BUSINESS TRAVEL NEWS (BTNews)

18 JANUARY 2021

The Business Travel News
Published every Monday
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With updates being introduced on a regular basis if you do have to travel we suggest you check from time to time the latest Travel Updates as per the link. Flights within the UK are still unrestricted although strong precautions are being taken and Scotland has its own rules.  South America and Portugal have now been added to the travel ban.

The latest Travel Updates from Government

THE TEST TO RELEASE SCHEME

COMMENT: Always look on the bright side (of life)

The travel embargo

The Prime Minister’s words on Friday evening concerning inbound travellers to the United Kingdom were devastating but not unexpected.  For once the travel industry was more or less in agreement even if not in detail.

Over the weekend aviation minster Robert Courts confirmed in a Tweet that the long-promised financial support scheme for airports in England would open this month, but gave no firm date.  He said the move was a response to the closure of all UK air corridors from today (15 January).

ABTA, at the sharp end of the business, is a trade association covering a multiplex of operators, large, who can sometimes find ways of redemption, to small single outlet enterprises without the resources to fall back on.

Its response to the PM's statement in many ways spoke for all.

“Travel has been affected by the pandemic for over 10 months now, with travel businesses generating little or no income during this time, yet unlike other sectors, such as hospitality and the arts, the Westminster Government hasn’t provided any sector-specific support. The Government needs to address this as a matter of urgency, not only for the jobs and businesses at risk in the sector, but in recognition of the important role the travel industry will play in the UK’s economic recovery and achieving their vision of a Global Britain".

BALPA, whilst specific for its members, said much the same.  “These are dire times and we need a clear plan of action and a proper package of support or the UK aviation industry will not be there to support the post Covid-19 recovery.”

The AOA (Airport Operators Association) has expressed much the same thing. “The UK and devolved governments now need to set out as a matter of extreme urgency how they will support airports through this deepening crisis. Business rate support, announced last year and in England not yet even open to applications, is no longer sufficient to ensure airports can weather the difficult months ahead.

However a note of caution is required.  Representing amongst others the three major UK carriers, British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic, Airlines UK has called for restraint “We must work hand in hand with government regardless.”

In a few weeks’ time transport secretary Grant Shapps is due to speak to the Airline Club in what is in effect a public (video) forum open to all.  By that time hopefully things will have become far clearer and he will be in a position to deal with questions in a positive and candid manner.

We are a sports-loving nation.  Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ took over the airwaves just a few weeks ago.  Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side (of Life)’ is a fine rendition which we should now grab.

“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best"

Travel News Update (TNU)

Business Travel News is pleased to announce the introduction of Travel News Update (TNU), a supplement to BTN produced in association with Aspire Executive Lounges.

TNU® is essentially aimed at the consumer and will be available in printed form at all UK Aspire lounges as they re-open.  You can find it on-line and an App is being developed.  Readers can register and Aspire will be promoting its “special offers” to members.   There are presently 13 UK lounges, 50 worldwide, attracting 5m visitors in a normal year.  

BTN plans to develop Travel News Update.  At present many of the stories can be viewed on the website in more detail including the popular BTN Road Test series.  It can be printed out wherever you have the facility.

The next edition is published Monday 1 February 2021.

Travel News Update

$15bn for US airlines

Reuters reports that the US Treasury Department on Friday (15 January) began distributing $15bn in new payroll assistance to airlines, money allocated by Congress to help more than 32,000 aviation workers return to jobs by at least 31 March.

Large airlines receiving assistance need to repay 30% to the Government in 10-year, low-interest loans. They must also issue warrants as part of the assistance and agree to extend restrictions on executive compensation and a ban on paying dividends and share repurchases through March 2022.

Delta Air Lines said it expects to receive $2.9bn in total aid this round, with $830m in the form of an unsecured loan. The airline said it received the first instalment of $1.4bn on Friday.

Southwest Airlines said it expected to receive $1.73bn in total and received $863.7m on Friday.

The warrants are priced at each airline’s share closing prices on 24 December.

Congress in March approved an initial $25bn in payroll assistance to support airline jobs for six months.

