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Computer glitch causes airline chaos

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Thousands of customers of some of the largest airlines on the planet have had their travel plans disrupted by a computer glitch which meant that they could not buy tickets, reserve seats or check in over the internet. Among the airlines affected were Qantas, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Iberia.

The meltdown happened for around three hours on Monday with the Amadeus system. There are four main booking systems used by the airline industry and when one breaks down it causes havoc at a time when carriers expect passengers to streamline their travel itinerary over the internet.

The breakdown has also affected travel agents who have not been able to access tickets on behalf of their clients. Amadeus has not yet given a reason for the failure of its systems, but has told customers that it is sorry if they experienced any undue disruption. It has also apologised to those airlines which have been affected.

Similar systems run by Galileo and Worldspan were not affected by the glitch.

Industry experts have said that it was fortunate that the problem happened during a relatively quiet travel period and that the situation would have been far more serious during a bank holiday, or over the summer.

BA joins other airlines returning to Libya

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

British Airways is to once again fly to Libya after it suspended services last February when the country descended into civil war. The decision has been made despite the fact that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains adamant that all but the most essential travel to the country be avoided.

Since the fighting ended in October, a flight ban over the North African country has been lifted by NATO. BA will now join a number of other European airlines which have decided that it is once again safe to carry passengers to Tripoli. Alitalia has already resumed services, and Air France said that it will begin to fly to the capital once again on 27 March.

Keith Williams, chief executive of BA, said that he was extremely pleased to be able to announce that services were to resume. He added that the airline was proud of its history of providing a vital economic link to the country. BA has been examining the security risks in Libya since the cessation of hostilities.

When war broke out, tour companies were forced to cancel bookings to the region. Operators such as Abercrombie and Kent, Exodus and Responsible Travel had previously offered travellers the opportunity of exploring the country including its many ancient ruins.

Responsible Travel said that it was unlikely that operations would return to normal in Libya until the FCO changed its advice on visiting the country. BA said that it would be operating three services to Tripoli every week.

Holidaymakers tighten their belts this summer

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

In order to keep the cost of this year’s summer holiday down, many Brits admit that they will be staying at home this year rather than travel overseas. A Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance survey indicates that only 45 per cent plan to pay for a foreign trip.

Among the cost saving strategies being employed by those who will be going overseas are booking a package deal so that most of the costs are already covered beforehand. The study found that 13 per cent would be looking for a self-catering option in order to keep expenditure down. Staying with relatives or friends was the belt-tightening choice for 13 per cent of respondents.

David Barrett, from Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance, said that the majority of travellers were actively looking for holiday options which would keep costs to a minimum. He added that although most of us were refusing to give up on a holiday at a time when household budgets were being squeezed, tactics such as booking trips at the last minute to make sure we are getting the best deal were more widespread than in previous years.

The survey found that 23 per cent of travellers were not planning to make a booking until between March and June, and a further 10 per cent were going to wait until the high season – between July and September – before looking for a deal.

Summer holidays had already been booked by only 16 per cent of those intending to leave home in 2012.

Emirates grows presence at Glasgow Airport

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Emirates has announced that it will be adding an extra service to the Middle East from Glasgow Airport as of 1 June. The decision means that there will now be two daily flights linking the Scottish city to Dubai. Emirates first started flying the route eight years ago, and claims that it has already carried 1.7 million passengers and boosted that Glasgow economy by some £164 million.

The announcement is bad news for Edinburgh Airport which has been in long-running talks with Emirates to secure a link to Dubai. Having Emirates set up a base at the airport would have allowed passengers to link to destinations in the east without first having to stopover at a European hub. Edinburgh said that it was continuing to have talks with other Middle Eastern carriers.

Laurie Berryman, vice-president for Emirates UK and Ireland, said the Boeing 777 service, capable of carrying 360 passengers, was already operating at capacity from Glasgow. The company intends to introduce a new 274-seater Airbus A340 on the route. Both aircraft will feature a first-class cabin.

