12 MARCH 2018

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COMMENT: The PR dream

You have to hand it to Brexit. It’s a PR person’s dream. Mere mention of the word by your client practically guarantees headlines to follow. The debate boiled over again this week with Ryanair’s Michael O’ Leary threatening to ground his entire fleet for two days, apparently to demonstrate the consequences of what he sees as the unsound decision by Britain’s voters to leave the EU. Almost simultaneously from the US came dire warnings of a bleak future for air services between here and there when Britain leaves the EU-US open skies treaty.

Unpredictability being one of O’Leary’s stocks-in-trade, it would be an unwise person to predict the outcome of the Ryanair boss's threat, but don’t hold your breath for a sudden lack of aircraft. And talks of a UK-US rift were rapidly countered by those possibly more in the know than the detractors.

The week also produced other more measured accounts of the Brexit talks, chief among them comments from aviation minister Baroness Sugg that the discussions involving air services were in fact “going well”. Who would have thought it? Her remarks followed confirmation from Theresa May that on another front and contrary to rumour (misinformation?), Britain’s future involvement with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was indeed “on the table” at the negotiations.

Such developments were welcomed by the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and the UK Airport Operators Association (AOA) in a joint statement demonstrating in itself by being issued in Brussels and London that we are after all still friends with Europe.

The statement noted the new draft EU guidelines for the post-Brexit relationship confirmed that specific air transport and air safety agreements would be needed to safeguard air connectivity between the UK and the EU. This, it added, was “a welcome step – as it charts the way forward for the future aviation relationship and thus potentially reduces uncertainty for our sector”.

The two organisations urged negotiators to put the passenger at the heart of a future deal “to ensure they continue to benefit from the excellent air connectivity (that already exists), “whether they live and work in the EU, or in the UK”.

Similarly, on the speculation about UK – US air services following Brexit, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the association that represents UK-registered carriers, said: "UK airlines fully expect that the UK and US governments will sign an open and liberal agreement – including on ownership and control – that will allow UK carriers to continue to serve the US.”

He went on: "Separately, airlines will continue to support ministers in reaching a deal with the EU that is in everyone’s interest – providing for open competition between carriers and as liberal ownership and control rules as possible.

“We also want to see an agreement on the implementation phase agreed as early as possible … it is essential that clarity can be provided to both consumers and airlines through to at least December 2020.”

It’s all a bit less heated and hysterical than some of last week’s headlines would have had their readers believe.

And whatever side you are in in the Brexit debate, that can only be a good thing.

Aer Southeast on the move

Flights between Ireland’s Waterford International Airport and Luton, Manchester and Birmingham are being planned by Irish regional start-up airline Aer Southeast later this year.

The carrier intended to launch last summer but had to postpone. It has now revived its plans after announcing last week it had become part of a company with an airline operating licence and AOC. The company was not named.

The latest developments were outlined on Facebook, with Aer Southeast’s official page showing a Saab 340 in the airline’s livery. More details of the relaunch were promised “within days”.

Plans announced last year indicated a six-a-week schedule between Waterford and Luton and three flights a week to both Manchester and Birmingham. Of the new plan, Aer Southeast, headed by CEO Einar Adalsteinsson said: “It’s been a long road, but a lot of work has been done behind the scenes in order to secure the operation.

“Due to circumstances out of our control, which included a long period of time when Waterford Airport was in deep discussions with another operator, we were not in a position to progress on this matter. However, those things have been resolved.”

All change at Emirates

A new Business Class cabin and configuration has been unveiled by Emirates for its Boeing B777-200LR aircraft, at the same time as announcing a new divisional vice-president for the UK. Richard Dewsbury takes over on 1 April from Laurie Berryman, who is retiring.

The new Business Class features wider seats in a 2+2+2 layout for the first time. The airline says it has invested more than $150m (about £108m) to refurbish the ten aircraft, which have a two-class configuration with 38 seats in Business Class and 264 in Economy.

