27 SEPTEMBER 2010

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Air France upgrades

BUSINESS CLASS passengers on Air France can expect to see a much improved cabin from the start of next year as the airline introduces a fixed shell seat built by BE Aerospace.  It is just 12 months since the airline announced a major upgrade of its Economy and Premium Economy products.  By summer 2011 over 20 aircraft (Airbus A330, Boeing 777, Airbus A380) will be equipped with the fleet installation completed by 2013.  Amongst the many improvements are much simpler seat controls, a 15” wide screen in a 16:9 format and a complete re-think regarding catering.  Air France has also announced new routes from Paris to Lima and Orlando in June next year. www.airfrance.com

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American Airlines expands mobile boarding passes

MANCHESTER is one of eight European airports where American Airlines (AA) has now introduced a mobile boarding pass option.  Mobile boarding passes use a two-dimensional (2-D) barcode and were rolled out domestically in partnership with the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2008.  Heathrow was the first international airport chosen by American for the service.  The mobile boarding pass process is simple.  When customers check in for their flight using AA’s website and opt to receive their boarding pass on their mobile phone, they receive an email with an internet link to the boarding pass.  Customers must have an active email address where their boarding pass can also be sent and an internet-enabled mobile phone where the 2-D barcode can be received.  The mobile boarding pass contains a barcode that can be scanned both at security checkpoints and at the gate. www.aa.com

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Business travel shows positive growth

THE GUILD OF TRAVEL MANAGEMENT COMPANIES (GTMC) quarterly transaction survey covering all segments of the UK’s business travel sector shows signs of positive growth for the first half of the year.  The survey noted that air travel, hotel bookings, rail travel, and car rental are all ahead of the corresponding period in 2009.  Overall, business travel transactions across the spectrum had a combined increase of 12% over 2009, although sales performance is yet to reach the levels of 2008.  Air travel in particular fared better than anticipated for the period, particularly given the ash crisis and the industrial action instigated by the union Unite against British Airways.  The segment showed a healthy 13% growth over the corresponding period for last year.  Rail travel, the star performer of recent years, showed a continuing good performance for the first half of 2010 with an increase in bookings by GTMC members by 11%.  However indications are that the growth in transactions has not been matched by a growth in revenues with a general move out of First Class and a noticeable reduction in public sector spend.  Hotel bookings are also in recovery mode with an increase of 7% year on year. www.gtmc.org

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Deutsche Bahn trains for London?

GERMAN railway operator Deutsche Bahn has confirmed it will test its high-speed ICE-3 train in the Channel Tunnel on 19 October.  If successful this could lead to direct services to Frankfurt and other German cities opening up the whole undersea enterprise to real competition.  What Eurotunnel is doing is considering allowing longer trains to use its facility than at present, which would also allow the French state-owned rival SNCF and its Belgian counterpart SNCB on to the High Speed One tracks.  Deutsche Bahn is also in the process of acquiring British bus and rail operator Arriva. www.eurotunnel.com

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Iberia approves

BRITISH AIRWAYS funding plan dealing with its multi-billion pound pension deficit has been approved by the Iberia Board.  It had reserved the right to walk away from the deal to create the world's third-largest airline if it did not like the recovery arrangement BA struck with the trustees of its pension scheme in June.  The merger plan now needs BA shareholder approval and with EU clearance out of the way this should happen in November.  Once finalised, BA shareholders will hold 56% of the combined company, to be called International Airlines Group.  Iberia shareholders will hold 44%.  Looking towards the future BA’s Willie Walsh, due to become CEO of the new group, has recently said he is looking towards acquiring up to 12 airlines around the world.  However Qantas boss Alan Joyce has thrown cold water on resurrecting any plans for the two airlines to get together. www.ba.com www.iberia.com

