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British Airways cabin crew to vote on industrial action

Monday, February 14th, 2011

British Airways cabin crew are preparing to go to the polls once more to vote on whether further strikes are deemed necessary. The airline and its employees have been engaged in a battle over working conditions, pay and travel privileges since the end of 2009. If crew members decide to vote in favour of a walkout, disruption could potentially upset the plans of those aiming to travel with the airline at Easter or over the bank holiday marking the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

Leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, has said it is unlikely that members will want to strike over the holiday period, but if they do, they will receive his full support.

Last year saw 22 days of industrial action cost BA around £150 million. The flag-carrier has since employed ancillary staff to make sure that all of its long-haul services will operate as usual in the event of a strike. A recent ballot was declared invalid after lawyers for the airline made objections over how the ballot was conducted.

A spokesman for BA urged Unite to go back to a deal struck at the end of last year. Although union bosses agreed that deal, more militant members said it remained unacceptable.

Although the recent vote was not declared valid, 5,700 union members appear to have been keen to continue their fight with BA. The latest ballot is expected to be conducted before the end of this month meaning strike action could take place as soon as April.

Qantas looks to protect international business

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Qantas Airways is looking at a number of options for protecting its market share of international business both to and from the country. Recently, the flag-carrier has been faced with strong competition from rivals including Virgin Blue and Emirates. The airline’s boss, Alan Joyce, has assembled a team of around 20 experts to examine the situation.

Joyce said he was looking at a possible international tie-up with another airline similar to the alliance agreed between Virgin Blue and Etihad. He will also be underpinning new routes with more fuel efficient planes such as the superjumbo A380 from Airbus. From 2012, older aircraft will be replaced by the delivery of the first Dreamliners from Boeing. The carrier currently has an order for 50.

Managing director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, Peter Harbison, admitted that the opportunities for Qantas within Australia were limited and that it will become a key aspect of its expansion programme to form an alliance with another large operator.

Qantas has dabbled in tie-ups before. A potential deal with Malaysian Airlines floundered and in December 2008 a possible deal with British Airways was abandoned. Joyce said that Qantas was currently being supported by other arms of the business and that this had to stop.

Last month, Qantas agreed a deal with American Airlines on routes to and from the US. Transpacific services were once the most profitable for the carrier. However, since 2008, Qantas has witnessed increasing competition from Delta and Virgin Blue which now share the route.

Expedia opens new Scottish base in Edinburgh

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Expedia is hoping to expand its presence in Scotland after opening an office in Edinburgh. The online travel giant said it aims to boost sales across the country by around 40 per cent by the end of 2011. The decision to open in the capital was made after the firm saw a rise in the popularity of the country from foreign travellers visiting its websites.

The travel firm’s marketing manager for Scotland, Irene Roberts, said the new Edinburgh base meant Expedia would be able to have more direct contact with its clients. Currently, it serves over 600 B&Bs, hotels and guesthouses in Scotland. It will now be much easier for travel experts to work directly on developing promotions and helping hotel managers with their marketing strategy, according to Roberts.

Expedia is currently using its websites to actively target travellers with Scottish travel opportunities in more that 40 countries around the globe. Roberts said the highest demand for Scottish destinations was being seen in countries including Scandinavia, North America, Germany and France.

She added that Scotland was the perfect destination for those looking for all-year-round travel opportunities. The country is Expedia’s most popular travel destination in Britain and Ireland following London and Dublin.

Hotels are not charged for advertising on Expedia’s 93 websites. Revenues are generated either through sales or on a commission basis. Roberts said hotels benefited from Expedia’s translation service, knowledge of customer booking patterns and promotional expertise. Among the other popular websites managed by Expedia are and TripAdvisor.

British Airways faces fresh wave of strikes

Monday, January 24th, 2011

British Airways customers planning to go away with the airline over the school half-term or at Easter may have to rethink their plans as cabin crew once again vote in favour of industrial action. Although no dates have yet been confirmed, the union has not ruled out staging strikes over the holidays.

