23 AUGUST 2010

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Airbus gains new Asian customer

TIBET AIRLINES, based at Lhasa, has chosen the Airbus A319 for the nucleus of its fleet.  Three aircraft have been initially ordered.  Established earlier this year the airline will make its maiden flight in the middle of next year soon after the first aircraft is delivered.  It will be configured with eight First Class seats and 120 in Economy.   The A319 has already been proven to be ideal for operations in and out of Lhasa, and other high altitude airports both in Tibet and China.  Tibet Airlines plans to expand regionally with a target of 20 aircraft. www.airbus.com

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Bombardier Q400 gets a new life

WEST ATLANTIC, the Anglo-Swedish cargo airline, and Europe’s largest regional freight carrier, is to put into service in September a Bombardier Q400 freighter.  The aircraft is planned to be on-line by 1 September, the only one in the world.  Leasing companies and airlines will watch with interest to see if it opens up new markets for the aircraft.  The airline has a fleet of over 50 aircraft including 43 of the smaller BAe ATP-F and has its main bases at Coventry Airport, Gothenburg and Luxembourg.  With some 400 sold as passenger planes, and noted for its high cruising speed, the Q400 (and the de Havilland Dash 8 from which it was developed), is probably the most successful turboprop of all time.  The freight conversion has a capacity of 9 metric tons. www.westair.se www.atlanticairlines.co.uk

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East Midlands Airport hotel

REZIDOR HOTEL GROUP has revealed plans to open a Radisson Blu hotel at East Midlands Airport (EMA), making the new property their fifth UK airport location.  Just half a mile from the airport terminal it will have 208 rooms and eight suites when it opens at the beginning of 2012.  Standard Radisson Blu features include courtesy wi-fi and fitness centre and indoor swimming pool.  The hotel will also feature a bar/lounge, restaurant, coffee shop, and conference and event space of 750 square meters.  Currently within easy access of EMA there are a number of hotel properties including the Thistle, actually within the airport boundary, a Holiday Inn Express, Premier Inn and Hilton at the nearby M1 junction. www.rezidor.com

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Hong Kong gets World's tallest hotel

RITZ-CARLTON will make a magnificent return to Hong Kong when it opens the world’s tallest hotel in the city in the first quarter of 2011.  The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, occupying floors 102 to 118 of the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon, is now reaching completion.  It promises to be an outstanding venture with 312 guest rooms all providing spectacular city and harbour views.  Club room guests will enjoy the panoramic Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge with complimentary food and beverage presentations 24 hours a day, as well as a dedicated Club Concierge, work stations, meeting rooms and wi-fi throughout.  Six dining venues are highlighted starting on the 102nd floor, including Chinese and Italian restaurants.  The rooftop bar will be a truly stunning venue at 1600ft (490m) above sea level with outstanding views over Hong Kong.  The hotel also features a fully equipped fitness centre and an indoor pool on the 118th floor. www.ritzcarlton.com

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Luton gets lounge upgrade

SERVISAIR’S executive lounge at Luton Airport has been officially opened, named after ‘The Someries’ a local landmark.  Part of it doubles up as the King David lounge when used by El Al Business Class passengers.  Servisair now manages a total of 22 facilities at airports throughout the UK, as well as in Europe and North America.  The company has also acquired additional lounges at Birmingham (T1) and Gatwick (North Terminal).  They are available on a pay-per-use basis, with an annual pass, or by virtue of an arrangement by an airline.  They all serve complimentary drinks (alcoholic and soft), light refreshments as well as a much more relaxing environment to wait for a flight.  Other facilities include upgraded complimentary newspapers and magazines and wi-fi. www.executivelounges.com

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Palma from Gatwick and Manchester

MONARCH is expanding its winter programme by adding new routes and increasing frequencies on existing services.  New for winter 2010/11 is Palma, with the airline operating year-round to the Majorcan capital for the first time, offering thrice-weekly services from both Gatwick and Manchester.  Services to Alicante, meanwhile, are being bolstered by additional flights from Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester.  These will be supported by services from Luton, where Alicante will rejoin the winter schedule with three new flights a week.  In addition, Gran Canarias, Malaga and Menorca and will operate with higher frequencies during the winter, as will Gibraltar, which increases to six flights a week from Luton.  As well as Spain, Monarch operates scheduled flights to Cyprus, Portugal and Turkey from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester airports. www.flymonarch.com

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US airline to charge fee for front-row seats

AMERICAN AIRLINES has come up with a scheme to charge a fee to customers who want to sit in the first few rows of the Economy Class cabin.  Other carriers have also initiated similar ideas, with the exception of those airlines with unreserved seating, who charge for priority boarding facilities (with possibly more revenue generated).  Called "Express Seats" passengers also board the aircraft in the first group.  The fee starts at US$19 for short flights such as St Louis to Chicago and rises to US$39 for longer trips such as LA to Honolulu.  The programme applies to travel within the United States, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.  Customers may purchase the seats only at airport self-service check-in machines any time from 24 hours to 50 minutes before departure. ww.aa.com

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CRUISE NEWS AUGUST 2010

Cunard's Queen Victoria

CUNARD has to be the big news this month with the eagerly expected Queen Elizabeth getting ready for sea trials in Italy and expected to make her maiden voyage out of Southampton on 12 October. 

