24 APRIL 2017

The Business Travel News
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Last week's "The unfriendly skies" is a typical offering.  Go to the very bottom of the piece to read what our readers had to say!

ON THE SOAPBOX SPECIAL: Stewart Wingate CEO, Gatwick Airport

Stewart Wingate is a chartered engineer and has been chief executive of Gatwick Airport since 2009. He was customer services director of Glasgow Airport (2004-2005), chief executive officer of Budapest Airport (2005-2007) and, prior to the purchase of Gatwick by a group headed by Global Infrastructure Partners, managing director of Stansted Airport (2007-2009). He has a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Last Thursday, I was able to congratulate Norwegian on its announcement that Singapore is to join Hong Kong, the other major city state hub airport in the Far East, with non-stop flights from Gatwick in the autumn. However, it is not so much of a breakthrough but the consolidation of the new long-haul routes we have been able to welcome so far this this year, joining Xian, starting in June, plus Denver and Seattle in September.

As we prepare for what will be the busiest summer in our history, Gatwick is clearly booming as our passengers continue to show confidence in our offering, particularly to the growing number of long-haul destinations that Gatwick now serves. 

A lot of work has gone into preparing for the record-breaking summer so that we can continue to provide the most enjoyable, safest, and most secure experience possible for the millions of passengers that will travel with us this year.

Earlier this year, we worked with easyJet, Virgin and British Airways on one of the most complex projects Gatwick has ever undertaken. Following two years of planning, easyJet in January consolidated all its operations in the North Terminal, Virgin switched operations from the South to the North, and British Airways vice versa.

It was a huge and complex undertaking but also a seamless and unqualified success thanks to meticulous planning with close and productive working between the airlines and the airport.

This hard work has directly benefited our passengers. The latest results from our research show that passengers’ positive attitudes toward Gatwick have reached record high levels – they tell us that they like Gatwick for being easy to travel through.

Since investing in improvements to security, check-in facilities, and through the airline moves project, the flow of passengers has been improved further. This is even more important when you consider that we have just hit 44m passengers a year – a world record for a single-runway airport and a mark that some predicted we would not hit until 2035. This growth has been spurred by our fast-growing long-haul network.

Both Denver and Seattle are top destinations for leisure and business travellers and, crucially, both cities are prominent business centres known for their hi-tech and advanced manufacturing industries. Xian is the most populous city in northwest China, with 13.5m living in the metropolitan area.

Our new route to Singapore – linking as it does two of the world's top three financial centres – will be welcome news for business travellers, particularly at a time when global trade is increasingly important for the UK economy.

These important destinations are welcome additions to our long-haul network, which includes significant connections to Canada and the US, Hong Kong and three new links with China with Tianjin. I’m delighted that our airlines have responded to demand for long-haul services and added such premier destinations to our growing long-haul network.

As our global route network expands, so too does Gatwick’s reputation on the global stage as a growing option for international travel. We look forward to more announcements as we grow our network further with more connections with Asia.

As we grow and set new records, we note that, of the top 10 European airports by passenger number, Gatwick is the only airport with just one runway. At this crucial time for the country and the economy, Gatwick continues to stand ready and offers the UK government a credible and deliverable option for runway expansion.

Airlines UK seminar

UK aviation policy between now and 2025 is the subject of the next Airlines UK policy seminar, taking place on Tuesday 4 July between 09:30 and 12:15 at the London HQ of Hill Dickinson in Broadgate Tower, 20 Primrose Street, London EC2A 2EW.

The event will discuss how best capacity can be unlocked before a new runway is introduced at Heathrow and will touch upon issues including airspace redesign, surface access and boosting resilience.

The seminar supplements the last Airlines UK event in February on the UK’s Aviation Strategy.

In addition to considering future policy direction over the next eight years, the seminar is expected to include discussion on how the Department for Transport can best put in place a policy framework that supports expansion at UK airports and how far it goes in using the strategy to do this. 

