* items include readers letters
22 MARCH 2010
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BANGKOK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (BKK), very late in opening, and then suffering political strife, has more problems. The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is delaying the introduction of its airport rail link after it found the developer Siemens would be unable to finish the railway on time. According to the Bangkok Post SRT planned to start services next month. The 18 miles (28.6k) long standard gauge track to the city will reduce the journey time to around 15 minutes. Also known as Suvarnabhumi, the airport replaced Don Muang which is now largely redundant with only Nok Air and One-Two-Go operating domestic flights. www.bangkokairportonline.com
CAA figures published last week bring into sharp focus the very poor performance of UK civil aviation last year. With a throughput of 218m 2009 passengers numbers were down 17% to the levels of six years ago. The CAA seems to think that although they will certainly rebound, the pace of recovery is uncertain and it could be a number of years before they reach their peak level again. Regional airports were proportionately more affected than London’s. At Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City the fall was 4.9% overall, with the largest declines in percentage terms at City (14.2%), Stansted (10.7%) and Luton (10.4%). Heathrow, still the world’s number one international gateway, had the smallest decline amongst London airports, serving 66m passengers in 2009, one million fewer than in 2008. Gatwick handled 32m passengers, down 5.3%. Manchester, the largest regional airport, saw passenger numbers fall by 11.5%, whereas at Birmingham they fell by 5%. Last year 21m took UK domestic flights, representing a fall of 8%. www.caa.co.uk
RAF NORTHOLT played host last week to the second annual business aviation get-together (which has the confusing title of BA Meet Up). Attendees from Europe, USA and the Middle East, spent two and half days attending education sessions and chatting with delegates and exhibitors which included Air BP, Bon Soiree Catering, First Class Cars and charter operator Ocean Sky. Interactive sessions featured topics as varied as food safety awareness, airport investment, aircraft registry matters, social media and media understanding, plus technical presentations on flight planning and bird scaring. Speakers included Andrew Hoy, Managing Director of ExecuJet on the future of business aviation; Graham Stephenson, aviation consultant, on FBO staffing and training and a controversial session on cabin safety – why have a third crew member by Susan Friedenburg from Corporate Flight Attendant Training. AERBT follows with a full report next week by Alison Chambers. www.ba-meet.com
COVENTRY AIRPORT may reopen initially as an unlicensed airfield “within days” AERBT has learnt. If negotiations are successfully completed by Coventry City Council, the Civil Aviation Authority, Marshall of Cambridge (who provide air traffic control) and potential owner Sir Peter Rigby (see AERBT 22 February) this week the airport could regain full licensed status as soon as May. Sir Peter, one of the Midlands most successful businessmen, also owns Patriot Aviation, the UK's Cessna single engine aircraft line distributor. A meeting last Friday (19 March) attracted over 50 tenants and users and was most supportive. As the owner of the freehold, Coventry City Council has announced that Pope Benedict XVI will hold a mass for up to 250,000 people at the airport on 19 September. www flycvt.com
THE SAVOY, considered by many to be London’s premier hotel, and now part of the Fairmont Group, is set for a summer opening after a 2½-year £100m restoration programme – the most expensive hotel refurbishment in London’s history. Encompassing the entire building from the courtyard and famed American Bar to the public areas and 268-guestrooms, the programme heralds a number of notable highlights including the addition of a luxurious new two-bedroom Royal Suite, the complete remodel of the legendary River Restaurant and the re-launch of the 58 River Suites with their iconic views over the River Thames. The Savoy says that with the project's completion in sight, albeit some months away, the 1,000 builders working on the project will gradually be replaced by more than 650 hotel staff, who will be required to provide the trademark Savoy standards of service. www.the-savoy.com
AIR EUROPA, which offers twice daily flights from Gatwick to Madrid, is adding Miami to its connections via the Spanish capital. Earlier this year (AERBT 22 February) the airline launched a new three times a week Lima route. Miami, one of America’s holiday resorts, also now gets three non-stop flights that connect each way with the London service. The first departure was over the weekend. Air Europa use the popular Embraer 195 on the European leg of the service, and two-class Airbus A330 on the Atlantic routes. www.aireuropa.com
THAI AIRWAYS INTERNATIONAL, always a leading Asian airline, but in recent years overtaken by Singapore Airlines and others, is once more on the upgrading trail and has briefed the media on its plans for the next five years replacing 25 elderly aircraft with new planes including the latest cabin facilities and in-flight entertainment. Thai’s route network strategy aims to continue developing Bangkok as the main hub by enhancing its schedule for more connectivity and increased production on profitable routes. Secondary domestic and regional services will be expanded through Nok Air, its low fare budget carrier. In-flight products and services will be improved to meet customer expectations. www.thaiairways.com
Speaking at the Cruise Shipping Miami Conference last week William Gibbons, Director of Britain’s Passenger Shipping Association, said: "The UK cruise industry proved resilient in 2009 despite the very difficult economic climate and much of this success can be attributed to the all-inclusive nature of cruising and the very high standards of quality and service. These are values intrinsic to cruising and will continue to encourage greater numbers of passengers, with the PSA predicting 1.65m Brits taking a cruise holiday in 2010."
