27 JUNE 2011

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Airline food and drink

Airport Parking and Hotels (APH), the long-established travel extras experts, has put together a table telling us whether or not food and drink is included when flying and if not how much we can expect to spend onboard.

The research found the majority of airlines include a small snack and drinks on short haul flights.  Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas Group, Thai Airways and Virgin Atlantic provide a range of meal options, hot, cold and alcoholic beverages all inclusive in the price of a ticket.  At the other end of the scale, bmi, easyJet, Flybe and Ryanair ensure that passengers pay for everything.  Other carriers including Japan Airlines, Monarch and US Airways charge for snacks and meals but do provide complimentary coffee and tea.

On short haul Continental, Delta, easyJet and United include money saving deals in the form of snack boxes which typically include crisps, chocolate, crackers and cheese.  Monarch offer an online discount if you order your meal online at least 24 hours before your flight.  Vegetarian options are generally available.

All airlines that include a complimentary in-flight catering offer speciality meal options, for example: vegetarian, low fat, diabetic, halal, kosher and child meals. www.aph.com/airlinemeals

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British Airways strike finally over

The Unite union has confirmed that a vote by British Airways cabin crew to end their long running dispute with the airline has overwhelmingly come down on the side of a peace deal.  The 18-month row certainly had an effect on the carrier's commercial performance which in some cases did lead to unsatisfactory on-board service.

Unite said members voted 92% in favour with a turnout of 72%.  Staff travel concessions will be returned to crew members from whom they were removed during last year’s strikes.

In a two-year pay deal including productivity, staff will get a rise of up to 4% this year and 3.5% 12 months later.  Lost in the dispute the initial cause of the industrial action was the removal of at least one crew member from most long haul flights.  This has saved BA an estimated £63m per year.

Len McCluskey, Unite’s General Secretary, who headed the final negotiations with Keith Williams, BA’s new Chief Executive, said: “Unite always firmly believed that this dispute would be solved not through conflict but through negotiation.  Thankfully we have reached an honourable agreement with BA.”

With BA now focussed on recovery, rival UK carrier Virgin Atlantic faces disruption from its pilots with BALPA now mandated by its members to strike at a date not confirmed. www.ba.com www.unitetheunion.com

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Cloud emerges at SITA World IT Conference

Emphasising “Cloud”, and as predicted in AERBT, the SITA/Orange partnership grabbed the headlines at last week's Air Transport IT Summit 2011. 

Celebrating ten years of partnership the two communications service providers are to build a global, high performance, managed Cloud computing infrastructure.  Each will use their own system to deliver to the markets, with added global reach and reliability.  Cloud, seemingly the way ahead in the world of IT, has been described as the use and access of multiple server-based computational resources via a digital network.  Users in effect have dumb terminals.  All processing and storage is maintained by the Cloud server.

With the case of SITA/Orange the computing infrastructure will be based on six seamlessly interconnected data centres in five continents, in Atlanta, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney.  Each centre will cover their regional hemispheres and will be interconnected via Orange’s high-speed MPLS network.  Over this infrastructure, Orange Business Services and SITA will offer their individual portfolio of Cloud including the platform, infrastructure, and software all as services.  Both Orange Business Services and SITA will continue to own the contract relationships with their end users.

Rollout of the infrastructure has already started with the data centres of Atlanta, Frankfurt and Singapore being fully operational in Q1 2012 and all six operational in Q3 2012.  More from the Summit next week. www.sita.aero

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Korean Air wows Paris

With their new Paris – Seoul route not due for introduction until September Korean Air was able to exploit an embarrassment for Airbus at last week’s air show giving great publicity for the future service.

Instead of the Airbus-owned development aircraft taking part in the daily flight demonstration it was Korean Air’s second A380 that took to the skies each afternoon creating a very favourable impression.  We were told that the manufacturer’s own A380 had ‘technical problems’. 

Each morning travel agents (and the media) were able to inspect what is the least dense A380 yet available, only 401 seats against Air France 538.  The upper deck is given over entirely to Prestige Class (business class) just 94 lie flat seats.  Also included are two lounge areas and Korean Air’s unique airborne duty free shop (one on each deck).  It is 2+2+2 upstairs the aircraft decorated in pastel colours with the accommodation divided into three areas including a pair of lounges.  It exudes comfort and style.

Seoul to Tokyo and Hong Kong have already been introduced with Bangkok expected in July and New York for August.  The Paris overture marks Korean Air’s initial foray into Europe for the eagerly awaited aircraft. www.koreanair.com

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Los Angeles luxury hotel to re-open

The iconic Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angles will re-open in October after 24 months of extensive refurbishment and redesign.

Part of the Dorchester Collection, which includes the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel, and The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London, it will offer 103 guestrooms and suites, featuring 12 new suites, built into the hillside offering sweeping canyon views, expansive sliding glass walls and spacious decks with private spa pools.  There will also be seven individually designed speciality suites including the famed Grace Kelly Suite and a new Presidential Suite with 6,775sq ft of indoor and outdoor living space, offering private dining for 10, a chef's kitchen and a private pool.

New to the hotel is a 12,000sq ft Spanish mission style structure featuring a new bell tower, fitness studio, three unique ‘Loft guestrooms’ and a brand new 4,134sq ft Spa by La Prairie, set to be the biggest in LA.

All food and beverage operations will be overseen by Wolfgang Puck and the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group.  The restaurant, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, will focus on modern Californian cuisine with European and Mediterranean influences. www.hotelbelair.com

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Qatar takes Airline of the Year

The Paris Air Show was the venue for this year's Skytrax Airline of the Year announcements, the actual location the Musée de l'Air et de l' Espace at Le Bourget.

