9 APRIL 2012


© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.

ANA Premium Economy

Japan’s largest airline group, ANA, is introducing further improvements to its Premium Economy service on long haul international routes.  From 1 June routes where Premium Economy is already available will see an enhanced level of service, and from September, it will be extended to a number of international destinations on which it was not previously available.  Whilst the normal Economy Class meal is served an extra course and sparking wine will be added to the menu.

Premium Economy is currently available on the four routes between Narita and Chicago, Washington DC and Munich, and between Haneda and Los Angeles, to passengers who have purchased Economy Class tickets at regular rates.  From Friday 1 June, the Premium Economy service will be further enhanced to provide sparkling wine and soup in addition to regular Economy Class meals.

From September, the Premium Economy service will also be introduced sequentially on routes between Narita and New York, London, Frankfurt, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Paris, where a new and vastly improved seat will make its debut.  On Boeing 777 the Economy layout is nine abreast.  In the premium product this is reduced to eight. www.ana.co.jp

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Boeing v Airbus

Around now for over 40 years but still coming down the production line Boeing is beating about the drum for the 747.  Last week Heathrow Airport became the 200th airport to receive regulatory approval for 747-8 operations.

In what is clearly a dig at rival Airbus, Boeing says that the (all) new 747-8 is the only aircraft above 400 seats approved to serve as many airports.

The freighter variant entered service in October 2011 with launch customer Cargolux.  Boeing now has delivered 14 to five airlines (Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Atlas, AirBridgeCargo and Korean Airlines).  To date, 63 airports around the world are supporting revenue flights from these aircraft.  The intial passenger variant, with 398 seats, is expected to be delivered later this month to Lufthansa.  Hopefully this will be without the embarrassment of the first aircraft which Cargolux turned down, Boeing citing "unresolved issues" with the airline.  All now seems fine with the airline.  Qatar Airways has a 35% shareholding making it the second largest shareholder after Luxair (43.4%). www.boeing.com/commercial

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Frankfurt night ban

A Leipzig court on Wednesday ruled in favour of a night flight ban at Frankfurt Airport, Europe's third busiest, dealing a blow to German flagship airline Lufthansa and airport operator Fraport.  The airline says that night flights are crucial for its cargo operations and to compete with fast-growing Gulf airports.

"This is a good day for our rivals in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Dubai," airport Chief Executive Christoph Franz told the German media noting that the ban would affect Lufthansa investment decisions.

Lufthansa's cargo arm, which had a 2011 operating profit of €249m, had switched flights to Cologne during the winter but that had not worked out due to the lack of belly space in Lufthansa passenger aircraft.  Along with a total ban from 23:00 to 05:00, the Leipzig court also reduced the number of flights permitted in the period covering the so-called shoulder hours from 20:00 to 06:00 to 133 from 150.  Frankfurt will be at a distinct disadvantage to rival airports, such as London's Heathrow where 17 flights are allowed between 23:00 and 06:00, with restrictions on the type of aircraft permitted. www.fraport.de

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Muscat Waves International Hotel

Just opened is the 4-star Waves International Hotel in Muscat, the capital of Oman.  It is located in Al Khuwai, within short distance from the ministries and embassies area.  It is about halfway from the Central Business District and Muscat International Airport.  Ice Skating, Oman Bowling Alley and a major shopping mall are in close proximity.  Within very easy walking distance is the Khuwair Souk. 

The hotel has 120 rooms including standard, deluxe and Amwaj Suites.  Shisha Restaurant serves the hubbly bubbly in various flavours along with light snacks until the early hours.  It offers 24-hour room service and has a complimentary late check-out service, most useful with the evening departures to London. www.wavesinternationalhotel.com

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Pinnacle Airlines files for Chapter 11

The latest US air carrier to find itself in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is Pinnacle Airlines which says it is re-organising.  Founded as Express Airways in 1985 (and operating as Pinnacle since 2002) the airline is based in Memphis, Tennessee, and has more than 7,500 employees and operates around 1,540 daily flights to 188 cities for United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways.  Passengers booked on regional services with any of these carriers should check their flights on the airlines’ websites.

