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2012 Round up
Jan 2nd, 2013 by elisa

Happy new year to all our readers! 2012 was an eventful year for travel news, so here’s a round up of the major stories that we covered over the year.

The year started with opposition to the newly introduced European Commission’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) with the China Air Transport Association (CATA) stating that its members would not cooperate with the new tax; followed by a meeting between other opposing countries to discuss possible retaliatory measures.

February continued with the debate over ETS. Europe dug its heels in to keep the scheme while opposing countries signed a declaration regarding measures they wished to be taken before they would comply.  Meanwhile, growing social unrest in Greece prompted warnings from the Foreign Office.

KLM and Malaysia Airlines launched their own cheeky social networking in the sky schemes in March. Cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines suspended international flights on eight major routes shortly after BA suspended its codeshare agreement with the airline. Ryanair caused controversy as it was investigated over leaving exit seats empty after introducing a premium charge for the extra legroom they provided.

April began with travel disruption in Spain and Portugal. Malaysia Airlines implemented adult only sections on flights. Up to 1,200 redundancies at BMI were announced after the takeover by IAG.

Speculation over the improbability of IAG finding a buyer for BMI Regional was quashed when it sold the airline in May.

Positive news in June as figures for international air travel rose by 7% compared to the previous year. However, these figures were not enough to stop Easyjet from announcing the closure of its base in Madrid.

A landmark move by the Office of Fair Trading forced airlines to be transparent about their credit and debit card charges in July. Strikes at major UK airports were averted at the last hour on the eve of the Olympics, preventing large-scale travel disruption.

The UK and the world was overtaken by London 2012 Olympics fever in July through to August. Helped by around 1,300 volunteers, Heathrow gave the athletes a grand London-themed send off.

A new generation of security scanners was trialled at Manchester Airport in September. A new compensation ruling was implemented in October for flights over three hours late. Hurricane Sandy battered the East coast of the USA at the end of October, which caused many flight cancellations.

Ryanair introduced a 2% credit card fee to bookings in November. In the same month, a new low-cost African airline, Fastjet, was launched.

Gatwick reinstated the volunteers which were so well received during London 2012 to help with Christmas cheer over the busy festive travel season.

 

So, that was 2012. What a year! Keep an eye on this blog for more travel news over 2013!

Olympics volunteers bring Christmas spirit to Gatwick
Dec 19th, 2012 by elisa

The upbeat cheer of the volunteers during the Olympics is being brought back to London Gatwick this Christmas.

The airport is bringing back a small team of the London Ambassadors between 17th December and 2nd January. They will be on hand to give help and advice during the airport’s busy holiday period.

Also joining them will be Santa and his reindeer, and some carol singers to get everyone in the festive spirit before they depart for their holidays.

The busiest day is expected to be Sunday 23rd December, with the airport handling 56,000 passengers.

Louisa Craven of Gatwick terminal operations said: “Staff and extra helpers, including the London Ambassadors who made such a great impression during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, will be on hand to assist at every stage to ensure our passengers enjoy a great experience at Gatwick with some fun, festive entertainment along the way.”

 

Heathrow gives London-themed send off to London 2012 athletes
Aug 13th, 2012 by elisa

It’s the send-off London Heathrow have been preparing for seven years for, according to BAA chief executive Colin Matthews, the day after the close of London 2012.

Today the airport will see off around 116,000 people, compared to around 95,000 departing passengers on an average day. It will be the first use of the specially constructed temporary Olympic terminal, which is around three times the size of an Olympic swimming pool, and has been transformed to look like a London park. It has plants, park benches, replica gas lights, trees and model stags. London’s skyline is printed on the walls and some Heathrow staff are even dressing up as park wardens for the day.

The departing athletes will be invited to record their favourite memory of the Games and hang it on a tree, which will be displayed at the airport after the games. The comments will also be put into books to be given to the 1,300 Heathrow volunteers.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews said: “We want to continue the feel-good factor of the Games at the airport on our busiest day for departing athletes. I hope our Games Terminal park will bring a smile to passengers’ faces and contribute to final happy memories of London.”

“Olympic Village check-in went according to plan yesterday with thousands of bags being processed at Heathrow overnight. Today’s departures present a fresh challenge with new facilities like the Games Terminal being used for the first time. We have been preparing for seven years to deliver a farewell of which Great Britain can be proud.”

