25 JULY 2011

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Air France strike possibilities

Unions at Air France have called for a four-day strike by flight attendants at the end of July, raising the threat of travel disruption over a peak holiday period.

Scheduled for 29, 30, 31 July and 1 August, the protest is against a re-organisation of the cabin staff’s work at the regional hubs that Air France is setting up to counter competition from low-cost airlines.

Air France plans to start operating connecting flights in October at its first provincial hub, in Marseille, as part of efforts to regain market share on short and medium haul flights.

The airline says that the opening of three further regional hubs – in Bordeaux, Nice and Toulouse, due by spring 2012 – should cut costs by 15% and allow for new routes to be opened toward destinations in France and Europe.

The end of July and start of August is traditionally one of the busiest periods for French travel, with thousands of families heading off for their summer holidays, and many others returning home after taking their annual break in July. www.airfrance.com

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ANA and AirAsia get together

Struggling Narita Airport, 40 miles from Tokyo, is probably the biggest winner with a plan announced last week for the establishment of AirAsia Japan.  This is subject to obtaining the relevant approvals.  Operating under the AirAsia brand, it is to serve both domestic and international destinations when commencing operations in August 2012.  It will be the first low-cost carrier to be based at Narita International Airport which is suffering from the opening up of Haneda, Tokyo’s main (and virtually downtown) airport, to international flights.

ANA has been seeking opportunities to launch a new low-cost business based at Narita and, after analysis, has concluded that partnering with an existing low-cost carrier is the most efficient and strategically advantageous option.

Having already established an unmatched network, especially within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, AirAsia likewise has been looking for a business partner with strong Japanese market influence to further expand its scope, as well as contribute to strengthening bilateral ties between ASEAN and Japan.  Historically it has always been seen as a more dynamic airline than the much longer established JAL. www.ana.co.jp www.airasia.com

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Competition Commission OK’s travel takeover

Whilst the Competition Commission has been deeply involved with the British airport situation it has also been called upon to look at the high street travel outlets.

Last week the body provisionally approved the link-up of Thomas Cook with the Co-operative Group and Midlands Co-operative Society, a gathering of associated interests rather than a break-up.  Thomas Cook itself currently operates 780 stores across the country, while the Co-op has 360 travel shops and the Midlands 100.  Once finalised, the deal will bring together three of the biggest travel agents presently operating in the UK.  Thomas Cook will contribute its retail travel agency business to the joint venture but not its tour operating business or its internet travel agency businesses.  The equity split will be 70%/30% in Thomas Cook’s favour.

The deal will also create the second biggest high street foreign exchange business after the Post Office.

The statement could not have come at a better time for the 170-year-old travel company, struggling in a difficult market.  Share prices have plummeted from £2 at the start of the year, to 72p at the close on Friday 22 July.  Prior to the announcement they stood at 68.45p. www.thomascook.com

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Helsinki Airport security queue times tracked

A new queuing time tracking method has been adopted at Helsinki Airport.  Beginning in August, passengers can keep track of certain security control queue times on monitors.

The scheme is currently in the testing phase, but by the end of next month passengers will be able to see just how long the queues are.  The plan is to eventually display all security control checkpoint queuing times on monitors.  This will allow, for example, busy passengers to decide whether it would be better to move to another security control checkpoint.

The tracking method is based on Bluetooth technology.  Sensors that pick up Bluetooth signals from passenger mobile devices are located near security control checkpoints.  When a passenger passes through security control, the system calculates the time taken to queue and be served based on time stamps registered by the sensors.  The airport encourages passengers to leave their Bluetooth function on, so that the sensors can gather enough data, thus making it possible to display the average queuing time.

The privacy of passengers using Bluetooth is fully protected.  The sensors cannot identify the passenger's telephone number or the name given to their Bluetooth device. www.helsinki-vantaa.fi/home

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Manston gets visibility

Newly crowned Open Champion 2011 Darren Clarke, was one of the last to fly out from Manston last Monday (19 July), heading back home to Belfast to continue the celebrations after his victory at the nearby Royal St George’s golf course in Sandwich.

His departure from the Kent airport, near Ramsgate, marked what the management believe has been the busiest weeks in terms of traffic for many years.  The airport handled 74 golf related aircraft movements as part of the visit of the Open.

Charles Buchanan, Chief Executive of Manston, said: “The airport welcomed many of the world’s leading golfers and entourage from the organisers, the Royal and Ancient, and PGA, which included chartered Boeing 767 transatlantic flights.”

As well as handling event-related flights, Manston’s scheduled services to and from Edinburgh and Belfast City, operated by Flybe, were also very busy. Following the victory of Rory McIlroy in the US Open, Flybe’s flights to Kent from Belfast saw a dramatic increase in bookings, with his fans eager to see if he could complete a double. www.london-manston.com

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Sheraton adds in China

China is definitely in sharp focus with Sheraton, the brand’s owner Starwood relocating for one month its global headquarters to Shanghai.  During this period Sheraton will inaugurate seven properties in China its second hotel in Beijing, its second in Xian, and its first in Chongqing, Yantai, Guangzhou, Zhenjiang, Wanning and Hangzhou.

