Sunday, 22 November 2009

Finnair launches mobile phone boarding passes and text message check in

I have flown with Finnair many a time, and find them to be absolutely fantastic, with great cabin staff, food, the works. And Helsinki Airport is a clean, pleasant place – lovely for buying seasonal gifts if you are heading home for Christmas. Anyway, it’s interesting to hear that Finnair have now launched mobile phone boarding passes and text message check in. Not bad, eh?

So how does this work? Well, the mobile phone boarding pass consists of a 2D bar code which gets scanned at the airport. This boarding pass will apparently work on all mobile phones, though I do wonder about some of those really old ones that some Luddites insist on carrying about.

Finnair’s Sales Director for the UK, Tomi Hänninen, says: “The mobile boarding pass system cuts passengers’ carbon footprint by removing the need for passengers to print out and keep track of a paper boarding pass, thus eliminating waste paper. Customers will also see a tangible benefit through using the mobile boarding pass system as it will speed up the check in process, affording Finnair flyers even greater stress free travel.”

As for the text message check-in, this is available to members of the frequent flyer programme Finnair Plus. If you have luggage then you need to go to the baggage drop desk where it can be checked in. No luggage? In that case you can get going straight to the gate with no faffing around standing in those interminable queues so typical of airports.

For morning departures Finnair sends out a check-in text message the previous evening between 17:00 and 19:00, and for afternoon departures the message is sent about three hours before departure time.

It’s good to see that the handy and ubiquitous mobile can be used to make life simpler at airports, and no doubt other airlines will be keen to follow this trend.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Air Canada try out in-flight internet access

If you are one of those who can’t bear to parted from the internet even for a minute, and dread passing the time of long haul flight with little to do, then the recent innovation of some airlines to provide internet access in the air will no doubt have come as a welcome development. In-flight internet access using the quaintly named Gogo network is now available on some U.S. airlines, including Virgin America, Delta, AirTran and American Airlines.

The latest airline to get in on the act is Air Canada who have just launched a ten week trial period during which certain flights on the Montreal-Los Angeles and Toronto-Los Angeles routes will offer web access. The price isn’t too bad either, with access costing US$9.95 for laptops and US$7.95 for phones and PDA’s. However, for the time being the service will only be available when flying over the USA.

The whole concept of web access in the air is certainly an exciting development because simply going online must be the perfect way to while away those boring hours of long haul. And who can resist the idea of sending emails to friends and family telling them how good it is to be above the clouds?

No doubt competitors will be carefully watching this move as the opportunity to use the internet while flying will give any airline a serious edge and attract passengers. So how long will we have to wait before this trend makes its way across the Atlantic?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Meeting Santa in the Land of the Midnight Sun

Christmas is well on its way, a sure sign being that I walked into my local supermarket to see glittery decorations and a life size model of Santa, as well as hearing jingly music. Some love it, and some hate it. But if you are one of the people that just can’t get enough of Christmas, then you may consider a trip to see Santa.

It’s quite funny that the original Saint Nicholas was from Myra in Turkey, but in the nineteenth century he suddenly morphed into the fat red-coated gentleman who lives in the north, and it seems that now Lapland is thought to be his traditional home. It could have something to do with the wonderfully snowy environment of the north that people so associate with Christmas.

If you want to see Santa Claus Village, this is just outside the town of Rovaniemi which has its own airport. Santa Claus Village at Rovaniemi is actually open all year round, and here you can meet Santa and his elves. Rovaniemi Post Office receives letters to Santa from children all across the globe, and they even send out replies on colourful, Christmassy notepaper!

Rovaniemi is not just about Santa though, it is also good for shopping with designer stores stocking various top Finnish brands such as Marimekko and Arabia. There are also Santa outlets of course.

But if you feel like a more rural and slightly less commercialised environment, then other airports to head for are Ivalo, Kittila and Kuusamo.

And, in case you are wondering, what or where exactly is Lapland? It is home to the Sami people who were originally a nomadic group roaming the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They lived in tents that were similar to native American tepees, and by the 16th century their economy was largely based on agriculture and reindeer. Obviously today the Sami live in modern houses.

