29 AUGUST 2011

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America introduces ‘protection’

New US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations aimed at providing "protection" for airline passengers went into effect Tuesday, boosting compensation for involuntarily bumped passengers and imposing a 4hr tarmac delay limit on international flights at US airports.  These ‘fines’ could prove very expensive for airlines (with a limit of US$1,300 per passenger) who view them as unwarranted government intervention in day-to-day business operations.  US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the regulations were needed to "ensure that air travellers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight."

US domestic flights are already governed by a 3hr limit before delayed aircraft must return to airport gates to allow passengers to deplane if they choose.

Additional requirements will take effect in January 2012.  These include mandating that all flight ticket taxes and fees be included in advertised fares, banning post-purchase price increases, allowing passengers to hold a reservation without payment (or to cancel without penalty) for 24hr after the reservation is made, and making airlines disclose baggage fees when passengers book a flight. www.dot.gov

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British Airways to Australia

The Far East and Australia will have a revised schedule this winter for British Airways, which will change again at the start of the summer season 2012.  From next April onwards the airline is dropping the through flight to Sydney via Bangkok, BA009 from T3, passengers deplaning at that point in any event, and then re-boarding on to a Qantas aircraft itself turning around.  

The general opinion is that for passengers going straight through Singapore is a more popular half way point than Bangkok.  To Singapore there will be two flights daily, one a 747 going through to Sydney.

Tokyo gets a daily to Narita and also a daily to Haneda.  Hong Kong increases from 14 a week to 17.  Both Hong Kong and Tokyo use Terminal 5 at Heathrow. www.ba.com

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Finnish expansion for Flybe goes ahead

Flybe, which likes to call itself Europe’s largest regional airline, has confirmed the completion on 18 August of its joint acquisition, with Finnair, of Finnish Commuter Airlines (Finncomm).  Under the Flybe Nordic banner the airline will operate all existing routes previously flown by Finncomm together with the addition of nine brand new services.

The extended programme features four new destinations from Helsinki, four from key regional cities in Finland and one between Sweden’s Stockholm Bromma airport and Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn.  The nine new routes are as follows:

From Helsinki Flybe will serve Mariehamn – Aland (2 daily); Tartu – Estonia (6 per week); Trondheim – Norway (4 per week), Umea – Sweden (4 per week).  Tallinn will be connected to the Finnish towns of Oulu, Tampere, Turku and Vaasa with various frequencies.  Tallinn will serve Stockholm’s city centre of Bromma six times per week.

Flybe’s new routes will complement feeder traffic to Finnair’s international connections and be included in Finnair’s flight schedules and flown as code-share flights.  Finnair Plus customers will continue to accumulate frequent-flyer points on Flybe flights. www.flybe.com

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Hyatt adds in India

Following the launch of the Grand Hyatt Goa (see last week’s AERBT) Hyatt has now opened the Hyatt Regency Chennai (formerly Madras) to the booming south Indian market.  Catering primarily to the business and leisure traveller the hotel is centrally located on the city’s iconic Anna Salai (Mount Road), 20mins from Anna International Airport and the IT Corridor.  It is also in close proximity to important government institutions, consulates, corporate hubs and prime residential areas in Chennai.

The 327-room property opens with more than 20,000 sq ft (1,900 sq m) of versatile convention and event space, a fully-equipped fitness centre, the chic Lobby Lounge, the hotel’s gourmet deli Biscotti, an all-day-dining restaurant Spice Market, and Stix, which serves authentic Chinese cuisine from the Sichuan region.  The hotel also has a stunning outdoor pool which overlooks the city and is set amidst custom-made art installations and lush landscaping. 

Additional hotel services and amenities expected to be completed soon include the Regency Club, the Siddh Spa, the hotel’s premium suites, specialty restaurants, and a bar. www.chennai.regency.hyatt.com

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Olympic travel news for London

City Cruises, who operate a specialist River Thames service in London (rather than Thames Clipper, the commuter provider) has been working with the Olympic Delivery Authority to deliver a service to the Equestrian events held at Greenwich Park.  Bookings have opened.

London 2012 spectators travelling downstream to Greenwich Pier can choose to embark at Westminster, London Eye (Waterloo), Tower and St Katherine’s piers.  The every 15mins service will enable passengers to see London's famous sights along the River Thames, whilst enjoying a leisurely cruise on board modern boats with panoramic windows and open deck areas, which offer access to the mobility impaired.  Light refreshments and bar services are available to purchase during the cruise.

Up to 6,000 passengers a day are expected to use the service.  The journey time from Westminster Pier to Greenwich Pier is approximately 1hr 15mins, and from London Eye 1hr and Tower 30mins. www.citycruises.com

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SkyTeam extra baggage

All 14 SkyTeam member airlines have combined to implement a consistent extra baggage strategy for their Elite and Elite Plus frequent flyers members.  The new policy, already introduced by a number of SkyTeam members earlier in the year, has been designed to simplify travel by ensuring the same extra baggage allowance for Elite travellers, regardless of Frequent Flyer Programme (FFP), carrier and class of travel flown.