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines and Voluntary Industry Resilience Working Group programme director Garry Copeland will also talk through what this industry-led group is doing to improve the way in which the UK’s aviation network is planned and operated to enhance its day to day operating resilience.

American in cabin fracas

Cabin crew behaviour was back in the news at the weekend after a video emerged of an American Airlines flight attendant who allegedly struck a passenger with a baby buggy then threatening to fight a passenger.

Witnesses said the footage, filmed on a flight from San Francisco – Dallas, appeared to show the flight attendant provoking an infuriated passenger while yelling “hit me” after he allegedly “violently” took the buggy from the mother and hit her.

The video, uploaded to Facebook by passenger Surain Adyanthaya, was viewed almost 500,000 times within 24hr.

She posted: “OMG! AA Flight attendant violently taken a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.”

American said in a statement it had begun an investigation and was “disappointed” by the actions of the flight attendant, who had been removed from his job while the investigation takes place.

The statement added: “What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident.”

Collier stands down at London City

After five years in charge and overseeing a change in ownership and a rise in passenger numbers from 3m to 4.5m, Declan Collier is to stand down as CEO of London City Airport. He will stay on until a successor is found.

Airport chairman Sir Terry Morgan said: “On behalf of the board, I want to pay tribute to the tremendous contribution Declan has made. 

“He has been chief executive since March 2012 – a time that has seen significant growth, the successful sale of the business to a consortium of international investors and securing planning permission for a £350m development of the airport infrastructure.”

Sir Terry said the airport under Collier’s leadership had developed “strong and wide-ranging” relationships across the aviation sector, with all levels of government – nationally, in London, and locally – and with local communities. 

“The airport has delivered significant growth in passenger numbers and earnings, which in turn has stimulated economic activity across the local and London economy,” Sir Terry added.

Collier said: “London City Airport is a great business and well placed to take advantage of future growth and new aircraft technologies as we embark on our development programme. 

“We have a dedicated and talented team and I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to build a successful and sustainable business focused on our customers and community.”

Emirates cuts US services

A fall in demand for travel to the US has led Emirates to cut services to five cities – Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Orlando and Seattle – with Fort Lauderdale dropping from daily service to five a week from 1 May and Orlando also decreasing to five a week from 23 May.

From 1 and 2 June respectively, Seattle and Boston operations move from twice-daily to once daily, with a similar reduction on the Los Angeles route from 1 July.

An Emirates statement said: “This is a commercial decision in response to weakened demand … over the past three months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our US routes, across all travel segments. 

“Emirates has therefore responded as any profit-oriented enterprise would, and we will redeploy capacity to serve demand on other routes on our global network.”

The airline said it would continue to serve its 12 American gateways of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles,  New York JFK and Newark, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC, with 101 flight departures per week.

Etihad Airways meanwhile says it is not planning any changes to its US services, saying there had been “no significant change in demand”.

Ethiopian expands again

Star Alliance members Ethiopian Airlines and Singapore Airlines are expanding their codeshare agreement as of 1 June with the launch of Ethiopian’s daily non-stops between Addis Ababa and Singapore.

It means Ethiopian’s passengers will be able to access multiple destinations in Australia, China, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam across the wide SIA network.

In turn, SIA passengers will have access to Ethiopian’s large intra-African network including Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. 

Ethiopian Airlines vice-president for strategic planning and alliances Girma Shiferaw said: “The two airlines will synergise their networks in Asia and Africa to offer customers the best connectivity options with one ticket and one single check-in at the first boarding airport. 

“The new agreement will also play a critical role in enhancing investment and trade ties between a rising Africa, and a highly developed, innovative and business-friendly Singapore.” 

Elsewhere, Ethiopian Airlines last week confirmed details of its planned B787-8 three-times-weekly service to Jakarta from 7 June, operating from Addis Ababa via Bangkok. The airline does not yet have Bangkok – Jakarta local traffic rights.