They refer to their land as Sapmi, and this northern area has beautiful fjords, lakes and wilderness. The winters are dark with little sunlight but what little light there is gets reflected from the bright, white snow, and there is also a chance of seeing the aurora borealis. In the summer the place becomes the Land of the Midnight Sun with wonderfully light nights.

The area offers some great opportunities for enjoying winter sports and the great outdoors, and makes a great place to visit summer and winter, Santa or no Santa.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Brits looking for winter sun, despite recession

The nights are getting darker, summer is well and truly over, it’s still moderately warm, but no doubt soon the British weather will be turning to the rain and cold that we expect of the winter in these parts. And I don’t even want to talk about the clocks going back, which will make nightfall seem even earlier. So, what with the recession you might expect that people will be tightening their belts, gritting their teeth, and facing the long cold winter months without selfishly splashing out on a winter break. Wrong! Well, wrong that is according to some travel agents.

The word among the travel agencies seems to be that people are still on the look out for their winter holiday abroad. As has been true to form since the recession kicked in, many people are now looking for their holidays outside Euroland, with destinations such as Turkey, Tunisia or Morocco proving popular.

These predictions are despite the fact that significant numbers of Brits chose to holiday in the UK this year, which has been charmingly called "staycation".

So is this a case of the travel agents trying to talk up a storm of people heading out of Blighty over the winter? Are they hoping for good holiday sales this winter after what may have been a poor showing over the summer?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, if over the dark, cold months ahead you yearn for some winter sun, there are plenty of cheap flights available to get you where you want to be.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Privatised JAL after public money

I have only ever flown with JAL once and that was not by choice. But I had to get from Kansai to Hong Kong on an Air France endorsed ticket, and they had booked me with JAL. The JAL flight turned out to be an experience I could well have done without. When the surly stewardess came round with the free newspapers she glared at my non-Japanese face and said, “I haven’t got one for you!”, (despite the fact that I lived in Japan and could read some Japanese, not that she bothered to find out). I think in all my years of frequent flying I had never, and have never since, experienced such downright rudeness. JAL was an airline that I then proceeded to forget all about, until recently, when I heard that Japan’s transport minister, Seiji Maehara, has just said that he will not force the struggling JAL to go bankrupt.

So it turns out that the Japanese government has appointed a team of corporate experts to create a restructuring plan for the airline, because JAL’s own draft reconstruction plan has been described as “insufficient”. This crack team will be making recommendations by late October or early November.

So what has forced JAL to come to this pretty pass? Well, the airline has just notched up its biggest-ever quarterly net loss of 99 billion yen ($1 billion) in the quarter up to June, and it is forecast that there will be a net loss of 63 billion yen ($701 million) for the current fiscal year up to March 2010.

JAL was privatised back in 1987, but the company has had to turn to public funds, with 60 billion yen ($668 million) in loans from the government-owned Development Bank of Japan in June, and apparently further requests for cash. So much for the free market economy.

It will be interesting to see how the airline copes in the months ahead.

Newspapers, anyone?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Are the budget airlines abandoning the regional airports?

So Gordon Brown has uttered the dreadful word "cuts" to the TUC in Liverpool, but he is not the only one thinking of this four letter word. In fact British holidaymakers may find themselves having to make longer journeys to airports, as airlines start to cut the number of regional departures in an attempt to keep costs down.

Budget airline Easyjet recently announced the cancellation of all its routes from East Midlands airport, which is going to be quite a loss to residents of the Nottingham area and thereabouts. Similarly Ryanair has cancelled nine of its 10 routes out of Manchester, which will be quite a blow to people of the north-west on the look out for cheap flights. Ryanair is also cancelling two of its flights out of the little up-and-coming airport of Doncaster, saying that the modest passenger charges of £3 a head are not sustainable.

Add to this the fact that last November Thomson pulled out of Coventry Airport, and Liverpool Airport has experienced a drop in passenger numbers of 20% this year. In fact, during the first six months of 2009, passenger numbers have fallen by a staggering 11% at British regional airports compared with 2008. All this may be gratifying to pressure groups such as Plane Stupid, who have been campaigning for an overall reduction in flying due to green considerations, but it is bad news for those hankering after affordable flights out of their local airport.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Heavy demand for South African domestic flights predicted, come World Cup 2010

England’s victory over Croatia on Wednesday means that England fans will now be eager to get hold of not just match tickets, but also flights and hotels, to follow England to the World Cup finals in South Africa.