Overall the most important and prestigious award went to Qatar Airways as the Airline of the Year.  Most improved was China Southern, and for the Best Leisure Airline, surprisingly Thomson Airways took first place.

This year Star Alliance was considered the outstanding airline grouping.

In total there are 63 awards and we will not list them all here, suffice that Air New Zealand won the hotly contested Best Airline Premium Economy Class (which we can vouch for) and Oman Air for Best Business Class seats (which again AERBT would agree with).  Asiana won for its Economy Class product.  There is a class for most services and areas, JetBlue winning the category for Domestic Airline in North America.

Operating since 1999, the World Airline Survey is held in high esteem for the clarity of process and rigorously applied rules of complete independence.  The survey operated between July 2010 and May 2011 and in this time 18.8m passengers from more than 100 different nationalities participated in the customer satisfaction survey. www.worldairlineawards.com

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United begins to lose Continental

The combined Continental and United airlines operation is pushing ahead with a number of new routes.  At the same time the usual Continental spot at last week's Business Travel Market became a total United Airlines sales pitch devoid of any mention of the space's former tenant.

Counted as a domestic sector, in spite of its five-hour plus duration and one of the world’s longest internal flights, the very recently introduced daily Continental 737-800 Hilo – Los Angeles service now links for the first time the Hawaiian island with the United States mainland.  Continental is also flying weekly San Francisco – Hilo.  Other new San Francisco routes include Guadalajara (Mexico), a daily service operated by Continental Airlines.  Also from ‘Frisco, Idaho Falls gets a daily United Express operation flown by SkyWest Airlines.

On the international front from its New York Newark hub Continental now flies to Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and will on 1 July introduce its latest transatlantic European operation, a daily Boeing 757 flight to Stuttgart (Germany). www.continental.com www.united.com

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AND FINALLY: Lost in Paris

Great show Le Bourget this year.  The French have really got their act together.  To a point!

Free bus from the station to the entrance way and new excellent routing.

But straight into the usual jam!

And for the media a preview briefing in London and electronic passes.

At the venue no list of exhibitors in the (useless) press pack, no programme of events (apart from a rolling screen that took 20 minutes to pass through) and if you wanted a show guide that was available, somewhere, at a cost of 50. 

Full site maps were elusive although there were some splendid ones available for the public, if you knew where to look. 

Other than that it rained on press day!

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COMMENT: London and its airports

It has been a busy week for the business traveller in terms of news and events.  The Paris Air Show, at Le Bourget, once again proved a fascinating shop window for the industry with new aeroplanes and innovations.  In London the third Business Travel Market attracted British and European buyers to a showcase of those involved in the sharp end of the business.  In Brussels SITA assembled together the airline technical geeks for its 13th Air Transport IT Summit.  Each gathering symbolised a vital segment of business travel and networking at its best.

In London an event took place that may prove to be just as thought provoking.  The Times CEO Summit brought together Willie Walsh, now Chief Executive of International Airlines Group, the owner of British Airways, and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.  The discourse was interesting.

It is universally accepted that Heathrow has reached bursting point.  Its performance in terms of passenger numbers is not due to its popularity as an airport, but London’s dominance of one of the great commercial and leisure centres of the world.  Expansion will only come in the future (except for a slight tinkering around of the air traffic rules) with the growth of aircraft (A380) and the removal of those at the bottom end of the scale resulting in higher average passenger numbers per aeroplane.

At the Summit Mr Walsh told The Times that he had abandoned any resistance to the Government’s political decision cancelling the Heathrow third runway.  We think him wrong.  BA may be happy with the status quo which leaves the airline dominant at Europe’s current largest hub.  A third runway would open up a can of worms.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, espoused upon his ideas for a runway in the Thames Estuary.  AERBT is not against the scheme in principal.  It is the practicalities that worry this publication. 

New major airports around the world only work under certain circumstances.  Montreal was closed, Sydney did not even get going, Charles de Gaulle (Paris) and Chek Lap Kop (Hong Kong) were straight swops.  Narita (Tokyo) has not been a success.  The only true comparison is Kansai International in Osaka Bay (Japan), opened in 2004 and now with two runways.  It exists side by side with the old Osaka Airport, domestic only, and on the other side of the city.

AERBT will continue to fly the flag for Northolt as a short/medium term solution to London’s airport problems and as a stepping-stone for either the Thames Estuary or another palatable site.

In June 1982 a Brymon Dash 7 landed at Herons Quay (by Canary Wharf) in London’s disintegrating docklands to prove the principal of a city centre airport.  The three parties drawn in, political, investment and airline, fought a difficult battle to establish the facility.  Take away that airport today and there would be uproar.

The establishment of London City Airport (LCY) was an interesting experience for those involved.  A completely brown field site and a sceptical public.  But we have moved on over the last 30 years.  LCY is a success, the aircraft of today (and their noise footprint) are vastly quieter than of that decade.  And the use of Northolt meets the political challenge of “no new runways in the life of this Parliament”.  Think of the advantages it would bring to the regions linking such far-flung places such as Carlisle, Humberside, Inverness, Newquay and Plymouth to London.  BA would probably be wary but the benefits would accrue.  And Heathrow would profit too.

We believe that Northolt is the way ahead.  The experience of LCY proves that it can be done from what was a much less forward starting point.  What is required is a developer of vision.  Initially at any rate a deep pocket is not required.  The other elements can be assembled and we believe that the will is there. 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airline search engine launch

Skyscanner came to London last week.  The Edinburgh-based flight comparison site essentially was in town to launch version 2 of its ‘All flights, everywhere’ flight search app but it proved a fine opportunity for co-founder Frank Skivington, Sales Marketing Director, to outline the company's history, talk about the future, and introduce the new product.