About 80% of Pinnacle’s flying is under the Delta Connection brand.  Pinnacle plans to wind down operations for US Airways by June and United by 30 November.  The airline currently flies around 140 of the Bombardier CRJ 200 series 50-seat aircraft and 50 plus of the larger CRJ 900s, two-class and a 76 seater.  In 2007 and 2010 it purchased two rivals, Colgan Air and Mesaba Aviation in an effort of consolidation within the US regional airline industry.  Since 1980 around 50 North American airlines have filed for Chapter 11.  Only a handful still operate today. www.flypinnacle.com

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SkyWork Airlines marks successful year on London City – Bern

Speaking at a reception in the Swiss Embassy, Marylebone, London, Tomislav Lang, SkyWork Airlines CEO, said that the twice daily service from London City, now 12 months old, could get a third rotation.  He also strongly hinted that the airline is looking at the Embraer E series for future expansion.

“The London City – Bern service has become our star performer,” he said.  “Over 11,160 passengers have flown the route in the first year and a further 13,745 are booked to fly on future departures aboard SkyWork’s business turboprops.”  The airline operates three Bombardier Q400s and four Dornier 328 turboprops.

Mr Lang was keen to emphasise connections through what he called the Bern mini-hub.  A transfer time of just 20 minutes is possible, the airline serving 25 points including a number in Croatia, Greece and Serbia with either non-existent or poor services to the United Kingdom.  He noted that with its convenient location Bern Airport is fast being recognised as providing short transfer times to some of Switzerland’s finest ski resorts, including Interlaken, Adelboden, Grindelwald, Chateau-d’Oex, Kandersteg, Lenk, Murren and Wengen.  www.flyskywork.com

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US Airways wi-fi

US Airways is the latest American domestic operator to offer wi-fi with the majority of its fleet and says it has 90% coverage on mainline Airbus A320 series and Embraer 190 fleet.  It plans to expand the service to cover US Airways Express Embraer 170 and 175 aircraft operated by Republic Airlines.  In addition to extending in-flight wi-fi on more flights, the airline announced that it will launch Gogo Vision, a streaming video product that will allow passengers to watch movies and television shows on their own enabled devices.

Gogo Vision will be available through a new multimedia platform that will give passengers access to movies, TV shows, games, destination content, news and exclusive shopping deals.  Movies and TV shows will remain accessible for viewing even after the customer has landed – movies for 24 hours and TV shows for 72 hours.  Unexpired rentals will be available for playback on the ground using the same device and browser used onboard.  Gogo Vision entertainment will range from US$0.99 to US$5.99, separate from the cost of wi-fi service.

US Airways will operate this summer daily services from Philadelphia to Dublin, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester.  Charlotte is served from Dublin and Gatwick. www.usairways.com

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AND FINALLY: A fun video

Time for a smile and a laugh.

With the recent announcement by airlines of their new charges for checked luggage on flights to various destinations, this video from the past could be what air travellers will experience in the near future. Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway were ahead of their time!

Happy flying!


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COMMENT: Tips for travellers

Since the holiday weekend is still upon us (for those that have opened AERBT on Easter Monday), and in spite of dire economic times in the UK, at least we have more breaks this year than ever, AERBT thought it worthwhile publishing on COMMENT some advice from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  It does not date and should be taken to heart by all those who use the airlines. 

The CAA calls it its Passenger Portal.  The authority says a study was made of the top 20 airlines operating in the UK.

Perhaps the most important words are “make sure you know what you are booking”.

Check the details.  Even simple ones.  It can take 30 minutes to transfer terminals if you have gone to the wrong one at Heathrow.  BA is in Terminals three and five.  And might be for a short time in one also. easyJet operates from both sides of Gatwick.

