22 APRIL 2019

The Business Travel News
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COMMENT: Drones an international problem?

Speculation that last year’s drone incident at Gatwick was the work of an insider brought the subject back into the headlines last week following a BBC Panorama probe into what it called an “attack”.

Whilst Gatwick was the focus of the pre-Christmas difficulties the fact is that airports anywhere in the world face the same concerns.  Long gone are the days when a simple fence was the total security requirement.  Will ‘drones’ be raised at the forthcoming IATA AGM and what has ICAO got to say, the UN’s representative when it comes to civil aviation? 

On the Panorama programme, airport officials were generous in describing it as well balanced in the sense it was mainly of interest for public consumption. Industry experts, however, it was suggested, might take a different view.

On the “insider” suggestion, Gatwick chief operating officer Chris Woodroofe, who led the response to the incident, issued what was described as a “less sensationalist” wider reply, noting those responsible did not necessarily have to be part of the airport.

He said: “It is clear that the drone operators had a link to what was going on at the airport, be that a visual link, be that a radio link, or even using the internet where most of this information is available.”

On specific charges in the BBC programme, Woodroofe said: “There was no government-approved equipment that we could go and buy. The equipment that I have on site today, that I spent £5m on, is painted sand-yellow because it came from the military environment. This is the first time that it has been used commercially.”

Dave Eldridge of Chess Dynamics, part of the trio of British tech companies supplying Gatwick with the AUDS Anti-UAV Defence System, also presented on the programme.

The subject will be aired more thoroughly when both Woodroofe and Eldridge will be joined by the leading counter-UAS Metropolitan Police officers at the Metropolitan Police Aviation Policing Command Airports Counter Terrorism Conference, which takes place at the Heathrow-hosted British-Irish Airports Expo at London Olympia on 12 June.

BALPA has had words to say over the problem and at a national level the All-Party Parliamentary Group for General Aviation (APPG-GA) and the British Model Flying Association (BMFA).  Airports (and airlines) from all over the world should be watching this London event.  Whilst the BBC focussed on what was a domestic challenge BTN believes that drones are an urgent major international counter terrorism conundrum that has to be tackled with urgency.

"Major steps" in B737 MAX case

“Major steps” towards completing work on a software fix for the B737 MAX flight-control system suspected in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airways accidents were reported by Boeing last week following a test flight, raising hopes the grounded global fleet could soon be back in the air.

The work involves upgrading the flight control law software of the aircraft manoeuvring characteristics augmentation system (MCAS). Boeing conducted the 40min final test flight of the system over western Washington state on Tuesday.

The company has also received a boost from Southwest Airlines, which flies only B737s. It is by far the biggest 737 MAX customer in the US with 34 among its fleet, and said last week it has plans for many more.

Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly told a chamber of commerce event in Dallas that Southwest had no plans to abandon the MAX and intended to buy “hundreds" more.

He added: "It's a very good airplane, but Boeing has acknowledged that they've got some things they need to address with the software… It seems like it's a relatively straightforward modification. We're obviously anxious to get the airplane back in service."

215,000 easyJet flights

Nearly 215,000 flights with a post-Brexit “business as usual” guarantee, including many to top business destinations, have gone on sale with the unveiling by easyJet of its winter 2019/20 programme, covering the period from 27 October 2019 – 28 March 2020 and offering more than 37m seats.

Of these, more than 19m seats are now on sale to and from the UK on 111,000-plus flights. Examples include Gatwick – Toulouse, Stansted – Naples, Luton – Paris, Bristol – Innsbruck, Manchester – Bilbao and Agadir, Newcastle – Belfast and Bristol, Liverpool to Sardinia, Edinburgh – Paphos, Glasgow – Venice and Southend – Alicante.

EasyJet UK country director Neil Slaven said: “Putting our flights for winter 2019/20 on sale means passengers can look forward to even more low fares to Europe’s best city destinations while for anyone looking for information on where they are going, our Inspire Me app on the website helps travellers to find flights tailored to their budgets and travel dates.

Slaven said passengers could “rest assured that we will be flying as usual whatever the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations”.