In 2009 1.53m Brits took a cruise – a 4% increase on 2008. Figures show a 7% increase in the number of people joining their cruise in a UK port while the number of fly-cruise passengers increased by 2%.
The Mediterranean continues to be the most popular destination with 595,000 passengers and a 39% share of the market. Northern Europe and the Caribbean vie for second place with 295,000 and 275,000 passengers respectively. Figures show that 16,000 UK passengers took a round Britain cruise.
Looking ahead, Mr Gibbons said: "There are 14 new ship launches this year bringing capacity for an additional 28,000 passenger berths. Among the new ships are three dedicated to the UK market – Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Eclipse, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and P&O Cruises' Azura. Cruise & Maritime has a second ship, Ocean Countess, and Royal Caribbean International is providing a year-round service from Southampton with Independence of the Seas. Disney Cruise Lines and Holland America Line are also introducing full length cruises out of Dover. In 2011, nine new ships will be launched and although none are directly dedicated to the UK market, we predict the number of Brits taking a cruise holiday will grow to 1.75m passengers."
Readers might like to know that The Cruise Show, sponsored by the Daily Telegraph and supported by Cruise Critic, is returning to London for a second year next weekend (Saturday 27 March and Sunday 28 March) promising more attractions, expert talks and even more access to cruise lines than last year's very successful inaugural event.
Whether you need some advice on planning your first (or fiftieth!) cruise or just fancy climbing a rock wall, then this show is not to be missed. The venue is London's Olympia, easy to get to and now on the Overground. Most of the major cruise lines – and many smaller, more adventure-oriented companies – will be on hand to answer questions and provide brochures and other info. www.cruisingshow.com
OUR TEN STORY NEWS ROUNDUP
AMAWATERWAYS is to introduce the MS Amakatarina to its “Russian Waterways” fleet as of May 2011. Her inaugural sailing will take place on 20 May 2011, and thereafter she will sail a total of 14 11-night voyages for the 2011 season.
AMA say the completely renovated ship will be the largest and most luxurious vessel sailing the Volga-Baltic Waterway.
The 212-passenger ship boasts 24,025 sq ft of space dedicated to just 106 cabins. Passengers can choose from ten cabin categories spanning four decks to meet their personal needs. Four different suite categories offer luxurious accommodations ranging in size from 280 to 432 sq ft. Public areas include a panoramic lounge, conference hall, sauna, bar/nightclub and solarium.
For 2011, the “Russian Waterways” programme will feature an 11-night itinerary from Moscow to St Petersburg, filled with the line’s trademark exclusive features and culturally-enriching tours. Highlights include two nights on board docked in Moscow, followed by a 6-night cruise along Russia’s colourful and historic waterways. Passengers will visit the enchanting Golden Ring cities of Uglich and Yaroslavl, then transit across Europe’s two largest lakes, Onega and Ladoga, to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, St Petersburg, spread over 101 islands and 66 canals. The tour concludes with three nights on board the vessel in St Petersburg where a full programme of tours is included. www.amawaterways.com
CRYSTAL CRUISES is mounting a much more aggressive campaign in the UK this year and coming up with some excellent offers (AERBT for the most part never mentions prices – they always seem to be changing). Undoubtedly the one cruise line to never vary its exacting values, Crystal, has expanded its enrichment series now called Experiences of Discovery cruises with a special-interest focus.