First A321neo handed over

The first-ever A321neo, the latest generation powered by CFM International’s LEAP-1A engines, was handed over to Virgin America, an all-Airbus operator, at a ceremony in Hamburg last week.

Virgin America president Peter Hunt said the airline was honoured to be the first operator of the high in-demand aircraft. “This third member of the Airbus A320 Family to join our fleet will allow us to reduce our unit costs and carbon emissions further,” he added.

Airbus president commercial aircraft Fabrice Brégier said the company was “turning a new page” with its largest, latest, most fuel efficient NEO single aisle aircraft, guaranteeing new levels of efficiency and longer range to its operators.

It also offered greater comfort to the flying public and fewer emissions and less noise to airport communities thanks to cutting-edge technologies making it the most eco-sensitive single aisle aircraft available.

The aircraft with LEAP-1A engines was proven to deliver at least 15% fuel savings compared to Virgin America’s current generation aircraft, equivalent to cutting 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions with each plane every year, Brégier added.

Virgin America operates a fleet of 63 Airbus A320 family aircraft comprised of A319ceo and A320ceo aircraft powered by CFM’s CFM56-5B engines.

Five stars in Hoi An

A major refurbishment including a $15m new wing and a rebrand have propelled La Siesta Resort and Spa Hoi An into one of the few 5-star category of hotels in Hoi An, one of the most visited destinations in Vietnam.

The property is owned by the Elegance Hospitality Group (EHG), which launched in Hanoi in 2006 with a 10-room hotel and specialised in boutique hotels in historic shophouses on the city’s most evocative streets.

Features include wrought iron balconies, handcrafted furniture, lake views and classic Hanoi cuisine, details that have been adopted at the hotel in Hoi An, which the company opened in 2013 and has now refurbished. 

Currently in its soft-opening phase, the new wing features a range of room types including a duplex category, poolside suites with herbal bathtubs and private saunas, and terrace suites with private Jacuzzis.

Guest rooms are set around an extensive saltwater swimming pool in three-storey buildings designed to maintain harmony with the traditional low-rise architecture that characterises Hoi An’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town.

With other features including a spa, fitness centre and a second hotel restaurant, the new wing heralds the next stage of EHG’s expansion, with announcements on projects in Saigon and Hanoi expected this summer.

Flybe flies high for winter

More than 2,600 flights a week on 121 routes, including four operating for the first time this winter, have gone on sale from Flybe in its programme for winter 2017/18. The airline is putting more than 3.6m seats on the market.

First-time routes include the airline’s new multi-frequency services between Aberdeen and Edinburgh to Heathrow, and weekly flights between Cardiff and Rome, as well as business, ski and winter-sun destinations. 

The programme also includes up to three flights a day between Gatwick and Newquay, plus services to Geneva from Birmingham, Cardiff, Exeter, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Southampton, and new weekly flights between Manchester and Innsbruck.

Flybe CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener says: “This will be the first season of our plans to optimise and standardise our route network with a renewed focus and we’re pleased to have maintained a comprehensive range and diversity of destinations.

“The schedule has been carefully designed to satisfy those wanting to book convenient affordable business travel, passengers wanting to use Flybe services to connect seamlessly to worldwide destinations with our airline partners, and those looking for short leisure breaks over the autumn/February half-terms and Christmas/New Year holidays.” 

Heathrow Premier Inn complete

The Arora Group and Whitbread have completed construction of the new 613-room Premier Inn hotel at Heathrow Terminal 4 .The hotel group has taken legal possession of the site, with an opening ceremony planned for next month.

Arora’s construction division Grove Developments was commissioned by Whitbread to develop the new hotel specifically for Premier Inn, building on the Arora Group’s past experience in airports and end-to-end development capabilities.

It is the Arora Group’s sixth project with Premier Inn within the past six years as the hotel company plans an overall UK expansion targeting 85,000 bedrooms by 2020. Premier currently operates approximately some 68,000 bedrooms over 750 sites.

