28 MARCH 2011

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BAA promises massive "snow" investment

Following a report into the December snow crisis which resulted in 4,000 flights being cancelled, BAA has promised a £50m investment.  The report, which the Spanish-owned company commissioned itself, said that there had been a breakdown in communications and lack of "preparedness" for the bad weather.  At all levels the airport operator came in for criticism.  The report noted that some airlines did not fulfil their obligations when flights were cancelled or delayed.  However BAA Chief Executive, Colin Matthews, made it clear that no heads would roll.

The report makes 14 recommendations, which focus on improving crisis management procedures and establishing a "snow plan" which sets out specific responsibilities for BAA, airlines, the regulator, and air traffic control.

The report noted that offers of help to clear the snow from BAA construction contractors were not taken up quickly enough.  The lack of an agreement between the airport and ground handlers employed by airlines to de-ice aircraft meant it took too long to clear aircraft stands.  Fears that the airport would run out of de-icer kept one of its two runways closed. www.baa.com/assets/Internet/BAA%20Airports/Downloads/Static%20files/BeggReport220311_BAA.pdf

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Budapest in lavish airport opening

Ferihegy Airport Budapest was the recent venue for an extravagant opening of a food court.  Normally these type of events are more low key, but in the case of Budapest whilst the 75% owner and operator is Honchief AirPort, one of the world’s largest independent airport managers, the other 25% as an investment by the Hungarian government.  The opening was also part of the celebrations to rename the 60-year old airport Franz Liszt International and to emphasise its position as a hub for eastern Europe.  Throughput last year was 8.2m passenger.

Dubbed “SkyCourt” the new centrally located building links the existing Terminals 2a and 2b.  It has doubled the commercial area available and provides a wide range of retail outlets, international brands and an improved food and beverage offering.  The contemporary glass structure also offers an impressive view of the apron providing passengers with a unique travel experience. www.bud.hu/english

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Doha's Grand Regency is now a Wyndham

Wyndham Hotel Group is to add its first Wyndham Grand property in the Middle East with the rebranding of the 246-room Grand Regency Doha, centrally located in the Qatari capital’s Al Sadd area.

Located about 10 miles from Doha’s current international airport, the Wyndham Grand Regency Doha provides convenient access to the city’s Exhibition Centre and Corniche waterfront promenade.  Guest accommodation includes 10 suites and penthouses.  The Al Asmakh Royal Suite, which commands impressive views across the city, boasts a bedroom, living room, dining/board room accommodating up to 10 people, two televisions and two bathrooms, each with separate shower and Jacuzzi.

The food and beverage offering comprises three restaurants and a café.  Hotel features include a business centre, wireless internet throughout and meeting facilities, including five rooms that each can accommodate up to 42 people in a theatre-style setting.  Three of the rooms can be combined to accommodate up to 120.  The Al Qasr Ballroom can host up to 900 at a cocktail party or 650 theatre-style.  Meetings and events spaces feature the latest technology, including LCD projectors, wireless microphones, flat-screen televisions and built-in sound systems. www.wyndhamworldwide.com

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Gatwick North to get new executive lounge

No 1 Traveller is to launch its first ‘super-lounge’ in Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal in May.  It will be available to all travellers using the terminal.

Covering 10,000sq ft, it features a lounge area, a mini-cinema, travel spa, bistro and bar, business centre and a games room.  At a cost of £20 for up to three hours, the experience will include access to the lounge, a choice of freshly-prepared dishes from the bistro-style menu, and a selection of drinks from a fully-tended bar.

Travel spa treatments will be available to purchase additionally, and can be booked without lounge access.  A range of treatments, including manicure, pedicure, massage, facial, wash and blow-dry are planned, as well as shower facilities.

Business traveller facilities include individual computer stations, free wi-fi, printing, scanning and faxing capabilities, and two private meeting rooms that can be booked in advance. www.no1traveller.com

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Knightsbridge to gain 5-star hotel

Bulgari, perhaps better known as a jewellery producer and watch maker, is to open a super luxury hotel in London’s Knightsbridge in spring 2012.  At 163-173 Knightsbridge (towards The Albert Hall and Kensington) and opposite Hyde Park, the new-build is the third hotel project of Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, following the opening of the Bulgari Hotel in Milan in 2004 and of the Bulgari Resort in Bali in 2006.

The property, with its 85 rooms and suites – including seven extraordinary Bulgari suites, each more than 200sq m large – will offer a unique combination of refined amenities and exclusive services.  Its restaurant and bar have been designed to become the destination of choice in Knightsbridge.  The hotel will also feature a large ballroom, a private cinema and a 2,000sq m spa and fitness centre with 25m indoor pool. www.bulgarihotels.com

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Milan's Malpensa Airport gets new hotel

Sheraton has opened a new hotel adjoining T1 at Milan’s Malpensa international airport.  On the road to the Italian lakes it is about 20 miles or 30 minutes driving north east of the city and is also connected by rail.

The Sheraton Milan Malpensa features 433 rooms, 19 Suites, 58 Club Rooms and a 200sq m dedicated Club Lounge for all Sheraton Club Guests.  The hotel offers over 2,000sq ft of ultra-modern meeting and event space including a multi-functional room suitable for up to 1,000 people, as well as 22 meeting rooms.  Complimentary wireless broadband and computer terminals are available in two locations in the property.  The hotel also features the luxurious, all-white Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Beds.  Also provided is a spa and fitness centre complete with indoor swimming pool. www.sheraton.com/malpensa 

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Thames cable car

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has given the go-ahead for a cable car link across the Thames between the O2 arena in Greenwich and the Excel exhibition centre in the Royal Docks.  Whilst it does not directly involved London City Airport it will be a transport boost in the area.  Mayor Boris Johnson said the scheme was "as good as a bus route with 30 buses on it," carrying 2,500 people an hour.  It is hoped that the scheme will be completed in time for the Olympics.