With both Serenity and Symphony offering purpose-built lecture theatres Crystal makes the most of the facility. Themed cruises (you don’t have to take part) include Science & Technology, the Wine & Food Festival, Mind, Body & Spirit, Jazz, Golf, Film plus Theatre Festival and Big Band. www.crystalcruises.com
MS EUROPA, by Hapag Lloyd, Berlitz highest rated ship (it scored 1851, even the two Crystal ships only made 1700) is featuring on its 15-day Ocean Sun Festival Round Britain cruise, an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the world’s finest classical music stars as well as to explore a splendid selection of summer gardens, from northwest Scotland’s Inverewe to the Isles of Scilly and the exotic tropical gardens on Tresco.
Europa provides a perfect venue for the August cruise mix of classical music artists: a string quartet from the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and several guest musicians and singers including Magdalena Kozena – a recent nomination in the 2010 BBC Music Magazine Awards opera category, conductor Ariel Zuckermann and leading young cellist, Gaultier Capuon. There will be classical concerts onboard as well as exclusive concerts at historical sites ashore as the ship sails from Kiel in Germany to Scotland, the Orkneys, Ireland, Wales, the Scilly Islands and back to its home port of Kiel.
For the landscape designers and enthusiastic gardeners onboard there’s a different garden to explore almost every day, all accompanied by the Europa’s garden art expert. In Scotland there are the gardens at Tyninghame House, Cawdor Castle, Kierfiold House, Inverewe and Portrack House; in Ireland the Helen Dillon Garden, Powerscourt and Lakemount Gardens. Bodnant Garden in Wales is followed by Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Scilly Islands and England’s Trelissick Garden in Cornwall and Mottistone Manor, Cowes.
Additional highlights on this 15-day day voyage include a visit to the most northerly whisky distillery in the world; Ring of Brodnar and Skara Brae, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Orkney Islands; Rosslyn Chapel made famous by Dan Brown’s bestseller, The Da Vinci Code; and some of Britain’s historic castles highlighted by an evening performance of pipes and drums at the world famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The voyage is being promoted by the very long established The Cruise People, who are also very active in endorsing what is not the opposite, but very different, deep see "cruises" in the private quarters of large merchant ships. www.hl-cruises.com www.cruisepeople.co.uk
ORION EXPEDITION CRUISES is to increase the size of its fleet with the addition of a second specialist expedition cruise ship to join the existing 106-passenger Orion. Currently known as Clelia II, Orion II is a 100-passenger all-suite luxury expedition ship. It is scheduled to commence expedition voyages under the Orion Expedition Cruises banner in May 2011.
Based on thorough research, and following the success of Orion’s recent voyages, Orion II will be based in South East Asia offering a wide range of expeditions that will include Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Indonesian archipelago, Japan and Borneo. Recently subject to a €13m refurbishment, with emphasis on technical enhancements and upgraded environmental systems, the ship will also undergo additional cosmetic enhancements to bring her fully into the Orion style. Together, Orion and Orion II will be two of the most modern and capable expedition cruise ships cruising in Australasia. www.orionexpeditions.com
P&O CRUISES is to offer Mediterranean fly-cruising for the first time with a winter 2011/2012 package as part of its largest ever programme. Offering an adult only voyage will be Adonia, formerly Royal Princess, which joins the P&O Cruises’ fleet in May 2011. With a maximum of only 710 passengers it is a fine intimate ship, but equipped with just about everything its larger brethren offer. Between May and October, ex-Southampton, she will offer seven to 26 nights cruises to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe featuring some smaller and off the beaten track ports of call as well as the must see destinations. There is a round Britain cruise.
In October, Adonia will reposition to the Mediterranean and offer six Central and Eastern Mediterranean fly-cruises, departing from Athens, Naples, Savona and Trieste. Itinerary highlights include a Christmas and New Year cruise to the Holy Land. www.pocruises.com
PRINCESS CRUISES has announced its largest ever programme of Mediterranean and Scandinavian cruises in 2011, with seven ships offering 106 departures on 42 unique itineraries, including seven new ones. The line is introducing a wider choice of UK departures as well as more Mediterranean fly-cruises, in a bid to take advantage of the growing success and popularity of the brand in the UK. A sister company to P&O voyagers will find a more mixed company on board with plenty of Americans. However its British heritage is not forgotten, afternoon tea very popular in the main dining room.
The 2,600-passenger Grand Princess will return to Southampton in 2011 with new itineraries to offer more choice to past passengers, as well as a 3-night Weekend Sampler to offer new customers an opportunity to try out the brand. In addition to her popular 14-night Mediterranean cruises and 7-night short-breaks Grand Princess will sail an 11-night cruise to the Canary Islands and Madeira, and a 14-night cruise to Norway and Spitsbergen.
