24 MAY 2010

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Airlines report losses

AIR FRANCE-KLM, BRITISH AIRWAYS AND LUFTHANSA have all reported massive financial year loses, underling the very serious fiscal conditions of the heritage carriers.  The AF/KLM figures for the 12 months to the end of March is €1.56bn (US$1.93bn) show a net loss of nearly double last year’s deficit.  BA’s for the same period is £531m, its biggest shortfall since privatisation in 1987 and brings the two-year figure close to one billion pounds sterling.  The German carrier had reported a first quarter with a loss of €298m, which includes bmi.  The continuing Iceland ash problems and, in the case of BA and Lufthansa trade union difficulties, will gravely effect the balance sheet for 2010.  Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, CEO Air France, summed it all up with a quote from this side of the water  “2009-10 will go on record as our ‘annus horribilis’,” adding that on top of the downturn the airline had to deal with the crash into the Atlantic of one of its aircraft in June, which killed all 228 people on board.

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Boeing steps up production

BOEING is to increase production rates on the Next-Generation 737 programme to 34 units per month in early 2012, a clear financial confidence signal.  The rate increase is aimed at satisfying continued strong demand for the aircraft.  Currently 31.5 are produced monthly.  Boeing has over 2,000 unfilled orders from more than 80 customers.  Whilst Boeing is clearly looking at a completely new aircraft for some years ahead it is thought that a re-engined version is a non-starter.  In the meantime Airbus is letting it be known that the rival A320 could get a new advanced engine.  Nothing definite but at Farnborough it will be difficult to evade questions for both companies. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Finnair to and from Japan

FINNAIR is boosting its flights to Japan and targeting passengers to and from both London and Manchester.  It is one of the few European airlines serving all three of Japan’s leading cities, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.  This summer the airline flies daily to Osaka and Tokyo and six times per week to Nagoya.  Passengers can benefit from the airline’s brand new Via Spa, situated by the long haul and UK gates, and also next door to its Via Helsinki lounge.  In as little as 15 minutes you can be completely revitalised, Finnish style.  Helsinki connects to more than 50 European destinations.  Finnair expects to carry as many as 1.3m passengers on its flights between Europe and Asia this year. www.finnair.com

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Hyatt on the road

HYATT has been on a roadshow in the UK, managers from all over the world assembling at its two London properties, The Regency Churchill, close by Marble Arch, and in the City of London the Andaz Liverpool Street (by Hyatt) formerly known as The Great Eastern.  Due to open this year are Hyatt at Chennai, Goa and Prune in India; the Regency in Dusseldorf.  Nearly complete is The Hyatt at Capital Centre, a 189-room property occupying levels 18 to 32 of the 525ft Capital Gate building overlooking a marina.  It is linked to the new Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Capital Centre, and the artwork is not faulty, the building actually leans.  Vertigo sufferers should not apply for positions. www.hyatt.com

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Lufthansa takes first A380

LUFTHANSA (LH) has received its first Airbus A380, named "Frankfurt am Main", and promptly announced that the aircraft will fly the German national team to the World Cup on 4 June.  The LH A380 is configured with eight First Class cabins on the upper deck and 98 Business Class.  The entire lower deck is given over to 420 economy seats, giving a total of 525.  Following its trip to South Africa the new Lufthansa flagship will be on display during the opening day of the ILA Berlin Air Show at Berlin-Schönefeld on 8 June.  The A380 will enter scheduled service with Lufthansa on 11 June on the Frankfurt – Tokyo route.  By this autumn LH will have taken delivery of four A380s, which will also be operated on routes to Beijing and Johannesburg. www.lufthansa.com

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Royal Jordanian to Malaysia

ROYAL JORDANIAN (RJ), a member of oneworld, will resume its regular flights to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on 2 June, after a seven-year suspension.  RJ President/CEO Hussein Dabbas pointed out that the decision to reconnect Jordan and Malaysia came in the light of the Malaysian economic revival and the growth of its commercial activity and tourism.  Malaysia is considered a gateway to Southeast Asia, particularly in the economic field.  Dabbas also said that Jordan constitutes a gateway for Malaysian passengers travelling to the holy places in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.  The services will operate three times per week with two-class Airbus A330 aircraft. www.rj.com

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West London gains historic serviced residency