The seats are the same design and shape as Emirates’ latest lie-flat version but are now 2in wider with the ergonomically-designed headrests revealed on Emirates’ newest B777 in November.

It has a 72in pitch and moves to fully flat and has touch-screen controls for the seat and inflight entertainment, personal lighting options, privacy panels between seats, a stowage area and personal mini-bar.

Another feature is a social area, unique to the B777-200LR fleet, with snacks, fruit and drinks for customers to help themselves during the flight.

The first of the refurbished aircraft entered service last week to Fort Lauderdale.

B787 inaugural for Shanghai

Plans are in hand at Shanghai Airlines for the inaugural flight in June of its 100th aircraft, a Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner with the registration B-1111. Four numbers in a row is considered a lucky symbol in China.

Initial reports suggest the aircraft will have 285 seats spread over four cabins, including four in First Class, 26 VantageXL+ models from Thompson Aero in Business, 28 Premium Economy seats and 227 in a 3+3+3 layout in Economy.

In a break with tradition, the airline is apparently dispensing with a partition between First and Business, with the four First Class seats – the VantageFirst model, also from Thompson Aero – essentially forming the first row of the premium cabin.

The carrier, a subsidiary of the China Eastern Airlines Group, is busy promoting the better-known aspects of the Dreamliner, including larger cabins, better lighting, the largest windows on a commercial aircraft and larger overhead luggage bin space.

It has yet to confirm the cabin layouts and the destination and flight time for the first service but it is thought the aircraft will operate on domestic routes initially, extending to Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia after that.

The Dreamliner is the first B787-9 for the China Eastern group as a whole, as well as being the 100th plane in the Shanghai Airlines fleet.

BA refresh for Gatwick fleet

A cabin refurbishment for the British Airways long-haul Boeing B777 fleet based at Gatwick is under way, with enhanced entertainment options but with ten seats abreast in Economy instead of nine. Work should be complete by summer 2019.

BA is downplaying the seating change, which applies to the Word Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins, and says the entertainment facilities will be the biggest improvement for passengers on the ten-strong fleet.

A new Panasonic system will see IFE screens in World Traveller Plus increased from the current 6in to 12in, while passengers in World Traveller will see an increase from 6in to 10in. They will have touch-screen capability and offer programming in high definition, with a USB socket for charging devices.

World Traveller Plus seats will have new footrests, six-way headrests and cocktail tables in front of passengers, with tray tables moved into the seat arms. The cabin will also double in size in both the three- and four-class aircraft.

BA says the new cabin will be available first on flights to Punta Cana, Cancun and Kingston and will be rolled-out gradually to all 22 long-haul routes from Gatwick.

Backing for EASA policy

Backing from Theresa May last week for Britain’s continued involvement after Brexit in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been welcomed on behalf of the industry by Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade.

“Airlines are clear that it is vital for the UK to continue membership of the EASA, with all EASA rules and regulations applied to UK operators and companies based here, and we’re pleased the PM has formally put this on the table,” he said.

“As she set out, there is precedent, as non-EU countries such as Switzerland are members of EASA and in return for paying in to the budget contribute fully to the technical working groups and policy committees and play an active role in rule-making.”

Alderslade noted the UK had always made a “substantial contribution” to EASA in people and funding, supplying around 50 members of staff and paying in more than €5m a year to the budget and was one of the biggest technical contributors.

“We hope and expect common sense will prevail and both sides will see there is precedent here and the UK’s future participation in EASA is in everyone’s best interests.”

Carlson Rezidor now Radisson

A new worldwide hotel presence emerged last week after the Carlson Rezidor group said it was rebranding as the Radisson Hotel Group. The change comes with a new signature service philosophy called “Every Moment Matters”.

The company said the new identity was intended to leverage the international brand equity of the Radisson name to drive awareness in the marketplace and increase marketing efficiency across the global portfolio.

“The name Radisson Hotel Group capitalises on a strong partnership between Radisson Hospitality, formerly Carlson Hotels, and Rezidor Hotel Group, publicly listed on Nasdaq Stockholm and headquartered in Brussels,” a statement added.

