Friday, 19 December 2008

The Great Escape at Christmas

or those living in northern Europe, it is becoming an increasingly popular trend to escape the winter cold and the Christmas excesses, by heading instead to warmer climes for Christmas. What better way to enjoy the winter break than by relaxing in the sun, leaving behind the manic shopping, cooking, endless guests, and the snow and ice that you almost break your leg on as you try to get round all the Christmas parties?

Although the resorts of some popular holiday locations such as Greece and Turkey tend to shut down over the winter period, locations such as the Costa del Sol, the Canaries, or North Africa are ideal at this time of year, and a look through the search engines of the main holiday sites can turn up some very good deals. You could even head for the warmth of Goa, or the Caribbean.

You might think that Christmas Day itself would be the one of the days of the year that you would not consider flying, but booking a flight on this day does turn up some rather good bargains. Flights for the 23rd and 24th of December get booked up well in advance, and because of the demand, air tickets and holidays leaving on these days tend to sell at pretty steep prices. So if you want to get a real holiday or flight bargain, take a look at flights departing on Christmas Day itself.

In terms of holidays, I once bagged a magnificent two-week half-board holiday at a beautiful four star hotel on the Costa del Sol at an utterly knockdown price because the departure flight was on Christmas Day. Not only that, but the travel agent phoned us back with a further discount when it was realised that we would get in just too late for the Christmas Day Gala Dinner in the evening. In actual fact, when we arrived, a lovely welcoming dinner for just the two of us was laid out and waiting for us in the dining room. And we didn't miss out on the experience of a great Gala Dinner either, as included in the holiday cost was the superb celebratory of many courses for New Year’s Eve, along with preprandial drinks, champagne and goody bags.

So if the endless Christmas preparations along with the cold are wearing you out this year, think about a great escape for Christmas 2009.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Airport Focus: London City Airport

Situated in the former East London dockland area, London City Airport is a single runway airport which enjoys the status of being the only airport that is actually within London, and is the closest private jet centre to central London. Not only that, but London City Airport is a mere two miles from the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, which will give it great importance around the time of the next Summer Olympics. The airport is but three miles from Canary Wharf, six miles from the bustling financial City of London, and passengers travelling to and from the airport can enjoy fast transfers on the Docklands Light Railway, with a journey time of just 22 minutes to Bank Tube Station in the heart of the City.

With neat credentials such as these, it’s not surprising that London City Airport experienced record growth last year, with over 2.9 million passengers travelling through the terminal.

With its proximity to the financial district, and obvious convenience for those involved in finance, the airport gets considerable support from the business community. The ease of use of the airport is made even more so with faster check-in times than any other London airport.

Next year British Airways will launch from here its first business-class only transatlantic service to New York on the Airbus A318, which will be the first ever transatlantic scheduled flight from the airport.

London City Airport has recently made available throughout the whole of the terminal area free WiFi for all its passengers, and is the first airport in the UK to offer this service.

So from former dockland area to well-located airport, London City Airport is continuing the tradition of international links to East London.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Thai protest closes Bangkok airports

If you are on holiday in Thailand at the moment, you have probably realised that you are going to have some difficulty leaving the country. Yesterday the Thai riot police were on the run from their checkpoint outside Bangkok’s international airport when they were seen off by several hundred anti-government protesters.

On Friday 2,000 riot police had been deployed all around the airport, and it was suggested that they were going to evict the members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), who have occupied the terminal since Tuesday. The occupation has forced the cancellation of all flights, leading to turmoil and uncertainty for travellers in and out of Thailand.

An estimated 2,000 protesters have barricaded themselves into Suvarnabhumi airport and Bangkok's second airport, Don Muang, singing songs, waving flags, young and old, highly critical of the Thai government, but filled with loyalty for the Thai Royal Family.

Meanwhile, thousands of stranded passengers have been put up in hotels, waiting for the standoff to end.

Some travellers have been taken on buses from the resort town of Pattaya to the Vietnamese naval airbase of U-Tapao, which is south of Bangkok, and more than 60 flights have taken off from there.

In the light of the fact that the police have not been able to evict the demonstrators, the Thai prime minister has now sacked the police chief, Pacharawat Wongsuwan.