AERBT clearly cannot bring to you an impression of the third incarnation of the QE series but we can offer the next best thing, a review of Queen Victoria, her sister  ship, who made her first voyage with fare paying passengers on 11 December 2007.

Readers in New York, or visiting New York on 13 January, are in for a treat.  You can watch three Cunard liners coming under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and crossing New York’s Upper Bay for the first time ever.  Perhaps January in New York would not be the first choice for the Carnival management (Cunard is part of Carnival Plc which also owns, amongst others, Princess and P&O), but the sight of the three great ships saluting the Statue of Liberty will warm up the heart of anyone interested in the sea.

OUR TEN STORY NEWS ROUND-UP

Please note that we are selective with our cruise stories.  Not for AERBT is the normal diet of discount pieces.  These you can find in any of the Nationals every weekend.  We continue in our policy of keeping readers informed on cruises with a difference, or stories that really tell a tale.

AMAwaterways, which used to be known as Amadeus, has launched its seventh and most innovative ship, the 162-passenger MS Amabella, as part of an ongoing multi-million pound investment in its 12-vessel fleet.  She will be hosting itineraries on the Danube, Main, Mosel and Rhine for the rest of 2010 and 2011. 

River cruising is getting more and more sophisticated with the new ship offering a small heated swimming pool on the top deck and not less than seven dining experiences.  There is the ship’s main restaurant called Verde; Bella Cucina offers classic Italian fare at dinner.  At Erlebnis Chef’s Table passengers can watch as a private chef prepares a special tasting menu in this unique and exclusive 24-seat venue.  Additionally, passengers can enjoy casual light lunch menus in the main lounge, as well as private dining in the Wine Room, a dining area seating up to six guests that is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.

On select days, enjoy a lunch outdoors on the Sun Deck and room service dining for breakfast and dinner is also available in the suite categories. www.amawaterways.com


Carnival Corporation has ordered another ship for its AIDA Cruises brand, which caters exclusively to the German-speaking market.  The 71,300-tonne newbuild vessel is the seventh ordered by AIDA in the past six years.  The 2,192-passenger ship, which will be built at Germany's Meyer Werft, is scheduled to enter service in spring 2013.

In addition to AIDA, Carnival Corporation & plc owns the Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, The Yachts of Seabourn, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Ibero Cruises, Ocean Village, P&O Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia brands.  Together, the brands operate 97 ships totalling more than 189,000 berths with a further ten new vessels scheduled to be delivered between now and May 2014. www.aida.de/english


Disney Cruise Line continues to trickle out details on its under-construction Disney Dream, which will launch in January 2011 as the first new Disney ship in more than a decade.  The 128,000-ton, 2,500-passenger Disney Dream will feature the Chill Spa, an area inside the ship's Senses Spa & Salon that will offer spa services to teens between the ages of 13 and 17.  American children grow up very early.

The area has two designated treatment rooms, and parents will be able to send their kids off for teen-friendly facials, massages, body treatments, manicures, pedicures and more while they get their own more grown-up treatments in the main spa.

AERBT has already mentioned other innovations including virtual portholes in all inside cabins.  It will be interesting to try them out.  http://disneycruise.disney.go.com


Formula 1 fans might like to consider a unique way of watching next year’s Monaco Grand Prix.  The four-masted, fully-crewed, 170-passenger tall ship, Star Flyer, will be anchored off Monte Carlo until midnight on Sunday, 29 May, the day of the race, so guests can go ashore to watch the action and soak up the Grand Prix atmosphere.

The cruise departs Cannes on 28 May.  In addition to the day in Monaco, ports of call include L’Ile Rousse and Bastia in Corsica; the inlet of Portofino; Hyeres island; Sanary-sur-Mer; and St Tropez, with calls at the town and the beach.  AERBT tries to steer away from showing prices as they are apt to change but the Grand Prix trip starts at just £1,245 per person, based on two sharing, plus port taxes of £135 per person.  Flights and Grand Prix tickets are extra but you can watch from offshore and catch the details on TV. www.starclippers.com


Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, by reputation a truly five-star operation, is changing to an all-inclusive package for 2011 for the MS Columbus, said to be the most informal of the Hapag Lloyd fleet. 