Waiting times at airports harming the economy, say ministers
Jul 26th, 2012 by elisa

Ministers are calling for the Home Office to relax security checks at airports and to revert back to the risk-based checks abandoned last year. The ministers say that long queues at UK airports are damaging the travel industry and could harm the wider economy.

Although more staff have been recruited for the period during the Olympics, the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee said they fear waiting times will increase again afterwards as staff will be cut back again yet there will be more foreign students arriving in the UK for the new academic year, impacting on waiting times once again.

The risk-based checks mean that security staff could wave through low-risk groups such as groups of school children and families with children. However, this strategy was stopped last year as it was found that security staff had relaxed the rules further than had been intended, and without authorisation. The Select Committee called for the reintroduction of the checks, claiming in a report that it had been effective in handling large groups, and to add “smart zones” to screen passengers before they arrive in the UK so that any individuals deemed to present a risk could be subjected to further checks.

A further measure suggested to help passengers feel more informed about waiting times, is for boards with the approximate waiting time to be installed at security and immigration, similar to those currently at Heathrow T4.

 

Would relaxing the rules be a good idea for low-risk groups? Does this suggestion seem strange after an 11 year-old boy was able to pass through security and board a plane to Rome without a passport or boarding pass yesterday?

Olympic airport strikes averted
Jul 25th, 2012 by elisa

A strike at airports by UK Home Office staff including immigration and Border Agency staff planned for the eve of the Olympics has been called off.

The agreement to stop the strike came during talks on Tuesday night. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said they agreed to halt the strike because the government said they would recruit 800 new staff at the Border Agency and a further 300 in passport offices. The decision came just ask the government were seeking a High Court injunction to stop it.

The union has not ruled out further strikes in the autumn as they have yet to agree on the issue of caps on pay rises and compulsory redundancies, but for now, the UK has averted potentially embarrassing delays at airports during the Olympic period.

Mark Serwotka, the PCS’s general secretary, said: “We are not ending our dispute with the Home Office today or around the questions we have raised. “What we have done is not call industrial action tomorrow or in the next few weeks. The dispute remains in place.”

The government claims that it has not backed down on the issues however, but that the roles had been decided before the decision by the union to strike and were not new jobs created because of the threatened strikes. Immigration Minister Damian Green said the posts were “being advertised to fill gaps left by normal staff turnover”.

Airports operator BAA welcomed the news: “So far passengers arriving for the Olympics have had a smooth journey through Heathrow and it is great news that those arriving tomorrow can also expect a warm welcome to London and the Games,” said a spokeswoman.

 

Strike on eve of Olympics
Jul 20th, 2012 by elisa

A strike on the eve of the Olympics has been called by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) for thousands of workers at the Home Office. It will involve staff from the UK Border Agency, Identity and Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau. The 24 hour strike on 26th July, which could severely disrupt travel to and from airports in the UK on one of their busiest days of the year, is over plans to cut 8,500 jobs, cap pay rises at 1% following a two-year wage freeze, privatisating services and the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport, South Wales.

Contingency plans are being drawn up to cope with the strain on the services, but the act has been branded “shameful” by politicians and travel businesses.

In an article in the Independent, Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of business group London First said: “Calling a strike on the demand of 12% of members is ridiculous. This action shows a cynical contempt for the public by a minority of PCS members.

“At a time when everyone wants the UK to look good and show the world what it is capable of, the PCS is behaving like a sulky child who isn’t getting his own way.”

Labour MP John McDonnell, who chairs the PCS Parliamentary Group, said: “The Government has brought this dispute on its own head. The UKBA and passport staff have been raising their concerns over job cuts and the impact on services for over 12 months now.

“The PCS Parliamentary Group only met the minister three weeks ago to warn him of the low morale caused by the Government’s actions and the urgent need to stop compulsory redundancies.”

Of the 20% turnout in the ballot, around 57% voted for strikes.

What do you think about the strike? Is it justified at a time when the country is putting on the Olympics and is trying to show itself off to the world? Or have these issues raised by the union gone on without solution for too long and this is the only way to get the negotiations started? Please post your comments below.