CITADINES LONDON SOUTH KENSINGTON is the official name of a brand new serviced residency with a Grade I-listed façade which opens in early June.  The property has 92 studios and one-bedroom duplex apartments having been intelligently restyled to present a comfortable living space.  Situated on the corners of Gloucester Road and Elvaston Place, the property is in walking distance of famous London landmarks including the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace, Hyde Park and the Victoria & Albert Museum.  Sharing a striking entrance and reception area every studio and apartment has a flat-screen TV offering internet access, an iPod docking station, complimentary wi-fi and broadband.  Pricing per unit starts at £137 for a two-person studio and the four-guest duplexes from £207 per night.  There is parking and a 24-hour laundry. www.citadines.com

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CRUISE NEWS MAY 2010 (Azura)

Last week the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) unveiled the 2009 cruise figures at an unusual but very appropriate venue, the National Geographical Shop in London’s Regent Street.  Cruise passenger numbers have doubled since 2002, whilst ultra luxury trips are up 50% in 12 months.

PSA used the occasion to publish the annual Cruise Review, a very useful and well thought out document not only revealing the essential figures in terms of passengers carried, duration and port information, but also such useful items as booking methods and geographical spread.  The highlight of the evening however was a short video presentation, illustrating in a visual form what cruising is all about.  A fine selling product.

An impressive 1.53m Brits took a cruise last year with the figure expected to rise by 7% for the current 12 months.  Fourteen new ships are launching in 2010 and passenger numbers are on course to rise further still to 2m by 2014.  Whilst more people are using British ports in percentage terms, the fly cruise figures are still rising and were now 939,000 last year according to the PSA research. 

One in ten package holidays booked is now a cruise, compared with one in nearly 30 in 1997.  The sheer diversity of the cruise market means there is a holiday for virtually everyone, whether it is joining at a UK port, flying to the Caribbean, a cultural river cruise or a photographic expedition to the Fjords.

Cruise customers are loyal.  Figures from The Cruise Review show that 60% of passengers take more than one cruise a year.  Passengers are also cruising for longer, with the average length of a cruise increasing year on year from ten nights to eleven.  The quality of service, value, high standards of facilities and huge variety of activities mean that passengers keep returning to cruising.

PSA Director, William Gibbons, said: “The success of UK cruising, during one of the toughest economic periods the world has seen, can be attributed to the value and high standards of a cruise holiday.  The all-inclusive nature of cruising and exceptional standards of quality and service are the key to our continued growth, along with the huge choice of worldwide destinations and the wide range in styles of cruising.

OUR TEN STORY NEWS ROUNDUP 
(followed by a report on Azura – P&O's latest and greatest)

ARCHANGEL:  Voyages of Discovery is to introduce a new and challenging destination for June 2011 in an 18-day cruise from Harwich.  Voyage to the White Sea will see Discovery travelling to the lesser-visited Solovestky Islands, a symbol of Russia’s spiritual past, historic Trondheim, Norway’s ‘coronation city’, Archangel; where revolution, war and communism have all left indelible marks and Murmansk, terminus for the most perilous and infamous of the World War II Allied convoys.  On route, passengers will witness the spectacular view of the midnight sun from the North Cape accompanied by experts including Mark Baldwin from Bletchley Park, who will be bringing one of the few original working 1944 Enigma machines on board.  The guest speakers also include a celebrated historian and natural scientist who will unlock the mysteries of wartime espionage, the legacy of revolution and the Soviet Union.  www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk

BRAZIL: Royal Caribbean International is the latest cruise line to appreciate the growing Brazilian market making an announcement that Mariner of the Seas will offer a short Brazil season beginning 15 February, 2011.  The Finish-built 133,000 ton superliner will operate four roundtrip sailings from Sao Paulo (Santos) on a six-night itinerary – the 5 March 2011 voyage coinciding with Brazil’s carnival celebrations – featuring a call at Rio de Janeiro and an overnight at Salvador de Bahia.  She will then depart for Rome on 13 March for a 14-night transatlantic itinerary via the Canary Islands to be counted among 11 record-setting Royal Caribbean ships to ply European waters in 2011.  www.royalcaribbean.com

CRUISING ON THE THAMES:  Magna Carta Steamship Company is the splendid name of a operator offering a series of four- and seven-day cruises on the River Thames.  Spirit of Chartwell, was rebuilt completely in 2009 and features 18 guest cabins on two decks.  All are outward-facing, air-conditioned and en-suite, with satellite TV.  Other onboard facilities include a one-sitting restaurant, lounge and internet station.  Using the ship as a base,  guests will visit some of the most interesting landmarks on the Thames as Spirit of Chartwell typically cruises from Tower Bridge, past Westminster, Hampton Court, Runnymede, Windsor, and as far as Marlow.  The package is fully very comprehensive of landside tours and the services of expert lecturers.  www.magnacarta.bz