The changes particularly benefit travellers flying on multiple SkyTeam airlines.  Previously, member airlines allowed extra baggage only for Elite and Elite Plus members of their respective FFP, which did not apply to mixed itineraries or other members' flights.

Across all the carriers the extra weight approved is now very simple.  For Elite members 10kg extra and for Elite Plus members 20kg, plus an extra piece allowance for both classes of members. www.skyteam.com

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VisitEngland launches star rating scheme for motorway service areas

Often the grimmest and most expensive of places in the past (and still so for refuelling) Britain’s motorway service areas (MSA) are improving. VisitEngland, the national tourist board, has been investing in a new star rating scheme to monitor this activity and last week revealed that 86% are 3-star and above. 

As it points out, VisitEngland is committed to ensuring that the highest possible level of standards is available to the many millions of tourists travelling the length and breadth of England.  Attractions and accommodation are of course the focus for the national drive for quality.  Motorway service areas are, however, a key part of the journey, not only for UK visitors but business travellers who use them on a daily basis. 

Working with the Highways Agency and the five main operators of motorway service areas – Moto, Welcome Break, Roadchef, Extra and Westmorland – VisitEngland conducted four waves of assessments and awarded the 71 participating MSAs with their appropriate star rating.

Top performing areas included Tebay South on the M6 in Westmorland, and Killington Lake, just north in Cumbria, Strensham South on the M5 gets a four star rating too, and whilst not truly on a motorway the Moto facility on the A30 at Exeter is highly rated. www.visitengland.org

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AND FINALLY: Stand-up railway fight

The following is an actual exchange of correspondence between a customer and a well-known railway operator.

Gentlemen,
I have been riding your trains daily for the last two years, and the service on your line seems to be getting worse every day.  I also see that my season ticket price increased by 13%.  I am tired of standing in the aisle all the time on a 14-mile trip.  I think the transportation system is worse than that enjoyed by people 2,000 years ago. 


Dear Mr Finnegan
We received your letter with reference to the shortcomings of our service and believe you are somewhat confused in your history. The only mode of transportation 2,000 years ago was by foot.
Sincerely,
The Railway Company


Gentlemen,
Your letter has arrived, and I think you are the ones who are confused with history.

If you will refer to the Bible and the Book of David, 9th Chapter, you will find that Balaam rode to town on his ass! 

That sir is something I have not been able to do on your train in the last two years!


Yours truly,
Patrick Finnegan

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COMMENT: Well done Boeing – You Made It!

Further down in this issue readers will note that Boeing has finally certificated the 787 Dreamliner, and as they say “better late than never”.  Congratulations are needed in putting together one of the most sophisticated engineering projects of all time.  There have been some high profile casualties amongst the Seattle hierarchy along the way, namely Mike Blair, the launch project leader, and Scott Carson, a super salesman, responsible for perhaps half of the firm sales to date.  Blair is now Vice President Advanced 737 Product Development at Boeing, whilst Carlson has retired.

It is interesting to note that Boeing took six years to develop the 707 from concept to airline introduction, much of the engineering ‘borrowed’ from parallel military ventures.  The 787 is vastly more complicated and is essentially a stand-alone project.  Back in the 1950s Boeing had serious competition from Convair and Douglas in the US and de Havilland and Vickers in the UK, plus the huge resources of the Russian aerospace industry to contend with.  Now it is just Airbus, a formidable competitor.  Times change.

One can say that the 787 was delayed, but there is just as strong an argument that the aircraft is not late and that the design and build programme put to the Boeing board was far too optimistic.  Never before has such an ambitious programme been put together, not just an advanced aircraft, but a ‘plane with parts designed and built all around the world. 

Looking back, and it is very easy to work in retrospect, was Boeing correct to roll out what was nothing more than a huge ‘plastic’ model at Everett Washington State in August 2007?  Should they have been more honest with the airline customers, and their own staff.

ANA were the first airline to commit to the 787.  Readers with long memories might recall that the Japanese airline was also the lead carrier for the Lockheed Tristar whose introduction was a disaster and bankrupted engine supplier Rolls-Royce.  Perhaps someone should have whispered that story to the ANA President in 2004.

The good news is that the Tristar turned out to be a success for the Japanese airline despite the initial misgivings and Rolls-Royce has never been stronger. 

The 787 package seems right.  No major airline has cancelled its order in spite of the much publicised delays.  OK Boeing will not have achieved the target of 1,000 firm orders by the date of first delivery, but 800+ is terrific news by anyone’s standard.  The Dreamliner still leads the rival Airbus A350 XWB by some way in terms of orders and it remains to be seen how much the delay is with the latest Toulouse wonder plane.