Extras on board will become a thing of the past.  The ship lists 81 drinks on the beverages list from soft drinks to exotic cocktails.  Tipping is also dropped and included are up to four shore excursions depending on the particular cruise. 

Passengers can still book ‘cruise only’ if that is what they prefer.

Columbus is essentially a German-speaking ship, but like most international cruise operations English will get you by.  In 2011 it will virtually circumnavigate the world twice starting at Buenos Aires, visiting amongst other places Sydney, The Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and Chicago.  At 15,000 tonnes it is one of a few genuine cruise ships that can get that far up the Great Lakes.  It is then down the eastern seaboard of the America’s, Cape Horn again and on to Auckland. www.hl-cruises.com


National Cruise Week which runs between 19-26 September, will highlight the huge variety and the excellent value offered by a cruise holiday.  Travel agents the length and breadth of the UK who are accredited to the Association of Cruise Experts (ACE) will be hosting events and featuring special offers.  Your Editor is doing his bit, somewhat in advance, giving a talk this week to a North London group “Cruising is a complex business”.  Choosing a cruise holiday is not like booking a flight.  To get the most out of it you need to be very selective.

Cruising is now one of the most popular holiday choices and National Cruise Week, with 2,000 travel agents taking part, highlights the huge variety and the excellent value offered by a cruise holiday.  Travel agents the length and breadth of the UK who are accredited to ACE will be hosting events and featuring special offers. www.discovercruises.co.uk


Swan Hellenic has just announced that the ever popular Minerva is off to India and the Far East for the winter 2010/11 season after travelling around the Antarctic earlier this year.  The selection of new itineraries includes visits to Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Oman, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, and takes advantage of Minerva’s small size, visiting ‘off the beaten track’ destinations and ports beyond the reach of larger ships.  Highlights include sailing in the backwaters of Kerala, Cochin, cruising in Halong Bay, visiting the silk town of Hoi An in Vietnam and spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve cruising off the coast of India. www.swanhellenic.com

The sinking of the Titanic was a sea disaster that had much the same impact around the world as 9/11 due to the number of casualties involved.  It has become arguably the greatest commercial waterborne epic of all time.  The ethics are for discussing elsewhere. 

Sailing from Southampton 8 April,  exactly 100 years after the ship’s fateful maiden voyage, Fred Olsen’s Balmoral will replicate the dramatic voyage concluding with a memorial service over the ship’s grave on 15 April 1912.  A line up of ten specialist lecturers are now booked for the voyage, including author Arthur Cropley, the great-nephew of Charles Herber Lightoller, the Second Officer of the Titanic and Senan Molony, Political Editor of the Irish Daily Mail and author of several respected books about the disaster.

Organisers of the cruise are ensuring that the food on board will be based on the dishes served in April 1912 and the music and entertainment will reflect the era.

Relatives of those who lost their lives on the great ship, authors, historians and people who are just fascinated by the Titanic story have already booked their place in history.  The ship will sail with 1,309 paying passengers, exactly the same number that sailed on the Titanic. www.titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk


Voyages to Antiquity have three autumn offers for sailings in September and October on board Aegean Odyssey in the Mediterranean. 

The new cruise line, which specialises in the history and culture of the Mediterranean, has been sailing for just five months.  Operating 15-day cruises, guests visit the popular sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as less well known sites across the region.  All shore excursions, gratuities, wine with dinner and scheduled flights on British Airways are included in the fully bonded price.  On offer are some single cabins at the same rate as a double and Concierge Class clients also get a free upgrade to BA Club Europe on their flights  www.voyagestoantiquity.com


Wildlife fans looking for something not too arduous and short might be interested in a mini-cruise from Harwich to the beautiful Danish island of Fanø on DFDS this autumn.  Sailing from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark it is a fine inexpensive opportunity to take in the marine wildlife and learn from the experts.

Once onboard, step out on deck in search of seals, porpoises and birds with the expert wildlife spotters.  Then relax and enjoy the interactive wildlife presentations. 

Arriving in Esbjerg you head to the nearby island of Fanø, an internationally important breeding ground for migrating birds, as well as having beautiful beaches and dunes. Here you discover why birds share our passion for travel, and watch thousands of birds in action as they make their fuel stops en-route between their wintering and breeding grounds.

You can take a three-night inclusive package with or without meals and there are departures on the 19 September and 10 October 2010. www.dfds.co.uk/miracle

 

 A SHIP REVIEW:  Queen Victoria

The story goes back to 1933 when, so we are told, the then Chairman of Cunard, Sir Percy Bates, sought an audience with King George V and asked approval for the new superliner being built on the Clyde to be named after Britain’s greatest Queen.  “Yes”, said the King.  “My wife (Queen Mary) would be delighted”.