LE BOREAL:  Compagnie du Ponant has introduced its fourth luxury boutique cruise yacht, Le Boreal, 10,000 tons of what it calls “a perfect balance between chic and casual”.  Designed for a maximum of 260 guests and offering 132 cabins (of which all but seven have balconies) the ship’s maiden season takes in the Mediterranean, Iceland, a visit to Southampton (see above) and also St Petersburg in a series of mainly seven-night cruises visiting many smaller ports.  She crosses the South Atlantic to Rio in November.  From Montevideo, Le Boreal departs south on a 16-day voyage to South Georgia and Antarctica completing at Ushuaia (Argentina).  Le Boreal is a all-inclusive ship with port charge, gratuities, and shore excursions included in the price of the holiday. www.ponant.com

LONDON:  Seabourn Sojourn, a true six-star ship, will make a 48-hour stopover at Greenwich 4-5 June.  It is possibly (and marginally) the largest ship ever to find its way this far up the Thames and is the second of Yachts of Seabourn’s new three Odyssey class super luxury vessels.  Godmother will be Twiggy, the London-born Hollywood star and model.  For the summer season the ship will initially make a series of 14-day cruises out of Dover, before basing itself at Copenhagen for most of July, August and part of September.  Lisbon is its base for the European autumn, before crossing the Atlantic in early November for its first ever Caribbean winter schedule out of Ft Lauderdale. www.seabourn.com

NEW SHIPS:  Princess has confirmed a contract for two new 141,000 ton ships from the Fincantieri yard in Italy for spring 2013 and spring 2014.  As yet unnamed ships will be the largest in the Princess Cruises fleet.  Princess owner the Carnival Group says that it does not intent to build any larger ships.  The ships’ design will be evolutionary, in keeping with the themes of the line’s newest vessels, but with some new features and innovations.  For example, all outside cabins will feature balconies, bringing the percentage of balconies on the ships to 80% of all staterooms. www.princess.com

PORTUGAL:  Amawaterways, which some may recall as both AMA and Amadeus, is promoting one of Europe’s lesser known waterways, the wonderfully scenic Douro River Valley in Portugal.  It is one of Europe’s most pure and unspoiled rivers decorated with deep cleft gorges, lush vineyards, and sleepy villages.  Portugal has not been that favoured with European largesse, and to some extent it shows.  The cruise enters Spain to visit Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located at the centre of the Castilla y León region before returning to Portugal to visit the ancient and picturesque city of Lamego.  With 65 staterooms MS Amadouro unusually offers a Sun Deck with a bar, swimming pool and two Jacuzzis. www.amawaterways.com

SHOWTIME: P & O has revealed its biggest ever programme of star speakers on board its seven-strong cruise ship fleet during the ex-Southampton season.  At a quick count some 40 stars of the stage, screen, TV and sport have been recruited to offer a varied and intriguing line-up.  New for P&O are TV presenter, Nick Owen; ex-Bath & England rugby union star, Gareth Chilcott; actress, Shirley Anne Field and boxing legend, Sir Henry Cooper.  Passenger favourites on board include England World Cup winner Jack Charlton, retired MPs Edwina Curry and Martin Bell, plus actress Sue Holderness, all of whom will be sharing their stories and experiences. www.pocruises.com

SINGLE CABIN:  Star Clippers has dropped its normal 50% supplement for single cabin occupancy for its summer 2010 Mediterranean sailings.  This new policy is ideal for solo travellers, and also for those who want to travel with a friend/companion and prefer privacy (and no snoring problems).  The offer includes itineraries that take in the Greek islands and Turkey on board both Star Clipper and Star Flyer, and Riviera cruises from the Cote d’Azur to Corsica, Sardinia and the Italian coast on Star Flyer.  Each of the three tall ships is in the Mediterranean in summer 2010 and each has a qualified sports crew on board and offers complimentary water sports that include free use of sail boards, kayaks and snorkelling equipment.  Scuba diving is also available at extra cost. www.starclippers.co.uk