Previous partnerships between Arora and Whitbread have seen new hotels opened in key transport hub locations such as Aberdeen Airport, Stansted, London Holborn, Heathrow, and at Gatwick North Terminal, the largest Premier Inn in the UK with 700-plus bedrooms.

Arora Group founder and chairman Surinder Arora said: “We are privileged to have worked closely with Whitbread, the UK’s largest hotel chain by room numbers.

High tech on FT summit agenda

Latest developments in big data analytics, real-time monitoring, connectivity, avionics, autonomy and automation are in the spotlight when The Financial Times inaugural FT Business of Aerospace & Aviation Summit comes to London tomorrow, 25 April, at the Hilton Tower Bridge Hotel.

Organisers say the developments are making for an exciting time in the industry as they continue to demonstrate value to airlines, airports, ANSPs, OEMs, suppliers and passengers. 

However, they say, aviation stakeholders seeking to push the boundaries of digital innovation must also adapt to an evolving regulatory landscape, finite airspace restrictions, emerging and disruptive technologies, and uncertainty around the IoT landscape.

Speakers leading the discussion include Google UK senior industry head for travel Stephany van Willigenburg; Etihad Airways vice-president for digital strategy and innovation Justin Warby and Heathrow chief information officer Stuart Birrell.

Also on the panel are Virgin Atlantic senior vice-president for technology Don Langford; Gatwick chief commercial officer Guy Stephenson; Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs, and Air France-KLM executive vice-president for information technology Jean-Christophe Lalanne.

Iberia’s Premium Economy

Five A340-600 aircraft fitted with a new Premium Economy seating section will be in service with Iberia this summer after the airline revealed the first at a special ceremony last week.

Iberia Maintenance will install the new seats on the aircraft already in the fleet at its Madrid hangars, while the A350s the airline has on order will come factory-equipped with the new seating section. 

Chief commercial officer Marco Sansavini said: “For us this aircraft shows how an exciting project takes shape. We are certain in Europe, the US and our other destinations there are customers willing to pay a little more to fly more comfortably.”

Iberia’s Premium Economy class will be available starting next month on flights to and from Chicago, New York and Bogota, in June on flights to and from Mexico, in July on flights between Madrid and Miami, and in August on flights to and from Boston.

By the 2018 summer season, it will be available on aircraft on all Iberia’s long-haul routes operating A340-600s and A330-300s, as well as the A350s joining the fleet starting next year.


India relaxes visa rules

Foreign visitors including business travellers to India using the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) are now entitled to stay in the country for up to two months and enjoy double-entry benefits.

Rolled out this month, the new e-Visa guidelines will permit a traveller to stay in the country for up to 60 days, with double entry for those holding valid business and tourist e-Visas, and triple entry for those holding medical e-Visas. 

The new system entitles visitors to explore neighbouring countries before returning to India within a specified time. The window for application to the e-Visa scheme has now also been increased from 30 days to 120 days.

The eTV was introduced in August 2015 and thanks to the successful promotional efforts of the India Tourism Office in London, 90,000 e-Tourist Visas were issued within the scheme’s first year. 

This accounted for nearly a quarter of all e-Visas issued worldwide and more applications were made by UK citizens for an eTV to India than any other nation.

The e-Visa for India has been sub-divided into three categories: e-Tourist Visa, e-Business Visa and e-Medical Visa. On arrival, the visitor must present the authorisation to immigration officials, in order to enter the country.

Iran Air brings in A330

Planned A330 scheduled services to Europe, set to begin next Monday (1 May), were announced last week by Iran Air, with France and Sweden the first destinations. The A330 replaces the A300-600R.

The airline will offer one service weekly between Tehran and Gothenburg and between Tehran and Paris Orly and two weekly flights between Tehran and Stockholm.

Also last week, Lufthansa said it is in talks with Iran Air over providing catering plus maintenance, repair and overhaul services to capitalise on expected growth in the Iranian economy.