England fans hoping to do this will find they face a tough time as there will only be a limited number of seats for the actual matches themselves, and not just that, but the tickets will be expensive too. However on top of expensive match tickets, they will also find that accommodation is a bit scarce, and there may well be problems securing flights between the different destinations where matches will be played.

Kevin Miles, international affairs spokesman for the Football Supporters Federation who will operate Fan Embassies in South Africa, says “Initial estimates show that up to 20,000 fans could travel if, as expected, we secure qualification”.

The matches are going to be played in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Mangaung, Nelson Mandela Bay, Nelspruit, Polokwane, Rustenburg, and Tshwane between 11 June and 11 July 2010.

To follow all the matches is going to involve a lot of domestic flights, and the demand for these will be huge. South Africa has a fair number of airlines operating between the major cities, and some of the smaller ones too, with fares ranging from first-class to budget. Flights can be booked online from anywhere in the world, which will be handy for fans making arrangements in advance.

It looks set to be a difficult though potentially rewarding time for football fans, and a profitable period for the airlines of South Africa.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

bmibaby launches budget flights from Manchester to Lourdes

The budget airline bmibaby has announced that it will introduce flights to Lourdes from Manchester Airport by the summer 2010 season, a move which could lead to more than 9,000 travellers making use of this new route each summer.

Situated on the French side of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has long been a popular destination for pilgrims after apparitions of the Virgin Mary were seen by a young woman, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858. At this time Bernadette discovered a spring which is thought by some to have miraculous healing properties. Since then Lourdes has become a major focus for Christian pilgrimage, with some 5 million pilgrims and tourists coming to this small market town every season.

The beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees form a natural border between France and Spain, and the route will no doubt also prove popular with holidaymakers heading to this region for the great outdoor life and stunning views that the Pyrenees have to offer. The area is popular for high altitude training in sports such as running and cycling. It is also popular with hikers, and has a number of long distance footpaths.

The flights are due to start on April 30th 2010 and will continue to operate through to October 1st, flying on weekdays. This means that bmibaby will be offering 19 European routes from Manchester by next summer.

This is a welcome move that will provide a valuable connection between the Pyrenees and the north of England in terms of budget flights.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Ryanair pull out of Manchester

Well, Ryanair are in the news again. No sooner is it reported on this blog that they are expanding at Leeds Bradford with the possibility of 1,000 new jobs for the Leeds area, than they pull out of Manchester with a loss of, yes, you’ve guessed it, 1,000 jobs. Leeds gains, Manchester loses.

It seems as though it’s all blown up about landing charges. Manchester has refused to lower the charges it makes to airlines landing at the airport, causing Ryanair to almost pull out of Manchester completely. It is expected that 600 jobs will go directly because of this withdrawal, and a further 400 jobs will now not be created that would have come into being under a deal that Ryanair offered Manchester if it cut charges.

However Manchester Airport has defended its charges saying: "Notwithstanding all of our investment in Manchester airport, including during the current recession, we don't believe that charges as low as £3 per passenger are unreasonable. Clearly, Ryanair do and that's regrettable."

Ryanair will be closing or switching nine of its ten routes at Manchester, and this will take place from the start of October. This will mean a total of 44 weekly flights cut at Manchester, which will mean a loss of some 600,000 passengers a year.

As well as having more routes from Leeds Bradford, Ryanair will be boosting its winter schedules from Edinburgh and Prestwick, with a Ryanair spokesman saying: "We are looking to have more winter routes from Edinburgh and Prestwick than last year.

"We are looking at finalising the schedules for those two airport bases for us, and hope to have them pretty much agreed by the end of this week."

Last winter the airline had 19 routes going out of Edinburgh, and about another twenty out of Prestwick.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Ryanair to expand at a revamped Leeds Bradford Airport

Budget airline Ryanair has chosen Leeds Bradford International Airport as a new base for its flights, a move which Ryanair claim is going to create 1,000 new jobs for the area. Ryanair already has three routes from Leeds Bradford, to Alicante, Girona and Dublin, but an impressive 14 more are to be added covering Carcassonne, Faro, Ibiza, Knock, Krakow, Limoges, Malaga, Malta, Montpellier, Murcia, Nantes, Palma, Pisa and Venice. It is hoped that the new flights will be launched in March 2010, making Leeds Bradford the 34th base for Ryanair.