Unlike other flight search creations Skyscanner links direct to the airlines and is only selective as regards price.  On any sector it lists every carrier using as a basis of its operation the OAG database.  Well thought out, you enter the airports you wish to travel from and to and date of travel from pull-down menus and then the system lists all the available flight options and prices.  Hotel and car hire are shown too.  There is also a map of the destination.  For the future Skyscanner plans to offer train services.  There are no booking fees and revenue is generated via commission paid by the airline or service. 

Skyscanner was created in 2004 by three IT professionals and today employs just over 100 staff with additional offices in Poland and a planned autumn operation in Singapore.  With more than 14m users per month, Skyscanner generates downstream revenues of over US$1bn every year.  It is available in 23 languages and whatever currency you prefer. www.skyscanner.net

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Carry on 747

With the lead 747-8 Intercontinental proudly sitting outside its chalet Boeing were able to announce at the Paris Air Show 17 firm orders for an aircraft which in an earlier life first flew in 1969.  No customers were actually disclosed, which seems to be the way of things at the moment (see Bombardier) but one airline is taking 15 whilst the other will receive two.  At the show Air China confirmed a commitment for five of the aircraft which brings the order book up to 126 including 76 of the freighter variant.

The 747-8 is in many ways a completely new aircraft featuring 787-technology GEnx-2B engines.  It is 18ft 4ins longer than the 747-400 and provides for 467 passengers in a typical three-class configuration.

A brief inspection showed that the flight deck crew are very well provided for and essentially self-contained in a secure area.  “Up front” offers bunked sleeping accommodation for two and a separate washroom.  Basic catering facilities are provided.  Behind the cockpit the “bubble” space is huge and it will be interesting to see how Lufthansa, lead customer, treat this area which up to now in its 747s has been normally reserved for First Class.  With the airline’s new policy to offer only accommodation for eight in the prestige class the space available does seem over generous. www.boeing.com/commercial

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EasyJet gains new board member

Charles Gurassa, once tipped to run British Airways, has joined the board of easyJet as a Non-Executive Director and becomes Deputy Chairman from 1 September.

Gurassa’s long experience in the airline and travel sector includes spells with Thomas Cook, the Thomson organisation (in its Britannia Airways days), and TUI, its present owner, plus senior positions with British Airways and its subsidiaries.

At the Business Travel Market last week easyJet used the opportunity to introduce its new sales team tasked to attract corporate clients and closely follows the launch of its Flexi Fare.  The sales team members, known as Business Partners, will work with all elements of the business travel market to help deliver efficient travel policies for today’s cost conscious companies.

James Marchant comes from Virgin Atlantic.  Adrian Keating is a corporate specialist with over 10 years of experience with British Airways and Etihad, and Paul Davis is also a corporate specialist and joins easyJet from Sabre Travel Network where he was responsible for premier accounts within new business sales. www.easyjet.com

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London City gets premium arrivals

British Airways Airbus A318, Business Class only, non-stop service from New York Kennedy has introduced a courtesy arrivals service.  The airline has partnered with the 4-star deluxe Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf hotel to provide customers with a high-class facility so they can freshen up for the day ahead.

Customers at JFK can pre-book at check-in, the Galleries Club lounge or at the boarding gate before departure.  No doubt a pda version will also be available soon.

Upon arrival in London they are escorted to a chauffeur-driven executive car and driven to the Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf.  Journey should take no more than ten minutes.  Once at the hotel BA customers are directed to the East River Spa to take advantage of private treatment rooms with complimentary toiletries and access to the gym and relaxation rooms.  Breakfast is provided for those who have slept though the pre-landing mealtime.

Customers who want to maximise their sleep onboard can choose from a complimentary breakfast in the Azura Restaurant or on the riverside terrace, as well as make use of the hotel’s business centre with free wi-fi. www.britishairways.com/travel/club-world-london-city

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Ouagadougou gets Kenya flights

Burkina Faso (formerly French and once called The Republic of Upper Volta) and its capital of Ougadougou, is to gain connections to East Africa with news that Kenya Airways is to introduce a twice weekly Boeing 737-800 service starting 15 July.  Burkina Faso borders Nigeria to the south and air services at Ougadougou are limited to other capitals in the region, plus twice weekly flights from Brussels and daily out of Paris alternating between Charles De Gaulle and Orly.

The new route, Kenya Airways 55th global destination, is operational via Cotonou, the capital of Benin. 

Highlighting the airline’s ambition to be the carrier of choice for Africa, Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Dr Titus Naikuni noted: “Our plans to fly to every capital in Africa by 2013 and consolidate our route network on the continent are well on course.  Ougadougou is the second of the routes that we have opened this year after Ndjamena in Chad, with plans at various stages for a further six destinations in the course of this financial year.”

To support this route expansion strategy, the airline recently announced the signing of an agreement to take delivery of nine Boeing 787 Dreamliners.  It has also signed a Letter of Intent with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer to purchase 10 E190 jets, of which two have been delivered. www.kenya-airways.com

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Supersonic to New York (again) – maybe 2021?

The Paris Air Show would not be complete without a story regarding supersonic travel to New York.  This time around it was a British company, HyperMach Europe Aeronautics, who announced the SonicStar which they claim will achieve the speed of Mach 3.5, while meeting requirements for high thrust to weight ratio engine designs, reduced emissions and a dramatic reduction of sonic boom overland.

