20 FEBRUARY 2017

The Business Travel News
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COMMENT: Do you want a bath or a shower?

With the London  Business Travel Show  starting later this week (Wednesday and Thursday, 22-23 February), it seems a very good idea to ask the question “Would you like a bath or a shower?”  That is, when checking in at a hotel are you offered a choice?

Sad to say laid up in Marseilles, (see BTN 6 February) Swan Hellenic’s fine cruise ship Minerva did offer just that for balcony cabin clients. Suites with baths were on the portside and with showers on the starboard.

It is true some hotel rooms come with both, but that is fairly rare, and applies mostly to five-star properties. Showers with baths are OK but that is no good for seniors who can struggle with a high rim.

Now it is true that a ‘walk-in’ style shower takes up no more space than a bath, and without going into too much detail one can wash all over just the same.

So hoteliers, why not feature showers in the future?  It is a long time since they were a sort of ‘add-on’ in the cheaper type of accommodation, which previously featured only a hand basin, with the bathroom down the corridor.

With modern technology, you can request in advance a room with a shower (with the proviso that it is available).

Hotel proprietors need to think and plan ahead. 

With this in mind, BTN is conducting a one-click survey (see right hand column). We do not want your email address, but you are free to add a further comment at the bottom of this piece.

And tell your friends to visit

All are welcome to take part in this survey.

We will announce the result in a couple of weeks.

Aer Lingus autism guides

Visual guides online to help to prepare people with autism and similar conditions for air travel have been produced by Aer Lingus in partnership with the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.

Intended to ease anxieties surrounding flying for individuals with autism, the guides – an industry first – contain a series of slides that walk the viewer through all the steps involved in preparing for and experiencing air travel. They can be downloaded from the airline website.

The guides are designed to capture the entire air travel experience in colour photographs with first-person language and are divided into three parts: pre-flight, on board and post-flight.

Aer Lingus said it recommended passengers should go through the guides before travelling to prepare for events such as changes in engine noise that can be anxiety-inducing in individuals with autism.

The guides were made available online so caregivers could access them easily, whether on a desktop computer, on the go via a mobile device or by printing them out on to cards.

The initiative was welcomed by the National Autistic Society, which said it was keen to work with airports, airlines and businesses so autistic people and their families had the same travel opportunities as everyone else.

Airlink for St Helena?

Johannesburg-based regional carrier Airlink is hoping to add St Helena to its network using a new fleet of Embraer jets it is assembling under a modernisation plan to allow it to fly to more long-distance destinations.

The privately-owned company said it was replacing its short-haul fleet with a new line-up that would include five Embraer E-Jets, which it said it would begin receiving in the first quarter of 2017, and 11 Embraer ERJ 140s with greater range.

Airlink CEO Rodger Foster said the acquisition of the E-Jets was aimed specifically at replacing the airline’s fleet of Avro RJ85 aircraft, as the E-Jets “offer significantly more range than our RJs”.

Another advantage was that the E-Jets also offered superior short field, hot and high, and wet runway operational performance, he added.

The St Helena government has requested South African carriers, including SAA, to bid to begin service to the isolated island from this May. Island-based Atlantic Star Airlines also wants to start international flights. (BTN 19 December 2016).

The new airport on the island has been deemed too risky for use by large aircraft, due to unforeseen problems with windshear, which are still being investigated.

Arkia for Milan – Tel Aviv

As British Airways begins new services to Linate (see this issue), Milan Bergamo Airport’s route network programme is also continuing with a major development as Arkia Israeli Airlines launches a route to Tel Aviv.

Set to begin on 1 June, the airport’s first direct link to Israel will be operated twice weekly by Arkia 120-seat E195s, increasing to three times weekly during the peak season.

Arkia becomes Bergamo’s 16th carrier and marks a departure from the airport’s traditionally low-cost carrier core. Operating Bergamo’s first link to Tel Aviv, Arkia will also add the airport’s 32nd country market, immediately gaining a 15% share of weekly frequencies on the Milan – Tel Aviv route.

