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Enhanced security checks mean any electronic devices that will not switch on will have to be left behind by passengers travelling to the US.
US homeland security confirmed that these checks would be implemented immediately at some airports abroad as it believes that there is a very real threat of terrorist attacks with the potential for phones to be turned into explosive devices that can avoid detection.
It said passengers at airports which offer direct flights to the US may be forced to switch on their electronic devices to prove to security officials that they do not contain explosives. This comes after it was announced last week that extra security measures would be put in place at airports and on flights due to an increased threat of terrorist activity.
The US Transportation Security Administration warned: “Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveller may also undergo additional screening.”
Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind warned against complacency on the issue because there are more threats than have been made public. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Sir Malcolm said: “It is simply foolish to believe that the threat is either minimal or now behind us.
“We have, indeed, been fortunate but, sadly, this has not been because the terrorists have, since 2005, given up trying to do us harm.”
Security is being tightened at UK airports following fears from the US of increased terrorist threat levels.
The security threat level remains at ‘substantial’, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility. The changes come after the White House voiced fears that terrorists were planning to bring down a plane with help from radicalised European jihadists returning from Syria.
President Barack Obama told American TV news channel ABC: “They’ve got European passports. They don’t need a visa to get into the United States”.
The Department of Transport has issued a statement confirming increased security, but would not provide further information on the details of this.
“We have taken the decision to step up some of our aviation security measures,” it said.
“For obvious reasons we will not be commenting in detail on those changes.”
The majority of passengers should not experience significant disruption, but travellers to the US should arrive earlier to allow for any additional time it takes to get through the extra security checks.
“The safety and security of the public is our paramount concern. The UK has some of the most robust aviation security measures and we will continue to take all the steps necessary to ensure that public safety is maintained,” added the Department of Transport.
The Department of Homeland Security said changes to aviation security in the US would be made in the “upcoming days”. Airlines have responded to say they are ready to bring in any new security measures when instructed.
Delays and cancellations are expected from today as French air traffic controllers begin a six-day strike.
The strike over budget cuts is not as large as first feared, as one of the two unions that announced the action backed out at the last minute. However, flights to and from France, and also many flights that travel across French airspace will still be cancelled or delayed.
Eurocontrol, a European air safety organisation, estimated almost 14,000 hours of delays over the strike period. A similar walk out last year led to the cancellation of around 1,800 flights a day across Europe.
Ryanair has cancelled 26 flights to and from France, and British Airways has cancelled three return flights from Heathrow to Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon. Easyjet has cancelled 28 flights, but none of these are from UK airports.
Airlines have said that they will update customers daily on further cancellations.
BA said: “The level of disruption is likely to fluctuate in different parts of France at different parts of each day.
“Unfortunately this industrial action is also highly likely to lead to delays on other short-haul services which have to overfly France.”
“We expect to receive information from the French authorities the day before each strike event as to the levels of mandated cancellations for all airlines on each route.
“We aim to publish our revised schedules by 1400 GMT each day for the following day’s flights.”
Advice for travellers affected by the strikes
A statement on the Easyjet website said: “For cancelled flights, all our customers will be offered a free of charge transfer to a new flight or a full refund.
“We strongly advise customers who wish to travel and want to rebook Easyjet flights to AVOID rebooking flights for any day between 24th-30th June as there is a high likelihood of further disruption that could cause further cancellations.”
Ryanair has urged the French Government and European Union to intervene, calling for the air traffic controllers’ right to strike to be removed and in the meantime to allow neighbouring air traffic providers to keep the skies over France open over the strike period.
Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs said: “It is high time the EU Commission removed these air traffic controllers’ right to strike, in the same way as ATC in the US, and many of Europe’s armies and police forces, are prohibited from striking by law, to stop Europe being held to ransom by a small number of air traffic controllers every summer.”
Tourism minister Helen Grant has been criticised for telling Brits affected by the passport processing delays that there’s a lot to be said for the ‘staycation’.
The Maidstone MP told House magazine that she was confident people will get their passports on time, but if they don’t want to go away “we have some fantastic places to visit and holiday not that far from here”.
She then went on to promote sporting events in the UK this year, including the Tour de France Grand Depart, the golf, Commonwealth Games, and the “football that we can watch on the TV”.
Her comments have been defended by her Tory colleagues, saying that as tourism minister, she is right to champion the domestic tourism market, but claim that she was in no way linking it to the passport backlog.
Her words, however, have angered consumer groups and the Public and Commercial Services Union, particularly as she is reportedly planning a holiday abroad in Spain later this year.
Richard Simcox, spokesman for the union commented: “It is incredibly unhelpful while people are desperately trying to get hold of their passports for ministers to be making this sort of glib remark.
“They should be focusing their efforts on sorting out the problem in the Passport Office. It is all very well for her to go off to Spain while suggesting people who can’t get hold of a passport should stay at home.”
Last week we posted advice for anyone urgently waiting for their passports.
Urgent contingency plans have been put in place at the Passport Office to cope with the huge demand in passport applications.
It has recruited extra staff to operate telephone helplines with extended opening hours from 07:00 to 22:00 weekdays and from 08:00 to 18:00 at weekends. Back office staff have been redeployed to help clear the reported backlog.
