26 JULY 2021

The Business Travel News
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BTN editorial will add a # when a reader's response is posted.  You might wish to comment also.

COMMENT: The End of Business Travel?

# When BTN was first established back in the 1980s our title was Air & Business Travel News (ABTN) but as the main revenue earner for airlines developed coming into the 21st century we dropped the ‘Air’.  Business travel grew and the front end of commercial aircraft evolved as the money maker for long-distance flying. 

Business Travel News, as it is today, is still a mixture of mainly air travel, rail, lodgings, and with a sprinkling of leisure news.

Business travel is said to represent 80% of airline revenues, and at the top end a substantial amount of hotel business.  All of course in pre-pandemic times.

Worldwide commerce continues in spite of lacking personal contact.  The quick trip to New York, or even Hong Kong, to sign or discuss a contract seems to be something from the past.  We are now living in a “Zoom Age”.  Tax-free Points are not being accrued and in any event airlines are now more reluctant to offer what are in effect discounts and a watering down of revenue.  "Points control" is paramount. Rush in quick with your booking as soon as a flight opens up.

Looking into a crystal ball what is the future for business travel?

Physical trade fairs disappeared in 2020 due to Covid-19.  Some are beginning to return and are the life blood of the industries they represent.  Every developer wants to show his new product to a real audience.  The toy fairs, the various international design and furniture shows, technology gatherings.  They all have their place.  Likewise ‘Aircraft Interiors’ and of course the Farnborough, Paris and regional air shows and Airport Expo.   And of course ITB Berlin, World Travel Market and other smaller international gatherings of that ilk.  

But what of pure industry shows/exhibitions, more of a social get together, with high level discussion of the type that can easily be held via video link? Do they have a future?

For events that do not promote an actual product, life is going to be more difficult.  Typically will the TMCs (travel management companies) and their suppliers see any future in gatherings that can achieve just as much via Zoom at a lot less expense?  

On the plus side what is the value of networking?  Impossible to assess but introductions are made at functions, dinners and receptions, impossible via Zoom.  Old friends reconnected. And a shortcut to invited ministers and chief executives impossible to normally reach with their Praetorian Guards.

As for air travel, BTN believes that the cabin balance between C and Y travellers will not fundamentally change.  

Once the worldwide pandemic is over, or at least contained, people will still want to go on holiday and see the globe.

The Brits require sunshine and those from overseas will want to see London for real, and what the rest of the United Kingdom has to offer.  Families worldwide will need to meet up again.  

And for those who can afford it the demand for Business Class and speedy, less cluttered airport progress will grow.  The use of exclusive lounges is bound to increase.
BTN has a suggestion.  As with all long-haul airlines British Airways is struggling.  It needs to be different and retain its prestige. The now limited First Class ought to be renamed Concorde Class.  The lounges exist (with a model Concorde in T5).  For some people it will be a status symbol.  “I’ve just arrived from London via British Airways on an A380 in Concorde Class” might be a nice way to start a New York meeting or join a celebrity event!  It's a 'cost nothing' marketing move. A unique class that nobody else can offer.

Air travel is far from doomed but is undoubtedly changing.  It might even be for the better.

The End for Business Travel?


But BTN might have to be rebranded “Air & Business Travel News!"

Aspire lounges open

Inverness is the latest Aspire executive lounge expected to reopen with next Friday (30 July) the target date.

Not the largest of the 19 lounges in the UK what it does offer is floor to ceiling windows overlooking the apron, and very easy access to join a departing flight just by Gate 2.  The lounge is also available to eligible British Airways’ customers.

The Inverness Airport lounge follows Belfast City (BHD), Birmingham (BHX), Gatwick North (LGW), Heathrow Terminal 5 (LHR) and Luton (LTN).  

Global airport lounges now open include Amsterdam (AMS both lounges), Copenhagen (CPH), Helsinki (HEL), Larnaca (LCA), Zurich (ZRH), Nairobi (NBO), Sofia (SOF), Eindhoven (EIN) and San Diego International (SAN).

For all lounges opening times vary and it is best to check on the website when making your travel arrangements.


Southend Airport terminal tours

ABTA 2021

ABTA has announced the date for this year’s travel trade annual Convention, but nothing more, in a move to ensure it is in people’s diary.