According to HyperMach the aircraft incorporates revolutionary aerodynamics and propulsion technology to overcome the environmental and economic challenges that have stopped the development of supersonic aircraft in the past. 

Richard Lugg, the man behind the project, was reticent regarding where the funds behind the project were coming from and promised to reveal all shortly “I’ve made it my life’s work to make this dream a reality.  Now, in 2011, we have access to revolutionary engine technology, and a unique, very high speed aircraft design to make this kind of earth-shatteringly fast air travel possible.”

The aircraft is planned to have no more than 20 seats and operate at 60,000 ft, the same as Concorde.  New York would be just 90 minutes away.  Far sighted as he was, Lindberg would have been amazed. www.hypermach.com

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ON TOUR: Business Travel Market 2011

Now established as a very serious part of the travel scene the annual two day Business Travel Market (BTM) at London Excel exhibition centre again attracted an enquiring audience willing to listen, talk and ask probing questions.  Perhaps the only criticism was the use of the hall's conference facilities for the convention sessions.  These tended to reduce the numbers in the main exhibition hall.  Facilities could have been provided in the adjoining space.  A noticeable non-attendee was British Airways, who also do not appear at World Travel Market in the same venue.  BA is keen to promote its activities at London City Airport which virtually adjoins Excel and were missed at the show.

Platinum sponsor Qatar Airways in many ways stole the occasion with the announcement from Paris as Skytrak’s Airline of the Year. Key to the success of the show was the “hosted buyer’s” scheme which attracted more than 300 top travel purchasers from over 20 countries.  An estimated 2000+ meetings took place with exhibitors.

For the opening session keynote speaker Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan dispelled the myth that the airline wasn’t worried about profit and didn’t pay for fuel!  In fact he confided that the carrier gained its best deal on fuel in Singapore rather than at Abu Dhabi!  When asked if there was any chance of Etihad Airways buying a share of Virgin Atlantic, Hogan didn’t categorically deny it as a possibility but did emphasise that working with partners – currently it code shares with 30 airlines – was the expansion direction the airline was taking.  Asked by AERBT for its views on economy plus he claimed that Etihad did not need an extra class.  “Our back end is better than many premium economy products,” he said. 

Sessions on high-speed rail, the so-called “two minute pitch” and keeping pace with technology followed.  Those on the platform included Anne Godfrey, Chief Executive, GTMC; Nick Mercer, Commercial Director, Eurostar; Paul Simmons, Commercial Director, easyJet; and Titus Johnson, UK General Manager, Air Berlin. 

Keeping everyone awake after a very much working lunch (wine and sandwiches) was Richard Newman, Director of UK Body Talk.  Mr Newman had the audience jumping around to find their natural standing position and got the assembly speaking Nepalese by using body language to communicate what words meant.  Only it wasn’t Nepalese but that was Mr Newman’s point – he could communicate through body language!  Controlling posture, legs, arms and tone of voice were all components of this session to get the delegates communicating with confidence.

Social media came in for discussion and the role it is playing, and will play for the future.  Networking opportunism has proved to be an excellent occasion to exchange comment on both pricing and product comparison in recent times.  Will this be overtaken by Facebook and the like?

Excel is a venue for next year's London 2012 Olympics.  Paul Deighton, CEO, LOCOG (London Organisation Committee for Olympic Games), and responsible for the infrastructure of the total games took to the stage to outline the progress  and the impact the event will have on the travel and transport industry.  At an earlier session it was noted that LOCOG had taken 65% of the branded inventory in London.  The main message from speakers IHG’s Paul Edwin and BSI’s Trevor Elswood was that TMCs and travel buyers must have conversations with and negotiate with their hotel suppliers NOW to determine travel policy to London during the Games and work with suppliers on contracted rates. 

With 400 days to go until the opening ceremony in London, Deighton stressed that the key to success was the teams’ quick turnaround from bid to delivery, through the numerous organisations they work with.  Discussing how, “broadly speaking, on time, on budget” was the message, Deighton stressed the complications associated with organising an event of this scale but labelled the Games as, “the biggest postcard we can send to the world in modern times to form an enduring image of London across the world.”  His leaving message to the conference was one focusing on the Paralympics, something which he predicts will be, “the surprise upside to next summer.”

Portman Travel, media savvy, used the opportunity to launch a new fully mobile, revolutionary itinerary tool the Portman Trip Planner (PTP).  Powered by the travel technology of software partner Truvle, the web-based tool provides business travellers with everything they need for a productive trip at their fingertips including useful information for each destination.  Users can access weather (for knowing what to take with), restaurants, events and maps.  It works across any mobile device or platform that has an internet connection.

Rival Chambers Travel Management launched the first of its Qi suite of mobile technology solutions, iRequest Mobile, enabling Chambers clients to use their smart phones and hand held devices to research and request the booking of flights, Eurostar and trains.  Chambers says that other TMCs have focussed on ‘apps’ that begin their use once a booking has been made and provide information around an itinerary, the Chambers ‘app’ is built with planning and booking in mind. 

BTM chauffeur partner Cabot Global used BTM to announce a refreshment of its 200-strong fleet of luxury cars.  Cabot Global CEO Farooq Saleem said that a number of 7 and 5 series BMWs and e and 5 class Mercedes would be joining the fleet in the next six months.  Cabot Global provided the chauffeur drive transfers for the PA travel buyers invited to BTM. 