The Treasury said it struck agreements with 12 airlines representing nearly 95% of US airline capacity including Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines Co, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Republic Airways, SkyWest Airlines, Southwest, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1238

Alitalia yet more help

The European Commission has approved a further €73.02m in Italian state support for Alitalia declaring it to be in line with EU state aid rules.

The funding, which takes the form of a direct grant, is aimed at compensating the carrier for damages suffered “according to a route-by-route quantitative analysis of 19 eligible routes submitted by Italy” due to the coronavirus pandemic between 16 June and 31 October, it said in a statement dated 29 December.

The restrictions in place in Italy and other countries have heavily affected Alitalia's operations, especially regarding international and intercontinental flights, the EU watchdog said, and as a result the airline “incurred significant operating losses” at least until the end of October.

As with other state aid provided to airlines by various European countries, the Commission said it considered that the outbreak qualified as an exceptional occurrence, as it is an unforeseeable event having a significant economic impact.

However, the commission’s investigations into past support measures to Alitalia are still ongoing, it warned.

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_1538

www.alitalia.com

Aspire Lounges open

All the Aspire Lounges in the UK are closed.  However, a number remain open on the Continent and at key locations around the globe. (All times local)

Amsterdam Lounge 26 Aspire Lounge – 06:00-18:00 daily

Amsterdam Lounge 41 Aspire Lounge – 06:00-18:00 daily

Geneva Swissport Lounge – 06:00-19:00 daily

Helsinki Aspire Lounge – 06:00-18:00 Sunday-Friday. Closed on Saturdays

Larnaca Aspire Aphrodite Lounge – 08:00-22:00 daily

Nairobi Aspire Lounge –12:00 midday-24:00 midnight daily

San Diego Airspace Lounge – Check for opening times

Sofia Aspire Lounge – 04:00-22:00 daily 

Zurich Airport Aspire Lounge – Check for opening times

www.executivelounges.com/aspire-lounges

Aviation Club and NATS

Last week saw NATS CEO Martin Rolfe as guest of honour at the first (virtual) Aviation Club lunch of the year.  He last spoke in 2016.

Opening his address he cited the analytics company Cirium saying that the pandemic wiped out more than 20 years of global aviation growth, putting traffic levels back to where they were in 1999. Last year more than 40 airlines completely ceased or suspended operations.

He noted that closer to home Eurocontrol has just published a report totting up a total of more than €56bn of aviation losses across Europe in 2020, with 1.7bn fewer passengers contributing to plummeting load factors, as well as 6m fewer flights than in 2019.  By the end of the year 51% of European airframes were grounded and more than 190,000 people across Europe had lost their jobs in the industry.

Martin was emphatic.  “I need no crystal ball to know that it’s going to be a long haul to whatever a ‘new’ normal may look like”.

Two items stood out:  Remote tower operations, where he confirmed that London City Airport was expecting CAA approval this month, and the strange situation regarding the early destination arrival of scheduled aircraft.

“During lockdown we have had the bizarre experience of aircraft leaving their point of origin bang on time and racing to their destination in the hope of being first in the queue, and having to circle for 20 minutes burning precious fuel because they’re too early for their landing slot – or because the airport hasn’t even opened yet. We’ve already spoken with a number of airlines who have been staggered to learn of the fuel they could be saving, and adjusted their departure times accordingly.

Visit the Aviation Club "Speakers" website for a video of the speech.

https://aviationclub.org.uk

www.nats.aero

Business aviation gets together

The British Business and General Aviation 2021 (BBGA) Virtual Conference and AGM will take place on Thursday 4 March with Bombardier Aviation as the main event sponsor again this year.

Guest of honour Sir Stephen Hiller, chair Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), will present ‘Future Oversight’ – How do the CAA see things progressing post-Brexit and in the new normal? Bernhard Fragner, chief executive officer, Globeair, will give perspective maintaining growth in difficult conditions and riding the Covid/Brexit wave.

