Thursday, 17 December 2009

New call to protect air passengers as Scottish carrier founders

The collapse of the Globespan group will strengthen claims that the suggested shake up of traveller protection just put out for consultation by the Department for Transport does not go far enough.

Part of the Scottish group's operations was the airline Flyglobespan, which is thought to have some 3400 passengers abroad in Spain (including the Balearics and Canaries), Portugal, Cyprus and Egypt.and another 90,000 with forward bookings.

While the group's package holiday customers will be repatriated if necessary - and get refunds if they have yet to travel - under the Civil Aviation Authority's ATOL scheme, customers buying only flights may not be so lucky. Those abroad will need to make their own way home, perhaps paying special fares offered by other carriers. Those still to fly should be able to get their money back if they paid by credit card - provided the payment was over £100 - or by some debits cards. Some may have airline insolvency cover in their travel insurance. But many will undoubtedly be left out of pocket.

The Department's consultation document does not suggest extending the ATOL scheme to scheduled airline passengers. It says: "The Government decided against this in 2005 and still believes it would be disproportionate regulation. It might distort competition with foreign airlines and be open to challenge under European law, unless achieved through European legislation. Many airline 'flight only' sales are low cost - but if passengers know their money is unprotected against airline insolvency they can choose to bear the risk or seek protection from a credit card or insurance policy."

There was an immediate demand today that the Government should rethink its position. The trade association ABTA said it had "repeatedly raised the issue of this double standard of financial protection and recommended that airlines be required to offer the same level of financial protection as package tour operators."

This would ensure airline customers would be provided with flights home free of charge or refunds for future bookings if an airline collapsed. ABTA urged both the Department and the European Commission, which is looking into the lack of financial protection for scheduled passengers, to take urgent action.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive said "Once more a bankrupt airline has left customers stranded abroad and out of pocket. The Government must take action so that airline customers are no longer treated as second class citizens and have the same level of protection that tour operators have provided to their customers for over 30 years"

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Flying and global warming - the unknowns

The most striking aspect of the Committee on Climate Change report on the impact on air travel on global warming is the uncertainty of forecasting.

Its underlying premise is that the number of passengers using UK airports could increase by 200%* by 2050. That alone raises many questions? Is the market for low cost flights becoming saturated? How will the demographic of an ageing population and the looming pensions crisis affect demand? Do we have the infrastructure for a massive rise in incoming tourism?

Then there's the issue of how much alternative means of communication could alleviate carbon emissions from flying. They include the impact of video-conferencing on business travel which, says the report, could reduce it by anything from a few percentage points to almost one third.

The potential development of alternative fuels for aircraft is also shrouded in unknowns. How much land will be available for the production of biofuels. How practical will it prove to produce biofuels that would not require agricultural land for growth – such as those base on algae, or grown with water from low-carbon desalination? This “must be considered speculative today”, admits the committee.

In addition there is the impact of other emissions besides CO2 (the committee was not tasked with looking at there – only with gases covered by the Kyoto agreement) such as mono-nitrogen oxides. The report says they are almost certain to result in some additional warming. But in sharp contrast with some of the anti-flying lobby it notes there remains “considerable scientific uncertainty over their precise magnitude.”

These then, form part of the shifting sands on which the committee concludes that demand growth of around 60% would be compatible with meeting the Government's aims of keeping CO2 emissions in 2050 no higher than in 2005.

That could leave room for a new runway at Heathrow, whose impact will in any case be mitigated, if only by about 1,5%, by the reduction in emission from aircraft forced, by congestion, to stack.

It might mean, eventually, an increase in fares as demand is constrained. But suppose technology allows more significant increases in aircraft engine efficiency than the committee predicts – or biofuels represent consumption greater than the committees'aaumtion of 10%. And suppose demand doesn't increase by anywhere near as much as 200% by 2050. Then the impact on travelling habits might not be as severe as some have feared.

*Unconstrained - with no inhibiting penalty for carbon emissions.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Hong Kong hotel boasts six Michelin stars

A positive culinary firmament at the Four Seasons, Hong Kong, which claims to be the only hotel in the world boasting two restaurants with three stars in the Michelin Guide. Its Cantonese restaurant, Lung King Heen, already had three. Now its French restaurant Caprice has been rated similarly.