In a session entitled ‘Back to the Future?  How important is a travel policy, control and process cost transparency?’ Chambers Travel Management’s CEO, Chris Thelen, spoke out against the increasing unethical practices that threaten to put the reputation of some UK travel management companies at risk.  Thelen presented a clear and detailed description of how airfares known as ‘nett’ or ‘negotiated’ fares that are sold to the TMCs by airlines in ‘wholesale’ fashion are a benefit to corporate customers who may not have their own discounted fares on a particular route.  He said the ‘mark up’ by TMCs varies widely.  He also condemned the practice of marking up published fares.  In the debate that followed unbundling airfares was also discussed with Thelen calling for corporate buyers to "be diligent when reviewing performance and pricing methods."

Linking into this year’s BTM theme of ‘Optimising Business Performance’, a session on day two entitled "Understanding the demands of travel on the body and what can you do to keep body and mind in the zone' saw Optima Life’s Simon Shepard discuss his findings around how travellers’ recovery times vary dependent on a range of factors, from class of seating and alcohol consumption, to individual factors such as variable heart rate and general health.  There may be a link here with another involving Tony D’Astolfo, Senior VP Travel Services, Rearden Travel and Stefan Wagner, CEO, mvolution, discussing how ‘It’s time to get to grips with mobile.’  It was noted that currently there are 33m downloads per day from the itunes App Store, with an additional 3m downloads to the Blackberry.  Is there a link between the mental strain and the physical one?

BTM has also announced the dates for the fourth annual show, to take place 13-14 June 2012. www.businesstravelmarket.co.uk

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Airbus and Boeing fight it out

Even John Leahy, Airbus super salesman, will have problems next year.  How do you top that?  Orders announced by both Airbus and Boeing at the Paris Air show last week guarantee work until 2020, and far beyond.  Whilst both are looking over their shoulders at new emerging constructors in the East and Russia they have seen it before.  The Soviets attempted, and failed, to get into international civil aviation, and it is an industrial area where the Japanese have disappointed.  Convair, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, BAe, Dornier, Fokker, Saab, and others have all disappeared in the last three decades.

Airbus came away from Paris with orders and commitments said to be worth US$72bn including 667 pledges for the revamped A320 called Neo (New Engine Option, or now perhaps “New Environmental Obligation”).  Boeing says it has made no decision regarding its future short/medium haul commitment but an interesting aside from Jim Albaugh, President of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, noted that a twin aisle 150/200-passenger capacity aircraft would add 2/3% to fuel burn, a significant figure but less than expected. 

Boeing announced contracts for 141 aircraft worth on paper US$22.5bn but the appearance of the 747-8 and 787 was probably of more significance for Seattle. www.airbus.com www.boeing.com/commercial

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Bombardier wins C Series orders

With a total of 133 firm commitments Bombardier is now well on the way with its 110 to 145-passenger C Series aircraft.  It sits in a niche of its own, smaller than the best selling of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 products (and clearly more economical than the A318 and Boeing 737-600).  First flight is now predicted as late 2012 with deliveries from one year later.

During the Paris Air Show, Bombardier announced a number of orders without being specific about the customers.  What is clear is that a European airline had committed itself to ten aircraft, a first time Bombardier order for the anonymous carrier.  Air France and British Airways meet this criteria and the announcement knocks out Alitalia and SAS.

Assuming Korean Air firms up on a 30-aircraft Letter of Intent, the order book prior to the maiden flight looks like a healthy 150 plus from eight airlines, with more orders in the pipeline.  Both Gulf Air and Qatar Airways are said to be taking a very close look at the aircraft.  The Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan (PW1000G) is the exclusive power plant for the C Series. www.bombardier.com

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China’s future aircraft – The C919

Boeing’s Jim Albaugh hinted at a press conference on the Monday of last week’s Paris Air Show that something was up regarding the Chinese and their C919 project.  On the Wednesday morning it was Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, not a Le Bourget regular, who stole the headlines. 

In what is a typical O’Leary cost nothing (or maybe he is being paid) mission Ryanair is ‘advising’ the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) on its C919 project, a direct competitor to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.  O’Leary has been hinting that he needs new ‘planes for later on in the decade.  A Boeing patron of long standing, noises towards Airbus have always seemed questionable.  As a lead customer for the C919 Ryanair and its high intensity operation does seem problematic, but you never know.  A more likely scenario is O’Leary taking the last of the 737s at heavily discounted prices.

Tucked away in Hall 5 the C919 cabin/cockpit mock-up was most impressive, nearly one foot wider than the A320, 18” more than the 737 and certainly up to western standards in terms of presentation.  COMAC also had a discreet chalet where, on its upper floor, it was able to hide away for discussion the essential people required for the project including those involved in finance and legislation. http://english.comac.cc

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Heathrow buses get an update

Passengers at Heathrow will benefit from a £500,000 investment to modernise and improve the bus service between all of the terminals and the long stay and business car parks.  This includes the introduction of GPS tracking technology and new passenger information screens.

An LED screen has been installed at each of the 30 bus stops en-route to provide greater clarity and peace of mind to passengers by giving live updates on when the next bus will arrive and where it is going.  Audio technology will also be enabled in time for the summer holidays so that the information is read out to passengers as well.

In addition, the buses that cover the routes have received a make-over with new flat screens inside to provide journey information, while the LED screens on the front will now update automatically.

The flat screens inside the buses currently inform passengers of the current location and final destination.  Additional uses are also being planned for the five-minute content slot for the future, including highlighting special offers and promotions from Heathrow’s retailers, information on airport parking, news and entertainment. www.baa.com

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London Knightsbridge hotel is unique

The Wellesley, 11 Knightsbridge, has set a date of November 2012 to open as a unique 36-guestroom boutique rendezvous.  It claims it will be London’s first 6-star property. 

