12 JULY 2010

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Aer Arann from Manchester

SHANNON from Manchester has been introduced by Aer Arann as part of its franchise deal with Aer Lingus.  Galway, Kerry and Waterford are already served from England’s major city in the Northwest whilst the Irish national airline offers three services a day to Dublin.  As part of the new arrangements Cork joins the franchise giving the city a double daily service.  What has impressed everyone is the speed at which the undertaking has arrived.  The first Aer Arann and Aer Lingus franchise flight from Manchester to Shannon took to the skies just over four weeks after the new flights were announced. www.aerarann.com

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Boeing to debut 787 Dreamliner at Farnborough

FARNBOROUGH will mark the public debut of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and, for those with the patience to queue, the opportunity to actually see inside the all-new aircraft.  ZA003 is expected to arrive non-stop from Seattle next Sunday morning (18 July) with flight time of well under nine hours for the 4800 mile trip.  Boeing is using the aircraft to test and certify seats, galleys and associated cabin safety and comfort systems.  Commanding the aircraft will be 787 Chief Test Pilot Mike Carriker (see 787 in London story above).  For those who manage to gain access the most obvious feature will be the very large aircraft windows, a real trendsetter and probably the largest in a commercial aircraft since the Vickers Viscount.  The LED lighting will be another noticeable attribute.  The aircraft will remain on display through the Monday and until lunchtime Tuesday, when, after a possible flypast, it will rejoin the flight test programme.  To date the 787 order book stands at 855 units to around 60 customers. www.farnborough.com www.boeing.com/commercial

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easyJet launches three new winter business routes from Manchester

MANCHESTER AIRPORT will host three new easyJet routes this winter which are likely to see significant numbers of business travellers.  Flights from Manchester to Amsterdam (starts 1 November), Hamburg (26 November) and Gothenburg (10 December).  easyJet first arrived at Manchester in May 2008.and now offers a total of 22 routes from the city. Airbus A320 150-seat aircraft are used for all services. www.easyjet.com

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London site for Concorde?

CONCORDE could be making an appearance in London, sadly not as a flyer, but as an added attraction to the rapidly growing South Bank leisure area and a companion to the Millennium Wheel, which originally was sponsored by British Airways.  The last remaining BA Concorde G-BOAB (serial no 208) is currently “resting” at Heathrow waiting to find a permanent UK home.  Initially planned to be a gate guardian at Terminal 5 it is presently open to offers as a loan.  The Thames site could prove ideal, a promotional item not only for British Airways but also Brooklands, the home of the first production Concorde, the only Concorde simulator in existence, and also the plastic Concorde that used to stand on the entranceway to the Heathrow central area.  A decision regarding the aircraft is thought to be imminent. www.brooklandsmuseum.com

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Manchester and Munich

LUFTHANSA has seen major growth in the number of passengers carried between Manchester and Munich during the first five months of 2010 despite the impact of both the volcanic ash cloud and the economic uncertainty.  The airline says that figures for May show an increase of 67.5% compared with the same month last year.  Even the disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud in March and April did not prevent the growth with passenger numbers still up by 14.6% in April and 38.5% in March.  Marianne Sammann, Lufthansa General Manager UK & Ireland, said: "We took the decision to substantially increase capacity on our flights between Manchester and Munich and our confidence in the route has paid off.  The figures continue to show that people wanting to travel the world from the North West are looking for alternatives to the congested London airports.  More than 60% of our passengers from Manchester are taking advantage of the quick and easy 35-minute onward connection time Lufthansa offers through Munich.” www.lufthansa.com

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Studio M opens in Singapore

MILLENNIUM & COPTHORNE’S newest hotel concept, Studio M, has opened in Singapore, in the bustling Robertson Quay vicinity, one of the city’s busiest areas.  The key to Studio M is its loft concept, enabling the maximum amount of space to be gained out of the minimum area.  Essentially two floors, with a bed at the upper level, clients have virtually the whole area of the room for working in or relaxing.  Guests can select from different types of loft rooms.  Studio M comprises 360 rooms with four categories of Loft Rooms – Studio, Premier, Executive and Patio.  Within the hotel, guests can relax or work at the Level 2 open-air tropical deck with its 25-metre lap pool, jet pool and gym facilities.  Wi-fi is provided.  Corporate guests are encouraged to even hold their work meetings at the cabana areas on the same level amidst lush greenery and food and beverage outlets. www.studiomhotel.com