EasyJet has bases across 11 UK airports and flies to more than 1,000 routes on its network across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Air Mauritius A330-900 arrives

The Indian Ocean’s first Airbus A330-900neo took a bow at Heathrow last week as Air Mauritius hosted an unveiling event the day before the aircraft entered service on the airline’s London – Mauritius route.

The airline has now become the first to operate both the A350 XWB and A330-900neo aircraft and the first to operate the A330-900neo in the Indian Ocean.

The aircraft seats 288 passengers, 28 in Business Class with state-of-the-art entertainment system, individual 15.4in HD LED screen and aisle access. Economy Class features 18in wide seats and individual 11.1in HD LED screens.

Air Mauritius CEO Somas Appavou said: “The addition of two new A330neos to our fleet will bring more flexibility and efficiency to our operations, while supporting our network strategy.

“The aircraft offers similar levels of comfort as the A350 XWB, which has received favourable feedback from passengers and allows us to reinforce our focus and emphasis on the customer, who is at the very core of our business model.”

Regional manager UK and Ireland Ian Nash added: “We are confident this new cutting-edge aircraft will provide the perfect start for our passengers to begin their trips to Mauritius.”

Airport upgrade for Europcar

A major refurbishment designed to “enhance the customer experience” has been unveiled by Europcar at its Heathrow facility, which is now the largest location in the UK for the car and van rental company.

The outlet has been fitted with the latest technology, offering 24hr access to vehicles in a move that Europcar says underlines the brand’s commitment to meet the needs of travellers arriving at and departing from one of the world’s busiest airports.

In recognition that a large proportion of travellers arriving at Heathrow will be heading into the capital, the car and van fleet is fully compliant with the newly-introduced Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

Europcar also operates an “Arrive and Drive” service at Terminal 3 to meet passengers outside the arrivals hall and take them straight to their Europcar vehicles.

Europcar Mobility Group UK managing director Gary Smith said: “Our refurbished Heathrow location has been purpose-built to deliver quality and convenience for business or leisure.

“We understand the value of a smooth, uninterrupted journey, which is why we have invested in a contemporary location offering a range of services designed to help people reach their destination without delays.”

Another Crossrail delay?

Crossrail, the project to build a new east-west railway underneath central London, could be further delayed until 2021, according to the BBC last week. The report emerged from a senior source associated with the programme, the company said.

The project, officially called the Elizabeth Line, is planned to run between Reading and Shenfield in Essex and had been due to open last December. This date was then put back.

Crossrail said testing of the trains and signalling was "progressing well" but the sources told the BBC this phase - known as dynamic testing - was "proving more difficult than was first thought". The source said: "It all depends on how dynamic testing goes between now and the end of this year.

According to the BBC, the source reckoned with the current state of the project in mind, a "best case scenario" would be the new Elizabeth Line opening in spring 2020. A "middle-probability case" would be next summer and "a worst case is the spring of 2021."

One reason for the uncertainty is work to match a new signalling system with software on the new trains is still ongoing, while stations along the route are incomplete with Paddington and Bond Street are the furthest behind.

Readers must be aware that BTN has campaigned for a station to be incorporated at Silvertown for London City Airport, the terminal entrance just over 100m away.  It is simply ludicrous that the only airport completely in London is not connected to the line initially due to political meddling and later intransigence by Crossrail.  BTN is professionally advised that a station can be added at little cost and minimum disruption to the much delayed project.  The DfT has confirmed it is down to TfL to institute such a scheme.  BTN says the Mayor should establish a urgent review if not for the airport but for Silvertown.

Anti-airport council attacked

Supporters of Heathrow expansion say local democracy in Hillingdon has hit a new low after the council banned a petition on its website which calls for an end to the use of taxpayers’ money on its legal challenge to the airport development.

The petition says the council should start co-operating with Heathrow instead “so residents can benefit from new jobs and prosperity when the new runway is completed”.

The resident who submitted the document was told it fell foul of petition rules because “it seeks to directly overturn a fundamental, democratically approved policy of the council where there has been substantial consultation on the matter”.

The resident said: “I am shocked that the council can use this tactic to avoid listening to what is a serious issue for residents, who are angry that the council has spent more than £1m of public money on legal fees and funding anti-expansion groups.

“They (the council) refuse to listen or engage even when they know opinion has shifted and people have changed their mind.”