The full agenda and other speakers will be published shortly, the BBGA emphasising the aim of the event  is to send out a positive message for 2021 to encourage members and Industry colleagues after a very challenging 2020 for everyone.

https://bbga.aero

Gibraltar opens up

Leaked to a Spanish newspaper last week, and part of the Brexit agreement the proposed lifting of border controls between Gibraltar and Spain will be seen as a boom not only for the British Overseas Territory but also the adjoining town of La Línea.

At the present time 15,000 workers a day pass into what has been up to now a virtual island.  Gibraltar has been British since the Treaty of Utrecht 1714 with 98% voting for the status quo at the last referendum.

Once the controls are simplified in the next six months, Gibraltar will in effect become part of the Schengen Zone.  At the moment arrivals at the airport need to go through the local formalities but with the new arrangement the partially built direct exit to Spain can be completed.  At present each time an aircraft lands or takes off the road crossing has to be closed.  A road and new tunnel are also incomplete and can now be finished.

The BBC said that the Spanish government will outline the details of the agreement in principle in parliament next week.

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/gibraltar

www.visitgibraltar.gi

Jeff Mills joins BTN

Arriving at Business Travel News as ‘editor at large' is Jeff Mills who will be contributing on a regular basis starting with an ON TOUR highlighting Berlin in this issue.


Jeff has been reporting on the business and leisure travel and lifestyle sectors for more than 30 years, during which time he has visited most countries of the world at least once. A previous editor of the leading travel industry newspaper, Travel Weekly, and travel editor of Sunday Business, London-based Mills now writes regularly for the Daily Mail, GQ and a number of other national and international newspapers, glossy consumer magazines, business magazines and travel websites.

He can be contacted directly via jeffreymills@btinternet.com

Jet2 suspends

A spokesperson said: “Due to the ongoing uncertainty and travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have taken the decision to extend the suspension of flights and holidays up to and including 25th March 2021.”

The Leeds-based holiday and airline company Jet2 has now taken the precaution of delaying any restart until the Thursday before the Easter weekend.  As things stand that date is doubtful.  

Jet2 is now Britain’s third largest air carrier with a fleet of 82 Boeing 737s (no MAX) and eight Boeing 757s.  All are parked.

The airline was founded in 1983 as Channel Express, and rebranded as Jet2 in 2002, the original title Dart Group Plc becoming Jet2 Plc in 2020, listed on the London Stock Exchange.  Founder Philip Meeson is still executive chairman.

Jet2 Holidays has published its programme for summer 2021, winter 2021/2022 and summer 2022, all of which are on sale.  It has also posted the following statement:  “Where customers yet to travel are affected by any programme changes, our approach to providing smooth and speedy refunds has been widely praised by independent travel agents, and we will be automatically cancelling affected bookings with a relevant refund.

www.jet2.com

JetBlue A220 finally revealed

Following its roll-out and delivery flight into New York JFK Airport jetBlue has revealed an up-market interior. 
See JetBlue takes first A220 BTN 11 January.

“With the A220 we’ve taken a state-of-the-art aircraft and added our award-winning touch to bring to life an experience only jetBlue could dream up,” said Jayne O’Brien, head of marketing and loyalty.

“We look forward to welcoming customers onboard our newest aircraft, with incredible onboard comfort, one-of-a-kind design elements and unparalleled entertainment and connectivity.”

JetBlue’s A220 is outfitted with 140 Collins Meridian seats, customised around customer feedback and featuring a number of design elements with comfort and convenience in mind and an expanded width of 18.6in, the widest available for a single aisle aircraft.  Arranged in a 2+3 configuration the A220 offers much less constrictive feeling than with contemporary 3+3 layout. The contoured seatback design at knee level creates additional space for every customer.  AC, USB-A, and USB-C ports are provided.

The A220 is fitted with Thales AVANT and ViaSat-2 connectivity. With this system, jetBlue will offer all customers expanded and personalised entertainment choices in nearly every region the airline flies. JetBlue is the first airline to receive an A220 with ViaSat connectivity and the only US carrier with free high-speed wi-fi on every plane, providing customers with the ability to connect an unlimited number of devices and stream, surf, or chat during the entire flight, from gate to gate.