•    When booking, check you’ve entered passengers’ details exactly as they are on their passports. It may cost to make corrections.

•    Be clear about your check-in time.  It can differ from airline to airline, and if you miss your flight you may need to buy another.

•    If you do not take your outbound flight of a return trip, contact your airline straight away to make sure your return is not cancelled.

•    Code share agreements mean that the airline you book with isn’t always the one operating your flight, which may affect your rights if you are denied boarding or the service is cancelled or delayed.

•    If you’re pregnant, check to see if your airline requires a medical certificate from your doctor or midwife to let you fly.

•     If you need special assistance, make sure you tell your travel organiser or airline well before you’re due at the airport to help the airline understand your needs.

The CAA’s Passenger Portal also provides advice on extras. Check to see the additions you may have to pay for, such as meals, hold-luggage and allocated seats.  Use the CAA’s fees and charges comparison table.

And finally write down where you parked if coming by road.  Even the most experienced of travellers can sometimes miss this one in the rush to get to security.

Do enjoy your travel whether it be for business or pleasure.


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Australian news

Virgin Australia has introduced a daily Sydney to Darwin return operation whilst rival Qantas is changing its baggage allowances.

The new Sydney flight complements Virgin Australia’s Darwin services to and from Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth and features the airline's new Business Class, designed for narrow bodied aircraft.  With a single daily Boeing 737 return flight Virgin Australia has chosen to take on both Qantas and its low cost sibling Jetstar who both go twice daily.

Qantas itself will introduce changes to its international checked baggage policy next month, moving from a weight system to a piece and weight system as used by oneworld partners British Airways and American Airlines. The changes provide customers with a simplified policy and better alignment with the Qantas domestic checked baggage policy, which changed in June 2011 to a piece and weight-based system. www.qantas.com/baggage www.virginaustralia.com

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British Airways new lounge at Newark

Travellers to and from London on British Airways at Newark Liberty International Airport New York are to benefit from a new Galleries lounge which has just opened.  Newark is New York’s second international airport with 33m passengers as against JFK with 47m.  Situated in New Jersey but just as easy to get to from most of Manhattan, and is operated by the same quasi government authority.  It is the main New York home for United Airlines and benefits from a direct train service to the airport transit system from Penn Station.

British Airways has three daily services to Heathrow in the height of the summer, whilst United has five (and there are two provided by Virgin Atlantic).  United also serves most of the major UK regional airports.

The new lounge in Newark provides comfortable seating for 177 customers, offering First guests private dining booths and Club World customers self-serve pre-flight dining.  Work and Entertainment Zones offer computers and power outlets throughout the lounge, with TVs, a choice of newspapers, magazines and complimentary wi-fi.  There are two bars and a deli.  Showers are provided.  The lounge, with its panoramic views of the apron, has been relocated close to British Airways boarding gates. www.ba.com

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Geneva gears up for EBACE

Looking for a brand new executive aircraft kitted out to your own specification?  Or perhaps a second user machine to which you can add some ‘toys’ of your own?  It does not have to be an executive A380 (which will not be shown at Geneva) and it can be as small as the Embraer Phenom 100 jet, which certainly will be on display.

With three exhibition halls at Geneva Palexpo, over 400 exhibitors already booked, 12,000 expected attendees, and a robust schedule of nearly two dozen specialised briefing sessions EBACE 2012 is promising to be an enormously successful event.  Part of its appeal is ease of access.  The Palexpo actually adjoins the public areas of the airport which is served from most major centres around Europe.  It also has its own railway station with a courtesy service into Geneva’s waterside station.

