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2013 round up
Dec 30th, 2013 by elisa

It’s nearing the end of 2013, so it’s time for our annual round up of travel news and features covered in this blog over the year.

January is normally the time when you start to examine your finances after the Christmas splurge, and this year was no different for the travel news. A Sunday Times report that found customers were seriously losing out on foreign currency exchange rates when purchasing their travel money at airports.  We also looked at the financial benefits of flying to an airport further from your destination and driving the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Spain was voted the best value destination for 2013, and Eve told us why she thought Spain was a great winter destination.

However, it was all about Greece in February! With its award-winning beaches and Thomas Cook trend survey that revealed a huge increase in bookings during the month. The month ended with a warning to check your travel insurance small print, as many travellers were reported to have fallen foul of clauses in their insurance, which meant they wouldn’t get a pay out on claims.

In March, a woman successfully smuggled a dog onto a plane; we looked at the biosphere reserve that is Menorca; and BA started selling tickets for flights on its ‘red carpet route’ to Los Angeles in its new super jumbo A380. Easyjet installed new, lighter, seats on its aircraft in an attempt to save on fuel and CO2 emissions. Bitter weather threatened to blight travellers’ Easter holidays, but this didn’t stop Peter Rabbit visiting children at Heathrow.

The bizarre law in Florida that all British Citizens must carry an International Driving Permit in the state was repealed in April. Samoa Air launched its controversial pay by weight flights and we looked at the facts about turbulence.

Easyjet began testing its volcanic ash cloud detection technology in May. We found that trillions of air miles are going to waste; and there was the slightly disturbing report of a flight being diverted because the pilot got locked out of the cockpit. There was good news for Harry Potter fans going on holiday in Florida, as the Universal Orlando Resort and Warner Bros. Entertainment announced the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley “environment”.

A US ban on using a laptop during take off on flights was lifted in June.

Tenerife enjoyed at 14% rise in arrivals from the UK in July. It was also discovered that many English families were flying from Scottish airports to save up to £500 on their holiday travel costs. It may have been one of the hottest summers we’ve had in years, but this didn’t stop large numbers of Brits leaving for even sunnier holiday destinations in the last weekend of July. We gave advice on how to avoid common pick pocketing scams as the Foreign Office issued a warning about pick pockets in Switzerland.

As August enjoyed more of the heatwave, Ryanair had a drop in flight bookings; it also took legal action against an unfavourable Dispatches programme “Ryanair: Secrets from the Cockpit”.

Etihad Airways launched its “flying nanny” service to look after passengers’ children in September. Helly Kitty planes took to the skies with Taiwan’s EVA Air, and a computer glitch in US Airways system sold $0 flights on its website. Spain enjoyed record visitor numbers over the summer, proving the predictions earlier in the year.

In October, Manchester was announced to be the UK’s first Airport City; and Ryanair announced that it would work on a better customer service.

It was all about the measure of happiness for travel in November, and BA introduced interactive billboards to remind people of the magic of flying.

The Northern Lights in Norway topped Brits’ “must see” list in December. Britain also endured wide-spread bad weather with winds of up to 140mph battering parts of the country, and flooding hitting others.

That’s the round up for 2013, make sure to follow this blog for more travel news and articles in 2014, and book your holiday villas at a wide range of destinations on Villaseek.

Air traffic control glitch grounds flights over weekend
Dec 9th, 2013 by elisa

Hundreds of thousands of passengers across the world suffered flight cancellations and delays after a technical glitch caused the UK’s traffic control system to break down over the weekend.

The problems started on Saturday morning when night shift air traffic controllers handed over to the day shift at the NATS Area Control Centre at Swanwick, Hampshire. The nighttime system failed to switch to the daytime system, preventing additional control positions from operating.

“To be clear, this is a very complex and sophisticated system with more than a million lines of software. This is not simply internal telephones, it is the system that controllers use to speak to other ATC agencies both in the UK and Europe and is the biggest system of its kind in Europe,” said NATS.

“This has been a major challenge for our engineering team and for the manufacturer, who has worked closely with us to ensure this complex problem was resolved as quickly as possible while maintaining a safe service.”

NATS managed to get 90% of its normal operation running by 7.30pm on Saturday, and has apologised for the problems. 