Before giving its assent the GLA studied the location of the project near the airport and considered that concerns raised regarding aircraft in the proximity of the cable cars were negligible.  It found there was an "extremely low risk" of incidents. 

A contractor for the project will be appointed this spring and discussions for funding were ongoing, the GLA said. www.london.gov.uk

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AND FINALLY: Motoring questions

Why do you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?

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COMMENT: Olympic cohesion

It looks as if finally the aviation aspects for the 2012 Olympic Games are coming together.  The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced plans for temporary airspace control measures that will apply over London and the South East during the Games period.  It is envisaged that the measures will be in place from 13 July to 12 September 2012, to cover the period of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The measures comprise an inner prohibited airspace zone and an outer restricted zone, approximately 60 nautical miles across, centred on the Olympic Park.

The Department has also published, in conjunction with what was technically a Ministerial Statement, a most comprehensive listing of what it calls “Airports in South East England” available to non-scheduled flights during this period.

It claims (very optimistically) all of them to be within 120 minutes of the main Olympic site of Stratford.  Listed are 27 airports, but not included are some pure general aviation outposts such as Elstree in North London, North Weald, south of Stansted and Stapleford Aerodrome, a grass flying club strip perhaps the closest to the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park of them all.  Heathrow is not included as it is considered full.

Only certain categories of aircraft – those operating commercial services and subject to full security procedures – will normally be permitted to operate within the Prohibited Zone.  Aircraft involved in, for example, Police, Medevac and Olympic Broadcast operations will be exempted.  Other operations at airports within this zone may also be considered for exemption subject to strict conditions, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.  The DfT says it is working with Battersea Heliport to agree a basis on which operations there may be allowed to continue.

All types of aircraft will be permitted to operate in the wider restricted zone provided that they can satisfy certain requirements designed to ensure that all aircraft within the zone can be readily identified and monitored by air traffic control.  What is not clear is how priority will be given for what is likely to be very congested airspace.  Would a regular, say Dutch, Piper Warrior user into Southend get priority over a once only executive business jet from Moscow?

It is not expected that any airports will need to close as a result of the measures. There should be no impact on scheduled air services, and limited engagement impact on most other types of operations outside the prohibited zone. 

The Government, the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS say it will now work with airspace users and others to ensure that the planned measures, and their potential impacts are fully understood and discussed before the regulations to implement them are made later this year.

With Heathrow eliminated London City is the only airport within the prohibited zone.  It is too small for the big VIP jets.  Will the high and mighty downgrade or chance their arm with the London traffic and motor from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted?  Interesting times are looming up aviation-wise for London 2012.

http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/regional/london2012/airportoptions/pdf/2012airportoptions.pdf


http://www.dft.gov.uk/press/speechesstatements/statements/villiers20110307

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Beijing becomes number two world airport

ACI (Airport Council International) preliminary traffic results for last year, based on reports from over 900 airports worldwide, indicate that global passenger traffic grew at a better than expected rate of 6.3% and cargo rose strongly by 15.2%, as compared to 2009.  Actual aircraft movements remained stable at just under a 1% increase.

Among the largest airports in the world Beijing (73,891,801 passengers +13%) leaped to the second rank some way behind Atlanta (89,331,622 passengers +1.5%), which continues to be the world’s largest airport.  Heathrow (65,884,143 -0.2%), dropped to the fourth rank overtaken by Beijing and Chicago O’Hare (66,665,390 +3.3%), which may be due to passengers diverting to Frankfurt and Paris (which both grew) due to the high British taxes.

Monthly passenger growth worldwide in 2010 was consistently high between 5% and 10% with the exception of a significant setback in April due to the volcanic ash cloud that hit Europe particularly hard.  Another anomaly impacting traffic, mainly in Europe, was the unusually harsh winter weather in December.  Despite these setbacks Europe still registered growth of 4.3% thanks to strong international summer and fall traffic. www.aci.aero

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Budget to involve all air travellers

Air travellers from, through and within the UK, all received a mention when the British Chancellor of the Exchequer revealed his 2011-2012 tax plans (The Budget) to Parliament last week.  Air Passenger Duty (APD) will not be increased this year but business jets and helicopters (over 5.7 tonnes) are to be taxed in the future.

The Government has abandoned plans to charge APD on a per-plane basis, rather than per passenger. 

Being introduced is a consultation on whether the tax should be on a country basis, as present, or the distance flown.  Likewise the situation regarding the increasingly popular Premium Economy products and what duty band they should sit in. 

The Treasury has set a date for comments by 17 June.  What Chancellor George Osborne made very clear was that the aviation community should not expect any reduction in the tax take, and that the bottom line figure for next year will include lost revenues from 2011-2012, a very daunting prospect.

HM Treasury has issued a comprehensive 44-page document setting out all the details of the consultation. http://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/2011budget_airpassenger.pdf

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Europe and Brazil

Brazil and the European Union (EU) have agreed in principle to a new air services agreement that should be formally signed in the summer, well ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.  Presently the market is dominated by TAP Air Portugal with 27% of the market (by seat capacity) and Brazil’s TAM with 22%.  Air France has more capacity than Iberia (12.1% and 11.3% respectively) whilst British Airways and Lufthansa are split with 5.7% and 5.5%.

Under the agreement airlines will be able to freely operate direct flights to anywhere in Brazil from anywhere in Europe as the agreement will remove all restrictions on routes, prices, and the number of weekly flights between Brazil and the EU.