The special apron area, with no access problems, is already sold out with approximately 60 aircraft on display.  Please remember that this year’s Show is a Monday through Wednesday event, a change from the previous Tuesday – Thursday schedule (14/15/16 May). www.ebace.aero

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OAG says airlines are still growing

Now based in Luton (they were for decades at nearby Dunstable), the airline data specialists OAG report that global scheduled airline capacity between January and April is expected to be 4% higher in 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.  It now stands well above the previous peak in 2008 but most of this growth is coming from the Far East.

Looking at the European market, recovery from the 2009 recession is slow.  Capacity to destinations outside of Europe is greater than the 2008 levels.  However within the EU clearly the airlines remain cautious, reflecting the economic uncertainty surrounding the European economy.  The fierce competition from the major low cost carriers has increased the pressure on legacy European carriers with the likes of LOT and Czech airlines in the process of major re-structuring and forcing Spanair and Malev into bankruptcy.  At Budapest, capacity is still down 25% year on year and has forced the operator to consolidate from two terminals into one.

The picture emerging from North America is even more wary.  Domestic and international capacity has been effectively static since 2009.  Further capacity cuts are likely to be seen this year as the full impact of American Airlines Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is felt. www.oag.com

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Serviced apartments in China

Ascott has secured a contract to manage its initial serviced residence in Xiamen.  Set to open late 2012, the 169-unit Citadines Jinshang Road becomes the first internationally-branded serviced residence in Xiamen, Fujian Province.  This latest addition to Ascott’s portfolio reinforces the company’s leading position as the largest international serviced residence owner-operator in China with more than 8,000 apartment units in 42 properties across 17 cities.

Citadines Jinshang Road Xiamen is strategically located in the heart of Huli District and well-connected to the airport and seaport.  The serviced residence is next to the Huli government office and close to the Huli Economic Zone and high-tech district which houses 24 Fortune 500 companies.  A large Tesco supermarket is within walking distance and the nearby ‘bus rapid transit station’ provides quick, easy access to many destinations in Xiamen.

Once complete, Citadines Jinshang Road Xiamen will offer a range of spacious studio- to three-bedroom apartments catering to the different lifestyle needs of business and leisure travellers.  All apartments will come with a fully-equipped kitchen and separate work and sleeping areas.  Facilities within the serviced residence will include a gymnasium, business centre, conference room and breakfast lounge. www.the-ascott.com

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Spanish air strikes

Iberia continues to be frustrated by a series of strikes called by the Spanish union Sepla and readers using its flights should monitor closely the airline’s website.

In a strongly worded press release Iberia condemns what it calls “the irresponsible and intransigent position” and goes further describing it as “an intolerable act of blackmail against customers, against Spanish society, in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in its history.”

The strike call does not affect flights operated by Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, or IB code-shares with other companies.  During other recent union unrest obligatory minimum services decrees have also protected flights to/from the Canary and Balearic Islands, along with the greater part of long haul flights.

Flights due to be cancelled today (Monday 9 April) are all domestic with Madrid at one end or the other.  Further action is due Friday 13 April. www.iberia.com

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ON TOUR: The magic that is Kerala

Regular readers will know that our roving reporter Jane Stanbury has been off to India.  This is her report from deep down on the South West coast.

Kerala is a top tourist destination in India.  National Geographic's Traveller magazine names Kerala as one of the "ten paradises of the world" and "50 must see destinations of a lifetime".  It is India in miniature and offers a beguiling destination for even the most wearied of travellers.  It can be reached by using a number of international airlines including Emirates,  Etihad, Jet Airways (India) and Qatar Airways.

Marinating, tenderising and steaming – no not a selection of cookery techniques but methods employed by the Ayurvedic therapists at the Spa Niraamaya which forms part of the luscious Surya Sumadra Beach Garden, my destination for a week of rest and relaxation.

Perched on the low cliffs above the Indian Ocean just south of Kovalam in Kerala, the 5-star hotel offers a number of individual villas scattered amongst tropical gardens.  Decorated in typical Keralan style the properties feature spacious, sit out, terraces, outdoor shower areas enabling guests to cleanse beneath the stars, and magnificent views to the ocean and accompanying sunset.