This announcement follows in the wake of the airport getting planning permission to redevelop its relatively small and simple terminal building, and also to develop the road access to the airport. This plan, backed by the private equity owners Bridgepoint, is hoped to provide top class amenities and boost the status of the airport as the main gateway to Yorkshire.

The project will include a new two-storey extension with new check-in and security facilities, a new departure lounge, and retail area with shops, bars and cafes. The passenger security screening zone will be extended and the domestic baggage reclaim hall will be revamped.

It has been noted that the increased number of flights will make France more accessible from Yorkshire, and this may well be of interest to those looking to buy second homes in rural France.
Ryanair’s expansion at Leeds Bradford will no doubt be interesting news to rival carrier Jet2 which has its headquarters at the airport, especially as Jet2 is already serving nine of the new routes proposed by Ryanair. Jet2 currently flies 36 routes out of Leeds Bradford.

Ryanair plans to put about £84 million of investment into the airport.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Concorde come back - will we ever see the return of supersonic passenger flight?

One thing that many frequent fliers often ponder is whether supersonic passenger flight, as exemplified by Concorde, will ever come back.

Concorde allowed people to travel from London to New York at twice the speed of sound, taking just over three hours. This meant less jet lag, and made it quite realistic for people to have weekends away across the Pond, if they happened to have the £5,000 airfare to spare.

Despite its expensive price tag, and some controversy over its sonic boom, Concorde put in over three decades of commercial flights. But then the crash of 2000, along with the high price tag, meant a decline in demand for Concorde flights. The last flight was from New York to Heathrow in 2003 with a hundred celebs on board, and crowds of onlookers at the airports.

With a conventional jet the journey across the Atlantic is at least twice as long, and there is simply nothing in the present day that compares with Concorde. So ever since the last commercial flight of Concorde, talks of a revival have never ceased, but this again raises the question of the sonic boom. The sound made as Concorde broke the sound barrier caused the United States to ban cross-continental flights of the airliner, although rumours abounded in Europe that this was sour grapes because they hadn’t invented the plane themselves. It seems that there is new technology afoot that may actually reduce the volume of the boom, but this apparently uses ten per cent more fuel, which is not going to go down well in these green conscious times.

Considering the problems that airlines are having at the moment to simply stay afloat, it doesn’t look like Concorde will be returning in a hurry. However it is on the cards that supersonic and speedy travel will inevitably make a comeback at some point in the future, but the challenge is to do this with a reasonable price tag, with fuel economy, and with a reduced level of noise.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Pie in the Sky - Gordon Ramsay livens up Heathrow Terminal 5 with stunning food

lot has been said about Heathrow Terminal 5, a lot of it not good, but I haven’t heard any complaints about Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food. Renowned for his handsome looks, his way with words, his merciless advice and teaching, and most of all his skill with food, Gordon Ramsay has certainly brought something to Terminal 5 that provides a meal to remember whether you eat at the restaurant itself, or take a picnic in the sky.

Plane Food at Terminal 5 was designed by architects Bentel & Bentel, renowned for their superb contemporary design, and involves dramatic and colourful shapes associated with planes and with flying.

The menu is fabulous, and not only that, if you’ve had a bellyful of airline meals, then panic not, at Plane Food you can pick up a picnic to take on board.

But if you are thinking of eating in, let’s turn first to breakfast: there is a wonderfully healthy menu offering seasonal smoothies, granola and yogurt, muesli, fresh fruit as well as the classic full English. And, och aye, you can even have porridge.

On the a la carte there is a delicious range of starters, pasta, main courses, side dishes and desserts. Starters include watermelon, avocado and feta salad (that would be the one for me), crab, trout and miso salad, and loads of other good stuff using exciting ingredients.

Main courses include roast cod, braised lamb, rib eye steak, Suffolk pork, and tons of other delightful main courses.