Sao Paulo remains the main gateway to Brazil and with the once popular Rio making a comeback typically with TAM and then BA adding from London and Lufthansa joining them in October from Frankfurt.  In the north Iberia is adding Iberia to Fortaleza and Recife. http://europa.eu

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Helsinki is all change

Whilst Finnair flies serenely on with its services from both Heathrow and Manchester to Helsinki (with connections to Asia) it is all change with the budget carriers.  easyJet is no longer offering Gatwick, Manchester or Paris CDG on its timetables from July onwards whilst Blue 1, part of SAS, will introduce a scheduled service to Edinburgh operating on Mondays and Fridays between 29 April and 28 October 2011.

Although it calls itself a low cost airline Blue 1 offers a two-class service including premium seating.  It already serves Heathrow twice daily in competition with British Airways and Finnair.  Norwegian will begin serving Gatwick from its new Helsinki base with six weekly flights on 12 May

The French market also continues to be served as both Finnair and Blue1 operate between Helsinki and Paris CDG 35 and 12 times a week respectively; however, French carriers, including Air France, are curiously missing in Finland. www.helsinki-vantaa.fi/home

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London Olympic hotel prices

At a meeting with London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to discuss the support that London’s hotels were giving to London 2012 the British Hospitality Association (BHA) strongly refuted claims that hotels were profiteering from the event.

Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG, noted that hoteliers who had been part of the agreement with LOCOG had fully conformed to its fair pricing agreement, offering room allocation to LOCOG at below market rates for the Olympic Games.

Ufi Ibrahim, BHA’s Chief Executive, said that the industry is playing its full part in making the 2012 Olympic Games a success. 

“Recent press comment concerning the prices that agents appointed by LOCOG – in particular Thomas Cook – are charging for Olympic ticket and hotel packages has suggested that London hotels are profiteering.  This is certainly not the case.  London hoteliers have no control over the prices that agents are charging,” she said.  “These agreements stipulate that all participating hotels will charge room rates calculated on an agreed formula, which restricts hotel operators from increasing prices beyond CPI (consumer price index) increases and ensures fair pricing.  That rate broadly represents the average of a hotel’s room rates between 2007 and 2010.  Further discussions are taking place. www.bha.org.uk

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Renaissance hotel for London Eurostar terminal

The eagerly anticipated St Pancras Renaissance Hotel London has opened following an extensive renovation.  The original building – The Midland Grand Hotel – was designed and built by Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and opened on 5 May 1873.  The historic hotel has now been lovingly restored ready for the official unveiling on 5 May 2011, 138 years to the day after the original tape cutting.  Once the home of steam trains from an earlier era St Pancras now hosts Eurostar.

The £150m renovation of the 245-room property consists of the historic St Pancras Chambers that houses 38 elegant and spacious Victorian bedroom suites, and Barlow House, the newly created 120,000sq ft extension that features original artwork and contemporary design. 

The hotel is also home to a 500 capacity event hall, a private club, a gentleman’s grooming salon and luxury spa, which includes a swimming pool and six treatment rooms.  Occupying the original entrance hall and coffee room, the Gilbert Scott restaurant is to be run by one of Britain’s most celebrated chefs, Marcus Wareing. 

Guests can continue to re-live the glamour of the Victorian era at The Booking Office bar and restaurant – recreated in the original ticket office. www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras

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ON TOUR: Oahu - The main island of the Federal US State of Hawaii

Hawaii may seem a long way from the United Kingdom, but in air travel time it is not as far as Australia, which is in total around 25 hours away by the fastest routing. 

Honolulu International Airport can be reached in 16 hours via Los Angeles (LAX), including immigration and customs at LAX.  This inspection may be something of a nuisance but the authorities are now well organised.  Your luggage is checked through from London.  Or you can visit via a cruise from America’s west coast.

The Islands of Hawaii are a fine place to consider for a holiday, English speaking and for the most part a slow pace of life.  Yes Waikiki Beach somehow combines Oxford Street with some of the finest sands to be found anywhere (and all beaches are free on the islands) but there are many rural places to visit and the ecology is fascinating.  They drive on the right, but roads for the most part are speed restricted and hiring a car is an easy (and relatively cheap) way of getting around.  There are seven inhabited islands dominated by Oahu (the island of Honolulu and Pearl Harbour) with a population of 875,000.  Hawaii itself, known as “The Big Island”, is second largest when it comes to numbers but with just 150,000 residents.  Sitting close to the Equator the seasons vary little with the average temperature around 80°F.

Pearl Harbour, Honolulu, is of course synonymous with 7 December 1941, “A Day of Infamy” as stated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  At that time the Japanese made up 40% of the population.  Today Hawaii is one of the most ethnically mixed places on earth, racial harmony a way of life.

THE HISTORY
One of the reasons that the Antipodes is so popular from the UK is historical.  But Hawaii could have followed the same route.  Captain Cook landed in Botany Bay Sydney in 1770 and founded British Australia with all its family connections to the United Kingdom. 

In 1778 he became probably the first European to touch soil on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, calling the total archipelago “The Sandwich Islands”.  Sadly he was to die on “The Big Island” just one year later, after what is now termed “a misunderstanding”.  Perhaps that is what turned the Brits off.  In any event the Union Jack forms part of the State of Hawaii’s flag and Honolulu hosts the only former Royal Palace on American soil.

The Polynesians first came to Hawaii 2,500 years ago but it was not until King Kamehameha the Great united the warring fractions at the end of the 18th century that the islands became one political entity.  His successors greatly admired Queen Victoria but were outmanoeuvred by American interests, the islands annexed by the US in 1898 becoming a Federal State of the Republic in 1959.