Arkia, based at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv, has also announced it will operate three weekly flights between Stansted and Tel Aviv for the Passover holiday. The flights will be discontinued after that period, and then renewed from late May until the Jewish High Holy Days later in the year.

Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air has also announced it will operate four weekly flights between Luton and Tel Aviv from 24 June (see this issue).

Aviation minister speaks

City of London lawyers Bird & Bird last week hosted a gathering by Airlines UK on government airline policy with the principal speaker aviation minister Lord Ahmad. New at the DfT (from the Treasury), Dan Micklewaite, director of aviation, also spoke.

Lord Ahmad said that the new government was positive about aviation and pointed out that he accompanied the Chancellor to London City Airport the day after their appointment to give its expansion the go-ahead. Connectivity via Heathrow was highlighted, resulting in BTN asking about the use of Northolt over the next decade whiet R3 was being built (see COMMENT BTN 13 February). He said a meeting was being organised. 

The government strategy is planned to be an update to the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework and will be a comprehensive overview of the whole of the UK aviation sector – and the strategy proper will be unveiled at the back end of 2018.

Seven areas that the DFT are particularly keen to look at were announced. These are: Growth and Investment; Environment; Market Access and Trade; Skills; Consumer experience; Technology and data; and Infrastructure. Represented on the speaker panels were Bristol Airport, Virgin Atlantic, CAA, Rolls Royce, ABTA, BAR UK, Sustainable Aviation and NATS.




BA double for Milan

Milan’s Linate Airport is gaining two new British Airways routes this spring, with a service from London City Airport starting on 24 April and from Stansted on 29 April, both using the Embraer 190. BA will operate two flights a day on weekdays and one a day at weekends from London City and two a week from Stansted.

General manager customer and commercial Luke Hayhoe said: “Milan is an exciting route as it appeals to both business and leisure customers and we are giving passengers the choice of two London airports and well-timed flights to Milan’s most convenient airport.”

Earlier this month, BA announced new summer routes from London City to Skiathos and to Manchester, which together with Milan means flights to 30 destinations will operate in BA colours from the Docklands airport this summer.

At Stansted, BA is launching three new destinations, including a second Italian city, Florence, and increasing frequency on some existing routes. The service to Milan will be the airline’s ninth new route this summer.

The Embraer 190 features spacious cabins and two-abreast seating, giving every passenger an aisle or window seat. Club Europe customers also have free food and drinks, extra baggage allowance and free seat selection and on-line check-in.

Biggin marks its centenary

A special gathering of people and aircraft on Tuesday witnessed the launch of ‘Biggin100’, a programme of celebrations and special events to mark the centenary of London Biggin Hill Airport.

Among those present to take to the air for a celebration flypast in a Spitfire and a Learjet 75 corporate jet were three 100-year-old guests, including Ray Roberts, a WW2 pilot, who flew in the Spitfire.

Also honoured were local residents Lily Osborne, a former MI5 signals intelligence officer, and Trudi Baxter, both of whom flew in the Learjet, which was provided by bespoke charter airline Zenith Aviation.

Biggin was “born” on 13 February 1917 when the War Office established a military camp on the site. It went on to become one of the most famous RAF Fighter Command airfields of WW2 – hence the presence on Tuesday of the Spitfire.

The Learjet flight marked Biggin’s current role as a dedicated international gateway airport for Greater London and the City for business, corporate and private aviation.

Airport managing director Will Curtis used the occasion to outline a bright future for the facility and its community, adding: “Biggin 100 will enable us to showcase our continuing commitment as we lay the foundations and investment enabling us to inspire young people to pursue exciting and worthwhile aerospace careers.”

Business Travel Show 2017

The Business Travel Show is at home again at Olympia London this Wednesday and Thursday, 22-23 February, with more than 7,700 attendees expected and 260 suppliers offering their wares.

