Brits choose less traditional romantic destinations for Valentine’s getaway

Gatwick Airport passengers have selected less traditional romantic locations for a Valentine’s break, with destinations like Barcelona, Tenerife and Dublin leading the list of the top ten favourites for this year, the airport said in a release.

Passenger numbers for Barcelona have grown by 42 percent since last year, as couples seek romantic mini-breaks in sunnier climes away from wet and windy Britain. The airport is expecting around 450,000 passengers to pass through its two terminals between February 13 and 17.

Additionally, parts of the British Isles remain popular with lovers as they choose to getaway to the Celtic cities of Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh.

Nick Henderson, terminal operations, Gatwick Airport, said: ‘Barcelona is definitely the hot destination for star-crossed lovers this year. Couples are certainly taking the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the sun over the Valentine’s weekend and with Gatwick serving more destinations than any other UK airport, it is proving a great starting point for any romantic weekend away.’

The top ten popular destinations, selected by Gatwick passengers, in order are Geneva, Barcelona, Dublin, Tenerife, Amsterdam, Belfast, Dubai, Edinburgh, Malaga and Copenhagen.

For an extra special Valentine’s getaway experience, London Gatwick Airport is also organising Valentine’s music and entertainment in the departure lounges of the North and South terminals, from classical guitarists and the band ‘The Valentines’, to a dressed up King and Queen of hearts. Gatwick staff will also be handing out chocolate treats to passengers.

For those wishing to wine and dine, Gatwick offers a range of options to choose from, including the Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar, or Jamie’s Italian and Union Jack’s for a special treat before the travel. Stress-free shopping is also on offer with Gatwick’s Shop Fly Collect service allowing passengers to leave their purchases at the airport free of charge and collect them on their return.

Travellers can also pre-book lounges, including the No.1 Traveller Lounge, where they can relax with complimentary food and drink, free Wi-Fi, a games room, spa and mini cinema.

Ryanair launches new routes to Bordeaux and Rabat from London Stansted

Irish low-fares airline, Ryanair, has launched inaugural flights from London Stansted to Bordeaux in France and Rabat in Morocco.

Ryanair will operate three weekly flights to Bordeaux on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with the intention of offering passengers in the East of England more choice for the coming year.

Ryanair’s Lisa Cashin said: ‘Ryanair is delighted to celebrate its inaugural flight from London Stansted to Bordeaux in a week that also saw the launch of a new route to Rabat in Morocco. Ryanair will operate three weekly flights to Bordeaux on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays offering passengers in the East of England area even more choice for 2014. With fares starting from £17.99 there’s no excuse not to sample all that is on offer in Bordeaux.

‘To celebrate, Ryanair is releasing 100,000 seats across its European network at prices starting from £17.99 for travel on Mon, Tue, Wed & Thur in March and April and these ‘all in’ cheap flights will be available on over 1,000 of Ryanair’s European routes, but must be booked on the website before midnight (24:00hrs) Mon, 10 February.’

As part of its recent initiatives to improve customer service, Ryanair said last week that with immediate effect all of its customers can use their Personal Electronic Devices (including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and MP3 players) for the entire duration of their flight.

The airline has also introduced allocated seats for all customers from February 1, with three booking options available.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said, ‘We are listening to our customers and responding, so that they can continue to enjoy the lowest fares and most on-time flights, but can also benefit from our recent improvements to our industry leading customer service, including a second free small bag carry-on bag, easier website access, a ‘My Ryanair’ registration service, 24 hour grace periods, ‘quiet flights’ and reduced bag fees, with further improvements set to be rolled out over the coming weeks and months.’

Norwich International wins award, donates prize money to EDP flood appeal

Norwich International Airport has won the Thomson Airways 2013, Summer of Dreams national airport award for 2013.

Thomson reportedly said that there had been a tremendous response from all of the airport teams across the UK that took part in the contest, but the staff at Norwich International attained the top spot by achieving and exceeding all of the targets set, which included on-time performance, revenue and customer satisfaction.

As a reward, Norwich staff received a prize of £1,500 from Thomson, which was matched by the airport. The staff were given the option of receiving the money in personal vouchers or making a charity donation, and they overwhelmingly decided to donate the £3,000 prize money to the EDP flood appeal to help communities in Norfolk affected by the December tidal surge.

