Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Cheap holiday online deposits - could they come back to bite?

Have online travel agents made rods for their own backs in by battling to offer the lowest holiday deposits? In a fascinating interview published today by the trade publication Travel Weekly, Barclays head to travel Chris Lee questions whether customers paying deposits as low as £49 may be more relaxed about cancelling than those asked the shell out a sizeable amount in advance. On line companies can't be sure what level of cancellations they will get . On the positive side he notes that the market for holidays is strong - Lee is quoted as saying that without the security threat he UK travel sector would be having "a brilliant year - and that the agents involved have held back from offering low deposits on trips to destinations that have seen booking hit by anxiety over security, such as Turkey. One factor not covered in the report of the interview is the potential threat of Brexit. A serious slump n the value of sterling - something some economists are in any case calling for as a way of tackling the UK's trade deficit - could clearly be a trigger for wide scale cancellations.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Docklands to Dordogne - new flights

Medieval Limeuil on the Dordogne river (image courtesy
British Airways has launched summer services between London City Airport and the Dordogne with hand baggage only fares starting at £57 one way. Flights depart from Docklands to Bergerac on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays at 11.15am, 9.30a, and 5.10pm respectively. Between June 23 and September 1 the airline will also operate a round trip each Thursday, with an 11.15am departure. Bergerac Airport has a choice of six car hire operators.

Chateau de Bergerac image

Saturday, 30 April 2016

US budget flights spat highlights Brexit fares threat

Old Ironsides - USS Constitution in Boston Harbour. Norwegian waste to fly there from Cork
The battle over low cost airline Norwegian's bid to launch cheap trans-atlantic flights operated by an EU based subsidiary provides a timely illustration of the risks travellers face if the UK votes for Brexit. Open skies remain, if you'll pardon a clunky metaphor, a delicate flower. Airlines profess to welcome competition but - as the chair of a UK carrier told me decades ago - they would really love a monopoly. Norway, of course, is not an EU member. But the airline seeks to launch an subsidiary based in Ireland - which is and where labour costs are lower. After dragging its feet for months the Department of Transportation in Washington has given the plan a tentative green light. American unions are up in arms. A bill aimed at blocking Norwegian's project has been introduced in the House of Representatives. The Business Travel Coalition has it back, describing the bill as "another vivid example of why voters are white-hot-mad as Washington and special interests collude to undermine consumers’ interests.” Forget the fact that this is a business travel lobbying organisation. Low fares are low fares whoever pushes for them. What this opaque seeming spat highlights is that whatever the rights and wrongs of employing cheaper labour by flying under flags of convenience, the UK might not get an easy ride outside the EU where civil aviation is concerned. Supposing we are unable to secure an arrangement to remain party to Brussels' Open Skies agreement with Washington after an exit. Vested interests will not just roll over and allow the UK the same rights secured by the EU. Negotiations are likely to be long and tricky with tedious horse trading - and the Americans will inevitably hold the whip hand. Reduced opportunities for new services and competition on routes to and from the UK could mean higher fares. Remember that EU airlines still don't have the right to operate onward flights within the US beyond gateway airports. We should not see the whole, labyrinthine referendum issue solely in terms of leisure travel but with foreign holidays now widely regarded as a right than a luxury, it's worth bearing in mind that Brexit could make them more expensive.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Cheap flight plans hit hail of opposition

Plans to launch new cut price trans-Atlantic flights have run into a fresh wave of fierce opposition in the US. A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives clearly aims to stymie attempts by low cot Norwegian to fly to America under an EU flag. US unions are up in arms, arguing this will undermine their pay and conditions. The airline already operates from London to the US under its parent company's name. Last week the Department of Transportation in Washington gave Norwegian tentative approval to launch services between Cork and Boston operated by an Irish based subsidiary, Norwegian Air International (NAI). This should allow it to cut the cost of operating from EU countries to various long haul destinations - not just those in North America. Opponents say it is taking advantage of labour laws that are more relaxed in Ireland than in Norway. The DoT sought additional comment from interested parties by May 13. A statement from the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, a coalition of 32 member unions, said allowing NAI to operate with cheap labour would destroy fair competition. This is not the first time the House has moved to stop airlines flying to the US under what protesters see as flags of convenience. The big question now is whether anything has changed to prompt the Senate, which didn't act on a previous attempt at legislation, to join the opposition.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Running - the best way to fight jet lag