All buyers visiting the event will receive a hand-shaped USB called a Poken which allows them to swap business cards digitally with suppliers, speakers and other buyers simply by tapping the hands together.

Poken Collect boards throughout the exhibition will enable users to download information straight to the USBs ready to be uploaded to their PCs when they return to their offices.

The 260-plus exhibitors at the show are from every area of business travel, including airlines, accommodation providers, ground transportation, technology providers and TMCs. Special areas will be devoted to international hotels, airlines and responsible travel.

Following a successful premiere in 2016, the Launchpad feature returns, with 14 young businesses showcasing game-changing business travel products and services, leading up to the second Business Travel Disrupt Awards at 16:00 on Wednesday 22 February.

The 2017 conference programme, sponsored by Sabre and Egencia, features more than 60 sessions with new topics including Brexit, personalisation and FinTech, plus issues that continue to challenge buyers such as data, distribution, the sharing economy, social media policy and duty of care.

Delta upgrades US catering

With inflight catering emerging as a new battleground for airlines, Delta is upping the stakes by introducing free meals on long-distance US domestic flights, including transcontinental routes between New York JFK and Los Angeles/San Francisco.

The airline claims it will become the only US carrier to offer “nose-to-tail” free fresh meals on select coast-to-coast routes when the programme is introduced on 1 March.

Delta will expand the service on 24 April to 10 other major domestic markets from Seattle, New York, Boston and Washington DC as part of a continuing multi-million dollar investment in on-board customer service.

This also includes upgraded snacks in the main cabin, enhanced blankets, more “Flight Fuel” food-to-buy options and free in-flight entertainment. Main cabin passengers on long-haul international flights are also offered free beer, wine and spirits and sleep kits.

Delta says the new meal programme will feature a variety of options for passengers depending on the time of day of their flights. Choices range from a fruit and cheese plate for breakfast to a smoked turkey combo during the day. For overnight flights, customers will be offered a breakfast bar during the pre-arrival drinks service.

Doubletree Greenwich arrival

The London Borough of Greenwich has welcomed its first branded member of the Hilton hotels group with the opening of the 147-room DoubleTree by Hilton, housed in a former Metropolitan Police section house.

The award-winning 1940s landmark building is just steps from the historic World Heritage Sites of the original Royal Residence of Queen Elizabeth I, the Royal Observatory, Royal Navy College and the Cutty Sark.

It is also convenient for Docklands attractions including the O2 Arena, the ExCel conference and event centre, or the financial centre in Canary Wharf.

Hotel facilities include two meeting rooms capable of hosting up to 70 people and including a pre-function area with private bar, and the Oasis 01 Restaurant which is open day and night.

The Greenwich arrival comes in the same week as the opening of another addition to the portfolio, a new-build DoubleTree property in another iconic location, Times Square, New York.

The 37-storey high-rise building is close to the Broadway theatre district, the Jacob Javits Convention Centre, and the Empire State Building. It has 612 modern rooms, each with Theatre District-inspired artwork.

Dublin growth surge

Europe’s airports reflected the surging aviation scene last year by welcoming a record 2bn passengers. Dublin was ranked the fastest-growing major facility, with Schiphol taking the crown for the most growth.

New figures from the trade association ACI Europe showed Dublin recording an 11.5% rise in passenger numbers in 2016, followed by Barcelona’s El Prat with 11.2% and Schiphol with 9.2%.

Copenhagen and Madrid’s Barajas completed the top five fastest-growing major airports after recording 9.1% and 7.7% rises in passenger numbers. Major airports are those attracting more than 25m passengers a year; Dublin recorded almost 28m, 2.8m up on 2015.

The passenger growth at Dublin airport was aided by the launch of 19 new routes last year, while additional capacity was added on 31 existing services.

At Schiphol, the number of passengers travelling through increased by 9.2% to almost 64m, beating Frankfurt and Istanbul and taking the third spot on the list of Europe's busiest airports.