This surge in new hotel openings will grow Sheraton’s footprint not only in China's largest and most established cities but also in many of the country's fast-growing metropolises and resort destinations.  With the addition of these seven hotels, Sheraton will grow its portfolio to 42 hotels in China by year's end, moving Starwood closer to its goal of operating 100 hotels in China by the end of 2012. www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton

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Stansted sale finally confirmed

Following the AERBT editorial last Monday, the Competition Commission (CC) confirmed the next day that BAA must sell London’s Stansted Airport, and either Edinburgh or Glasgow in Scotland.  This confirms the CC’s earlier provisional view, which was published in March.

The sales process will start in three months’ time – or sooner if undertakings are accepted from BAA in the meantime.

The CC has been considering whether there have been any material changes in circumstances since it published its final report on BAA in March 2009.  The decision was subject to a legal challenge by BAA, which eventually culminated in the reinstating of the CC’s findings in October 2010.  In February, the Supreme Court refused BAA permission to appeal further.

The CC has concluded that the sale of the airports is fully justified and that passengers and airlines would still benefit from greater competition with the airports under separate ownership, despite the current Government’s decision to rule out new runways at any of the London airports. www.competition-commission.org.uk

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AND FINALLY: No news is good news

Did you hear of the British airline whose press office is only open from 08:30 until 17:00 Monday to Thursday and 12:30 on Friday.  No out of hours phone number is given but if you call a mobile the offering is very quickly gabbled and impossible to write down.  Call again.  But at least it is not a premium line.

Still it is better than a carrier supported by a PR agency who informed that the executive was on leave and one should phone back at a certain date.  Quite what they do for their fee is beyond us.

News media these days is 24/7, and it has always been true of the airlines themselves.  They fly 365 days of the year.

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COMMENT: Lost on board

With the holidays upon us, now is the time to remind readers of a serious travel problem.  Do make sure nothing personal is left behind on the aeroplane.

As millions of Brits prepare to take off on their summer vacations Virgin Atlantic Airways has issued a timely warning to remind passengers to take care of their belongings.  Every year it is estimated that more than 12,000 books, 10,500 pairs of reading glasses and around 5,000 phones are left on board its flights.

The airline tells us that some of the more unusual items it has managed to re-unite its passengers with include: an artificial limb, an urn of ashes, a movie script and a wheelchair belonging to Artie from Glee!  The books always take first place, with the glasses next up, mobile phones, then cameras and in more recent times iPod/MP3 players.

However the most unusual items to have been found by ground staff are: the artificial limb was found on a flight from New York, the passenger was travelling to Johannesburg.  On a Boston service the catch included seven plastic orange pumpkins and witches broom sticks.

Laura Hutcheson, Flight Services Manager at Virgin Atlantic, sums it all up.  “Passengers leave all sorts of items on planes ranging from the predictable to the quite unexpected.  I was surprised to find an artificial limb left behind by one of our Upper Class passengers but was delighted that we were able to re-unite them.

“Many passengers start their holidays the moment they get on board and when they relax into their adventure they can often forget the basics of checking they don’t leave anything behind.  Naturally we remind all passengers to ensure they have their belongings with them but would urge more people heed this advice!”

All that AERBT can add to that is that we normally travel just with a roller bag into which a laptop fits.  And after our last long haul flight, was chased after by a fellow passenger asking if we intended to leave the airline’s amenities bag.  People are so helpful.

If you are off on holiday this week, enjoy.  Read AERBT on your mobile but don't leave it behind on the aeroplane.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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Airbus grabs Boeing’s headlines

It should have been one of the most interesting aircraft orders in recent times, last week’s announcement by American Airlines that it was ordering 100 CFM56-7B-powered Next-Generation 737s, with options for an additional 40.  Included in the statement was an admission by Boeing that a version of the aircraft would also be available with CFM International’s LEAP-X engine, a ‘plane not yet made public and that American would take up to 160.  The new Boeing is reported to be named the 737RE (for re-engined).

The fly in the ointment as far as Boeing is concerned was the declaration by American that it was ending its all-Boeing policy and adding no less than 260 Airbus A320 series aircraft, of which 130 would be of the new Neo variant probably with the same LEAP-X engine as the 737. 

Since launching the innovative product in December of last year, Airbus has received orders and commitments for almost 1,200 A320neo Family aircraft. 

Both manufactures ought to be happy, now with order books filling up towards 2020 and the world wanting new and eco friendly aircraft. www.airbus.com www.boeing.com/commercial

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Bern from London City

Following the successful introduction of a daily flight between London City Airport and the Swiss capital of Bern, SkyWork Airlines has confirmed that the service will go double daily from 5 September.

Initially flown with a 31-seat Dornier 328 turboprop, the route quickly warranted upgrading to the Bombardier Q400 with 70 seats.  The airline has now added a second Bombardier, which is being used on flights between Bern and Mallorca.  A third aircraft will join the fleet just prior to the London service doubling up.