Lufthansa Hub Airlines chief commercial officer Heike Birlenbach said the carrier, which already flies to Iran, is planning to expand beyond commercial flights into “all different fields”. Iran was “a huge market with high potential”.

Karsten Zang, Lufthansa’s senior director for the Gulf, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, said the company is also in discussion with Iran Air over offering flight training, considering the Iranian carrier has new aircraft coming in.

Elsewhere, Iran Air has concluded an agreement for up to 40 ATR 72-600 turboprops, originally disclosed more than a year ago. The deal covers 20 firm aircraft and 20 options and forms part of Iran Air’s fleet modernisation programme.

Luton security upgrade

An enhanced security system is being introduced at Luton Airport following a new contract with the Copenhagen Optimisation (CopOpt) company to install its cloud-based Better Security platform.

The system, which officials say is to improve the efficiency of Luton’s security search area, has already been implemented successfully at other European airports, including Geneva and Dublin.

Luton has experienced rapid recent growth and claims to be the fastest-growing major London airport, with passenger numbers rising by 18.5% last year. The airport is carrying out the biggest investment in its history to expand annual capacity.

An upgrade of the terminal building is part of the programme, with improvements to the security area said to be a key part of this transformation to allow the operations team to manage the increased passenger numbers.

Operations director Neil Thompson said: “This innovative new planning system marks another milestone in the current transformation of the airport and passengers will benefit from a smoother journey through the security area thanks to it.”

As well as Better Security, Luton will also be introducing Better Forecast, which predicts the number of passengers using the security area to ensure the right number of staff are in place at peak times to avoid delays.

Malaysia pioneers new tracking

Three years after the disappearance of Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines has become the first carrier to sign up to a new satellite flight tracking system able to monitor aircraft in areas where there is currently no surveillance.

The service is provided by US-based Aireon, FlightAware and Sitaonair and can also provide more regular updates on a plane's location, especially when travelling over oceans and other remote areas.

Sitaonair portfolio director Paul Gibson said aircraft deviating from a flight path could be identified more quickly as a result. "With access to up-to-the-minute reporting, Malaysia Airlines will know the location, heading, speed and altitude of all aircraft in its fleet at all times, and be alerted to any exceptions," he added.

Most flights transmit their positions using signals tracked from ground and space. The new service, available next year, will add to that coverage, using the Iridium Next satellite constellation which was launched earlier this year.

The fate of MH370 remains one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries. More than 120,000sq km (46,300mi) of the Indian Ocean was searched but revealed no sign of the aircraft.

Norwegian heads for Singapore

Low-cost long-haul flights between Gatwick and Singapore are being launched by Norwegian next winter as the airline’s growing UK operation expands into Asia for the first time..

From 28 September, Norwegian will operate four weekly flights, later increasing to five, to Singapore’s Changi Airport, using its new state-of-the-art B787 Dreamliner aircraft offering Economy and Premium cabins.

Premium cabin fares include access to No1 Lounges at Gatwick, spacious seating with more than 1m of legroom, free meal service and a generous baggage allowance.

Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos noted that serving Singapore, one of the world’s leading centres for financial services, logistics and technology, the airline was opening up new opportunities for business travellers as well as the leisure market and access to the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Norwegian already operates between the UK and to nine US destinations, including newly-announced routes to Seattle and Denver. The airline says the new Singapore route marks the first step in its ambitions to expand into a range of new global markets.

CEO Bjorn Kjos added: “Our transatlantic flights have shown the huge demand for affordable long-haul travel, so we are delighted to expand into new markets and offer our first route to Asia from the UK.”

Novotel Canary Wharf opens

Beehives on the 39th floor – believed to be the highest in the UK – to produce honey for guests are among features of AccorHotels’ new flagship Novotel in London’s Canary Wharf, which opened to guests last week. 

The £90m hotel, at 127m, is one of the tallest buildings in the area, with 360deg views of London sights including the Shard, Olympic Park and Greenwich Park. The best vantage points are said to be from the top floors.