The A220 boasts a nearly 30% lower direct operating cost per seat than the current Embraer 190.

www.jetblue.com/flying-with-us/our-planes/A220

Loganair replaces Eastern at Heathrow

Teesside International Airport is to have a twice weekdaily Loganair service to Heathrow from Monday 8 March.  This replaces the single Eastern Airways operation that is currently suspended due to the lockdown.  There will also be a Sunday return service with Saturday added at the end of the month and the Sunday flights doubled.

The route will be flown by a 45-seat Embraer 145 regional jet, making it the smallest jet aircraft to use the UK’s major hub.

Loganair already serves Heathrow from the Isle of Man.

Loganair has secured partnerships with some of the world’s biggest airlines, including British Airways, KLM, Air France, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines and Qatar Airways to provide seamless international travel for people from Teesside, the North East and North Yorkshire.

Weekdays see departures from Teesside for the 1hr 15min flight at 06:50 and 17:55, with return journeys from Heathrow at 08:50 and 19:50. These times give business customers the option of a full working day at either destination as well as optimum timings for leisure travellers, when national restrictions permit such travel.

Last November it was announced that flights from Teesside to Aberdeen and Belfast City will operate from the start of February, with Dublin, Jersey and Newquay flights set to begin next summer.

Loganair will operate up to seven flights per week to Dublin and Belfast City, six flights per week to Aberdeen, three per week to Cornwall Airport Newquay and twice weekly to Jersey.

www.loganair.co.uk

New Airport Coordination boss

With long-standing CEO Edmond Rose moving on from his role at the end of February at Airport Coordination Ltd (ACL), the UK authorised slot allocator, has a new boss.

Taking up the post is , formerly managing director of Southampton Airport, where he had been for 10 years, having risen through the ranks after initially joining them as terminal operations manager in 2010.

The chair of ACL, Lesley Cowley said: “I am delighted to welcome Neil to ACL. Whilst our current CEO will be much missed, we are confident that Neil’s experience, drive and values make him an ideal successor to lead ACL as we emerge from the pandemic.”

The new CEO, Neil Garwood, said: “I am excited to be joining the world’s leading independent airport coordination organisation at a time of seismic change in the industry and very much look forward to continuing to deliver on ACL’s ambition of world class coordination excellence for our customers and stakeholders.”

In normal times the position of ACL CEO could be best described as a ‘hot potato’ but with virtually every airport worldwide likely to have available slots for the foreseeable future, the pressure will be less to accommodate landing and take-off requests.

www.acl-uk.org

NHS and easyJet

EasyJet cabin crew are to be fast-tracked to support the NHS vaccination programme. Following it's recent offer of help to the UK Government, easyJet cabin crew are being recruited and fast-tracked to support the NHS as part of the vital nationwide effort to distribute the Coronavirus vaccine.

The airline wrote to the UK Prime Minister in November to offer support to the Government on its efforts to implement the national Covid-19 vaccination programme this winter. With over 3,000 crew who are first aid trained, security cleared and based up and down the UK – in London, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast – easyJet cabin crew are well positioned to help support the NHS in the nation-wide vaccination programme.

As easyJet continues to operate a reduced schedule as a result of the pandemic, furloughed crew have an ideal skill set to be able to assist in the effort to provide much needed inoculation support to the NHS in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine.

Crew who apply will be fast-tracked to become trained vaccinators at NHS vaccination centres across the country and will undergo online training and onsite immunisation training to become fully-qualified in administering the vaccine.

Stevenage, close to the Luton Head Office of the airline is to host the initial easyJet vaccinators.

One of the first NHS trusts in England to enlist the support of fast-tracked easyJet crew is Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust. Their chief executive Elliot Howard-Jones said: “We are all looking forward to welcoming some of first easyJet crew for further training to become highly-valued members of our Trust’s immunisation team. Their first-aid and caring skills will make them ideally suited to help deliver the huge task we currently face, to give those most at risk protection against the Covid-19 virus.”

www.easyjet.com

https://vaccine-jobs.nhsp.uk/index.html

Norwegian drops Dreamliners

The low-cost airline, Norwegian, has announced that it will be focusing on Europe with its new business plan.  With no long-haul out of Gatwick this will open up possibilities for other operators.