The PAD protesters, wearing hard hats and goggles, and armed with iron bars, are manning the barricade that they have built on the approach road to the airport.

Indicative of the popular nature of this uprising, the prime minister tried to reassure people in a national address on Friday that the airports would be cleared peacefully. “Don't worry,” he said. “Officials will use gentle measures to deal with them.”

Interestingly, cheap flights are still being offered to Bangkok - but probably by the time you have booked, all this will have blown over. Meanwhile, if you are stuck in Thailand, drop us a comment and let us know how things are.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Alitalia strike to save jobs and routes stops flights

It has been a tough week so far for people booked to fly with Alitalia, as Monday’s strike led to interminable queues, delays, and cancellations at Italian airports, because the strike had forced the carrier to cancel dozens of flights. The strike is in opposition to management’s plan to cut routes and jobs.

The long lines at Alitalia check-in counters at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport stretched almost to 100 metres as the terminal struggled with a backlog of hundreds of passengers who had spent the night sleeping on the floor or in chairs after their flights were cancelled due to the strike on Monday.

Some angry travelers even had to be calmed down by police as tempers grew, and ground staff started to feel unsafe.

Alitalia said that a total of 124 flights had been cancelled on Tuesday as a result of the Monday strike itself, and also because of work-to-rule action afterwards.

Some 200 Alitalia flight attendants and pilots staged a wildcat strike on Monday, blocking the crew entrance at Leonardo da Vinci and preventing staff wanting to fly from entering the terminal.

About forty flights in and out of Rome and Milan were cancelled on Saturday and further delays are expected next week.

The airline, which is 49.9 percent state-owned, is currently losing some three million euros (3.8 million dollars) a day.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Skiing in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a perfect place for skiing and snowboarding, it is well suited for beginners and there are some cheap skiing holidays to be found. The ski resorts in Bulgaria are some of the most modern in Europe and are very well equipped with good ski schools and facilities.

Basically, there are three main ski resorts in Bulgaria known as Borovets, Pamporovo and Bansko. Borovets is the largest and also the most developed, making it ideal for beginners and mixed ability groups. Pamporovo is a sunny ski resort situated at the foot of the Snezhanka Mountain with an outstanding ski school and a great lift system, whilst Bansko is situated in the Pirin mountain region and is growing in popularity having previously been championed by Bulgarians skiers for years.

For affordable ski holidays and summer breaks in the mountain resorts of Borovets and Bansko, why not visit Spirit holiday rentals which specialise in Innovative skiing holiday experiences including ski packages in Borovets and ski packages in Bansko. They have apartments situated very close to resort centres, and only a short walk from gondolas, bars, restaurants and shops.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Embraer use London City for trials

It seems that Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has scheduled a number of flight trials for its new E-190 aircraft at bustling gateway London City Airport, which is right next to the Canary Wharf business district. The reason for this choice is that London City is regarded as an ideal place for Embraer to secure the steep approach certification, because all inbound flights to the airport must perform a 5.5 degree approach, and manufacturers legally have to demonstrate up to 7.5 degree capability.

London City Airport is the UK’s leading business airport with ten airlines serving 32 destinations across the UK and Europe, and connections to the rest of the world through the major European hubs.

Embraer is seeking to have two of its four-member E-Jet family certified for use at London City, and one of its models, the E-170, received approval from the gateway last summer.

With its versatile cabin layout and “big jet” feel, the Embraer 190 is the ideal model for replacing older 100-seat aircraft, and offers lower operating costs and an impressive mission performance.

Embraer spokesman Luiz Fuchs says, “The Embraer 190 will be certified [for London City operations] by the end of next year, in the last quarter of 2009.” The Embraer 190 will be put through intensive trials including take-offs, landings and manoeuvring.

When it comes to proving that your new aircraft can handle those steep angles, London City Airport offers aircraft manufacturers the right environment to show what a plane can do.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Where do you fly to, my lovely?

The jet-set were immortalised in the 1969 song by Peter Sarstedt, “Where do you go to, my lovely?”, about a wealthy young lady named Marie-Claire who led a wonderful life, mixed with famous people, and was based in Paris when she wasn’t flying around the world to see her friends – “the jet-set”. The final verse in fact reveals the irony that Marie-Claire came from poverty in Naples. So who were the jet-set? Did they ever exist? Where have they gone to?