Fast forward to 2004 and Cunard were again building a Queen Victoria.  With Queen Mary 2 recently in service the company was learning what the credentials were for a 21st century cruise liner with a transatlantic pedigree.  These were slightly different to the Carnival Group’s (Cunard’s owner) normal requirements.  There was a change of plans.  The Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri’s hull No 6078 (Victoria) became Arcadia of sister company P&O.  And then they started again.

The Queen Victoria came into service in December 2007, with the Duchess of Cornwall as Godmother.  With her large single red funnel she is in fact a very pretty ship, photographs not doing her justice.  In October she will be joined by Queen Elizabeth, externally a copy except for the new ship’s vertical stern. 

Cunard have managed to squeeze another 32 cabins into Queen Elizabeth, which will be very much an art deco ship in terms of its internal décor, unlike Queen Victoria which features artwork and memorabilia from the era in which its namesake reigned.  QE, due on-line in October (2010) will also feature a Britannia Club section of the main restaurant, which is a feature popular on the Queen Mary 2, but not available on Queen Victoria.  This service will allow passengers in the Britannia staterooms to have flexible single seating dining arrangements without having to upgrade to the more expensive Grills classes.

QV and QE are the maximum size for traversing the Panama Canal.  Queen Mary 2 definitely cannot.

In General:  Queen Victoria can be best described as a very understated ship.  Unlike some of her rivals there is nothing flash about the QV (as the staff describe her – not for them the pub in east London that features on BBC TV). 

Guests enter via the ship’s three-storey Grand Lobby, which sets the tone for the whole vessel.   Naturally there is a painting of the Imperial monarch who reigned from 1837 until 1901, latterly the Empress of India at a time when red dominated maps of the world.  It is a stunning vista with sweeping staircases, the centre of the ship’s public areas. 

At the lowest level of the lobby atrium, and in keeping with what is a technological wonder, many square feet is given over to the world of computers, with a very well equipped Internet café plus “Connections” a computer learning centre with complimentary classes throughout the cruise, and more advanced help if you want it.  There is an overflow on the next deck up (but in any event the whole ship is wi-fi). 

One deck up is the Todd English restaurant (more anon), plus an entrance to what is the only library at sea on two levels (also with internet screens plus 6,000 books), Café Carinthia (open till late), the Champagne Bar, and the quiet Chart Room with its nostalgia from an earlier age.  Cunard is keen on its heritage and everywhere are pictures of the great and the good who crossed the Atlantic on its predecessors in the era just before the jet aircraft arrived.  Model ships too.

On Deck 3 there are more lounges and bars and it is an easy walk forward to the Queens Room balcony, from where you can view the Grand Ballroom inspired by Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight.  It is difficult to believe you are on board a ship.  This two-deck high room is designed for dancing, cocktail parties and, in the afternoon, English tea, very popular, accompanied by a harpist or string quartet.  Set in the background is a range of shops offering the essentials, and also very high quality gifts for that special occasion.   It is called the Royal Arcade.

Accommodation:  There are five accommodation decks and the ship is in some respects QV is a three-class operation.

Firstly there is the Penthouse and Queens Suites, with their separate restaurant (Queens Grill) and butler service.  The cabins are utterly sumptuous, with a tub (Cunard is very big in North America) and private dining area.  The Princess Suites class (Princess Grill, and from the same kitchen as the Queens Grill) has a concierge service, and here the staterooms are not as big as on QM2, essentially stretched standard cabins with a divider.  But you do get a bath (and plenty of exclusive privileges). 

Queens and Princess Class clients share a common alfresco dining area in a quiet private courtyard on deck 11, as well as a nearby lounge with splendid views over the main pool area.  For sun worshippers there is The Grills Terrace on the highest point of the ship.

The standard balcony cabins, nearly 600 of them, are generous in size (200 sq ft average) but they only have showers with curtains (which is a criticism – competitors offer much better looking plastic glass).  

All passengers are offered fresh fruit in their cabins, plus a daily newspaper.  Even the lowest grade cabins receive a bottle of wine.  It’s Champagne if you are Grill class. 

Dining:  If you are in one of the Grills you can dine from 18:30 until 21:00 (or in your suite) but with the main Britannia restaurant it is the traditional seaborne early or late sitting.  Spread over two decks the dining areas are linked by spiral staircases.  North Americans like the first sitting (and have been known to queue for their normal guaranteed table – very odd) whilst the British for the most part prefer the later offering. 