“Our short-haul network has always been the backbone of Norwegian and will form the basis of a future resilient business model,” said Jacob Schram, CEO of Norwegian.

“The new plan is to serve these markets with around 50 narrow-body aircraft in operation in 2021 and to increase that number to around 70 narrow-body aircraft in 2022.  On the finance side, Norwegian targets to reduce its debt significantly to around NOK 20bn and to raise NOK 4-5bn in new capital through a combination of a rights issue to current shareholders, a private placement and a hybrid instrument.

“Under these circumstances a long-haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will not continue.”

At the present time Norwegian has 35 Dreamliners, all grounded.

www.norwegian.com

Pre-arrival UK testing

From 04:00 GMT this morning (18 January), people travelling to the UK will have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before setting off. This may be taken up to three days before their journey begins.

The Government says it will accept any test with at least 97% specificity and 80% sensitivity.

Exempt from the scheme are Children under 11, passengers from the Common Travel Area (the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man), travellers from the Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena, hauliers, crews (air, international rail and maritime) and a specific list.

If you are on holiday in St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda arriving in the UK before 21 January.

Coronavirus (Covid-19): jobs that qualify for travel exemptions

Even with the new testing requirements, travellers – including British nationals – must still self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.

People arriving in England from some countries can reduce their quarantine period by paying for a private Covid test.  The test must be booked by travellers before their journey, and it can only be taken after five full days of self-isolation.  Tests cost between £65 and £120, and results are normally received within 24 to 48 hours.  People who test negative can stop self-isolating once they have their result. Those who test positive must quarantine for another 10 days from the date of the test.

The Government has published a list of approved providers.  Private providers of coronavirus testing: what you need to know

Qatar expands in the Gulf

Following the lifting of the embargo by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar Airways has been quick to reintroduce flights.

Last Monday (11 January) the airline resumed flights to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a daily service. On Friday (15 January) Jeddah re-joined the network followed by Dammam last Saturday (16 January). It is anticipated that dates for Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Cairo and Dubai, will be announced shortly.

With its home base Hamad International one of the major hubs in the Middle East Qatar Airways says that it will continue to expand as 2021 moves on with plans to serve over 125 destinations by the end of March 2021.

On the cargo front the airline’s specialist division serves more than 60 freighter destinations worldwide via its world-class Doha hub and also delivers freight in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft to an extensive global network. The Qatar Airways Cargo fleet includes two Boeing 747-8 freighters, 21 Boeing 777 freighters and four Airbus A330 freighters.

www.qatarairways.com

RAeS events calendar

The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) has published its events calendar going into 2021.  All are virtual and cover a variety of aviation aspects and are mostly free to non-members.

The lectures for the most part cover both civil and military aviation, and the vast support network.

First up is a presentation by the Heathrow branch, 21 January, “Farewell to the Queen of the Skies” with the speakers including Captain Hugh Dibley, BOAC pilot and motor racing driver.  Also joining the talk is Captain Al Bridger, current director of flight operations for British Airways, who was flight manager technical and one of the pilots to fly the last of the British Airways’ ‘Jumbo Jets’ to their resting place in October and December 2020. He will be sharing his memories of his time on the fleet, as well as providing an insight into being at the controls during that final flight.

Amongst a whole series of talks Thursday 4 February sees the Boeing MAX highlighted, followed on 22 February by Chris Stark chief executive of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the public body tasked by the Climate Change Act to be the independent authority on tackling climate change. Chris leads a team of analysts and specialists, offering expert insight into the challenges of reducing UK emissions and adapting to the changing climate.  

www.aerosociety.com/events-calendar

UKs new Global Health Insurance Card

A new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) will gradually replace existing European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) the Government has announced.

Under Britain’s new agreement with the EU, UK residents’ rights to emergency and medically necessary healthcare will continue when travelling in the EU. This includes medically necessary treatment for a pre-existing or chronic condition.

