging, but not competing with Accor’s Sofitel, there are currently 43 Pullman hotels in 16 countries around the world with a target figure of 300 over the next few years.  In London the search is on for a suitable property, which could mean rebranding and upgrading an existing site such as the Novotel St Pancras.  Pullman’s latest and flagship property is the three-year-old former AB Skipper Hotel, Barcelona, overlooking the Olympic yachting marina.  ON TOUR will feature Accor in a forthcoming issue. www.pullmanhotels.com

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Cathay Pacific gets airborne at Seattle

BOEING has delivered to Singapore-based leasing company BOC Aviation and its customer, Cathay Pacific Airways, a 777-300ER painted in a special oneworld livery to highlight the alliance's 10th anniversary.  The aeroplane is the 12th Boeing 777-300ER for Cathay Pacific and brings the airline's 777 fleet to 29 aeroplanes, which includes 12 777-300s and five 777-200s.  The airline also operates 22 Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft.  The total 777 order book currently stands at around 1,100 making it the world’s most successful twin-engine, twin-aisle plane. www.boeing.com www.bocaviation.com www.cathaypacific.com 

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Constellation agency launched

CONSTELLATION AVIATION CONSULTING has been launched as a “one-stop shop”.  Founder and board member is Paul Moore, a former Director of Air Foyle; Glenvil Smith, a lawyer; Carter Stewart, IT and airline expert; Robert Falkner, a chartered accountant and formerly of British Airways; and Captain Tom Pearce-Carr, ex-British Airways and 20,000 hours flying time experience.  Based in Central London, the group is pooling its resources and skillsets to offer a comprehensive range of services to airlines and start-up carriers at a time when regulatory hurdles are exceptionally challenging.  Expertise includes bilateral, open skies and route and travel trade licensing issues through close liaison with the Department for Transport and the UK Civil Aviation Authority, and with regard to Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) requirements.  Constellation is also working in conjunction with specialist associate partners MS4 and Plane Trading, offering respectively, expertise in engineering sourcing and aircraft procurement. www.constellationav.com

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Frankfurt winter programme

FRANKFURT’S winter timetable will feature 4,275 departures per week.  Although there will be 2% fewer flights offered compared to last year’s programme for the same period the number of available seats will remain almost unchanged at 655,000 per week, down only 0.3% year-on-year.  New highlights include Continental Airlines to Houston (IAH), and the continuation of Safi Airways flights to Kabul.  Dropped are Delta’s to Cincinnati (CVG) and Lufthansa’s service to Portland (PDX). www.frankfurt-airport.com

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Iberia and GOL of Brazil

IBERIA and GOL, Brazil’s second largest airline after TAM, have signed a code-share agreement that could have significant implications for travel from the UK to South Amerca’s largest country if the BA/Spanish deal comes off.  Likewise with oneworld.  Currently, Iberia flies twice a day between Madrid and Sao Paulo and offers one flight daily between the Spanish capital and Rio de Janeiro.  Brazil is one of the most important markets for Iberia.  Under the code-share agreement, Iberia can add its code to GOL flights from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to 13 Brazilian destinations: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Curitiba, Florianopolis, Fortaleza, Foz do Iguaçu, Goiania, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador de Bahia and Vitoria.  Varig, now part of GOL, continues to fly medium hall services from Sao Paulo to typically Caracas and Bogota operating two-class Boeing 737s. www.voegol.com.br

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Lufthansa re-launches in-flight internet

LUFTHANSA passengers, who were disappointed when the technically successful Boeing Connexion system was withdrawn at the end of 2006, can fret no more.  In partnership with Panasonic it is being re-launched from the middle of next year with a full high speed service.  In addition, the new service will permit in-flight data transfer.  Lufthansa passengers will not only have WLAN internet access but will also be able to send SMS messages by mobile phone and transfer data via smartphones such as PDA, iPhone or BlackBerry devices.  In the United States VIRGIN AMERICA is to offer its WI-FI system for free for the holiday period 10 November until 15 January. www.virginamerica.com www.lufthansa.com

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Oman Air to Germany

OMAN AIR has launched non-stop scheduled services between Muscat, capital of the Sultanate, to both Frankfurt and Munich.  For the winter season there will be flights on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday to Frankfurt and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Munich.  The airline operates a two-class Airbus A330 on the routes and, whilst Lufthansa does compete on Frankfurt, via Bahrain, it has the Munich operation all to itself.  Flight time is 7hrs 25mins for Frankfurt and about an hour less for Munich. www.oman-air.com

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HAPPY TALK: The worst away end in football

If you think you have suffered the worst away end in football at Dagenham, The old Dell, The Withdean Stadium Brighton or Accrington, then spare a thought for the visitors to Miejski Klub Sportowy Znicz Pruszków in Poland.

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