PEARL HARBOUR
Pearl Harbour and its Navy base dominated Hawaii and the central Pacific in the years up to the WWII, and to some extent still does.  Plan at least half a day to visit the Pacific National Monument Pearl Harbour Visitor Centre (battleship Arizona Memorial) and Ford Island, sitting in the middle of the land locked harbour, and still a military base.  Read up your history beforehand and even view Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and Pearl Harbour (2001).  Some will dispute the historical facts of the Hollywood blockbusters but both make for good viewing.  In any event the brand new Visitor Centre offers a fine preview film of your visit and includes indoor and outdoor galleries, state of the art interactive exhibits, a splendid bookshop and a (reasonably priced) fast food restaurant.  The broken Arizona lies on the bottom in “Battleship Row” two of its 14” gun turret mounts visible above the water level.  The Memorial its sits astride the stricken hull, a well organised boat ride away from the Visitor Centre, the grave of 1,177 sailors and is to be treated with respect. 

The Visitor Centre is open 07:00 to 17:00, seven days a week except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Scheduled tours generally begin every 15 minutes from 08:00 to 15:00.  The Arizona tour is free and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.  The centre also handles ticket sales for USS Bowfin and the submarine museum, within the park and just a few minutes away, plus the battleship Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum, both on Ford Island and only accessible by bus from the Centre. 

After your timed Arizona visit we would suggest going to the submarine museum first and then visiting the USS Bowfin which is berthed very close by.  In the museum the history of underwater warfare is told and there are a vast number of artefacts.  Bowfin herself served in the Pacific War and was responsible for the sinking of 17 ships.  It is very cramped inside.  She has been at Pearl Harbour since 1971 as a permanent memorial to the 52 American submarines lost in WWII. 

“The Mighty Mo” was the last American battleship to be commissioned (but not the last battleship – HMS Vanguard took that honour).  That she was ever completed and has great historical interest can be put down to a former Senator from Missouri, one Harry S Truman.  It was on the quarterdeck of USS Missouri that General McArthur took the unconditional surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945, Truman by that time US President.  Missouri is unique as a battleship, taking part in three major conflicts – WWII, the Korean War and Desert Storm in 1990/91.  In 1998 she was permanently berthed in Battleship Row Pearl Harbour.  If you have time take an audio tour around.  It is a big ship to visit and the conning tower is quite a climb from its nether regions.  Nearby is a memorial to the USS Oklahoma, where 429 servicemen lost their lives.

The last place to visit on your Memorial Park tour is the Pacific Aviation Museum situated in a former Navy hangar on Ford Island.  There is a useful 20-minute film to be seen and amongst exhibits is what is claimed be the actual Stearman N2S-3 in which former President George H. W. Bush soloed.  There is a Japanese Zero fighter, Mitchell bomber, P-40 fighter and several jet aircraft from the “cold war” era.

DOWNTOWN
Waikiki is America by the Sea and worthy of its reputation as one of the world’s great beach holiday areas. There is a Shangri La within the locale, but it is not part of the hotel group.  This Shangri La was created long before the Hong Kong organisation was created and was the Pacific home of Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress.  Today it hosts a collection of Islamic art.

When it does come to hotels Waikiki offers the finest, the Sheraton typical with its executive lounge affording a fine view of the whole beach area.  The evening buffet included an entertainment course of Hawaiian singers and dancers plus a fire eater, all out in the open with the water lapping nearby.  In the hotel’s dance bar Hava Nagila blasted out.  That’s Hawaii for you. 

Close by where the cruise ships pull in is the Iolani Palace, the only former Royal Palace on US soil.  It is open to visitors.  Also nearby is the Aloha Tower, once the tallest building on the island, and now the centre of a small shopping complex.  The Hawaii State Art Museum is also a short walking distance with free entrance and housed on an upper floor of a delightful colonial style building. 

Oahu, rather like all the Hawaiian archipelago, is an island of contrasts.  44 miles long and at the most 30 miles wide, most of the population is huddled into a small area around Honolulu.  Nothing is more than 90 minutes' drive away and it offers some of the world’s greatest surfing beaches.  Golf is another very popular recreation with a choice of 40 public and private courses, ranging from casual municipal links to one of the homes of the PGA Championship, the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club every January. 

Like all the islands it is volcanic with the central mountain range rising to 4,000ft.  From the sea shore to the highest point you will climb through 11 distinct vegetation regions. 

Just to put Oahu in perspective it is the holiday destination for five million Americans and Japanese every year, and a rising number of Chinese.  Just 170,000 European tourists arrived in 2010.  You can dine Hawaiian and virtually every other cuisine on earth, and you can spend your money in the exclusive shops in Kalakua Avenue.  The entertainment ranges from native dancing and the hula, to the The Kings Speech in the local cinema complex. 

There are a further six islands to visit. www.gohawaii.com

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Air Malta gets new CEO

Peter Davies, formerly Managing Director of Air Southwest, has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Air Malta. 

Davies has over 35 years' experience in the aviation industry, both in passenger and express cargo operations and has served as CEO at SN Brussels Airlines, which he successfully launched as Sabena's successor.  During his term, Mr. Davies restored the airline’s stability after two years of operation by rationalising the airline’s network and internal processes and focusing on yield management on European and African routes.  He also oversaw the restructuring of BWIA into Caribbean Airlines and held senior Board positions in DHL based in Europe and the US.  Air Southwest, based at Plymouth, was recently acquired by Eastern Airways and is being integrated into that company.

Air Malta is the national airline of the EU Mediterranean island state and currently operates a fleet of 11 Airbus A320 series aircraft. www.airmalta.com

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British Midland introduces new seats

British Midland International (bmi) is introducing new leather seats across its fleet of short haul aircraft over the next few months.  They are being installed as part of a major refurbishment to the interiors of the Airbus family aircraft that operate the airline’s short haul routes.

Offering improved customer comfort, the new seats will deliver a standardised product across bmi’s short haul fleet.  Lighter in weight than the seats they are replacing, the refurbishment will also assist in aircraft performance by reducing overall aircraft weight.  As part of the refurbishment, the aircraft will also benefit from new carpets, curtains and bulkheads as well as a dynamic new lighting system, giving a spacious look and feel throughout the cabin. The refurbishment programme is due to be completed by summer 2011.