Andrew Bell, CEO of Norwich International said: ‘The airport is delighted that the dedication and hard work of the staff at the airport last summer resulted in winning this national award from Thomson. The generosity of the airport staff in donating this prize fund to those affected by the recent floods is outstanding, we were all acutely aware of the impact the flooding has had on the local community and welcomed the opportunity to help’

Nikki Edwards, airport service delivery & compliance manager – UK & Ireland for Thomson Airways, said: ‘the standard of performance at Norwich International Airport in 2013 was outstanding. The airport exceeded their targets in all 3 key performance areas of customer service, revenue generation and operational efficiency and I would personally like to pass on my thanks and appreciation for the amazing efforts by all our colleagues at Norwich.

‘This performance has provided a compelling endorsement of the strength of our partnership and could not have been achieved without the enthusiasm and drive by Norwich staff both customer-facing and also behind the scenes. Well done and a massive thank you for all your hard work and continued support.’

London Heathrow provides UK’s first direct link to Colombia

Colombia’s Avianca is set to join the Star Alliance at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 and will provide the UK with its first direct connection to Colombia for nine years.

Starting this June, Avianca’s passengers will be offered four flights a week, the airport said in a release.

The deal has taken five years to materialise, with Heathrow first talking to Avianca in 2009. Avianca was forced to wait for suitable take-off and landing slots to become available from other airlines before it was able to offer the service.

Colin Matthews, chief executive officer at Heathrow, said: ‘We are delighted that Avianca is coming to Heathrow this summer. The world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting and Britain needs to capitalise on links to fast growing economies like Colombia. We would like to welcome more flights bringing trade and jobs to the UK but a lack of hub airport capacity means we are less well connected than we could be.’

Fabio Villegas, CEO for Avianca, said: ‘The new Heathrow-Bogota route will be a huge boost to trade and tourism between the UK and Colombia. We’re particularly pleased to be operating from Terminal 2, which will offer both world-class facilities and vital network connectivity between us and other members of the Star Alliance.’

Colombia is considered one of the world’s most promising economies and the deal will help the UK meet its new bilateral trade target of £4billion by 2020, deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said on his trade mission to Colombia this week.

Other airlines from major emerging economies are also looking to add new routes at Heathrow but are unable to do so, as the UK’s only hub airport is running at full capacity.

Heathrow is ranked fourth against its European hub rivals for routes to emerging market countries, and this lack of connectivity is estimated to be costing the UK economy £14bn a year in lost trade. The figure could rise to £26 billion a year by 2030, whilst the airport estimates that GBP100 billion of present value would accrue to the UK by expanding Heathrow.

Ryanair allows electronic devices on flights, presents Valentine offers

Ryanair, an Ireland-based airline, has said that all Ryanair customers can use their portable electronic devices (PEDs), including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and MP3 players, for the entire duration of their flight, after switching them to ‘flight mode’ and all safety briefings have been observed.

The move, effective immediately, is part of the customer service improvement initiatives introduced by Ryanair and follows the recent roll out of allocated seats for all customers, on February 1.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said: ‘Ryanair customers can now use their personal electronic devices at all stages of their flight, while they enjoy their allocated seats, our low fares and on-time arrivals. The IAA is one of the first regulatory authorities in the world to approve this measure and we wish to commend them for their initiative. We are working hard to improve our service to all customers and today’s PED approval is the latest in a series of changes which we know our customers will love.’

Additionally, the airline has offered customers a last minute present for Valentine’s Day. With over 1,000 European routes on offer from EUR17.99 in March and April, Ryanair says that it is offering customers the best chance to book a romantic city break.

Ryanair Valentine Gift Vouchers are also available from the website, starting at €25/£25, providing recipients with the opportunity of flying on one of Ryanair’s 1,600 low-fare routes for a romantic city break, or booking their summer holiday in one of 30 countries.

Kiely said, ‘Romance isn’t dead and to show our customers just how much we love them we are releasing 100,000 seats on over 1,000 routes from just €17.99, for travel in March and April, ensuring the perfect romantic getaway. Customers should book before midnight (24:00hrs) Monday, 10 February to avoid being broken-hearted.

‘ And don’t forget Ryanair’s Valentines Gift Vouchers are the ideal last minute gift, offering your loved ones the chance to book the lowest fares on more than 1,600 routes, between 186 destinations, across 30 countries,’ he added.