This year’s Convention will take place on 13 October and will be the first-ever blended travel Convention – offering ABTA’s members and the wider travel industry the option to attend the event in-person or online.

The in-person event will be in London and will include a full day of business sessions, refreshment breaks, lunch and a post-event reception.

The online package will include access to the main stage sessions, live as they happen. It will also include a digital library of additional content and online networking.

Whether attending in person or online, the one-day event will provide time for delegates to take stock, as well as to be inspired as we look ahead to what is next for international travel.

Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, said: “We’re really pleased to be able to offer people the choice as to whether they attend the travel Convention in person or online this year. The opportunity to network and speak to people face to face has been sorely missed and, as usual, will be at the heart of the Convention, along with keynote sessions from leaders in the industry.”

The 2022 ABTA Travel Convention will take place in Marrakech (Morocco) as previously announced.

Further details of the event, including how to register to attend, will be announced in due course.

ACL backs Government on slots

But the controversy continues.

Airport Co-ordination Ltd (ACL) last week welcomed the publication of statutory instrument of legislation which provides alleviation for the winter 2021 season for slots at UK coordinated airports.  It was set out before Parliament on 20 July, with the expectation of going into force before the start of the forthcoming winter season.  

"This new alleviation gives much needed clarity; goes some way to providing more balance between the needs of different stakeholders; and paves the way for a gradual return to normal slot usage rules, once demand sufficiently recovers," ACL stated.  The new mechanism for this winter allows full alleviation over a series of slots returned prior to 7 September and requires carriers to operate 50% of what they retain.  It also allows further alleviation for unforeseen government-imposed restrictions related to Covid-19.

However, Gatwick Airport has criticised the legislation draft, saying the rules would allow resident airlines to retain substantial slot portfolios at airports, blocking them from competitors, without having to operate any of them. Jonathan Pollard, CCO, has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps along these lines.  British Airways, easyJet and Norwegian UK are the biggest beneficiaries, whilst Wizz in particular is keen to expand its operation.  

In response to the effect of Covid-19 on air travel demand, the 80:20 ‘use it or lose it’ slot usage rule was waived for the summer 2020, winter 2020 and summer 2021 slot scheduling seasons.

Aer Lingus is a British company

Rather like rival Ryanair, Aer Lingus has now registered a UK offshoot with initially a single aircraft on the British register. 

This new British subsidiary of the Irish flag carrier is set to open up Manchester International as a long-haul base with services to New York JFK, Orlando and Barbados, using Airbus A-330 and A321 LR aircraft.   An Air Operator Certificate (AOC) has been applied for.  It is a requirement of the US Department of Transportation.

These will operate under the EI code under a codeshare agreement with British Airways, a fellow member of International Airlines Group (IAG) with the US destinations operating from 30 September and Barbados 20 October.

Manchester has been a key Aer Lingus airport over many decades.  Ireland has become the first country in Europe where fully vaccinated British citizens can visit without the need for any Covid-19 tests into or out of the country. There is no requirement to self-isolate if fully vaccinated.  At present Aer Lingus is operating 109 weekly scheduled services between the Republic of Ireland and the UK.

Airlines UK appoints Lord McLoughlin

# After completing her second three-year term as Chair of Airlines UK Jane Middleton is to step down on 1 August, replaced by Lord (Patrick) McLoughlin, a figure well known in aviation circles and former Secretary of State for Transport between 2012 and 2016.

Airlines UK is the trade body for UK-registered airlines and other carriers with a UK operation – with members representing all sectors of the industry.

Its membership covers virtually all British airlines: 2Excel, AirTanker, British Airways, CargoLogicAir, Eastern Airways, easyJet, FedEx,, Jota Aviation, Loganair, Norwegian UK, Ryanair, Tui Airways, Titan Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: “We are thrilled that following an extensive recruitment process we have secured the services of Patrick as Chairman of Airlines UK. He brings with him unrivalled experience of Government and the political process, and a real passion for and understanding of aviation gained through his period as a Minister and Secretary of State. During these unprecedented times, his knowledge, and the respect in which he is held will stand the Association in good stead, as we look to emerge out of the pandemic, and myself and the Executive team are looking forward to working with him.