“After ten years of above-market level growth, Princess Cruises is set for further growth in the UK in 2011 with our biggest ever Mediterranean and Scandinavian programme. With seven ships, we can offer a wide range of itineraries for seasoned cruisers as well as newcomers to escape completely,” said Pieter van der Schee, Head of Brand Marketing, Princess Cruises. www.princess.com
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL: 2011 European deployment will see an increase from eight ships in 2010 to 11 and offer 109 unique itineraries, ranging from three to 15 nights and visiting 27 countries and 78 ports. Two ships Grandeur of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas will sail their maiden Europe seasons from Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca (Spain) respectively.
Independence of the Seas will continue its year-round service from Southampton with Liberty of the Seas. Adventure of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas will sail a variety of Mediterranean itineraries, while Jewel of the Seas and Vision of the Seas will ply the Baltic and North seas. www.royalcaribbean.com
SANCTUARY RETREATS is a curious name for a cruise company but in fact is the title of a London-based tour operator specialising in luxury travel to more interesting destinations, typically rural Kenya, Alpine Europe and out of the way places in Spain.
Sanctuary has now added an Egyptian cruise programme featuring Nile Adventurer, a five-star rated 32-cabin vessel, which even has a swimming pool on board. The cabin sizes, on average 22sq m, are generous for a river boat and all have a tub. You can dine in your cabin if you wish, not a usual offering for a river cruiser.
The trip can start from either Aswan or Luxor depending on the cruise schedule. There is a no-mobile policy throughout the internal public areas of the boat, for guaranteed peace and relaxation. www.sanctuaryretreats.com
SEABOURN QUEST will launch on 20 June 2011 with a 14-day Maiden Voyage from Barcelona to Athens. Quest’s maiden season will include seven-day Eastern Mediterranean cruises, operating alternately between Athens and Istanbul, and Venice and Athens, as well as a seven-day Black Sea voyage. On the 5 January 2012 Quest begins a 109-day world cruise from Ft Lauderdale to Venice on a unique eastbound course via South America, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.
Quest is the third (Odyssey and Sojourn being the others) in a new series of ultra luxury “yachts” from Carnival's 6-star operation. Coming in at 32,000 tons they accommodate just 450 passengers, virtually all in balcony cabins. www.seabourn.com
STAR CLIPPERS, the Tall Ship specialist, has introduced a new stay-and-cruise package to launch its summer season of seven-night voyages from the Greek island of Rhodes. The offer includes a week soaking up the summer sunshine at the award-winning, 5-star Rodos Palladium Hotel before joining Star Flyer for a seven-night voyage along the beautiful unspoiled Turkish coast.
The second part of the holiday includes a transfer to the port to join the 170-passenger vessel for a seven-night odyssey along the Turkish coast with its tiny bays and pretty fishing villages. Ports of call include yachting favourites like Olympus, Antalya, Kemer and Kekova, rarely visited by bigger ships, as well as Gocek, nestling in the sundrenched Bay of Fethiye, a setting of pristine beaches, tiny islets and crystal-clear waters, perfect for snorkelling. There’s also a call in Greece, at the exquisite little harbour of Kastellorizon, before returning to Rhodes. www.starclippers.com
Whilst airlines all around the world proffer crocodile tears at British Airways and its union troubles, offer back up services (for a fee) and happily take on (again for a fee) displaced passengers, at least the strike, hopefully, will be short term with the knock-on consequences manageable.
In the background however two questions remain to be resolved for BA, both with long term implications.
The so-called merger with Iberia progresses. What will the shareholders make of it? That is point one.
Point two and vital for the future. Where is the oneworld alliance going?
One month ago it looked to be in serious trouble with major partner Japan Air Lines in danger of a complete default, or even worse, moving to a competing airline.
Japan Air Lines stayed with oneworld.
And now an even tastier partner is making noises, or at least looking around.
China Eastern Airlines was founded in 1988 and was the first Chinese airline to be listed on a stock exchange although the Government still owns 60%.