In 50 years’ time, when 787s will still be flying on the airways of the world, its difficult gestation would have been long forgotten.  Now let’s try it out and see if it comes up to expectations.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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ANA confirms 787 schedules

The long awaited flight introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has now been confirmed between Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong on 26 and 27 October.  This inaugural charter flight will be sold through package tours.  On the following days (October 28 and 29), excursion flights departing from and landing in Narita will allow more customers to experience the increased level of comfort associated with a flight in the Dreamliner.  Delivery of the first aircraft is expected on 26 September.

The Dreamliner’s first regular domestic service will be the Haneda – Okayama route starting on 1 November, with a flight on the Haneda – Hiroshima route also departing the same day.  Frankfurt, a new destination, has been chosen for the international introduction with flights beginning in January 2012.  However ANA will operate a 787 on some Haneda – Beijing services from December, marking the aircraft’s first regular international sectors. www.anaskyweb.com

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City guide from KLM

KLM is inviting customers to create a free personalised CityGuide for a city of their choice – bringing destinations to life and allowing users to plan their trip before they travel, based on their hobbies and interests.  By visiting the special KLM CityGuide website, users can select areas of interest and put together their own travel guide, step-by-step.

Customers can create three chapters from a variety of categories: arts & culture, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, music, nature, and family or outdoor activities.  Each of these is broken down into sub-categories, allowing users to be even more specific on their particular interests.  A map is also included, highlighting the locations of chosen activities and hot spots.  After previewing the CityGuide online, a hard copy is then sent to their home address in a handy format, making it easy to take along for the trip. http://klmcityguide.klm.com

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Gatwick Airport launches ‘The Beehive’ bar

“The Beehive” may not mean a lot to most travellers passing through London’s Gatwick Airport (in fact it was the name of the original terminal) but it is the name of a new bar for passengers which has just opened in the South Terminal arrivals area, on a newly created mezzanine open to the non-travelling public. 

To mark the opening, Gatwick also sees its very own specially brewed ale from Loddon Brewery, 'The Beehive Ale' on sale alongside a wide range of international draught beers.

Landlord of the “The Beehive” is the well known pub group J D Wetherspoon who will offer their extensive food menu suitable for all hours of the day.  With this opening Gatwick becomes one of the few UK airports with a proper restaurant/bar landside. www.gatwickairport.com

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Irish domestic routes saved

Aer Arann, the Irish regional airline, and Loganair, the Scottish carrier, have landed new contracts to operate the public service obligation (PSO) routes Kerry – Dublin and Donegal – Dublin.  From 3 November, two return flights will operate daily in each direction.

However, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, warned that the route might be re-evaluated based on passenger use: "Renewal of the contracts in 2014 will depend on how extensively the services are used, and on public finances.”

“People in Donegal or Kerry will be able to conduct commercial or personal business in Dublin and to return home the same day.

"It will also support the tourism industry in Donegal and Kerry, as tourists on relatively short breaks can reach their holiday destinations quickly through onward connections between Dublin and Donegal or Kerry,” he continued.

Ireland last week also lost a vital route when Ryanair pulled its Dublin – Cork service, blaming air taxes and airport charges. www.aerarann.ie www.loganair.co.uk

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Qantas bid speculation

Continued speculation that Australia's Qantas Airways was about to be taken over by a private equity company has been quashed with the Australian government indicating that it would oppose any takeover after some bid speculation.

The prospect of a Qantas takeover was discussed at senior level within the Government, with the Transport Minister and the Treasurer both inclined to oppose any private equity offer, The Australian said in a front-page story last week.

The Government is expected to throw out any private equity bids as not being in the national interest and is looking at ways to block any deals should they arise, the daily added.  However there is still concern regarding the airline’s future with the shares falling and the unions far from happy with severe job cutting expected and the setting up of an Asian offshore operation.

A consortium including Macquarie Group and private equity firm Texas Pacific Group mounted a failed takeover bid for Qantas in 2007. www.qantas.com

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Star Alliance launches farefinder app

Following the recent successful launch of its Navigator iPhone app, the Star Alliance network has now become the first airline alliance to introduce an easy and simple to use fare finder mobile application. 

Using the new FareFinder app, customers can search for either one-way or return fares for flights between any two airports on the Star Alliance network.  In order to obtain the information that best matches the customers’ wishes, the app allows for additional search criteria like number of passengers, arrival or departure times, class of service, number of stops, transfer airports and point of sale.