The matter has now been taken up by the Back Heathrow group. Executive director Parmjit Dhanda said: “Local politicians are in danger of bringing themselves into disrepute. They are elected to engage with, not ignore, their residents.”

Arora Hotels new opening

As major development continues at Heathrow, the airport gains another hotel this summer with the Hilton Garden Inn Terminal 2 taking bookings from 14 August. Part of the Arora Hotels portfolio, it will connect directly to the terminal via a covered walkway.

The property (below) has 369 rooms with free wi-fi and mini-fridges. Other features include 335sq m of meeting space, a 24hr fitness centre, two restaurants and a sky bar with 350deg views of the airport. Arora says the walk to the terminal will take about 5min.

General manager James Street said: “This will be the first Hilton Garden Inn to be added to the Arora Group portfolio, and we look forward to delivering the highest levels of service in a hotel situated at Heathrow’s most prime location.”

Street joins the new venture from an Arora Group sister property, the Renaissance London Heathrow, where he was operations manager since 2015. Before this, he led the team at Holiday Inn London Heathrow T5 as general manager, following the hotel's refurbishment in June 2014.

The Arora Group also operates the recently-opened Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Express hotels at Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which are linked to the terminal by a bridge, plus the Holiday Inn London Heathrow T5 and the Sofitel London Heathrow.

Bristol Marriott restored

Claimed to be the oldest hotel in its home city, the Bristol Marriott Royal has completed a multi-million-pound restoration designed to capture and preserve the 150-year-old Victorian heritage of the building and its West Country surroundings.

The refurbishment programme at the hotel, which overlooks College Green and the neo-Gothic surrounds of Bristol University, has covered all the 226 rooms and 16 suites, six meeting rooms and 20 breakout rooms.

Also given a new look are the hotel’s event spaces, said to be among the most spacious in Bristol, including the iconic Grade II listed Victorian Palm Court room which has been meticulously restored.

Designed by Ashley McCabe, the renovation of the suites has been inspired by the nearby Bristol Cathedral and Bath Stone, which also adorns the exterior. Each suite features upgraded amenities including four-poster beds while the refurbished bedrooms offer quality bedding and large desks.

The hotel also provides a culinary destination in a Miller & Carter Steakhouse plus a flagship restaurant for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner as well as an extensive bar list.

Other facilities include a fitness centre with an indoor pool, well-equipped gym and a day spa.

Carlisle Airport opens reservations

After 25 years, the renamed Carlisle Lake District Airport is to reopen for scheduled airline services on 4 July with Loganair as the lead carrier. 

Carrying the IATA code CAX, the airport is just six miles from the M6 motorway.

The initial destinations will be Belfast, Dublin and Southend using 33-seat Saab 340 aircraft. Typical flight time to Southend will be 1hr 25min, to which can be added the simple station transfer and 53min journey to London Liverpool Street in the heart of the city (2½hr total). The fastest train is 3hr 21min to Euston.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has put almost £5m into a project to improve the airport runway and terminal. Executive director Graham Haywood said: “Carlisle Lake District Airport will have a huge impact on Cumbria’s visitor economy and is also a key strategic business asset for the county. Increasing the numbers of high-spending international visitors is a key target”.

Stobart Group, which owns the 460-acre site, recently became the new operator of Durham Tees Valley Airport and since 2008 also owns Southend Airport, investing in a state-of-the-art terminal building and the first ever purpose-built British airport mainline railway station.

City Cruises corporate events

River Thames operator City Cruises has acquired its first dedicated events boat, named the Erasmus. The vessel, with a capacity of 300 guests, is the company’s only private-hire corporate event venue in London. It is also available for leisure gatherings.

The 38m Erasmus has several versatile indoor and outdoor spaces including three alfresco decks, a formal 130-seat dining space with booth and table seating, plus a large inside mid-deck room.

City Cruises managing director Kyle Haughton said: “We are thrilled to welcome the Erasmus to our London fleet because we have seen a growing demand for private hire among the corporate and leisure market.

“The technology, flexible space, layout and contemporary interior design allows event organisers to host corporate product launches, award ceremonies and company gatherings as well as personal celebrations from weddings to parties.”

Haughton added the Erasmus galley and kitchen team could cater for a wide variety of dining styles, from casual fare and canapés to fine dining and upper-deck barbecues during the summer months.