The top five airports in Europe are now listed as Heathrow (75.7m passengers, +1%), Paris-Charles de Gaulle (65.9m passengers, +0.3%), Schiphol (63.6m, +9.2%), Frankfurt (60.7m, -0.4%) and Ataturk (60m, -2.1%).

London Classic Car Show

Dario Franchitti, a three times winner of the Indy 500 and four times IndyCar champion, is the latest star to join special Gala Evening celebrations on the opening day of the London Classic Car Show (Thursday 23 February) at ExCeL, close by London City Airport. The show, and the parallel Historic Motorsport International, runs until Sunday 26 February.        

One of the talking points will be an incredible collection of 20 Ferrari road cars together worth a cool £120m. Among the mouth-watering gems are a 1961 250GTO, alone worth an estimated £35m; a 1984 288 GTO, worth £2.2m; and a glorious 1972 Dino that’s a positive bargain at ‘only’ £350,000.

The show’s other highlights include The Perfect Ten – 60 iconic classic cars split into ten body-type categories – to be driven along The Grand Avenue and showcased in the Open Paddock.

Jacky Ickx will be fêted with a display of five significant cars from his remarkable career – Grand Prix single-seaters and endurance sports cars will rub shoulders with a Paris – Dakar rally car.

On the Saturday and Sunday will be the unique pop-up Beaulieu Autojumble.

Visitors should note that the DLR presently stops only at Prince Regent and for those flying in to the airport it is a short taxi ride or 473 bus (every 15min).

Luton transit on track

Plans for a state-of-the-art £200m mass passenger transit (MPT) system linking Luton Airport (LTN) with Luton Airport Parkway rail station have been submitted, the airport’s owner London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL) announced last week.

Officials say the system will enable fast, easy access from central London to the UK’s fifth biggest and fastest-growing major airport in 30min by providing a seamless 5min transfer time from Luton Airport Parkway to the airport terminal.

Subject to planning permission, work could begin later this year with the system ready for operation by spring 2021. LLAL, wholly-owned by Luton Borough Council, will fund the scheme under its capital programme.

The MPT system will be a fully-automated, two-way people-mover based on latest system technology and design innovation. It will travel over a 2.2km (1.4mi) route between two purpose-built stations at Stirling Place and the Central Terminal.

The route will run alongside the mainline railway before crossing over Airport Way via a new landmark bridge. It will then continue through the airport’s existing mid-term car park, under a taxiway, and on to the Central Terminal.


New Dreamliner bows in

US president Donald Trump and thousands of Boeing staff lined up at the aircraft manufacturer’s plant in South Carolina on Friday as the B787-10, the third member of the 787 Dreamliner family, made its public debut.

Singapore Airlines is launch customer for the aircraft, which is now being prepared for its first flight next month. The Dash-10 is 18ft (5.5m) longer than the Dash-9 and is claimed to offer up to 10% better fuel use and emissions than its competition.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Kevin McAllister described the new Dreamliner as the most efficient in its class. “We know our customers are going to love what the 787-10 will do for their fleets, and we can’t wait to see them fly it.”

The company says it will begin deliveries of the 787-10 to airlines next year. The aircraft has so far won 149 orders from nine customers. Along with SIA, these include Etihad, Eva Air, United Airlines and British Airways.

The Dash-10 seats 330 passengers, 36% more than the Dash-8 and 14% more than the Dash-9 and has a range of 6,430nmi (11,910km), which covers more than 90% of the world’s twin-aisle routes.

Qatar's ITB promise

Details of a much-anticipated evolution to Qatar Airways’ award-winning Business Class product are among features due to be unveiled at this year’s ITB Berlin travel trade exhibition in the German capital from 8-12 March.

Qatar says it will be showing a new Business Class seat in a world exclusive ceremony on the opening day of the exhibition, followed by a press conference detailing further plans for the year ahead.