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Whitbread at Gatwick

GATWICK AIRPORT has a new Premier Inn situated in Fleming Way in the Crawley Business Quarter.  The new build property offers 204 rooms and is the sixth Whitbread/Premier Inn in the Gatwick conurbation.  Speaking at a briefing last week Chris Rogers, Group Finance Director, said that occupancy was 13% up in occupancy for the last quarter and that the transformation of Whitbread from a multi-brand hospitality operation to one focused on just two core businesses was proving most successful (its other being the Costa coffee shop chain).  Gone are most of the franchise operations including Marriott Hotels, Pizza Hut and T.G.I. Friday.  Premier Inn says it is concentrating on sites where there is an adjoining food outlet, usually a Beefeater.  Whitbread is also applying a focus on the business traveller.  The company owns the freehold of 80% of its properties, a completely different approach to some of its competitors.  easyJet’s Andrew Harrison joins Whitbread shortly as Chief Executive. www.whitbread.co.uk

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HAPPY TALK: A special collection for horses

 

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COMMENT: Willie Walsh at the Aviation Club

As he addressed members and guests of the Aviation Club at London’s Institute of Directors last week British Airways Chief Executive Willie Walsh seemingly concentrated on the fast coming together with Iberia to launch the International Aviation Group (IAG) at the end of the year.  It was IAG this and IAG that.  Mr Walsh was in sparkling form.

Asked by AERBT where the airline stood with regard to his much trumpeted emphasis on the four-runway Madrid Airport he made it clear that brand British Airways could easily expand at that airport.  

“BA would grow in future at Madrid rather than Heathrow if the UK failed to build the infrastructure needed to cope with rising demand for air transport,” he said.  He clearly still sees London as the powerhouse of the UK’s and Europe’s economy but strongly warns: “We can compete effectively for a few years, maybe ten years but 20 years from now the UK is going to be bypassed because we won’t have the infrastructure to support the demand that exists.”  He also flagged competitors and aspirants.  “British Airways will be ready to buy or merge with other airlines around the world from next year,” he emphasised.

“The ambition is truly global,” he noted once again highlighting IAG where his role will be as Chief Executive (to be replaced at BA by Keith Williams, currently BA's Chief Financial Officer).  “The intention is to be in a position to avail of opportunities if they present themselves, certainly within the first year of operation.”

It was a fascinating presentation which slowly came to the boil.  On a very hot day it was all economy seating, 11 to a table, with the guests including VJ Mallya of new oneworld member Kingfisher, the retiring Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce Sir John Rose, Sir Roger Bone of Boeing, Alex Cruz, Chief Executive of Vueling, and Patrick Shovelton, the man who negotiated the original Bermuda 2 North Atlantic airline agreement in 1977, whom, as he put it “is still not liked by Americans.”  The former civil servant is now 91 but as sharp as ever.  After rambling on a little his question was probably the best of the lunch.  “In view of problems with the share price what was BA’s views on a possible takeover bid from a Middle East investor.”  Willie was dismissive.

Mr Walsh started his speech with IAG, noting that it would have a combined fleet of over 400 aircraft and fly daily something in the order of 160,000 passengers to 200 destinations.  If the partnership with American Airlines goes ahead, and here he mentioned the existing approved anti-trust agreements concerning Air France and Delta, and Lufthansa and its US Star Alliance members, his comment was robust.   “For them to remain the only immunised alliances across the Atlantic would not be in the consumer interest.”  He would be very surprised if the AA tie-up was not approved.

No speech at this time could be without a mention of the BA cabin crew dispute.  It was not the core subject of the presentation and Mr Walsh was clearly focussing on the future, the present a (probably annoying) diversion.  “I am pleased that Unite is putting our latest offer to its members in a postal ballot,” he said.

In the time allocated it was impossible for Mr Walsh to cover all current air transport topics let alone gaze into the future.  He did mention the forthcoming massive hike in departure taxes, possible whole plane charges and the European emissions trading scheme, which are all irrevocably linked.  AERBT would like to see BA, on behalf of the whole airline industry, seek for a postponement of the November increase until this whole question can be properly sorted out.

The speech and question and answer session that followed ran for nearly 50 minutes, easily a record for the club.  Virtually nobody departed during the dialogue. 