Rezidor has master franchise agreements to develop and operate several brands across Europe, the Middle East and Africa while Radisson Hotel Group, currently the world’s 11th largest, covers eight brands with more than 1,400 properties in operation and under development.

Rezidor Hotel Group president and Radisson Hotel Group global steering committee chairman Federico González-Tejera said the launch was “a significant milestone in a five-year operating plan that will transform the business”.

He added: “This includes initiatives that redefine our value proposition, optimise our portfolio, streamline operations, invest in new technology systems and align our team members to deliver on our Every Moment Matters philosophy.”

Challenger for ExecuJet

A Bombardier Challenger 350, to be based in Nairobi, has joined the managed fleet of ExecuJet, part of the Luxaviation Group, as the company pushes ahead with expansion plans in Africa.

The jet has been registered on Luxaviation’s new San Marino aircraft register, and will be one of the first aircraft to be operated on the Luxaviation San Marino Air Operator Certificate (AOC).

ExecuJet regional vice-president Gavin Kiggen said: “The Challenger 350 boasts capacity for up to ten  passengers and with a range of 3,200nmi is capable of flying non-stop from Nairobi to Barcelona.

“We are delighted to be bringing Bombardier’s premier midsize business jet to our customers in east Africa. This latest addition underlines the exciting growth in business aviation movements in the region, and we are dedicated to supporting this encouraging trend with our expanded fleet.”

ExecuJet manages 165 business jets worldwide under stringent safety standards with its commercial fleet is operated under the regulatory umbrella of six regional civil aviation issued AOCs.

The company offers a diverse range of services, including aircraft management for private and commercially registered aircraft, charter, maintenance, completions management and fixed base operations.

Cork’s new-route drama

The chance of a new route between Germany and the south of Ireland has put Cork Airport on tenterhooks today (Monday 12 March) as it makes its case in a bidding war orchestrated by German low-cost carrier Eurowings.

The airline has adopted an unusual approach to route development with a “You vote, we fly” campaign, with Cork competing against a shortlist of five other European airports to be the next destination.

Supporters have been voting for their airport and polls close today at 15:00 central European time with the result announced live in Eurowings’ Facebook page tomorrow at the same time. The destination with the most votes wins.

Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy said: “To win would be a major boost to the region as well as the whole of Ireland and we’ve been urging everyone to take the time to vote for us over the past week. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Other finalists in the Eurowings contest are Aarhus (Denmark), Friedrichshafen (Germany), Kosice (Slovakia), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Stavanger (Norway).

It’s not the first time Eurowings has taken its network planning to a different level – last year, the Lufthansa subsidiary asked the public to decide a new route for its summer 2018 programme, with Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina the winner.

Elizabeth Line milestone

A “major milestone” for Europe’s largest infrastructure project has been hailed by Transport for London (TfL) and Crossrail Ltd after the first new Elizabeth Line train was tested in the tunnels through southeast London.

In an unrelated move Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme has stepped down.

The line runs past the site of the old Silvertown for London City Airport station on the previous North London Line, but a high fence has been erected to ensure passengers cannot see the airport terminal. The nearest station for the airport is now Custom House, which is on a separate branch of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

The new train – built by Bombardier engineers in Derby – was the first to be driven from Abbey Wood. It entered the tunnels at Plumstead and travelled under the Thames heading for Connaught Tunnel before returning to Abbey Wood station.

Backers of the Elizabeth Line project say it is set to transform transport in London with quicker, easier and more accessible journeys when it launches in December. The tunnel test drive marks the start of the final stages of construction.

The train – which was driven at a low speed – is the first of hundreds of test runs that will take place throughout the year.

EU aviation talks ‘going well’

Despite reports to the contrary, Brexit talks over the future of UK airlines and air services are going well, aviation minister Baroness Sugg said at the Airport Operators Association (AOA) annual dinner last week.

She confirmed the government’s aviation strategy would support the industry and help it to be more competitive, prosperous and sustainable, with backing for, among other things, consumer issues and changes to UK airspace management.