Guests and visitors to ITB will be invited to relax in the new seat on the airline’s exhibition stand in Hall 2.2, booth 208 to experience the service, entertainment and hospitality offered on a Qatar Airways flight.

Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said: “This year’s ITB will be the location at which we will premier our new Business Class product.

“As an airline, we strive to offer our passengers the best, not only in terms of our world-class on-board experience but also our expanding global network.

“At this year’s ITB, I look forward to sharing the revolutionary new patented seat with the travel industry and worldwide media, alongside many other new and exciting developments to our network.”

Regus expands at Heathrow

Global workspace provider Regus is expanding its offering at Heathrow by opening two new Regus Express facilities in Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. They join an existing Regus Express facility which opened in 2014 in Terminal 5.

The Terminal 2 space will be situated landside and occupy over 2,100sq ft. The space will include nine high-specification meeting rooms of various sizes, as well as a drop-in business lounge.

The 5,000sq ft Terminal 3 facility will be located airside and house 10 meeting rooms and a business lounge. Tea and coffee are provided but no other refreshments, with the emphasis on providing a quiet workspace including free wi-fi.

The expansion is the latest milestone in the roll-out of the Regus Express format of spaces and office facilities at key transport hubs such as airports, railway stations and motorway service areas.

Other Regus Express roll-outs have been at Gatwick and Birmingham airports as well as Heathrow T5 in the UK, and locations across the globe including Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Delhi and Sydney international airports.

UK CEO Richard Morris said: “The growing Regus Express network is making air travel much more productive for our customers across the globe and we’re delighted to announce this further expansion.”

SAS base for Ireland?

A potential base in Ireland is being considered by the Scandinavian flag carrier SAS as part of a campaign to reduce costs, the Danish newspaper Berlingske reported on Tuesday.

The report said the airline could follow its competitor Norwegian Airlines in seeking a licence to operate from Ireland so it could also register aircraft in the country and possibly also follow Norwegian in employing staff on different terms via its international base.

Berlingske noted Heathrow and Spain had also been cited as additional potential candidates for an international base, with SAS potentially seeking an Irish licence but choosing to set up its base in the UK.

SAS refused to comment to the newspaper on what any new hub structure might look like, but the company said it was examining “its whole way of operating, given the extremely competitive industry in which it operates”.

The airline said in December it was considering establishing bases outside Scandinavia, with CEO Rickard Gustafson saying then SAS had to create “the pre-conditions to compete on equal terms with our competitors”.

Norwegian has already chosen Ireland for its international arm, Norwegian Air International, and received a licence to fly from Cork and Shannon to Boston and New York.

SNCF wi-fi for all

France’s national rail operator SNCF is pledging to make free wi-fi available to all passengers on its high-speed lines by the end of this year following a successful two-month trial on the Paris – Lyon service that ended last week.

The project, TGV Connect, was introduced on 15 December on the premium route to meet passenger demand. The company said: “Despite the technical challenges of offering wi-fi at speeds of 300km/hr, SNCF has succeeded.”

SNCF said demand for the service had persuaded it to invest in the necessary infrastructure and the service would be expanded gradually to other high-speed lines over the course of this year.

The company said it had been working with the French telecoms regulatory authority Arcep in preparation for a full roll-out of TGV Connect to enhance networks along its rail routes to ensure the system would be able to handle hundreds if users simultaneously.

The next high-speed routes to install TGV Connect will be those connecting Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg, Rennes and Marseilles.  SNCF says it aims to have 300 trains equipped with the technology to provide wi-fi by the end of 2017, and ultimately wants to make wi-fi available to all passengers on all trains.

Virgin’s ‘game changer’

In a self-proclaimed “game changer” in the Far East market, Virgin Australia on Friday announced an alliance agreement with HNA Aviation, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express to launch new direct services between Australia and Hong Kong.

Subject to authorisation, the airlines are also planning direct services operated by Virgin Australia to mainland China and codesharing on each other’s flights to the new points and on each other’s domestic networks.