Named after the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley – whose London home is directly opposite, across Hyde Park Corner) the property was originally a Piccadilly Line Underground station booking hall built in 1906.  The Leslie Green-designed station building is notable by its ox-blood (protected) coloured tiles.

In the 1930s the site became a popular jazz venue, something the new owners have latched on to.  The Jazz Room is expected to be a feature of the hotel.  To complete its luxurious offering, The Wellesley will also encompass The Crystal Bar and the Oval Restaurant.  Expect a mixture of contemporary and classic style that combine the building’s 1920s Art Deco history with elegant modern design. http://thewellesley.co.uk

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Paris opening for Mandarin Oriental

Tomorrow (28 June) is a big day for Mandarin Oriental when the celebrated hotel group, part of Jardine Matheson, opens its first Paris hotel at 251 rue Saint-Honoré, between Place Vendôme and Place de la Concorde, in the city's first arrondissement.  Close by is the Garnier Opera, the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, the original magnificent Art Deco façade of the property has been retained in a multi-million makeover.

Mandarin Oriental, now Bermuda based, never seems to do things in a simple way.  The hotel’s 138 rooms are the height of luxury.  Outstanding is the vast indoor garden of oriental inspiration.  Dining facilities include two restaurants, a live cooking counter, a bar and cake shop.  Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, a gourmet restaurant seating 44, is an intimate, light filled haute-couture cocoon.  Open all day, Camelia serves authentic cuisine with seating for 70 people and a further 25 in the indoor garden. 

Entirely devoted to well-being and relaxation, the spa offers a holistic experience to promote complete mind-body harmony.  At 900 square metres, this is one of the city's largest, offering exclusive Mandarin Oriental signature therapies, including holistic beauty treatments and massages.  Open to guests and non-guests, it has seven private suites, all equipped for hydrotherapy and heat treatments, a large indoor pool and a fitness centre. www.mandarinoriental.com/paris

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Trains in the USA are busy too

Amtrak, America’s passenger rail is celebrating its 40th anniversary during a period of long-term growth that has seen the company set annual ridership records in seven of the last eight fiscal years, including more than 28m passengers last year.  Amtrak is on track to set a new record in 2011.

Forty years ago, on 1 May 1971, Amtrak operated its first intercity passenger train.  For four decades, through periods of opportunity and challenge it has connected America, its intercity passenger rail provider and only high-speed rail operator.

While the 40th anniversary provides an opportunity to look back at each of the great transitions in the short history of the service and the introduction of 150 mph (241 kph) high-speed Acela Express service in 2000, Amtrak is committed to providing America with the transportation choices it will need in the future.  It is actively planning for next-generation 220 mph high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor and is beginning to implement a fleet renewal programme to provide new, modern and more reliable equipment for passengers and to meet anticipated future service expansion.  Typically Boston (Back Bay) to New York (Penn) is less than 3hrs 30mins, competes very favourably with the full air journey including the airport/city transfer. www.amtrak.com

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CRUISE NEWS JUNE 2011

It may be 12 months away but cruise aficionados might like to know on Tuesday 3 July 2012 P&O will be able to parade no less than seven ships at Southampton, maybe not a record from times gone by, but certainly so with regard to passenger vessels. 

If you are a ship fan you might want to make a booking on one of Carnival’s best, or put the date in your diary for next year to be in Southampton.  However AERBT would suggest keeping away from the port in the morning when deboarding  passengers could be mixing with early cruisers rushing to join their ship as early as possible.

Azura, Adonia, Arcadia, Aurora, Oriana, Oceana and Ventura.  All sizes and all prices, as they say.

Our 10-story news review follows.

This month's review: Queen Mary 2

RMS Queen Mary 2 is without doubt the flagship of Britain’s passenger shipping fleet.  Other, perhaps even more exceptional, ships have come along since she was named by Her Majesty in January 2004, but in terms of sheer bulk and grandeur there has been nothing to challenge her.  QM2, as she is affectionately known, is a true ocean liner, the last of the breed, able to operate across that most challenging of seas, the North Atlantic, all year round.  But she is also a cruise ship, happy to meander in the Caribbean in the winter season, and is perfectly adept in taking an annual World Cruise, finding her way to some exotic and lesser known places.

Back in 2005 your Editor was able to take a voyage from New York to Southampton remarking at the time that out by British Airways in Club World, and back in QM2’s Princess Grill class offered terrific value.  Things have not changed that much, nor prices.  It is still possible to board the ship at Southampton, spend seven nights on board and return to Heathrow with prices in 2012 from £949.  Add a superior cabin, move to World Traveller Plus, and stay a few nights in New York and the bill can go up.  Negotiate.  The large agencies with their bulk buying can sometimes offer really attractive prices out of season.  Usually on offer is some shipboard credit, which can come in quite useful.

With the pound sterling at US$1.60 Cunard offers remarkable value with the package full board plus a massive variety of entertainment.  You need to add tipping at US$11 per day and bar charges, plus any sundry items, typically the spa and, for those who indulge, the casino.  There is a good variety of shops too, for those items you forget to pack, and for quality clothing.  Harrods, H. Stern, Chopard and Hermes are represented, offering from voyage souvenirs to exquisite jewellery and high fashion. 

QM2 is a very British ship in terms of its décor, ambience and senior officers.  But your fellow travellers will be for the most part American (North and South), and the currency of the ship is the US Dollar.