The airline also announced that following the customer service initiatives, traffic has increased by 5 percent year-on-year, to 4.6m customers in January.

OSKA Travel offers holiday package to Turkey from Bournemouth

UK’s OSKA Travel, a specialised tour operator with a focus on cultural roundtrips in the Mediterranean region and central Europe, will be offering holiday packages to Turkey from Bournemouth Airport this year, the airport said in a release.

Two holiday options will be available from Bournemouth, including a seven-night all-inclusive holiday to a 5-star hotel from £449 per person, or a one-week escorted tour around the Turkish Riviera, staying in 4/5 star hotels on a B&B basis from £249 per person.

Paul Knight, managing director of Bournemouth Airport, said: ‘We are delighted to welcome OSKA Travel to Bournemouth Airport. Their holidays offer excellent value for money and I’m sure they will prove to be really popular with our passengers. We’re looking to provide more options and services for customers using our airport and this will extend our connections further into Europe.’

Andreas F. Forsthuber of OSKA Travel said: ‘We are really excited to add a regional airport such as Bournemouth to our portfolio. At KENBA Group, the owner of OSKA Travel, we have handled more than 80,000 passengers from six different countries in 2012 and 2013.

‘We are really looking forward to welcoming guests from Bournemouth Airport in Turkey – and we are sure they will love this tour. It might well be their first, but it will definitely not be their last trip’.

With its rich history, Turkey offers a fascinating glimpse into the past, but also presents its guests with a range of good restaurants, traditional markets and a lively nightlife.

OSKA also offer ‘Escorted Tour’ holidays for those who want to explore the region. Holidaymakers can travel through the Taurus Mountains and visit Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can also experience a typical carpet village, the preserved ruins of Parga, or enjoy a sightseeing tour of Antalya.

Flights depart from Bournemouth Airport on April 10, 17 and 24, the airport said.

Lithium batteries on planes pose ‘increased fire risk,’ report

The huge rise in people carrying lithium batteries on aircraft poses an increased fire risk, the BBC has reported, citing the UK’s safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The seemingly harmless lithium batteries in laptops, cell phones, watches and cameras could pose potential fire risk on flights. In June last year, police at San Diego International Airport noticed a passenger’s bag was smoking as it progressed around the carousel. Inside, a lithium-ion battery had touched a screwdriver and both had melted.

In September 2012, a flight attendant and two passengers were burned when they handled a mobile phone and spare battery that overheated during a flight.

In April 2012 a lithium battery inside a passenger’s personal air purifier caught fire at 28,000ft. The battery lay burning in the aisle until a flight attendant put it out with wet towels and then submerged it into a cup of water.

While these incidences occurred on American flights, recent research claimed that an average small plane carrying 100 passengers could have 500 lithium batteries on board considering all the watches, laptops, cameras, e-readers, tablet computers and such, the report said.

According to Geoff Leach, the manager of the CAA’s Dangerous Goods Office, batteries bought from respectable retailers are regulated and safe, as long as they are packed properly. But cheap, copycat batteries bought from dubious sources online could develop a fault with dramatic consequences.

The CAA has been working with its US counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to produce a series of videos that will eventually go online, showing aviation professionals and the public how to pack batteries safely and what to do if they happen to smoulder or even catch fire.

The Royal Aeronautical Society has also commented on the risks from batteries bought from unreliable sources and is looking to raise awareness across the industry and the public. ‘The risk of future fire-related incidents or accidents has increased due to the proliferation of lithium batteries and other risks,’ it said in its report earlier this year.

While many airlines already train their staff on how to put out lithium battery fires, a ban on the batteries is highly unlikely, the BBC’s report concluded.

Heathrow western rail access to benefit passengers and businesses

Network Rail has announced plans for a preferred new rail route linking the Great Western Main Line with London Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport; a move that is intended to benefit passengers and businesses from the Thames Valley to the West Country and Wales.

Presently, the Great Western Main Line runs from Swansea, through Cardiff, before heading to Reading and London Paddington. Under the new plans, rail passengers travelling from the west of Reading will not need to double-back on the tracks via Paddington.

With the proposed link, passengers in Cardiff and Swansea will be able to cut their travel times to Heathrow by up to 45 minutes and 53 minutes respectively, whilst those in Reading may save 27 minutes.

Besides making travel abroad easier for passengers, the plan will also be a potential boost to the economy in the Thames Valley, the M4 corridor, South West England and south Wales, the airport said.

