Malaysia Airlines Set to Join Oneworld

Malaysia Airlines, the government-owned, flag-carrying airline of Malaysia, is scheduling to join the Oneworld alliance by the end of this year.

The airline is to fine-tune its carry on baggage policy in the run up to its acceptance into the alliance. It is increasing the weight of the one carry-on luggage item that is allowed in economy class, from 5kg to 7kg, and increasing the allowance to first and business class passengers to two items, each of a maximum 7kg. Bags are restricted to maximum dimensions of 56cm x 36cm x 23cm, and in addition passengers will be allowed ‘a notebook/laptop or briefcase or a binocular bag’, as well as ‘a small handbag and walking stick.’

Despite the airline’s efforts to standardise its baggage policy for ease of integration with its new partners, there will still be disparity. For example, Cathay Pacific’s baggage policy states a limit of 7kg for economy and premium economy passengers, 10kg for business class passengers, and 15kg for those in first class. While British Airways’ policy advises travellers that their hand luggage may weigh up to 23kg, subject to the passenger being ‘able to lift the bag unaided into the overhead lockers in the aircraft cabin.’

Malaysian Airlines says that it has developed several codeshares with other Oneworld members, including Cathay Pacific and Royal Jordanian, in advance of it becoming a full member by the end of 2012.

Oneworld is a global airline alliance that was founded in 1999 by American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, under the slogan, ‘Oneworld revolves around you.’

 

Rio de Janeiro Tops Hotel Expense League

Sydney, Australia is no longer the city with the world’s most expensive hotel’s, having been eclipsed by the soaring cost of accommodation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In the first three months of 2012, the average price per night for a hotel room in one of the more picturesque areas of Rio was GBP192.88, representing a 50 percent increase on equivalent prices from a year ago. According to Hotel Price Radar, hotel prices in Sydney have only risen by 4.6 percent over the same period, with rooms now averaging just under GBP145 per night.

Hotel Price Radar cited Brazil’s economic growth and infrastructure improvements for Rio’s massive price increases, compounded by preparations for the 2016 Olympics.

From a Europe only perspective, Moscow retains its lead as the city with the most expensive hotels, with rooms averaging GBP122 per night. London room rates have risen by 4.33 percent and now average GBP100 per night, again influenced by the pending Olympic Games, though surprisingly, Liverpool is the UK city that has registered the biggest price increase, with rooms now averaging GBP71.57, up 12.55 percent on last year.

At the other end of the scale, Bangkok in Thailand, Prague in the Czech Republic and Beijing in China are the cities where the cheapest accommodation can be found, all with average prices of around GBP48 per night.

For the best value in five-star accommodation, Eastern Europe is the destination of choice according to Hotels.com, with luxury hotels in Warsaw, Poland charging just GBP84 per night, followed by Budapest, Hungary at GBP105, and Tallin, Estonia at GBP112.

Government Accused of Lack of Vision by Aviation Experts

The UK government’s lack of strategy and long-term planning for the country’s aviation infrastructure has been criticised by a panel of senior aviation experts at the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC) conference in Doha, Qatar.

At the core of the criticism is what the members of the panel see as the government dragging its feet on the urgent need to be building more airport capacity, and the fear that the rest of Europe and the world could sideline the UK if it failed to do so.

The chairman of the GTMC Air Working Party, and managing director of Horncastle Executive Travel, Peter Drummond said, ‘It’s incredible that the government does not understand the importance of airports, and has no long-term strategy. If we don’t get this on the agenda, the UK with its Victorian infrastructure will be sidelined.’ He went on to describe current government transport policy as ‘sticking bits of elastoplast over a gaping wound.’

Paul Johannesburg, vice-president of Qatar Airways, confirmed that he was seeing evidence that the UK was losing out on traffic from emerging markets, and the government’s lack of vision was already harming the UK economy.

Guy Stephenson, the Gatwick Airport chief commercial officer, said that there was very little coherence in government strategy, and that ‘raising aviation taxes while the Eurozone is going backwards is a toxic combination.’ He called on the air and business travel sectors to work with government. ‘We have to help the government sell a policy to the voters. We’ve got to try and create a positive climate and give government something positive to work with,’ he said.