“It has been a real pleasure to work alongside Jane these past six years, who has provided excellent leadership and support to me and the team, and has had a hugely positive impact on the development of the association. Her love for aviation is infectious and she will no doubt go on to achieve many more great things in the sector over the coming years.”

BA Economy food selection

# British Airways has unveiled its new inflight digital ordering platform, giving customers travelling in Euro Traveller the option to order additional snacks and drinks mid-flight, directly to their seat.

The digital ordering platform will not be available on what is termed “express routes” to and from Heathrow, due to the extremely short flight times. This includes Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Jersey, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay and Paris (CDG and ORY).

The new inflight ordering system will complement the airline’s current ‘Buy Before You Fly’ offering, where customers are encouraged to order from the airline’s full Speedbird Café menu, including items from its Tom Kerridge range, in advance of travel.

The new digital ordering system means that customers who wish to add to an existing pre-order, or for those who did not place an order before travel, can do so at any point during their flight. The offer will initially be available on selected routes before rolling out across other eligible services.

To place an order, customers simply connect to the on-board wi-fi service free of charge, via the website below, click on the ‘shop’ option for their flight, and a virtual menu will display the range of drinks and snack options on offer. Orders can be made via all major credit and debit cards or through Avios.

Batteries. Going flat?

Tomorrow (Tuesday 27 July) will see the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee publish a report on its views regarding the UK’s ambition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The review will  conclude that actions taken by the Government do not align with its ambition to achieve net zero emissions, nor do they take advantage of opportunities presented by batteries and fuel cells for the UK’s research and manufacturing sectors. A full report will appear next week.
The 14-strong Committee is headed by Lord Patel, a Tanzanian-British obstetrician and Crossbench peer, and a former Chancellor of the University of Dundee.

Other members include a predominance of the medical profession from all three parties and also Baroness Manningham-Buller, the retired Director General of MI5, another Crossbencher.

The enquiry set itself some interesting questions.

  • Whether the UK’s automotive sector can survive the transition to electric vehicles in the face of tight domestic deadlines and strong international competition for resources, skills and finance.
  • The need for Government to support access to critical raw materials for battery manufacture and finance for gigafactories, ahead of the 2027 implementation of UK-EU ‘Rules of Origin’ for vehicle manufacturing.
  • The impact of the UK’s chronic engineering skills shortage on the sector’s ability to switch to electric vehicles.
  • Potential competitive advantages for the UK if it increases funding for research and development of fuel cells and next-generation batteries.
  • Future improvements in batteries and fuel cells for transport and energy grids so that they better meet users’ expectations in terms of performance, cost and safety.

Blue Air

Following the success of Hungarian airline Wizz Air, Blue Air (a Romanian airline) has taken steps for a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

Ridgecrest, an AIM shell company based in Surrey, has announced plans to engineer a “reverse takeover” of the airline.

The special purpose acquisition vehicle said in a stock exchange filing that it had entered into a non-binding agreement with Romanian investor Cristian Rada to buy his company Airline Invest and its wholly-owned subsidiaries Blue Air Aviation and Blue Air Technic.

Ridgecrest would then become Blue Air Group Plc.

The process “remains subject to certain matters”, including the completion of fundraising to be Blue Air.

The disclosure cautioned: “It should be noted that the proposed transaction is at a preliminary stage, and there can be no guarantee that it will complete nor as to its final terms.”

Blue Air was originally established in 2004, currently operates 15 Boeing 737 series (including the MAX, with more on order), and flies from Heathrow to Bacău, Cluj, Iasi and Bucharest, the Romanian capital; in addition in the UK it  serves Luton. It also connects Romania with the principal airports serving an increasing number of capital and other major cities across Europe as well as having a growing operation in Italy.

Blue Air, which is advised by Barons Capital Partners, was profitable before the Covid pandemic and has very competitive operating economics.

EasyJet financial progress

Luton-based easyJet is ramping up August capacity but is remaining cautious as majority shareholder but non-board member Stelios Haji-Ioannou remains quiet.

EasyJet said in a statement that it will operate 60% of its pre-pandemic flights July through September, as the UK Government permits more travel flexibility for vaccinated passengers.