Long queues at Heathrow
Jul 2nd, 2012 by elisa

Immigration queues at Heathrow have risen once again, with passengers reporting delays of up to two and a half hours.

BAA has target times of 45 minutes for non-EU passengers, and 25 minutes for those with UK and EU passengers, but according to the Telegraph, the airport operator had to admit that these targets were missed at the weekend.

On Friday passengers at Terminal 4 were stuck in half-mile queues, and claimed that two out of three desks at immigration were not manned.

Union officials have warned that immigration will be chaos over the Olympic Games period as an extra 650,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport.

However, it’s been reported that an extra 72 immigration workers will be made available from 15th July, which should increase numbers from 453 to 535.

 

High-tech system installed at Heathrow to improve flight punctuality
Jun 22nd, 2012 by elisa

A high-tech computer software system is being installed at Heathrow Airport to improve flight punctuality.

BAA, the airport’s operator, says the £5m system will help to cope with the extra influx of passengers over the Olympic Games.

According to reports in the Financial Times, the software enables “real-time sharing of flight data between BAA, airlines, baggage handlers and air traffic controllers”.

The FT reported BAA’s head of airside activities at Heathrow, Tim Hardy, as saying that the technology would mean a reduction in time spent by aircraft on taxiways waiting for take-off, which should cut airlines’ aggregate fuel bills by £10m a year, and reduce carbon emissions at the airport by 30,000 tonnes.

He said the development would also strengthen the argument for a third runway at the airport, because Heathrow will be seen to be running to the highest possible standards.

 

Brits last-minute holiday bargain hunters during Olympics
Jun 21st, 2012 by elisa

Nearly one in five Britons is planning to go on holiday during the Olympics, with over half yet to even book, according to data released by Amadeus.

Of the 2,000 adults questioned, 19% are planning to travel between 27th July and 12th August, either in the UK or abroad, with just under half of them still to book. The reason so many are holding off booking is because they are hoping for a last-minute holiday bargain.

A quarter of participants also said that a reduction in the cost of a trip would encourage them to go on holiday.

Diane Bouzebiba, managing director of Amadeus, UK and Ireland, said: “Whilst the Games undoubtedly present a very exciting prospect for lot of people, our survey shows that there are also plenty who are looking to get away – and nearly half of those haven’t yet booked their holiday.

“With our data also revealing the huge appetite amongst the public for deals on travel, the Olympics clearly present a huge opportunity for travel agents in the UK.”

If you’re tempted by a last minute trip away, check out Villaseek for travel abroad, or Holiday Cottages for travel around the UK.

“Don’t fly. Support Team GB” new British Airways campaign
Jun 19th, 2012 by elisa

British Airways launched a controversial marketing campaign this morning. The campaign urges Britons to stay at home during the Olympics this summer, causing annoyance to many outbound operators who were also infuriated by a government campaign earlier in the summer, which also encouraged Brits to stay at home.

The BA advert was launched at 11.00am on its Facebook page. It lets viewers type in their post code and watch people boarding a BA aircraft which then taxis around London and then through their street, ending in the tagline: “Don’t fly. Support Team GB and Paralympics GB”.

The ad has also been shown during tonight’s Euro 2012 match between England and Ukraine, which will have been viewed by millions. The advert already has 4,221 ‘likes’ on Facebook, a number which is growing rapidly. There is also to be a print version in national newspapers and on billboards.

ABTA doesn’t appear to have been antagonised by the advert, despite the potential for it to dissuade Brits from travelling over the summer peak. An ABTA spokesman said: “Everybody in the industry is fully behind team GB at both the Olympics and Paralympics. The incredible domestic demand for Olympics tickets has shown that there is very little danger of our athletes lacking home support.

“Our own research show that the public are divided between those who at one extreme, have changed their holiday plans to stay in the UK and at the other, those who are leaving the country to actively avoid the games. Whatever customers choose it will be a summer to remember.”

Frank van der Post, BA managing director of brands and customer experience, said: “We”re rallying the country to get behind Team GB and Paralympics GB to capitalise on home advantage. Whether it’s delaying your summer holiday, finding where to get behind the country with our “best sports bars abroad” guide, or cheering them on at Park Live at the Olympic Park – we are encouraging every extra clap and cheer we can get.”

 

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