The app also displays availability so the customers can then select the airline(s) on which they wish to travel.  Guided by the FareFinder app, customers can then book via the appropriate airline call centre or website. www.staralliance.com

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ON TOUR: Mallorca is a gastronomic heaven

Jane Stanbury reports

Mallorca’s sun is famed more for bronzing bodies, than for the crucial role it plays in cultivating a myriad of produce.  A trip to Palma’s Mercat Olivar market demonstrates the variety of freshly grown ingredients including peppers, tomatoes of all varieties, artichokes, squashes, figs, apricots, almonds and so the list goes on.

Olives are one of the island’s principal crops producing so much oil that much is exported to the mainland, and even Italy – next time you buy some Italian olive oil you may want to check its origin.  The green gold comes mainly from the verdant olive trees perched on the terraces of the ragged Tramuntana mountains. 

Some argue that the trees around the Caimari area have been there for thousands of years and looking at their gnarled, split, trunks this would seem perfectly credible.  For olive oil aficionados the Mallorcan ‘aceite’ is undoubtedly some of the best in Europe.  Like fine wines, the superior oils, normally first cold pressed oils are awarded the status of Denomination de Origen – Olis de Mallorca.  This is the closest you can come to having a salad burst taste in your mouth and the marques of Son Catiu and Solivellas are some of the best.  They are simply too good to cook with, and are best used in salad dressings or as the star ingredient of the hearty Mallorcan local fast food, pa amb oli.

Literally meaning bread and oil, this snack is such an important part of Mallorcan food heritage that Tomás Graves, son of I Claudius author Robert, devoted a whole book to the subject.

There are four basic ingredients.  The Mallorcan ronda, a hefty salt free bread which is naturally dry in texture.  The tomatiga de penjar, literally hanging tomatoes, which entwined together are air dried producing a thick skinned fruit, with a dense juice that is spread over the bread.  Olive oil is then drizzled on top and then Flor de Sal, which is harvested from the salt flats to the south of the island, is sprinkled on top.  Locals add any combination of other ingredients including botifara, a local black pudding type sausage, sobresada, a uniquely Mallorcan paprika and pork spread, or local meats and cheeses – a mixta with Jamon Serrano and Manchego cheese is just perfect.  Much debate centres around whether the bread should be toasted, and in which order the ingredients are added.  Villages have been known to feud for decades over this deeply emotive subject.

To enjoy an authentic version visit one of the growing number of tafonas, an olive oil press, that are open to visitors. 

One of this writer’s favourites is Son Catiu.  Not a single part of the olive is wasted here, the oil is pressed in a modern version of the traditional matt pressing, the skins are fed to the lucky livestock on the estate, and the stones are used to feed a generator that grinds the juice out of the olives.  It’s the most truly sustainable business I’ve come across in years.  Sebastian and his team encourage visitors to explore the production facilities, try a number of different types of oil pressed from a variety of Mallorcan olives including the local Picual and Arbequina, before settling to choose from a lengthy menu offering a pa amb boli selection any honest Mallorcan would be proud of. 

Olive oil is also the essential ingredient of just about every Mallorcan dish whether it be suckling pig marinated in lemon juice, salt and oil, then slow roasted to produce moist meat surrounded by the crispiest of crackling; or classic frito Mallorquin, a blend of chopped vegetables, liver, and garlic, so tasty, even liver-loathers love it; or tumbet a baked layered vegetable dish featuring potatoes, aubergines, potatoes and onion. 

Of course no lunch would be complete without wine.

Plinny once referred to the Malavasia sweet wine grown on the northern Tramuntana as some of the best in the world.  However the wine blight phylloxera killed many of the indigenous varietals and from around the 17th century until just over a decade ago only sour Mallorcan table wine was available.  However as Mallorca’s tourists have become more discerning, and the type of traveller visiting the island has demanded more local produce the Mallorcan wine industry has experienced a magnificent resurgence.

With total island production smaller than Rioja only about 5% of production ever leaves the island, so local restaurants now encourage diners to sample the local, rather than the more familiar Spanish wines.

There’s huge choice from the family run Jaume Mesquida which makes bio-dynamic wines using moon cycles to gauge production, to Macia Batle utilising mainly indigenous Mallorcan grapes such as Callet and Prensal Blanc to tantalise the taste buds whilst high in the mountains, Cellar Mortitx belies cold winters to produce French influenced crisp rosés and whites.  All welcome visitors and are thrilled to offer tastings.  The landscape producing the wines is beautiful and worth the exploration.  From the smallest producers such as Biniagrau to the larger vineyards such as Macia Batle there is something to suit everybody’s taste buds.  A number of restaurants now serve Mallorcan inspired wine and food dinners, try Bacchus at Reads hotel for a truly inspired blending of wine and food from distinguished Sommelier Sebastian.

Whilst Mallorcan dishes are traditionally rustic a number of innovative restaurants have taken conventional dishes and added a touch of creative magic. 