Desserts include pannacotta with fruit, apple and hazelnut crumble, brownie and ice cream, and other mouthwateringly wicked goodies.

But back to the picnic: for a mere £11.95 you can pick out three courses. For starters you can pick pastries, salad and egg, tiger prawn salad, or pasta with ham, salami and mozzarella.

Then your main course is sandwiches: choose from smoked salmon and cream cheese, tomato, basil and fontina, roast beef and watercress, or a Croque Madame.

Then to round it off there is a dessert: there is fruit salad with vanilla yogurt, chocolate and pecan brownie, pear cheesecake, or a cheese selection.

There’s only one thing I have to say to all that – bon appetit.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Challenging times with British Airways

It’s a bit of a shocker that British Airways has reported the worst losses since 1987, with a pre-tax loss of a staggering £148 million in just the three months April to June. Compare this with the profit of £37 million that they made in the same quarter of last year, and this gives you some idea of the true magnitude of the loss.

Of course it’s been a tough year generally for the airlines as consumers have cut back on spending on flights due to the recession that was triggered by the credit crunch, and this is on top of the challenges that the traditional airlines face from the budget flights now offered by the no-frills airlines.

BA has been looking for ways to save cash, in what chief executive Willy Walsh describes as a “fight for survival”.

Cost cutting measures range from the just about tolerable to the most likely intolerable. The tolerable being the decision to no longer serve economy passengers a meal on short haul flights after ten in the morning. So you still get your breakfast, but nothing except drinks and snacks if you fly later in the day. Fair enough – I’m sure I can go a short haul flight with no on board meal, especially as there is usually ample opportunity to grab a snack at airports.

Less likely to be tolerated though was the idea of asking thousands of staff to work for free for up to one month to help keep the airline afloat, or aloft, rather. I can’t see people working for nothing as it does rather leave the problem of how to pay your bills for the one month that you toil for nothing. On the jobs front with BA things have been getting bad enough with the airline cutting staff since the end of March, in a process of reducing overtime, increasing part-time working, and voluntary redundancy. Working conditions have reached a point where there is now the risk of industrial action from cabin crew, which may not inspire travellers to book their flights with British Airways at the moment.

BA is also cutting the free baggage allowance that it gives to World Traveller class; a new policy that only affects economy passengers, and will not affect certain routes.

The airline’s chief executive, Willy Walsh, has said, “Trading conditions continue to be very challenging”, and for the economy passengers and BA staff things continue to be challenging.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Hey, Robin Hood is here! Many unaware of Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield

Everyone has heard of Robin Hood - you know, that handsome fellow in green tights with a bow and a quiver of arrows, surrounded by his merry men, who robbed the rich to give to the poor. But it seems that not many people have heard of the Doncaster Sheffield Airport, opened in 2005, that was named after him, so much so, that managers of the airport have organised a leaflet drop to 200,000 households in the area informing them of its existence.

The airport is the UK's newest airport, and is situated just 7 miles from Doncaster and 25 miles from Sheffield. Currently more than a million passengers pass through the Robin Hood Airport each year, heading for more than 40 destinations across the globe. However, it seems that a lot of people in the area served by the airport tend to head for Manchester Airport or Leeds Bradford Airport, forgetting that there is an airport nearby.

It is hoped that sending out the leaflets and magazines to households will raise the profile of the airport locally, and make people more aware of the option of starting their holiday or business trip from this local airport.

I have flown a couple of times from Robin Hood Airport, and love its cleanliness, friendliness, and the fact that it does not feel overcrowded. If you want to set off on your trip in a relaxed fashion, and you live in the Yorkshire area, by all means consider Robin Hood as your starting point.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Secret Life of the Airport, BBC 4

Anyone interested in the history of civil aviation was provided with a real treat on BBC 4 recently. The three part series The Secret Life of the Airport documents the rise of mass air travel, starting with a look at the advent of commercial air travel which was taken up enthusiastically by the relatively well off, through to the dropping of prices and the rise of mass air tourism, with 44 public airports now in use in Britain.

The series, which includes some wonderful rare archive footage, looks at how the system of airports developed in Britain, and how they have transformed people’s attitudes towards travel and made long distance travel more widely available.