It is claimed that the link will allow businesses to connect directly with Heathrow, and then with the rest of the world, opening up new opportunities for trade. As the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow combines direct and transfer passengers to support 78 percent of all UK long-haul flights. The improved access offered by the Western Rail link will mean faster, more convenient connections to those markets within another seven years.

Colin Matthews, Heathrow’s chief executive, said: ‘Network Rail’s plans will drive economic growth through improved access to overseas markets. Heathrow is already in a better location than any other UK airport. Western Rail access will build on that strength, helping to make sure that the whole of the UK benefits from the growth opportunities global connectivity brings.’

Hilton London Heathrow Airport launches ‘Holiday Starts Here’ package

Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 has launched its ‘Holiday Starts Here’ package, designed to offer travellers a trouble-free start to holidays.

Intended to help guests avoid the early morning drive to the airport, the hotel, located one mile from the airport, provides an overnight stay with inclusive parking for travellers setting off on a holiday.

The Holiday Starts Here flexi-package serves all kinds of travellers, from long weekends to trips of a fortnight. Prices start from £109 for four nights’ parking, £114 for eight nights’ parking and £119 for 15 nights’ parking.

The package includes an overnight stay in one of the hotel’s guest rooms, complete with sound proof windows, complimentary Wi-Fi as well as a spa and fitness centre.

With a range of restaurants, Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 claims to offer a unique dining experience, with choices ranging from pan Indian cuisine at Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, to traditional and contemporary British specialties at The Gallery. After dinner, visitors can also enjoy a cocktail or two in the River Bar.

The package also offers the Heathrow Hoppa bus for guests to reach the airport on time. Available from just GBP4 one way, services run throughout the day from 5 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. With a secure car parking area allocated to the hotel for guests’ convenience.

In 2013, TripAdvisor gave the hotel a Certificate of Excellence Award for providing guests with a consistently exceptional experience.

Survey reveals Brits’ most popular holiday pastimes, pet peeves

British travellers are becoming increasingly reliant on smart-phones and tablets while on a holiday, and paying extra for Wi-Fi is now one of the top ‘holiday hates,’ according to a survey.

The poll by Thistle Hotels, a part of glh, an owner-operator hotel company in London with over 4,000 hotel rooms, questioned 2,000 people to understand their holiday habits and interests.

According to the survey, an average holidaymaker spends an hour online each day of their holiday, catching up with friends and current affairs. Nearly one in 20 admitted they would rather spend time online, than with their partners on holiday. Consequently, having to pay for Wi-Fi now ranks alongside traditional holiday annoyances, such as rude hotel staff and rooms not being ready on arrival.

The research, undertaken to launch Thistle’s new faster, free internet in all its UK hotels, revealed that the top five ‘holiday hates’ are, rude hotel staff (69 percent), rooms not being ready (45 percent), paying for Wi-Fi (38 percent), limited buffet/menu selection (37 percent), and not being as close to holiday attractions as advertised (32 percent).

The survey also found that while booking a holiday, fast, free and reliable Wi-Fi is more important (51 percent), than having a swimming pool (49 percent), or even having a TV in the room (37 percent).

Mike DeNoma, glh. CEO said; ‘It’s crazy to think that in 2014 hotel chains are still charging up to £20 a day for Wi-Fi. Our research shows that free, fast and reliable Wi-Fi is very important to holidaymakers, which is why we’ve partnered with BT Wi-fi to upgrade our existing free internet access. No registrations, no limitations and no fine print, customers can now simply click and connect without fuss or fee; and most importantly they do not have to sign up to memberships or earn loyalty points.’

Of the main hotel brands in the UK, the Hilton Hotel group charges between £14 and £20 a day for WiFi, Premiere Inn charges £3 a day, or £10 a week, but does offer an initial 30 minutes of free WiFi; IHG charges £14 a day across its leading brands. It also charges £3 a day or £13 a day at ‘Crown Plaza’.

Marriott offers free WiFi in its reception areas, but charge £15 a day for access in rooms across its major brands and £4.95 an hour, or £12.99 a day, at Marriott Courtyard. Marriott Gold and Platinum members receive free WiFi throughout premises and access is limited to six devices. Free internet is also included in Premium rooms and suites. Travelodge charges £5 an hour, £10 a day, £20 a week, or £30 a month for WiFi access.