Current EHIC’s are valid as long as they are in date and people can continue to use these when travelling to the EU.

The public only need to apply for their new GHIC when their current EHIC expires. Both cards will offer equivalent protection for emergency and medically necessary healthcare needs when in the EU on a temporary stay, which includes holiday, study and business travel.

The new GHIC card is free to obtain from the official GHIC website. People should apply at least two weeks before they plan to travel to ensure their card arrives on time.

If a UK resident is travelling without a card, they are still entitled to necessary healthcare and should contact the NHS Business Services Authority who can arrange for payment should they require treatment when abroad.

On a reciprocal basis EU member states EHICs will continue to be accepted by the NHS.

Alongside the deal with the EU, the UK is open to agreeing further international healthcare arrangements that can support UK residents when they travel.

The Government always advises that anyone travelling overseas, whether to the EU or elsewhere in the world, should take out comprehensive travel insurance.

www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-launches-global-health-insurance-card

www.ghic.co.uk

US departure rules + IATA Travel Pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the announcement by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it will require all travellers to the US to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test undertaken within three days prior to their departure to the US, effective 26 January.

“Systematic pre-departure testing is key to giving governments confidence to reopen markets without quarantine. Testing will ensure that at current infection levels, aviation will not become a meaningful vector of new transmissions in the US.”

In a statement IATA urged the US Government to make provision to accept test and immunity documents shared electronically via the IATA Travel Pass which being developed as a mobile app with both Android and Apple versions ready before end of Q1 this year.
 
The Travel Pass will enable travellers to receive and securely store encrypted data on their own mobile devices including verified test or vaccination results and to share this information with airlines and authorities. IATA urged the US Government to make provision to accept test and immunity documents shared electronically via the IATA Travel Pass.

www.iata.org/en/programs/passenger/travel-pass

Virgin Atlantic NHS support

The major British airlines offering fully trained teams of personnel experienced in handling individuals with a variety of problems are all providing help to assist the NHS as the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine continues.  See NHS and easyJet in this week’s BTN.  BA is another big supporter.

With Virgin Atlantic the airline is working with the NHS and St John’s Ambulance service to secure voluntary and paid opportunities for its people at NHS mass vaccination centres to support with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic impacted, many Virgin Atlantic employees, including those with medical training, have been furloughed on the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, offering their time and skills to support the NHS and local communities in the fight against Covid-19.  

From administering the vaccine to patient welfare and managing the logistics of the vaccine centres, our people will undergo rigorous training in order to support NHS workers, to ensure patients enjoy a safe and seamless experience when receiving their vaccine.  

From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Virgin Atlantic has continually supported the NHS with its people volunteering at NHS Nightingale and the London and St John Ambulance services providing critical support during this difficult time. Virgin Atlantic Cargo has also carried into the UK over 1,500 tonnes of essential medical supplies including respirators, ventilator parts, face masks, scrubs, testing kits, aprons, eye protection and PPE equipment.

Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer at Virgin Atlantic commented: “We are very proud of our highly skilled people at Virgin Atlantic and since the beginning of the crisis we have received an amazing response with hundreds keen to sign up and support the NHS and frontline emergency services. Our people undergo rigorous training programmes in their roles which include medical, safety and customer service training and the NHS recognises the value and experience they will bring to this crucial mass vaccination programme.”  

The NHS is offering a fast-track application process for Virgin Atlantic people, who will all undergo training before being deployed, ready to support the NHS teams within days in the mass vaccination centres as well as in local vaccination facilities.   

www.virginatlantic.com

WizzAir Abu Dhabi takes off

Last Friday (15 January) the UAE’s newest airline, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, began operations with its inaugural flight to Athens (Greece) from Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Services are presently planned twice weekly, Monday and Friday, and will be followed by flights to Thessaloniki, starting 4 February.

Chairman, József Váradi, said: “The launch of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi recognises Abu Dhabi as a bold new frontier for ultra-low fare travel in the region. We most welcome the opportunity to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s efforts to provide a new segment of travel in the UAE in line with its socio-economic vision. We are looking forward to working in strategic partnership with our stakeholders in Abu Dhabi for the benefits of the country by opening up new travel options for residents and tourists.”