With just 24 “rooms” and acres of gardens even when full Surya feels deserted.  A rocky set of steps lead down to the sandy beach which stretches for about 500 metres and is seemingly deserted.

With difficult access from any other point the beach is invariably used only by Surya guests and is managed by two very attentive life guards ensuring the varying tides and currents don’t sweep you away; hints on how to handle the waves, how to exit the ocean and which part of the beach to swim from exemplify the courtesy of the team at the hotel.

This is replicated in the spa where an exclusive appointment with the local Ayurvedic doctor ensures the set of treatments chosen will aid recovery from your specific aches and pains.  Ayurveda is not just about pampering, in Sanskrit it means “the knowledge of life” and is an ancient holistic system dating back over 5,000 years.  The complex system at its most extreme involves diuretics, emetics and a strict diet to strengthen and control body and mind to protect against illness and prolong life.

At Niraamaya you can choose the full experience or just simply enjoy the heritage of the herbal treatments practised by the people of Kerala.  The spa has its own herb garden which provides ingredients for the treatments.  Earthy smelling herbs, fresh leaves and spicy oils combine to produce a complex mix of massage oils, body rubs and heated poultices used with dexterity by the therapists.  There are key differences between Western treatments (also available) and the traditional Ayurvedic offering.  Therapists gently wash your feet before each treatment and place a blessing on your head as you leave.  Wooden tables replace comfy massage tables, unfamiliar ingredients give off unfamiliar smells and open-air bamboo curtained therapy rooms replace dark, moody spa music filled treatment rooms.  Even the sceptics seem to benefit from the daily rituals and strict vegetarian diet. 

As is a visit to a Kathakali performance.  Originating in northern Kerala this ritualistic dance incorporates mime, classical music, and extraordinarily intricate eye movements to create detailed choreography in acts that last for hours.  The make-up plays its own role and visitors are often invited to watch the vibrant colours applied to the characters pre-performance.  Traditionally a vibrant green face means good whilst white indicates super human and crimson red equates to the demonic.  A full performance is recommended only for the aficionados but there are a number of shorter dances where gods and mortals play out their roles against a background of chaos and disaster caused by human ambition, greed and pride.  The final outcome is normally happy, but it may take a while to reach conclusion.

The characters of Kathakali are as symbolic in Kerala as those of the Punch and Judy puppets in Europe.  Children play with replica toys and grand palaces have life size mannequins watching over their royal activity.  A classic collection can be found at the Kuthitmalika Palace in Trivandrum, the state capital.

The palace, built by Maharajah Swathi Varma, a great patron to the arts, is one of the most authentic royal experiences a visitor could wish for.  The dark wooden building appears underwhelming yet guides lead you through room after room of original artefacts including a crystal throne, ivory sculptures, an eclectic selection of European art and a random selection of Ming era china seemingly placed casually in the corner.  There is no official interpretation and the only way of unlocking the secrets is with a palace guide.  The lack of interpretation, and slightly shabby maintenance, is more than made up for by the contents.  The highlight of the structure is the upper gallery which contains the educational, music room and Asyurvedic treatment rooms including a self-massaging table….and an exterior plinth featuring 122 carved dancing horses.

The palace however is overshadowed by the neighbouring Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple.  Built in 1733, the temple is accessed via a heady seven-tiered ivory coloured ornamental tower leading to six vaults that until recently had been hidden.  In 2011 the Kerala High Court ordered the temple and its assets to be managed by the State, and an order followed to open the vaults for inventory purposes.  On review assets found included Napoleonic coins, a metre tall gold idol studded with rubies and emeralds, endless jewels and precious metals.  It is said that cumulatively the assets may be worth US$23.94bn making it the richest temple in the world.  It is therefore unsurprising to find the property surrounded with military guards and access only given to those who are genuine practising Hindis.