As part of the first stage of the alliance, Virgin Australia says it is seeking interim authorisation of the proposed link-up to introduce the Australia – Hong Kong flights within the next four months.

Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti said: “This new alliance will be a game changer for travel between Australia and China, providing significantly more competition and choice for travellers.

“We are excited about introducing direct Virgin Australia flights, as the alliance will accelerate and support our access to the Chinese market, which is Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable inbound travel market.

“Importantly, this strategic alliance with HNA Aviation, Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express is a key plank in Virgin Australia’s International strategy and will help our business to deliver long-term growth and success.”

Widerøe to launch E190-E2

The launch operator for the new E190-E2 jet, the first member of generation two of the E-Jets family of commercial aircraft, has been named as Widerøe, the largest regional airline in Scandinavia.

The Norwegian company will become the first airline to receive the aircraft, with the lead delivery scheduled for the first half of next year. Widerøe has a contract with Embraer for up to 15 E2s, including three firm orders for the E190-E2 and purchase rights for 12 others.

The airline says it plans to operate the E2 in a “comfortable” single class layout with 114 seats. CEO Stein Nilsen said: “We are proud we will be the first to operate the E190-E2. It will be a big leap in our history.”

With the Widerøe deal, the E-Jets E2 backlog has 275 firm orders plus Letters of Intent, options and purchase rights covering another 415 aircraft. This gives a total of 690 commitments from airlines and leasing companies.

Embraer Commercial Aviation president and CEO John Slattery said: “The E2 programme remains on target with technical specification guidance, on time and on budget. Our team remains focused on a successful delivery to Widerøe in the first half of next year.”

Wizz sets up UK base

Luton Airport is to become the UK base for the Hungarian carrier Wizz Air. It will be the airline’s 28th overseas unit and will open on 18 June with one Airbus A320. Luton has operated Wizz Air flights for more than 12 years and will be the airline’s first UK airport with base operations.

Wizz said establishing this base would strengthen its operational presence at Luton and enable it to increase the number of routes being served from the airport to 42.

The three new services will connect Luton with Tel Aviv, the Kosovo capital Prishtina and Kutaisi in Georgia – the only direct connection between Georgia and the UK. Frequencies on some routes will also increase with the arrival of the new aircraft.

As the second largest operator at Luton, Wizz last year carried more than 5m passengers. This year, the airline says it will have almost 6.3m seats on sale on its Luton routes, representing a 13% growth year on year.

CEO József Váradi said: “This announcement once again underlines Wizz Air’s commitment to the UK. By establishing base operations at Luton, we are also creating direct local jobs with one of Europe’s fastest-growing airlines for the first time.”

ON TOUR: Vietnam Airlines

 Planet Appetite reports on BTN's latest Flying at the Front End feature, this time on Vietnam Airlines

Vietnam Airlines, a SkyTeam member, has been flying direct seven days a week from between London and Vietnam since 23 June 2016. The carrier is using its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and there are currently four non-stop flights a week to Hanoi on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and three to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Vietnam Airlines uses Heathrow Terminal Four, many people’s favourite since it’s had a recent makeover and is relatively uncrowded. The SkyTeam lounge covers two floors and has all the usual facilities including a spa. In the morning, a hot breakfast was being served upstairs, although the cold buffet was short on croissants and pastries.

My flight left on time and the Business Cabin has a clever herringbone seat arrangement giving direct access to the aisle. The 28 seats are in seven rows with a 1+2+1 formation, a comfortable width of 21in (53.3cm) and a recline of 180 deg. That means the seat converts to a fully-flat bed, connecting with a padded ottoman in front. There are ample storage facilities, with a receptacle for two bottles of water, a secret cupboard next to the pop-up armrest and a space under the ottoman to store shoes. Steps built into the side of the base of the seat help passengers to reach into the overhead lockers.