It is said that the term jet-set was originally used by journalist Igor Cassini to describe an international group of wealthy people who could travel around the world to different social events that were beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

It was in the 1950’s that jet passenger services became available, with BOAC launching the world’s first ever commercial jet service between London and New York, and because of the expense flights were only really available to the well-off. Soon Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, Bermuda and the south of France were on the jet-set circuit, allowing the wealthy to enjoy a very international social life, very much in the fashion of those portrayed in Federico Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita”.

However, from the 1960’s budget package holidays started to become available, and were well within the reach of a more affluent general population. So travelling by jet plane was no longer the preserve of the well-heeled. However, travel for the masses tended to be by package holiday charter plane, with scheduled flights, especially long haul, still being a major outlay to most people.

From the seventies however a new breed of jet-set emerged in the form of intrepid backpackers who travelled long haul, and to places such as India and Thailand that had been a bit of the beaten track for most travellers. Budget travel trips lasting a few months remain ever popular, and a member of the contemporary jet-set is now as likely to be somebody in jeans with a rucksack, as somebody in a fur coat. Let’s hope that rising fuel costs don’t completely put paid to this.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Fine fayre above the clouds

The thought of an airline meal tends to summon up images of a plastic carton of food that has just been in the microwave. So, does it get any better than this? Well, the answer is it can do if you fly first class, and you choose your airline carefully.

A recent survey into airline meals eaten in first class reported by AOL Travel found Gulf Air to be offering the most top notch repast, which may be something to do with the fact that each plane has a chef on board. The in-flight chef produces dishes such as honey glazed quail on a sweet potato cake, or Arabic spiced veal ragout!

In second place is Cathay Pacific, where the food preparation is completed on board with rice cookers, skillets and toasters which are used to complete a breathtaking variety of Chinese and Western dishes. In first class they also have a fridge where you can help yourself to top quality sandwiches, and other yummy snacks. A great way to pass the time in the air.

In third place was Singapore Airlines with its choice of two types of champagne - Dom Perignon, or Krug. Some of the dishes available recently have been Korean style eel fillet, Wagyu beef and spicy chicken satay. This very excellent food is served on Givenchy china, and you can wash it all down with a gourmet coffee afterwards.

In fourth place is Qantas who serve tasty caviar before every meal in first class. This is followed by no less than eight courses, including such fantastic delights as shiitake wontons, grilled lamb cutlets in olive sauce, and quince tart with thick cream.

So, be prepared to eat well if you choose to travel in style.

The best of Spain

A criticism I often here levelled at the idea of a holiday in Spain is that they lack any kind of cultural experience and rarely offer travellers an insight into the real Spain beyond bucket and spade package holidays, crowded beaches and cheap Sangria.

However, if you dig deep enough you will discover that there is much more to discover. Fiesta Bonita is the ultimate Spanish experience not to be missed on the Costa del Sol. It is bridging the gap between tourists and true Spanish fiesta enabling them to experience authentic Spain.

Founded by a small team with over 40 years experience in the leisure and travel industry, the fiesta Bonita concept was conceived through their united passion for all things great in Spain including Flamenco - a passionate art form and a mysterious and misunderstood culture that has been burning in AndalucĂ­a for hundreds of years.

This exciting firm promises customers a traditional view of Spain, beginning with a journey through the rolling hills amid stunning scenery, to a secret country location. From there, you will be stunned at the views and overwhelmed by the wonderful cortijo complete with a mini bullring where a flamenco horse show takes place. Following a taste of local wines, cocktails and traditional cuisine, a two part flamenco show will give visitors the opportunity to learn to dance and enjoy an authentic Spanish party in its true environment.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Ways of preventing jet lag

An example of how much our bodies are attuned to the Circadian rhythm is shown by the fact that research into the design of space stations has found that altering the lighting to mimic the daily cycle of light and dark, helps astronauts to adapt more easily to being up in space and away from the earth.

So is there anything at all that you can do to prevent jet lag? Well, some of the symptoms of jet lag can actually be caused by dehydration, so be sure to drink plenty of water when you are in the air. Also try not to overdo the coffee and alcohol over the course of long haul, as both of these dehydrate the body. I must admit though that this is easier said than done.