“London City – Bern has become a star performer in our route network,” said Tomislav Lang, SkyWork Airlines’ CEO, adding “we are very much looking forward to building on that success by offering morning and evening departures, affording the business traveller a full day in the cities of Bern and London.”  He said that the airline expected to pick up skiing business later in the year.

In addition to its enhanced London schedule, seven additional cities from Bern are being added in the winter timetable, boosting the number of destinations served by SkyWork to 12.  Rome, Vienna and Milan come on line on 5 September, followed by Madrid, Belgrade, Budapest and Amsterdam in October. www.flyskywork.com

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Europcar helps disabled motorists

Adapted Vehicle Hire (AVH), the largest supplier of adapted cars and wheelchair accessible vehicles in the UK, has joined forces with Europcar to help disabled motorists and their carers stay mobile.

Visitors to the Europcar website will have access to AVH’s fleet of specialist adapted and wheelchair accessible vehicles.  Delivering rental vehicles across the country, AVH operates a range of cars which are fitted with very specific adaptations to suit each customer's needs. 

The company also offers a large and varied fleet of wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

Specially adapted cars are fitted with hand controls, flip style left foot accelerators, wheelchair top boxes, infra-red controls, steering balls, wheelchair boot hoists, extended pedals and many more bespoke adjustments.  In addition, wheelchair accessible vans can have a lowered floor, a high roof or a combination of both, fitted with manual ramps or electric lifts for safe entry and exit to the vehicle. www.europcar.com

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Kempinski comes to Azerbaijan

Baku, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, welcomed 5-star Kempinski Hotel group in style with President Ilham Aliyev as Guest of Honour.  The all-new Kempinski Hotel Badamdar is the centre piece of a 5,000sqm entertainment and retail centre, with three levels of shopping space and one level dedicated to leisure facilities, including bowling, billiards and an ice-skating rink, as well as a wide range of restaurants and bars.

Just a short drive from Baku international airport, the 14-storey hotel features 283 beautifully designed rooms and suites, boasting spectacular panoramic views of the city.  Hotel guests will also be spoiled for choice with three restaurants offering a wide range of international and local cuisine, and two bars.  Also offered are 37 luxurious serviced apartments.

Incorporated is a world-class conference centre designed to offer international and local corporations an ideal setting for conventions and presentations.  The Grand Ballroom can accommodate up to 600 people, for gala events, in addition to 14 meeting rooms in different sizes and 36 boardroom-style offices equipped with cutting edge technology, and an auditorium seating up to 450 people. www.kempinski.com

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Nice and Agadir get bmi flights

bmi, British Midland International, the second largest airline at Heathrow, is to return to Nice, the French Rivera’s major airport, from 25 August 2011.  Initially the flights will be daily but will double up from the start of the winter season commencing 29 October.  A full Business Class service, including hot meals and a fully stocked bar service will be served on all flights.

Currently Nice is served by British Airways from both London City and Heathrow, and also easyJet from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.

Direct flights to Agadir will operate twice weekly from Heathrow on Tuesdays and Saturday, again starting at the beginning of the winter season.  The introduction of the Agadir route follows bmi’s launch to Marrakech and Casablanca earlier this year and the subsequent increase in flights to Marrakech from three to five per week from 1 October 2011.  Ryanair pulls out of Agadar at the end of July and by the time that bmi start their service the only competition will be easyJet with weekly flights out of Gatwick. www.flybmi.com

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Skyscanner Android app confirmed

As first reported in AERBT back in June, Skyscanner’s hugely successful ‘All flights, everywhere’ iPhone app (v2) is now available for competing Android phone users.  Available in 23 languages and over 50 currencies, the app compares over 600 airlines and thousands of routes in seconds.

The free app, which was launched in its initial version earlier this year to critical acclaim, generated over 100,000 downloads within the first week.  Skyscanner hopes to replicate this success with the launch of this new version.

Whilst the system is excellent for choosing air flights it can also be used when requesting hotels.  Type in the name of the town you require to stay in and up comes the hotel listings with the cheapest first.  A location map is available straight away and if you want more details images are available and a detailed review.  With car rental the system works just as well. www.skyscanner.net

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ON TOUR: Edinburgh – Capital of Scotland

Not planned your summer break?  With the holiday season in the UK now upon us, and the pound sterling weak even against the Euro, now is as good a time as any for a British holiday.  Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival calls. 

You can drive, the capital of the north is 400 miles from London (seven hours plus, and at least one stop); there are train services from most major cities, and of course you can fly from places as diverse as Bristol in the South West or Manston Kent.

First organised in 1947, and said to be the world’s largest cultural event, the Festival this year officially runs from 12 August until 4 September.  It has spawned a whole series of other independent events and is really a generic term used to describe what is an explosion of enrichment.  The Jazz Festival is now under way (until 31 July), the Arts Festival (4 August-4 September), the Military Tattoo (4-27 August), the Fringe (5-29 August), complemented by the Book Festival (13-29 August).  There is the Festival of Politics (20-27 August), and many other spin offs.  These are followed by Mela (performing art) and Storytelling festivals.  For those who like the cold there is always Hogmanay, which Edinburgh serves up in its own particular way.