Once upon a time, decades ago when the word jogging hadn't been invented, it was faintly embarrassing to be seen running in the street. "You're a bit late for the Olympics mate", people would yell at you from passing cars weeks after the closing ceremony, or "Come on Brendan Foster". To avoid looking too conspicuous I would run in corduroy trousers and - until my first knee injury sent e shopping for some purpose designed footwear - a pair of Hush Puppies. But, as a frequent long haul traveller, I quickly twigged that a bit of vigorous exercise was the best way to combat jet lag. No sooner had I checked into a hotel in Los Angeles following an afternoon arrival, say, than I would pull on the gear and hit the pavements for a half hour or so. The worst thing about jet leg is not feeling like dinner when, wherever you are, it's dinner time. Exercise is a short, sharp, corrective shock to the body clock. And even if it's a short haul trip, running blows away the cobwebs and loosens muscles atrophied by confinement in a cramped aircraft seat. Modern running shoes weigh only a few ounces. OK - I know far more hotels now have fitness rooms than when I started - and swimming is an alternative - but running on a treadmill is boring and getting out in the streets can represent a quick and efficient introduction to a destination. This has been recognised in many cities by small tourism operators who have launched organised jogging tours taking the local sights. There's a long list at but in case your destination isn't covered just Google running tours in whichever city you're planning to visit. I've run in well over 300 places around the world. From Hawaii to Delhi I have braved the embarrassment of crossing posh hotel lobbies in shorts and a T-shirt and sharing lifts later, lathered in sweat, with guests who wished they could put clothes pegs on their noses. I have been tracked by a dingo in the outback of Australia's Northern Territory, laboured through yielding white sand around Bird Island in the Seychelles, encountered a poisonous snake in Tasmania and what I took to be a bear (admittedly at fairly safe distance) in Ontario. After astonishing the locals in sub zero temperatures during a visit to Beijing in 1980, not long after China opened its doors to foreign tourists, I discovered to my dismay that the water was off in my hotel. There was nothing for it but to wash with the water left in a flask for tea making. While on the subject of water I've learned, the hard way, the importance of hydration. On a fearsomely hot and humid summer day Tennessee, I was forced to drag my feet slowly for at least two miles back to my hotel (where else but a train carriage at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel?) after a sudden, dramatic draining of energy. I've also learned, after feeling my heart rate zoom in the US Rocky Mountains, that even if you're conditioned to ski at altitude, you might find running a bridge too far. Occasionally a in Petra, Jordan, dogs have driven me off the streets or potholed, uneven pavements - as in Sofia and Puebla, Mexico - have forced me on to hotel treadmills. But I've run some lovely routes, which I plan to describe in a later article.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Air fares fall but Brexit threat casts shadow