She said more had to be done to address matters such as tackling disruptive passengers, reviewing the compensation process and providing support for disabled and elderly travellers.

There had to be improved engagement with local communities to explain changes and what the industry was doing to make best use of existing airspace and government and industry needed to work together to forge a new future outside the EU.

The minister added: “UK aviation is the third largest market in the world, and we want to continue being a competitive and leading global partner. That’s why our new Aviation Strategy will be rooted in partnership between government and industry.

“It will set out a new framework for a safe, secure and sustainable aviation sector, with the connections Britain’s economy will need to continue growing up to 2050 and beyond.”

Europe wi-fi breakthrough

Flights in Europe operated by British Airways are setting the scene for a revolution in short- and medium-haul inflight wi-fi this summer thanks to a new communications system developed by satellite operator Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom.

BA parent company IAG is launch customer for the system, the European Aviation Network, and plans to introduce high-speed wi-fi on selected aircraft from this summer, with 90% of the short-haul fleet equipped by 2019.

As Inmarsat explained last week, while on-board wi-fi is common on long-haul flights and is already offered by carriers including BA and Virgin Atlantic, it is rare in Europe because the dense airspace interferes with satellite connections.

The EAN system allows aircraft antennae to connect to a system of 300 ground towers across Europe as well as satellites and is said to need far lighter on-board equipment.

Inmarsat said the weight of equipment needed until now had not been fuel efficient for smaller short-haul aircraft, whereas they would now have access to “reliable, high-speed and future-proof in-flight broadband access across Europe”.

Eurostar Amsterdam

Lead-in fare for the new Eurostar service to Amsterdam (BTN 19 February) was confirmed last week at £35 with the operator emphasising the benefits of travelling from city centre to city centre in less than 4hr with no weight restrictions on passengers’ luggage.

Commercial service starts on 4 April with two trains a day following extensive preparation, including a comprehensive programme of testing on the Dutch high-speed network, and the building of Eurostar terminals in Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic said: “With competitive fares from £35 one-way and a journey time of 3hr 01min to Rotterdam and 3hr 41min to Amsterdam, Eurostar will transform the connection between these key destinations.

“The service heralds an exciting new chapter in the expansion of high-speed rail, strengthening trading and travel links between the UK and mainland Europe and giving passengers a compelling environmentally-friendly alternative to the airlines.”

In addition to revolutionising the cross-Channel connection to the Netherlands, the London – Amsterdam service also delivers a record new journey time for passengers travelling on the London – Brussels section of the route. They will see their journey time cut by 17min as the time onboard is reduced from 2hr 05min to 1hr 48min.

Falklands in demand

Airlines from Brazil, Chile and Uruguay have expressed an interest in operating scheduled flights to the Falkland Islands with stops in Argentine territory, the Argentine foreign ministry said last week.

The brief statement, which refers to the destination as the Falkand/Malvinas Islands, said the proposals, which come at the conclusion of the time limit at the end of February established by the Argentina and UK governments, will now be assessed.

This work would be carried out “by the competent aeronautical authorities, regarding (the proposals’) viability and convenience, and on these bases the corresponding authorisations will duly be awarded”, the statement added.

The next step would be to initiate a commercial process which would be led by the Falkland Islands and would be managed in stages to evaluate viable proposals from interested airlines and undertake negotiations.

The objective, the statement added, would be to secure one additional flight per week, including a monthly stop in Argentina, once in each direction, before the end of 2018 to complement the existing weekly LATAM flight to and from Santiago via Punta Arenas (Chile).

Twice-weekly direct flights to the Falklands from the UK depart from Brize Norton and are operated by the Royal Air Force. The service is known as the airbridge and departs the UK on Wednesday and Sundays.

Gatwick's five-year record

Celebration was in the air at Gatwick last week as the airport announced its 60th month of consecutive growth in February with 3m passengers, 7% more than the 2017 figure.

Officials noted Gatwick was also set to increase its global connectivity further with Qatar Airways announcing a new double-daily service to Qatar, starting in May.