Let us take a look at the Tattoo.  It is performed in a temporary auditorium seating 8,500 in what is effectively the parade ground of the castle.  An awesome colourful pageant dominated of course by the bagpipes, but always with performers from all over the world.  This year the showstoppers are likely to be 40 of the Netherlands’ finest military musicians with their celebrated Bicycle Band – Fanfarekorps Koninklijke Landmacht Bereden Wapens – resplendent in historic World War I period uniforms.  Another headline act will be the South African Navy Band from Simon’s Town, whose multi-talented musicians will perform using a variety of instrumentation, which, uniquely, include Kudu (water buffalo) horns. 

Included this year are performers from the Middle East and South America, including an exciting demonstration of contemporary Highland dancing featuring the Tattoo Dance Company and introducing a gifted all-girl troupe of dancers from Northern Ireland.

Traditionally the show sells out well in advance but if you can get tickets they are priced £23 to £58 and do remember to dress up warm and take with waterproof clothing.

Edinburgh is one of the world’s great tourist cities and a World Heritage site.  Even if your visit is not during the Festival period you will find it most vibrant.

Edinburgh is a walking town, but you do have to be fit.  Just like Rome it is built on seven hills and is dominated by the castle. 

If your visit is limited to just a few days you can base yourself in one area and come back another time and stay elsewhere.  You will still be in Edinburgh but the panorama will be completely different. 

Princes Street, the very pretty main thoroughfare offers on one side and very pretty gardens on the other (where there is a bandstand/open air theatre).  But both extremities of the street are entirely different in their offerings.  The main railway centre and bus station are right in the centre of the city and if you are planning to fly it has excellent links from Europe whilst United (Continental) offers an all year round daily service from its New York Newark hub.

Where to go and what to do?  Edinburgh is a feast.  Theatre-wise the major houses play host to a whole variety of productions spread throughout the year.  Visit the websites to find out what is on when you are in town.  Notable attractions include the old port town of Leith where you can often gain a view of cruise ships in dock, plus visiting the former Royal Yacht Britannia.  There is the superb Museum of Scotland near the university, The Palace of Holyrood House, the Scottish Parliament (if you are British see where your money was spent), The National Gallery of Scotland, the Museum of Flight and Concorde, and of course The Castle.  There are literally dozens of places of interest to visit and one should include the Camera Obscura at the top of the Royal Mile just before the Castle and at least one alcoholic drink production unit, either beer and better still in Scotland, malt whisky.

As a major international city Edinburgh is well off for hotels in all price ranges.  Clearly it is best to stay in the centre but if for economic reasons one chooses to base oneself outside the core area the city has a very good and cheap bus system and it is well worthwhile buying a multi-sector pass.  At the top of the range the Radisson Blu has a superb position on the Royal Mile, is fully air-conditioned and has just completed a major refurbishment.  It also has an indoor swimming pool.  Also a ‘must’ mention are two fine old prestige railway hotels, the Balmoral, at one end of Princess Street, returned to its former glory, and above what was once the alternative main line station, the Caledonian, a classic property extensively re-vamped.  What was once the offices of The Scotsman newspaper is now a hotel, just 56 bedrooms and 12 suites.  You could not be more central.  At the economy level the Edinburgh Ibis is bright, clean and right in the centre of things at the junction of North Bridge and High Street and Premier Inn have an offering in the very centre of town.  Edinburgh has many, many guest houses, all to an excellent standard and most offering a very Scottish breakfast.

You can eat Scottish, French, Italian, Indian (vegetarian too), Chinese and even Mongolian.  The fare is good if not the cheapest.  Try and miss out on the tourist traps.  If the weather is poor the St James Centre is a massive shopping mall opposite Waverley station.  Just launched is the Edinburgh pass which gives free access to over 30 attractions, bus transport including a return to the airport and many exclusive offers.  A one-day pass costs £29 and a three-day offering £49. There are children’s discounts and under fives go free.

www.edinburghpass.org www.edinburgh.org www.edintattoo.co.uk

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Aerolineas Argentinas adds Buenos Aires terminal

A new 21,000sqm terminal, named after the singer Mercedes Sosa who died in 2009, has opened at Buenos Aires.  It has eight boarding bridges, 12 border control stations and additional baggage screening areas.  Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) will be joined by a new 4-star hotel in late 2012/early 2013.  For the future a direct rail link to the downtown part of the city is planned.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Argentinean President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, claimed that her country had a “wonderful new facility”.

She added: “I believe that it is a facility that Argentines and our international visitors will enjoy.  It is an impressive building that will also help the airport cope with future demand.

“I believe that the harmonisation of the roles played by both the public and the private sector in this project and others throughout the country have been the pillar for the growth that Argentina has been experiencing since 2003.”