The airline had operated just 17% of its 2019 capacity in the third quarter, or three months to June.

The airline said it was capitalising "on the opening-up of travel in continental Europe and the easing of restrictions for the fully vaccinated in the UK “emerging from the pandemic transformed."

EasyJet announced last Tuesday (20 July) that its pre-tax losses fell 8.2% to £318.3m in its third quarter from a year earlier, thanks partly to tight cost controls.

Revenues surged to £212.9m, up from just £7.2m last time around.

Passenger numbers increased to almost three million.

"During this quarter we have successfully managed through the continued challenges of the pandemic, using our operational responsiveness to capture demand while focusing on cost control and minimising cash burn," said Chief Executive Johan Lundgren.

"So, while we know the road to recovery from the pandemic isn't going to be a straight line, we are ready to compete using these new-found strengths with everything we have learned, leaving a long-term, positive imprint on the airline, transformed ready for the post-pandemic era."

Back in January the airline noted it had unrestricted access to about £2.5bn of liquidity boosted by a £1.4bn UK government-backed loan.

The share price on Friday stood at 813p, down a little.  At its highest in June 2018 the price peaked at 1790p with the lowest point reached 475p April 2020.

Emirates to Miami

The major UAE airline last week inaugurated first ever non-stop flight from Dubai to Southern Florida.  The 15hr 30min sectors will operate four times weekly with a Boeing 777.

Along with Orlando, the new service to Miami International (MIA) provides an additional access point to and from Florida and expands Emirates' US network to 12 destinations on over 70 weekly flights. Miami also links travellers as a gateway to South America and the Caribbean, and in the other direction via Dubai to over 50 points across the Middle East, West Asia, Africa, Far East and the Indian Ocean islands.

"We are excited to welcome new Emirates flights to MIA as we expand business and leisure travelling options for Miami-Dade residents and visitors, connecting them with new cultures and growing economies," says Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. "Opening our doors to new visitors from Dubai and adding to our growing list of worldwide destinations continues to consolidate MIA as a global travel hub."

The new service will also add to the existing trade connections provided by Emirates SkyCargo, the freight division of Emirates, which has been operating freighter services to Miami since October 2020.  Emirates has been offering cargo capacity facilitating exports of perishables, electronics and other components as well as e-commerce goods. Emirates SkyCargo has also in the past operated several charter flights on its Boeing 777 full freighter aircraft to transport champion horses from Miami to equestrian events around the world.

IATA and Covid-19 testing costs

# International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General Willie Walsh has waded in regarding the high cost of PCR testing which BTN highlighted last week.

Whilst not initially calling the British Government to task, in a statement he makes it very obvious who his target is.  

According to IATA’s most recent traveller survey, 86% of respondents are willing to get tested. But 70% also believe that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel, while 78% believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.

“IATA supports Covid-19 testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel. But our support is not unconditional. In addition to being reliable, testing needs to be easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level. Too many governments, however, are falling short on some or all of these. The cost of testing varies widely between jurisdictions, with little relation to the actual cost of conducting the test. The UK is the poster child for governments failing to adequately manage testing. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the Government is charging VAT,” said Willie Walsh.

The real question is “which test to take?”.  In the cruise industry some companies are happy with the quick and cheap lateral test, whilst others insist on PCR.  In defence of the British Government the lateral test is available free from the NHS and can be undertaken at home.

Jeff Bezos space trip

Amazon founder, and the world’s richest man, came second in the race to demonstrate commercial ‘space’ visiting last week (Tuesday 20 July).

He was beaten by fellow bragger Richard Branson, who nine days earlier in his Unity vehicle (See Branson takes off BTN 12 July) had separated from mother ship Eve and was propelled into weightlessness.  Bezos went higher to 350,000ft in his Blue Origin rocket together with brother Mark, Ms Wally Funk, 82-year-old pioneer of the space race, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen.

They travelled in a capsule with the biggest windows flown in space, offering stunning views of the earth.

When the capsule touched back down after the 10min 10sec flight, Jeff Bezos exclaimed: "Best day ever!"

New Shepard, built by Bezos' company Blue Origin, is designed to serve the burgeoning market for space tourism.