Gatwick’s busiest February so far was fuelled by further significant growth in the airport’s longhaul routes, up 16.7% across the month, helping to drive a 37.2% increase in the volume of cargo handled.

Asia routes performed well as thousands of passengers travelled to and from the Far East to celebrate Chinese New Year. Hong Kong was up by 74.4%, while Tianjin’s growth also continued, up 12.9% year-on-year.

Transatlantic routes also showed big increases in February, with Fort Lauderdale 80% up, Oakland/San Francisco 67.6% up and New York 43.4% up. New routes from Norwegian this month to Austin and Chicago are keeping up the momentum.

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said: “February’s figures are the latest demonstration of Gatwick’s importance as a vital piece of UK infrastructure providing global connectivity at a time when the country needs it most.

“We have exciting plans for growth maximising the use of our existing facilities while we also offer the country the prospect of a financeable and deliverable new runway scheme.”

Gulf Air going for growth

A major network expansion with a fleet renewal, more routes and the launch of flights to North America from 2020 are highlights of a five-year growth strategy for Gulf Air unveiled last week by CEO Kresimir Kucko.

He said the airline would be following “key principles” including safety, network growth, innovation, human Resources, customer focus, revenue vs cost and Gulf Air's role as a contributor and key driver of the local economy.

On fleet renewal, he said Gulf Air was planning to add 39 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft including 12 A320neos, 17 A321neos, nine of which will be Long Range variants, and 10 B787-9 Dreamliners, seven of which are due this year with the first next month.

Two more of the Dreamliners are scheduled for 2019, three more in 2020 and a further six are due to be delivered between 2023-24 to replace GulfAir's existing fleet of six Airbus A330-200s.

Kucko said the added capacity would be used to underscore a major network expansion, with Gulf Air adding eight new destinations to its network this year alone.

They include Bangalore and Kozhikode (India); Abha and Tabuk (Saudi Arabia); Alexandria Borg el Arab and Sharm el Sheih (Egypt); Baku (Azerbaijan) and Casablanca (Morocco).

Hawaiian chooses Dreamliner

Boeing snapped up a significant new Dreamliner order last week after Hawaiian Airlines said it had chosen the B787 as its flagship for medium- to long-haul operations.

As part of the order, Hawaiian said it was acquiring 10 B787-9s valued at $2.82bn at list prices and also has purchase rights for 10 additional Dreamliners.

The news was greeted widely as a coup for Boeing by persuading Hawaiian away from the new Airbus A330neo. The airline operates a long-haul fleet mostly made up of the original A330s and another Airbus order had been expected.

Hawaiian, based in Honolulu, has been steadily growing its long-haul network connecting its home region with Asia and North America and said the Dreamliner would enable it to expand further with new Asia-Pacific destinations.

President and CEO Peter Ingram said: "The Dreamliner's operational efficiency and superior guest experience make it the best aircraft for modernising our fleet in 2021 and beyond."

Boeing said its competitive advantage was also enhanced by its Boeing Global Services subsidiary, with Hawaiian able to use BGS new-aircraft transition support services to ensure a successful and on-time entry into service.

Now Virgin tweaks Economy

Economy Class passengers on Virgin Atlantic are being given more options on the way they fly in the latest round of tweaking to counter competition from new low-cost challengers, particularly on services to and from the US and Canada.

Virgin chief executive Craig Keeger described the changes, which introduce three classes of travel in Economy, as the biggest change to the rear cabin in more than a decade.

From this spring, passengers will be able to choose between Economy Delight, Economy Classic or Economy Light, with the changes backed up by innovations on the ground and in the air “as part of a wider £300m investment in our customers”.

Creeger said Economy Light was the “bargain basement” of the new fare structure, offering meals, drinks and snacks in the price, but with only cabin baggage permitted.

Economy Classic extended the ‘Light’ fare with free seat selection and one 23kg checked bag and was upgradeable with frequent flyer miles. Economy Delight inclued premium check-in, priority boarding and a new Economy seat with extra legroom.