The new terminal will be used exclusively by Aerolíneas Argentinas. www.aerolineas.com

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Amsterdam gets new executive terminal

With Heathrow virtually banning executive jets and the like, Amsterdam Schiphol-East has opened a new 6,000sqm general aviation terminal to cater for the 4,500 private and business flights that the airport handles each year. 

It is a multi-functional building, with both handling areas and offices.

The main users of the terminal are the handling agents KLM, Aviapartner and Jetsupport, while Jet Netherlands, Nayak, Aerdynamics and Solid Air, are already renting 50% of the office space.  Schiphol said that the new facility will replace the current terminal which, after several decades, has become too old to cope with the demand for general aviation operations at the gateway. www.schiphol.com

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British Airways at London City

Embraer E Jet number 13 has arrived at London City (LCY), a 98-seat two-class EMB190.  Operator British Airways now has seven of the highly successful Brazilian built regional jets based at the Docklands airport, and also six 70-seat 170s.  It will operate on all the airline’s European routes from LCY, including new services to Malaga and Faro which began last month.

The arrival coincided with publication of the BA subsidiary's June figures.  For the first time the carrier has exceeded 100,000 passengers in a month.  The airport itself is on the way to breaking 3m passengers for the year.

Luke Hayhoe, BA CityFlyer General Manager Commercial said: “We are delighted with the response we have had to the new aircraft fleet, our customer feedback is the highest it’s ever been in terms of comfort and service on board the aircraft.  The fact customers are so positive is obviously reflected in the fantastic passenger numbers we’ve had for June.

“The original order was for a fleet of 11 aircraft but we converted two further options and as a result have been able to launch a number of new routes from London City in the past year.” www.ba.com

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Glasgow Airport secures direct flight to Madrid

Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum confirmed it will introduce non-stop twice weekly flights to Madrid from From Glasgow from Tuesday 1 November 2011.  Currently there are no non-stop flights to the Spanish capital, only via Heathrow, or from Edinburgh.

Air Nostrum is an independent franchisee partner of Iberia.  The route is expected to prove popular with both business and leisure travellers.  A two-class Bombardier CRJ is expected to be used for the flights.

Amanda McMillan, Managing Director of Glasgow Airport, said: “It is important for Glasgow to have regular, direct links with European markets and while the introduction of this service is in part a response to demand from the local business community, Madrid is one of Europe’s most popular city-break destinations and will be a big draw for leisure travellers.” www.iberia.com

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Liverpool Airport completes developments

With the summer holiday rush starting, Liverpool John Lennon Airport (JLA) has unveiled the final piece of its £12m redevelopment which has been ongoing for the past 18 months.

Last week the new Estuary Kitchen and Grill opened in the departure lounge, following hot on the heels of the opening of a Starbucks coffee outlet close to the Airport Information Desk and the addition of famous high street sportswear giant JD Sports nearby.

The Estuary Kitchen and Grill is the largest food retail area at the airport and replaces the previous passenger catering facility which had remained largely unchanged in over 10 years.  Operated by food travel experts SSP, the new food retail area now covers 90sqm with a vibrant, fresh and contemporary feel offering passengers the very best choice of freshly-prepared meals, drinks and snacks using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. www.liverpoolairport.com

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Olympics air controls eased

Following comments by the general aviation community on the harsh flying restrictions suggested by the Department for Transport (DfT) during the period of next year’s London Olympic Games, the Government has made some concessions.

The full airspace restrictions covering the London 2012 has been reduced and will now only involve the Olympic period from 14 July to 15 August 2012.  Separate, geographically smaller, airspace restrictions will now cover the London 2012 Paralympic Games from 16 August 2012 to 12 September 2012.

Special rules are being brought in to cover the Farnborough Air Show which directly precedes the actual games.  Likewise the small airfields at White Waltham, Denham, Fairoaks and the London Heliport at Battersea will be under special arrangements.  This also covers the gliding sites at Lasham and Parham plus Elstree in North London.

In addition to the restrictions covering the south-east of England, other Games venues throughout the UK will now also be subject to temporary restrictions. www.airspacesafety.com/olympics

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Southend Airport joins the rail network

It is not quite official yet as there is to be a grand opening, but passengers to and from Southend Airport can now catch a train to and from London’s Liverpool Street station, and others on the East London network.

Minister for the Thames Gateway, Bob Neill MP, was amongst the first to use the service, at the airport to open the all-new state-of-the-art air traffic control tower.

“It’s wonderful that today I will be able to leave the airport by train.  With its dedicated station running services into London via Stratford for the first time it's clear that London Southend Airport will be an absolutely essential transport hub for the Olympic Games.  And its potential goes way beyond London 2012: this growing airport will create many thousands of new jobs across Essex over the coming years, improve the Thames Gateway's international connectivity and deliver economic growth for local people and businesses.”