Corporate and leisure guests can board Erasmus from a London pier of their choice at Westminster, the London Eye or Greenwich. All cruises include London’s main riverside sights.

CRJ900 heads for Uganda

The first two of four CRJ900s ordered by Uganda Airlines in July 2018 have been handed over by Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. The ceremony also installed the carrier as the first operator in Africa of the CRJ Series’ enhanced Atmosphère cabin.

The CRJ900 delivery ceremony was held at the Bombardier facility in Mirabel, Québec, and was attended by executives of both Uganda Airlines and Bombardier Commercial Aircraft as well as shop floor employees who build the CRJ900 aircraft.

Airline CEO Ephraim Bagenda said: “We are thrilled to commence our operations with the world’s leading regional jet, and we look forward to providing the most modern passenger experience in regional aviation to the people of Uganda and across Africa.”

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Fred Cromer added: “We congratulate Uganda Airlines for taking delivery of their first CRJ900 fitted with the Atmosphère cabin in a dual-class configuration with 76 seats, including 12 in First Class.

“The CRJ Series is recognised for its superior economics and efficiency and I am confident it will be the stepping stone for the development of Uganda’s regional air travel.”

El Al moves 1m passengers at Luton

The millionth passenger to fly through Luton (LTN) with El Al was given a special send-off by the airport last week with a commemorative gift, free flight upgrade and car parking package. All passengers were also treated to kosher cookies on the flight.

The milestone coincides with the airline’s 10th anniversary at LTN following the launch of operations from the airport in 2009. In that time, Tel Aviv has become the fifth most popular destination from Luton.

El Al operates up to 19 departures a week and will operate three different aircraft at LTN in 2019, led by the 289-seat three-class Boeing B777-200. El Al passengers have access to the Fast Track security service at the airport.

LLA chief commercial officer Jonathan Pollard said: “We work closely with our airline partners to ensure our passengers have a great choice of routes and destinations, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships with El Al for many more years.”

El Al managing director for West Europe and Africa Oranit Beit Halachmy added: “It has been a successful decade and our close partnership with LTN has made it possible for us to offer passengers the most convenient travel. Here’s to the next million.”

Embraer hails E195 results

Type certification for the Embraer E195-E2 has been granted by the Brazilian Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC), the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) simultaneously, the manufacturer has announced.

Embraer Commercial Aviation president and CEO John Slattery said the news repeated the achievement of the E190-E2. The new aircraft was “another great achievement” from Embraer’s engineering and programme teams, he added.

“They’ve built, and now have certification for, the most efficient single-aisle jet on the market. And they’ve done it again right on schedule and exceeding specification,” Slattery said.

The company said it demonstrated two of the aircraft in the certification campaign, one for aerodynamic and performance testing and the other for interior and maintenance tests.

Slattery said flight tests had revealed the E195-E2 was “better than its original specification”, boasting 1.4% lower fuel consumption and 20% lower maintenance costs. It also has 75% new systems.

“There is no question that airlines are going to love this airplane’s economics,” he added. “The E195-E2 is the ideal aircraft for growing regional business and complementing existing low-cost and mainline fleets.

The E195-E2 is the largest so far in Embraer’s E-Jet E2 series and the largest commercial plane the company has made to date. More than 120 have been ordered.

Heathrow record continues

In the month the UK should have left the EU, statistics from Heathrow for March showed business still climbing. CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Despite Brexit uncertainty, Heathrow remains a bright light for the UK.”

In a key riposte to Remainers’ predictions of economic doom, the airport’s passenger numbers continued to climb, with more than 6.5m customers travelling through the hub and ringing in the 29th consecutive month of record growth.

Notable spikes were recorded on St Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day. An airport spokesman said: “Attitudes towards travel remain strong despite ongoing uncertainty around Brexit.”

Africa performed especially well, increasing by 6.2% compared to March last year. Domestic connections also saw a slight 0.2% uplift with British Airways launching a second service to Inverness and Flybe growing its loads by more than a fifth (23%) with an inaugural flight to Cornwall on 31 March.

The figures revealed more than 149,000 metric tonnes of cargo travelled through the UK’s biggest port by value, which officials said “further demonstrates the importance of Heathrow in a post Brexit world”.