The first part in the series is Preparing for Take Off which starts with the opening of Britain’s first airport terminal designed for the paying passenger at Croydon in 1920. The footage of the early days at Croydon shows a very sedate scene with well-dressed people being weighed, and there are also interesting interviews with people who worked there at that time. The first commercial flights were from Croydon to Paris, and flying saved people a lot of valuable time.

Preparing for Take Off is followed by Joining the Jet Set which looks at the early years of jet travel, and those who had the resources to use it. The last episode in the series is The Final Approach, which takes us from the relatively relaxed airports of the 1960’s to the high security procedures that we have in place today.

When this series is shown again, be sure to catch it, either on your telly, or on the BBC iPlayer. Otherwise, you can always take a look over at YouTube.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Air France disaster - were faulty sensors to blame?

After the worst disaster in Air France history, the airline is reserving judgement over whether it was faulty speed sensors that were the cause. However the company is taking the precaution of replacing the old sensors, as stated by the airline’s chief executive, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, on Thursday.

On June 1st Air France flight 447 disappeared en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris Charles de Gaulle, with 228 people on board. About 3.5 hours after take off, the Airbus A330-203 lost contact with air traffic control at a point some 300 km north-east of the Brazilian city of Natal. The final message received from the plane was an automated one saying that the electrical system had failed, and it is thought that the plane had flown into towering thunderstorms.
We now know that the plane crashed and that nobody on board survived, making this the worst loss of life ever in this much-respected airline’s 75 year history, and the worst accident ever in French aviation history. Significantly, it is also the first accident in commercial service that has resulted in fatality during the 16 years of operation of the Airbus A330.

So what caused this tragedy? Air accident investigators have found some evidence that the Airbus registered inconsistent speed readings just before contact was lost, and this raises speculation that the pilots may have been flying at the wrong speed without realising it, which may well have played a role in causing the crash.

It has also been found that there has been a temporary loss of air speed data on previous Airbus flights due to ice collecting in the sensors. Air France is now speeding up a replacement program for the sensors which had already been planned.

“As circumstances would have it, the first replacements arrived practically on the eve of the accident, on the Friday,” Gourgeon told a news briefing, adding: “I am not convinced that speed sensors were the cause of crash.”

The French air accident agency has said it is still too early to determine the exact cause of the crash, and that at the moment we are dealing with only two certainties, firstly that the plane had hit stormy weather, and secondly that the speed readings were not clear.

It is a disaster that has left Air France in a state of shock, has left families, loved ones and friends devastated, and is the sort of news that every frequent flier dreads to hear.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sri Lanka in style

Lying some thirty kilometres off the coast of southern India, Sri Lanka is an island bursting with life, colour and energy, steeped in history and full of temples and ancient sculpture. So if you want to get there quickly you will be pleased to know that SriLankan Airlines are the only scheduled airline flying a direct route from London Heathrow to both Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

You may also be pleased to learn that while spending that time in the air you won’t feel cramped, because the A340, A330 and A320 aircraft are fitted with superbly luxurious spacious seats where you will be able to stretch out and certainly feel like your holiday has started. You won’t be bored in-flight either because the aircraft have the latest in-flight entertainment with eighteen video channels, seat-back television, twenty-two audio channels and sixteen video games in all seats. One of the video channels is Air Show, a cabin video information system that gives flight-related information and a view of where the aircraft is flying using forward and downward cameras, so you can see where you are going right from your seat. Business Class passengers will even have an on-demand movie library with over 30 titles on request.

And when you arrive in Sri Lanka you can luxuriate on white sandy beaches, enjoy the beauty of the lush greenery, marvel at the biodiversity of the island, explore ancient sites and temples, experience traditional dance, appreciate beautiful arts and crafts, get your health into shape with ayurvedic treatments, and generally enjoy a well-deserved holiday on an island that has so much to offer.

Monday, 20 April 2009

It's bargain time for long-haul

Having been on more long-haul flights between the UK and Japan than I can either remember or care to remember, I’ve always said that if I go back to Japan I’ll try the Trans-Siberian Railway. But an article by Isabel Choat in The Guardian, Time to Pack Your Sarong, caused me to think again. It seems like now is the time to book a long-haul flight to that destination you’ve always been dreaming of, as the major tour operators are reporting that long-haul flights and holidays have dropped dramatically.