After a day in the hot and dusty city we couldn’t wait to return to the peace and quiet of Surya Samudra.  There were any number of alternative destinations; the intoxicating Western Ghats where undulating hills produce tea, coffee and spice plantations against a patchwork of flaming Poinsettia bush fences; or visited any number of the wildlife sanctuaries protecting elephants and tigers amongst others.  The meandering backwaters of Allepey also beckoned where villagers live in perfect harmony with the network of rivers and visitors can while away days on converted rice barges taking in the verdant surroundings peppered with small communities.

A holiday with a real difference. 

Jane Stanbury  www.emeraldmedia.co.uk

www.suryasamudra.com – the owners are also creating two new properties one in the back waters, and one in the tea hills, all are based on the company mission of Peaceful. Private. Personal.   

www.keralaconnections.co.uk – will create a magical tailored itinerary for your pleasure.

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Aerospace Farnborough Media Dinner

Wing Commander Andy Green, ‘The Fastest man on Earth’, is to be the guest speaker for the pre-Farnborough Aerospace Media Dinner on 8 July at the Royal Aeronautical Society.  Driving Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC (SuperSonic Car) in 1997, Andy set the world’s first and only supersonic land speed record at an astonishing 763 mph driving literally ‘faster than a speeding bullet’.  Andy is currently preparing to drive the new Bloodhound SSC, designed to reach an astonishing 1000 mph, the ultimate Land Speed Record challenge.  The Bloodhound Project aims to inspire the next generation of young engineers and scientists, while setting the most remarkable Land Speed Record of all time.

Readers should note that Britain’s gathering of the aerospace industry takes place earlier this year due to the London Olympics (Monday 9 July until the following Sunday).  The media dinner is something of a misnomer in that it is open to all (although most tables are taken by companies/organisations) and aerospace writing press awards are given out.  It is a social/networking gathering with the real work of the week to follow as the aerospace industry gathers from the four corners of the world.  The iconic headquarters of the Royal Aeronautical Society, at London’s Hyde Park Corner, is an ideal setting. http://aerospacemediadinner.com

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Birmingham Airport disability facility

A brand new custom-made toilet and changing facility designed specifically to support those who care for people with disabilities has been unveiled at Birmingham Airport.  Called ‘Changing Places’ the toilets cater for people who have profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and other people with severe disabilities who need the support of at least one carer.

The state-of-the-art toilet is fitted with a height adjustable changing bench, an overhead hoist system and enough space to ensure the bench and toilet can be approached from either side in a wheelchair.

Jackie Baker, Terminal Services Contracts Manager at Birmingham Airport, said: “We are extremely passionate about improving the passenger experience here at the airport and continually look at new ways we can deliver a better service.

“By installing this excellent new facility, we believe it will go a long way towards achieving our goal, making it much easier for families with limitations to travel from Birmingham without worry.”

The Changing Places campaign is run by the Changing Places Consortium and sponsored by Total Hygiene. www.changing-places.org

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easyJet launches winter schedule with 259 routes

Now claiming to be the UK’s largest airline, easyJet has launched its winter schedule 2012/13.  From 11 UK airports it will service 259 routes.  Whether the airline seat allocation experiment is expanded (see last week’s AERBT) or even continued remains to be seen, but the Speedy Boarding product has been a success and now is extended to include a dedicated airport check-in, very useful if you arrive not having dealt with the paperwork on your computer, or with a suitcase for the hold.

Capacity has been added to popular sun and city destinations including Barcelona, Istanbul, Madrid, Nice, Sharm El Sheikh, Tel Aviv and Venice.

For the summer season easyJet is expected to have just over 200 Airbus A320 series in service.  It now operates between 131 airports in 29 countries flying on 603 routes. www.easyjet.com

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Joe Gaggero

Born in Gibraltar in 1927 Joe Gaggero has died aged 84.  He was Chairman of the Bland Group, which dates back to 1891, originally a shipping company.  In 1931 it founded Gibraltar Airways which later became GB Airways and was taken over by easyJet in 2008.  He had a distinguished career in the travel industry.