SOUTHAMPTON:  PSA and ACE (Passenger Shipping Association and Association of Cruise Experts) annual UK Cruise Convention, is now looming up, easily the largest gathering of ocean going cruise liners ever to happen this side of the Atlantic.  It runs from 24 to 26 June.  A record six ships will be showcased at the event led at one end of the scale by Norwegian Epic, 150,000 tons and just over one thousand ft long, overshadowing Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boréal, tiny by comparison at 10,000 tons with a length of just 465ft.  Also on view will be Celebrity Eclipse, Cunard’s QM2, P&O Cruises’ Azura and Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess (on Wednesday 23 June).  The Convention includes a panel debate with Kathryn Beadle, Sales and Marketing Director of Hurtigruten; Giles Hawke, Sales and Customer Services Director, Complete Cruise Solution; Carol Marlow, Managing Director P&O Cruises; Trudy Redfern, Senior Vice President, Silversea; Jo Rzymowska, Associate Vice President, Royal Caribbean; David Selby, Head of Cruise, Thomson & Island Cruises; and Peter Shanks, President and Managing Director, Cunard. www.cruiseexperts.org

 

AZURA…..You’ll love it

        
Last month P&O Azura, the Carnival Group’s latest and greatest, made her maiden voyage from Southampton via Palma, Katakolon (for Ancient Olympia), Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice, Korcula and Gibraltar, in 16 days.  John Chatterley reports.

Everyone has a different idea of what luxury means to them.  An offering of contemporary and indulgent ambience.  Impressive service.  Outstanding levels of comfort.  Fine dining with elegant formal evenings.

Since our first voyage many years ago, the cruising experience has improved immensely, providing many new features but still maintaining the old and well loved traditions, and P&O’s newest fleet addition Azura is no exception.  115,000 tons, 3,100 passengers, 1,226 crew and 19 decks.  She is the sister ship of the Ventura and was named by Darcy Bussel at a no expenses spared ceremony in Southampton on 10 April, with P&O management, celebrities, travel agents, and gold tier cruisers experiencing a spectacular overnight stay onboard.

Our Azura story started in April 2008; we had never experienced a maiden cruise and therefore made our booking a year in advance.  You can then enjoy the choice of cabins, 1st or 2nd sitting for dinner and extras that may be offered such as free parking and on board credit.

Why a maiden voyage?

Many regular cruisers tend to stay clear of maidens as they would rather cruise later in the inaugural season, when any teething problems have been corrected but this inaugural seemed devoid of any major problems and was a very memorable experience.  Let’s face it P&O have been doing them for 160 years.

Our accommodation was excellent, a balcony cabin on B deck.  Azura offers a range of state rooms from spacious suites, deluxe balcony, balcony, outside and inside cabins, together with a number of state rooms suitable for disabled passengers.  She is the first ship in the fleet to have single cabins.

On our tour of this vast ship, built in Fincantieri (Italy) we discovered an array of new and innovative ideas – Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar’s fine dining venue Sindhu and the Glass House, a restaurant and wine venue with fine wines selected by expert and extrovert Olly Smith.

Azura has three main restaurants (Peninsular, Oriental and Meridian) offering four-course silver service dining with restaurant Seventeen providing a venue for that special occasion.

The casual style Venezia and Verona buffet for breakfast and lunch is also available in the evening when the Verona becomes a Trattoria restaurant and the Venezia is a themed buffet area.  Food is also available from the Poolside Grill and Pizzeria between 13:00 and 19:00.

Children are catered for

Children will be in their element on board.  The Sea Bed (for toddlers), the Beach Hut (2-4 year olds), Frontiers (5-8), the Hub (9-12) and Apartment 16 (13-17).

The superb two-tier Playhouse Theatre seats 800 with three performances each evening.  The players work hard.  Amazingly in times gone by Broadway offered up to five shows per day.  Get to the theatre early.  It does fill up!

For those passengers who like to be pampered you will be surprised with the expansive Spa Retreat and fitness areas at the front of the ship.

The ship’s pub is Brodie’s, named after Brodie McGhie Willcox (1786-1862), the co-founder of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) and a Liberal Member of Parliament.  This popular area was well used and at times very crowded with passengers watching live sports, playing pool or playing the machines, roulette, black jack or poker in the adjoining casino.

Manhattan and Malabar were well utilized areas for lectures, classical recitals, dancing and general music venues.

The Atrium

The Atrium is the hub, around which are numerous shops, the library and internet centre, reception, coffee lounge, cruise sales with the central floor area for dance classes and dancing.  I feel that this area is far too “busy”, selecting a book in the library to the music of the line dancing class, (two to the right, two to the left then clap your hands!) or maybe wishing to have a quiet moment having a coffee.

If you venture to the photo gallery or the walk through art gallery, but definitely the shop area, you become a P&O merchandising opportunity with trays of trinkets and sale items.  Watch the wife.  You only have to offer your cruise card . It does not seem so cash draining!