Although I didn’t test it, wi-fi is provided. There is a USB port and a universal power socket. The 15.4in HD touchscreen pops out of the wall and angles towards the passenger. IFE offers a blend of international, classic and Vietnamese films, although they all seemed to have Vietnamese onscreen subtitles which couldn’t be removed. Ironically, none of Vietnamese movies had English subtitles – a shame, as the international selection was limited.

The crew stowed coats and champagne was offered before take-off and an amenity bag and slippers were provided. Once airborne, although there were cocktails on the menu, they didn’t appear as the food service was rolled out immediately. Strangely, there were no wines listed, so the crew had to bring the bottles to show what was available. The range was limited to a couple each of reds, whites or rosés, although all were fairly decent.

Appetisers offered a choice of smoked salmon or paté followed by fresh vegetable salad and asparagus and courgette soup. Main courses were crab cakes with smoked garlic sauce, lamb loin with herb crust, grilled Thai chicken, or fried cod with orange sauce. There was no vegetarian option and I was told my fish choices were not available. I settled for paté but miraculously the fried cod suddenly appeared. Wine top ups were not offered and had to be called for. The desserts offered cheese, fresh fruits, miniature pastries and ice cream.

The meal was served quickly and all dishes were well presented and tasty. Unfortunately it was only some 10 hours later, just before landing, that hot breakfast was offered. In between, even though the menu stated sandwiches, fresh fruits, cakes, mixed nuts and instant noodles were available, nothing appeared. Since it was a day flight, I requested something to nibble, half way in, but all they could serve was cheese left over from lunch.

Breakfast was yoghurt or cornflakes, then a choice of omelette with sausage and mushroom or a cold plate of cheese, salami and smoked turkey or crayfish with noodles. The flight arrived slightly early and baggage was delivered quickly. British travellers don’t need a visa to enter Vietnam so immigration was a breeze. One minor inconvenience was that there was no water in the washbasin in one of the toilets, although a bottle of water was provided for me to wash my hands.

The return flight left Ho Chi Minh City at 00:45 and again the meal was served immediately after take-off. This time it made sense, as everyone wanted to get some sleep. Appetisers were either roast beef with grilled zucchini and pepper or marinated scallops, green mussels and prawns in lemon grass. Main course was coq au vin or grilled pork loin with crab cake or beef wrapped in lemongrass, Again there was no vegetarian option but at least all choices seemed to be available. Dessert was a choice of Vietnamese sweet soup or cheese mousse.

The fully-reclining seats meant that it was possible to get a good night’s sleep, probably helped by the Dreamliner’s near-normal cabin pressure. Breakfast was similar to the outbound flight but offered hot Pho – Vietnamese beef noodle soup, which was remarkably authentic. All flights operated on schedule. Service was courteous, although some of the staff seemed to have only a limited grasp of English. It wasn’t quite up to the standard of Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, but Vietnam Airlines has come a long way in just over four years. What’s more, the fact that flights are direct means travelling to the country is accomplished with a minimum of tiredness.

AND FINALLY: Virgin train-ing

Please forgive the pun.

Doncaster Rovers, just about top of the Fourth Division (Football League 2 for younger readers), has secured Virgin Trains (East Coast model) as sponsor of the pre-match warm-up gear which is worn by the players prior to the kick-off. It is officially called the training kit.

Your editor in chief, a long-time supporter of Luton Town, was at Doncaster last Saturday for the meeting of Rovers and Hatters. Travel was, of course, by Virgin Trains.  

He reports that the service was excellent, the only flaw in an otherwise excellent day out the Doncaster goal, the referee missing an obvious foul. The result: 1-1.

As part of its sponsorship, Virgin Trains is running a competition, with a prize of two First Class rail tickets to High Wycombe when Doncaster visits on 22 April.  

The only problem is Virgin Trains does not go to High Wycombe. It is part of the Chiltern Rail franchise!  

Let’s hope the Doncaster Rovers team at least is organised from London King's Cross.