Joe Gaggero was made a CBE in 1989 for his work in promoting closer relations between Gibraltar, Spain, Morocco and the UK and was passionate in his support for greater global understanding and dialogue.  He was an active member of Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in London.  Founded by his son James, the Gaggero Foundation is a charitable body established to support and initiate programmes that aid education, family welfare and community health in the geographic areas of Gibraltar, Morocco and Andalucía. www.blandgroup.com

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Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul

Jumeirah Group, the Dubai-based luxury hotel company, has signed a management agreement with the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul (Turkey).  The arrangement is from 1 May 2012 and the property will be known as Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah.

Pera Palace Hotel originally opened in 1892 as the destination hotel in Istanbul for the Orient Express train.  Its elegant, understated design reflects art nouveau, neoclassical and oriental styles, complete with white Carrara marble, exquisite Murano glass chandeliers and hand-woven Ousak carpets.

Known as the longest established luxury hotel in Istanbul, Pera Palace boasted the first electric lift in Turkey and its rooms have hosted many of the world’s most significant figures, ranging from the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, to European royalty and celebrity figures such as Agatha Christie, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway.

Located in the culturally rich and dynamic Beyoðlu district of Istanbul, within easy reach of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the airport, Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah has 115 rooms including 16 suites, the majority of them with balconies.  The hotel underwent a major refurbishment resulting in a grand re-opening in September 2010. www.perapalace.com

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SkyPriority- special case

The 15 airlines of SkyTeam have started to introduce “SkyPriority” said to be the world’s first alliance-wide, red-carpet treatment for select customers with, what is claimed, an unparalleled level of seamless passenger service.

“This is the biggest collective SkyTeam project to date and a prime example of how our members are extensively working together to bring greater benefits to our customers,” said Michael Wisbrun, SkyTeam’s Managing Director.

“This exclusive range of services, including priority check-in areas, baggage drop off and boarding, is offered to Elite Plus, First and Business Class customers.”

SkyPriority has been developed to ensure a common and consistent quality standard for priority airport services across the alliance.  The programme was initially introduced at Taipei by SkyTeam’s newest member airline, China Airlines, at the start of March and has now been brought in throughout last month to other major international airports including Amsterdam, Atlanta, Paris CDG, Guangzhou, Nairobi, Rome and Seoul.  SkyPriority will be gradually rolled-out at more than 800 airports around the globe throughout the year, with over 1,000 airports in 2013.

SkyPriority services include priority check-in areas, baggage drop-off, boarding and ticket/transfer desk assistance.  www.skyteam.com

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United to Buenos Aires

American Airlines was joined last week on its New York – Buenos Aires route by United Airlines, the only difference being that AA operates from JFK whilst the United service comes out of Newark International, across the Hudson in New Jersey. 

Both airlines fly Boeings on the route, American with the 777, and United offering a 767 featuring United First, United BusinessFirst, and having dropped the “coach” label, United Economy.  Both carriers offer an overnight service in both directions and get airborne for the nearly 11-hour flight within a few minutes of each other.

At the same time United has dropped its Washington DC – Buenos Aires operation.

Together with United Express, United Airlines operates an average of 5,656 flights a day to 376 airports on six continents.  It is now the world’s largest airline with nearly 700 mainline aircraft and orders through to 2019, including 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 25 Airbus A350XWBs. www.united.com

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MOTORING UPDATE by Ted Wilkinson

Renault Megane Coupe Cabriolet Dynamique Tom Tom 1.9 DCi 130

Enhanced Lifestyle with Latest Drop Top Megane

Successive Renault Megane models, including the trend-setting Scenic have proved sales winner cross Europe and the Megane success story is continuing to hold up as a result of an energetic development programme.