Simply Fosh typifies this new style serving menus de degustation enabling diners to sample local plates.  Slow cooked pork belly with carrot and orange blossom puree, breast of guinea fowl with pumpkin and pearl barley or loin of rabbit with locally grown bomba rice risotto are just a few examples of Fosh’s contemporary menu. This modernising of familiar dishes reflects Mallorca’s current attitude to food and wine. Traditionally families would sit and sup on hearty stews and fare, but now Mallorcans are keen to share their new found culinary options and invite visitors and locals alike to sample the fabulous diversity of produce on offer.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting the island, then make the most of the amazing selection of gastronomic delights on offer.

www.majorca-mallorca.co.uk
http://palma-de-mallorca.costasur.com
www.anardetapes.cat
www.maciabatle.com
www.skybluemallorca.com
www.vinyesmortitx.com
www.readshotel.com
www.simplyfosh.com

Jane Stanbury

Emerald Media 

www.emeraldmedia.co.uk www.balearicdiscovery.com


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787 (finally) receives FAA and EASA certification

Boeing received certification for the all-new 787 Dreamliner from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) during a ceremony at the company's Everett facility near Washington last Friday 26 August.  It had been a long time coming. See ANA confirms 787 schedules.

It was back in the late 1990s that Boeing realised a successor was needed for the 767, smaller than the 777 and larger than the much missed 757.  Its first stab at this product was the faster but fundamentally flawed Sonic Cruiser, which was dropped.  In April 2004 ANA announced a 50-aircraft order for the then 7E7 with first deliveries due prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Three years late, but with a record 821 commitments, the new aircraft, now called the 787 Dreamliner, has finally arrived.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt presented the US Type Certificate to 787 Chief Pilot Mike Carriker and 787 Vice President and Chief Project Engineer Mike Sinnett, both of whom have worked on the programme since the day it began.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh said: "This airplane embodies the hopes and dreams of everyone fortunate enough to work on it.  Their dreams are now coming true." www.boeing.com/commercial

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Bill Boddy Tribute Day

Perhaps the last, and even the first of the greats when it came to motoring journalism, Bill Boddy MBE passed away on 7 July 2011 at the age of 98.  Just a few days before he was dictating copy.  His eight decades of motoring and motorsport will be celebrated with a Bill Boddy Tribute Day at Brooklands Museum on 1 October.

Brooklands was the spiritual home of WB, the undisputed authority on the Surrey Track, the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, and the day will encapsulate as many aspects of the track and his relationship with it as possible.  A display of Brooklands cars in the paddock and in demonstrations will include the museum’s 24-litre Napier-Railton, the outright Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record Holder.  The organisers hope to re-enact a Brooklands start on the original finishing straight, and runs on the test hill and banking, as part of the activities.

With co-operation expected from organisations including the Vintage Sports Car Club, the 750 Motor Club, the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register and the Brooklands Society – all owing their existence to WB’s inspiration – a major display of pre-war cars is expected.  Well known experts and personalities are expected to attend. www.brooklandsmuseum.com

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Emirates ups to A380 for Germany

With 15 Airbus A380s delivered (out of a total order for 90) Emirates has set its sights on Germany for introduction of the aircraft.  At present the airline operates Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s on its daily Dusseldorf services and Boeing 777s and Airbus A340s on Frankfurt and Munich.  The plan is to upgrade Munich from January 2012 and it is believed Frankfurt at a later date in the year.  All current services offer First Class, Business Class and Economy cabins and this offering will remain.

At present Emirates A380s offer 489 or 517 seat layouts, with its established premier classes layout on the upper deck and an all economy layout on the main deck. Whether the more dense configuration is used for the seven-hour Germany flights remains to be seen. There are also strong rumours that the airline will announce further orders for the A380 at the Dubai Air Show in November. www.emirates.com

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Huizhou Kempinski

Kempinski, which in 1992 was the first European hotel group to establish itself in China, has opened a new property in Huizhou in the province of Guangdong.  By the end of this year, four more openings are expected in Shanghai, Guiyang, Sanya/Haitang Bay and Xiamen with five more to follow in 2012.

The Kempinski Hotel Huizhou offers 340 rooms, including 46 suites.  There is a wide range of restaurants, bars and lounges, including the Season’s Restaurant, Paulaner Microbrewery, Dragon Palace with traditional Chinese cuisine and Edo, a Japanese specialty restaurant, which will fulfil any gourmet’s wishes.  The Lounge and Kempi Deli, with European delicatessen, complete the palette.

The hotel has 15 different sized meeting rooms and the impressive Great China Ballroom can accommodate 500 diners or twice as many for stand-up functions.. 