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Meteor for Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT has granted a licence for Meteor, the UK’s largest and longest established meet and greet parking operator, to trade from the airport site.  It is already established at Gatwick, Heathrow, Liverpool, Manchester and Stansted airports.  The Meteor service allows for a speedy, hassle-free parking experience.  Customers drive their car to the Drop and Go facility outside the terminal where they are met by a uniformed driver, who takes the vehicle to a secure compound where it is parked for the duration of their trip.  On their return, a uniformed driver will be waiting at the terminal with their vehicle, ready to help load any heavy luggage.  For a small extra fee the car can be washed and valeted too. www.meteormeetandgreet.com

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UK hotel openings

TRAVELODGE last week opened four new properties; Coventry Binley, Eastbourne Willingdon Drove, Hull York Road, Oldham Chadderton and Plymouth Roborough.  At Plymouth the former Innkeepers Lodge is situated opposite the airport.  Travelodge, which claims to be the UK's fastest growing budget hotel chain, recently announced the largest transaction in the hotel sector since 2008, by acquiring the leases of 52 Innkeeper's Lodges from restaurant and pub operator Mitchells & Butlers.  The deal boosted Travelodge's estate to 452 properties.  The 52 hotels, which include a number of grade ll listed buildings, are all adjacent to Mitchells & Butlers hostelries.  A £10m investment programme will see the branded rollout of all the properties over the coming months. www.travelodge.com

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COMMENT: APD - Air France please read

Air France/KLM please read this piece.  You may be in for a boom in long distance travel from the UK.

Readers will know that from 1 November, as things stand, Air Passenger Duty (APD) for travellers flying out of a British airport will rise substantially. 

The tax is effectively two tiered, is based on the seat pitch, and calculated capital to capital in four bands; up to 2,000 miles (Nicosia is 1,850 and Tel Aviv 2,227), 4,000 miles (Washington is 3,665, Hawaii APD is the same but is at least twice as far), and 6,000 miles taking in the Commonwealth countries of Australia and New Zealand.

The new fees for economy are £12, £60, £75 and £85.  With a 40” seat pitch and upwards (effectively Business Class) it is £24, £120, £150, £170.  Taking a family of four to see your relations in Perth will cost you £340 before you start.  Using perhaps Air Miles and treating your brood to an upgrade takes your donation to government to £680.  The Treasury is clearly pro Europe and the fees will only be £48 if you decide on a weekend in France or Spain. 

Expensive APD for long distance destinations can easily be avoided.  Go via Amsterdam or Paris (or Brussels, Helsinki, Madrid or Zurich – but not Germany).  Book a single sector to any of these places and you only pay £12 or £24.  The long haul flight reservation would be done separately (but probably at the same time).  As noted the saving is substantial.

Yes, technically your luggage would be off-loaded at the change airport but many business people travel only with roller bags even as far as Oz and since the tagging of cases is a very easy airport exercise the first carrier would have no problems in attaching the right three letter bar code at check-in.  No doubt the lawyers on both sides would look at this one.

Interestingly HM Revenue and Customs have not updated its notice 550 APD (December 2009), as yet it only detailing the current tax.  Officially we don’t know what the new rules are.  Upgrades are covered in this 12,000-word 57-page document.  Assuming you have not been told in advance of a cabin change (and they are always on a “space available” basis) you should not pay the extra duty.

Paris Charles de Gaulle is a very easy changeover and Amsterdam much the same.  Even now many airlines offer long haul connecting flights far cheaper than those available direct via British Airways, bmi and Virgin Atlantic.  This Government axed Heathrow’s third runway (with its single opposition group) in favour of a railway dream which will be fought all 400 miles to Edinburgh.  It does not seem to have an airline policy (and an invisible Minister). They will also get the blame for the increase in APD.  Heathrow is the international aviation hub of the world.  But for how long?  Drop the increase and blame the previous incumbents.

Schiphol used to promote itself as “London’s third airport”.  If AF/KLM gets its act together Charles de Gaulle could be chasing that role.


Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

And if that isn’t enough, you can read ON TOUR which also has something to say about APD.

http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk www.whitakersalmanack.com/pdfs/LondonAirDistances.pdf

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Air Southwest sold by Sutton Harbour Group

EASTERN AIRLINES is to become the new owner of Air Southwest (ASW), the Plymouth-based regional carrier.  As forecast in last week’s AERBT, Eastern Airways, headquartered at Humberside Airport, will complete a take-over deal in October.  Air Southwest will continue to fly under its existing brand.  Current owner Sutton Harbour Group announced in May that it intended to sell Air Southwest so that it could concentrate resources on its core business of property regeneration and development.  It will retain its lease on Plymouth City Airport, and says it will continue to work with the airport’s freeholder, Plymouth City Council, on this strategically important asset for the city.  The two airlines are very compatible in terms of route structures and having completely different fleets (ASW 50-seat Dash 8 versus Eastern’s core 29-seat British Aerospace Jetstream 41). www.airsouthwest.com www.easternairways.com

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Brighton to Portsmouth loses its loos

SOUTHERN RAILWAY is to introduce re-furbished trains on the popular local Brighton to Portsmouth service without a toilet facility.  The firm said trains would run in areas with short journeys where most people travel for less than half an hour.  A journey from Portsmouth to Brighton can take up to an hour and a half.  Independent rail passenger watchdog Passenger Focus said the decision was a blow for passengers who were elderly, had medical conditions and travelled with children.  Railways Union chief Bob Crow called the move "unacceptable" and said it runs the risk of turning carriages into "stinking cattle trucks" creating appalling conditions for passengers and staff.  A Southern Railway spokeswoman said the new trains would have a "refreshed interior" including new seats and flooring, a passenger information system and flexible spaces for wheelchairs and cycles. www.southernrailway.com

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CAA airport stats

LONDON CITY AIRPORT'S on-time performance continues to exceed the punctuality levels achieved by other UK airports.  Statistics published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) marked London City Airport's arriving and departing scheduled services at 88% on time, 10% above the average for UK airports.  With its very simple runway arrangement ‘planes are airborne normally within 6/7 minutes of leaving the apron, with passengers often landside in less than ten minutes of the touchdown.  While punctuality declined at all other UK airports monitored by the CAA during the second quarter of 2010, at London City Airport punctuality improved. www.londoncityairport.com

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Flybe profits

BASED AT EXETER AIRPORT, Flybe, which aspires to a Stock Exchange listing and is 15% owned by British Airways, has reported pre-tax profits of £7.5m (US$11.7m) in the year to March – significantly up on the same figure last year.  But, stripping out exceptional, the underlying income fell from £12.8m to £6.8m on the back of passenger numbers that were largely unchanged.  The airline says that the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud cost £12 m in lost revenue.  Flybe has a franchise arrangement with Loganair who operate mainly Scottish regional services.  It also recently signed a code-sharing agreement with Air France allowing it to move into continental Europe.  The airline is in discussions with Finnair regarding future operations out of Helsinki.  Flybe flew 7.2m passengers in the financial year, slightly down on the 7.3m for the previous period. www.flybe.com

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London Fashion Week

SKYSCANNER, the flight price comparison website, has taken advantage of London Fashion Week to ask users which airline they thought has the most stylish cabin staff uniforms.  For many years carriers have insisted that their front line troops, the flight attendants, have looked very smart, competing against each other in terms of style.  Elder readers may recall the chic uniforms of Pan Am and British Caledonian.  Welsh designer Julien MacDonald took his needle and thread to BA’s uniform in 2004 in an effort to stop cabin crew looking like “someone’s old granny”.  A respectable 15% of Skyscanner users think that BA, which sponsors Fashion Week, should take the top title in the style poll.  Air France commissioned Christian Lacroix to design a whole wardrobe of items for cabin crew in 2005.  Lacroix designs for a top grade list of celebrities, and Skyscanner users are suitably impressed, with 17% voting Air France’s uniforms as the most stylish.  The airline that Skyscanner users actually deemed to be the most stylish is Qatar Airways.  The airline’s retro-look crimson uniform took a massive 33% of all votes. www.skyscanner.net