Mr Walsh acknowledged during his discourse the statement last month by the new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond in which he recognized the UK aviation industry’s contribution, both to the national economy and people’s lives.  One would hope that Mr Hammond will be a guest of the Aviation Cub in the not too distant future.  Maybe Willie will be an attendee at that time.  What an ideal opportunity to ask a few really good questions!

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Alitalia in North Atlantic pact

THE NORTH ATLANTIC joint venture set up by the Air France-KLM Group and Delta Air Lines is being joined by Alitalia with Rome as a core hub.  Launched in April 2009, the multi-party agreement created a single, co-ordinated network for passengers who could gain maximum flexibility in their journey between Europe and the United States.  It also allowed the member airlines to share revenues and costs on these routes.  With Alitalia's addition, the joint venture represents approximately 26% of total transatlantic capacity.  The arrangement is covered by antitrust immunity granted by the US and European governments.  Unlike Skyteam, to which all the airlines belong, the joint venture is a commercial operation with profits (losses too) being taken by the participants. www.alitalia.com

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British Airways figures tumble

BRITISH AIRWAYS carried 11.1% fewer passengers in June compared with the year before, reflecting a loss of flights due to the walkout by cabin crew protesting pay and conditions and the public’s nervousness with the airline.  BA carried 2.57m passengers last month, down from the 2.93m in June 2009, while its load factor fell 2.1 percentage points to 77.5%.  BA said industrial action affected the first nine days of the month.  The series of strikes organised by the Unite union have so far cost £150m although the real figures will only be shown when the annual results are published.  Another strike ballot is under way. www.ba.com

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Hilton adds to its Dutch collection

THE HAGUE, capital of The Netherlands, is the latest addition to the global Hilton portfolio.  The new upscale hotel is set within the restored 1950's shell of the former Royal Dutch Telecom headquarters.  Hilton The Hague is the fifth Hilton hotel to open in Holland where the brand has had a presence since 1962.  The new property, prominently located in the embassy quarter of the city centre, offers 195 rooms many of which have views over the grand cityscape.  Hilton The Hague boasts ten meeting rooms including the Mesdag Ballroom, with a maximum capacity of 400 guests, and an atrium designed for pre-event functions. www1.hilton.com

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Lufthansa orders eight regional jets

BOMBARDIER has been rewarded for their faith in the CRJ900 regional jet with an order for a further eight CRJ900 100-seat jets by Lufthansa Regional.  Delivery of the new aircraft will take place in the first half 2011, bringing its fleet of the Canadian aircraft up to 47 including all the variants.  With this new order Lufthansa Regional has extended its lease on 13 Avro RJ85, the BAe 146 derivative proving to be a success story with the German airline.  Lufthansa Regional also flies 11 Embraer E series aircraft and has 30 on order with first deliveries pencilled in for 2013. www.lufthansa.com

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Prague Airport to support electric powered aircraft

WHEELTUG, which is developing new technology enabling aircraft to use on-board electric motors to taxi between terminal gates and runways, has entered into an agreement with Prague-Ruzyne International Airport to optimise the system.  The WheelTug kit is projected to reduce aircraft taxi-mode fuel consumption and CO2 emissions both by 66%, and to reduce hydrocarbon emissions by 75% per flight cycle.  "The team of Prague Airport Consulting will also be working with WheelTug to adapt existing operating procedures, checklists, and operating regulations to achieve maximum benefit from WheelTug systems at Prague and at other airports," said Jiri Pos, Executive Director of Aviation at the airport.  Showing at Farnborough this year (Hall 2, Stand C3) initially WheelTug is being developed for the Boeing 737NG aircraft family, and is expected to receive certification by early 2012. www.wheeltug.com

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Travelodge on your bike

BORIS JOHNSON, Mayor of London, did not arrive for the opening of the new Waterloo Travelodge on bike but he was keen to endorse two-wheeled human powered transport.  As part of its promotion of its latest property the hotel company is offering an exclusive complementary 'Triplet London sight-seeing tour'.  This service allows two customers and the tour guide to cycle around London visiting the capital's famous landmarks.  In addition to this facility Travelodge is also trialling a cycle service where customers can hire a ‘Go Cycle’ – claimed to be the world’s lightest electric bike.  Travelodge says that the UK market will continue to grow in spite of the less than optimistic economic outlook.  It is claimed that 60% of the UK’s population has never stayed in a hotel. www.travelodge.co.uk

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ON TOUR: Around the World with Shangri-La

What does the term Shangri-La mean to the average business traveller?  It probably equates to a top grade 5-star hotel group mostly to be found in the Far East with a reputation for impeccable service and cuisine of the highest quality.  In times to come it might also signify The Shard, London Bridge, when completed in 2013 the tallest building in the European Union.  The Shard will also be the home of the London Shangri-La.