The latest ballot to strike was supported by 78.5 per cent of those who turned out. According to Len McCluskey, the general secretary elect of Unite, the vote proves that staff at BA are still unhappy with the way in which they are being treated.

In October last year it looked as if the long-running row between BA and the union had come to an end as the airline’s chief executive, Willie Walsh, and joint general secretary of Unite, Tony Woodley, finally agreed on a solution. However, more militant members of the union were not happy and called for the latest ballot.

According to a spokesman for BA the latest ballot was only supported by 43 per cent of crew members. He added that since the dispute started 2,500 members of the airline’s cabin crew have actually left the union. He went on to say that contrary to what union bosses claim, the percentage of those voting in favour of industrial action is falling every time a ballot is announced.

He urged Unite to look again at the deal which was agreed in October pointing out that it guaranteed pay rises for staff over the coming two years and secured conditions which are already the best in the British airline industry.

Tour companies scramble to get Brits out of Tunisia

Monday, January 17th, 2011

British Airways customers are angry that while many tour companies were doing everything in their power to get customers out of riot torn Tunisia, the airline was continuing to take passengers in. One woman claims she called the airline after seeing reports of the violence to ask if everything was alright. Apparently BA said it was, even though the foreign office was issuing danger warnings.

Thomas Cook said it managed to get most of its 1,800 customers out of the country on Friday by providing and extra six flights. It also added services over Saturday and Sunday, according to a spokeswoman. British Airways said it has no plans to lay on extra services and that the next flight out with the flag-carrier would be on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Tui, which owns Thomson and First Choice, said it had now managed to get all of its customers out of Tunisia. Many Brits fleeing the violence have described how unofficial roadblocks have been erected by those searching out supporters of the deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Reports are that around 100 have already lost their lives in the fighting. One of the President’s nephews has apparently been stabbed to death and three policemen have been lynched.

Passengers arriving home at Gatwick Airport have described scenes of carnage and dead bodies lying in the streets. There are reports that tensions are beginning to grow in neighbouring Libya and the leaders of countries across North Africa are likely to be concerned.

BA accused of bullying by Unite

Monday, January 10th, 2011

A survey conducted by the union representing the interests of British Airways’ cabin crew suggests that most employees of the airline have witnessed or been the subject of bullying. The result of the poll of 2,000 employees is unlikely to ease tensions between the flag-carrier and its staff.

A dispute between cabin crew and the airline is entering its third year with no sign of a resolution. The row started out as a protest against staffing cuts, but has since morphed into a battle over travel perks. If the latest vote is in favour of industrial action then cabin crew could walk out by the end of January.

Tony Woodley, Unites outgoing general secretary, urged BA boss Willie Walsh to return to the negotiating table. He said the company’s war on its workforce was ruining what was once a great airline. BA has assured passengers that if fresh strike action goes ahead it will still be running all long-haul flights. Services will also not be affected at either Gatwick or City airports.

Len McCluskey, Unites new leader, will be talking to members of the union at a meeting at Kempton Park today. He is expected to announce his total support for BA’s cabin crew for as long as it takes them to reach a deal with the carrier.

A spokeswoman for BA said it completely disagreed with any accusations of bullying in the workplace. She added that the carrier had very strict regulations in place for dealing with such behaviour and that these regulations had been agreed upon with Unite.

Russian airliner explodes before take off

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

A Russian airliner carrying eight crew members and 116 passengers has exploded killing three and injuring dozens more. The incident occurred as the Kogalymavia owned Tupolev-154 was taxiing ahead of take-off at Surgut airport in western Siberia. The jet was headed for Moscow.

The explosion occurred after a fire ignited in one of the Tu-154 engines. Pictures taken at the scene show flames and smoke poring from the wreckage. Most of the crew and passengers managed to make it to safety. However, according to emergency workers, 43 passengers suffered injuries, 10 seriously. Although some were treated for burns and broken bones, most were suffering from the effects of inhaling smoke and fumes.

An investigation into how the incident occurred is now underway. A criminal probe is also taking place to find out whether Kogalymavia was in breach of security rules. There have been a number of crashes involving the Tu-154 in recent years. It is an aging plane, having first entered service in the 1970s.