At the moment you can pick up return flights to Australia for just under £500, whereas last year it would have been nearer a whopping thousand quid. You can get a return fare to New York for around £200, a return to Bangkok for about £360, and a return to Johannesburg will only cost you something in the region of £500.

It seems like the recession has caused people to cut back on things like long-haul travel, with the result that, supply and demand being what they are, prices have really fallen.

Likewise, now is the time to grab that long-haul package deal, so if you have been thinking about a beach holiday in Goa, or on a sunny Thai island, then now could be just the right time to venture a little further afield. With holidaymakers from the UK avoiding countries that use the euro, you might find that that a longer journey will take you somewhere where your money will go a lot further, with prices in a lot of long-haul destinations such as India and Thailand being significantly cheaper than prices in the UK. There are many faraway destinations where you will find that your pound will really go a long way, not just in terms of eating out and nightlife, but also in terms of clothing, souvenirs and other great bargains. Frequently with long haul, the main cost of the trip goes on the flight, with costs when you are actually there being remarkably low.

So if you can afford an escape at the moment, going long-haul can turn up some great deals.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Let's hear it for the package holiday!

few years ago a lot of travel pundits wondered if the package holiday was finally on the way out. With the advent of sites that allow you to book hotels directly yourself online, and the arrival of low cost flights with companies such as Ryanair and Easyjet it looked as if the death knell was finally being rung for the humble package holiday, which always had been badly maligned in some quarters. But it looks like the recent economic downturn has put the package holiday firmly back on the agenda, with adventure holidays and independent travel in a bit of a decline since the credit crunch.

In particular, the high street travel agents are reporting an increase in bookings for all-inclusive packages. Once thought to be a bit of a luxury, people are now catching onto the idea that an all-inclusive break has the benefit of fixing much of your costs in advance, making it much easier to stay within budget. Conversely, there has been a fall in demand for self catering holidays as the supermarkets in the resorts are proving to be a tad on the expensive side for British holidaymakers due to the falling pound. The sudden demand for all inclusive deals goes part of the way to explaining why the demand for cruises has remained steady despite the downturn.

Also, a reason why holidaymakers may be returning in force to the attractions of the package holiday is the financial security that it offers. If you buy a package holiday you are covered in the event of failure, such as XL of last October. If you book a flight directly you are not, as many Zoom customers found to their cost.

UK travellers are now less inclined to visit countries using the euro, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, and are now more likely to visit countries such as Turkey and Egypt, where the pound will go further. Last year ABTA reported that bookings to Turkey were up by 32 per cent, and to Egypt were up by 38 per cent. Tour operators report a similar trend again this year.

But today’s package holiday tourist is perhaps a more savvy traveller than package holidaymakers of the bygone era of the sixties and seventies, as epitomised in “Carry On Abroad”, (1972). Today the internet has led to a much better informed travelling public who are no longer relying on brochures, their high street travel agent, or library books to inform them about where they are going. Travellers can now get up-to-the minute information online, with sites such as Trip Advisor and Holidays Uncovered giving people far more informed choices about the resorts, hotels, and what to expect.

So if you are considering jet-setting off this summer, a package holiday could be just the ticket.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Ljubljana: An abundance of events

In Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, culture and entertainment are something of a way of life. Each year the city hosts around 10.000 events. Throughout the year, Ljubljana and its surrounding areas host a number of well-established international festivals.

This year will see an abundance of attractive events taking place in Ljubljana. From March to middle of July the Viva Mexico festival will present audiences Mexican culture through a large exhibition on the latest archaeological finds from western Mexico entitled Eternal Life and and accompanying a programme of theatre performances, concerts, film screenings, literary evenings, lectures and other events.

The Killers, one of the world's most popular rock bands, will visit Ljubljana on 7th June as part of their European tour promoting their third album, Day & Age. The Queen of Pop, Madonna, will make an appearance in Ljubljana in August as part of her much talked-about concert tour "Sticky & Sweet" on 20th of August.