Various airline suitors have come in search of association over the years including Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. It has around 250 aircraft and serves 100 destinations. It was profitable in 2009. And it will make a vital decision regarding joining one of the three global airline alliances “within weeks”. l
Logic says oneworld should be the obvious path, as Air China is in Star and China Southern is in SkyTeam. But as ever there are complications! Its relatively new Chairman was previously CEO of China Southern and took the decision to take that carrier into SkyTeam and has maintained close links with SkyTeam airlines since. China Eastern's newish CEO was previously commercial head at Air China and was leader of the team that took Air China into Star.
China Eastern has recently taken over and is absorbing Shanghai Airlines – a Star Alliance member. There is much of rumour of further consolidation in China, which may cloud and influence the cooperation issues.
What China Southern has to decide is whether it wants to be the smaller, "new kid on the block" Chinese partner in one of the other alliances – with Air China in Star and China Southern in SkyTeam – or to have its own full voice as the only mainland China member in oneworld. Its largest bilateral partner is JAL. Cathay Pacific, having once been near to a relationship, could be a useful ally. British Airways is an important member of oneworld, and in spite of its current problems worth getting know better.
The whole thing is a intriguing conundrum worthy of the manoeuvring and conspiracy of ancient China. It seems in the East nothing changes.
QATAR AIRWAYS is not the sort of company one would expect to see at a very serious business-to-business show around the theme of sustainable environment. BASE was held for the first time at London’s Excel exhibition centre last week. Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, made the keynote speech at the conference but equally impressive in many ways was Captain Chris Schroeder, Qatar A330/340 pilot and the airline’s Senior Manager Corporate Social Responsibility Environment and Fuel Optimization. Following on the carrier’s breakthrough passenger flight from Gatwick last October he expanded on its commitment to a green philosophy. By 2012, and the introduction of the new international airport at Doha, Qatar Airways will be operating out of its home base with a 50-50 blend of synthetic Gas to Liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel, developed and produced by Shell. Normal Jet A1 fuel will be used for inbound flights. www.qatarairways.com
BRITISH AIRWAYS and its unions have agreed to the airline’s proposals to help cut the airline’s £3.7bn pension deficit. These discussions are separate from the ongoing dispute over working practices between BA and Unite regarding cabin crew. The plans call for future entitlements in the New Airways Pension Scheme (NAPS) to be built up at a reduced rate, or for staff to pay in an extra 4.5% of their salary to maintain their current benefits. BALPA, GMB and Unite have agreed to recommend the proposals to their members. BA operates two final-salary pension schemes, the Airways Pension Scheme (APS), which closed in 1984 and is mainly made up of pensioners, and NAPS, which closed to new joiners in 2003 and has 30,000 members. In a statement BA said the proposed changes were intended to avoid the closure of its pension schemes and maintain the airline’s contributions at their current level of £330m per annum. The new benefit structure will be put forward to BA’s pension fund trustees and then be presented to the Pensions Regulator by 30 June. The timetable fits in with Willie Walsh’s statements regarding the Iberia merger. www.ba.com
ANDREW HAINES, Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), gave a robust speech to the Aviation Club of the United Kingdom in London last week. Clearly he is what Flight International would call “a total aviation person” even if he has been in the role for just six months. Mr Haines is the first holder of this newly-created post, following a review which resulted in the old position of Executive Chairman being discarded, the most senior position now non-executive. This is held by Dame Deirdre Hutton. Andrew Haines joined the CAA after a wide-ranging career in the rail industry. After four years in charge of South West Trains, he took over the railway division of First Group. Most recently, he also gained responsibility for improving the performance of the First Great Western franchise. www.caa.co.uk
KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES will launch a scheduled service between Amsterdam and Hangzhou (China) on 8 May and becomes the first airline to offer direct service between the city and Europe. This sixth destination in China consolidates KLM's position in the fast-growing market. The new service will operate three times a week with a Boeing 777-200ER configured 35 in World Business Class and 283 in Economy. Hangzhou is the capital of the province Zhejiang which, together with the neighbouring province Fujian, is home to more than 80m. www.klm.com