Operational since March this year, the 26m tall control tower marks the first completed project in an impressive portfolio of developments at Southend Airport, including the dedicated train station, terminal building, runway extension and a new hotel. www.southendairport.com

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CRUISE NEWS July 2011

Our 10-story news review

Cruising is on the crest of a wave as a record number of people explore the four corners of the world from the comfort of a cruise or river ship. With the fourth National Cruise Week just around the corner (18-25 September), why not join the 1.7m people predicted to cruise in 2011 and get onboard!

UK travel agents up and down the country, accredited to the Association of Cruise Experts (ACE), will be hosting events and featuring special offers. There will also be a number of ships in port around the coast – P&O Arcadia, P&O Aurora, P&O Azura, Grand Princess and Holland America Line’s MS Rotterdam.

More people than ever before are choosing to cruise.  Latest figures from the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) show that one in every nine package holidays is now a cruise – proving that both the high seas and the slow rivers offer a wonderful holiday for everyone, no matter what the age.  There will be ten new ship launches in 2011, from ultra luxury through to ships that offer everything for families.  National Cruise Week highlights the huge variety in the style of cruising and the destinations – so there’s never been a better time to set sail. 

William Gibbons, Director of the PSA, says: “We are delighted to be announcing the fourth National Cruise Week and predict more than 2m passengers in 2014.  National Cruise Week 2011 promises to be bigger and better than ever with travel agents taking the opportunity to showcase what a holiday at sea has to offer.” www.discovercruises.co.uk

This month's cruise review: Regent Seven Seas Navigator

Seven Seas Navigator is an “interesting” ship from an equally “interesting” cruise operator.  Her hull was originally built back in the last century in St Petersburg as a research vessel, but soon after coming into service was purchased by the then Radisson Seven Seas cruise line, her accommodation and superstructure being extensively modified by the renowned Italian shipbuilder Mariotti.  The 28,000 ton 530-passenger ship is now a 6-star “classic”, somewhat dated in parts, but clearly loved by her regular cliental.  It is an “all inclusive” package, with gratuities taken care of, an open bar, plus a fine selection of wines at meal times.  For connoisseurs the ship offers a very interesting cellar, but that you have to pay for.

We joined Navigator in Seward, the port of Anchorage, Alaska, having flown up from Vancouver which would also be our destination.  As experienced ‘cruisers’ of quality taste, we take an interest in the product and what it offers.  To date Crystal has satisfied us well, changing only because the Regent itinerary fitted in with our plans.  We had been recommended. 

Regent Seven Seas is an up-market cruise line, now owned by Apollo Management, the investment group who also control Oceania Cruises and 50% of Norwegian Cruise Line.  Carlson retains ownership of the master Regent brand, along with the operations of Regent Hotels & Resorts around the world.  Seven Seas sister ships are Mariner and Voyager, both 20th century purpose-built, and just like Navigator, featuring only outside cabins.  Navigator has 196 balcony suites, the balance of 49 cabins with just a view.

The Regent package started from the moment we were collected at Anchorage International Airport, which was last visited courtesy BOAC on the way to Japan.  That was how the early 747s routed.  In the heart of downtown, the Hilton Anchorage hotel is convenient and comfortable.  It has an indoor heated swimming pool and spa.  The hotel is only a few blocks from the Alaska Museum of History and Art, 5th Avenue Mall and a host of restaurants.  Our room had a magnificent view of the Chugach Mountain Range.

Lunchtime the next day and on to the Alaska Railroad for a four-hour journey to Seward.  There were probably 200 other Regent guests on the trip, the alternative a coach ride, probably just as interesting but without the special charisma that the train offers.  A local guide was provided for each carriage as was catering.  Staff from Navigator were also on board with a check-in service.  At the port it was straight off the train and onto the ship.  Nothing could be easier.

The cruise itself is best described as “The Inside Passage” and takes seven nights.  From Seward southward and on to the amazing Hubbard Glacier, then Sitka (where in 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the USA), the Tracy Arm Fiord, Juneau (30, 000 population and the capital of Alaska), tiny Skagway, Ketchikan "Salmon Capital of the World" and finally a day at sea before arriving back at Vancouver.

The Regent package includes a number of off-ship tours but we added trips on a floatplane and a helicopter glacier ride.

They say that first impressions count and how nice to be welcomed onto the ship with a glass of quality Champagne.  We booked late, our penthouse suite the same size (301 sq ft) as the so-called deluxe and standard non-balcony window cabins.  The services of a butler were available in this grade but essentially the offering was the same as the less expensive accommodation.  A full size tub (as they say in the US) in a marble fitted bathroom, a well filled bar and refrigerator plus a curtained off lounge area where up to six people could dine privately.  The balcony was more than adequate.

The ship itself is a nice size and was full with about 500 passengers. 

The single largish swimming pool coped well and there was never a queue to get into the pair of hot tubs.  The Canyon Ranch Spa Club, sauna, steam room and gym are over the bow on the very top deck but all the other public areas are towards the stern, which makes it easy to remember where everything is and not too far to walk.  We try to use the stairs, both ways, rather than the elevators.