Mr Berryman said that the Glasgow service had already been extremely successful and predicted that the second daily flight would produce strong growth. Aviation analyst at JLS Consulting, John Strickland, said the decision to add a second service to the Middle East was extremely good news for the Scottish economy, as well as for Glasgow Airport.

He added that the decision was not such good news for Edinburgh Airport, which would now find it more difficult to add a Middle Eastern route to its portfolio.

Emirates takes control of Travel Republic

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Emirates Airline is continuing its expansion into the world of online holidays by taking over Travel Republic, one of the UK’s best known internet holiday brands. The company will now be controlled by Dnata, Emirates’ holiday arm, but will continue to operate under the Travel Republic brand.

According to Dnata, Travel Republic will compliment its existing corporate and leisure travel services. The firm was set up in the UK in 2003 and last year managed to increase its turnover by 40 per cent to £400 million. Recently the company’s management have expanded their focus to Europe and have opened in Spain, Italy and Ireland. Dnata said its intention is to work closely with the team at Travel Republic and take the brand global.

Travel Republic’s managing director, Kane Pirie, said joining Dnata will allow it to accelerate its ambitions to expand. The website currently offers customers a choice of 650 destinations around the world with 100 airlines. It also provides access to 120,000 hotels.

In recent years Dnata has been expanding and diversifying. In 2008 the company acquired 49 per cent of Mind Pearl, a global outsource provider, as well as a 23 per cent stake in Hogg Robinson, the corporate travel group.

In 2010 Dnata widened its airport reach by taking over Alpha Flight, an in-flight catering company. The acquisition of Travel Republic has been made at a time when consumers are moving away from booking holidays on the high street and doing so online. Thomas Cook recently announced that it was being forced to close 200 outlets because of a slump in profits.

Euston Station not built to handle HS2

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The controversial HS2 rail link to Birmingham from London could cause congestion at some London Underground stations which would negate the argument that it will save on travel times, according to Transport for London. The body’s deputy chairman, Daniel Moylen, has argued that if the scheme were to go ahead, then key stations such as Euston may need to shut down during rush-hour periods.

He explained that there was no space at Euston for an influx of thousands of additional passengers. It is estimated that an extra 3,400 commuters would try to use the station. The only way this would be possible, other than initiating a closure during the morning, would be an expansion project, Mr Moylen explained.

The new train line, which would transport passengers at up to 250mph, would not be opened before 2026. Critics of the project say the estimated budget of £33 billion would be much better spent improving the current transport infrastructure. There has also been much criticism of the planned route which would slice through areas of natural beauty.

Transport for London claims that if the scheme gets the green-light, then the number of people attempting to use the Victoria Line from Euston will double. It said a similar situation would affect the Northern Line.

HS2 has responded by claiming that, during the project’s primary phase, the number of passengers at Euston would only be expected to rise by around two per cent. A spokesman said HS2 would be prepared to work alongside TfL on any expansion project at the station.

January train fare hike announced

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The Association of Train operating companies has announced a controversial hike in the price of train fares for January. The average ticket price is set to rise by 5.9 per cent. However, the figure hides the fact that on some journeys, ticket prices will rocket by more than nine per cent.

An analysis of the ATOC figures shows that a London to Nuneaton saver return will cost 9.2 per cent more than it does now; and a London to Plymouth off-peak return is set to increase in price by 9.4 per cent. In some cities in the south-east, commuters will have to spend more than £4,000 for a season ticket.

Passenger Focus has accused ATOC of confusing travellers about just how much more expensive their tickets will be in January. Chief executive, Anthony Smith said a lack of transparency meant that commuters will have to dig through the information to find out just how out of pocket they will be.

Maria Eagle, Labour’s transport spokesperson, said the government was letting train users down by allowing operators to hike prices above the six per cent which has been announced.