Another tip is that before your journey you start to try and think in terms of the time at your destination, and get earlier or later nights as necessary, in order to match the cycle of day and night at the place you are travelling to. However this idea may not be terribly feasible if you have a busy work schedule to keep to right up to the point of departure.

If you do end up getting jet lag, you will probably find that while you are trying to adapt to the new time zone at your destination you are feeling lively and awake when everyone else is going to bed, and that you are exhausted and sleepy when everyone else is getting up and going to work. Try to counteract this by taking some modest exercise, such as walking, during the day, as this will help you to sleep that bit better at night. Try to rest when you are fatigued, and bear in mind that after a few days you will be fully adapted to your new daily rhythm.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

What causes jet lag?

If you’ve ever suffered from jet lag you’ll know about it, as the thrill of arrival at your final destination is tainted by symptoms ranging from a very obvious fatigue and disruption of sleep patterns, to slight nausea, headache, disorientation, feeling groggy, irritable and even mildly depressed. Some people seem to be able to fly long distances and not feel too bad, while others can’t settle down in their new environment for a number of days.

So what causes all this? One of the reasons for jet lag is that your Circadian rhythm has been disrupted. This is your natural bodily rhythm that attunes itself to day and night, light and dark, making you wake up at a certain time in the morning, and start to feel sleepy in the evening. Anyway, when you travel across a number of time zones, your body clock is out of synchrony with the time at your destination, so that when you finally arrive your Circadian rhythm is most likely still working according to the time at the place you departed from, not according to your place of arrival.

So if you do get jet lag, how long will it last? A good rule of thumb is that it will last approximately one day for each time zone crossed, so if you fly from the UK to Japan, you might expect to have your Circadian rhythm disrupted for around nine days, whereas if you flew from London to New York, you might only feel this sense of disruption for five days.

But there is one odd quirk, it is said that jet lag is worse when you fly from west to east, rather than the other way round.

In my next post, I will talk about some ways of alleviating jet lag.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Computer systems at Swanwick to blame for flight delays

Flights today have been cancelled and hundreds more delayed, at airports in the south-east of England, due to a problem with computer systems at Britain’s main air traffic control centre at Swanwick. Between 4.00 pm and 4.30 pm no flights were able to leave from the London airports of Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. This led to a backlog of around thirty planes at Heathrow, which is one of the busiest airports in the world.

It seems that the Swanwick centre of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) suffered a computer failure that meant that the planes at high altitudes could not be properly monitored. The effects of this awkward glitch are now spreading around the UK and Europe.

A spokeswoman at Luton Airport said, “We are suffering delays due to the restrictions placed on flights by NATS”.

Swanwick cost some £620 million, and was actually completed six years behind schedule. Today is not the first time that the centre has suffered problems - after opening back in 2002 the centre was beset with a number of computer problems, suffering three failures in as many months. Swanwick was built by private companies, amidst the controversy that accompanied the privatisation of NATS, when it was sold off to an airline consortium which included British Airways and Virgin.

Amidst problems for the airline industry with rising fuel costs, and companies going bust, the last thing that both passengers and the industry need is problems with air traffic control leading to delays and cancellations.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Why waiting for your plane is time to chill out

Packing and getting ready to go away on holiday, despite the excitement and anticipation, always feels like such a rush – or at least it does to me. Packing is not one of my great loves. So as soon as I get to the airport, check in, get rid of that suitcase, go through security, and arrive in the departure lounge, I am all ready to just head for a bar or a cafe for a bit of well-earned relaxation, while waiting for the flight to be called.

However some airports have even more facilities for chilling out than just coffee, beer or bookshops. At the Hong Kong International Airport you can get a massage, including a wonderfully relaxing foot massage. Or if you like to have a soak to wash away all the travel cares, Nagoya Airport in Japan has the only bathhouse where you can watch planes take off and land from a hot tub.

Vancouver Airport has pods that you can go to sleep in, and several spa points across the airport where you can get massages and facials. A lot of airports are now offering massage chairs, where you just put a coin into the slot, sit back and relax, while the chair gently pummels your back.