The introduction of the short haul seats follows a recent refurbishment programme to upgrade the interiors of the aircraft in the bmi mid haul fleet.  This is now coming to an end. www.flybmi.com

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Continental goes flat on its narrow bodies

The 41 narrow bodied Continental Boeing 757-200 aircraft operated principally between New York Newark Airport and Europe all now feature flat-bed seats in Business First.  The airline continues to market itself as Continental Airlines although it is well on the way to being totally integrated with partner carrier United whose name dominates freshly painted aircraft.

“With reconfigurations completed on 116 aircraft, United and Continental together offer more flat-bed premium cabin seats than any other US airline,” said United’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Mark Bergsrud.  “The flat-bed seats and advanced audio/video on-demand offer our customers an unmatched onboard experience.”

Continental completed the retrofit on its 22 Boeing 777s in December 2010. www.continental.com

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Four Seasons Hotel Marrakech

Business travellers and holidaymakers who are toying with the idea of going to Morocco in the not-too-distant future will be pleased to learn the Four Seasons Hotel Marrakech is set to open on 15 June 2011.  Reservations are now being taken.

The luxury brand property is situated in a 40-acre oasis, and consists of 140 rooms and suites, five restaurants, two pools, an extensive spa, and spacious sunlit gardens.  Rose-hued pavilions with hand-carved details are surrounded by a lush landscape of swimming and reflecting pools, gardens, pathways and fountains.  The low-rise buildings were purposefully designed not to obstruct stunning views of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and Menara Gardens which are visible beyond the hotel’s towering palms.

Each of the guest rooms and suites has its own spacious balcony or terrace forming a village connected by arcades, walkways and courtyards.

Four Seasons has also announced the opening of a brand new property in Toronto for 2012 (and the closure of its existing hotel which started life as a Hyatt).  Four Seasons started life as a quality lodgings group in Toronto back in 1961. www.fourseasons.com/marrakech

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Iberia to launch non-stop flights between Barcelona and Sao Paulo

With Singapore Airways due to launch a three times weekly non-stop service to Barcelona today (Monday 28 March), Iberia has bit back with a similar operation, but twice weekly.  Passengers will be able to connect both ways with Iberia Regional, Air Nostrum and Vueling flights.

Two-class Airbus A340s are to be operated on the route featuring Business Plus, Iberia's new long haul executive class with seats that convert into a totally horizontal bed.  Iberia also serves Sao Paulo twice daily from Madrid, as well as a daily frequency from Rio de Janeiro to the Spanish capital.  Since 1 February the Spanish airline also links Fortaleza and Recife with Madrid three times a week.

With the new routes Brazil has become Iberia's most important Latin American destination, with nearly 30 flights each week an increase of 28%, the highest growth in Iberia’s network.  In 2010, almost 500,000 passengers flew with Iberia between Brazil and Spain. www.iberia.com

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Mexico route for Air France

Air France is to launch a three times weekly service between Paris CDG and the popular Mexican conference and resort centre of Cancun.  It previously operated twice weekly from Orly but the service was dropped for this winter. The airline offers 10 flights per week between Paris and Mexico City. 

The services start on 21 October 2011 and will be operated by a two class 472-seat Boeing 777-300.  Air France will compete with the French-based but German-owned holiday airline XL Airways and to some extent British Airways out of Gatwick and both Martinair and TUI charter arm Arkefly from Amsterdam.

Cancun is considered a Caribbean destination and is rapidly expanding leisure area very popular from North America with its all year round tropical weather.  It currently has around 72,000 hotel rooms available of which 76% are 5-star or greater. http://cancun.travel/en

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TAM to sell airline tickets in bus stations

Brazilian airline TAM, which flies both domestically and to international destinations, is to introduce an innovative scheme coupling together bus and airline tickets. 

TAM has come together with transport operator Pássaro Marron (Brown Bird) who will sell the airline’s services at its bus stations in 50 cities in the States of São Paulo and Minas Gerais on a three-month experimental basis.  TAM franchise network stores, present in all Brazilian States, will offer bus tickets of Pássaro Marron combined with airline tickets.

The airline says it is currently negotiating with bus companies operating in other regions of the country, aiming to increase access to air travel for what it calls “the emerging classes.” www.tamairlines.com

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CRUISE NEWS March 2011

Our 10-story news review follows:

Last weekend the annual Daily Telegraph Cruise Show took place at London’s Olympia over a much brighter Saturday and Sunday than the previous year.  Attendance was a record 18,000 with 80 exhibitors with the show physically moving within Olympia to the light and airy venue of The Grand Hall.

 

Once again the three presentation theatres were well supported, Ask the Expert, Meet the Cruise Lines, and Adventure Cruising.  The show was a time for meeting old friends and making new ones, and hearing about the ideas and innovations for cruising in 2011, which clearly looks like another all time high for the industry.

 

Speakers included travel personalities, broadcasters and writers Martin Bell, Sue Lawley, Christine Hamilton, Paul Rose, Gavin Bell, and actor Michael Simkin.  The Cruise Show will also be held at the NEC Birmingham and The SECC in Glasgow in October 2011. www.cruisingshow.co.uk

This month’s ship review: Golden Princess

 

When it comes to designing really big ships Princess more or less got it right in 1998 with Grand Princess.  Then came Golden Princess three years later, virtually the same size, that is too big for the Panama Canal, but with some useful improvements.  They both set new standards which competitors have tried to copy.  Princess has also added to the series but somehow, arguably, Golden is the best of the lot.  What makes it the best is difficult to quantify.

AERBT recently took Golden Princess from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back, a 15-day round trip including four calls within the islands, and a short visit to Ensenada (Mexico), south of San Diego, in order to satisfy US maritime law. 