Amazon founder Bezos – and other participants in the "billionaire space race" – have been criticised for offering what some see as joy rides for the super-wealthy. Critics say the money could be spent on pay rises for employees or fighting climate change.

However, Bezos insists he has an environmental vision: "We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is," he told NBC.

"It's going to take decades and decades to achieve, but you have to start, and big things start with small steps... that's what this sub-orbital tourism mission allows us to do, it allows us to practice over and over."

In the 1960s, Ms Funk was one member of a group of women called the Mercury 13. They underwent the same screening tests as male astronauts, but never got to fly under the US national space programme.

Both events were upstaged by Covid-19 and Euro 2020 soccer.

Porter Airlines goes big

Its name may be synonymous with Billy Bishop Toronto Airport but Porter Airlines is about to tackle Air Canada head on with its premium product.

In a surprise move the airline, responsible for the revitalisation of Toronto’s downtown airport, is to add up to 80 state-of-the-art fuel-efficient Embraer E195-E2 aircraft into its fleet. The planes have transcontinental range and will enter into service with Porter starting in the second half of 2022.  Seating is up to 146 passengers.

Porter is Embraer’s North American launch customer for the E2.

The airline intends to operate the E2s to popular destinations from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto Pearson International Airport. The introduction of specific routes will be determined in advance of aircraft deliveries.

“We are bringing Porter’s distinct style of service to dozens of new North American cities,” said Michael Deluce, President and CEO, Porter Airlines. “We believe that now is the right time to make this investment as the pandemic resets the aviation landscape. Adding a diverse selection of popular business and leisure destinations to our network means that we are better positioned to serve the needs of many more passengers.”

He emphasised that “flights from Porter’s existing hub at downtown Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport remain the core to the business and will continue with high-frequency regional service on turboprop aircraft.”

Services are confirmed to finally restart at Billy Bishop on 8 September following the Covid-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions.  (See BTN 12 July)

Qatar and airspace

# International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has consented to Qatar's request to establish its own Flight Information Region (FIR) thus ending the historical long-standing delegation of airspace management to Bahrain.

"The proposal represents one of the sovereign rights of the State of Qatar and demonstrates the huge investments Qatar has made to develop its air navigation system for the benefit of the region as a whole, by providing safe, efficient and seamless air navigation services," Minister of Transport and Communications Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti said.

The agreement in principle does not immediately herald any changes in the organisation of the airspace as the two countries, together with their neighbours and ICAO, must now work out the technical details of the change.

Qatar has never had full control over its airspace, having delegated the provision of all air navigation services to Bahrain immediately after both countries gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. It was a practical necessity but time moves on.

As a result of this delegation Bahrain's airspace currently extends along the coast of Saudi Arabia from Kuwait in the north to the United Arab Emirates in the south. Although the country is the smallest of all Gulf states, it has effectively controlled most of the crucial north-south airways over the Gulf. Bahraini airspace also fully separates Saudi Arabian airspace from that of Iran.

Qatar has been trying to establish its own FIR since 2018, in the wake of the blockade of the country by all of its Arab neighbours. Bahrain allowed Qatari aircraft to depart from and land at Doha but prevented them from using any other routes in its FIR. The blockade was lifted in early 2021 amidst a general détente in the region, with Qatar Airways resuming full operations through Bahraini airspace. After the ICAO Council decision, Qatar acknowledged that Bahrain had provided "safe and efficient air navigation services" over the decades-long period of delegation.

Ryanair grabs Kerry route

Another former Stobart sector taken.

Ryanair from 28 July inaugurates an initial return daily service from Dublin to Kerry, as a pure commercial operation and not, as previously, a PSO (public service obligation).  The plan is to go twice daily from 1 September.  Prices start at £19.99, the alternative road route via Limerick getting on for 200 miles.

Ryanair already operates international flights from Kerry to Luton (3 times weekly), Stansted, Manchester and Alicante (2 times weekly each).

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair CEO, took the opportunity of again criticising the Irish Government. “Minister Ryan’s failure to take any action to promote air travel recovery [which] has led to Ireland being the most damaged aviation market in Europe as evidenced by this week’s Eurocontrol statistics. Other island nations like Malta and Cyprus have vastly outperformed Ireland.”