The cinematic experience on Azura is special, a large outside screen suspended above one of the three pools on the ship.  Bars there are a plenty.

The evening entertainment on board was wide and varied, trying to cater for all tastes.  An array of stars were lined up for the cruise including Ronnie Corbett, Brian Conley, Kev Orkian, Clair Sweeny, Adrian Walsh, Westenders, John Martin, Gary Wilmot and Mike Alexandra.  Owing to problems with flights due to the dust cloud from the Icelandic volcano, Russell Watson and Donald Sinden were unable to join the ship.

The shows from the Headliners Theatre Company was excellent, a talented group of multi-talented singers, actors and dancers who performed three shows; Destination Music, Blame it on the Boogie and When Swing was King.  The versatile team of 14 included Valerie Murzak, a speciality artiste who amazed audiences with her fantastic acrobatic skills.

Azura is a worthy edition to the P&O fleet, but why the daft name?  Canberra, Orcades or even Southern Cross.  P&O is proud of its history.  Flaunt it.

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COMMENT: Airport problems too

Passenger figures published by the Airports Council International (ACI) for 2009 make for fascinating reading and reflect very much on how the world is doing economically. www.airports.org

Atlanta remains the globe’s busiest airport in terms of throughput (88m – down 2.26%) and Heathrow climbs to second place (66m – down 1.5%) with Beijing coming from a long way back to take third (65m – plus 6.7%) and the one time, and for many years, leader Chicago in fourth position (64m – down 7.1% from the previous year.

The major European airports did not do well in 2009, Paris CDG declining 4.9% (58m), and Amsterdam and Frankfurt losing about the same in percentage terms with throughputs of 44m and 51m respectively. 

Besides Beijing the other airport with outstanding growth (9.2%) was Dubai, essentially a connecting hub, with 41m passengers.  The Bangkok number was much the same and with positive growth (4.9%) but 2010 is likely to be poor due to unrest in Thailand. 

The weakness of the US in economy/airline terms can easily be demonstrated with the major airports all losing passengers, Atlanta and Chicago are already mentioned but Los Angeles (56m – 5%), Dallas Fort Worth (56m – 1.9%), Denver (50m – 2.1%) and New York JFK (50m – 4%) all down.

It is a pity that ACI does not publish the figures for connecting traffic which would also make for interesting analysis.  Perhaps for next year?

On a positive note the statistics show the passenger load per aircraft, and here it is not surprising to learn that Hong Kong leads (261), followed by Tokyo Narita (260) and Dubai (258), all operationally very similar, widebodies the mainstay.  With the opening of a fourth runway later this year, and the transfer of some international flights from Narita, Haneda (255) could be the big winner in 2011.  

Heathrow had an average of 198 passengers per aircraft, easily the best in Europe.  Growth in this aspect of operations could push up its throughput figures by as much as 25%.  The trade off is the dropping of narrow bodied regional routes, and the consequences.

Finally one must look at the dominance of carriers at particular airports (including owned affiliates) and the competition aspects.  Delta has 41% of Atlanta, British Airways 43% of Heathrow, Air France 51% at CDG, Lufthansa 60% of Frankfurt, KLM 53% of Amsterdam and Emirates 50% at Dubai.

For most airports 2009 was a difficult year.  To date 2010 looks like being even more problematic.

MALCOLM GINSBERG
Editor in Chief

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American Airlines new Heathrow lounge

AMERICAN AIRLINES has completed the renovations to both the Admirals Club and Flagship Lounges at Heathrow Airport.  Located airside in T3 (through the commercial area), it offers state-of-the-art facilities.  American says it is their biggest ever lounge renovation, emphasising the importance of the London routes.  The key elements include improved multi-functional business centre incorporating brand-new HP personal computers with complimentary high-speed internet access, PC data ports, telephones, printers, copiers and fax service.  “Innovative” is a global printing solution, powered by PrinterOn, that allows guests to submit print jobs via e-mail or webpage uploads from any location and retrieve them in the lounge.  Spa-like facilities are provided and there is enhanced food and beverage offering.  Children are catered for with their own amenities and both UK and US power outputs are provided. www.aa.com

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Disabled access improvement for airlines