Joining the ship

The five-day Pacific crossing proved to be extremely smooth, the sea days well spent listening to a variety of lectures on the Islands, learning not only about one of the most exotic parts of the USA, and of Pearl Harbour and the Pacific war, but of ecology too.  On the way back a (planned) lecture on tsunamis was very much standing room only.  The safest place to be during an earthquake induced underwater tidal wave (which is what a tsunami is) is at sea we learnt.

Don’t be worried about not having anything to do with all those days at sea.  “Princess Patter”, the ship’s daily, is full of suggestions starting with the in-cabin “wake up show” from a ridiculously early 06:00 until late in the evening entertainment at various bars and venues.  Dance enthusiasts, bingo addicts and quiz experts are all catered for, and you can learn how to lose weight.  For the most part it is all free.  First run films can be seen either indoors or outside at “Movies Under the Stars” together with the obligatory popcorn.  The 900-seat pillarless Princess Theatre provides for a series of entertainment ranging from an illusionist to lavishly staged production shows complete with a fine live band.  Somehow the comedians manage to be international. 

Your Editor (a member of the IOC-recognised International Society of Olympic Historians) gave a well-attended talk on the history of the Olympics, culminating in what he admits was a bit of a sales pitch for London, rather than just the games.  Some cruise ships will be mooring close by the O2 Area in 2012.

Golden Princess is now into its fourth Hawaii season (which runs from the beginning of October until the end of April), the ship very often full to its 2,600+ capacity.  You just don’t notice the numbers and she certainly has enough sun bathing space, a little noisy around the three pools (one adult only) but very quiet high up near the stern.  Here a sports court, shuttle cock and a very large chess set is offered!

The programme has proved especially popular with the British, occasionally representing nearly 50% of passengers.  This may be because Hawaii has become a practical destination with five competitive airlines serving Los Angles non-stop from Heathrow.  Fly over, overnight, and pick up the ship the next day.  Plenty of sea days to recover and if you haven’t lost your money in the ship’s casino you can always go on to nearby Las Vegas on the way back.

Average age on this trip was 64 with very few children.  This changes dramatically over the Christmas period and during the school holidays when the services of the Youth and Teen Centres are fully brought into action. 

Dining

37% were Princess first time cruisers.  Princess offers either Traditional Dining, or Anytime Dining with the same extensive menu in both.  Only about 40% of the passengers preferred the fixed dining (Canaletto Dining Room) and of these twice as many went for 18:00, in the American tradition.  The Brits and others tended to take the second sitting, more relaxed with no pressure to vacate the table. The waiters change their serving attire every night to reflect with the dining menu.  On the Hawaiian evening they wore stylish local shirts but it was back to bow ties for the formal night.  More casual dining takes place in the Horizon Court high up on deck 14 with much the same menu.  It also serves as a popular place for breakfast rendezvous.

New and proving very popular is the Crown Grill situated deep in the heart of the ship forwards of the Piazza.  For a small charge it serves a selection of meat cuts and sea food, all individually prepared and cooked as requested.  You can watch the preparation too.  With deep pile carpeting and well spread out tables complimented by fine wood panelling it is a very pleasant place to spend an evening.  The Crown Grill doubles up as an English pub-style dining rendezvous lunchtimes, proving very popular.  No extra charge for this.

Sabatini’s is the other major alternative restaurant, again available for a small service charge.  Sabatini’s is pure Italian, at least five courses, and rather like the Crown Grill here the chefs are very visible to the clientele.  Mini-suite holidaymakers have the use of this splendid spot for breakfast.  They also can partake in canapés in the Skywalkers nightclub and bar in the early evening.  On deck 18, in a sort of wing, high at the back of the ship Skywalkers is accessible via a moving staircase.

Cabins

With the exception of the suites the cabins on the Grand series have been more or less standardised about the same size and nearly half with balconies.  Flat screen TVs are standard, fresh fruit is provided daily, and the wardrobe arrangement is one of the best thought out at sea.  There is a fridge provided, hair drier and bathrobe, but no daily newspaper.

Princess provides for eight eating outlets plus Vines, a distinctive wine bar which also serves complimentary seafood sushi and tapas.  Close by is the International café with some mouth-watering pastries.  Specialised coffees are charged for.

Golden Princess is a very quiet and peaceful vessel for its size which runs very smoothly.  No series of announcements but when they do occasionally come it is in English, to the point, and over very quickly.  Even when getting off on the tenders it is extremely quick and easy and at the end of the voyage the notoriously awkward US immigration did not present any problems. 

What to do?

Princess regulars are offered plenty of credit at the very busy 20-station internet café conveniently situation on the ground floor of what Princess call the Piazza (Atrium).  Communications at sea are always a little bit “iffy” but for the most part they worked well, AERBT edited for two weeks running from the Pacific.  The ship is wi-fi with very few blind spots.  There can be more than 400 users on at any one time (including crew).

It is lots of little things that make Golden Princess outstanding.  If you have a deep pocket and want to spend money in the spa, on tours and in the casino you can do so.  But if your budget only goes as far as the US$10.50 per person per day suggested service charge, so be it.  Coffee and tea is provided 24hrs, the ice cream parlour is open from 11:00 to 23:00 as is both the Trident Grill (for hot dogs and burgers etc), and if you need a late night meal there is always the brassiere.  You can have a Continental breakfast in your cabin and there is a fairly extensive daytime courtesy menu.  Water is always available on boarding as is cold towels, very welcome when returning from a tour on a hot day.

Two walking/running circuits of the ship are available but both involve climbing up stairs.  The main promenade deck has two stage steps at the bow which makes it fairly easy to climb, at least for the first few laps.  There is just no way around this inconvenience.  You can walk or run right at the top of the ship up on deck 14.  This is more of an unofficial lap, is exposed, works well at the bow but is less convenient at the stern, where again you have to go up and down steps.  You can thread your way indoors but this is best described as messy. 