Virgin to Offer Mobile Phone Calls In-Flight

Virgin Atlantic Airways, the UK-based airline operator, has become the first Britsh airline to provide access to mobile phone calls for passengers travelling on its new A330 aircraft, and has future plans to extend the service to its B747 aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic intends to have 20 aircraft fitted with the Aeromobile technology by the end of 2012, which will include B747’s that are currently undergoing AGBP50m refurbishment. Passengers in all cabins will be able to make and receive telephone calls, send and receive text messages and access e-mail and the Internet.

Customers choosing to use the service will be charged according to their individual provider’s international roaming rights, though this is currently restricted to 02 and Vodafone with whom the airline has signed agreements, so passengers on other networks will not be able to use the service initially.

Other usage restrictions include no connection while the airplane is taking-off and landing, and in order to comply with Federal restrictions, the service has to be disabled within 250 miles of US airspace.

The idea of passengers using mobile phones while sitting in adjacent seats will undoubtedly be a matter of trepidation for a proportion of travellers who expect rest and relaxation during lengthy flights. How Virgin Atlantic intend to deal with the possible nuisance aspect of in-flight phone calls is not yet known.

Uk-based airline, British Airways does already offer air mobile phone technology on flights to New York from London with its A318 Club World City, but phone calls are currently disabled and only e-mails and text messages can be sent and received.

‘Holiday at Home’ Campaign Fails to Impress

According to a survey, the UK governments GBP3m investment in an advertising campaign to encourage British citizens to ‘Holiday at Home’ has not had the desired impact.

The campaign was intended to help boost the UK’s domestic tourism industry and the greater economy in what are difficult times financially, but the findings of a poll of over 2,000 adults carried out by YouGov on behalf of prepaid currency card provider, Caxton FX, infer that the message has failed to find its mark. Of those polled, two thirds or 67 percent still intend holidaying abroad this summer. 13 percent of people claimed not to have seen the adverts, and 4 percent of people said that the campaign had actually made them less likely to consider a holiday at home.

The most positive response came from the North East and North West regions, where 19 percent of those polled stated that they were now more likely to holiday in the UK. Scotland fared much worse, however, with 9 percent of Scots saying that the advert had made them less likely to take a UK-based holiday.

The managing director Caxton FX, James Hickman said, ‘In spite of substantial investment, it seems that Brits are still committed to holidays abroad and with the pound currently very high against the Euro, holidays abroad can offer good value – especially for those people who would prefer to avoid the Olympics this summer.’

The findings also come at a time when the unusually bad weather that has been sweeping the British Isles is likely to have impacted on the opinions of holidaymakers.

Air India Strike One Week On

A strike at Air India, the India-based, state-owned airline company, has now been running for seven days.

The airline continues to face major disruption to the fifty international flights that it schedules each day, as two hundred pilots continue to call in sick in protest at their perceived lack of training privileges. The industrial unrest will affect another thirteen international routes today. To date over fifty international flights have been cancelled, to many of the world’s major cities, including London. The action has lead to many passengers being stranded and Air India has now stopped taking international long-haul flight bookings until May 15.

The dispute is expected to cost the airline USD2m per day, a blow to an organisation that is already struggling financially, and which only recently received a USD6bn bailout package from the Indian government.

The dispute relates to the pilot’s assertion that there is a lack of training privileges for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, compared to domestic route pilots. The airline has refused to recognise the Indian Pilot’s Guild, which is representing the striking airmen, as they did not give strike notice. This has resulted in a total of seventy-six of the pilots now having been sacked for failing to report for work, and the company’s management declaring the strike illegal and refusing to negotiate with the pilots unless they return to work.

A similar strike took place for ten days last year, and is thought to have cost the company in the region of USD3.3m.

Thomas Cook Seeks Shareholder Backing For Fundraising Plan

Thomas Cook, a UK-based travel company that is currently experiencing much publicised financial difficulties, has issued a circular to its shareholders, highlighting the importance of their backing of the company’s plans for raising funds.

The fundraising plan involves the sale and leaseback of part of its airline fleet, and the sale of five Spanish hotels. The company’s shareholders are to vote on the disposals at a meeting in London on May 29, and the group has stated that it is confident that its investors will decide to back the planned disposals. However, the Daily Telegraph has reported that should the investors fail to support the plan, they will be jeopardising the company’s recently agreed GBP1.4bn deal with lenders, including Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays, to extend its bank loan maturity until 2015.