Huizhou is located in the south-east of Guangdong province, and is one of its largest coastal cities.  It is said to be the fastest growing trade hub in China, and at the same time is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country.  The hotel is centrally located in the commercial district, opposite the Huizhou Exhibition and Convention Centre.  Huizhou Airport is approximately 20mins away. www.kempinski.com/huizhou

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London hotel offers walking tours

Guests at Mint Hotel Tower of London can now explore the unique history of the City of London by taking a walking tour with a qualified local guide from only £8 per person.

Highlights of the 90mins walk include All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London.  Samuel Pepys climbed the tower of the church to survey the damage caused by the Great Fire of London.  Other interesting stops include the old headquarters of the Port of London in Trinity Square, Leadenhall Market and its many shops and eating places.  Built on a Roman site it has been used as a location in the Harry Potter films.  From London’s first coffee house, built in the 17th century, to the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England, the tour also incorporates a look at new buildings under construction in the City and passes by the Gerkin and Heron Tower.

City of London guide Geoff Boyd promises to show guests buildings and locations that reflect life in the City over the past 2,000 years and talks about historical figures who helped shape it.  The Mint Hotel offers 583 rooms and à la carte restaurant whose outdoor terrace commands panoramic views of the River Thames and London’s cityscape. www.minthotel.com

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Qatar Airways put back Azerbaijan and Georgia flights

For what it describes as “operational reasons” Qatar Airways is switching the launch date of its new flights to Azerbaijan and Georgia to the New Year.  Originally slated to start operations on 30 November, the new services to the capital cities of Baku and Tbilisi respectively, will now begin on 1 February.

"With capacity increases planned on many routes, we face constraints on aircraft availability, therefore decided to revise these two route launch dates and move them to February,” said Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker.

The two new routes will be operated with Airbus A320 aircraft in a two-class configuration of 12 seats in Business Class and 132 in Economy. www.qatarairways.com

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United Airlines huge investment

Following its very successful upgrade of its long haul products United Continental Holdings has announced it is investing a further half-billion dollars in onboard facilities as it integrates its two airlines’ fleets during 2012.

The initiative includes adding flat-bed seating on 62 additional long haul aircraft, bringing total aircraft with flat-bed seats to 185, more than any other US carrier.  Economy Plus seating is introduced in a big way, added to more than 300 aircraft, and the airline is doubling the overhead storage space in 150 ‘planes.

On the technical side the investment includes advanced broadband wi-fi and streaming wireless video onboard its 747-400 aircraft.  The arrival of the 787 during 2012 will be particularly significant, and entirely new aircraft to what in effect is an entirely new airline.  The new Boeing is expected to feature all the aforementioned features. 

“We are making very good progress building the world’s leading airline,” said Jeff Smisek, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Continental Holdings, Inc.  "These product enhancements announced today, coupled with our unbeatable route network and loyalty programme, will provide an unsurpassed travel experience for our customers.” www.united.com

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CRUISE NEWS August 2011

Our ten-story news update
This month's cruise review: Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth


Some 21 million people will be thinking of booking a cruise next year and many will be overwhelmed by the sheer number osf brochures and bewildered by the variety of cruise ships.  The 2012 edition of the famous Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships (published in paperback 1 October 2011, £17.99, as well as a new App edition) will cut through these choppy waters and help readers to identify the cruise that best suits them, so that their hard-earned holiday represents money well spent.  Completely independent and accepting no sponsorship, this annually updated guide has become the ‘bible of cruising’, thanks to the painstaking investigation carried out each year by its author, Douglas Ward, the world’s most highly regarded cruise expert.

The new edition looks ahead to 2012 and 2013, previewing nine fabulous ships as well as the new facilities on board existing ships.  Among the debuting ships particularly worthy of note are The Royal Princess with its cantilevered half-moon shaped walkway extending over both sides, and Costa Fascinosa with its retractable glass dome covering the pool area. There’s a new chapter on what operators are doing to compete with Disney Cruise Line, one of the smaller operators that has had massive success in the growing family market. More weight is also given to the changing face of entertainment on board the very large resort ships, particularly the lavish productions of well-known Broadway shows which are replacing the tired old Vegas-style song and dance routines of yesteryear. www.berlitzpublishing.com

Cruise review: Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth - Mediterranean Gems

Max Kingsley-Jones, Editor of Airline Business, is one of the World’s leading aerospace journalists (and a keen motor sport fan too).  However for his family summer holiday this year he took to the sea and sent in to AERBT this report (and pictures).

As an aviation writer jaded by the endless programme delays in the aerospace industry, my decision last year to book a cruise on Cunard’s newest ship was somewhat of a leap of faith.

For when I booked my “Mediterranean Gems” jaunt last September, the Queen Elizabeth was still being built.  But by August this year when I boarded her in Southampton, she had a world cruise and a summer of service behind her and a hull that already bore the marks of her first 10 months in service. If this had been one of the new airliners that would not have been the case, my one-year ahead advanced booking postponed and Cunard would still be waiting to hear about the next delivery rescheduling!