We booked a stateroom at the stern of the ship.  The balcony was particularly large and if you prefer to have your breakfast quietly by yourself, probably ideal.  The disadvantage is that the walk to any part of the ship, except for the Canaletto Dining Room, is long.  If your holiday involves plenty of port visits and cruising on busy seaways it is great too, but for a voyage across the Pacific there is nothing to view except water, and yet more water, the view is questionable.  I am often asked where in a ship to book.  From this experience the old adage of amidships and the deck below the swimming pools is best.  And as near to the elevator as possible although your Editor tries as much as possible to walk up and down in an effort to defeat overeating.

Sister ship Grand Princess will be based at Southampton for much of summer 2011.  It is just about to go into dry-dock for 24 days in the Bahamas.   AERBT will be reporting on what is a major upgrade next month.

www.princess.com

 

Our ten story news review  

Carnival Cruise Lines is well into being a fan of Elvis Presley and supporting music.  Cruise organiser Sixthman this week announced plans for yet another Elvis Cruise – its fifth – to kick off on 12 January 2012.  The four-night, all-Elvis-all-the-time extravaganza will take place on the 2,052-passenger Carnival Fascination as it sails out of Jacksonville, Fla, to the Bahamas.

Tribute artists Brandon Bennett and Bill Cherry will perform, as well as Elvis' Imperials, Joe Guercio, and The Memphis Boys.  Passengers will also hear stories about the King from photojournalist Al Wertheimer and Hollywood actress Cynthia Pepper, among others.  The cruise also will include Elvis-themed parties and activities, organizers say.

Thinking of strapping on some blue suede shoes, checking out of that heartbreak hotel and signing up for the trip.  Jacksonville is towards the northern extremity of Florida with Orlando and its international airport 140 miles to the south. www.carnival.com

 

Celebrity Cruises is to introduce Celebrity Silhouette in 2011 and Celebrity Reflection in 2012, both developments of successful Solstice class ships, 122,000 tons and 2,800 passengers.

Celebrity will bring in the innovative use of iPad menus in Qsine, a culinary concept with video player options, touch-screen wine lists, interactive dinner menus and cocktail lists.  New dining areas include The Lawn Club Grill and The Porch; The Alcoves and The Hideaway for relaxation. 

The Lawn Club Grill will bring the first outdoor, interactive grill venue to the cruise industry, with speciality dining options overlooking the lawn and sea, in addition to interactive demonstrations and classes.  The venue will also include “The Alcoves”; eight exclusive, cabana-style private retreats, each designed for two to four guests.  Meanwhile The Porch, an intimate 48-seat location, will offer quick, simple, casual and complimentary breakfasts and lunches. www.celebritycruises.com

 

Crystal Cruises is changing its marketing policy in what Gregg Michel, President, calls “an evolution of Crystal’s luxury services”.  Effective spring 2012, holidays on the award-winning Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will include free fine wines and premium spirits in all restaurants, open bar service in all lounges and pre-paid gratuities for housekeeping, bar and dining staff.  The complimentary gratuity amenity includes butler service in the penthouse suites and in all of Crystal’s fine specialty restaurants and sushi bar.

The new benefits begin with each ship’s first Trans-Atlantic cruise next year: Crystal Symphony’s “Beyond the Sea” sailing from Miami to Lisbon on 19 March 2012, and Crystal Serenity’s “New World to Norway” voyage from New York to Dover on 8 May 2012.

In the meantime Crystal Serenity is going in for a US$25m upgrade 8 to 22 May in Hamburg.  More than 400 expert technicians flown from around the world will be working round the clock for the 14 days including a massive redesign of her 531 Deluxe Staterooms, Penthouses and Penthouses Suites; retail centres; expansive outdoor pool deck and other design projects.  Full details next month. www.crystalcruises.co.uk

 

eWaterways have come up with a Mediterranean very basic cruising package that is entirely different from anything else available.  Based at Dubrovnik, Opatija or Split on the Dalmatian cost of Sonia, what is on offer is for the most part somewhat basic and is clearly aimed at young people who want a water-borne holiday without the trimmings.

The fleet, motorised sailing schooners, comprises three different categories of vessels; the very basic Category B ships, the newly renovated Category A, and finally Category A+ which offer a higher degree of comfort and service.  Category B boats are suited to young people, groups of friends or special interest groups looking for an affordable cruise.  Bathrooms and toilets are located on deck and are shared by all passengers and accommodation is in cabins furnished with bunk beds.  All the ships have large sun decks for relaxation and socialising.  Or you can sleep out at night.

The spacious A+ ships have just 19 cabins, all of which are equipped with private facilities and air conditioning.  With both indoor and outdoor dining spaces, you can enjoy the delights of Croatian cuisine as the world slips by.

The meal plan is different.  It is half board with a continental breakfast in the mornings and Croatian inspired cuisine for lunch.  Your evenings are free to explore the local area where the ship moors each night, where you may choose to dine at a local restaurant and experience the local delicacies. www.ewaterways.com

 

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines 927 passenger cruise ship, Braemar, will operate cruises exclusively from UK ports, following the conclusion of her winter 2011/12 Caribbean fly-cruise season. 

Fred Olsen’s decision to withdraw from the Caribbean fly-cruise programme has been forced by the escalating costs of air travel, together with the high cost of Air Passenger Duty (APD), which is a major factor.  The Government’s decision to review APD with respect to the region has come too late to save the programme.

Lol Nichols, General Sales Manager of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, said:

“This was not an easy decision to make, as our Caribbean fly-cruises have always been popular.  We would therefore encourage those of our guests who love fly-cruising with us to the Caribbean to make sure that they book their places on Braemar’s final season in winter 2011/12 as soon as possible, as we are expecting these cruises to prove especially attractive.