March also saw Heathrow launching its new Innovation Prize to fund ideas and solutions to address the environmental impact of aviation. The prize is sponsored by the airport’s new Centre of Excellence for Sustainability.

Jet hangs on by a thread

Hopes of saving Jet Airways, once India’s largest private airline, were still alive but dwindling at the weekend after officials said they were “reasonably hopeful” a bidding process for a stake in the airline of up to 75% would be successful.

Following a series of cutbacks (BTN 15 April), Jet halted all flight operations indefinitely on Wednesday evening after lenders led by the State Bank of India declined to extend more funds to keep the carrier going.

The carrier, which is reported to owe banks about $1.2bn, had been in difficulties for weeks after failing to receive a stop-gap loan of about $217m from the lenders as part of a rescue deal agreed in late March.

Reuters reported after Wednesday’s shutdown that the crisis at Jet had opened “a window of opportunity” for other airlines which were said to be scrambling for available slots.

But Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: “Passengers will quite rightly be outraged that yet another airline headed for collapse was able to sell tickets to unwitting customers right up to the moment it grounded its planes, once again leaving travel plans in tatters and passengers out of pocket.”

London New York is top route

With almost 3m passengers a year, the 3,400-mile (5,500km) trip between Heathrow and New York JFK has taken the crown as Europe’s busiest international scheduled service, research by Routesonline has found.

A total of 2,919,864 passengers boarded flights between the two destinations in 2018, according to the latest data from Sabre Market Intelligence, a rise of 1.8% compared with the previous 12 months.

Four airlines served the market last year, led by British Airways which the figures show had a 40.7% share of available seats on offer. Virgin Atlantic had 28.5%, American Airlines 20.6% and Delta Air Lines 10.2%.

The ascent of the LHR – JFK route followed a 16.6% year-on-year drop in the number of passengers flying between Heathrow and Dubai International. The Sabre figures show 2.7m passengers flew the route non-stop in 2018, down from 3.2m a year earlier.

Five airlines served the market although two – Qantas and Royal Brunei – ended service during the year. Qantas left after opting to reroute its Sydney – Heathrow flight via Singapore and Royal Brunei opened direct flights.

The remaining eight of the top 10 routes for 2018 were Heathrow – Dublin (1.8m passengers), Istanbul Atatürk (IST) – Tehran (1.74m), Heathrow – Amsterdam (1.72m), Heathrow – Los Angeles (1.6m), Heathrow – Singapore (1.56m), Heathrow – Hong Kong (1.55m), Paris – JFK (1.55m) and Heathrow – Frankfurt (1.54m).

New look, new route for UA

A new livery and a new route were announced by United Airlines last week. The  new look is expected to be unveiled on Wednesday to replace the current globe design United inherited after its merger with Continental Airlines in May 2010.

The pattern was criticised at the time as being little different from the Continental scheme but was regarded as being an easy replacement for United’s older livery which featured a stylised tulip.

The new look was still under wraps at the weekend but United has already introduced some minor changes including a “Swoop” design on its new Boeing B787 and B737 MAX aircraft.

This features a gold stripe that flows along the aircraft instead of cutting straight across in a line and has led to speculation the airline could revive a version of the Tulip design that many passengers say had a strong brand association for United.

On the operational front, United has announced it will launch non-stop service between the US and South Africa for the first time in 15 years in December, with flights between New York Newark and Cape Town.

The route will be operated with a Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, with seats for 252 passengers.

Qatar's VR engineers

In a first for the two companies and in the face of predictions that the number of global air passengers is set almost to double by 2036, Rolls-Royce and Qatar Airways are using Virtual Reality (VR) to train engineers.

A spokesman for the engine manufacturer explained: “The industry faces a growing challenge: more engineers need to be trained to maintain and repair a growing number of aircraft and their engines.

“While practical training will always be the main focus, Rolls-Royce is working on ways to incorporate Virtual Reality into its engineering training programmes as part of its IntelligentEngine vision.”

Qatar Airways engineers are the first in the industry to receive the training, using Rolls-Royce’s pioneering Trent XWB which powers the Airbus A350 and is Rolls’ largest engine.