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture established between ADQ (an UAE state-funded enterprise) and Wizz Air Ltd, listed on the London Stock Exchange and registered in Jersey.  

An initial route network has been announced that includes Athens, Thessaloniki, Alexandria, Kutaisi, Larnaca, Odesa and Yerevan.

The airline claims to have the lowest environmental footprint in the region, with its fleet of four new Airbus A321neo aircraft. It faces competition from Flydubai located 100 miles along the Gulf coast at Terminal 3 Dubai International Airport.

Wizz Air also expects to start flights to Tel Aviv (Israel) next month.

wizzair.com/en-gb/flights/abu-dhabi

ON TOUR BUCKET LIST

 Berlin – New airport – New life

With overseas holidays effectively cancelled until we don’t know when BTN has been pragmatic and engaged one of the country’s leading travel journalists, Jeff Mills (see in this week's BTN), to tempt you the reader, with a series of destinations for your bucket list.  Now that Berlin Willie Brandt International Airport is finally open the capital of Germany seemed the obvious choice for the lead piece, two hours by plane and an all year round centre for hospitality. Plan for summer 2021.  You can suntan too.

When I first travelled to Berlin, way back in the late 1970s, I thought it was one of the most interesting and exciting cities I had ever visited. Nothing has made me change my view. It is still one of the most fascinating cities there is.

Back then, years before the infamous wall was breached in 1989 and eventually demolished a year later, the centre of the city which was to eventually take over from Bonn once again as Germany’s capital, was firmly in the west, in the area around the Kurfurstendamm, or Ku’Dam as it is known by locals and regular visitors alike.

This was the area where everyone went to shop, eat, drink and generally have a good time. The food served up in the restaurants may have left a bit to be desired but the bars were fun to visit and there were still plenty of cabaret clubs to be found, as well as other establishments offering all sorts of exotic entertainment.

Fast forward 40-odd years and it is small wonder that Berlin was top of the list when a couple of friends and I were on the lookout for a suitable venue for one of our annual long-weekend trips away.

Basically an excuse for the three of us to spend a few days eating and drinking too much, perhaps with the odd bit of history and sightseeing thrown in for good measure.

I pondered how much the city may have changed as we waited, fresh off our easyJet flight from Gatwick, outside Tegel airport to board a bus to Alexanderplatz in Berlin’s city central Mitte district. This was before the new airport opened its doors, after years of delays, in October last year.  (See BTN 2 November 2020 Berlin Brandenburg finally opens.)

We should, perhaps, have taken a taxi and removed some of the stress (not to mention the need to take a cab anyway for the last leg of the journey) but we were determined to do it like the locals and do without some of the niceties of business travel for a change. If Brandenburg Airport had been open, of course, we could have taken a train into town. What a luxury that would have been.

Now that Berlin’s hub has effectively moved east, we chose to stay in that part of town. The smart main street is now once again Unter den Linden (named after the lime trees which originally lined the street and which have now been replanted). The grand boulevard’s western extremity once marked the end of the road for East Berliners who could do no more than gaze longingly across the border.

This area has fast become not only the commercial and governmental heart of Berlin; it is also one of the best for restaurants and nightlife. Small wonder that many people have been snapping up the refurbished houses and apartments, created out of the wedding-cake-style blocks of the Stalinist era.

This has led to a thriving bar and restaurant scene in streets where once the only life was in the queues at the food shops.

As most of us spend a lot of time staying in hotels during business trips this time, for a change, we rented one such refurbished apartment. It turned out to be ideal for our needs, there was even a convenience store selling wine and other essentials right outside the front door.

That is not to say we avoided hotels altogether. We did enjoy a particularly good lunch at one of my all-time favourites, the Adlon, possibly the finest and grandest hotel in Berlin, where the service, food and wine are matched only by the spectacular views of the Brandenburg Gate and where past guests have included Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, T.E. Lawrence and Kaiser Wilhelm II.