Airline founder Richard Branson said: “When I started Virgin Atlantic I wanted to challenge the status quo and make flying amazing – regardless of which cabin you’re in – and that’s still true.”

Qatar ups and downs

In good news and bad news last week, Qatar Airways said it was returning to Gatwick after a seven-year absence, but warned it was set to report “a very large loss” for the current financial year following a blockade against it by neighbouring countries.

The new Gatwick service will see double-daily flights to and from Doha from 22 May using the Boeing B787 Dreamliner in partnership with British Airways. Qatar is also planning to launch flights from Cardiff in May.

Al Baker was speaking at ITB Berlin, where he also announced the financial news. The blockade, which he has called illegal, was "putting a lot of financial strain" on the airline, he said, with Qatar Airways required to fly longer routes and use widebody aircraft on routes previously operated with narrow-bodies in order to carry additional fuel.

This resulted in lower load factors and higher operational costs, both direct and fixed, he added, but although he expected to announce a large loss for the current financial year the airline was "financially robust".

Al Baker said Qatar Airways had continued to expand in difficult times and had been "challenging all odds", defeating its adversaries’ belief that the airline would have to shrink and park aircraft.

Travelodge hits business trail

A strengthened focus on the business travel market has been announced by hotel group Travelodge with a £240m plan to open 20 new UK properties this year, mainly in business destinations.

It follows the roll-out last year of 1,000 premium-economy “SuperRooms”, which Travelodge says have been a great success. The latest expansion includes another 400 of the rooms and gives the group a portfolio of 578 hotels in the UK, Spain and Ireland.

Travelodge has opened 78 new hotels over the past five years at an approximate investment value of more than £600m for third-party investors and created 2,000 new jobs.

The group has also invested £100m in a hotel modernisation programme, launching the SuperRoom product, upgrading the food and beverage offering and improving digital platforms.

Travelodge said that as a result it had seen a rise in corporate and SME business customers, which now make up more than half of its overall sales. Consequently, it was now more focused on opening new hotels in key business locations, it said.

The company’s largest new-build to date will be in the City of London with a 395-room flagship property expected to open this summer near the Gherkin. Other new locations include Acton and Dagenham in London and Dover.

Winter comes early for Flybe

A total of 127 routes including Doncaster Sheffield – Belfast City operating for the first time in winter and up to seven flights a day on five major business routes are among highlights of the first phase of Flybe’s winter 2018/19 programme.

With talk of a possible takeover in the air (BTN 26 February), the airline has released details of the line-up much earlier than usual, with 127 flights featured and a choice of up to 2,683 seats a week throughout the UK and mainland Europe.

Birmingham-Amsterdam, Birmingham – Glasgow, Belfast City – Manchester, Belfast City – Birmingham and Edinburgh – Birmingham are the routes with up to seven flights a day

There is also an Improved weekend schedule on key routes from Exeter, with later Sunday returns from Amsterdam, Jersey, Guernsey and Manchester and the return of weekend flights to Norwich.

Chief commercial officer Roy Kinnear said: “We are putting our 2018/19 winter schedule on sale earlier than ever before to give plenty of time for decision making and allow regular winter travellers the chance to make their plans.

“We have an extensive choice of destinations including for essential business travel with a network that makes it easier than ever for our customers to travel from regional airports close to where they live, saving valuable time, effort and money.”

ON TOUR: Kenya Airways and the Mad Monk

Inveterate airline enthusiast Brother Michael Bartlett, known in civil aviation circles as the Mad Monk, holds a number of Guinness World Records for his exploits, including completing a round-the-world journey by air in 57hr 17min (BTN 9 January 2017). Here he relates his latest adventure. 

The year 1977 saw the formation of Kenya Airways, which claims to be “The Pride of Africa.” I have always been grateful I had the opportunity to fly aboard a Vickers Super VC 10  from Nairobi to London back in 1975, a couple of years before the demise of East African Airways. Now this year I have been able to enjoy flying with its successor, Kenya Airways.