TAPís problems

“Out of the frying pan into the fire.” 

New Chief Executive, TAP Air Portugal, Christine Ourmières-Widener has been in “listening mode” during her first few days in charge of the European operator, as uncertainty surrounds the airline’s second tranche of state aid.

Ourmières-Widener is no stranger to difficult situations, the onetime Air France executive having very senior management involvement with CityJet at London City Airport, American Express in New York and the failed Flybe.  For a short while she sat on the board of IATA.  

With her recent appointment it is really the case of “out of the frying pan into the fire”

“We are still waiting for the EU approval of our restructuring plan, so it’s early days,” she told a FlightPlan event on 22 July.

On 16 July, the European Commission re-approved €1.2bn ($1.4 bn) in state aid to TAP – delivered in the form of a rescue loan – but concurrently announced that it was investigating whether a proposed further €3.2 bn in restructuring aid was in line with EU rules.

That followed Portugal formally notifying the Commission on 10 June that it intended to provide €3.2bn in restructuring aid to TAP through the airline’s parent company, TAP SGPS.  The Portuguese Government took back control of TAP last year from Brazilian interest as the carrier struggled with the impact of the pandemic.

Amid this uncertainty, Ourmières-Widener’s task at the Star Alliance carrier is “making sure the organisation has a future… to grow again and to welcome more passengers on board, safely”, she states, adding: “We have an indication of where we need to be in four or five years’ time: being a sustainable organisation, profitable… being the pride of the country.”

Job cuts are, as is usually the case, the centre of controversy, one severe figure given to the European Commission (EC), and a fairly nominal number suggested by the State.  Whether Portugal takes the Sabena/Belgium path remains to be seen.

The Governmentís strategic (travel) review is imminent

# Confusion still rages.

ABTA has written to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, outlining actions still needed from Government to open up travel to and from more countries, make foreign travel easier for UK citizens and support the industry through to recovery.

The letter comes ahead of the next Government strategic travel review due to be published shortly, perhaps on Thursday.  It will update the traffic light system.  

In the note the Association raises questions about the Government’s recent short notice decision to remove the exemption from quarantine for passengers returning from France who have had both vaccinations, arguing changes to the traffic light structure should only happen at strategic review points, and the placing of Balearics on the Amber list.

It also calls on Government to make further progress on testing being more affordable and proportionate, including removing post-arrival testing for Green list countries.   See in this week’s BTN comments by Willie Walsh IATA and Covid-19 testing costs.

ABTA – The Travel Industry Association wants more destinations to the Green list, as other countries begin to make significant progress with their own vaccine programme rollouts.

The letter points to the protocols for handling Covid-19 which have worked successfully with domestic cruising, leaving each operator to establish its own boarding criteria.  International cruising can work the same way.

ABTA emphasises that there must be progress on the mutual recognition of vaccination certification systems, especially with key markets such as the EU and US.

Finally it says that an additional checkpoint review of the requirements for international travel should come at the end of August – waiting until the end of October, under the present arrangements is too long!

Luke Petherbridge, Director of Public Affairs at ABTA, summed up: “The Government must take action to support the travel industry – which is not only important in terms of jobs and contributions to the economy, but also the UK’s wider recovery from the pandemic. We’re a global nation and our international connectivity underpins this.”

Virgin Atlantic reopens

And not just Clubhouses.

The award-winning Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at New York’s JFK airport is now open again.

Upper Class customers, Flying Club Gold members as well as Delta's Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members, can once again enjoy access to the airline’s flagship North America lounge, enjoying a complimentary à la carte menu featuring 5-star dining, tapas dishes and afternoon tea plus a wide selection of cocktails, wine and soft drinks.

The Clubhouse experience has been tailored to ensure the safety of customers who will be encouraged to remain in their seated areas and enjoy table service from the Clubhouse team.

With the opening Virgin Atlantic has announced a new partnership with Plaza Premium Group who will now be responsible for the day-to-day running of the Clubhouse under the guidance of the Virgin Atlantic team.

The airline will also work with Plaza Premium for the Clubhouses in Boston, San Francisco, Washington and Johannesburg once they reopen as travel restrictions around the world start to relax.