And the Adlon was just one of many interesting places in Berlin to eat we managed to visit, guided to some extent by the TV series ‘Rick Stein’s Long Weekends’, though I could probably do without a return visit to one of his recommendations, Hofbräu Wirtshaus, which turned out to be a huge and noisy beer hall better left to tour groups, though in fairness the food was edible and inexpensive and the beer drinkable.

La Soupe Populaire, in a once-derelict brewery in the heart of the trendy eastern area, on the other hand was well worth the visit, with new interpretations of old dishes. Cabbage salad with lard, black pudding and schnitzel were all excellent and reasonably priced.

And then there’s KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) department store, which has a sensational food market on the 6th floor where you can simply pick a bar and sit all afternoon eating and drinking in one of the best lunch venues in Berlin.

Waiters will bring dishes – lobster, caviar, ham, veggie, fish ‘n’ chips – from the other counters, too. Highly recommended.

Café Einstein, in an historic Viennese-style house, is hard to beat for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea and if you fancy a late-night head for the back streets in old East Berlin for an exceptional choice of pub-style cafés and bars.
 
Berlin is a perfect destination for history buffs as well. The city once described as an ‘accidental capital’, was an obscure and modest settlement until it was turned into the capital of Prussia in 1740 by Frederick the Great.

But by 1871 it stood as the proud capital of the new German Reich created by Bismarck. In 1945 it lay in ruins, with 125,000 Berliners killed, after the defeat of Hitler and his Third Reich.

A divided city until the reunification of Germany in 1990, the differences in style and architecture between the shiny, reconstructed capitalist West Berlin and the then dreary Soviet East Berlin is best seen from a boat tour along the city’s rivers and canals.

History students hoping for a tour of Hitler’s Chancellery and Fuhrerbunker will be disappointed, however, the site was demolished by the Soviets in 1947 and is now covered by an anonymous car park.

But there are plenty of other things you simply must do when you are in Berlin.

Brave the tourists and take a quick look at Checkpoint Charlie but don’t linger; visit the Reichstag, close to the Brandenburg Gate, seat of Germany’s parliament since 1999, even though it may mean joining a long queue before the trek up to admire the glass-topped dome designed by Sir Norman Foster and spend some time in the Museum Island quarter for some of the best culture in the city.

Take a walk along what remains of the Berlin Wall. But don’t be tempted to buy a piece of it as a souvenir. Most of the genuine masonry went years ago, together with the Russian binoculars, East German cameras and other relics of the Cold War which were once offered at very cheap prices all over the city.

www.ba.com   www.easyjet.com   www.ryanair.com

www.visitberlin.de/en

The BTN Quiz winner

The competition was won and lost with the answer to question 40, the Vickers Vimy replica landing at Brooklands and not Farnborough.

This final flight took place into a special strip, the former runway, on 15 November 2009. Congratulations to Simon Grigor, a retired civil servant, living near Northolt, not far from Heathrow who also won in 2017.

He and another past winner, Phil Spicer, were able to identify all the images and both agreed that Turkish Airlines was the best carrier at Heathrow T2.  

Our image was deliberately not clear, but one below shows unmistakably the massive Mercedes showroom on the site.  Just what would have the Brooklands workers of 1917 building Sopwith Camels to fight in the Great War made of it.

Rod Simpson took both images.  No problem in identifying the venue.

www.air-britain.com

AND FINALLY: BOAC 747 suitcases auctioned

To mark the retirement of its 747 fleet, British Airways and luxury travel brand Globe-Trotter have teamed up to create a limited-edition range of handmade carry-on suitcases which celebrate the spirit of the jumbo jet age.

To officially launch the range, two of these stunning suitcases are being auctioned via online auction platform ‘bid in’ to raise funds for Flying Start, British Airways’ global charity partnership with Comic Relief.

Since the partnership began in 2010, British Airways has raised over £25m for the charity through Flying Start, reaching more than 824,000 people.

With bids starting at £2,000 per item, the BOAC Speedbird suitcases are set to become an instant collectors’ item.

The BOAC Speedbird Carry-On Suitcase retails at £1,935 and are available at Suitcase Carry-on

www.globe-trotter.com