At the Newark Liberty International Airport you can have not just manicures, but also pedicures. There are also hair salons where you can even while away some of the time by having your hair cut, permed or coloured.

Recently, as part of a special promotion, massage and holistic therapy was laid on for travellers at the Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood Airport.

It seems that the European airports have got a bit of catching up to do in terms of providing great relaxation facilities for their passengers, but the Robin Hood Airport seems to be making a start.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Faro Airport

Flights to Faro Airport are very important to the tourism industry in Portugal. Cheap flights to Faro carry millions of holidaymakers each year to popular Algarve resorts like Albufeira, Portimao, Vale Do Lobo and Vilamoura.

Extraordinarily, the growth of charter and low-cost flights means there are currently over 10 airlines that offer flights to Faro from dozens of airports in the UK.

An extremely busy airport in the height of summer, Faro benefits from the fantastic year round climate of the Algarve. Of course, for the best deals it is best to book well in advance, and some of the best deals are to be found in late autumn and early spring.

It is well worth considering a holiday in the Algarve with some fantastic flight deals around. If you are still undecided, then just consider the long stretches of golden sandy beaches, brilliant blue waters and year round sunshine and you are sure to be convinced.

Vietnam Flights

Vietnam is easily one of the most charming destinations in Asia with a host of magnificent beaches, beautiful rivers and exotic cities. With tranquil river life and bustling cities, Vietnam really has a lot to offer for nay tourist. Despite the fact that Vietnam tourism is on the increase – around 3.5 million foreign tourists visited in 2006, an increase of 3.7% from 2005 – there are currently no direct flights to Vietnam from the UK. Instead, travellers will need to go via Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo or Taipei.

Airlines offering flights from the UK include British Airways, Air France, Qantas, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, KLM and China Airlines. All of which will fly into one of Vietnams three international airports, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang Hanoi Noi Bai.

The peak season for tourism is July and August, although it is also busy from November to April. In the off-season, such as from April to June and September to November, it can be cheaper to fly to Vietnam depending on your destination.

A good choice is the Vietnam Budgeted Tours Website, which provides what budget travellers want such as Vietnam Budget Tours, discount tours, Sapa treks, halong cruises with unbelievable low rates, discount hotels in Vietnam and backpacker's tours.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

XL suspends all flights

Amidst recent concerns that airlines are in for a tough time due to rising fuel costs and the economic downturn, the news broke yesterday that XL, the UK’s third largest tour operator, has collapsed, leaving some 85,000 holidaymakers stranded and waiting for alternative flights, and around 10,000 passengers having to find their own way home. The company flies to about 50 destinations.

XL Leisure Group had to call in the administrators in the early hours of yesterday morning, as last minute talks with financial backers were not successful. The fleet of planes were grounded, and XL Chief Executive Phil Wyatt said he was “totally devastated” by the collapse, in an announcement that showed him close to tears.

Most of the stranded holidaymakers are in the US, the Caribbean and Europe, but the Civil Aviation Authority is chartering planes to get them home, because they are protected by ATOL, a fund that all UK tour operators are obliged to pay into.

There has now been pressure from the tour industry that the government impose a £1 rescue levy on all airline tickets, because 10,000 of the holidaymakers will not receive any compensation or alternative flight home, as they are not covered by the industry compensation scheme. They are not covered because they do not actually have a holiday package, and booked flights only with XL’s charter subsidiary XL Airlines.

Not only is there concern about those who are currently stranded, but also for the 200,000 who had bookings to fly with XL, and staff who now face job losses.

It certainly seems to be turbulent times for the air industry.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Tips for surviving long haul

It’s one thing to go on a short hop, but a long haul flight of, say, twelve hours, presents completely different challenges. So, having been on rather too many long haul flights myself, I have put together a few tips to help you survive the long haul.

1. Dress comfortably! You are going to spend a long time in one set of clothes, so make sure that they are not too tight. The low air pressure in the cabin during flight tends to make your body swell a bit, so avoid tight waistbands and the like. You might like to slip off your shoes too. Have plenty of layers so that you can be cool if it’s hot, and warm if the cabin is cold – they often tend to be! You also find that your body temperature drops when you are sleeping.