Also open for the first time in 15 months is the Upper Class lounges on the airline’s aircraft fleet.  Customers on the airline’s newest aircraft, the Airbus A350, will experience the latest social space concept, known as The Loft.  It offers a relaxing social area where customers can settle in to watch a 32inh TV and partake in drinks and quality snacks.  The airborne lounge is open on all Green and Amber Virgin Atlantic routes across the airline’s worldwide network, including Antigua, Barbados and Grenada.

WheelTug for the USA

Under development well before the current rush to reduce aircraft emissions in all aspects of aircraft operations WheelTug has now found a permanent manufacturing home.

Sited at a 37,000sq ft manufacturing facility in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) the facility will serve as the centre of assembly, test and logistics operations for global WheelTug deliveries.

The fit-out of the facility and the design of the assembly line is being managed by WheelTug¹s new Director of Manufacturing, Jack France.

France brings significant experience to the role. He previously held senior manager positions at Honda North America, and GE/Honda Aero. In those roles, he was responsible for the quality of every Honda part and vehicle made in North America. He was also responsible for coordinating with certificating and regulatory authorities, including the FAA and numerous civil aviation authorities worldwide.

The new facility and production management expertise enables WheelTug to meet existing and future demand for WheelTug systems. So far, 25 airlines on five continents have reserved more than 2,000 WheelTug kits.

The on-board electric WheelTug systems enable airline operators to cut between 5min and 20min from every turnaround operation by taxiing on the ground without engines or tugs.

WheelTug will be available for the Boeing 737NG family in 2022. An A320 version will follow.

Business Travel News has followed the WheelTug development since 2010.  Make a WheelTug search here.

World Travel Market 2021

Travel professionals from around the globe can now register for WTM London 2021, which will be held for the first time in an innovative hybrid format.

The physical event will take place at ExCeL London on Monday, 1 November to Wednesday, 3 November, and will be followed by WTM Virtual 8-9 November.

WTM London will be one of the first key opportunities for those working in the world’s travel and tourism to reunite in person as the industry embarks on the road to recovery.

The new hybrid format means buyers and exhibitors will be able to conduct business face-to-face – then the virtual element enables companies and organisations to increase their brand awareness and join networking opportunities – even if they are not able to physically attend the show.

An important advantage is the fact that all exhibitors who exhibit at the physical event will automatically be included in WTM Virtual as part of their package.

The physical event will feature all the elements for which WTM London has become well-known, including the UNWTO and WTM Ministers’ Summit, Responsible Tourism Awards, headline speakers, seminars, speed networking, research and trends, Travel Forward – the co-located travel technology show and more. There will also be exclusive networking opportunities for senior buyers to do business.

Simon Press, WTM London’s Senior Director, said: “WTM London is always a crucial time for the industry to gather together, in order to plan, network and generate ideas. This year it is vital for us to meet face-to-face, to renew business relationships and forge new partnerships as we look to recover.

“Recent research has demonstrated that buyers can’t wait to get back to physical events – and trade shows in particular – to look for new business opportunities.

“WTM London hybrid show will enable all delegates to keep ahead of their competitors and promote themselves to a global audience.

“We offer virtual booths combined with an onsite brand presence and new digital tools to generate business leads and keep up to date with the latest industry trends.”

ON TOUR: The Costa del Sol, with style

Assuming one is double vaccinated at last we can travel to (most) of Europe without the risk of quarantine when we return.  BTN keeps up with the times and with this feature reverts to overseas holidays.

"Spain’s Costas may have a reputation for attracting everyone from villains to lager louts but there’s a more civilised side, too, if you know where to look, says BTN’s Editor-at-Large Jeff Mills.  

"Think of Spain’s Costa del Sol and the chances are you conjure up images of lager louts swilling pints of beer, greasy-spoon-type restaurants and high-rise hotels blocking out the sun as far as the eye can see. But not all of the Sun Coast is like this.
Even with the present Covid restrictions, visit resorts such as Marbella and its near neighbour Estepona and you will soon see why they have become firm favourites with jet-setters who could afford to take their holiday anywhere in the world.
Fly to either Malaga (on the amber list) or Gibraltar (on the green list) but ignore resorts such as Torremolinos and Benalmadena with their high-rise horrors. Perhaps rent a car and take the old coast road west from Malaga airport, or east from Gib, and you will drive through a number of the mass-market resorts much loved by the package tour hoards. You may want to say a silent prayer that you are not stopping.