QM2 is not the world’s largest passenger ship but is the world’s largest liner.  With a maximum of 3,090 clients (including the little ones) it has nothing like the capacity of  RCCL resort monsters (6,296), and is better off for that.  What is very apparent once you are on board is the ship’s width, much wider (147.6ft) than the new Queen Elizabeth (105.9ft), which was built to transit the Panama Canal.  The covered promenade deck is just over three laps to the mile and there is an extremely well equipped Sports Centre fitness area on deck 7.

If when booking cabins are available amidships grab one.  It is probably the best place to secure and cuts down the walking.  If you are that way inclined you can take an inboard stateroom that overlooks the three storey atrium.  There are 13 decks and five sets of elevators. 

The Queens Room is said to be the largest dance floor at sea.  There are two large theatres in the bow, one of which doubles as a planetarium and both offer big screen Hollywood as well as West End standard live shows and a whole variety of lectures by names you will be familiar with, Cunard's very successful "Insights" programme.  3D has recently been added. ConneXions is an education centre where various classes are held daily including off course the latest desktop software.  Internet is available (use up your shipboard credit) but you are at the mercy of the satellites and it can sometimes be infuriatingly slow.  Some people prefer to be completely cut off, or you can read the day’s news in the library, the largest at sea.

Queen Mary is a three (or even four) class ship but that is not evident once on board and will not affect your enjoyment.  Suffice to say this review will concentrate on Britannia Class, excellent value and seamless as you explore the ship.  Queens Grill clients gain massive suites, a butler, their own restaurant, a private lounge and various minor garnishing.  Likewise Princess Grill diners are accommodated in very nice large cabins, but the butler does not come with the package.

The three-storey high Britannia Restaurant now features a private area called Britannia Club for passengers in the top priced standard balcony cabins, single seating and with (even more) extra dining options. 

The Kings Court is the daytime self-service dining alternative which, in the evenings, is transferred into four different dining venues: British, Italian, Asian and what is termed “Chef Gallery” with live cooking demonstrations.  Waiter service and tablecloths are provided.  The ship has 10 dining options including the very popular Golden Lion Pub with darts, karaoke and a good selection of beers.  A pub lunch served every day, with classic favourites such as fish and chips and cottage pie.  Todd English, the Boston restaurateur is represented on board with his Italian/Mediterranean cuisine and cover charge of US$30.

There are five swimming pools including the delightful Pavilion with its sliding roof.  A unique exhibition located throughout the ship's corridors and stairwells unveil Cunard Line's proud history from Sir Samuel Cunard's first venture across the Atlantic in 1840 to the building of Queen Mary 2.  Something along the same lines is viewable on your cabin TV too.

The children’s/young persons’ dedicated area is fully supervised and probably the best afloat.  Called The Zone and Playzone the number of ‘clients’ can range from single figures to many hundreds in the Caribbean during the US end of the year holiday season.

The play area is open from 09:00 until midnight but closes for lunch.  It is all part of the Cunard package

You can take your dog too on the transatlantic voyages, PET approved and costing US$300/500.  They are only allowed on Deck 12 where there are kennels, also an exercise area and an indoor lounge for bad weather where owners can sit with their pets. 

PROGRAMME  Sadly QM2 no longer sails up the Hudson River to berth at Pier 90 within walking distance of Times Square.  Cunard/Carnival passengers now use the old Red Hook/Brooklyn freight pier, which is great for JFK airport but not much else.

The real good news is that since earlier this year QM2 takes seven nights to cross the Atlantic instead of six.  Even better value for money and clearly owner Carnival has looked at a spreadsheet of fuel costs against staffing levels and the food bill.  Up until the end of August this year QM2 will alternate between Transatlantic crossings and in the main seven-night Northern Europe voyages.  New York and the St Lawrence seaway is her home at the end of September before once again offering the only regular shipborne service between the United States and Europe.  Non-flyers book their travel to suit.

At the end of November the ship comes out of service for two weeks for its first major overhaul and upgrade since its launch.  All we can say is “watch this space”.

By Malcolm Ginsberg with the help of Phillippa and Ivan Gold who recently flew BA to Montreal, drove south, hooked up with Amtrak at some point, stayed three nights at the Holiday Inn, Long Island, and cruised home to Southampton.  A 14-day holiday for well under £3,000 including a balcony.

Our 10-story news review

Crystal Serenity has emerged from dry dock to begin a series of Baltic, British Isles and North Cape cruises.  Come August she then sails to the Mediterranean for a variety of late summer and autumn mostly 10-day trips.

A two-week round-the-clock remodel at Germany’s Blohm + Voss shipyard cost US$25m and involved work on all 535 staterooms, retail centres, outdoor pool deck, corridors and other spaces.  While Crystal Penthouses were refreshed with new soft goods, Deluxe Staterooms, Penthouses and Penthouse Suites were completely transformed with new, floor-to-ceiling tufted headboards, bedside cabinets, sofas, curtains, pillows and custom carpets in contemporary lines and classic stone, silk, velvet, leather and crisp linen textures.  The new sofas also offer more third berths – a nice feature for Crystal’s growing family clientele.  Blu-ray players and flat-screen televisions were added and new modern lighting features, plus an electronic “do not disturb” doorbell system throughout the ship, allow guests greater personalisation.  Cards on the door are out. www.crystalcruises.co.uk


Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is visually unifying the appearance of its fleet.  After a 13-day shipyard stay at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg (Germany), the Hanseatic, at 8378 tons and 184 passengers, now features the line’s characteristic orange and blue colours as well as an orange funnel.  The comprehensive shipyard stay consisted of more than 780 items, among them the renovation and modernization of two cabin decks, the buffet restaurant, and the sauna and pool area.