The Queen Elizabeth entered service right on schedule last October between Southampton and the Canaries.  With a gross tonnage of 90,900GRT, she is a slightly adapted sister to Cunard’s Queen Victoria which made her maiden voyage in 2007 and ultimately replaced the QE2 a year later.  From most outside angles the two ships look almost identical.

The latest Queen, which can accommodate 2,068 passengers, differs mainly from her sister in that she has an extended superstructure at the stern to incorporate additional cabins.  This also results in a larger aft top deck providing more room for sun loungers around the Lido pool area. Some other minor changes to internal arrangements mainly affect the style and naming of some of the bars and lounges, but otherwise the two ships are effectively identical. Any veteran of a Queen Victoria cruise should have no difficulty in quickly getting their bearings on the Elizabeth.

The internal public areas are mostly decked out in a fashionable retro style, with “art deco” much in evidence in a nod to the original RMS Queen Elizabeth liner of the 1930s. While this makes for warm and elegant feel, it is worth remembering that when QE2 arrived during the “swinging sixties” she featured progressive and somewhat controversial interior designs, such as “space age” shell chairs, fibreglass columns and brightly coloured furnishings in her Queen’s Room.  Perhaps this is why the new Elizabeth – while unquestionably elegant – seems to lack some of the old ship’s soul and originality.

As a passenger whose only previous cruise was on QE2, I found much familiarity with the theme of many of the new ship’s facilities.  For example there is the Lido self-service restaurant, the Yacht Club bar/disco and Queen’s Room lounge. And another QE2 tradition is upheld every afternoon, when waiting staff smartly attired in white waistcoats and matching gloves provide afternoon tea.

As well as the Lido – which also offers themed Asian, South American and Mexican themed dining during the cruise - there are five main restaurants on board. These comprise the main Britannia Restaurant which is on two levels (Decks 2 and 3) aft and has two sittings), the Britannia Club (single-sitting dining for passengers in AA category staterooms) and the two Grills restaurants (Princess and Queen’s).  The Grills are superbly located on Queen Elizabeth/Victoria on Deck 11 offering panoramic sea views.

Like the other new Cunarders there is the option of alternative dining at The Verandah eatery which offers French cuisine – for a tariff. “Fast food" is also available around the pool area as well as “pub food” in the Golden Lion bar.

With an area of up to 513sq ft, the size of our Princess Grill balcony suite was perfectly adequate; however I am told that the same class of stateroom on Queen Mary 2 is superior.  There was still plenty of space for my 10 year-old daughter to spread out, and her sofa bed was always magically converted each morning and evening by our efficient steward Alan while we were away eating!

The compact bathroom is well equipped with both bath and shower, although the latter would be a struggle to fit under if you’re much over 5ft 8in tall!

After dinner each night there was always superb entertainment laid on in the 832-seat seat Frank Matcham inspired Royal Court Theatre, with two shows at 20:30 and 22:30.  These ranged from West-End style dance and musical productions and classical instrument musicians to a Dixieland tribute and comedian.

Given that much of our time was spent in the sunny Mediterranean, sun bathing was the most popular pastime and the areas around the two outside pools became quite congested during our cruise.  However Grills passengers have the option of using two private “terraces” equipped with superior sun loungers on decks 11 and 12, which are never crowded and give the impression that the ship is much smaller than it really is.

The pools are located aft and midships, and each is equipped with a pair of somewhat cosy whirlpools – one of which spent much of my cruise out of order. However it is shame there is no indoor swimming option for use in inclement weather, apart from the hydro pool in the excellently equipped Royal Spa and Fitness Centre. But like all aspects of this facility, there is a daily charge for the pool’s use.

There are three sets of lifts through the ship, each one comprising four lift-shafts. However with the central group proving the most popular due to its proximity to many of the cabins and popular public areas and restaurants, it tends to get somewhat congested at peak times.

Like the other Cunarders, Queen Elizabeth offers a selection of high-end goods for sale in its Royal Arcade shopping mall, located just above the casino towards the front of the ship.  However there was some disappointment about the availability of affordable souvenirs, particularly for the younger passengers.

Overall, our cruise was extremely enjoyable with an excellent standard of food and service that one expects on Cunard.  The entertainment was superb, both in the Royal Court Theatre and Queen’s Room, as well as the music laid on ad hoc in the various bars, lounges and public areas by pianists, a harpist, the string quartet and international band Nova.

All in all, a great time was had by all.

Max Kingsley Jones

PROGRAMME:  For the rest of this year Queen Elizabeth’s schedule is varied and caters for all tastes.  Always operating out of Southampton she crosses the Atlantic twice, travels as far east as Israel and visits the Canaries.