These are occupied by the ultra-modern Bokan 37 restaurant, Bokan 38 bar and Bokan 39 roof terrace, meeting places that Accor says are set to be destination venues in their own right. 

The hotel has 313 rooms including 26 individually-designed suites, plus nine meeting rooms, all of which have innovative and individual designs based around commodities brought in from the Canary Islands.

Another feature is what Accor calls a “reinvented, guest-focused hospitality experience”, with check-in by iPad and no reception desk in sight. The hotel will also be the first of the group’s UK portfolio to contain a vegetable garden.

This is in line with AccorHotels’ Planet21 plan to support urban agriculture by planting 1,000 vegetable gardens in its hotels by 2020.

Overbooking under scrutiny

Despite United Airlines’ latest misfortune over Flight 3411, the latest denied boarding rankings by the US Department of Transportation show the carrier is not the worst for bumping passengers.

As commentators have noted, United just had the misfortune of having a video taken of a passenger being dragged from one of its aircraft after he refused to leave when he was selected for forced bumping from an overbooked flight.

The DoT report shows other airlines also have a history of removing passengers against their wishes, and the US Federal Aviation Administration recently fined four major carriers that failed to tell passengers about how much compensation they are entitled to when they are removed.

United was among them, along with American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

The new DoT document examines the numbers of airline passengers who faced involuntary denied boarding between October and December last year, ranging from No. 12 (the best, or lowest rate of denied boarding) to No. 1 (the worst, or highest rate).

In descending order, the carriers named are Hawaiian at No. 12, then Virgin America, Delta, Spirit, Alaska, United, Frontier, American, Southwest, Skywest, JetBlue and ExpressJet at No.1.

San José direct for KLM

Growing interest among European business travellers in Costa Rica has led KLM to launch a direct winter service to the capital, San José, with two flights a week on Tuesdays and Fridays from 31 October.

Airline president and CEO Pieter Elbers said KLM had been carrying “many passengers” to the country via Panama but increasing demand had convinced the carrier to start a direct flight.

On days when the flight does not operate, passengers can use the KLM flight to Panama, which connects to San José thanks to a codeshare with Copa Airlines. 

Elbers said KLM’s San José flight will be operated with the most modern aircraft in its fleet, the B787-9 Dreamliner, with a capacity of 294 seats – 30 in World Business Class, 219 in Economy Class and 45 in Economy Comfort Zone. 

“In addition to being the most modern aircraft in the airline, the Dreamliner is designed to offer the maximum comfort to travellers and to protect the environment as it consumes 20% less fuel and produces 20% less CO2 emissions,” he added.

The eco-friendly train

Fifteen routes across Europe where using the train is faster and more environmentally friendly than flying have been revealed by travel platform GoEuro in response to the arrival at the weekend of Earth Day 2017.

The routes, in which city transit, security processes and travel times were taken into account, include Brussels – London, London – Manchester, London – Paris, London – Leeds and Manchester – Edinburgh.

GoEuro CEO Naren Shaam said: “We have been conditioned to think a 1hr flight is literally just that; we forget the journey also includes the time to get to the airport and the two hours advised to clear security checks. 

“The GoEuro platform lets travellers compare total travel times between rail, bus and air as well as price, and make the most informed decision on their travel needs.”

The GoEuro survey showed using the train on Europe’s most environmentally friendly route, Marseille – Lyon, saved passengers 1hr 27min in travel time, and used only just over 2% of the CO2 emissions of an aircraft full of people.

Within the UK, London – Manchester was shown to be the most time efficient and environmentally-friendly route surveyed, with travellers able to save 1hr 21min on their journey times as well as a total of 109.6kg in carbon dioxide emissions.

ON TOUR: Bateaux Royale

BTN’s Richard Cawthorne takes to the Thames to sample the new Bateaux Windsor experience.

As of earlier this month, the Bateaux London operation in the capital has a new baby sister. Bateaux Windsor follows a similar pattern – a floating restaurant taking passengers along the Thames, in this case past the many sights of Windsor and Maidenhead, for an overview of some of the best bits of our history.