Sophie Allen from Campaign for Better Transport said that the new prices were eye watering. She explained that train travel in the UK was already the most expensive in Europe, and that the fare hike would damage the economy at a time when it needs all the help it can get. The RMT said the only winners were the train companies.

Zodiac Aerospace keen to takeover airline seat builder Contour

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

A British-based airline seat manufacturer could soon be owned by France’s Zodiac Aerospace SA if approval for a deal is sanctioned by competition regulators. Contour Aerospace Ltd, based in Cwmbran, is expecting contracts to be signed at some point in early 2012. The company employs 1,000 people in Cwmbran, and has a base in Surrey, which has a further 250 staff.

Contour bosses have said that any agreement with the French should have no impact on its British staff. Ian Plummer, the firm’s joint managing director, said although it was very much business as usual at the moment, a deal with Zodiac would deliver a number of advantages.

Contour wishes to be the prime developer of airline seats for the premium sector, and Mr Plummer explained that under Zodiac, the company would have greater access to resources and a more extensive aerospace group.

He added that Contour would continue to work on developing the concepts and designs on which had already built an impressive reputation. Contour was the company which developed and supplied British Airways with its first lie-flat seats. Zodiac’s seat division has been in direct competition with Contour for airline contracts.

Zodiac Aerospace employs 23,000 staff around the world and last year published revenues of £2.3 billion. Chief executive, Olivier Zarrouati, said that Zodiac had been impressed by the capabilities which Contour was showing. He added that he was looking forward to combining the relative strengths of both firms, and developing the obvious potential of Contour.

APD rise causes BA to announce hiring cut

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

As the government announces that Air Passenger Duty will go up by 8 per cent from next April, British Airways has said it will be cutting the number of staff it will be taking on in 2012 from 800 to 400. IAG, the parent company of BA, said that the cuts were a direct result of the Chancellor’s decision.

An unprecedented alliance between four of the UK’s largest carriers is calling for the controversial tax to be scrapped. IAG head Willie Walsh, and the bosses of easyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic are calling on the government to initiate an independent review into the economic impact of APD.

Mr Walsh said that he believed the negative impact of APD on the economy would far outweigh any benefits for the Treasury. Many other airlines are also supporting an abolition of the charge.

A spokesman for the Treasury defended the tax, saying that the airline industry had to do its bit to help the recovery of the UK economy. A spokesman for the prime minister said Downing Street was disappointed that BA would be cutting the number of new jobs it would be creating, adding that APD had brought in around £2.5 billion which was an important contribution to battling the financial deficit.

The government has also pointed out that aviation fuel and domestic flights were not subject to VAT. It also said that a reduction in corporation tax would benefit airlines. As of next year, APD will also apply to those travelling in private jets.

American Airlines shares fall as bankruptcy protection sought

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

AMR Corp., parent company of American Airlines, has applied for bankruptcy protection and seen the value of its shares plummet. On Tuesday, they were down 81 per cent and are now worth just 31 cents each. Efforts to negotiate cost cuts have failed in recent weeks, and AMR said that it was spending $600 million on staff costs above what other airlines were paying out.

Filing for Chapter 11 means that AMR is hoping to keep the creditors at bay while it tries to fix its debt situation, or sell part of its business. Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, all other major airlines in the US filed for Chapter 11. American Airlines’ competitors have all managed to cut costs and revise workers’ agreements since then.

AMR has also announced that chief executive of AA, Gerard Arpey, will be retiring. He will be replaced by Thomas Horton, AA’s current chairman. Mr Horton said that the airline would now be looking to negotiate with the unions about revising the terms and conditions of its employees. He added that the decision to file for bankruptcy protection was unanimously voted for by the company’s board.

Allied Pilots Association president, David Bates, said he understood that the terms of employment within the company were likely to change. He added that the allotted timeline of 18 months for restructuring was also likely to result in a revision of the carrier’s business plan.

Mr Horton said he was convinced that AA would emerge a more robust company.