In a business where the title usually stems from the original founder (Marriott and Kempinski come to mind), or by virtue of what is offered, typically Holiday Inn, Travel Lodge and Premier Inn, the name seems out of kilter.

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the original 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton.  It is a sort of earthly paradise, a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world.

For US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hilton’s book held a particular resonance and Camp David, now the weekend retreat for the American leader, was originally called Shangri-La.  It was in his honour that the US Navy commissioned one of its fleet carriers, USS Shangri-La, in 1944.

Fast forward to 1970 and a new hotel group is about to be born.  The choice of the right name was vital with aspirations to appeal to both a Far East and Western business market.  The title Shangri-La epitomised the original investor’s dream, as near as you can come to an earthly (hotel) paradise.

Without the hotels Shangri-La may have been forgotten.  The original founder Robert Kouk (still the Chairman and now 86) insisted that a copy of Paradise Lost be put in every room.  That is still the case.

In 1971 the first property opened in Singapore.  Today it still has 15 acres of landscaped gardens, but now consists of 750 guest rooms, 127 serviced apartments and 55 luxurious condominium units.  Its is the group’s flagship hotel, one of 66 throughout Asia Pacific, North America and the Middle East, representing a rooms’ inventory of over 30,000.  In addition, new properties are under development in Austria, Canada, mainland China, France, India, Macau, Philippines, Qatar, Seychelles, Turkey and The Shard in the United Kingdom.

Your Editor in Chief recently took a trip which encompassed Oman, Thailand and then by cruise liner to Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taipei, Okinawa, and finally Shanghai and Beijing, both in China.  He booked in at certain Shangri-La’s along the route, until it became a passion.  Readers might like to avoid the mistake he made.  You should know that the prestige Shangri-La in Beijing is not called Shangri-La at all, but China World.  Make sure you give the taxi driver the right address (in Mandarin).

Oman is not part of the UAE but in its own quiet way is just as successful.  If you have business in the capital Muscat, or thinking of somewhere different for a quiet break, or not that keen on a 15-hour fight to the Far East and need a rest halfway, try the Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, 30 minutes from the international airport and 15 minutes from Muscat itself.

Nestling in the bay of Al Jissah it is in a dramatic desert setting of rugged mountains and inviting beaches.  Essentially the resort is three adjoining hotels. 

Fit for a king (and some have stayed) Al Husn – The Castle is 5-star luxury.  You sign in within your suite.  Not for guests staying here the misery of standing in a queue whilst a harassed receptionist takes details.  Al Bandar – The Town is mid-range deluxe.  Al Waha – The Oasis is a family hotel but still in layout and room quality outstanding. 

All the facilities are open to everyone and you can eat in one of seven restaurants.  Essentially it is a small self-contained resort with the empathises on water sports including fine sandy beaches, a large swimming complex, tennis courts, an open air amphitheatre, Omani heritage village and the inevitable souk. 

Bangkok’s Shangri-La sits on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, with its own jetty and ferry, and has not been involved in the troubles that have befallen the city in recent times.  It is on the main road from the airport and adjoins the Saphan Taskin Skytrain station, the city’s elevated metro system and with it access to most of Bangkok.  Readers should note that whilst the line to the new international airport is structurally complete disputes with the contractor mean that at the time of writing is was still not open.

The hotel is located in the central district of Silom, is within easy walking distance of a whole variety of shopping areas.  It also has a busy night life.  Taxis are no problems and cheap.  The outside swimming pool and adjoining restaurant area is by the river and the hotel has two floodlit tennis courts and also a pair of squash courts.  Swimming.  There are 800 rooms in two distinctive wings, Thai, Italian, Cantonese and International restaurants. The Grand Ballroom can hold 1,600 theatre-style. 