AIRCRAFT INTERIORS EXPO, the very much trade airline cabin services show at Hanover last week, highlighted an award for pioneering seat concept, which is aimed at improving aeroplane travel for disabled passengers.  Esther Gläsker (26), who comes from Hanover, designed the seat last year as part of her degree course.  The concept, called the Com.pax system, means a disabled passenger can be wheeled in the seat from the departures hall, through security and onto the aircraft where it locks into place.  This is in marked contrast to the cumbersome current system which sees disabled travellers being transferred from their own wheelchair into an airport wheelchair, then at the gate into a narrow aisle and finally helped into a traditional airline seat.  Esther hopes her win could interest an interiors seating company to invest in the development needed to bring the concept to a prototype stage. www.aircraftinteriorsexpo.com

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Football in the air

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE soccer enthusiasts, travelling, will be pleased to learn that IMG Media, the sports promotion company, will exclusively distribute all programming to the InFlight and InShip markets for the next three seasons.  The agreement, which is effective immediately, will include all 380 matches, a selection of highlight programming, as well as live coverage of matches to the InShip market.  It has already in place an agreement to cover the FIFA World Cup.  IMG Sports Media will also be responsible for producing a 24-hour content service offering seven days a week coverage. www.imgworld.com

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Jet gains domestic premium class

JET AIRWAYS all-economy service, Jet Airways Konnect, has launched the 'Konnect Select' premium cabin on key Indian domestic routes.  The new cabin is aimed at passengers who desire more flexibility and comfort.  Konnect Select will offer a superior in-flight product at affordable prices, as well as additional on-ground, in-flight and Jet Privilege frequent flyer benefits.  The service will be ideal for business people as well as international travellers looking for a little more luxury on their regional flights.  Key in-flight features will include wider and more comfortable seats with a 40-inch seat pitch (similar to Jet Airways' Premiere Class seats), in a front cabin separated from the all-economy cabin by a divider offering enhanced privacy on the Boeing 737 flights.  The service also includes complimentary reading material, a welcome drink, and hot meals. www.jetairwayskonnect.com

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Polish air disaster

RUSSIAN INVESTIGATORS have confirmed that others in addition to the operating crew were in cockpit of the TU 154 which crashed at Smolensk on 10 April killing all on board including Poland's President Lech Kaczynski.  Russian officials said they had identified at least one person who was not a crew member as the plane descended in thick fog towards the airport and added that there was evidence that another passenger – or possibly passengers – was also present.  Indications are that Kaczynski may have personally contributed to the accident by insisting the pilots land, determined as he was to reach Smolensk to attend a memorial service on the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

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Skyteam adds

TAROM AND VIETNAM AIRLINES are on track to become full SkyTeam members in June.  In order to be accepted into the nine-member “club” (plus two associates) they have been working through over 100 requirements, ranging from technical communication links, recognition of Frequent Flyer Programmes, lounge access and priority baggage handling.  At the moment both airlines are audited and need to demonstrate fulfilment and understanding of the requirements to deliver the SkyTeam customer service standards.  Both airlines are well on track to pass the audit successfully.  After the SkyTeam Governing Board has officially approved their membership, both airlines will celebrate with a joining ceremony.  Vietnam Airlines will officially join SkyTeam on 10 June in Hanoi, while TAROM’s entry into the alliance is scheduled on 25 June in Bucharest. www.skyteam.com

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Willie Walsh to speak at Business Travel Market

BUSINESS TRAVEL MARKET (BTM), which takes place at London’s Excel on 16-17 June has confirmed British Airways’ CEO Willie Walsh as the keynote speaker on the second day.  Mr Walsh, who has led British Airways for the past six years, will be focusing on the post-recession landscape for business travel buyers and suppliers but will also have a requirement to elucidate on what has been a very difficult few months for the national airline.  Clearly he will be selling BA to what is a vital group, the business travel customer.  Willie Walsh’s discourse headlines a programme featuring over 90 speakers across 20 sessions. www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk

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HAPPY TALK: That pitch!

If you have heard it before please look forward to next weeks HAPPY TALK.  And also with deference to South Africa.

 

 

Wembley.  Why is the pitch so poor?  So that England could get practice for the World Cup finals!

 

Or

 

The sandy pitch gave Blackpool an advantage!

 

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The British Airways cabin union strike has started and will last for five days with further similar action planned for 30 May and 5 June.  This is in spite of BA boss Willie Walsh saying yesterday (Sunday) that he was hopeful the walkout could be averted.  Talking on TV Mr Walsh made an emphatic point that the Unite joint leader Derek Simpson was being extremely rude using his Blackberry to relate publicly all that was going on at a private ACAS meeting between the two sides.  On Saturday talks ended following an impromptu demonstration by left wing protesters which joint union boss Tony Woodley described as “totally unhelpful”.