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San Salvador from Europe

IBERIA next Saturday (2 October) will start flying between San Salvador and Madrid, becoming the first European airline to link the two cities directly.  The four new weekly flights (on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) will also allow travellers to connect to other Central American cities with codeshare partner TACA, and to other European cities from Madrid with Iberia.  The carrier will use Airbus A340/300 aircraft, with capacity for 254 passengers, including 36 Business Plus flat-bed seats.  Iberia currently flies from Europe to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama.  The new flights will help consolidate the carrier's presence in Central America, and increase its market share, currently 42% (or 52% for Business Class travellers) of all European flights to the region. www.iberia.com

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ON TOUR: Routes Worldwide 2010

A Retrospective on the 16th Worldwide Routes Conference from Vancouver.  Chris Cain reports.

The 16th annual Routes Worldwide global ‘speed-dating’ road-show took place in Vancouver last week, one of North America’s most attractive and liveable cities.  What follows are some reflections on a very successful and enjoyable event for those able to be here.  And there are signs that the conference could mark the turning point for the aviation industry as green shoots begin to appear following a long cold commercial winter caused by a combination of the worldwide economic downturn, a series of external shocks (oil prices rises, volcanic ash and on-going security concerns) and the unjustified pariah status accorded to aviation in the global political debate about climate change. 

With 250 airlines, 450 airports and 125 tourism authorities and governments attending, Vancouver was the largest Routes conference yet and quite an act for future hosts Berlin (2011), Abu Dhabi (2012) and Las Vegas, which was announced as the 2013 venue during the event.

The Conference venue, the new C$1bn Vancouver Convention Centre, set new standards for space and ambiance, being quiet, efficient and comfortably able to accommodate the large and ever more imaginative exhibitor stands (first prize going to the Scottish Government’s striking modern “igloo” dressed proudly in national colours and several fine whiskies on offer to boot), four co-located conferences and the meeting halls and rooms which provide the venues for the crucial face to face meetings between airlines and airports which remain the core of the event for most delegates.  It also offered a spectacular setting for those wishing to take a break from the hurly burley of the conference, providing a superb viewing platform as it does for Vancouver’s lifeblood, the Fraser River, a hive of activity encompassing an eclectic mix of ‘float’ planes, passenger ferries, cruise liners, cargo ships and leisure craft against a spectacular mountain backdrop.

But even more notable than this was the genuine warmth of the welcome offered to the 2,500 delegates by the host City, the Government of British Columbia and the lead sponsors the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR).  And the way this was effortlessly combined with efficient management of a wider event programme – including the gala dinner (complete with ticker tape and flashing glasses), city tours and visits to the Boeing factory at Everett across the US border.

The programme of co-located aviation conferences was also substantially enhanced, offering insights into the air cargo sector, the symbiotic relationship between air transport, tourism, airports and economic development.

The GASS Summit was also an opportunity for industry leaders to meet and discuss the latest challenges facing the sector and share their thoughts on the strategic direction of travel required if the emerging green shoots are to grow into a sustained and robust recovery.

So what were the key highlights?  Well firstly what was striking is the truly global nature of the event, reflected in the increasing presence of African, Asian, Indian and South American delegations and national and regional governments.  Numerically the host continent and Western Europe continues to have the biggest presence, but in terms of ambition and importance there is no doubt that the rest of the world has understood the importance of good air transport links and is aggressively setting its stall out to catch up with the market leaders.

There was the usual well orchestrated programme of route announcements of deals struck before the Conference began and noted in AERBT above.

Winners of the principal World Routes Airport Marketing Awards for 2010 were:

Europe: Brussels Airport
Americas: Edmonton International Airport
Asia: Auckland Airport
Africa: Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

The Orbis Social Responsibility award went for British Airways charity work in partnership with Comic Relief.