Hong Kong has two Shangri-La’s, one towering above the Pacific Place shopping complex on the Island and dating from 1991, and the other on the harbour front in Kowloon and ten years older.  They are both very much Shangri-La’s but very different from each other.

The Island property is 56 stories high, has 565 guest rooms and offers amazing views from the rooftop Restaurant Petrus (French cuisine).  It also has the world's largest Chinese silk painting, 'The Great Motherland of China' which can be found in the hotel Atrium between the 41st and 56th floors.  There is an outdoor pool and on a more mundane note the superb accommodation offers electrically controlled curtains from the bed.  No need to jump up in the morning.  Just buttons to press for natural light and the TV.

On the bustling Chinese side of Hong Kong the property is even larger with 688 rooms located over seven floors.  It is ideal for connection to mainland China and if it is superb Italian food that you enjoy Angelini’s Restaurant offers an amazing view of the Island skyline with timing important in order to catch the nightly laser show.  On the top floor is the executive Horizon Club, ideal for a quiet breakfast.  Here the swimming pool is indoors.

Beijing’s flagship Shangri-La is called China World.  There are three Shangri-La’s in Beijing plus two 4-star Traders.  The China World property dates from 1990 and has a fine location on Jiangoumenwai Avenue which leads directly to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  There is a Metro station opposite the hotel and with it easy (but crowded) access to the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Olympic Park.  The train also goes to the new international airport which still goes under the old IATA code of PEK.  Taxis are very cheap and Beijing is no longer a city dominated by bicycles.  Watch out for the driver who has just bought his first car, and is now learning to drive!

If you choose to arrive on Sunday afternoon do not be surprised to find a full orchestra welcoming you.  The Chinese do everything in style and tea with music is part of the tradition.  Weekdays there is a soloist at the grand piano, of the highest concert standard.  And with labour cheap you will not have to press the button for the elevator.  A lift door-person is always available.

China World is arguably the flagship hotel for Shangri-La for the whole of China.  Nothing has been spared in terms of luxury and the whole 716-room property is sheer class.  Everyone is treated the same and it is very easy to wander past a famous politician or star of stage and screen, who just like yourself, is marvelling at the classical drapes, chandeliers and artwork, which abound.  For dining there is a choice of Cantonese, Japanese and Aria, modern European with a jazz band for later on in the evening. 

The magnificent Fitness Centre at China World Hotel features a heated indoor swimming pool and a state-of-the-art gymnasium equipped with spacious exercise studios and the latest cardio-fitness machines.  The squash and indoor tennis courts are claimed to be some of the finest in Beijing, and there are steam rooms and Jacuzzis.  Guests may indulge in traditional Chinese massage or try out the city's only Oxygen Room.

And for the future new Shangri-La’s are planned for Paris December 2010, Vienna 2011, Istanbul and Toronto 2012, and in 2013 London and Moscow.  There are 37 Shangri-La’s in the development stage in mainland China.

THE SHARD ‘The Tower of Glass’, in London is likely to be the most outstanding of all Shangri-La’s and due to open in the early part of 2013, perhaps a hotel version of James Hilton’s Utopia.  Whilst of only 200 sumptuous rooms, the EU’s tallest building, it will dominate the London Bridge area on the south side of the Thames, overlooking City Hall, home of the Mayor of London, and HMS Belfast.  On the other side of the river is the Tower of London and The Gherkin.  It will include shops, offices, restaurants, residential accommodations and public viewing galleries offering sweeping views of the capital.  At 72 floors it will be seen from everywhere.  

The Shard Shangri-La will occupy floors 34 to 52 of the building accessed by a dedicated entrance at street level.  Details have yet to be released but we do know it will be Asian themed and will include a Chi Spa, Shangri-La’s trademark treatment and massage concept.  It is an outstanding prospect.

www.shangri-la.com

 

 

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787 in London for those that cannot make Farnborough

LONDON’S Science Museum is playing host to a remarkable film in its IMAX theatre, part of a season of flight-themed series of events which are taking place during the school holidays.  Called “Legends of Flight 3D” the 45-minute long production takes you through 100 years of aviation culminating with the design, development and maiden take-off of the Boeing 787.  Warts and all in three-dimension.  Or at least most of them.  Heavily featured is the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, which 787 Chief Test Pilot Mike Carriker rates as the greatest of them all.  Suitable for anyone with an interest in flying. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk

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Biggin Hill gains important new operator