LUFTHANSA, whilst quietly dropping its Business Class only operations from Dusseldorf and Munich, is in the mood to promote the “Private Jet” product, now celebrating five years. Lufthansa claims it was the first international airline to provide customers with the comfort of a private aircraft flying at schedules tailored to their individual needs. With the service, customers can fly in private jets to more than 1,000 destinations in Europe and the Russian Federation. The price concept is simple: the flights are on offer at a fixed price. Depending on distance, the bottom line is all-inclusive and independent of the number of passengers. Available free of charge, too, is a limousine before and after the flight. The Lufthansa Private Jet fleet consists of three different-sized aircraft types: three Cessna Citation CJ1 (seating 4 passengers), two Cessna Citation CJ3 (6), and two Cessna Citation XLS+ (6-8). Larger aircraft are available, as needs dictate. The jets can meet long haul flights, or just A to B. www.lufthansa-private-jet.com
AIR NEW ZEALAND has announced a makeover of its trans-Tasman and Pacific Island services commencing later this year. Out goes Business Class, due to a major reduction of a calling for this cabin with government agencies and major companies cutting back on eligibility. The airline carries more than half a million passengers to and from the Pacific Islands annually. Essentially the airline plans to revamp its services in an area that is fiercely competitive with eight airlines vying for business. What it calls “The Tasman Pacific Fleet” will essentially standardise on one aircraft, a single class Airbus A320 with 171 seats. Air New Zealand has the largest capacity share of any airline on the trans-Tasman market, with 350 flights per week. www.airnewzealand.com
VIRGIN ATLANTIC, well established in the South African market with non-stop flights from Heathrow to both Capetown and Johannesburg, is to be the Official Airline Supplier to the England World Cup squad. Virgin Atlantic is providing the England team with its own aircraft which will fly direct from Heathrow to Johannesburg on 3 June, ready for the kick-off of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Airbus A340-600 will carry the England Manager and his 23-man squad along with its key support team. There are 51 Upper Class seats on board. Virgin say that a special menu will be prepared for the flight. It seems unlikely England will use the Heathrow lounge but will speed through the airline’s Upper Class Wing at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, with its private security channel. www.virgin-atlantic.com
A woman, somewhat agitated, called the airport information desk. “I am very sorry but has the xyz taken off yet!”
“Just one moment mam,” was the response.
Just at that point the office daily came past with a vacuum cleaner.
Before an answer could be made the lady shrieked
“Forget about the enquiry – I just heard it take off!”
With some thanks to IFALPA.
AND AS A BONUS THIS WEEK
With the problems concerning British Airways in our minds CNN has chosen for this month's Business Traveller Show to feature “all about cabin crew”. Maybe CNN’s intrepid duo got lucky or knew something the rest of us did not!
Richard Quest and Ayesha Durgahee go head to head and train at the Gulf Air Academy in Bahrain to see who has the most potential to become a flight attendant, with a final flight to Dubai serving real passengers.
Richard joins style maker Cynthia Rowley in New York as she talks to United Airlines employees about designing their new uniforms and a Lufthansa purser takes in Moscow during her layover. Business Traveller reminds viewers on the history of the flight attendant.
The best way of viewing is via the CNN Business Traveller website.
BMI, now being marketed as British Midland International, is to operate the four times daily Heathrow – Berlin (Tegel) route itself, from the start of the summer season 28 March. Airbus A319 aircraft will be used. Previously this was a “wet lease” with the aircraft and crew supplied by Lufthansa. From the same date Vienna also joins the bmi network with four flights, two by bmi and two codeshares with sister airline Austrian. The new operation is introduced as bmi re-launches its product on continental European flights with a two-class cabin, those up front offered a full service including hot food with a British twist served on all flights and a fully stocked bar. The seating in the Business Class cabin will be 2+2 with the middle seat kept free. www.flybmi.com
TRAVELODGE, the fast expanding budget hotel chain owned by Dubai International Capital, has taken over and re-branded three hotels as going concerns, the Rose Street Hotel, Edinburgh; the Ramada York and the Best Western Stansted Manor. In keeping with its low cost philosophy all non-essential and ancillary items including fridges, trouser presses and unnecessary bathroom toiletries have been removed from the rooms. At an investment of £14m, the hotels boost Travelodge's portfolio to 395 hotels and increase its 28,000 rooms by a further 217 rooms. The first budget hotel brand to launch in the UK in 1985, Travelodge now operates 380 hotels (26,500 rooms) – eight in Ireland, three in Spain and the rest in the UK. Travelodge plans to grow its estate to 70,000 rooms (approximately 1,000 hotels) by 2020. Last year 6.5m people stayed with Travelodge and 87% of reservations are currently made online where room rates start at £19 a night. http://www.travelodge.co.uk