Further items include the modernization of the pool and sauna area, with a new steam sauna, as well as a multi-mode shower.  New service options now available include worldwide mobile phone reception via OnAir and wi-fi in all cabins.  Hanseatic is rated by Berlitz as one of the top cruise ships in any class. www.hl-cruises.com


P&O Cruises is to expand its fleet with a 141,000 ton cruise ship, built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, scheduled to enter service in March 2015.

The 3,611-passenger vessel, as yet unnamed, will be the largest in the P&O Cruises fleet, as well as the largest specialist cruise ship built specifically for the British market.  The ship will probably be based at Southampton and there is some speculation that it will replace Oriana (70,000 tons/2,179 passengers) which by then will be 20 years old.  No details yet from P&O but she will follow a pair of Princess ships which presumably will use the same basic hull. www.pocruises.co.uk


Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas, sister companies and owned by Apollo Management, which also has a 50% interest in NCL, have expanded and enhanced their international sales teams. 

Bernard Carter assumes the newly created position of Managing Director for Oceania Cruises in the UK and Europe. Graham Sadler, Managing Director for Regent Seven Seas Cruises in the UK, will now also oversee sales and marketing throughout Europe and the Middle East. www.oceaniacruises.co.uk


Princess Cruises has announced that smoking will no longer be allowed in passenger staterooms or on balconies, effective on all sailings departing after 15 January 2012.  The new policy reflects changing customer preferences and the move around the globe (from North America to Europe) to further restrict areas where smoking is allowed, according to the line.

“Our consumer studies now show that smokers are a small minority of our passengers, and that the large majority of passengers value having their primary living space onboard smoke-free,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises Executive Vice President.

She added that Princess still welcomes passengers who smoke, and will continue to provide special venues around the ship to accommodate smokers.  Smoking will continue to be allowed in the Churchill’s cigar lounge, a section of the disco and casino, and a portion of the open decks. www.pocruises.co.uk


Royal Caribbean International’s Radiance of the Seas (90,000 tons/2,000 passengers) emerged earlier this month after 21 days in dry dock as part of the cruise line’s most extensive revitalisation programme.  The changes see the ship welcome almost double the previous number of restaurants, more accommodation and a new baby and toddler nursery.

The new variety of dining concepts, entertainment options, children’s activities and technology advancements originally introduced onboard Royal Caribbean International’s new Oasis-class ships, now debuts onboard the ship. This summer Radiance of the Seas sails alternating, seven-night Southbound and Northbound Alaska itineraries before repositioning for its first winter 2011 season to Australia and New Zealand. www.royalcaribbean.co.uk


Seabourn has taken delivery of Seabourn Quest (32,000 tons 450 passengers) at the T. Mariotti shipyard in Genoa (Italy).  The intimate, all-suite ship is the third vessel constructed by Mariotti for Seabourn’s fleet, completing a three-year expansion that increases the ultra-luxury line’s capacity by more than 200%.

The ship’s maiden season includes seven-day Eastern Mediterranean cruises, operating alternately between Athens and Istanbul, and Venice and Athens, as well as a seven-day Black Sea voyage.  In the autumn, the ship will cruise across the Atlantic Ocean from Malaga (Spain) to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it will sail on a series of round-trip voyages in the Caribbean.  On 5 January 2012, Seabourn Quest will begin a 109-day Maiden World Cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Venice on a unique eastbound course via South America, South Africa, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. www.seabourn.com


Silver Whisper's first-ever World Cruise, which embarks at Fort Lauderdale on 6 January 2012, includes Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, Founder and President of Survival International who leads off on the Rio de Janeiro leg).  Bestselling author Bill Bryson joins the ship at Singapore on 3 March and stays until her arrival at Shanghai.  Concluding in Monte Carlo the voyage will visit 45 ports in 27 countries stretching from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, the Far East, Arabia and Europe.  Along the way cruisers will enjoy 13 overnight visits and exclusive insider access to seldom seen global treasures.

Other speakers include Hugh Downs one of the most familiar figures in American television, best known for his 21 years as co-anchor of ABC's 20/20 news programme, who will host, Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town 23 January-5 February.  He is joined on the same sector by Daniel Silke, a politician and international affairs expert, who served four years as a Member of Parliament in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament in Cape Town. www.silversea.com


Voyages of Discovery has announced the latest set of refurbishments to the ship of that name, part of the All Leisure Holiday Group.

Internet was already on board but an enhancement will extend coverage previously only available in certain areas.  Media Players have replaced the older DVDs, playing content into both cabins and the ship’s cinema in order to show a greater range of newly released and classic movies.  Unlike other cruise lines, Discovery has not opted for interactive TV where guests pay for what they watch; instead new releases will be shown much quicker than DVD release dates and daily programming will be advised in the Discovery Times information sheet on board.

Discovery’s renowned teak decking has also been updated around the Sun Deck and more areas of the ship will be refurbished during her dry dock stay later this year.  Over 100 cabin bathrooms have received updated enamelling and a flooring revamp and the team is busy continuing to update the remaining cabins over the next coming months. www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk


Windstar Cruises has become part of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a privately-owned United States park and resort management company based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, controlled by entertainment magnate Phillip Anschutz.  Denver-based billionaire Anschutz, has an extensive history of developing and operating mineral, railroad, news media and entertainment enterprises.  He is a soccer enthusiast.

Windstar, with headquarters in Seattle, will sail all published 2011 and 2012 voyages, maintain its customer programmes and policies and honour Windstar fares and reservations, including charter contracts.  Windstar operates a three-ship fleet of luxury yachts two ships that carry just 148 guests each and a third with a maximum 312 capacity. www.windstarcruises.com

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