PREMIAIR, the executive helicopter, jet charter and aircraft engineering company, has acquired the Gold Group International operation at Biggin Hill Airport.  The deal also involves the management of a fleet of LearJet private jets.  Biggin Hill is in Kent and to the south east of London, close by the M25 motorway.  The facility joins PremiAir’s two other aircraft maintenance operations at Blackbushe and Oxford Airports.  This announcement comes at the same time that PremiAir is about to introduce, in conjunction with sister company Von Essen, the completely rebuilt London Heliport at Battersea and its adjoining Verta hotel. www.premiair.co.uk

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Cairo gets more choices out of New York

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES is to introduce non-stop flights between New York and Cairo from next May.  The airline will, once again, operate from Newark rather than JFK leaving the alternative airport to Delta and Star Alliance partner Egyptair. It will be the 30th city in the carrier’s transatlantic route network.  By the time the route is introduced Continental would have merged with United Airlines.  Continental will operate the flight with a Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, seating 50 customers in BusinessFirst with flat-bed seats and 226 customers in Economy Class.  Flying time eastbound will be approximately 10hrs 25mins, and westbound 12hrs 10mins.  The plan is to operate the route on a daily basis during peak summer travel season, with five- and four-times-weekly service during certain periods in the first year of operation. www.continental.com

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Iberia pushes for Central America

CENTRAL AMERICA is being focussed upon by Iberia from the United Kingdom, with Madrid as the jumping off point as an alternative to Miami and with that airport’s problems associated with the US security, customs and immigration authorities.  On 1 October the Spanish airline will make San Salvador its fourth direct Central American destination, while flights between Madrid and Panama City, which are now combined with those to Guatemala, will become non-stop, saving passengers connecting from London more than three hours’ flight time.  Iberia will use 254-seat Airbus A-340/300 for the Panama and San Salvador routes.  The 36-seat Business Plus section has recently been upgraded, and passengers can now enjoy 6’ 7” flat-beds. www.iberia.com

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Malaria advice for the travellers

SUPERDRUG, who describe themselves as a beauty and health retailer, has come up with free advice to customers travelling abroad to avoid malaria in the light of media coverage this week.  At any of the company’s 19 stores that offer a travel clinic staff nurses will be available to offer free travel advice to worried travellers, as well as offering a full range of travel vaccinations.  The nurses also assess the impact of any pre-existing chronic medical conditions on a customer’s vaccine requirements and advise accordingly.  The company says that today people are travelling more frequently and further afield, yet many are unaware of the risks they are taking with their health when visiting certain ‘hot spots’ around the world. www.superdrug.com

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SAS adds to its luggage allowance

LUGGAGE is becoming a bone of contention between airlines and their customers.  Whilst a number of carriers have decided to lower the allowance offered and therefore adding to the cost of the journey SAS has gone the other way.  With immediate effect you can take up to 23kg in Economy Class without any extra fees on the airline.  It was previously 20kg. Taking a typical family of four, with the fees some carriers are charging, this can add £200 to the trip cost.  In the premium sections every SAS passenger travelling in Economy Extra and Business Classes can bring two checked bags each weighing up to 23kg and 32kg respectively, plus the one cabin bag free of charge. www.flysas.com

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Virgin Atlantic gets double anniversary

DELHI has celebrated ten years since the arrival of Virgin Atlantic.  It follows close on the heels of the same anniversary for the Virgin Las Vegas services.  From a twice a week start both are now daily, the big difference being that Delhi is an Airbus A340 operation from Heathrow whilst Vegas is Boeing 747 and Gatwick.  The two routes are dissimilar in other ways too.  For the Indian operation Virgin has to some extent gone native.  In all cabins three meal choices are available – one of which caters for the Indian palate and the British love of Indian food.  As part of the in-flight entertainment, in addition to box office UK film titles, Virgin offers a number of Bollywood films across a range of genres.  The in-flight entertainment is available in Hindi with English subtitles.  Las Vegas is purely leisure.  A “spot the businessman” competition would have no winners with just 14 Upper Class seats on the lower deck. www.virgin-atlantic.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Infiniti G37S Coupe

Here’s performance in a velvet glove!

Something really special does occasionally happen in the world of motoring and to me one such incident has been the recent arrival on the UK market of the Infiniti car range, the luxury brand from Nissan.