But it was also notable that many airport delegates were commenting upon the heightened interest of airlines in considering new markets, which a year ago they would have regarded with much greater caution.  The proof of this greater optimism is real and tangible, and will come in a number of new routes which emerge later in the year and in 2012 often started from meetings held in Vancouver.

There were also clear signs of continued alliance building, including between legacy and low cost carriers, and that some influential low cost carriers (Jet Blue, Norwegian, Ryanair and West Jet to name but four), perhaps responding to the operational efficiencies prospectively offered by new aircraft models, are beginning to look seriously at the hitherto difficult problem of developing a viable long haul low cost business model.  These new ideas seem unlikely to take exactly the same form as pioneering initiatives by Asian, Indian and Australasian carriers, but it will be interesting to discover whether a model which is sustainable and can stimulate growth in larger and more mature market sectors such as those across the Atlantic, and how incumbent network carriers in Europe, North America and latterly the Middle East will choose to respond.

But finally, and most notably, given the apparent indifference shown by some leading European Governments to the travails that the industry has faced over the last two years, with many airlines still struggling financially, and their rapacious appetite to find new ways to tax air travel, was the announcement by Gordon Campbell, Premier of the Government of British Colombia, that it is eliminating the jet fuel tax for international flights on 1 April 2012, saving airlines an estimated US$20m in 2012/13.  This was matched by a five-year incentive programme covering landing and terminal fees to encourage airlines to a new capacity by its principal airport authority.

Following the lead provided by the Dutch and Belgian Governments in reducing Air Passenger Duty earlier in the year, it is to be hoped that the British Columbia initiative sends out a signal to the less enlightened amongst their counterparts that aviation is crucial for doing business, increasing tourism revenues and improving connectivity in an ever more globalised and competitive world.  Hopefully by the time of the next conference in Berlin, the industry will have got this message across and is facing a more benign economic and fiscal environment in which it can restore profitability and facilitate growth.

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Admirals Club says "drinks on the house"

AMERICAN AIRLINES international Business Class customers have always found it inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing having to be asked for vouchers when using Admirals Club lounges in the US.  Clients flying domestically had to pay for alcoholic drinks. From 1 October visitors to all AA’s lounges can choose from selected wine, beer and spirits free of charge, in addition to the existing complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks and juices.  Premium spirits and wines, as well as a selection of Amora fresh food items will continue to be available for purchase in the US lounges.  AA is currently building a new Admirals Club lounge at San Francisco International Airport, ahead of the carrier’s move to Terminal 2 next spring. www.aa.com

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Airlines seat crisis

KOITO INDUSTRIES, a Japanese seating manufacturer, has admitted changing designs without following procedures and faking safety test results.  Last week the US Federal Aviation Administration said the controls, designed to check strength and resistance to flames, would include over 40,000 seats on 278 US-registered aircraft.  European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and its Japanese equivalent have concluded that "all data (both design and manufacturing) generated by Koito must be treated as suspect".  Koito lists amongst its major clients All Nippon Airways, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.  David Henderson, spokesman for the Association of European Airlines in Brussels said: "We are examining the directive and trying to work out its consequences.  It does seem to us very legalistic rather than safety-based."  The Wall Street Journal noted on Friday that up to 150,000 seats could be involved worldwide and the rectification work might take up to two years. www.koito-ind.co.jp/english

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British Airways in expansion mood

SOUTH AMERICA is a winner with what is probably the most aggressive British Airways long haul expansion programme for some years.  Buenos Aires is to get non-stop services from London at the start the summer season 2011.  BA will operate daily to the lively capital of Argentina by-passing Sao Paulo and allowing a full allocation of seats to what is Brazil’s commercial hub.  Rio de Janeiro benefited last year with a three times per week non-stop service which continues.  On the other side of the world BA is to return to Tokyo Haneda gaining from the airport’s new runway and opening up for international flights.  The five times a week service will begin on 19 February.  The route will be served by a Boeing 777, with a four-class configuration.  The airline’s daily service to Tokyo Narita airport continues.  BA says the route is performing well and operating from two airports in Tokyo provides customers with greater flexibility. www.ba.com