Queen Elizabeth’s sailings for 2012 start with a short series of voyages out of Southampton before embarking on a Westbound World Cruise for 107 days returning in April.  What is interesting for next year is the number of short voyages that are offered, and out of Hamburg too.  Fine tasters if you have not cruised before.  The spring is spent mainly with return trips out of Southampton to Scandinavia, followed by a round UK journey at the end of July, and then moving on to Mediterranean cruises as the summer draws to a close.  www.cunard.co.uk

Our Ten-Story News Review

Amadeus Brilliant, one the latest European river cruise ships, has on offer six-night Christmas market trips in November and December starting at £465 per person.  Based at Cologne the trip takes in Koblenz, Strasbourg, Basel and Speyer.  It is an all-inclusive package, the boat normally moving between the riverside towns and villages overnight giving plenty of daytime to visit some of the finest markets on the Continent.  “Brilliant” is what it says on the package and the ship is just that with luxury cabins and of course central heating. www.amawaterways.com

Celebrity Cruise fans will be able to holiday on one of the line’s ships in Australian waters this November.  Celebrity Century will home port in Sydney for the Oz summer before making way for her big sister Celebrity Solstice towards the end of 2012 for the season that follows.  Celebrity has suggested that only one third of bookings are from the Commonwealth, the cruises ‘down under’ popular with Americans and the British. www.celebritycruises.co.uk 

Corsican Coastal Cruises is promoting its fleet of five identical catamarans for next summer for up to 12 guests.  The fully crewed vessels operate a series of one week trips from Ajaccio at prices starting from less than £1,000.  Private charters are also possible where you can pick your own itinerary.  The six cabins are well appointed, with en suite shower facilities, to ensure your comfort and total relaxation whilst on board in an exclusive and intimate setting. www.ewaterways.com

Crystal Cruises, who calls its ships “six-star” is introducing 18 brand new shore-side excursions on its two unusual seven-night Crystal Symphony sailings round-trip from Los Angeles up the California and northern Baja coasts this autumn.  Crystal Adventures will showcase the unique outdoor opportunities, culinary arts and varied scenery local to the remarkable Golden State region during cruises departing 20 November and 4 December.  California’s fine wines will be on full display via tasting trips to Santa Ynez and Napa Valley, the latter including a gourmet lunch at the famed Culinary Institute of America. www.crystalcruises.co.uk

Cunard has introduced a new four-night winter voyage on board Queen Mary 2, departing Southampton on 8 December.  Prices start at £599 per person on what for many will be an introduction to the world’s only true ocean liner.  Passengers get a full day relaxing at sea and the benefits of an indoor swimming pool.  It will be the ship's first trip after a major refit. www.cunard.com

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has commenced its 2011 cruise programme from Portsmouth, Boudicca now making it its home port.  Travellers will not only benefit from the recently unveiled new passenger terminal but also the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel on the A3, closing the dangerous Devil’s Punchbowl and making London just one hour from the port.  Portsmouth ferry users will equally benefit.  The ship will embark on a series of cruises to the Mediterranean, the Canaries, and the English Channel ports, which takes it up to Christmas. www.fredolsen.co.uk

Glasgow has it own Cruise Show in October (22-23 October), modelled on the highly successful springtime occasion at London’s Olympia.  Once again there are presentations by the major operators (and more intimate too) and a panel of experts will offer question and answer sessions that are always most interesting.  The waterside venue is the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre which also has its own railway station with frequent services from Glasgow Central. www.cruisingshow.co.uk

SeaDream Yacht Club has announced a very special way to see in the New Year.  Its two boutique twin mega-yachts SeaDream I and II, will be spending 31 December in St Barts, this French island offering a unique vibe of laid-back Caribbean meets chic French Riviera.  New Year's Eve is the culmination of all things extravagant in the harbour of Gustavia.  Expect 100 luxury yachts at anchor, some hosting star-studded private concerts, live music and celebrations across the island with a fireworks display at midnight. www.seadream.com

Silversea is the latest cruise operator to bring out its 2012 brochure, rather like the ships themselves, a beautifully presented production detailing trips to seven continents, over 100 countries and 450 destinations.  Readers are reminded that Silversea is now a six-ship operation with Cloud and Wind 296 guests, Shadow and Whisper 382, Spirit at 540 and finally the specialist Explorer with a maximum 132-guest capacity. www.silversea.com

Voyages of Discovery has increased its breadth of television channels available on board Discovery and introduced a package of live TV programming through a new long-term agreement with MTN Satellite Communications.  The cruise operator, part of the All Leisure Holiday Group, now offers passengers worldwide coverage of seven additional US and British-based channels including BBC World News, Sky News and Fox News from MTN Worldwide Television.  The ship will also be able to deliver special broadcasts, such as major international sporting events. www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk

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