Infiniti might be new to us but the brand has been in existence for some 20 years, selling on selected markets that does not even include Japan, so I feel the UK is honoured, the customers bound to be exclusive as not a lot of cars will be allocated to this country.

The Infiniti marketing strategy is very specific, clearly honouring the customer as an individual who will always have recourse to a named contact on the rare occasion that communication about the car might be necessary.

The sales outlets will be few and far between, just a handful across the country but they are really special as I witnessed at the opening of the first one in Reading, Berkshire.

Surely it is a 5-star luxury hotel incorporating a very upmarket car showroom?  That was my impression on arrival and in many ways I was right, except this establishment had no bedrooms, simply a dedicated location where the potential customer can create exactly the car he/she desires and see it in reality on a big screen, change the colours of the body or the upholstery, see what it looks like on different wheels or tyres and even thumb through large cut examples of the leather upholstery in a myriad of colours and shades.

No plastic cups here, just designer crockery and fresh real coffee as the customer gets into a creative mood.

And when a car is ready for collection it arrives, ready to drive away from a special collection area of the showroom, no chancing the elements and searching around in the back yard.

All very well, but does the product live up to the show that’s been put on?  You bet, I found out by driving the very first Infiniti G75 Coupe to arrive on these shores.

For starters all versions, including saloons, coupe, cabriolets, SUVs etc., are powered by V configuration engines either petrol or diesel fuelled and are of sensible rather than outrageous capacities, though providing exceptionally effective power outputs and attendant refinement.

Power in this instance comes from a 3.7-litre unit developing 370 bhp in an ultra sooth and free revving manner and delivering its potency though a seamless changing 7-speed electronically activated automatic gearbox (an option over the 6-speed manual unit) that worked well with the speed control cruise system.

The interior is luxurious, clearly painstakingly put together in a near art-form but all in very good taste as I would expect.  Power assistance enables the driver to achieve an ideal seating position in the fine leather upholstered seating that gave me the impression of a good fitting master tailor class of suit.

Accommodation for three other occupants is to a similar high standard and the access to the rear seats is relatively easy thanks to the large front doors.

That something special comes home when one drives this Infiniti.  To a very great degree the driving character reminds me of the 350/370Z sports Coupe models, more GT character than sport saloon and worthy of an engine that is claimed to provide a top speed mechanically limited to 150 mph and acceleration to 60 mph in a mere 5.5 seconds.  Expect a fuel consumption of around 36 mpg on motorways, about 10 mpg less under combined conditions that does not look too selfish for this class of car.

Clearly there is a lot shared with the saloon version which ensures a great deal of practical lifestyle including a luggage compartment that is bigger than a lot of sporting coupes…there is even diagrammatic instruction on how to stow two seats of golf clubs!

Infiniti has clearly created a product that is identifiable for good taste, a modern product for dynamic owners who take for granted all the accoutrements of a well equipped car – voice recognition navigation system, rear camera, 7-speaker audio system, front/rear parking sensors, heated seats etc – and then demand more.

If those demands include sheer driving enjoyment, great comfort, superb handling qualities and an air of exclusivity then log into the Infiniti experience.

Rivals include: Audi A5 Cabriolet 3.2 V6 Quattro £41,150.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 9
Economy 8
Ride and Comfort 9
Accommodation 8
Styling 9
Brakes 9
Finish 9

TOTAL: 88

Price as tested: £40,250.


NOTES FROM TED WILKINSON’S MOTORING DIARY

LEXUS: Interest is reported to be strong for the hand-built Lexus LFA super car though Lexus report that orders can still be placed for European customers via its Lexus Park Lane dealership.  Only 500 cars, allocated to 56 countries will be built based on a 4.8-litre V10 552 bhp engine. Confirmed orders/deposits will be activated this May.

NISSAN: The new Nissan Cube, just on sale, is reported to retain strong residual values, Nissan reporting that the £14,000 1.6-litre petrol model will be worth 49% of the new price after 3 years or 30,000 miles.

VAUXHALL: Demand for Vauxhall’s EcoFLEX technology cars has been strong across all ranges.  Top seller has been the Corsa 1.3 CDTI with 12,300 units sold in 2009.

TOYOTA: A completely restyled Toyota Auris range has been launched with prices from £14,463.  A new British built hybrid version, the Auris HSD, will be available from July.

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