Image courtesy Gatwick Airport
The average price of flights from UK airports to the top 20 destinations searched by Britons using the search engine fell by 10% in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period in 2015, according to the company. But can these halcyon days of cheap travel survive Brexit?The figures corroborate my earlier report that this promised to be something of a vintage year for bargain fares following a remarkable increase in new low cost routes and a general sharpening of competition between airlines. Falling fuel prices are also likely to have made an impact. Within Kayak's average prices to 16 of those 20 destinations fell, some by significantly more than 10%. Unsurprisingly in the light of recent terrorist attacks those to Istanbul plummeted by 31%. It seems contradictory, therefore, that those to Paris actually rose by 1%. Fares to to Berlin were down by 23%, to Dubai by 17% and New York by 15%. Those to a clutch of cities - Los Angeles, Dublin, Hong Kong, San Francisco - dropped by 13%. However, prices to Barcelona rose by 5% and it was also 5% more expensive to fly to London from other UK airports. The threat of a decision by the UK electorate to leave the EU casts a long shadow over the current, rich choice of cheap flights. After an initial transition period following Brexit, the UK Government would need to renegotiate its open skies agreement with the EU. As William Keegan noted in a cogent Observer newspaper column, our current European partners are fed up to the back teeth with Britain's ambivalent attitude to the EU and would n to give us an easy ride if we pulled out. From long experience I can assure readers that there is no political football more worn by kicking than civil aviation. If we want to preserve the right of UK based airlines to operate freely anywhere in the EU, as they can now, it is extremely unlikely it will be granted without quid pro quos. Loss of that right would his airlines' finances and could mean the withdrawal of some routes. The huge range of flights launched to destinations in central and eastern Europe would also be at risk if free movement of labour were ended. Many of those routes - such as those to and from some Polish cities - are sustained by migrant workers. Finally the US has an open skies agreement with Brussels. This allows airlines on either side to operate between any airport in the EU and any airport in the US. It's far from an ideal treaty because it favours American carriers, which are able to operate intra-European services while EU airline may not do the same on US domestic routes - long a sore point this side of the Atlantic. Nor are EU carriers able to buy controlling stakes in US carriers. But in the event of Brexit Britain would need to renegotiate with Washington and the EU either the maintenance of the states quo or some entirely new treaty. And, again, renegotiation could reduce opportunities for new trans-Atlantic routes. These are uncertain days indeed.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

US move promises cheap flights bonanza

Razzmatazz as Norwegian launches London-Boston flights

The remarkable rise of low cost carrier Norwegian has gathered fresh pace following an amber light from the US Government for trans-Atlantic flights by its Irish based subsidiary, Norwegian Air International. The move paves the way for a new surge in the growth of cheap travel between Europe and America. In the face of fierce opposition from pilots and other workers, the Department of Transportation has issued an order proposing to grant it a foreign air carrier permit. This should allow it to launch services from countries outside Norway, starting with flights between Cork in Ireland and Boston. Confusingly, its parent airline (Norwegian Air) already had permission to fly to American from London under the EU's air agreement with Washington. It flies long haul from Gatwick to destinations including Boston, New York and Los Angeles. But the US had been dragging its feet over approval of its plans for global expansion. The DoT said it couldn't find any legal grounds to bar Norwegian Air International. It has given opponents such as the US Airline Pilots Association three weeks to file objections. While the Icelandic airline WOW has been marketing cheap flights cleverly via its Reykjavik hub, Norwegian is attempting to succeed with non stop low cost services where many others have failed. The reason success has proved so elusive is that the amount of expenditure airlines can trim from their budgets diminishes as a proportion of total operating costs the further they fly. Norwegian's enthusiasm continues to raise the question why Ryanair, one of the major pioneers of cut price air travel, still hasn't joined the trans-Atlantic fray. Last year it appeared to have decided to take the plunge, only to deny that it had any plans to do so. There's little doubt that in the medium term, at least, consumers can expect a bonanza. And it won't just be a mushrooming of direct services. The more European airports that Norwegian adds, the more the potential for indirect deals. Following the US decision, Bjorn Kjos, CEO of Norwegian Group, said: "A final approval, based on the Open Skies Agreement between the U.S. and EU, will be win-win for consumers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. It will allow Norwegian to expand our USoperations. Our continued presence in the US will create thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars of economic activity for the Group’s US destinations,” The company said it intended 'to continue hiring hundreds of American based crew members. It noted that it had placed US$18.5 billions worth of orders for aircrafts from American manufacturer Boeing.