This was not only aboard three of their new Boeing B787 Dreamliners but also between Johannesburg and Nairobi on a Boeing B737-800. I often find the smaller the aeroplane the more enjoyable the flight, there often being more of a camaraderie between passengers and between  passengers and cabin crew.

Though the journey from many European points to African destinations takes longer when using airlines with connecting flights at their home bases, it can be much cheaper. And for aviation enthusiasts, it gives an opportunity for more  flights and therefore more  time in the air and miles flown!

One of the claims made by Kenya Airways is that it is the most punctual airline on the continent. It was voted Africa’s leading airline in 2016 and 2017, won an award for best Business Class each year from 2013 to 2017 inclusive and the cover of its inflight magazine proclaims it the airline “connecting Africa to the world”.

Living up to its claim, from 28 October this year Kenya Airways will launch non-stop flights to and from New York, becoming the first airline to operate a non-stop service between East Africa and the US. The development is being touted as a means to help to boost trade, spur growth in the business and leisure travel industry both ways and thereby offer opportunities for more employment.  15 hours flight time but a huge saving into East Africa from North America.

The standard of service aboard the four flights I took was high. The crew, well dressed in attractive red uniforms, were both welcoming and helpful as passengers boarded, a process they insisted on doing by row. This helped to ensure it was not the long-drawn-out exercise it can be, and full marks to the staff at the gate for being firm on that issue.

The one disappointment when the interesting, pleasant and hot meals were offered was the cheap plastic cutlery. Many airlines on long-haul flights now provide steel cutlery even in Economy Class. The food however was generous and pleasantly served. Water, fruit juices, beer, wines and spirits were offered. Cabin crew walked around the aircraft regularly and water was offered frequently. Gin and tonic was available and when I asked for one to celebrate flying with Kenya Airways, my 280th airline, the measure was extremely generous. I did not dare ask for a second!

My outward journey from London to Johannesburg involved a 3hr wait at Jomo Kenyatta Airport for my connection. I had considered going to one of the Business Class lounges, but it was not necessary – at 05:00, there were plenty of empty seats in the terminal along with many outlets for tea and coffee. I sat and read, completed a couple of hard sudokos and waited for the connecting flight. The transfer had been simple, involving going through security once when alighting from the aircraft and going through the “transfer” channel.

The experience was rather different on the return journey. Arrival at Nairobi Airport was a little later than the outward journey – 06:30. The terminal was considerably busier, so I decided to find the Turkish Airlines lounge and enjoy its comforts. It was a long walk and hard to find as it was at the other end of the terminals near Gate 4A.  When notice was given  to go to the gate, I was aware I had  a long walk ahead and halfway along was a security gate passengers had to put everything through the machine.

Thinking since I had now gone through security for the second time it was the last time, I returned my personal items to my shirt and jacket pockets. Mistake.  On arrival at Gate 17 for the flight to London, I had to go through security for a third time. I was taken out of line and had to answer a host of questions, unpack some of my hand luggage and watch patiently while most of my items were swiped for drugs.

This aside, the major disappointment of my trip to the region was being unable to arrange more flights with Kenya Airways to Rwanda and Burundi, the two countries in East Africa I have not yet visited. Sadly, when I asked the airline for the cost of adding to my itinerary, for fun, its daily circular flight Nairobi – Kigali – Bujumburu – Nairobi, the fare quoted was higher than that for the London – Johannesburg round trip.

Overall however, on safety and service, Kenya Airways is well entitled to describe itself as “The Pride of Africa”. I  look forward to flying with it again.


Horses for courses.  As a socially acceptable fun car the Fiat 500C is hard to beat.

The weather of the last few weeks may not have promoted spring but in truth it is not far away and with it thoughts of open top motoring.  The trouble is that the selection of convertibles offered is very small, and mostly expensive writes Malcolm Ginsberg.

And there is of course the Fiat 500.  It will cost you a great deal less and arguably is just as pleasurable.  It is a 2+2 as well.  That is what the smart people drive!