SHANGRI-LA HOTELS AND RESORTS, the luxury hotel group, has now opened the 449-room Shangri-La Hotel, Guilin. Built in the classic Chinese-style the hotel is the first international standard 5-star luxury property in the city, and is ideally located on the banks of the scenic Li River. Uniquely for Guilin it offers an outdoor swimming pool. The hotel also incorporates Shangri-La’s Horizon Club. Situated in southern China, with Hong Kong the nearest practical gateway, Guilin is small by Chinese standards with just over one million inhabitants. The area has an unusual landscape, including Elephant-Trunk Hill, Pagoda Hill and the Forest of Odd Shaped Peaks. Shangri-La now has 29 hotels in China including its 4-star Traders brand. www.shangri-la.com
BAA has signed a £800m contract for the new Terminal 2 which will become the home of Star Alliance with a 20m passenger capacity. When construction is finished in 2014 the facility will be one of the most modern in the world. There will be direct access to the Heathrow bus terminus and the train stations. Contractor for the project is HETCo, a joint venture between Ferrovial Agroman and Laing O'Rourke. When complete, the new terminal will encompass a floor space of 185,000m2 covering the sites of both Terminal 2 and the Queen’s Building. The building will be extended into the existing Terminal 1 site in phases. www.baa.com
STAYBRIDGE SUITES, a brand of Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), will open the Staybridge Suites Times Square in early April. IHG will then have nine properties in the area, covering all its brands. The new hotel is on West 40th Street, one block from Times Square itself. The Staybridge Suites concept is essentially for long stays, each of the studio apartments in the 310-room 32-floor property featuring a fully equipped kitchen with stainless steel appliances, cookware and place settings; 37’’ flat screen televisions; generous work space with desk-level charging stations; wireless and hard wired internet access; speaker phones; iHome docking alarm clocks; motion sensor thermostats and much more. Also included is a deluxe complimentary daily breakfast buffet; complimentary guest laundry, workout facilities, 24-hour business services centre; library and convenience store. A free wi-fi service is also provided. www.Staybridge.com
TAM, which now claims to be the largest airline in South America, is to relocate its Heathrow operations from T4 to T1 on Sunday, 28 March. The move is part of TAM’s full integration into the Star Alliance. It will maximise connections both ways from not only UK regional airports, but many in Europe which find Heathrow the most convenient hub. TAM passengers will benefit from the new layout of Terminal 1, with check-in and ticketing facilities located in the redesigned main concourse. Airside, beyond customs and passport control, eligible TAM customers will have use of the Star Alliance First and Business Class lounges located in the duty-free shopping area close to the Star Alliance Flight Connections Desk. TAM offers a daily overnight service in both directions between Heathrow and Sao Paulo operating a three-class Boeing 777-300 ER. www.tam.com.br
MSC launched their latest mid-size cruise liner, Magnifica, with an extravagant two-night party at Southampton in late February. In fact the celebration was three-pronged. Firstly to receive the new ship direct from the STX Europe shipyard at Saint Nazaire (France); secondly to promote the company's offerings for the 2010 summer season (and indeed 2011, people book that far ahead), and thirdly to announce a brand new programme for next year at Southampton, a first.
MSC really do welcome their guests in a proper manner, the smartly dressed hotel staff all lined up ready to personally escort everyone to their cabin. It is a nice touch which not everyone offers.
A sprinkling of press plus 5,000 travel agents and friends, explored the ship during its visit, for once those staying overnight not chased off the following morning with the next complement of passengers due. Regulars have come to expect getting up early on the final day of a cruise , but it is something all operators need to look into. It just spoils somewhat a terrific holiday.
Guest of honour for the weekend was Sir Christopher Lee, now an Ambassador for UNICEF, which MSC has for a long time supported.
Let’s say a record amount of liquor was consumed, everyone having that extra (extra) drink when it comes with the compliments of the host. Your Editor tried the excellent massage in the spa, and some keen souls used La Grotto Azzura pool with its sliding roof and two large hot tubs. For a Mediterranean winter cruise an indoor air-conditioned swimming area is essential particularly if you are travelling with children. One of MSC’s most attractive marketing ploys is its family package which offers children (that is under 18) cruising for free (except for port taxes) when occupying an adult double cabin and using a sofa bed. At nearly 18 sq m for most cabins there is plenty of space for four.