Italians and other mainland Europeans who prefer to eat even later can go for the casual dining offered by Lido buffet and the Pizzeria where the dress code is not so strict.  Here a number of areas are very cleverly sub-divided in the evenings to offer Prime (seafood and steak), Bamboo (pan Asian) and Coriander (Indian) cuisine, complete with waiter service and tablecloths.  There is an extra charge.

For alternative dining Todd English, one of America's leading chefs, who successfully supervised a named restaurant on QM2 has replicated it on QV.  It offers innovative Mediterranean cuisine in a modern setting including Waterford crystal, Wedgwood china, Gainsborough silverware and Hepp cutlery add the finishing touches to what will be one of the ship's most sought-after fine dining experiences.  Guests need to make reservations and additional charges apply US$20 for lunch and $US30 for dinner, per person.

There is also a 24-hour cabin service for everyone.  No extra charge.  And snacks and sandwiches are available at a number of venues until very late.

Entertainment:  Cunard is rightly very proud of its entertainment package which runs from the crack of dawn (or at least pretty early) until either the passengers or activity staff are completely worn out.  Experience has shown that the ships’ crew usually last longer, and are somehow up in the morning putting on a brave face.

Pride of place has to go to the 830 Royal Court Theatre, offering the grandeur of London’s West End in the style of the famous theatre designer Frank Matcham.  Unique at sea (that is until the QE comes along) are 16 private boxes furnished with a pair of armchairs and cocktail tables.  A ‘Theatre Experience’ can be pre-reserved before a show including Veuve Clicquot Champagne along with hors d’oeuvres or petit fours served by white-gloved theatre ushers in your box.  Following the performance, guests have an opportunity to meet the cast backstage.  The charge here is US$25 per person. 

The Royal Court Theatre is the setting for a whole series of spectacular stage shows including ‘Victoriana’, which speaks for itself.  Stars of stage, screen and TV are on board for their speciality acts and it also doubles up for various lectures and an afternoon film series of the latest releases.

Throughout the ship every evening (and daytime on deck) the various bars and social areas hum with the sound of music and entertainment (even the Golden Lion Pub).  Quite the best from a relaxing viewpoint (literally) is the Commodore Club and bar, which sits above the bridge.  If you ever have the opportunity to transit the Panama Canal (recommended) this must be the place to be.

Children:  Around 2,000 passengers is the normal maximum number, except during school holidays when the store-away bunk beds fitted in some cabins come very much into play, adding 300+ young clients.  More qualified nannies and youth councillors are added to the dedicated youngsters' areas at this time with the rear Lido swimming pool dedicated to family use only.  Little ones are supposed to keep out of the main Pavilion pool.

Cunard offer a children’s programme from those aged one to 17.  It is on a complimentary basis and operates from 09:00 until 24:00 with the exception of lunchtime, 12:00 to 14:00.

On board service:  If you are energetic you can easily keep yourself entertained for every waking hour on board.  In alphabetical order there are art classes, ballroom dancing, board games, bowls, bridge, the casino, computer classes, concerts and recitals, croquet, dance instruction, deck games, fencing, karaoke, golf driving, the ever popular crossword puzzles and paddle tennis.

The Winter Garden has a sliding roof and is used for occasional al fresco dining.  Most of the time it is just a very nice lounge area amidships.

Whilst based at Southampton for nearly nine months of the year Victoria is a US Dollar-based ship, which also means 15% tipping rather than the British 10%.  There is a US$13 per day service charge for Grill class passengers and US$11 those in the Britannia restaurant.

What Else:  At this point we must mention the spa and gym area spread over two decks overlooking the bow.  It features the latest spa and beauty treatments for both men and women, as well as a thermal suite and large hydro pool.  It is impressive.

Forward of the spa itself is an expansive gymnasium and aerobics area with state-of-the-art cardiovascular fitness equipment including inclining treadmills and bikes complete with their own personal LCD television screens.  The fitness centre/gymnasium is where the “secrets of a flatter stomach” demonstration and talks are given, plus the early morning keep-fit gatherings.  On any cruise these will defeat your Editor.

In Conclusion:  Cunard makes much of the décor and ambience of the ship.  Two million pounds has been spent on paintings and other artefacts.  It is noticably different from anything else afloat, even the very much larger Queen Mary 2 and competes for the British market with P&O, under the same ownership. 

For the balance of 2010 QV will be based at its home port of Southampton (where the Ocean Terminal is fully covered when you drive up) offering Mediterranean cruises (and one short English Channel trip pre-Christmas).  It then departs 5 January jointly with Queen Elizabeth to meet up with Queen Mary 2 in New York on 13 January.  The gathering of the three ships will be the first time that a trio of the world’s great liners have rendezvoused in such a way since the 1960s, and then they were very much in competition.  Not so in 2011 but you can expect enthusiastic crews to try and upstage each other.

