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!