If the ship does have a weakness it is the shows and entertainment, not as lavish as others but still a fine diversion in the evenings from the Casino.  The theatre is two-tier and offers a nine-piece live band. 

When it comes to dining it is all very relaxed.  No formal nights, the dress code every evening “Elegant Casual”.  You can dine as a couple, or with up to eight in one of three eateries, La Veranda for breakfast and al Fresco, Compass Rose in the heart of the ship and Prime 7, reservations only but no supplement required, for prime steaks, fish and seafood.  Cabin service is provided 24 hours, and during restaurant hours a full menu is offered.  Speciality coffees, teas, juices and cocktails are all included.  And the pastries were not bad either.

For the most part the clientele was American with a sprinkling of Brits, colonials and Europeans.  A more friendly crowd you could not wish for.  It is a quiet intimate ship.  There were a few children in early July but we gather that the number grows during the school holiday period.  There is a wonderful afternoon tea, a Bridge school, late night cabaret and for the smokers the Connoisseurs’ Club.  Complimentary self-service launderettes are available on four accommodation decks.  There were some fascinating art lectures and if you are interested you will be an expert on salmon by the final docking.

PROGRAMME:  Navigator completes its Alaska summer season in San Francisco on 12 September and departs on a 21-day meander, via the Panama Canal, to New York.  It is then to Montreal and south to Ft Lauderdale, its home for a series of mainly 7/10-day cruises around the Caribbean.  At the middle of April it is back through the canal again towards its summer home port of Vancouver. 

Next year Seven Seas Voyager will sail 11 itineraries across the Mediterranean and 12 voyages around Northern Europe providing more options to sail with Regent in these regions than ever before.  Mariner offers the best of the east and western Mediterranean’s most popular ports of call with a series of 7, 10, 14 and 16-night itineraries, many of which include overnights in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and Venice.  Included are 12 new ports of call – Akureyri (Iceland), Cannes (France), Douglas (Isle of Man), Eilat (Israel), Isafjordur (Iceland), Kavala (Greece), Patmos (Greece), Lerwick (Scotland), Lorient (France), Ronne (Denmark), Saint-Malo (France) and Sinop (Turkey).

Regent Seven Seas is not the cheapest of the quality cruise lines but if you do not wish to put your hand in your pocket once you have left home it is easily done.  We drank in moderation and took all the excursions.  And would very much recommend the package. www.rssc.co.uk

Cindy and Wayne Goldstein

 

Our 10-story news review

Carnival Magic is the latest and greatest of the Miami-based cruise lines family-orientated fun ships and comes in at 128,251 tons and 3,646/4,631 passengers.  From now until the end of October she is embarking on a series of 9- and 12-day cruises out of Barcelona to either Rome or Venice. 

Carnival is sort of 3-star plus and noisy.  But at £939 for 12 days including the flights and transfers it is good value.  Step onboard and discover an amazing resort at sea with corkscrew waterslides, an aqua park, the first ever ropes course at sea; mini golf and a seaside theatre.  Discover the pampering joys of the Cloud 9 Spa; a huge choice of dining (all included!) exciting activities and glittering evening entertainment.  For kids there’s Camp Carnival’s thrilling activities and a teen-only zone; while adults can enjoy a “Serenity” deck area complete with parasols, whirlpools and stunning views! www.carnivalcruise.co.uk

 

Celebrity Cruises has within the last few days taken delivery of its latest Solstice Class ship Silhouette which now is presently on a seven-night cruise from Hamburg to Civitavecchia (for Rome).  Until November she operates 12-night Mediterranean/Holy Land cruises

Celebrity Silhouette incorporates a number of industry-first venues and experiences within The Lawn Club, including the interactive ‘Lawn Club Grill’, where guests can select and grill their own meats side-by-side with Celebrity’s expert chefs, or have them cooked to order; the relaxing, private, wi-fi-equipped cabanas called ‘The Alcoves’; ‘The Porch’, a breezy, casual dining spot offering sandwiches, coffees and captivating views of the sea and the ship’s lush lawn, and ‘The Art Studio’, where vacationers can bring out their inner artist.  ‘Michael’s Club’ has a selection of more than 50 beers from around the world, including craft beers. www.celebritycruises.co.uk

 

Crystal Cruises is after the market for those who can’t be away from home (or the office) for too long.

Following its introduction of three- and four-night sampler cruises it has added a further three shorter voyages for this autumn.  These new six- and seven-night Mediterranean voyages onboard Crystal Serenity are high in port content and value but low in hassle and cost, and feature some of Europe’s most fascinating ports.

On 17 October Crystal is offering a seven-night voyage from Monte Carlo to Athens visiting Florence, Rome, Sorrento, Kusadasi and Mykonos.  Prices from £2,252 per person (based on two people sharing) including return Economy Class flights from London, overseas transfers, seven nights in a deluxe stateroom with picture window with all meals and soft drinks and port taxes.  There are similar packages available from Athens (10 November) and Venice (16 November). www.crystalcruises.co.uk

 

Europcar has introduced a new rental car cruise terminal a Southampton.  Essentially it is a meet and greet service, ensuring their car is ready and waiting when they hit dry land.