Queen Victoria will spend the British winter operating various itineraries out of the USA including two return trips from Los Angeles to Hawaii.  She then departs Ft Lauderdale 29 March and crosses the Atlantic via the Azores before embarking on a traditional European season out of Southampton including Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Since the withdrawal of the QE2, Queen Victoria has attracted the regulars from that very popular ship.  It will be interesting to see how many will stay with their new joy or return back to their old love.  Cunard is adding nearly 45% to its capacity.  Will they struggle marketing-wise to fill the three super liners?  Not if forward bookings are anything to go by!  Cunard seem to have got it right. www.cunard.co.uk


Malcolm Ginsberg

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COMMENT: APD - A glimmer of hope

The government of David Cameron last week formerly responded to a large petition complaining of the hike in Air Passenger Duty (APD).  The tax increase is due 1 November.  

A rise in the duty of up to 112% was quoted by the official petitioner.

First the definite good news as quoted in the official Downing Street rejoinder. 

“The Government does not in general earmark revenue for environmental purposes, as it can create inefficiencies in both revenue raising and spending”. 

Downing Street is admitting for the first time that APD is just more revenue for the Treasury kitty.  What a touch of honesty!  Does “The Government” mean this government, or any government?

The riposte then goes on to say:

“The Chancellor announced at the June Budget statement that the Government will explore changes to the aviation tax system, and that major changes will be subject to consultation”. 

Perhaps the Chancellor is trying to locate the Transport Minister to hear his views?

Is the industry being consulted?

“The existing rates of Air Passenger Duty and the rates applicable from November this year were set and legislated by the previous Government.”

A classic reply.  Blame the preceding government.

Parliament returns on Monday 6 September for two weeks.  The House will rise again for the Conference recess on Thursday 16 September and will not sit until Monday 11 October.

Will any Conservative or Lib Dem be brave enough to ask the Prime Minster in Question Time if he was going to delay the APD rise?  (We assume HM’s loyal Opposition will stay quiet – they have nothing to be proud about).

But more to the point will the PM actually consult?


http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/APDIncrease

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Airlines reveal new branding

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES and UNITED AIRLINES have officially revealed the visual branding for the new global airline that will result from the expected merger between the two airlines.  The new logo displays the combined companies’ brand name in capital letters (UNITED) in a custom sans-serif font, joined with the global mark which has represented Continental since 1991.  No date has yet been set for the roll-out of the first aircraft in the new livery. www.continental.com www.united.com

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Cathay steps up it schedules

HONG KONG-based Cathay Pacific Airways is to add more flights to Australia, Canada, France, Japan and New Zealand, as part of the airline’s plan to reinstate extra passenger capacity in line with continued strong demand.  Chief Executive Tony Tyler said that the airline was returning to 2008 pre-financial crisis levels.  “The increased frequencies will offer passengers greater choice and further strengthen connections through Hong Kong.  Together with our new Milan and Moscow services, launched respectively in March and July this year, these service enhancements will certainly boost Hong Kong’s position as one of the world’s leading aviation hubs.”  From November, flights are being added on routes to Auckland, Brisbane, Cairns, Perth and Sydney, also Osaka and Toronto.  For its service between Hong Kong and Paris, the airline aims to gradually increase the number of flights to 11 per week by December. www.cathaypacific.com

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Etihad competes with Emirates

EMIRATES Economy Class passengers residing in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi are seeing the results of rising competition between the established UAE carrier and Etihad, the fast expanding newcomer.  The Dubai-based airline is to increase the frequency of its free bus service to and from Emirates Airport Terminal 3.  In addition to the extra services Emirates has also invested significantly in revamping the bus, both inside and out.  Out goes the old seating and in comes new and more comfortable accommodation.  A single dedicated pick-up and drop-off point has been identified in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain to help cut down on passenger travel time.  Dubai will have two collection/drop-off points to account for arrivals and departures at the terminal.  Travel time is approximately two hours for either point. www.emirates.com

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Hooters comes to Germany

FRANKFURT has become the first German airport to host a Hooters restaurant.  Entrepreneurs Manfred Metzger and Bastian Klink are the owners and managers of the new franchise operation of the American fast food outlets noted for its all girl serving staff in skimpy uniforms.  Metzger and Klink said “We offer good food, fun and service, service, service.  Our motto is Hooters makes you happy.”  The eatery is located in Terminal 1 on Level 0 (Area C) above the Regional Train Station.  Positioned around the sports bar, ten flat-screen monitors present international sporting events.  A special smoking area is integrated in the restaurant. www.hooters-fra-airport.de