The Ljubljana Festival, traditionally held in the summer, presents a wide programme of events featuring highly regarded artists of various disciplines from around the world. Each year, it includes from 70 to 80 events attended by an audience of around 80,000 people from Slovenia and abroad. The Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts taking place for the 28th time in September is the world's biggest and one of the most renowned events of the kind.

Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, Slovenia's main airport, is located in Brnik, 26 kilometres from Ljubljana. It serves scheduled and charter flights to and from most of European capitals. Cheap flights to Slovenia are offered by the budget airline Easyjet, from London Stansted. Ljubljana is also close to several other airports served by various budget airlines such as Klagenfurt, Trieste, Venice or Rijeka.

Check out what's going on in Ljubljana on its official website at

Friday, 6 February 2009

Despite the gloom, Ryanair sees good times ahead

Amid all the economic pessimism of a credit crunch that has now turned into a worldwide recession, and a week that has seen airports close due to heavy snow, it is heartening to hear that Europe’s biggest discount airline, Ryanair are regarding 2009 with optimism. Ryanair have raised their profit forecast for 2009 due to the falling price of oil and believe that their net income over the following year will total somewhere between 50 million euros and 80 million euros, meaning that the Dublin-based company will break even this year.

“Ryanair is going to emerge from the current downturn in the industry within an even stronger position,” said John Mattimoe, analyst at Merrion Capital in Dublin, “It’s the only company that’s committed to growing and it will be able to use it’s strengths.”

The International Air Transport Association has predicted that passenger volumes will fall by 3 percent in 2009 due to the global recession, and that airlines worldwide will most likely have combined losses of some $2.5 billion, but Ryanair is hoping to counteract this falling demand for air travel by attracting passengers with its temptingly low fares.

In times of recession and cut back, some of the first industries to be hit are those offering goods and services that are generally regarded as non-essential, so one might expect some reduction in the demand for holidays. However my contacts in the travel industry say that they have not noticed any significant decline in demand yet. It may well be that the one thing people do need in difficult times is a holiday to blow the cobwebs away, and companies offering budget travel and holidays could be the ones to do well in periods when people are looking to save money. Not only that, but business travellers may well be looking to the cheaper airlines to get them where they want to be.

2009 could well be rosy for the budget travel industry in general.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Flying To Malta?

ConciergeMalta is a privately owned site managed by an experienced Concierge who currently works in one of the leading 5 Star Hotels on the Island.

Using his experience in dealing with clients, James Gauci Borda has decide to now offer his knowledge of things to do and see in Malta to a much wider audience through this website.

ConciergeMalta basically offers the quality of concierge service you would expect from a hotel but online instead, providing vast experience for all your travel needs in Malta.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The story of the season: flight cancelled for safety reasons - shock, horror

o that’s the Festive Season over with, snow is on its way, and it’s time to think of holidays. Happy New Year!

The big aviation story over the Christmas period was all about a group of children on their way to see Santa at Rovaniemi in northern Finland just before Christmas. Rovaniemi is in that part of northern Finland that forms part of Lapland, though any self-respecting Sami will tell you that the word Lapp is pejorative and that the area, that spans northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia, is in fact Sameland. But I digress.

The big story of the day was that these children, their families, parents, grandparents, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, had gone to Manchester Airport at the crack of dawn in a state of excitement to see Father Christmas, who purportedly resides in Sameland, despite the fact of his origins being those of St Nicholas of Myra in Turkey. Well anyway, after some waiting around it turned out that the flight was cancelled, as the pilot was concerned that the weather conditions at Rovaniemi would not be conducive to a safe landing.

When the story the was taken up by the media you could not turn on the TV, go to a newspaper’s website, or turn on the radio without being regaled with a tale of woe about how cruelly disappointed these dear children were, with the newsreel being repeatedly re-played, with airport scenes of distraught parents - so distraught in fact that the police had to be called in before they attacked staff members. Oddly, it was the parents that appeared to be terribly upset, while the children appeared stoic.

In all the drama, it didn’t seem to occur to any of the journos, parents and the like, that it is better to be disappointed and alive, than on your way to see Santa and risking a tricky landing.

Pilots have to make loads of decisions about safety, and it is important that airlines put safety above all else, something that the grown-ups who were weeping and wailing at the airport, and the media frenzy that followed them, might remember.