BTN was invited to take part in the first voyage before the operation launched to the public. Passengers can choose to have a weekday lunch on board, or Sunday lunch, afternoon tea or a dinner cruise. For special gatherings, including informal business meetings, the whole boat can be hired.

The invitation-only inaugural cruise was an evening outing with a five-course meal and coincided happily with the arrival of a brief spell of summer-like weather that showed off Windsor and its surroundings in full photogenic splendour. 

Bateaux Windsor’s boat is Melody, with a capacity of 44 passengers, smaller than the London versions and making for a relaxing meal tailored to the 2.5hr cruise. An elegant vessel, it has large arching windows to provide uninterrupted views of the river and countryside as you pass and a luxurious interior with much use of hardwood finishings and rich burgundy furnishings. Apart from the fact you are moving, it has all the atmosphere, as you would expect, of a smart restaurant.

The food matches the surroundings, with a set menu ranging all the way from an amuse bouche to fairtrade coffee and tea, plus petit fours. Champagne, Chilean Merlot and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc took care of the drinks requirements. For the foodies among BTN’s readership, it is worth recording the dishes, a fair indication of the Bateaux product, and all with white-glove service. 

The amuse bouche was roasted cauliflower soup with curry oil and poppadum, followed by a starter of smoked mackerel with wasabi, pickled turnip and dill emulsion. Main course was a slow-cooked feather blade steak with potato dauphine, spiced red cabbage, glazed roots and merlot jus, while bitter chocolate praline with blackberry gel and chocolate crumble took care of dessert. For those wanting a cheese course, Cornish brie was served with truffle honey and crisp sourdough.

Dragging our attention away from the table, we were able to enjoy the sight of Windsor’s massed swans (it is a very good year for swans) and other assorted wildlife enjoying the sunshine and tracking the boat, while some of Heathrow’s finest customers, including several B747s and at least two A380s, made a fine sight as they headed into the sunset for their destinations. 

On land, Royal Windsor Racecourse, fences painted brilliant white, gave way to Boveney Lock and a few anxious moments while the respective widths of boat and lock gates were checked. Then it was on to Oakley Court Hotel, former home to Hammer Films and the setting for many of the company’s productions as well as starring as Frank N Furter's castle (“the Frankenstein Place”) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Other life on the riverbank, from grandiose boats and equally imposing houses to mobile-home parks, provided a fascinating backdrop to the journey. 

As Maidenhead hove into view and dusk approached, Melody turned for home and another special feature appeared – floodlights on deck to illuminate the landscape and the occasional startled swan as we passed on the way back. Docking at Windsor Thames Side was spot on time, setting the seal on an efficient, professional and highly enjoyable operation.

The Melody dinner cruise costs £75 per person with sailings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in high season. Other packages include the afternoon tea cruise at £35 per adult/£20 per child on Fridays, Saturdays and bank holidays, and the lunch cruise (£35/£20), also on Fridays, Saturdays and bank holidays. Sunday lunch cruises are £45 per adult/£25 per child).

Melody can be hired privately for a minimum of 30 people with a private lunch, dinner or reception, and hospitality packages are also available.

AND FINALLY: Kicking the bucket

Travel is a key component of people’s bucket lists and they are willing to spend up to £10,000 on average on their ambitions, new research by the website has revealed.

The cost of completing the top 10 activities comes in at £18,519, an average cost per activity of £1,851.90, with going on safari (£5,600) and walking the Great Wall of China (£1,139) both in the top five.

Visiting the Grand Canyon (£1,181), going whale watching (£2,000)) and taking an American road trip (£3,365) are other top favourites.

The website’s advice: Start saving now.

It has compiled a bucket list calculator so users can pick their “ultimate activities” from among the favourites.

The tool then calculates the total cost and gives users the percentage of their salaries they will need to save in order to achieve their dreams, based on whether they have two, five or 10 years to stockpile funds.