Flag carrier Aeroflot has removed all of its Tu-154s from service, but the aircraft remains popular with a variety of regional carriers. Because of its unacceptable engine-noise levels, the mid-range jet is no longer permitted to fly to many parts of Europe.

On board at the time the fire started was member of the Russian rock band Na-Na, Sergei Grigoriev. He described to news agency ITAR-TASS how the cabin filled with dense smoke causing passengers to panic. He said he saw people clambering over each other and added that he saw his own life flash before him.

Passengers stranded as blizzards batter the US

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Snow storms hitting the north-east coast of America are causing travel chaos as services are disrupted on trains, planes and buses. Motorists are also being warned that the conditions on the roads should be taken into consideration by those keen to go bargain hunting in the sales.

Flights at each of New York’s main airports have been cancelled ahead of the stormy weather and passengers can expect more cancellations through Monday. Both Boston and New York have been warned to expect at least a foot of snow. Although forecasters originally said that Philadelphia should be prepared for up to 20 inches of snow, they have now revised that prediction to around 12 inches.

Other areas where the wintry weather has caused airline schedules to be disrupted include the Carolinas, Washington DC, Chicago and Baltimore. However, some carriers say that a normal service should start to return by Tuesday.

More than 100 flights were cancelled by US Airways on Sunday ahead of the disruption expected today. The airline said it had done this to prevent passengers form ending up stranded. Cancellations from Kennedy Airport meant that many passengers decided to postpone travel plans instead of making their way to the airport in the hope that they might be rebooked.

Cancelled bus services on east-coast routes have left thousands stranded. Some rail services have also been cancelled because of the blizzards. William Babcock of the National Weather Service said that by the end of the day much of Massachusetts and Rhode Island will have more than 12 inches of snow on the ground.

Winter insurance claims from motorists expected to rise

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The AA is predicting a hike in the number of insurance claims made over the festive period from motorists having accidents directly attributable to the current severe weather conditions. Across the UK the number of claims is already up by ten per cent and nearly a quarter of these claims are due to the snow and ice.

In Scotland, 51 per cent of those contacting their insurance brokers are doing so because of the current weather conditions, and 34 per cent of those claiming in Wales are doing so because of collisions on the icy roads.

According to the AA, the most common cause for an insurance claim in severe weather is from people who have had a rear end collision while stopped at a roundabout or a road junction. The motoring organisation advises that a gap of at least ten seconds is left between cars so that the chances of slipping into the car in front are kept to a minimum. The second most common claim is for collisions with parked cars.

Simon Douglas, the AA’s insurance director, points out that one way of helping to prevent such incidents is to equip vehicles with snow tyres. This will enable cars to better grip the roads when they have snow and ice on them.

Douglas also advised drivers to plan their journeys extremely carefully over the Christmas period and warned them to keep an eye on the local weather forecasts. He went on to say that attention should be paid to the advice being given by the local police. If they are saying not to venture out, then it is best not to venture out.

Drug drivers unlikely to get caught

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Road safety experts are warning that drug drivers will continue to get away with being high behind the wheel until some type of roadside testing device is issued to the country’s traffic police. At the moment all an officer can do if a suspected drug driver is apprehended is ask them to perform a field impairment test. This involves touching the nose and managing to walk in a straight line.

Even the Police Federation admits that such tests are flawed and that most officers are unsure how to conduct the tests properly anyway. Another hurdle to securing a conviction of a drug driver is the lack of knowledge by both the police and Crown Prosecution lawyers on what evidence is necessary to secure that conviction.

There is also the problem of stigma. Drug driving is not placed in the same league as driving after drinking too much. The lack of a deterrent also encourages people to get behind the wheel according to campaigner Michelle Sneddon who lost her son when a driver who had taken drugs mounted a pavement.

She said that she had talked to a number of officers about a handheld device for detecting drug use, and they all admitted it would be extremely useful. The Department for Transport has said a testing device would be made available next year in police stations.

Campaigners are claiming that it is not enough of a deterrent to have testing equipment based in police stations and that the police need to have handheld equipment that can be used on the move.