“We feel that the wide choice of ex-UK ports that we feature gives greater convenience to guests from all over the British Isles, and the addition of Braemar to the year-round ex-UK programme will allow for a greater variety of cruises, as well as allowing those loyal Braemar fans to cruise on the ship all-year-round from the UK.”

The end of the fly-cruise programme will not mean an end to Caribbean cruising with Fred Olsen.  The cruise line has always operated ex-UK cruises to the Caribbean, as well as other longer cruises, to the ‘New World’, Africa, and ‘Around the World’, so importantly, the choice of destination areas visited will not be reduced. www.fredolsencruises.com

 

MSC Cruises new Arabian Gulf itinerary, set to launch this autumn, will now feature Ras al-Khaimah in place of Bahrain.  Given the volatility of the current situation in the island Kingdom, this change will continue throughout the 2011/2012 season.

The 60,000-ton 1,560 passenger MSC Lirica will be based in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for the 2011-2012 winter season.  Her itinerary includes 19 eight-day seven-night cruises from Abu Dhabi, with departures every Sunday from 30 October through to 4 March 2012, and from Dubai, with departures every Friday from 28 October to 9 March 2012.

Aside from Ras al-Khaimah, MSC Lirica will also call at the port of Muscat (Sultanate of Oman) and Al Fujairah (Abu Dhabi) and Dubai (United Arab Emirates).

MSC have cancelled all calls at Alexandria and Tunis (La Goulette) until the end of the 2011/2012 winter season. www.msccruises.co.uk

 

Oceania Cruises will operate four ships in Europe including Marina, which launched in January 2011, and her sister ship, Riviera, due to debut in April 2012.

The 2012 European season includes more than 72 sailings from April through to December.  Other firsts include a complimentary hotel stay before every voyage, an overnight port stay on every itinerary, more late-night departures and the addition of three seven-night voyages.

Featuring 41 distinct itineraries, Marina, Nautica, Regatta and Riviera will cover the entire continent, calling at 145 different ports of call, 12 of which are new for 2012.  Nautica and Regatta (plus Insignia which does not visit Europe) are 30,000-ton 680-passenger former Renaissance R class ships, very much upgraded and small enough to get into restricted ports forming the backbone of Oceania during its formative years since 2004.  Marina and Riviera are both new-builds to Oceania’s own specification, 65,000 tons and 1,250 passengers. www.oceaniacruises.co.uk

 

Princess has announced the name and released details of the new Royal Princess due for 2013.  Out goes the only poor feature of the highly successful Grand series (see above), the universally acknowledged lack of balcony privacy for most of the more expensive mini-suites.  AERBT would also like to see some consistency with the rest rooms, men to the starboard and women port (or visa versa).  Currently they are all over the place   Other lines are better organised in this area but we don’t expect a press release with an announcement!.

The original Royal Princess was named by Princess Diana in 1984 and speculation is rife that her future daughter-in-law will be asked to perform the same duty in a Spring 2013 naming ceremony.  Royal Princess at 141,000 tons has accommodation for 3,600 passengers with all outside cabins offering a balcony. 

The new ship will be instantly recognisable as a Princess cruise liner with her classic lines, stubby bow and sweeping funnel arrangement.  What will be unique is an over-water SeaWalkSM, a top-deck glass-bottomed enclosed walkway on the ship's starboard side extending more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel.  From here passengers can enjoy dramatic views 128 feet above the sea. On the ship's port side, passengers will find a similarly-unique cantilevered SeaView bar, featuring cocktails with unbeatable vistas.  AERBT will feature the new ship in a future edition.  A video preview of Royal Princess is available at www.princess.com/royalprincess

 

Royal Caribbean International has unveiled its 2012 Europe cruise season, upping the ante from its 2011 line-up of 11 ships to 12 for 2012, which will again include two Freedom-class ships, the largest and most groundbreaking in the line’s fleet to sail European waters.  Amsterdam will debut as one of 12 boarding points with ships calling at 101 ports in 34 countries on itineraries ranging from three to 16 nights.

In addition to the 12 homeports from which guests can choose, Royal Caribbean is also offering eight “interports” – where they can join itineraries en route – creating 20 options for embarkation and disembarkation, including Toulon, Marseille and LeHavre (France); Genoa, Messina (Sicily); and Bari (Italy); Valencia (Spain); and Kusadasi – Ephesus (Turkey).  Maiden calls will be made at Arhus (Denmark); Klaksvik (Faroe Islands); and Kenes – Lofoten (Norway).

For the third consecutive year, Independence of the Seas will be positioned year-round in Southampton, primarily operating on an alternating series of 14-night sailings, 'Mediterranean Treasures' and 'Italian Mediterranean' programmes.  Three 10- and 11-night Canary Islands itineraries will be available in October and November.  The ship will also offer one three-night sailing, overnighting in Paris (Le Havre) in May; and a four-night cruise spending the night in Cork (Ireland). www.royalcaribbean.com

 

Saga is the latest operator to announce its 2012 programme featuring Saga Ruby and Saga Pearl II.  It is the one cruise operator who only sells direct and whilst the prime booker has to be over 50, if their companion is 40+ they will not be turned away.

Saga Ruby will circumnavigate the globe for her fifth world cruise under the Saga flag leaving Southampton 6 January 2012 on a 114-night journey via the Panama Canal, the Island of the Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, India, the Middle East and Mediterranean.  For those who cannot spare the time for the journey there is a choice of six shorter voyages that vary in length from 33 to 71 nights.

Saga Pearl II will begin her 2012 season by sailing to the shores of the Caribbean.  The ideal escape from the British winter, this 39-night, all-inclusive voyage promises one sun-kissed destination after another. www.saga.co.uk

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