The sell-offs are part of a broader plan for the UK business, to base its recovery on fewer hotels that are of better quality, and to actively generate more on-line bookings.

‘Thomas Cook is doing just fine and our customers’ holidays are completely safe. Our banks have been very supportive and we have a new, flexible three-year banking deal in place. We fully expect the hotel sale and the sale and leaseback to go ahead as planned,’ said a company spokeswoman.

Winter Season losses of GBP262.7m were confirmed in the shareholder’s circular, and blamed on poor performance across the company’s French and North American businesses. Second half bookings were claimed to be more encouraging, but overall figures were said to depend on the strength of late bookings.

Walsh Sees Improvement in Immigration Hold-Ups

Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways parent company, IAG, has expressed his confidence that the UK government has taken control of the problem of long and time-consuming immigration queues at Heathrow Airport.

In recent weeks it has not been uncommon for passengers arriving at the airport to experience waiting times of two hours at the UK Border Control desks. However, Walsh said that he now believes that the British government has taken steps to solve the problem.

Walsh said, ‘We have seen very significant improvement in the performance of immigration at Heathrow and that needs to continue. I’m pretty confident the government will get control of it. The prime minister has got personally involved and that gives us a lot more confidence than if [immigration minister] Damian Green had just been dealing with it. But the government should be ashamed that it tried to convince people that the problem was not as bad as it was.’

The IAG boss was also optimistic about the programme in place for dealing with increased traffic during the Olympic Games, which he described as, ‘pretty robust,’ but was more concerned about the post-game scenario, when staffing levels are once again reduced.

Walsh also spoke out against any suggestion that airlines should pay extra fees to help counter the delays at immigration, other than the possibility of premium customers paying for an additional service to speed them through the formalities.

He said, ‘I see no reason why airlines should have to bear any additional cost over what the Home Office already provides. The cost per person of going through immigration is GBP3.20. They should have sufficient resource within this existing cost if they target these resources on the known flows of traffic.’

Boca Juniors Football Team Opens Hotel in Argentina

Club Atletico Boca Juniors, an Argentinean football club in Buenos Aires, has announced the opening of a football-themed hotel in Buenos Aires.

Boca Juniors is Argentina’s most triumphant football team, successful both at home and internationally, having won 51 official titles at the national and international tournaments. Boca Juniors is the football team where Diego Maradona, Argentina’s most famous football icon, played, and the club has recently opened a luxury hotel in the city centre, in the district of San Telmo, for the cost of GBP9 million. The hotel, which has taken four years to construct, will provide accommodation for team members on nights before matches, with dedicated floors to the players.

The 85-room hotel is offering a decor comprising of Boca Juniors memorabilia, while hotel amenities include a guest lobby, a luxury spa and a fitness facility. The rooms are decorated with photographs of the team players, and room rates range between GBP90 and GBP370 per night.

The hotel also hosts a museum dedicated to the team, and offers documentaries on the team, on demand, to its guests. Fans of the team will be able to relive the nostalgia associated with the team as well as enjoy the excitement of staying with the football team players during home town matches.

The president of Boca Juniors, Daniel Angelici, said in an interview, ‘We predict success for this hotel, as much for its architecture as for its colours, which are our own and represent our passion and love.’

Heathrow Express Announces Booking Capabilities through Smart Phone Apps

Heathrow Express, a UK-based express train service from London Heathrow Airport  to London Paddington station, has announced new features for its smart phone applications.

The company is offering a new feature for the applications, which allows business travellers to purchase tickets for Heathrow Express trains using their smart phones.

Heathrow Express is a part of BAA Ltd, owner and operator of six British airports, including London Heathrow. The company has added new capabilities to its existing Blackberry and Android applications, for buyers to have electronic tickets bought and delivered to their smart phones, as well as receive updates on travel plans.

The upgraded app also allows business travellers to use a corporate trade account for making bookings for the train service, without having to go through their appointed travel agents.

Heathrow Express is implementing new initiatives at a cost of GBP16 million, which also includes new trains and uniforms for employees.

Michael Walker, the company head of commercial development, said, ‘We have a series of continued innovations planned throughout the year to ensure we keep upgrading the online functionality for our business and leisure customers.

These changes are the first in a long line of new developments due to launch throughout the year.’