Southampton is the UK’s cruise capital with over 1.4m passengers expected to pass through the port in 2011.  Located in the Western Docks Europcar’s new location ensures cruise passengers enjoy an easy car hire reception experience as they disembark in the UK.  The Southampton City Cruise Terminal complement’s the Southampton city branch and is open 08:00-18:00 Monday to Friday and 08:00-13:00 Saturday and Sunday.  Passengers without a booking are of course very welcome. www.europcar.co.uk

 

Gills Cruise Centre has gone into administration, its assets purchased by travel experts P&P Associates.  No client has lost their money or a holiday, although a large proportion of the staff are thought to have been made redundant.

At its peak it was the third largest player in the UK cruise market, generating annual sales of £110m and employing some 200 members of staff across two call centres and a retail outlet in Cardiff and London.  It was forced to cease trading after cruise lines stopped taking bookings because of concerns over escalating debts in an increasingly competitive market.  It was said to be selling cruises below cost in order to retain business.

P&P Associates, a member of ABTA trades as WeFly.com and also Chelsea Travel Management. www.ppassociates.co.uk

 

Hapag Lloyd has come up with a ‘Baby Welcome Package’.  Clearly the cruise line believes that there is no harm in starting them young.  The Hamburg-based cruise operator is taking into account the constantly rising proportion of families on its voyages.

The package includes care products such as nappies and washing lotion, changing mats for the cruise and bibs. Every family can compile their personal Baby Welcome Package prior to the beginning of the cruise.  By filling in a form, they can simply order items like nappies in the required size and quantity as well as the desired type of baby food, if preferred organically grown.  The suite will also be furnished as requested, for instance with a babyphone, Maxi-Cosi, baby travel cot, high chair or bathtub for babies.

On the ‘Europa’ children, up to three years of age sharing a cabin with their (grand)parents, travel at no cost; children aged four to 15 are charged €65 per night.

Family cruises and cruises with at least four children on board include a special programme with meals, drinks and customised children’s excursions. www.hl-cruises.com

 

Norwegian Cruise Line is for the first time to offer four ships in the Mediterranean next year. The ultra chic 153,000-ton 4,200-passenger Epic returns with a regular seven-night cruise departing from Civitavecchia travelling to Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Villefranche (Nice), Marseille (Provence), Barcelona (Spain), followed by 24 hours at sea and a final day in Naples (Pompeii – Italy). A round trip from Barcelona is available too

Making her European debut will be Norwegian Spirit with 12-night Grand Mediterranean voyages from Barcelona and Venice. Also in the deployment is Norwegian Sun, which will sail the Baltic on nine nights programmes from Copenhagen, and Norwegian Jade, with the popular seven-night Greek Isles

Sailing from Venice, itineraries which can be combined with her seven-night Adriatic cruise to make a 14-night holiday. www.ncl.com

 

Oceania Cruises celebrated a major milestone on Saturday 16 July, as the company’s new 1,250-guest luxury cruise ship Riviera was afloat for the first time at Italy’s Fincantieri shipbuilding yard.  “The float out of a ship is a beautiful occasion which marks the beginning of her life and we are eagerly anticipating the day next spring that we can unveil her to the world,” stated Frank Del Rio, Chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Oceania (and Regent) Cruises.

At 65,000 tons Riviera will cruise the Mediterranean and then cross the Atlantic where she will spend the winter cruising the yacht harbours of the Caribbean. www.oceaniacruises.co.uk

 

Voyages to Antiquity has revised its programme for November 2011 due to the continuing difficulties in Libya and Syria. 

The 8 November departure – now called Ancient Wonders and the Holy Land – will feature a two-day excursion to Jerusalem and Bethlehem with the chance of a dip in the Dead Sea.  The final cruise of the 2011 season – now renamed The Red Sea, Petra and Suez Canal – will depart on 19 November, and feature a pre-cruise stay of two nights in Amman, the Jordanian capital, plus a night in the ancient, rose-red city of Petra, staying in 5-star hotels.

Both cruises also include an overnight stay on board the Aegean Odyssey in Beirut with an included excursion to Baalbeck, the ancient site of Heliopolis, plus an overnight hotel stay in Luxor, where guided visits to the temples of Karnak and Luxor as well as the Valley of the Kings have been arranged. www.voyagestoantiquity.com

 

Wine Lovers might find a river cruise organised by Travelzest’s VFB Holidays departing 14 October just to their taste.  Accompanied by a Meilleur Sommelier de France, the wine production process is brought to life.  Enjoy tastings in all the key regions including Côte de Beaune, Beaujolais, Vivarais, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Cassis.

With five nights aboard the spacious and splendid MS Camargue, the Wine Lovers’ Cruise takes you to picturesque villages, undulating hills, the spectacular gorges of the Ardèche and to a state-of-the-art wine museum. www.travelzest.com

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