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Mexican rescue

MEXICANA, which earlier this month filed for bankruptcy protection appears to have been saved.  News came late Friday that a consortium of Mexican investors have acquired 95%  of Nuevo Grupo Aeronautico, the holding company controlling Mexicana de Aviacion and two domestic airlines, Mexicana Click and Mexicana Link.  In a statement it said the acquisition was only the first step of a process to recapitalize the ailing airline and return it to solvency.  Called Tenedora K, the group includes the Mexican hotel group Posadas; Omega, a construction company, and insurance corporation Arizan.  Mexicana Click and Mexicana Link have continued to fly but Mexicana suspended 15 mainly long haul services including London, Madrid and Montreal. www.mexicana.com

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Passenger rights in doubt

UK AIR PASSENGERS who have not yet been paid compensation following the chaos earlier this year caused by the Icelandic volcanic dust will have to wait to see if it is forthcoming.  In London the High Court has suspended the right to claim compensation for the delays.  The decision follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last November which gave passengers the right to compensation when a flight was late.  The original ruling was made to give passengers protection from poor airline service.  The carriers point out that what was not envisaged was long waiting periods over which they had no control.  The ruling means that UK courts will hear no further ash compensation cases until the ECJ makes a judgement. http://curia.europa.eu

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USA to the Gulf

EMIRATES has announced a significant expansion of its American services with the launch of second daily flights to Los Angeles and Houston from Dubai starting at the beginning of November.  Boeing 777 aircraft will be used.  At the same time an Airbus A380 will be reinstated on the New York service, which is already a double daily.  The airline also flies daily to San Francisco plus Toronto (Canada). www.emirates.com

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HAPPY TALK: Sweet sounds

This week's final piece has no business travel involvement at all, but since it came from our friends at IFALPA it just about counts.

My sister brought her daughter a piano for her birthday.

A few weeks later, I asked her how the daughter was doing.

Oh," she said, "I persuaded her to switch to a clarinet."

"How come?" I asked. "Well," my sister answered, "because with a clarinet, she can't sing!"

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Vertical seats on planes don't quite stand up," said Mike Whiting, Managing Director of HolidayExtras.com.  "It's clear that customers have reservations about standing up while flying.”

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Airport closure threat lifted

BAA LTD has offered their ground staff a 2% pay increase plus a one-off payment following discussions last Monday.  The Unite union has recommended this offer.  It had threatened to close Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, Southampton and Stansted airports over the looming Bank Holiday period (see www.aerbt.co.uk/#2368).  The deal, which includes a minimum one-off £500 (US$781) payment is an increase on BAA's previous offer of a 1% rise.  "The negotiations were tough but Unite has delivered a fair offer for BAA staff," Unite national officers Brian Boyd and Brendan Gold said in a statement. www.baa.com

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Delta changes at Heathrow

HEATHROW tenant Delta Air Lines is adding a third daily flight between London’s major airport and JFK from 20 September, giving a total choice of 30 flights on most days by five major carriers, plus Kuwait Airways whose route rights go back into history.  From the start of the winter season at the end of October Delta will introduce a second service to Atlanta four days a week, and to Detroit three days a week.  The services will be operated by 216-seat Boeing 767 aircraft with 36 seats in the new BusinessElite and 180 in Economy. www.delta.com

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Helsinki Airport

FINNAIR and other airline customers with young children who use Helsinki Airport can now take advantage of a new activity-oriented play area for pre-school age children, open 24 hours a day.  It is  located at Gate 38 in the area for long haul flights.  Besides the new area, Helsinki Airport has three other well-equipped playrooms situated by Gates 15, 20 and 31.  Not only are there toys, videos and drawing equipment, there are also facilities to change nappies and warm up baby food in a microwave.  Most of the sanitation areas also contain a space for childcare. www.helsinki-vantaa.fi

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Irish link

MANX2.COM is to introduce a Belfast City to Cork programme on 8 September following news that Aer Arann is to withdraw its flights via Dublin at the end of this month.  Services will be twice daily Monday to Friday with a single rotation on Sunday, flown by 19-seat Let 410 turboprops.  Establish by the former Blue Island (Channel Islands) owner Noel Hayes the airline flies mainly to points bordering the Irish Sea.  It is easily the largest operator, in terms of aircraft movements, at Blackpool Airport. www.manx2.com

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New Zealand domestic air travel

PACIFIC BLUE, a subsidiary of Virgin Blue, is to withdraw from its New Zealand internal operations.  Its losses are said to be substantial.  When you have a country with only a population of 4m, as against Wales with 3m, it is not surprising that it cannot sustain three substantive airlines.  Air New Zealand offers domestic services, as does Qantas with its low cost Jetstar brand.  At the same time V Australia, another Virgin Blue offshoot, will stop flying to Fiji, withdrawing a Boeing 777, replaced by Pacific Blue’s 737s for this mainly leisure route. www.flypacificblue.com