Contributing strong, as before, is the Series 2 version of the Megane Coupe Cabriolet that Renault claims has been designed to provide slightly increased interior space to make it a more than passable four-seat machine.

However, the real lifestyle head turner is the acoustic and thermal panoramic glass portion of the two part folding roof that ensures a light and airy ambience though for much of my test session.  I must confess I enjoyed the open air mode which can be achieved by the press of a button in a mere 21 seconds – likewise when covering up against the elements.

As with the original Megane Coupe Cabriolet the airflow pattern in open top form does not interfere unduly with the occupants and if only two on board a rear deflector can be deployed to virtually eliminate any back turbulence.  Noise levels in this latter situation are fairly low apart from passing traffic, allowing conversation between the two front occupants or the radio be heard at normal volume.

Renault offers the model with a choice of three petrol engines and three dCi turbo diesel units, the latter all fitted with FAP diesel particulate filters and all are Euro V-compliant on emissions.

Two specification levels are offered, the Dynamique TomTom (as tested) and the flagship GT.

Renault submitted the middle diesel version for test, the 1.9 dCi 130 bhp which, in conjunction with a light and positive changing 6-speed manual gearbox proved a good performer – an automatic transmission option is the smaller capacity 110 bhp diesel.  (This provides less performance but is an easy drive – Editor)

In a busy week involving about a dozen new cars it was gratifying to find that this Renault proved to have a lot of substance.  I felt that I had a lot of car around me, that it sat well on the road though the controls were both light in action and very responsive.  Ride is a bit on the firm side but forgiving over most faults in the road surface, braking also proved smooth, light yet powerful.

The driving position is slightly relaxed, driver’s view is generally good (parking sensors are part of the package), the steering column provides both reach and tilt adjust and the pedal spacing proved very comfortable.  Fascia presentation is modern, in good taste, easy to live with and the instrumentation is a combined three dial cluster featuring digital speedo and a comprehensive information panel.

Renault claim a top speed of 127 mph with 0 to 62 mph (100 kph) reached in 10.6 seconds which seems competitive for the size/weight of the car. That the combined fuel consumption figure is a quoted 48.7 mpg should see sensible driving return around 45 mpg while retaining a good degree of sporty progress.

It is when it comes to practicality that drop top cars tend to fail dismally.  Not this one, even with space for the hard folding roof to be stowed in the boot there should be sufficient room (211litres) for at least a pair of overnight suitcases and some smaller soft bags.  Roof up and it is a more than generous capacity at 417 litres.

There’s no spare wheel unless you pay extra for a skinny ‘get you home affair’, a repair kit is all you get.

What about the rear seat accommodation?  Passable for head space I would suggest, leg space can be critical if the front seat occupants require their seats to be set back away.  Ideal for the kids, though.

Inside and outside this Megane is a smart act, tastefully furnished with good quality materials including part leather seating and steering wheel cover and extensively equipped for the modern age, the TomTom navigation system easy to use.  The cruise control and speed limiter more or less essential for licence retention these days.

Safety?  A five-star Euro NCAP occupant safety is allied to a roll-over protection system.  Just part and parcel of this well made, well planned and well mannered drop top.  Not so much a poser, more an ideal cruiser.

Rivals include: VW Golf Cabriolet, Audi A3 Cabriolet, BMW I Series Convertible, Peugeot 308 cc

Performance 9
Handling 9
Transmission 9
Noise 8
Economy 9
Ride and Comfort 8
Accommodation 8
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 8
TOTAL: 85 %

Price from: £23,715




Even if it was only an announcement the star of the New York Motor Show was the Jaguar F type planned for production in 2013.  It has to be a great car to beat its 1961 predecessor, the fabulous E type. 

We also show some of the other concepts displayed at New York.

The show itself, at the Jacob Javits Centre, on 12th Avenue (Hudson Riverside Drive) runs until 15 April. www.autoshowny.com









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