Previously, an engine would have been transported to Doha to be used for the training, or Qatar Airways would have provided an engine in service, with the risk of damage to equipment and valuable flying time lost.

Rolls-Royce president – civil aerospace Chris Cholerton said: “Just as pilots train in a simulator, engineering tasks can be taught through Virtual Reality. Qatar Airways were first to take delivery of the Trent XWB, and their forward-thinking vision makes them the perfect launch partner for this technology.”

Trains upgrade for the Sleeper

A first look inside new trains due to enter service at the end of next month on the Caledonian Sleeper service was unveiled last week. The overnight rail journey between Scotland and London is operated by Serco on behalf of Transport Scotland.

The details were placed on the company’s revamped website, which as well as showcasing the changes has been redesigned to make it easier to book and explore the destinations the trains serve.

Officials say the service will be transformed by the introduction of the £150m fleet, with 75 new carriages set to make their debut. Accommodation includes rooms with double beds and en-suites, for the first time in the Sleeper’s history.

Options include Comfort Seats, Classic Rooms – solo or shared-use with an option of interconnecting rooms, toiletries included – and solo or shared-use Club Rooms with en-suite, station lounge access, breakfast and included toiletries.

There will also be the Caledonian Double, which features a double bed with en-suite, station lounge access, breakfast and toiletries included, plus double or twin Accessible Rooms with toiletries included.

The new trains will operate initially on the Lowlander route linking London with Glasgow and Edinburgh before being introduced on the Highlander route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.


Yotelair opens in the Jewel

The only hotel within the new Jewel complex which opened last week in Singapore's Changi Airport (BTN 11 March) has made its debut as the first Yotelair in Asia, complementing the parent company’s Yotel property in the city centre.

Located on Level 4 of Lobby H of Jewel, the Yotelair features the brand’s trademark cabins and is accessible from all four terminals at Changi, making it convenient for international travellers and transit passengers alike.

All 130 cabins feature adjustable mood lighting, rain showers, space-saving SmartBeds and multiple power points to charge several gadgets at the same time. Guests also have access to free wi-fi, several food and drink options and a 24/7 gym.

The cabins range from Premium Queen standard, designed for two people, to larger family units sleeping four and aimed at groups of friends or families. There is also a choice of fully accessible accommodation.

With an eye on the modern traveller, the hotel can be booked by the hour for a minimum of four hours or longer, with round-the-clock check-in and check-out options for maximum flexibility.

Yotel currently has five airport hotels – Gatwick, Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris CDG and Istanbul Airport – and five city-centre properties in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC and Singapore, and is expanding rapidly.

ON TOUR: Copenhagen

Trendy Copenhagen serves up a smorgasbord of experiences for BTN editor Richard Cawthorne.

Nyhavn, referred to throughout our tour of Copenhagen as New Haven possibly in deference to the Brits on board, is at the heart of this city’s visitor industry and responds with colourful buildings and tall ships along its waterfront. The former industrial harbour changed character long ago, became home to a certain Hans Christian Andersen, and has never looked back. It is picturesque and some good cafés and restaurants can be found there, notably the Nyhavns Kroen, recommended for lunch despite looking a bit of a tourist trap.

Delivered into Kastrup Airport by British Airways Airbus A320 in around 2hr and armed with the Copenhagen Card, BTN arrived at Nyhavn aboard the Red Buses’ Hop-on Hop-off Tour, such vehicles being a favourite way to orientate yourself in a new city or one you have not visited for some time. Nyhavn is about halfway along the route, which begins opposite Copenhagen’s central rail station. It takes in, among other sights, Denmark’s national museum, the Copenhagen Mall, the formerly “independent” enclave at Christianshavn, the Danish Parliament and Jewish Museum before arriving at the halfway point.

The Copenhagen Card, available in a single- or multi-day format, gives free admission to most of the attractions as well as the Red Buses tour, all public transport including to and from the airport, and waterway cruises offered by Canal Tours Copenhagen.

Many passengers on the bus tour hop off at Nyhavn to join one of the cruises, which take in the city’s various and previously unknown to me harbours and waterways, all with a story to tell. Lasting about 1hr, the trip includes the Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace, the impressive Black Diamond Library and – inevitably – the Little Mermaid, who is not as tiny as rumoured but merely life-sized.