2. Drink loads of water to keep yourself hydrated – the cabin air is very dry, and tends to slowly dry you out. After I have checked in, I usually go and buy a couple of big bottles of water, and drink these over the course of the flight.

3. Go steady on the alcohol. OK, having a few is a great way to pass a bit of a boring time, but one alcoholic drink on a plane is supposed to be the equivalent of two on the ground.

4. Try to exercise. Usually on long haul, once the meal is out of the way, the cabin staff are fairly liberal about letting the passengers walk about the plane a bit. Also, try leg exercises with your shoes off, such as wiggling your foot around so that your toe goes in a circle. Walking and exercises will make you less prone to deep vein thrombosis. If your plane has any stopovers, make sure you do plenty of walking about the airport – don’t just sit it out in a bar or cafĂ©!

Follow these guidelines and you should be well on the way to a happy and healthy flight. Bon voyage!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Zoom Airlines - all flights are suspended

UK-Canadian owned Zoom Airlines, who describe themselves as the "Low Fare Leader Across the Atlantic", have suspended all flights from today, and are now applying to go into administration. The thousands of passengers who were due to fly with them have been told to rebook with other carriers, and to contact their credit or debit card companies to see about a refund.

Zoom blames its misfortunes on the price of jet fuel, which had increased their annual fuel bills by a whopping £27 million.

Zoom has been in business for seven years, and employs 260 staff in the UK, and 450 staff in Canada. Zoom flew from Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast, Paris and Rome. As well as flying to eight destinations in Canada, it flew to New York, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale and Bermuda.

BA and Virgin Atlantic are reported to be offering special fares to passengers who have been let down.

Zoom’s founders, Hugh and John Boyle, have apologised profusely to passengers, explaining that, although Zoom apparently had some financing in place, the creditors still stepped in to seize one of the planes, which then left no alternative but to go into administration.

There have been fears recently that rising fuel costs, along with a possible decrease in demand due to the credit crunch, could take its toll on the airline industry. However, some in the travel industry report that a summer of rain in the UK has kept demand for holidays and flights fairly high over the summer, especially as there are plenty of cheap holiday flights available online.

At times like these it is more important than ever to keep up on the latest news for cheap airfares and hotel deals. For promotional codes, special discounts and offers, sign up to

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Picture this: inflight meals

Inflight meals, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they certainly tend to break the monotony of a long flight, and I have to admit, having flown with a number of different airlines, I have never really had a bad one.

For a short hop, the meal might be just a continental breakfast, or a beverage and a sandwich, but the meals are a bit more elaborate and numerous where long-haul is involved, with lunches and dinners being simple three course meals, usually served with the option of wine.

When you are wondering which airline to travel with, food and catering may well be a factor, and there is actually a way to see what your meals will be like in advance, as there now seems to be a trend for people to photograph their meals, (prior to eating), and post the images up on the web. Try searching for “inflight meals” on Flickr, or alternatively, take a look at the specialist site who have a comprehensive list of photographs of airline meals, complete with rankings and comments that you can search by airline. You can see the lovely cheeses, croissants and yoghurts of Air France, the delightful sushi of JAL, and all the other airlines’ offerings.

Preparing and delivering meals, beverages and snacks to airlines is a big business, and some of the companies that undertake this are Servair, LSG Sky Chefs, and Gate Gourmet. Some airlines even hire celebrity chefs to plan menus for them, which also helps to promote the airline.

So, if you feel like taking a photo of your meal when you are above the clouds, I look forward to seeing it online.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Connecting the Heart of the Midlands with the Gateway to Asia

If you are a big fan of Turkey, and you live in the Midlands, (and by that I mean the Midlands of England), then here is a bit of good news: this year Turkish Airlines are launching the first direct scheduled service from Birmingham to Istanbul.

The flight will be operating from Birmingham Airport from December 15th, initially on a basis of five flights per week, and this will hopefully grow to daily services by the summer of 2009, carrying some 30,000 passengers a year.

Passengers will be able to travel onwards with Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to a choice of 33 domestic Turkish destinations, such as Dalaman or Izmir, and 108 international destinations, such as Hong Kong or Johannesburg.