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ANA flies the Dreamliner

ALL NIPPON AIRLINES, lead customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, has taken a major step forward with its planned introduction of the aircraft in service “sometime in the fourth quarter 2010”.  For the first time a Japanese crew has been in command of a 787, which made its maiden lift off last December.  Flying the aircraft were ANA pilots Capt Masayuki Ishii, Director of 787 Pre-operations Planning, and Capt Masami Tsukamoto, Manager of 787 Pre-operations.  Also on board were Capt Mike Carriker, Boeing 787 Chief Test Pilot, Capt Christine Walsh and Scott Fancher, Vice President and General Manager of the 787 Programme, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.  Both the pilots are 777 rated.  Once the programme is under way conversion training for line crew is expected to take as few as five days. www.boeing.com/commercial

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Dresden gets London connection

DRESDEN is now connected to London with the introduction of a service between the capital German federal state of Saxony and Heathrow.  Lufthansa (LH) has introduced a daily flight which is operated by an Airbus A319 of sister company bmi in a two-class layout.  Flight time is around two hours, the cabin crew supplied by LH. www.dresden-airport.de

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Haneda Airport expansion date

JAPAN’S Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has announced that international scheduled flights can begin operating from Haneda Airport, a short metro ride from downtown Tokyo, from 31 October 2010, virtually coinciding with the opening of a fourth runway and new international passenger terminal.  International flights ceased with the opening of Narita in 1978, a very limited reintroduction taking place in recent years.  Japan Airlines plans to start flying from Haneda to San Francisco, Honolulu, Paris, Bangkok and Taipei at that time. On the same day the current scheduled-charter flights to Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul and Shanghai will be upgraded to full scheduled services.  It will codeshare Haneda – JFK with American Airlines. See AERBT 17 May 2010 Tokyo – US slots given.

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London introduces major Overground train link

LONDON’S OVERGROUND £1bn East London line route is operational from today (Monday 24 May) with a virtual full service.  The new route is the largest piece of transport infrastructure for London since the opening of the Jubilee line extension in 1999.  Customers benefit from walk through air-conditioned trains, four newly built stations and 14 refurbished stations with upgraded CCTV, passenger information systems and lighting with staff on duty at all times while trains are running.  It provides up to 12 trains an hour to parts of London traditionally poorly served by rail services and is a key component of the 2012 Olympic Games transport plans.  The route runs from Dalston Junction in the north to New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon in the south.  By next spring it will connect in the north with the existing London Overground network at Highbury & Islington, and in 2012 Clapham Junction. www.tfl.gov.uk/overground

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Radisson Royal Hotel, Moscow

REZIDOR HOTEL GROUP has finally opened its new flagship in the Russian capital.  Formerly known as the Hotel Ukraina, and one of Stalin’s legendary “Seven Sisters” skyscrapers, the Radisson Royal now features 506 guest rooms plus 38 serviced apartments.  It is located near the centre of the city centre on a bend of the Moskva River at the junction of Kutuzovsky Prospect and Novy Arbat, two of the city’s most prestigious commercial thoroughfares.  Within close walking distance there are many notable locations such as the House of Government of the Russian Federation (Russian White House) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  On the first floor, the hotel features the Royal Wellness Club health and fitness centre including a 50-metre heated indoor pool, a well-equipped gym, a beauty parlour and spa area, thermal baths and massage rooms.  Business guests benefit from spacious meeting rooms and two conference and banqueting halls which can host 350 people for a cocktail reception or 150 for a gala dinner. Also see www.moscow.com

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Trains doing well (and ferries too)

THE ASSOCIATION OF TRAIN OPERATING COMPANIES (ATOC) says that a "fundamental shift" is taking place in the nation's travelling habits.  ATOC's figures show that, on the ten main domestic air routes over the last four years, total journeys by rail have risen by 31%, whilst journeys by plane have fallen by 19%.  Confirming this Virgin Trains says that it has had a 250% increase in passengers travelling between Glasgow and London in recent weeks, and a seven-fold increase in passenger numbers on its London to Holyhead route.  Ferry companies are also reporting a significant upsurge, their representative body the Passenger Shipping Association saying that more than 300,000 additional travellers were carried in April this year compared with the same month in 2009. www.atoc.org www.discover-cruises.co.uk

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ON TOUR: Almaty

Terry Spruce reports

Almaty (previously Alma Ata) is 7.5 flying hours from London, about the same as New York, but to the east.  Until 1997, it was the capital of Kazakhstan when Astana was designated as the new first city.  Almaty is in the mountains to the south of a country that stretches from the Caspian Sea to China and is subject to the occasional earthquake.  It has huge reserves of oil.