BTN has been trying the 500C, the cabrio version with an electric roof that folds down over the rear, not quite a proper drophead, but much more of an open car than one with just a sliding sun roof.  The roof is a two-piece unit with the electric buttons and you can use with just the front panel retracted.  At the back there is a proper glass window, not a plastic item that used to be the norm.  It does not go all the way down and rather like the Mini convertible the view is restricted in that mode.  And comparisons with the Mini need to be made, its one-time competitor failing to stay small and slim and gaining a middle age paunch.  The Fiat 500 is still what it was on the day it was launched.  A zippy fun car that feels quick, even if it is not.

Don’t just think of the little Fiat as a city motor, which in fact it is, but during the week the little two door car was in our procession it was also used for a 360 mile day trip from London to Cleethorpes and back.  Not tiring at all and 45 miles per gallon.  Once again the manufacturer’s figures and real life do not match.  60 mpg it is not.  The Fiat has a realistic range of 300 miles with a 7.6 gallon tank.  Translated this means 6.3 litres per 100km with 35 litres topped up.

The Italian has been around since 1957 but was completely re-engineered in 2007, and in 2017 passed the two million build mark.  Available is a limited-edition Fiat 500 Anniversario introducing colours and shades that recall the past.

It's a tiny car so space is at a premium.  No problem for those in the front seats who have adequate space but don’t expect a rush to struggle into the rear.  Once seated it is OK and ideal for children, but adults of any size will find it a bit of a strain for any longish journey.  To be fair it was not what the car was built for.

There are two cupholders up front and another pair between the front seats to take the total to four, neatly matching the passenger count.  There's a little slot for a phone ahead of the front cupholders and a springy-netted pocket on the driver's side of the console, again not a bad spot for a phone.

The boot is tiny (182 litres) and has a small opening, so only carefully packed shopping will fit in.  But suitcases can go easily onto the back seat which are slit and also fold down.

The interior has been steadily improved over the years, but for a certain generation the front panel looks  and not too appealing. 

The MultiAir 1.2 litre engine is one of the best of its class but still struggles with a 0-60 in 12.6 seconds and a real buzz which makes it feel faster than it actually is.  A five-speed box is nice and crisp and adds to the sporting tone.

The test car came with a host of useful extras which does add to the cost.  This car did not bounce about as much as a previous Fiat 500 test car which must be down to the larger 16in wheels fitted.  The rear windows were dark tinted and the Bi-xenon headlights proved their worth in the long drive back from Humberside.  Automatic Climate Control, DAB radio, TomTom Navigation and 7in TFT screen completed the add-ons.

For whatever reasons the Italians still have not offered a rear-view camera on the car.  OK it does have sensors but they need to pick up something, which is not always the case.  Seeing what’s behind you is much more sensible, and likewise door mirrors that electrically fold back when the car is vacated and locked should be an option. 

The whole concept of the Fiat 500 is a tiny vehicle that can be parked in the tightest of spaces in town.  You need every aid to make the best use.

Fiat provides a three-year/150,000km warranty along with roadside assist for three years.

Horses for courses.  As a socially acceptable fun car the Fiat 500C is hard to beat.

STAR RATINGS (out of 10)

Performance 5
Handling 7
Transmission 8
Noise 7
Economy 6
Ride and Comfort 7
Accommodation 6
Styling 8
Brakes 9
Finish 8

TOTAL:  71%

Price as tested. £14,080

AND FINALLY: Qantas-speak

Qantas has advised staff that using words such as mum, dad, husband and wife might offend passengers.

Words like love, honey and darling are also on the blacklist, according to material posted on the Qantas intranet as part of the airline's 'Spirit of Inclusion' month and subsequently leaked to  The Daily Telegraph  in Sydney.

It suggested “gender-specific” terms such as husband and wife could be seen to exclude same-sex couples, while addressing passengers as mum and dad might upset single-parent families.

Qantas said the material was for internal discussion on workplace inclusivity and it had not changed any rules or imposed any new policies or procedures.