The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates air traffic control, is in contact with NATS to discuss whether airlines should be compensated for the flight delays. They are also reviewing the incident to prevent it from happening again.

“As this was an operational issue for NATS, they will be leading on looking into the exact circumstances of what happened over the weekend and the lessons that can be learned. We will of course provide support to that process,” said a CAA spokesman.

Airlines pay a fee to NATS for the services, but it is 49% owned by a consortium of UK-based airlines, which effectively means they would be seeking partial compensation from themselves. The UK government owns 51% of the business.

Passengers are unable to claim compensation from the airlines as under European regulations, the technical problems are deemed outside of the airlines’ control. However, airlines are required to assist passengers during disruption regardless of the reason; this includes providing food, drink, and accommodation if passengers are delayed overnight.

British Airways said it was too early to say if it would seek compensation, and Ryanair said it was not ruling anything out.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said a decision regarding the compensation situation could be reached later today or tomorrow.

Promoted tweet criticises BA
Sep 8th, 2013 by elisa

Airline lost your luggage? One person was so annoyed that he paid Twitter $1,000 to promote his tweet about it across the UK and US leading it to go viral. 

Hasan Syed used Twitter’s self-service ad platform to tweet about British Airways losing luggage on a flight from Chicago. The tweet received 76,000 impressions in a couple of days and was picked up by news sites including CNN in the US and ITV in the UK. Promoted tweets appear in feeds and can be retweeted by any Twitter users.

Syed, Twitter handle @HVSVN, followed up the tweet with a series of posts accusing BA of allegedly losing his parent’s luggage on a trip to Paris.

It took BA four hours to respond to Syed via direct message: “Sorry for the delay in responding, our twitter feed is open 09:00-17:00 GMT. Please DM [direct message] your baggage ref and we’ll look into this.”

A BA spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise to the customer for the delay in receiving his bag. We contacted the customer and delivered his bag yesterday.”

Syed, widely admired for the bold tactic, tweeted: “I got what I wanted. I win.”

 

Baggage handlers charged with theft
Sep 2nd, 2013 by elisa

Seven baggage handlers have been arrested at JFK Airport for allegedly stealing watches, jewellery and ipads from checked baggage.

A hidden camera in the hold of one EL AL’s planes was installed after the airline received complaints of missing items.

Over a five month period, the Israeli airline caught seven employees – often wearing gloves – going through passengers luggage, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

The suspects have been charged with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, fourth-degree criminal mischief, petit larceny and attempted petit larceny.

 

Last month a Police Community Support Officer was charged with stealing from passengers while on duty at Gatwick Airport.

American Airlines merger given EU go ahead
Aug 13th, 2013 by elisa

The American Airlines and US Airways merger has been given the thumbs up by European regulators.

The permission has been granted under agreement that the airlines will give up one daily slot pair at Heathrow and Philadelphia airports to allow for a new entrant on to the London Philadelphia route.

AA’s $11 billion merger and restructuring plan will create the world’s biggest airline, however it must still be approved by a US federal judge before its parent AMR can emerge from bankruptcy.

The EU antitrust authority said the airlines would also sign feed traffic agreements with a new competitor on the route, which will be dominated by American and Oneworld partner British Airways after the merger. Meanwhile, there remains competition from other carriers on all other routes affected by the merger.

Get Foreign Office advice via Twitter
Jul 26th, 2013 by elisa

Stepping into the fast-paced world of Twitter, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has launched its trial of one-to-one travel advice on the social media platform.

Answers to travel-related questions will be given by the FCO’s dedicated travel advice and consular team for a two month trial. The teams will aim to respond within 30 minutes to tweets between 9am and 6pm weekdays, UK time. Questions outside of working hours will only be answered in the event of a crisis situation, otherwise they will be picked up the next working day.

Most queries will be answered on Twitter, but enquiries involving personal information will be taken offline.

The FCO said the service responds to customer demand for more accessible information and online services.

Queries about anything from travel safety, passports, visas, and problems abroad should be sent to @FCOtravel

 

 

US ban on laptop use during take-off lifted
Jun 26th, 2013 by elisa

The ‘outdated’ ban on passengers using laptops during aircraft take-off and landing is to be lifted in the US

The Federal Aviation Authority of the US will formally unveil its findings in September, but it is believed that the use of laptops, iPads and electronic readers during taxi, take-off and landing do not interfere with navigation systems in the way once thought.