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UK electric car bonus

PHILIP HAMMOND, Transport Secretary, has confirmed a ‘Plug-In Car Grant’, designed to stimulate demand for low carbon vehicles, and planned to go ahead from January 2011.  Under the new government, motorists will be entitled to a subsidy of up to £5,000 when buying an electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen fuel cell car, providing it meets safety, reliability, performance and warranty standards set by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) in consultation with industry.  The Plugged-In Places investment will see the installation of over 11,000 charging posts in London, Milton Keynes and North East England.  Other parts of the country are also lined up to join the scheme including the West Midlands, Cornwall, Sheffield, and the Lake District. www.dft.gov.uk

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ON TOUR: Macau

If you are on a visit to Hong Kong for business and/or pleasure, Macau, one hour away across the Pearl River Delta to the south west, is very much worth a visit.  It is completely different to Hong Kong, not surprising really with the Portuguese establishing themselves from about 1535, the British not founding Hong Kong until 1841.  Just like its much larger neighbour (542,000 against 7m) it is now a special administrative zone of the People’s Republic of China

Once an island Macau is technically an isthmus with a causeway to the mainland and also linked to Taipa and Coloane islands part of what is in some ways a city-state.  The official languages are Chinese and Portuguese, although English is very much in the overtaking lane when it comes to doing business.

Just like Hong Kong the Central People's Government is responsible for the territory's defence and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs and immigration policy, and sends its own delegates to international organisations and events.

Macau was the first and last Chinese colony of a European nation power being handed over to Beijing on 20 December 1999.  The Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Macau stipulate that it operates with a high degree of autonomy "one country, two systems".

In the Second World War, with Portugal neutral, Japan installed “advisors”, but for the most part the population was left alone.

Macau is not very big and given the time and inclination visitors could probably get away without using transport of any kind. 

If you are into gambling Macau is for you with many of the houses having names familiar to regulars at Las Vegas and Atlanta City – MGM, Sands and Wynn to name but a few.  The imposing Casino Lisboa, is owned by Stanley Ho (89) sometimes nicknamed "The King of Gambling", having a monopoly for the final 40 years of the Portuguese rule.  

All the casinos are impressive and in fierce competition.  One of the beneficiaries are visitors from Hong Kong who do not need to take a taxi or bus on the short ride from the ferry terminal.  Choose where your destination is (it need have nothing to do with gambling), find where the nearest casino is and jump on the complimentary bus.  Be careful to check the location of the return boarding point.  With the Lisboa it is in the basement.  Fine dining, at reasonable rates, is a feature of many of the hotels and if you fancy British afternoon tea they do that too.

Gambling has been legal in Macau since 1851, and today it is very carefully regulated with 50% of the punters Chinese.  The rest come from all over the world and the income is reckoned to exceed Las Vegas, some 70% of the economy.  Other than casinos, there is betting at the Macau Jockey Club on Taipa Island and the dog-racing Canidrome.

The historic centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a collection of over 20 locations that witness the unique assimilation and co-existence of Chinese and Western cultures in the former Portuguese colony.  It represents the architectural legacies of the city's cultural heritage, including urban squares and long winding streets.

Senado Square is the centre of the whole historic area with a small museum and helpful tourist desk.  The whole area can be best described as a cultural mish-mash, Chinese buildings and temple, Portuguese from various decades, and both Catholic and Protestant churches.  Macau was always a very tolerant society.

The Macau Tower is well worth a visit and on a clear day you can see China, Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta.  At just over 1,000 feet tall it is slightly shorter than the Eifel Tower, but holds the world record for bungee jumping.

If it is shopping that you are after Macau is paradise at prices less than Hong Kong.  There are street markets and sophisticated departmental stores.  Clothing is the biggest item here, and you'll find vendors specializing in locally manufactured baby clothes, underwear, shoes and accessories, as well as jeans, sweaters, T-shirts and sportswear in all sizes and styles. 

As is to be expected, Chinese cuisine is of excellent quality in Macau.  Most serve Cantonese food but some specialize.  There are Portuguese restaurants galore in Macau itself and on the islands.  The combination of Portuguese, Indian and even Malay and Chinese cuisines make up the unique Macanese cuisine which cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

As mentioned the catamaran trip from Hong Kong takes one hour.  However if your destination is Macau you can take the ferry direct from Chek Lap Kok Airport.  You will only have to pass through customs once and the journey time is only 45 minutes.  Put aside two or three days for a leisure visit to Macau, but it can be achieved in one day. www.macautourism.gov.mo

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