During the Soviet era, countless thousands were moved to Kazakhstan by force, so today you can find people with many different Soviet national origins.  After independence numerous moved back to their newly independent countries.  However there is still great diversity, including Estonian, Kazak, Korean, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian Turkmen and Uzbek.

To say the country is vast is an under statement, it is about the same size as the whole of Europe, some 2,000 miles east to west and 1,000 miles north to south.  Currently about 17m people live in Kazakhstan.  The only sensible way to travel is by air, the road network outside the main cities mostly no better than dirt roads. 

Air Astana is the national carrier, operates a fleet of modern western built airlines, Fokker 50s, Airbus family and Boeing 757 and 767s.  The airline is taking delivery of more Airbus A320s starting in 2012 but will take delivery of the first of three Embraer 190 regional jets in February 2011.

Almaty is hosting the 2011 Asian Winter Games that starts in February and nearby in the mountains work is well underway to complete all the facilities needed and the two ski-jumps are easily seen from almost anywhere in the city.


Where to stay

I stayed in the 3-star Holiday Inn Almaty on Timiryazev Street.  The hotel is situated in the downtown district about 30 minutes drive from the international airport.  It has a gym, 24-hour bar, business centre and Glasshouse restaurant.  Some of the rooms overlook the impressive Tian Shan Mountains.  There is wi-fi connectivity throughout the hotel.

In the Ile Alatau National Park is the Tau House, part of the Tau Dastarkhan Family Resort and Spa, it is on the way to the Alma Arasan and to the Big Almaty Lake.  The hotel has chalet like rooms around a landscaped central courtyard within walking distance of the restaurants including the Avlabar.  You do get a completely different feel to central Almaty, it is an away from it all kind of place.  There are four main restaurants, the Avlabar, Russian, Hunting and Kazakh, so if staying for a few days you will able to sample something of each culture and food.

With such diversity there are plenty of different cuisines on offer in Almaty.  In one instance I dined in the Alasha, an Uzbek restaurant on Ospanov Street.  You arrive in what appears to be a mud brick mosque but it turns out to be a Central Asian eating house.  Later they have a troupe of dancers, who demonstrate mainly Uzbek traditional dancing that clearly has connections with Turkey.


Places of Interest

With such a whistle stop tour what can be seen is limited.  The Green Bazaar is a must.  It is one of the best markets in the city with many spices, delicacies and even locally made chocolate on offer.  Kazakhstan is one of the main Silk Road routes.  It is a very busy place with all kinds of produce being prepared, from meat, bread, fresh and dried fruits of all kinds.  There are even people of Korean origin, dressed in the Korean style serving Korean food.  They have lost their language, their forefathers moved by Stalin, who then banned the Korean language.

To get an overall view of Almaty, a visit is needed to Koktobe, a cable car that takes you to a mountain top park.  You get a panoramic view of how large it is and it will strike you how many trees and green spaces Almaty has.  There is a small children’s playground and zoo with rabbits and peacocks.  The park has two pieces of noteworthy art, an apple because Almaty is supposed to have been where the apple was discovered and a tribute statue of the Beatles.  Apple Records Ltd?

A place well worth a visit is Panfilov Park especially on a sunny day.  The park is where the students gather from many of the nearby universities.  It is the location of the Ascension Cathedral also known as Zenkov Cathedral, a brightly coloured church.  During Soviet times the church was used as a museum but is again a place of worship.

Walking from the church, there is the Avenue of Presidents, a double line of trees, planted by all the heads of state that visit the country.  This leads to the imposing war memorial dedicated to those Soviet peoples who died in the Second World War and in particular to 28 Kazakhstan soldiers who helped to drive back the Germans near Moscow.

If you really want to get away from the city then a trip in a four-wheeled car to Big Almaty Lake is the thing you must do.  Be warned you do have to put your trust in the driver as the roads are no more than rock and dirt tracks.  After more than one hour of bone-shaking hour slow driving passing workman repairing the mountain road the view of the lake and mountains at 7,500 feet is well worth it.  You never know you might see a brown bear or two.

Almaty is a very clean city, I saw no litter whatsoever on the streets with people constantly sweeping the pavements to keep them spotless.  I noticed that they like to paint the bottoms of trees with white paint to make them easier to see at night and to protect them from insects. www.kazakhstan-tourist.com www.airastana.com

Terry Spruce

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