Travellers facing an anxious wait for their passports and are due to travel in the next few days are advised to contact the Passport Office directly on 0300 222 00 00. Anyone who applied for a passport by post or the Check & Send service may be able to upgrade to a Premium service.
Standard adult passports cost £72.50 to renew or £81.25 if you use the Post Office’s Passport Check and Send service. Child passports cost £46 or £54.75 respectively.
The premium service costs £128 and means passports can be collected within four hours of being approved. The fast-track service costs £103 with the passport returned within a week of the application being approved.
Passport chief executive Paul Pugh denied a backlog, claiming that 97% of passport renewals and child passports are being processed within the three week turnaround.
“Staff were brought in immediately to respond to the extra demand; we are operating seven days a week and our couriers are delivering passports within 24 hours of being produced.
“We have issued almost three million passports for UK customers in 2014, including over one million issued in the eight weeks since the start of April,” he said.
Mike Jones, of the PCS union, told the BBC: “Thousands of people complain that it has taken more than two months for them to get passports. That clearly is a backlog.”
Monarch Airlines’ new managing director has pledged to bring “humanity and warmth” back to flying in Europe.
Andrew Swaffield, who joined the airline in April, said that these qualities had disappeared from European air travel, and that the customer often gets lost in the process of a “race to the bottom in terms of the cheapest and the biggest and the most efficient” adding, “We’re small enough to think that we don’t have to be like that.”
Monarch have already begun to implement some customer improvements, including posting 45 staff at nine of its major airports to assist customers.
“The feedback tells us that our customers are increasingly finding the airport experience very difficult, so we have put Monarch employees in the airports, in Monarch uniforms, whose job is purely to help customers,” he said.
“We are measuring how it’s going down and so far it’s been entirely positive.”
He said the next stage would be to improve communication, particularly when things go wrong. This would include being open with customers about what’s going on, particularly with delays or technical problems.
Swaffield emphasised the importance of price being key at the internet booking stage, particularly as people don’t tend to differentiate between anything but price, adding “but once you’ve got somebody experiencing something better, they will come back, especially when they are travelling with their loved ones.”
Finally, he emphasised that the airline will be responding to customer travel trends and will adjust its schedules accordingly.
“It’s no longer just about Saturday departures and two-week stays, it’s about flying midweek or for long weekends and taking more, but shorter trips.”
Monarch has just been awarded ‘WorldHost Recognised Business’ status after 1,690 of its staff, from pilots to office workers, undertook an intensive 10-day WorldHost customer service training programme.
A 24 hour strike on the Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect services has been announced for 4th June.
Rail union RMT has instructed all Heathrow Express members to take strike action from 03.00 hours on Wednesday June 4, 2014 until 02.59 hours on Thursday June 5, 2014 in response to an ongoing dispute over cuts.
The union claims 201 jobs are now under threat of redundancy because of the rail service’s plans to re-organise its workforce in order to save £6 million over the next five years.
It says the attack on jobs and working conditions are a result of the Civil Aviation Authority’s decision to cut £600 million from Heathrow Airport’s budget over the same period.
Ryanair’s on-time landing trumpet jingle will sound its last after passengers branded it “annoying”, “awful” and “cheesy”.
The airline has decided to stop playing the famous bugle, which sounds at the end of every flight that lands on time, after feedback from a Twitter-led survey.
The move is part of a series of customer service improvements started at the end of 2013. So far the airline has introduced ‘quiet’ flights with less in-flight announcements before 8am and after 8pm, it has also given passengers a 24-hour grace period in which to correct any minor errors made in bookings, and it’s removed the ‘Recaptcha’ security code for individual bookings.
A Ryanair spokesperson hinted that the bugle will be replaced by something else, and its “next customer improvement” will be unveiled soon.
Positive growth for the travel industry as Mastercard Advisors report a rise in travel spending in three out of the first four months of this year.
Group head and senior vice president at Mastercard Advisors, Sarah Quinlan, said sales growth has been rising steadily throughout the early part of 2014, which is “a vast improvement” on 2013 overall.
The sunny weather and rising wages in April have made a positive impact on the travel sector.
“Travel businesses in the UK should be encouraged by the positive sales growth in April,” she said.
“As the economy strengthens we would expect to see momentum build this year with consumers becoming confident to spend hard earned wages on summer holidays or short city breaks rather than saving everything for a rainy day.”
Overall, retail sales are up 5.5% year-on-year in April, however, Quinlan still warns that any increased travel expenditure will be gradual, as wages have only shown slow improvement and discretionary spending on travel is still a luxury for many.
Good news for British Airways, which has been ranked best airline in almost every category except value by a Skyscanner survey.
BA came first for its food and drink, onboard experience, its style and customer service in short-haul flights, but ranked third in ‘best value for money’. It was beaten by Easyjet in second place, and little-known airline, Norwegian, in first place.
Norwegian was a surprise contender and fared extremely well in the survey, biting at BA’s heels in second place for most of the categories.
Skyscanner’s Mary Porter said: “Being a Superbrand and one which Brits are very proud of, it’s perhaps not surprising that British Airways has scooped the top spot in our survey.
“However it is particularly interesting to see such strong results for a far less well-known airline, with Norwegian taking second place and goes to show that low cost does not necessarily mean an inferior product or service.”
The survey was of 4,000 British travellers, surveyed on their opinion of airlines’ short-haul flights from the UK.