Turkish Airlines is one of Europe’s major flag carriers, and is also a member of the Star Alliance, along with airlines such as Lufthansa, bmi and Singapore Airlines.

Istanbul has some fabulous attractions, such as the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Topkapi Palace, and a number of very old and artistically styled Turkish baths. Turkish Airlines even offer a free Istanbul tour for transfer passengers, so even if you will not be staying in this magnificent city, you will at least get a chance to see it.

It is great to think that if you live in and around Birmingham it is now just a relatively short hop to Istanbul, and the new flight will no doubt attract people looking for a city break, as well as providing a convenient connection between these two vital centres for business travellers.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Flying into the dragon's mouth - Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong

I once heard somebody say that to land at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong, is like flying into the mouth of a giant dragon. With mountains and skyscrapers so close to it, necessitating a very steep descent, this is exactly what it feels like.

Kai Tak Airport, until 1998, was Hong Kong International Airport, and I landed there twice, both times being amazing experiences. As you make the sharp descent, the plane weaves around tall buildings, and you can almost see into people’s apartments. The plane seems to strain as it eases its way around the buildings, heading for the airport’s only runway, which stretches out into the South China Sea. As the plane touches down, you get that mild rush of adrenalin that landing always gives, and then you look out of the window and see traditional Chinese junks in Hong Kong Harbor, giving you no doubt about where you are. But then as the plane finally grinds to a halt after landing, and wheels round to taxi, you hear a clear and unanimous gasp from the passengers, as they look out, and realise that they are at the very end of the runway, and that they are looking out to sea, a sea which seems very close.

Now the international flights that come into Hong Kong land at the new Hong Kong International Airport on the island Chek Lap Kok, which is no doubt easier for pilots and air traffic controllers, but will probably never quite match the excitement of landing at Kai Tak.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Stormy weather ahead? - Flights, fares and the economy

The chief executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, expressed concern today that rising fuel costs, in combination with low consumer confidence, could be about to take its toll on the airline industry. The downturn in the economy has already put twenty-five airlines out of business this year, including the business carrier Silverjet, based out of Luton.

So just as we have all got used to cheaper airfares, are prices about to dramatically rise?

BA will be cutting some of its flights, no doubt raising questions about the need for a third runway at Heathrow. BA will also apparently be raising fares by about 4 per cent.

Earlier in the week Ryanair were being a little pessimistic, with Michael O’Leary saying that fares were probably going to rise by 5 per cent.

Back in June of this year, EasyJet said that its costs had risen by £4 per customer due to the increased cost of fuel.

So, is it really all doom and gloom?

Well looking at it in terms of profits, Ryanair have had a 20 percent rise in net profit, earlier in the summer BA celebrated record pre-tax profits of £883 million, and EasyJet are expected to make a full-year profit of £150 million.

The major airlines could well be in a good position to economically survive the sudden increase in fuel prices, due to their fuel hedging strategies of buying fuel in advance at a fixed price. BA has bought about two-thirds of its fuel at $86 a barrel until March 2009.

So let’s hope that the air industry will successfully ride out the current economic storm, and that consumers won’t be finding airfares to be out of reach.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Welcome to Life Above the Clouds!

Thank goodness for the Wright brothers! For it was they who designed and built the world’s first practical fixed-wing aircraft, which proved to be the prototype for the planes that we know and love today. Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully took to the air in 1903, and since then, with ever improving technology, aircraft have developed from precarious flying machines into the jet engine powered planes of today that take us on short holiday hops to nearby countries, or around the world on long haul.

Thanks to planes, by the end of the sixties reasonably priced package holidays abroad had become a reality for most people in the UK, and once-popular British seaside resorts went into a serious decline as a result. By the seventies and eighties long-haul flights to the USA, Asia and Australia were no longer the preserve of the well-heeled, and increasing numbers of people started to consider travel further afield.

Now it is possible to fly non-stop from the UK to the Far East, and flight is becoming a little greener with the introduction of planes such as the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which will use 20% less fuel than similar sized planes.

In Life Above the Clouds I will be blogging about flying, flights, flight destinations, airports, airplanes, new flight routes, bargain flights, cheap flights, business flights, luxury flights, security, most popular routes, and anything else that springs to mind in terms of being in the air in the pursuit of hot destinations.