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Cambridge Airport hosts the business jets

BGAD 10 (Business and General Aviation Day) at Cambridge Airport was a great success last week with over 600 attendees, the star was an Embraer Lineage 1000,  (Embraer 190 derivative) business jet, a real VIP executive transport flown direct from another similar show at Moscow.  The timing was perfect with many of the visitors flying on to Oxford Airport for Light Jets Europe (which we will be reporting on next week).  Nearly 50 companies took part either with booths in the impressive new Marshalls hangar, or with aircraft on the apron.  Besides the Legacy, Embraer also displayed the diminutive but very comfortable Phenom 100 offering an improved passenger interior with slimmer seats, a Gulfstream 200 was on the ramp plus a Cessna Mustang and various Hawkers.  Three seminars were well attended: The benefits of escrow for business aviation; Managing in-flight emergencies, travel health and telemedicine for business aviation; Business intelligence. www.bgad.aero

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Gatwick publishes its August figures and gains new routes

BRITISH AIRWAYS has demonstrated its faith in Gatwick Airport with a number of schedule changes and a new route.  Cancun (Mexico), which only starts in November, is already confirmed to increase for the 2011 summer season, going up from two flights weekly to three.  Also from March next Barbados will increase from 10 to 12 flights a week, Antigua will increase from five to six services a week and the St Lucia – Port of Spain route achieves a daily service.  In Florida, Tampa is increasing from five to seven flights a week whilst Orlando goes from nine to seven.  Gatwick moved 31,579,000m passengers over the last 12 months against the 32,216,000 in the previous period, 2% less.  But in August the traffic was down only 1.3% year-on-year, an encouraging sign. www.ba.com www.gatwickairport.com

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Lufthansa adds and changes

LUFTHANSA’S SUPERVISORY BOARD had a busy meeting last week voting in Christoph Franz to replace Wolfgang Mayrhuber as Chairman and Chief Executive and also approving the acquisition of 48 aircraft.  These are destined for Lufthansa, plus two of the Group’s subsidiary airlines, SWISS and Germanwings.  The orders comprise: 20 A320 family aircraft and three A330-300s for Lufthansa; four A320 family aircraft and five A330-300s for SWISS; and eight A319s for Germanwings.  With this commitment, the Lufthansa Group, the aircraft manufacturer’s largest airline customer, will have acquired a combined total of 410 Airbus aircraft.  Lufthansa Regional gets eight new Embraer 195s. www.lufthansa.com

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Singapore Airlines takes the awards

THE BUSINESS TRAVELLER AWARDS 2010 were dominated by Singapore Airlines picking up Airline of the Year and a plethora of lesser prizes.  British Airways, represented by CEO Willie Walsh, was only left with wins for Best Short Haul Carrier and Best Frequent Flyer Programme.  Domiciled for a decade or so at the London Hilton Park Lane this year’s luncheon was in the ballroom of Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel, hosted by the publishers of the magazine, Panacea Publishing International, and presented by guest celebrities journalist Kate Adie OBE and award-winning stand-up comedienne Jenny Éclair with sponsorship by Heathrow Express, Panasonic and Aeromobile.  The Best Airport in the World was once again awarded to Singapore’s Changi Airport, which has yet to be beaten in this category.  Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport won Best Airport in Europe and Heathrow was awarded Best Airport for Tax-Free Shopping for the second year running. www.businesstraveller.com/awards2010

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HAPPY TALK: The expiration date

Now it is true that these days there is a certain class of person who is trained to follow instructions, regardless.

This is particularly evident with credit cards where the expiration date has to be asked for.

In some cases birth certificate details are required too.

So I gave the credit card information as requested.

The trained zombie then asked for the expiration date of my birth certificate!

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