Several of these attractions plus new sights feature in the second half of the bus tour, the difference being you can hop off the bus to explore them properly. Included are the Denmark Design Museum, Rosenborg Castle and the Crown Jewels, the Botanical Gardens and national art gallery, the Latin Quarter, City Hall Square and the nearby Strøget pedestrianised shopping street.

As was evident from the tours and sightseeing we did, Copenhagen is enjoying a visitor revival since being named Number 1 City in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 listings. This was icing on the cake, as the tourist board’s successful “Hygge” campaign drawing attention to the friendliness of the Danish people was already commanding attention.

Helping things along and with recent events in London in mind, Copenhagen is known for its environmental policies and for having one of the most distinguished design cultures anywhere in the world. It’s a great walking city for visitors, while some 56% of Copenhageners who work or study here commute by bike every day. Denmark has invested at least €373m in cycle projects since 2009 and the country is a pioneer in promoting sustainability, including the Grundfos campaign emphasising the careful use of water.

This philosophy extended to the boutique Andersen Hotel where BTN stayed in Copenhagen. Close to the centre of things, it is in the trendy Vesterbro district of vintage shops and boutique stores showcasing Danish designers. Lonely Planet included Vesterbro in its list of 10 of the world's coolest neighbourhoods. The hotel’s bright reception area complete with open fire is a taste of things to come, with the warm welcome reinforced every day by a wine hour offering free drinks from 17:00–18:00 – more hygge in action.

On the eco front, the Andersen, with a comfortable 69 rooms and suites and one of two independent family hotels run by Karen Nedergaard, equips each room daily with fresh water in cartons, not bottles. Along with its sister property the Absalon, it has also just introduced “Concept Green”. This aims to reduce the impact on the environment by giving guests staying for more than one night an option to decline housekeeping and receive vouchers as a reward. Vouchers can be exchanged for drinks at the bar, bicycle hire or a 10% saving on a guided bike tour.

On the food front, BTN discovered the Danes like to eat well with the occasional eccentricity, to our eyes, of pots of lard (called lardo) served with many dishes. They can safely be left if you’re not in the mood. There is plenty of fish, especially herring in various forms, a slight emphasis on pork but otherwise mostly as expected.

We were recommended to Uformel in the city centre at Studiestræde 69 for its four-course tasting menu with wine pairing, a handy way of getting an introduction to the local fare. Copenhagen is not as expensive as rumour has it, but this was a special treat at £80 a person. Featured dishes were salted cod, tartar of Danish beef, guinea fowl and a lemon tart with ice cream, all good, politely and efficiently served and a genuine foodie experience.

We were also fortunate to discover right next to the Andersen another atmospheric restaurant, Frk. Barners Kaelder, which roughly translates as Mrs Barners’ Cellar and sums up things admirably. More good service and a starter of assorted herrings “according to the chef’s mood”. On the evening BTN attended, this meant marinated, curried, pickled and a special with dill, apple and aquavit. Main courses were various meat and fish dishes.

The one thing we missed was the Tivoli Gardens, right in the centre of Copenhagen, which opened for the season the week after we were there. Basically a giant fairground and very popular with the locals as well as visitors, it offers more than two dozen rides, live entertainment and more than 30 places in which to eat. Not to be missed, assuming you’re in town at the right times, though even out of season Copenhagen is definitely one for the must-do list.

AND FINALLY: United's weighty problem

United Airlines has announced it will be the first US carrier to offer non-binary gender options throughout all booking channels in addition to giving passengers the option to select the title "Mx" during the reservation process.

Customers can identify themselves as M (male), F (female), U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified), corresponding with what is on their passports or identification.

Chief customer officer Toby Enqvist says: "United is excited to share with our customers, whether they identify along the binary of male or female or not, that we are taking the steps to exhibit our care for them while also providing additional employee training to make us even more welcoming for all customers and employees."

But, asks BTN, has United thought this out?

Clearly United pilots are using an average weight for their load sheets and are not concerned with the way some other carriers operate, using 75kg for men and up to 95kg for women.

And what happens with connecting flights? Will family Star Alliance carriers accept “undisclosed” passengers or, even worse, “unspecified”?

Has United Airlines weighed up the problems?