You will know when you have arrived in the right area; take a look at the shops, which line either side of the main road. Suddenly the souvenir stands and cheap-leather outlets give way to the familiar names of international designers found everywhere in the world where the well off and stylish congregate to have fun. This part of the Costa del Sol is as far removed from the tourist tat resorts as designers such as Gucci and Versace are from your local street market.

Marbella gets even smarter just outside the centre of town as you head towards Puerto Banus, Spain’s version of St Tropez, with its multi-million-pound yachts waiting patiently and decoratively at their moorings for their owners to resume the floating party.

Look up in the foothills of the Sierra and you will see the Saudi Royal Family’s sparkling white Spanish palace and the lavish mosque, built to serve the needs of the wealthy citizens of Middle East oil states, who visit this part of Spain to escape the searing heat of their own summers.

There are other spectacular buildings along this coast as well.

Right on the outskirts of Marbella is the long-established Marbella Club Hotel, which started life as a haven for well-off revellers in the late 1940s, when Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe acquired what was then the Finca Santa Margarita, a 120,000sq m estate by the sea with olive trees and vines and converted it into his own private house.

The Hohenlohe family happened to be very large and had many friends keen to spend some time at this Mediterranean paradise so the Prince gradually enlarged the property and added 16 bedrooms with the aim of creating a kind of private club to act as a magnet for the celebrity “A” list of the day. He succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

The one-time small Spanish farm by the sea is now one of the best hotels on the Costa del Sol, possibly in the whole of Spain.  Even today the people you will find lolling by the pool or on the beach, propping up the bars and eating in the restaurants are not so different from the originals.

In the early 1950s there was an interesting mixture of the aristocracy and show business with the Prince’s friends such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Thyssens rubbing shoulders with the likes of David Niven, Gina Lollobrigida and Errol Flynn. Now the aristos and the others have been joined by sports stars.

Every one of the rooms has its own private balcony or terrace. Many think the best are down by the beach, though others prefer to be in among the buzz of the main part of the hotel. If you want to splash out a bit, go for one of the suites, the most outstanding of which are, once again, those down by the beach, just a few steps from the hotel’s beach club, where much of the daytime action takes place.

If you really want to stay in grand style, or if you are travelling with a number of friends or have a large family, you can rent one of the privately-owned Spanish-style villas within the hotel grounds.

They sleep between four and 10 people and some have their own private pool, though you may, of course, use the hotel pools.

For a real treat don’t miss the Marbella Club Thalaso Spa, one of the best to be found in any European resort with 800sq m of state-of-the-art facilities aimed at bringing jaded bodies back to life. This is the place to while away a lazy morning in the indoor seawater pool, taking a Vichy shower, enjoying a water-jet massage or an algae treatment.

There are few better places to eat, either. The hotel’s main restaurant is still one of the “in” places to be seen for dinner but a second, less formal bar and restaurant, MC Café, also does a roaring trade.

If you are looking for activity, tennis is right there within the hotel grounds, as are water sports and other beach delights. But for golf and riding you can take a 15min drive by hotel courtesy car up into the hills and the peaceful and beautiful surrounding of the Marbella Club’s golf resort at Banahavis with its views of the Sierra Nevada, Gibraltar and as far away as the African coastline across the Mediterranean.

This is also where you will find the equestrian centre, here you can learn to ride or simply improve your technique on board one of the superb mounts kept in the kind of stables which would not be out of place in Newmarket".

You can fly from the UK to both Gibraltar and Malaga with a number of airlines including British Airways and easyJet.

AND FINALLY: Brexit all at sea!

Passengers be warned!

If you are taking a cruise out of Southampton, check the ship’s time when you get up on the first morning.

Especially if in a port-side cabin if going west.

Out in the sea lanes your device might automatically be changed to the French communication system.  They are an hour ahead of us.

Something to do with Brexit!