Mobile phones must remain switched off, however, as they were not a part of the research.

The findings from the study could lead to a worldwide relaxation of the rules which stop passengers from using such devices. The Civil Aviation Authority said it would be interested in viewing the study before considering whether to do further research on the subject.

A spokesman said: “We will look at the FAA study and if we think we need to do more work, we will. It’s very important that we are all joined up and if we can learn something in the UK, we will look at what they’ve done.”

He added that there is still research and anecdotal evidence that electromagnetic interference by mobile phones can cause concern during critical points such as take-off and landing. He said that they would also need to be sure that there is not a cumulative  effect of the use of electronic devices on a full aircraft.

Worst airports for delays
Jun 4th, 2013 by elisa

An organisation set up to help passengers claim compensation for flight disruptions has revealed the airports which suffer the worst delays.

Refund.me allows passengers to upload their claim information to the website where it will be assessed and generate a claim letter with all the relevant details on the passenger’s behalf. It works on a no win, no fee basis and will take 25% of the compensation plus VAT if successful.

“Many passengers are not aware of their rights, and those who are and try to file a claim face a complicated bureaucratic system impeding their claims”, said CEO Eve Büchner.

Refund.me said that users of the online widget and mobile app made more claims for delayed flight arrivals at Frankfurt Airport, followed by Manchester, Stansted and Gatwick.

Frankfurt also came first for flight cancellations, with Franz Joseph Strauss in Munich and Charles de Gaulle in Paris in second and third place. Gatwick slipped into fourth place, Heathrow came eighth and Manchester 10th.

UK airports with flights most likely to arrive on time were London City, Stansted, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Florida repeals peculiar driving licence law
Apr 8th, 2013 by elisa

A peculiar law, which required British citizens to carry an International Driving Permit to hire cars in Florida, has been repealed.

The law was introduced in January without notification to driving organisations such as the AA, or to the UK travel trade. The lack of communication left many British holidaymakers without hire cars for their holidays because they only had UK drivers’ licences, which were invalid because of the new law.

The law only came to light when a British tourist was unable to hire a pre-booked car at Florida airport because he didn’t have the required international permit.

Once it came to the attention of the media, the State of Florida said it wouldn’t enforce the law, which had been originally designed towards drivers with foreign-language drivers’ licences. However, this decision still left holidaymakers unsure of their legal position and insurance rights, fearing lack of cover if they had an accident. Also, some car hire firms continued to insist on the international permit, leaving some people unable to get their pre-booked cars.

The law was, thankfully, repealed last week. Therefore, it is no longer a requirement for British holidaymakers to hold an international permit to hire a car in the State of Florida. However, be aware that some hire firms may still insist on it, so try to check their policy before you book.

 

Travel insurance – check the small print
Feb 27th, 2013 by elisa

How often do you just take the first available travel insurance you find? Or just the cheapest? You might think that they’re all pretty similar, but you’d be wrong, and you could come unstuck if you don’t follow the small print.

A recent survey by consumer rights champion Which? found that out of all insurance products, travel insurance had the highest claim rejection rate and lowest satisfaction amongst consumers.

The most frequently rejected claims were for holidays cancelled because of a relative falling ill, failing to report a loss or theft to police within 24 hours, and lost or stolen belongings not being supervised to the satisfaction of the insurer.

The report said: “We thought asking for loss or thefts to be reported within 24 hours to police was not always possible. Look for policies that don’t put a time limit on when you have to report the incident to the police.

“We also found that insurers can interpret the definition of “unattended belongings” too strictly, we preferred policies which offered cover as long as luggage is “carried in line with a transport provider’s requirements”.

It also found that on examination of 10 large insurers’ policies, some travellers were expected to declare pre-existing medical conditions for relatives, including cousins.

“We think this is unreasonable and advise people to look for policies that restrict this exclusion to relatives’ conditions of which they are aware,” it said.

A spokesperson for Which? added: “Travel insurance policies can be complicated, so it’s no surprise that people can be confused by the small print.

“We advise people read through the policy document before signing anything. If you have a claim rejected, the financial ombudsman can take up your case if an appeal with the insurer fails.”

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