Magnifica is the fourth and final ship in the Musica class and follows Musica (2006) itself, Orchestra (2007) and Poesia (2008). At 92,000 tons, they cost around US$360m each and at 105ft width can just squeeze through the Panama Canal if needs be although not on the current schedule. With 1,250 cabins the ships have accommodation for 2,500 which can rise by 600 when children are on board during the vacation periods. In truth, and from experience on Poesia, the kids seem to be keep themselves to themselves, and certainly do not pose a threat to child-free adults.
Cruising on MSC is very multinational, which at times can be a strain particularly with the shipboard announcements (although nothing like as bad as another Italian product). Many love this European feeling.
Italian is the first language of the Magnifica and most of the public contact staff speak Spanish. English is the fall back for everyone, but be warned that the favourite word is “yes”, which can mean “no”, “I don’t know”, or even “I will ask someone who does understand”.
The decor and fittings on all the MSC fleet are first class and worthy of a much higher rated ship. The combination of Italian design and French shipbuilding skills have produced with Magnifica an outstanding vessel. None of the Musica class has the highly acclaimed exclusive Yacht Club private area featured on the even larger Fantasia and Splendida, which is a pity, but with this latest ship the two top decks do have 25 sq m executive suites, just that bit larger than the norm, and with tubs rather than a shower and a butler service and other Yacht Club facilities.
MSC regulars will note that the garish Zebra lounge on Poesia has been dropped in favour of the Tiger bar area, somehow much more relaxing.
Outstanding is the 900-seat theatre, which even by the standards of sea going theatre is something special. With all the four ships the main accommodation area is contained in six decks, which means that the three lowest areas are given over to the restaurants, lounges, casino and shops. Dining is open seating for breakfast and lunch (with most people using the various catering outlets near the open decks) and two sittings for dinner, the second one at 20:45, perhaps late for the British but in keeping with the Italian style of the ship.
There are two alternative restaurants, one Italian and the other Chinese. With the Pound not doing well against the Euro your extras can easily mount up and MSC makes up for the competitive prices of its offerings (particularly if you have children) with London West End prices for drinks. It’s swings and roundabouts! Bar bills incur a 15% service addition and the all in all service charge is €6 per day for adults and €3 per day for children (on European cruises). It is discretionary and you can deal with your own cabin staff and regular waiter if you like. Or refuse!
MSC Opera from the UK
MSC offer a number of departure points in the Mediterranean but their big effort with the UK in 2010 and 2011 is “no fly” travel. For this year Dover is the departure port, but in 2011 the line changes to Southampton. For these boardings there are no luggage limitations which make them ideal for families.
Opera is just six years old, comes in at 60,000 tons, 1,750 plus passengers. If you want a balcony cabin get in early. There are just 200, with a small number of slightly larger suites on the top deck. The ex-UK cruises offer afternoon tea and try to be more British.
Opera is offering a number of themed dance and hobby cruises with specialist lecturers. MSC has dispensed with port lectures. You just pick out what time you want to hear the talk on your flat screen TV in the cabin. There are bridge, food and wine, culture and wellness cruises.
11-night cruises departing on 3, 14 and 25 June 2010. Departing Dover and sailing to Bergen (Norway), Hellesylt (Norway), Honningsvag (Norway), Alesund (Norway) and Amsterdam (Holland).
The Baltic capitals could have been built for cruise visitors! Cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn are easy to walk around and full of fascination. 11-night cruises depart from Dover on 23 May, 17 July, 8 and 30 August 2010 and call at Rostock (Germany), Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Amsterdam (Holland).
A Norwegian fjords cruise is guaranteed to appeal to those looking for something a little different from their cruise. 11-night cruises departing on 6 July, 28 July and 19 August 2010 from Dover, calling at Oslo (Norway), Stavanger (Norway), Flam (Norway), Molde (Norway), Hellesylt (Norway), Bergen (Norway), Kristiansand (Norway), Amsterdam (Holland) and Dover (UK).
Parking is free at Dover, as is transfer to and from Gatwick and Heathrow airports (for those that do come by air – and it will be the same next year with Southampton’s local airport added), and coach travel from various points.
Facilities on board MSC Opera include two swimming pools, a Spa, gymnasium, mini-golf, theatre and shopping area. Kids clubs (three clubs tailored to specific age groups between three and 18), children’s playroom and video arcade.
2011 and Southampton
MSC Opera will call at Southampton Port for a total of 13 cruises with a choice of 8 and 10-night itineraries in 2011 from May until September. Passengers can follow the routes taken by Vikings, discover the unique atmosphere of Scandinavia’s finest cities or sail through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. Full details are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.